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Monday, May 9, 2011

Bridget's Father

Bridget's tears cascaded down her cheeks as she listened to the song a girl sang about her father. Bridget had always wanted a dad like that--one who wasn't a walled up, impregnable castle. She was starting to forget the few times when he had actually talked to her without being stone cold angry. She remembered long ago as her daddy danced with her on his feet. He had been a great dancer. She remembered the joy on his face as they twirled around the room. It was so long ago, now.

Apparently before his stint as a medic in the Korean war, he'd been a happy-go-lucky guy. His friends had all loved his open, sunny personality. Since the war, and for as long as Bridget could remember, his remoteness had set him apart from the rest of his family. How she longed to come into his arms and have him tell her he was proud of her. How she longed to hear him call her his Princess and tell her she was beautiful. She'd try to ask him about his life and what he was doing or thinking, but he'd give her a one-word answer or merely smile a little inscrutable smile and go back to fixing the car, or cleaning his rifle, or some other important task.

Bridget's voice cracked as she tried to sing along with the song. Finally she left the singing to the professional. She looked over at the gaunt man in the bed. Her dad smelled like musty old papers, split pea soup and cleaning astringent. He wore an oxygen cannula and a heart monitor. An IV fed him pain meds on a drip. A tracery of new lines in his face bore testimony of the constant pain her father faced. Now and then he opened his eyes, but they were glazed over. She could see him retreating hour by hour further into that other world where it was sunny and pain-free.

Suddenly it became paramount that she get through to him. She couldn't let him go without connecting at least once. "Dad. Dad, can you hear me?"
His eyes opened a crack and then closed again.
"I know you can hear me, Dad. I just wanted..."
There was a long pause and then he rallied a little. His lips moved slightly but no sound came out. Bridget bent to hear what little she could.
"What...can you want...from me now?" His voice was raspy, like steel sponge scraping on the kitchen counter. What could she want? Tears coursed down her face and dripped onto the pillow. She shook her head, trying to negate the accusatory tone in his voice.
"You never...got...enough."
She stood upright and reached for his hand. The skin was papery and thin and nearly transparent. His hand shook with the effort of living, as if that hand was the only thing holding him here in this life.
"I wanted you to know that I've always loved you. I wanted you to be proud of me, Dad."
There was a long pause while he martialled his forces. The effort was costing him in pain. "You want...me to say...I love...you."
Bridget looked away, out the doorway to the nurse's station. She wanted him to say those words so much she could taste it. But, more than that, she wanted him to say them on his own. She wanted to have to drag a confession of fondness out of him about as much as she wanted a root canal without anesthesia.
"Not if you don't feel like it."
He snorted a little and took a ragged breath. "You'll never...know...how much..." He never ended the sentence. The heart monitor suddenly flat-lined and the alarm went off. Nurses and a doctor poured into the room and edged Bridget out of the way. They briskly went about trying to revive her dad, but he had gone.

Bridget stood there in a haze of anguish. None of the flurry of activity registered on her. She was caught in that last sentence. She shook her head and tried to stanch the torrent of tears. Searing anger boiled up to choke her.
"You're right, Dad. I won't ever know, now."

1 comment:

  1. Tears. Tears. Tears. Beautiful writing. You moved me with your vivid imagery.

    ReplyDelete