He cannot speak in complete sentences now.
He cannot remember words.
And yet, for some reason, my father walked out of a hospital in Biloxi, Miss. last week and drove 150 miles down I-10 to an apartment he rents in Florida.
He did this just days after he had a procedure done that re-routed the blood flow in his failing liver. He did this because he needs to clear out his apartment, get rid of his possessions before he goes.
The drive was a really bad idea, he says. On the other hand, he told me, you know, how can you not drive? It’s impossible not to drive…you have to get places in life, you have things to do. It’s not like you can just hire a goddamn chauffeur, okay?
“Why didn’t you ask someone for help?” I asked, after hearing that he only sort of ran off the side of the road a couple of times and only had to stop and puke every so often.
Who would help me? People have lives…jobs… things to do…only person I have left is about to die herself.
My father made this drive and he is not sure how he will turn around and drive back to Mississippi. For all I know, my father may not make it back to Mississippi, where a childhood friend has taken him in.
I wish I could share more specifics. But the thing is, I tried like hell to follow the conversation this morning as well as I could and it was hard. After a lifetime of asking him questions when things he said didn’t make sense or feel true to me, it felt wrong to ask him why he drove so far when he was so ill, whether a liver transplant was an option for him now, how much longer he had. It felt wrong because for the first time in his life he struggles to respond, punctuating his half-finished replies with a mumbled “shit” and “sonuvabitch” when words elude him.
And yet, after a bit of struggling, he said what I was hoping he’d say ten years ago when I sat on a milk carton – the only extra chair he really had – in his then-rundown apartment in New Orleans and told him how much he had hurt me, but how I hoped we could move past that.
Instead of saying how sorry he was ten years ago, he asked me whether I had read the New Yorker story “about those hepatitis C motherfuckers living on the side of the street. I mean, you wouldn’t want your old man to be some hepatitis C motherfucker living on the side of the street, now would you? I did what I had to do. You wouldn’t want your old man living as some hepatitis C motherfucker, now would you? Would you?”
I told him no. No I wouldn’t.
A few years ago, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C.
But today he said “I’m sorry, Paige. I’m sorry for everything I did and didn’t do. I’m sorry for hurting you.”
Then he had to go. He had to throw up.