For one day, equilibrium

July 29th, 2011

Today is the day. Today is the balancing point, perfect equilibrium, and then tomorrow I will wake for the first time into a life from which my father has been absent for longer than he had been present. Tomorrow I will wake up and I will have been fatherless for more than half my life.

The last time I visited my father in the hospital, he was in a coma. I talked to him, and clipped his fingernails, and read to him from The Sporting News – there were some summer hockey trades going on, as there are now, teams finalizing their rosters, and twenty-one years later I still remember reading to my father the news that Pat LaFontaine was transferring to Buffalo. This is what I remember. The sound of my father’s voice is lost, the last thing he said to me is lost, but I remember telling him that Pat LaFontaine was transferring to the Buffalo Sabres.

I remember nothing about his hospital room, not even if he had a private room, but I remember that a print of Matisse’s Goldfish hung in the corridor and that I passed it every day. I remember the day he was given a shunt; I remember the doctor asking me, in the hallway, “What do you want me to tell you?” and I remember replying “I want you to tell me he’s going to live” and I remember the doctor answering, gravely, “I can’t tell you that.” All of this I remember, this and Pat LaFontaine, but I do not remember the last thing my father said to me.

I would not have been aware, when he said it, that it would turn out to be the last thing, of course. It was probably “Goodbye” or “Thanks for stopping by” or “See you tomorrow” – maybe, being aware that he was dying, he took care to say “I love you.” I refused to believe that he was dying, even during that final hospital stay; even when he slipped into a coma, from one day to the next, I refused to believe that he was dying and so I did not think to press the day before into my memory, the last thing he said. That is the way of last things – we rarely know, at the time, that they are the last. First things are easy to mark: first dates, first steps, first words, first hockey games – but lasts? They take us by surprise and so often go unrecorded.

I do not remember the last my father said to me, nor can I be certain of the last thing I said to him, although I believe it might have been “See you tomorrow.”

I didn’t, of course.