by Jeffrey Grimyser
My father let me in and sat hunched on the edge of the bed. His hotel room was littered with clothes on the floor and candy wrappers on the nightstand. The TV was on mute and the curtains were closed. He had flown in yesterday. I stood by the doorway. The first time I had ever seen him like that I was seven, after his father had died.
“Aren’t you coming?” I said.
“No,” he answered.
“I just can’t, okay.”
“But Cass needs you there.” I remembered my wedding reception. I had a photo of every table, except my father’s because he’d already left.
“She’ll be fine,” he said.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“She doesn’t need me.”
“It’s her wedding today.”
“Look, everyone else will have a good time, okay. But I’ve been sweating since midnight.”
“Don’t you think this is a mistake?”
“How dare you say that,” he bellowed.
He stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door but it didn’t fully close. Through the mirror I watched him open a bottle and take several pills, his hand shaking as he drank water.
When he returned, he looked surprised I was still in his room. He shook his head. Then he laid down on the bed, crossed his arms and unmuted the TV.
“I’m trying to fix this,” I said.
“What exactly is this?” he questioned.
“Cass wanted me to see how you were doing.”
“Did she care how I was doing at your wedding?”
“You only talked to strangers.”
“Who was I supposed to talk to?”
“Me,” I said.
“What would I have talked to you about?”
“Whatever the father of a groom should say.”
“As if I’m a good role model.”
“But people wanted to speak with you.”
“Who really sent you here?”
“Cass did,” I said.
“Well, she must have nothing to do then.”
“She planned the whole wedding herself. It’s you who aren’t doing anything.”
“I am not going. What else do you want me to say?”
“I don’t get what’s happening right now.”
“You barged into my room, that’s what.”
“Are things worse with you because it’s winter? Did something bad happen? You’ve never explained your condition to me.”
“So read a book about it.”
“You’ve already said that.”
“And you didn’t listen. People going through a tough time need space, not provoking.”
“What? I haven’t called or stopped by since you landed. This is my only option.”
“No. I won’t be put in that position again.”
I checked my phone but there was no help.
“One hour left,” I said.
“This is ridiculous.” He got up and put his suitcase on the bed. “I’m done.”
He packed only his suit, belt, tie and dress shoes while breathing heavily.
I saw too much of him in me, the petulant part that became irritable and demanding whenever I felt I had too much responsibility.
“Why don’t you answer my calls?” I asked.
“I told you,” he said. “Sometimes I need to be alone.”
“Can’t you pick up and tell me that?”
“My phone isn’t always by me.”
“It says you have a missed call.”
“C’mon. You act like we have these important conversations. All you ever talk about is football.”
“I’ve asked about your health.”
“Yeah, once or twice. But you were only checking to see if I was dead.” He pointed at his chest. He had a heart attack almost three years ago. I still hadn’t visited him.
“What about San Antonio?” I said. “Me and Cass went there for you but you only had one dinner with us.”
“Have you forgotten what the heat does to me?”
“Did you forget how you wouldn’t even hang out in our room?”
“Fine.” He opened a nightstand and took a pull from his marijuana one-hitter. “My doctor told me to avoid certain situations.”
“What situations?” I said.
“Anything that causes me anxiety.”
“We’re your children. We’re all you have left now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t you dare bring her up. She was no good for me. You got it?”
“At least she could get you to be social.”
“Please. These events are nothing but big jerkoffs for people to brag at. Look at your mother’s invitation.”
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else does,” I said while raising my voice. “You’re supposed to be here for Cass. You’re supposed to support family.”
“Oh, like you’ve been there for me.”
“How can you say that?” Tears welled up but I wiped them away. “You couldn’t even remember my wife’s name. You haven’t even met your grandson and he’s almost three.”
“Michael, when you were in school, I was there for every damn thing that mattered.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a buddy to tell jokes and watch sports with. I needed a father, someone who showed me love and helped me when I needed it the most. So no, Dad, you weren’t.”
“Get out,” he said.
“I’m going,” I replied.
I left his room and paced in the hallway, ignoring every bell and hello by the elevators. I couldn’t let go. No matter how hard I tried to think of anything else I couldn’t. Normally I could set aside those thoughts. Nothing made me feel worse so what was the point? But I had forgotten my purpose in life. My son wouldn’t watch cartoons by himself. My son wouldn’t find his parents’ bedroom door closed during the day. My son wouldn’t throw a tennis ball against the garage because there was no one to play catch with. He wouldn’t see his father just for Wednesday fast-food dinners and monthly court-ordered visits. He could count on me. If a boy bullied or a teacher failed or a coach cut or a girl dumped him, he wouldn’t be alone. I would be the father I never had, the father I had needed.
I stopped pacing. Cass was standing by an elevator in her wedding dress.
“What’s the update?” she said.
“He’s not coming,” I replied.
“Aren’t you upset?”
“Nah.” She waved me closer and used my shoulder to adjust her heel. “He’s barely part of my life. I’m shocked he even got this far.”
“But don’t you need him?”
“I never have,” she said and led me onto an elevator down to the ballroom.
That night I gave my speech and danced with my wife. My sister had a happy and uneventful wedding to always remember. But every moment I held my son, I missed my dad. He must have wanted to be there and, considering the airplane and hotel costs, thought he could do it. I had to believe that. It was my only hope.
* * *
Jeffrey Grimyser is a father, husband, attorney, and originally a “Sconnie” who now lives in rival Chicago. He has published articles in his college newspaper, a statewide sports magazine, and a law review journal.
He loves to work out, play with his son, and snuggle with his French Bulldog.