My father had surgery last Tuesday, his third in as many months. Shelia, his girlfriend or companion or whatever you call a woman thirty-five years his junior, had called me the day after the surgery. I’ve never met Shelia, but in the past few months, we’ve bonded over our mutual concern. She whispered, odd since she was at home by herself except for her three-year old daughter, that my dad was not doing well at all.
“I never seen him like this.” Shelia is black, her accent obvious. It has stoked my dad’s sense of humor as when he told me right before the latest surgery, “I told Shelia to call you afterward, and I told her to try and talk so you could understand her.” He laughed. I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t tell him I told you this but he said the other night he just wants to give up.” Her voice almost broke. Almost. A former member of the Optimist’s Club would never ever think of saying those words.
“I’m coming home.”
“No,” she started, but then slowly said, “I think he’d like that.” She promised to give me any updates. I told her I’d be there as soon as possible. I checked my schedule. There were meetings and deadlines I couldn’t miss. After some airline searches, I went on to Orbitz, and then the Britch called.
I gritted out some empty words of encouragement, talking him off his homemade ledge, and got him off his phone. Around half past eight that evening, I called my dad. His voice was barely audible when he apologized that he couldn’t talk long.
“Good. Then just listen, dad.” I swore to myself I wouldn’t, but I started to cry. “I can’t afford to lose you. I lost Billy and I can’t lose you.”
“Listen, Ter, I promise you, you won’t. I promise you.”
“I’m coming out—“
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I want to, dad.”
“Okay. Well, it will be good to see you.”
“It’ll be good to see you, too.”
“I love you, Ter.”
“I love you, too, dad,” I said, although I’m not sure he heard it. I could hear the phone shuffling toward its cradle as the words came out, just before the click. I sat there and cried. Looking over at Billy’s folded flag, I wondered if it soon would have a companion.