Her voice was low, almost apologetic. I was pacing in the “serenity garden,” a spit of grass and flowers with winding concrete walks that all eventually lead back to the doors of my office building, and I begged her to please explain how my dad had ended up so badly.
“He was happy, Terry. He was, you know, he didn’t scrimp. He was happy.”
“But what happened to his money, Sheila?”
“The government! They been after him for years. He owed taxes and they been after him.”
I let it drop. I didn’t argue that the IRS only carries unpaid taxes for seven years, that he’d been retired since ’88, that he couldn’t have had all that much debt since he owned nothing. I fell silent.
“I know you want to know things, Terry. I know. Someday we’ll talk.”
“When, Sheila? I just really—“
“I know.” I could tell I’d reached the end of the conversation, told her to give MacKenzie my love, and said goodbye.
The second time we talked, she called me, or rather MacKenzie spoke when I answered my cell phone that announced Sheila. I made as much conversation as I could with a three-year old. She thought at first she was talking to my dad then for a few confusing seconds, I could hear her disappointment. Shelia took the phone from her daughter and said she’d call me right back. She called me last Friday, three weeks later.
I could tell immediately that she was high, hollering about being in a lawyer’s office, and how I should investigate the hospital for malpractice.
“Something’s wrong there, Terry. The nurse told me they had to move him to another room. There was no reason they had to give him that emergency surgery. Something is wrong.”
What’s wrong, you drug-addled psychotic bitch, is that you started my dad on crack when you were fucking him twenty years ago! You bled him of his wife, his kids, his grandkids, him money, and his life, you piece of ghetto shit! I didn’t say that. I’m too afraid of losing the trail, too scared that I’ll never figure out the timeline of his descent, and just as frightened of finding out the answers.
I haven’t mourned for my dad in the past thirty-four days. I told my therapist that I felt guilty about not crying for him, but rather feeling anger and pity that obliterates any sorrow I may have. I said I felt worse about losing Bob . She nodded and said she couldn’t count the number of times her clients have told her exactly the same thing.
It’s been three years, three months, and eighteen days since Billy went away. Now that, I told her, was something I still refuse to accept. Ten tissues of snot and tears later, balled up so tight in my hands that if they weren’t there I would’ve drawn blood from my palms, I hugged my therapist and walked to my car.
The sky was a dark purple, the twilight glimpsing through thick storm clouds. the threat of rain teasing me with the sweet relief that comes from a downpour. By the time I pulled into my apartment building, the sky was crying, crying so hard that no one would notice my wet face.