My oldest friend is losing her father slowly.
In the picture of his hands that she posted on Facebook, I could see his green hospital band.
His knuckles sprung short white hairs.
Now he is unreachable, his mind folded in on itself, hospital corners of locked memories.
My friend’s father is one of the few people still alive who knew my father.
He has claimed forty more years of living.
He is leaving my childhood friend and she is holding on and they are locked in a battle that will end in a draw.
Her father does not know what’s coming.
My friend does.
I see her holding his living hand and I am jealous she had so many more years to hold her father’s hand than I did to hold mine.
I’m also grateful that although my father went slow, his mind never left.
He never didn’t know me.
He also never didn’t know he was dying.
Whose father got the better deal?
But there’s no deal. Just cards. House wins.
I want to go see him, even though he won’t really see me.
I remember him—pipe tobacco, basketball games, burgers on the Hibachi, Pabst in a cooler.
Going to see him means I get to say goodbye to my father again. I want to look into eyes that once looked into his, and no matter he has moved into liminal space, there was a time when he laughed with my dad in a backyard that smelled of charcoal briquettes. If I could see him, he might remember.
2012: the last time I spoke to him.
North Carolina: where I was visiting him, searching for what I always search for there—the family I used to have. My childhood friend and I had just gotten back from Applebee’s where we drank wine and ate French fries and wondered, not ironically, how we’d put on those extra pounds.
What he did: lean on my rental car window, eyes still playful, said: “I think of your daddy every day.”
I caught those words in a net and stuck pins in them and mounted them on my wall.
I think of him every day too, I wanted to say, but didn’t.
I love you, I wanted to say to my friend’s father, but didn’t.
But do I? Do I love him or do I love that he represents a final path to a man I have now lived so long without that he is nothing but a construction of memory and yearning?
My friend’s father still has flesh and I am greedy for it.
I do love that I knew him. He was always kind to me.
I love even more that he knew my father.
I don’t want one more door to my childhood to close.
When I am the only one left in the house, what will become of all of us?
I want to hold the hand which once shook his.
Though 7 x 4 + 2 years of skin cells have dissolved since then.
Maybe an atom of his remains in his paling palm.
Maybe I think that if I saw him again, he would remember me from forty years ago and he would then remember his wife and daughter.
Maybe I think that he is so close to death now he might see my father in the distance and tell me a little bit about how he’s doing, what he’s wearing, what he’s dreaming.
There is still a part of his brain that has held out for me.
For my father.
There has to be.
I don’t know how to create a reality in which he forgot me.
Forgot my father.
If we saw each other: Our memories would spark into prisms of color and light dancing away from us. But the harder I hold on to the illusion of him and the harder my friend holds the bones of his hand, the faster the memories dance until they fade to black and she and I are left gaping, gasping, until we reach for each other.
Now on the shadow side of fifty, but once again children playing out past dark, catching fireflies in mason jars, waiting for the call.
But no voice remains.
They have all been called away.
Laraine Herring holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in national and local publications. Her fiction has won the Barbara Deming Award for Women and her nonfiction work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently directs the creative writing program at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. She is a member of the Author’s Guild and the American Association of University Professors, and she volunteers with Hospice Family Care. www.laraineherring.com