My father took me down to the dock for a talk
He chose the dock because it was a place where we were both happy
Snorkeling and swimming were things we enjoyed together
We took a special peace from the water, and being close to it.
He wanted to talk about the rehab we had just spoken to by phone.
He had contacted them after deciding I needed help
I had started drinking at 16, then quickly fell into abuse
Before two spells at a clinic for alcohol poisoning, plus a threatened school suspension
Told me it was time to quit.
I kinda knew I wasn't done yet.
But quitting seemed like the only thing to do
In a place where everybody knows who you are
And your parents are members of AA
And helped establish the chapter of NA
On the island.
You go to meetings. That's what you do.
I got clean at 17, then relapsed at 19
Over that summer while visiting home with a friend.
My father called the rehab to see if they could help
Just a one-week course, to get me back on track
But after talking with me in a private interview
They said a one month stay would be much more appropriate.
I said NO to my father
I was going to school that September, to university, a new place
I would not go to rehab for one month first
To talk about my feelings
You cannot make me go.
I would do it myself
I could get off alcohol myself
I had done it before, could do it again
It was hard at my age, everyone else was still doing it
But I knew I was strong
Don't make me go to rehab.
My father sighed, looked at me kindly
Reached out with his hand and touched the back of my head
to stroke my hair
He would not make me go.
But I had to attend AA, and I had to quit, and stay quit, or off to rehab I would go.
I gratefully took that deal.
We walked back up from the dock, rejoined my mother
She was unhappy with this arrangement
She wanted me to go, wanted him to make me
But he told her that wasn't the way
It should be done.
He told her I would be ok.
She cried, but he told her everything would be ok
In the end.
My father would not live more than a few weeks longer.
He was only 46
But his history of heart disease, high blood pressure
alcohol, drugs, and stress
Did him no favors.
But he did what he could in the last eight years.
He quit smoking, drinking, pills
Starting eating better, getting outside
We played outdoors together, went swimming and hiking
He would take us for walks along rocky coasts and beaches
Pointing out the endemic and native flora and fauna
He loved so much.
He got a job that he liked, helping people, as was his way
His last years were full of activity, education, and purpose
He was our dad.
But his body did not care about any of that and passed away anyway.
He died one night while we were home
We were in bed, called out by our mother
We tried to revive him as the ambulance came
My mother was calm
I would never have predicted
How calm she could have been.
She talked to him quietly, soothingly
As my sister and I worked
To breathe air in his lungs, move blood around his heart
Then the ambulance took him
And we followed behind.
My mother had recently spilled gasoline in the trunk of our car
And that smell soaked the air
It hung oddly in that space, with our silence
As we drove in shock
Towards the hospital.
He would not be revived.
At the hospital, we said our goodbyes
To a body covered in a sheet, laying on a table
An anonymous form, under stark florescent lights
They were as cold and indifferent as I would grow to feel
Outside and inside.
We said goodbye, there in that room, cried
Then had to turn and walk away
One less person.
He had always told me he would be there
But he hadn't counted on this.
As I waited in the hospital I realized with a bleak, dawning finality
That the only person you can count on is yourself.
They don't mean to, but they die
Others go on
It would take me years to realize that he had not left me.
Through what he taught, a part of him was always there, would always be there
And that's all you can expect
Another thought that swirled as I waited, anxious and dreading
With my sister on my right side, my grieving mother on my left
Was how to deal with the remorse and the guilt
I felt welling up inside
To his final days, I caused him worry
He and my mother both, I caused them worry
I cried at the idea that he had left without knowing
I was going to be ok.
I would be ok
I would be ok
I would make sure I was ok
But really, this was something
He had known about all along.
She will be ok, he told my mother.
On that afternoon in an island summer
After taking me down to the dock to talk
A father with his daughter
In a place where we were both happy
Where a gentle wind teased ripples from the water
And the waves lapped slowly at the rocks
And the light played, dancing on the surface
Casting glimmering, flickering beams.