LOVE YOU MORE
I’ll make this about my mom too. My dad knew everything was about her, she deserved it. Even his death felt somehow in response to or in spite of hers.
A Long Ways Back
The phone rings and rings until it finally goes to voicemail. Still something about my dad’s failed business attempt. “Thank you for calling West Virginia Solar, please blah blah blah.” I wait again for the tone. “Hey Dad, this is Carmen, calling again. Like I said, I heard you were in the hospital. Please call me back. I’m worried about you.” I hang up, my words sent out and stashed in some digital space, waiting to be heard. Waiting to be heard.
Walking to class, my phone rings, the number isn’t saved but I know it’s his. I answer, “Dad, are you ok? What happened?”
“How did you know I was in the hospital? Who told you?” He spits out, stern.
“A friend of Mom’s, Dad, what happened?” I ignore his tantrum and move forward.
“Which friend, who the fuck was it Carmen?” He says back to me.
I pause, “It doesn’t matter Dad.” I match his sternness.
“What do you want when I die, Carmen?” He asks me.
I am quiet for a long time. “What happened, Dad?” I break the silence.
“I had a heart attack, Carmen. Are ya happy?” Stern. Tears well and immediately drip down my face.
“Dad, oh my god. Are you ok? Where did it happen?”
“What do you want when I die?” He asks again.
“Did you have to have surgery? How bad was it?”
“I was working on the truck. The old lady found me. No surgery.” He finally answers a question. “Carmen, what do you want when I die?”
“I want whatever you want me to have, Dad.” I finally answer a question.
“Nothing, then.” He says back to me. I swallow the sting of the words. I stay quiet.
“Do you think your brother would like to have the land?” He asks.
My tears are drying on my skin, “Yes Dad, I think he would like that very much.” I pause, “I have to go Dad, I have class. I have to get cleaned up before I go to class. Love you.”
I hear his hard voice say back to me, “Love you more.”
I hang up the phone. I take a deep breath and I call mom. I try several times and then I call Sam. He answers and I tell him what’s happened, I am worked up and trying to remember and explain when mom calls through. She listens and she says in her sweet voice, “Aw, kiddo. What a jerk.” And she says a lot of other things that I can’t remember but I know that I felt a lot better after that talk. I remember I went to class and that after class I walked to Blackbear and drank a whole tallboy really fast and I remember that Sam met me and made me feel even better.
A While Back
That was the last time I spoke to Dad until the day after Mom died. He died a year after her, almost to the day.
He arrived wobbly to her funeral. I don’t think he was drunk but I could smell it on him.
On the table in the front of the room where a casket would normally reside, was a picture of Mom and my brother and myself. The photo was taken when Dad would have known us still, a short year and half since their divorce. I would’ve been 4 and my brother 2.
I held my dad up as we walked towards the table and the portrait and all the things he’d hated and been afraid of. All the things I was newly afraid of. He leaned on me hard, but he was not heavy. His full weight was no longer that of a grown man. The alcohol had stolen most of his mass at that point.
I held him and I felt his tired old body tense up and go flush as he saw that photo and I felt him squeeze out some tears and I heard him say, “I’m so sorry, Carmen.” Not quite sobbing.
And in this moment, seeing him see her and seeing him lose her, I knew his love for her had always been there. It had not ceased, not a single day. His hatred all those years had been bitterness and loneliness and all the bad things that creep in and eat at a person. His mental health or lack thereof made worse by this unrequited thing.
After the funeral, Dad called me a lot of times. He would leave voicemails full of sympathy and pity and worry. “Carmen, it’s your dad. I’m worried aboutcha, call me back.” I couldn’t call him back. I couldn’t even begin to have the emotional energy to carry on a conversation with that man.
He reached out a lot of times, I think he thought that since Mom was gone, there would be some void big and deep enough that I’d let him fill some of it. No. He would have only made it wider. A reminder that the good one was gone. Cold blooded.
About 6 months after mom passed he slowly stopped calling. I think he learned there was no saving whatever our relationship ever was. Even the greatest loss of my life would not help me to need him. And I think when he realized that, it was all over for him. He lost the will. Whatever will was left in him anyways.
It’s a strange thing to watch someone let go of what pieces of their life they were clinging to. I watched Dad give my brother our family property. I watched them sign the paperwork. After Dad signed, his yellowed eyes welled with saline tears and his voice got tight and he asked if he could have a moment alone.
I could see in him the complete sober mortality of a man on his death bed.
A small part of me wanted to comfort him but he was in pain and the most hateful man anyways.
When he was dying, I thought hate had filled him to the brim. I was pretty sure there wasn’t room for anything else. But then I saw a bit of profound sadness. And then one small moment of something else. One of those days in the hospital I asked if he had anything he needed to say to me. I thought he would certainly make some crack. You don’t know a damn thing. Go to hell. Instead, all he said was, “I love you and I care about you.” He said it really stern, there were no tears, there was no smile or smirk or anything. His hardened face, the deep lines of a serious military man, looked like we were discussing the sale of a house or a new cell phone contract or something equally committing.
That Cover’s Been Judged, or Was it the Book
When my mom died, I realized quickly that I had already read the book that was supposed to comfort me after she passed. I had read it and loved it and told her about it. I read her the quotes that reminded me of her, like love letters or offerings.
I just started reading the book that’s going to make me feel better about my dad. It’s called All Over but the Shoutin’ and unlike the book for my mom, this one won’t be quotes of joy and mournful longing. This one will be sobering doses about a drunk who thought he was better than he was.
It would be about that man but also another one, a man who didn’t love the parts of himself that were good. The goofy, smart, eccentric qualities. All parts that were undermined by an ego and an idea of manhood and by expectations; by the world he railed against and also wanted so desperately to be accepted into.