While I chatted with my partner, a shock of recognition kicked at my chest: today marked the anniversary of my old man’s death.
On this day, decades earlier, he had thrown one end of a quarter-inch rope (he would have called it “a line”) over a pipe suspended from the ceiling of his cluttered Boston laboratory, knotted a noose into the other end, dropped it over his head, and stepped off his worktable. He never said goodbye: no note, nothing.
Now, my old man was dying again, this time inside me, his consciousness slipping down a nightmare slope into the unexplored water of an imagined River Styx. Desperation raced through my system like adrenaline and my gut recoiled from the sharp kicks of his long-dead homunculus.
His life force pressed against my heart and lungs as it gasped for breath, fighting against the choice it had made. The dance progressed in paroxysms and I felt a strong pulse of regret in the blind, violent attempt it made to save itself. Slowly, the bucking in my organs weakened, subsided, then stilled, the body still warm, the spirit lingering, not wanting to go.
“Not a good way to die,” the spirit gasped with a familiar irony. I lost the signal. It was gone, leaving me alone opposite my partner in a fern bar at 81st and Amsterdam. I had reunited with the unrequited spirit of my father.
Tears fell on the back of my wrist and onto the cool, pink flesh of the salmon, sacrificed on a bed of greens. I dropped the fork from my shaking hand. “Either the fish is bad, or I’m about to keel over,” I told my partner. “I just felt my old man die… again.”
We left money on the table and walked outside into the pressurized mist of the underground day. Her compassion embraced me, but I could still feel my old man inside. “Look at what this guy decided to do,” I said. “What if …?”
“But you won’t.” She took my arm. “Let’s go to the museum.”
“It’s just Anubis, the gatekeeper of the afterlife,” my partner assured me.
“Yeah, well,” I said. “But that was still not a good way to die.”
We walked in tunnel darkness and I returned to my reunion, rerunning it, determined to find a solution, to ease the pain. “But I get to live,” I said out loud. “I get to go on and experience all this.”
We emerged from the tunnel into the rich, green light of Central Park. When we reached the museum, I sat on the smooth, green slats of a bench and sucked in the people, walking pretty, graceful, and alive under the shelter of trees.
Streets, trees, people, dogs, cars, cabs radiated light along Fifth Avenue, survivors, reaping the benefits of the program, talking with one another, reaching out to strangers and finding common ground in place, imagery, sentient existence. The moment felt unique, an opportunity to experience life, the unique arrangement of people, the words they spoke, the blare of taxi horns.
I was ready to accept it, this moment, not angry, sitting alone. I urged my partner to visit the museum. I wanted to sit on the bench and write. Passersby revealed their secrets to my eyes, my practiced eyes, experienced with viewing, out in the world, alive.
My old man had died long ago. I suffered his loss but survived to taste the rich broth of all things terrestrial, each precious object throwing off its own unique light, the patterns spiraling, morphing in front of me like a kaleidoscope.
My partner walked back down the green-tree corridor from the museum, carrying a shopping bag full of art books. She dropped the bag on the bench and sat down beside me.
“Survival,” she said. “Now that’s the key to the benefits program.”