“Everything else was a piece of cake”

Whenever my dad takes to his bed for several days, hardly eating, mostly sleeping, I think the end is near. “Naked we come, and naked we go, Suzanne,” he always likes to remind me during these deathbed talks, where I sit on the edge of his bed, one hand resting on the top of his skull, the other hand gently massaging his bony spine. “You have healing hands, Suzanne. The Lord gave you magnetic hands . . .”

While my mom sits in the living room, reading over and over again in the large print Reader’s Digest the same article about the assassination of JFK (last night she asked me, “Was this man shot in Ojai?”), my dad launches into another life review, often repeating things I’ve heard before, but almost always adding another precious detail, giving me new insight on how his life, and thus my life, was formed.

My father always reminds me that he survived the worst of the worst life has to offer. “After what I saw, Suzanne . . . can you imagine, a civilized country like America dropping two atomic bombs, which are like firecrackers compared to what we have now? After what I saw, Suzanne, I compare the rest of my life to those horrible days and everything else was a piece of cake.”

My dad believes in God and the devil, that there will be a day of judgment, that we will have a great reunion with all our loved ones in heaven, and that God will intervene at the last minute, before the devil blows the Earth to smithereens.

As he reviews the course of his life, he says, “It really is like looking at a movie, Suzanne, a long movie that flashes by in the twinkling of an eye.”

He agrees with me that the Earth is a loony bin and that it doesn’t make sense.

For me, it’s revealing to hear my dad describe the ways he’s failed me. His exact words: “I’ve failed you, Suzanne. I was not there when you needed me. I was working. I was preoccupied.” He confesses again to the times he intervened behind my back, like the time my son’s biological father came to visit us and he took him aside and ordered him to leave town. Last night he told me, “He was dressed so neatly, Suzanne; maybe he had good intentions coming to see you. Maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said . . .”

Part of me is a detached writer, a witness anthropologist, when my dad reveals how he sees the past. Part of me is the rejected, fed-up, wounded oldest daughter who wishes that for once he would be fair and straighten things out, and do right by me while he still has a chance. But, alas, he won’t even let my dogs into the house, although that act alone would make my life so much easier.

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