You have been gone since September 2010, but it still stings like it happened yesterday. You died in our home–in our bedroom, in fact–and sometimes I still feel your spirit here. Sometimes I will be writing and the perfect song will queue up and the sunshine will brighten the room and I know that you are watching over us. One of the most difficult things I have ever done was cleaning the garage because I had to dig through your belongings, touch your possessions, see pieces of you in the items you coveted, and you were so tangible in those moments that I often broke down into tears. I remembered stories behind items–like the barrel your father filled with whiskey before going off to fight in World War II, and how they opened it to celebrate upon his return, only to discover a plump and dead rat floating in the alcohol–and in turn remembered you. You were the greatest man I have ever known in this lifetime. I realize what a tremendous statement that is, but it is true. You were like some insanely manufactured prototype unwilling to abide conventional wisdom or allow anything to interfere with your love for others. I can only imagine the happiness and pride you must have felt the day you brought me home from the adoption agency, and shrink shamefully when I ponder the hurt and sorrow and pain you endured at my hands so many years later. We barely had a genuine relationship as I grew up, through no fault of yours. Ma had custody of me and we ran from one terrible situation to the next, staying with drug dealers and bikers and surgeons and assholes, scurrying between Oregon and California and eventually out of the country. When I became a force beyond her control, she asked for your help. And of course you welcomed your twelve-year-old son into your home with loving arms. But I was damaged. I was broken already. You were unprepared for the tempest. I stole your credit cards, ran away, broke curfew. I told you I hated you. I stole from the church in which you were a deacon. I dealt and consumed drugs out of your house. I damaged and destroyed your belongings, threw things at you, and lied about everything. I skipped school. You would have to leave work early to get me out of holding cells. Police routinely visited your work to question you about my involvement in a hundred shenanigans. Police routinely visited our house looking for me. You would drive to Salem to pick me up from Juvenile Hall after I spent the weekend incarcerated and drive me to school, and the entire time I would promise it would never again happen. We never had much money and I was angry about that. My clothes were old and out of style. We couldn’t afford to buy me new tennis shoes. But we never starved. The lights never went out. We were never without a roof. You sent me to private school and worked two and three jobs to make the bills. I rewarded you by stealing your cash and coming home drunk and laughing in your face when you confronted me. You believed in me nonetheless, encouraging me and reminding me that your love was unconditional. You placed me in rehab and I bullshitted my way through, but you were there almost everyday. Supporting me. Loving me. Hugging me. Asking me why I was so angry.
Remember when I was shacked up in that hotel room, hiding from the cops? You visited and ordered me a pizza. I stood on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, and watched you get pulled over by the CPD. The cops had their guns drawn. I knew then that you would tell them where I was. I sat down inside my room and waited. Five minutes later, I was in custody. I never told you that I don’t blame you for that. I was actually never mad about that incident. It had to happen. You were just an honest man who wanted the best for me, even if it meant another stretch in jail. You used to tell me that at least when I was locked up, you knew I was safe and being fed. I cannot shake the image of you visiting me in county, how dark your eyes were from lack of sleep and how pale and sad you looked as we talked through glass.
I moved away and we didn’t speak for a long time. I’m not sure I even remember why. You visited once and I remember not wanting you there. I had my own life. You were intruding. We eventually reconciled. I told you many times how sorry I was for so many things. You bragged to others how well I was doing, even though you didn’t know how deeply addicted to drugs and crime I had become. Maybe you did. It works like that sometimes.
In summer 2010, your doctor told me you had three months left to live. You didn’t know where you were going to go or what you were going to do. Your hair had fallen out from radiation treatments. You had lost so much weight. You were so brave even then because your faith was so secure that you didn’t worry about dying. My wife and I made arrangements for you to stay in our home. You went to the beach one last time with the VanTassels. You watched the sun set over the ocean. And then it all happened so very quickly. People came and went, and you all said your goodbyes. I had planned for us to do a few things together, but you were just too weak and sick. And you never complained. Even suffering as greatly as I imagine you did, you didn’t complain. I changed your diapers the way you had once changed mine. I fed you the way you had once fed me. I cried at your bedside and begged your forgiveness and felt like the miserable and petty little selfish man who I am. I told you I’d get it right in the next life, and you nodded and told me you had forgiven me long ago. You died quietly and with dignity.
Your absence has left a vast hole in my heart, Pops. I know you forgave me, but I still struggle to forgive myself. You are gone, but I hold you close to me daily. I know that you are watching from Heaven, and that you are laughing and smiling with me and your grandchildren. Until we meet again, know that I love you and miss you.