Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 110-119
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G. Winston James
Part 1: In the Family
It was 1989 when I went back to my mother. Not much by choice. I was fifteen and had been sheltered and loved by just my daddy for almost as long as I could remember. It was hard knowing that the three years I'd spent taking care of him in Florida with Alma, our neighbor and visiting nurse, hadn't been enough to make him better. Not enough to stop him from dying and allowing my mother to pull me back into her life and claim me. I didn't want to be claimed by anybody. At first. Let alone her. But daddy had been the wall that kept me apart from the world. Death was pulling him down stone by stone. Just yanking stones from everywhere. Taking my father out. Letting the light in in places. Giving my mother the room to finally extend her hand down into Aventura. It felt like her coming was strong and purposeful: to take me back after so long. But that's only the way I saw it then. Being young.
In the end, my daddy never knew what happened between mama, Alma and me. As a matter of fact, I think he would have died twice knowing how much I found out about his whole life just before he died. It turns out that daddy had lived his life like he was a criminal. On the run. Not being able to tell the whole truth to anybody without making them (at least in his mind) just as guilty as he was if they kept on loving him anyway. His death was a double sadness for me. Losing him and learning in the end that I hadn't known all of him as would have been true-to-life. But despite it all, I respected my daddy's spirit and never told my mother a word more of the truth than she already knew before setting eyes on me in Aventura.
That was eight years ago. Back then, I hadn't gone to school much or been near a hospital, so I didn't know much about my daddy dying from a disease. It sounds kind of ridiculous now--sitting up here at my grandmama's funeral--but it's true. Birds died--I knew, because I'd seen cats mesmerizing them the way my Uncle James used to captivate my daddy just before he'd pounce on him and make him laugh until he cried. The birds, though, as far as I knew, just died. Quick, like the way the word "dead" sounds when you speak it. Puppies died, too, but in the middle of the night, or just before I woke up so I never saw it, but heard it through my daddy's stomach as he rocked me and told me to cry so loud that God would hear me and know that I cared.
No, this dying of my daddy's was different. So slow that he didn't seem to know whether to be happy or sad. One minute he'd be fine and thanking me for living, and the next he'd be [End Page 110] coughing blood and cursing me for staying. Just yelling for me to get out. Telling me to go get Alma. But I knew he was just being a parent, those times--hating for me to see him weak and helpless. Much more like a child than I was myself. Sick as he was, he was afraid he couldn't hug me with his body, the way he still could with his failing mind. I told him over and over any way I could that I knew his every tear was a hug undeliverable and that as long as I had lips, I'd kiss each one from his cheek as it ran, because times being what they were, no sign of his affection should have been wasted. I loved my daddy.
"Waste not want not," he'd...