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(My Father's Dead) IfOnIyI Could Tell You Jenny Spinner The wistful implicit in that conditional verb—I could teU—conveys an urge more primitive than a storyteller's search for an audience. It betrays not a lonelinessfor someone who will listen but a hopelessness about language itselfand a sad recognition of its limitations. How much reality can subject-verb-object bear on the frail shoulders ofthe sentence? The sigh within the statement is more like this: I could tell you stories—ifonly stories could tell what I have in me to tell. —Patricia Hampl, / Could Tell You Stories When the ambulance backs slowly into the driveway with my father inside, we step out into the cold April rain to welcome him home. AU day my brother, sister, and I have been preparing for his arrival: vacuuming , dusting, setting up a television in my parents' bedroom—now cluttered with a hospital bed and commode—hanging photographs and homemade posters on the closet doors and waUs. My sister makes one with half-dried markers that she discovers in the bottom ofour old toy chest: "We love you, Dad. Thank you for aU you've done for us. We promise to take good care of each other."We squeeze everything we want to say to him, our last words, onto these posters. We bid him goodbye in print because we do not have the courage to teU him in person, to look him in the eye and with aU hope gone say, "Dad, we're so sorry you have to die." My mother is his lover, his witness and confidant, so we are left to be his kids, 30 years old but still his kids, bumbhng about in a bewfldered state of "How can it be?"When he has to use the urinal in the car, we talk poUtics to drown the sound of the dark water hitting the sides ofthe plastic container. When he crawls up the stairs on his hands and knees, crawls Uke a dog, we pretend we don't see. But when he reaches the top, we are there, helping him to his chair in the Uving room where we sit for hours, watching NASCAR and bringing him Gatorade. With blood pressure so low it barely registers, he is too tired to move and 135 136Fourth Genre spends his waking hours watching racecars circle the track onTV "Read him poetry," someone suggests. I think, this is his poetry, these cars in motion. My father knows he is dying. The chemotherapy, never meant to cure him, only to buy time, isn't even doing that. At the beginning ofApril, just two months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, his oncologist breaks the news. My father's body is fuU of cancer. "How long does he have?" my mom asks. My dad looks at the doctor and waits, his entire face a held breath. "One, maybe two months," the doctor says. My dad's face faUs in one long exhale that keeps falling even after the air is gone. "Do you want to go home?" the doctor asks. My dad nods. Eight months after my parents took their first trip abroad to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, four months after my dad toasted his 58th birthday three months after he couldn't shake what he thought was the flu and stayed home Christmas Eve while the rest of us attended the candlelight vigil, my father goes home to die. The night before he is discharged from the hospital, the oncologist gathers us around my dad's bed for a prayer. He ends every visit this way, and my dad loves him for it. By the end of each prayer, each call for a miracle or mercy for God's will, His help in healing, His peace, my dad is weeping. This mention of God bares him to the core ofhis failing self. Whatever else becomes lost in the fog of his dying, this much is clear: he loves God, and my mother. The first affair he puts in order after his diagnosis is a new car for my mom—a white Lincoln Town Car, beautiful and extravagant. He cannot...


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pp. 135-143
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