Sunday Visit to My Dying Dad



On Sundays, we speak in Jazz.  Coltrane.  Davis.  Parker.  Gordon.  Roach. Stitt. Long conversations that sometimes lasts for hours.  In-between sets, he cooks.

He cooks Jamaican food in the communal kitchen outside his room, at the end of the hallway in this single room occupancy building. Curried goat.  Stew peas and rice. Red pea soup.  Rice and peas.  Oxtails.  Other people with mental issues scream some or moan or just talk rapidly to shadows in their heads as he brings the food back to the room.  I pretend not to hear them.

He fixes my plate.  Asking me if I want pepper sauce.  I nod yes.  He pours it on the rice mostly. He does not eat.  He says he is not hungry.

He sits at his old white wooden desk, before the youtube video of a jazz concert playing. He looks down, eyes half-closed, as if in meditation, hands clasped in prayer. I look at the video.  I look at him.  I look at the desk.

The desk has his headphones and books and his chromebook  and doctor’s prescriptions and crap and crap and more crap and empty pill bottles on it.

He takes pills for depression and schizophrenia and something else that escapes me now.

I turn away and look out the window.  I eat and listen to the horns until he changes the video.

Monty Alexander is playing now.  He and dad were friends in Jamaica.  An aunt told me that Monty used to play the piano in their parlor when they were children.  I thought that was really funny, because it reminded me that my dad had a parlor when they were kids and that they also had more than one parlor and that they even had maids in those parlors and other servants doing other servant things on an estate with even more servants doing even more servant things and that all of that meant nothing, because here we were sitting in a dirty room paid for by money he gets from the government for not being all that well in his head.  Fucking hilarious if you ask me.

I try not to look at the filth, the piles of it in the corners of the room, the bundles of it under his desk, the stacks of it on the book shelf.  It is not always this bad, but some days it is this bad and worse.  Don’t forget my aunt reminds me whenever she thinks I really don’t understand.  “Don’t forget, he is not well.  It is important that you don’t forget this.”

A lady was sent to help him clean his room and tend to his pain.  She stopped coming when she realized that he didn’t want her there.  What made her think he didn’t want her there I asked my aunt.  “Because,” my aunt said. “He told her from the other side of his closed door that if she didn’t stop knocking on his door, he would call the police.”  That’s fucking nuts, I said.  My aunt looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes, it is.”

The food is Jamaica.  Spicy.  Hot.  The smell alone of the scotch bonnet peppers he cooks with can burn your eyes.

The only other food he really likes are cheeseburgers.  That’s what he ate the one time he allowed me to bring him food.  It was on the day he was so sick he could not get off his stomach, the day that reminded us both that he is dying.  He ate lying down.

There are unopened boxes of ketosis test strips on the windowsill.  They are next to a two liter bottle of Pepsi.  One time when my aunt came with me to visit him, she asked him if he was using them.  He got angry, looked away from her, kept his eyes on Lee Morgan on youtube, waited until the set was done, and then said, “What’s the point?  My sugar is high,  I know it’s high.  I have diabetes.  But really, what’s the point.”

Six years ago my father got prostate cancer or at least six years ago he found out he had it. Before he saw the doctor, he had been peeing every twenty minutes for about one year prior to the visit to the clinic. Two years after that, he found out he had tumors near his liver. A year after that he discovered he had some by his lungs.

A year after that, he found out he wasn’t really fat like he thought he was, but rather, that he had a tumor in his stomach the size of a watermelon.  When they took that tumor out at NYU, I heard a nurse say that some doctors were taking pictures of the tumor. I remember thinking that here is another reason I like that show, Grey’s Anatomy, because it is so fucking true to life.  When I told this to my wife, she said didn’t understand.  I asked her what didn’t she understand, the Grey’s Anatomy reference or the fact that my dad just fucking gave birth to a tumor.

Today he has tumors everywhere.  Okay, maybe I am stretching the truth some, maybe they are not everywhere, maybe after the doctor told me they are in the lungs and the liver and the bones, I just kind of fucking lost it, and inside my head I said, “Oh shit, my dad has tumors fucking everywhere.”

I was not close to my dad growing up.  He was more of a missing father kind of a father. But he had his reasons for being a fucked-up dad. He was abused and shit as a kid and then sort of abandoned some and then sort of misled some and then sort of became an alcoholic mostly and then did some heroine kind of and eventually went fucking crazy a bit and was homeless for a while and then almost got burned to death by a bunch of guys who tried to burn him to death in a pool hall one night, which is really fucking ironic, cause I shoot pool a lot, and then he just lost it completely and was put in a psych ward in Bellvue and then became clean and sober and a savior to a whole bunch of people who always seem to want to cry when they see me with my dad and then they come to tell me how if not for him, they would have fucking died, which is really funny, because the few times I almost fucking died, he was never anywhere to be seen.  Just saying is all.

I see my dad every Sunday except for last Sunday.  I came close to seeing him last Sunday, but then just as I was about to knock on his door, after I had signed into the guest book downstairs and even spoken to his assigned Social Worker in the building, I remembered a story he told me before he got this last bit of bad news about all the cancer that can not be cured in his body.  It was long and I am sure interesting, or it must have been, because it was one of the few times he spoke to me without the music talking for him.  The reason I am not sure how interesting it was is because I stopped caring about the plot when he came to a part of the story where he mentioned where the action of the story was taking place and when.  The street he was on in this long epic story was only one block away from the street where I lived and the year was 1981.  I was 11 at the time and my grandfather had just died and we had just moved from Brooklyn to the city. So from that point on, his story sounded like this to me, “Yadda Yadda Yadda Yadda Yadda 12th street Yadda Yadda Yadda 1981 Yadda…..”  I think you get the fucking point.

I came to see him after I graduated from Howard.  My aunt had just sent me this long fucking letter telling me how I should forgive him for shit and also that he had just lost his second wife, which was really funny because I never knew he had been remarried, and even today am not even sure if he had really been remarried American style, or if he had done that Jamaican common law marriage shit.  In the letter she also told me his wife had died of AIDs which then led me to think that maybe he had HIV too.  It made sense to me at the time, because before I went to college, he had shown me his back which was full of needle holes from all the fucking places he had shot up.  And so I did go and see him after college and I even went to some AA meetings with him and  I learned a lot, but not enough to really forgive him and shit.  But still I learned a lot.

Today dad is not playing jazz, but instead Reggae.  He listens to Folk and Classical and Reggae too.  It’s Bob Marley.  It is Sunday again and today I decided to actually come in his room and sit down on his filthy bed and eat with him and listen to music, like I do almost every Sunday.  And as always, he hardly speaks and I kind of speak, but in the end, we really don’t say much at all.  Then he does this fucking crazy thing, he puts on the song, Three Little Birds, and says to me, using real fucking words, and looking right at me, “This is for you.”

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.
Singing’ “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright!”

Rise up this mornin’,
Smiled with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Saying’, (“This is my message to you”)

Singing’ “Don’t worry ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
Singing’ “Don’t worry (don’t worry) ’bout a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright!”

Rise up this mornin’,
Smile to the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, “This is my message to you”

Singin’ “Don’t worry about a thing, worry about a thing, oh!
Every little thing gonna be alright. Don’t worry!”
Singin’ “Don’t worry about a thing” I won’t worry!
“‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”

Singin’ “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright” I won’t worry!
Singin’ “Don’t worry about a thing,
Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
Singin’ “Don’t worry about a thing, oh no!
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright!”

Then my dad changes the video from Bob Marley to Monty, looks down and closes his eyes, his hands clasped in a prayer.  And I look at only him, not seeing anything else in the room at all, and then I finally  fucking cry.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post.  Please feel free to leave a comment.





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