The hospital room had low summer lighting. I think that’s what they call it, anyway. Summer lighting. It meant that the lighting wasn’t harsh or hard on the eyes. “Muted yellow lighting” would have been more descriptive.
Anyway, it was calm.
Much like the patient in the bed. He was calm, too. Peaceful. Apologetic.
In the last few months, he had made an effort to talk with everyone. His kids, his brothers, me.
In each case, he had offered up an offer of peace. His way of saying he was sorry. Sorry for the way he had treated us. Sorry for the angst and anger he had vented on us. Sorry for the hurt. Sorry for the pain and the worry and the overwhelming fear he had provoked.
He told each of us that he loved us. It seemed important to him for some reason.
I vaguely recall the time he told me that too. I accepted what he said, politely. That’s what you do, when someone says they love you. Especially when that someone has been a vision of horror for such a large portion of your life. You smile and you say “me too”.
Whether you mean it or not is another thing entirely.
I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I damned well did not love him.
When he breathed his last breath under that summer lighting in that hospital bed, I breathed a sigh of relief. And I felt marginally guilty for doing so.
I went home that night. My daughter was in the kitchen, doing something. I don’t recall exactly what. Probably doing dishes.
Leaving the lights off, I sat down at the piano, and started to play. I didn’t have a song in mind, so I created one. Arpeggios came to mind, and I followed through. Minor keys, major keys. A rhythm. It coalesced into…..something.
It was at once stark, painful and hopeful. It was peaceful, and sad. I decided to make it a song about my dad. I called it “Hope of Glory”.
When the time came and we had the Catholic mass for him, I sat at the front of the church and I played that song.
Interspersed with the melody were the vibrations of memory.
My father, drunk and angry. Wrapping a chain around his fist. My mother yelling at him. He had been pulled over by a cop earlier that week and by God he was going to go hunt for the cop and repay him. My mother threatening to call the police the moment he left the house.
My fingers caressed the keys, plinking away at the foundation of the song.
My dad, drunk once again, looking for a fight. Hearing me say something at the top of the cellar stairs. I don’t recall what it was, but I had made the mistake of disagreeing with him. “ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?”
“But..” I started to say “that’s not what——” Then I heard him running to the bottom of the stairs. I turned, opened the door and bolted outside.
His 350 pound lumbering gait was no match for my lithe 140 pound sprint. I could at least outrun him. He roared in frustration at the door. “DON’T COME BACK”
My fingers picked up the melody, to counterbalance the bass line. The rhythm began.
My dad, raising his voice. The first sign of a rage that would be repeated each weekend, and eventually every other weekday for years.
A series of thumps and scrambling and grunts. My mom, crying out. My grandmother yelling at him to stop.
My fingers played eloquently on the keys, calmly following through on the variation. The silence of the church.
My dad, now sober, unable to relate to me. We’re sitting in the living room, a show on TV. He says something. I say something in response, politely. Awkward silence.
The song I play now building in volume and depth. Searching…searching….
My father, laughing now with his brothers at a picnic. Relating to them, and to a few of my siblings. But not to me. My mother, close-lipped and patient. Me, just wanting to get away.
The song now slows, and I bring it to an end. Finally.
On the night I first play the song, my daughter comes to my side. Puts her hand around my shoulder. “What’s that, dad? It’s beautiful.”
“It’s just a song I made up, sweetheart. It’s for my dad.” She squeezes my shoulder. My head is bowed, and my tears drop quietly.
He’s been dead for at least a decade now. A little while ago I had a dream. It was about him. We were talking and laughing and I think we played some baseball or something. I regret not writing it down when I woke up.
The only thing I know is: it was good. And, apparently after making a concerted effort time and again over the years to forgive him for his drunken violent rages, I’ve finally made peace with him.
Hope of glory.