“We got him back,” said one Government bureaucrat to the other. “Can we not make the same mistake next time?”
“I scared you? Tell me what you think happened… ” James replied slowly, sitting upright in the bed, adjusting his artificial limb for comfort.
“Dad! I think you had a heart attack. You almost died. We almost lost you…” Michael said softly, his hand still caressing his dad’s forehead.
The candles flickered, the shadows in the room waxed and waned in both depth and dimension. The album continued to fill the dark, still air with James’ favorite of Crosby Still and Nash song:
“We have all be here before…we have all be here before…”\
The mood was melancholy and filled with fear and trepidation. Dad seemed confused, Michael was in a cold sweat. Carla stepped back to allow Father and Son to express themselves.
“…but, but Michael,” James stuttered, reaching for his crutch so he could stand and not feel like such an invalid prone in bed. The bed sensed his movement and the head automatically raised, assisting him. “I can’t explain it, but I feel more alive than ever. I feel like I just woke up. I feel like my life is just beginning. It’s…it’s truly weird, but I haven’t felt like this in a long, long time.”
Abruptly he swung his legs over the side of the bed, and without using his crutch, jumped over to his son and embraced him in a long, joyful hug, slapping him on the back vigorously as he did so.
Michael hugged him back firmly, tears streaming down his cheeks, just happy that his Dad was alive. Right now, it didn’t matter that Dad was making no sense.
Carla gasped with joy, running towards them and embracing them both.
James took a step backward. They both gaped at him, open mouthed, waiting for him to speak.
“Somehow,” James spoke, deliberately slowly, “I’ve had time to examine my whole life. Not just the cliché “life flashing before my eyes” type of thing, but each moment, moment by moment, as if I relived my entire existence once more…I’m having a hard time explaining it…”
“It’s okay Dad…just sit…and talk. Sit on the side of the bed.”
James sat. The bed, sensing the new position, lowered the head automatically and self-adjusted the mattress with more air making James feel comfortable.
“My life has been a complete folly,” James continued, but with no pity, regret or sorrow in his voice, just the surprise of sudden realization. “I know…I know…” he said, raising his right hand and opening his palm a few inches from Michael’s face, not giving him the chance to speak or respond. “I know I can’t retrieve the last 35 years or do them over…you don’t get any mulligans in real life…but I somehow know that I can move forward and focus on what’s important, and do the right thing.”
“Sure Dad, you can do that…you can do that. Carla,” Michael continued, turning his head quietly to his wife. “Could you please bring me and Dad some tea? We need a moment.”
Carla turned quietly and left for the kitchen. As she left, the motion of her body caused the candles to flicker and the shadows to come alive.
“I’ve lived in my time and chased the moments of my time,” James continued. “Today, those issues I chased are only a story; not even an interesting one. No one remembers Nixon, or Watergate, or the Vietnam War for that matter. I was passionate about those issues then, but now here I sit…and for the first time I realize I threw away most of my life chasing issues that never existed. It was all a farce. Theatre. Make believe. None of it was worth my while. I was involved in a theatre of the absurd and never realized it.”
Michael was supportive. He was calm. But he didn’t know what to say, except: “Yeah, sure Dad. Sure. Why don’t you sit back and we’ll have some tea together. Everything is going to be okay. Maybe I should call the paramedics.”
“No!” James suddenly yelled, then toned it down to a whisper: “No, you don’t have to do that son…I’m fine.”
“Okay Dad, okay…” Michael quietly responded. His face was getting red with anxiety. He decided to do nothing but listen. Perhaps listening was best.
“Do you remember when you were nine years old Michael? When you were nine, and I took away your Big-Bird puppet because you weren’t cleaning your room. Do you remember that?”
Michael paused. His face pinched together trying to pull the memory from the recesses of his mind. Then his eyebrows raised in a moment of realization: “Oh yea Dad! I remember that! I loved that Big-Bird puppet! I was so angry at you, and I remember I cried for days until you finally give it back to me!”
“Are you still mad about me about that, Michael? Are you still mad about how I took that Big-Bird puppet away?”
Michael laughed out loud. “Hell, Dad, I barely remembered! Of course I’m not mad.” His head rolled back and he bellowed.
“But you can remember how you felt at the time?”
“Sure, sure, now that you mention it Dad.”
“Well that’s my point, Son. I was as passionate about my issues at the time, as you were about your Big-Bird puppet. But that Big-Bird puppet doesn’t matter now does it? Just like the issues I have spent my entire life chasing…don’t matter now, do they?”
There was a pause, a silence filled the darkness. The candlelight continued to flicker, the shadows moved like ghosts on the wall.
“I’m awake now, and I don’t know why,” James continued. “I’m awake and I realize that nothing really matters. The only thing that matters is to choose a path with a heart, and pursue it.”
Michael looked at his Dad quizzically. He’d never heard his Dad speak like this before. It was if he went to sleep, and woke up a different person.
“So what are you trying to say Dad? I don’t quite get it?”
James bend over, picked up his prosthetic limb and started to re-attach it so he could walk out of the room.
“It means, Michael…I had my Nixon and my Vietnam where I lost this leg,” his eyes turned downward, toward his missing limb, and he shook his head from left to right, slowly, sadly: “And you’ve got your Drumpf with the threat of nuclear annihilation…but in the end, it won’t really matter…nothing really matters…we just pretend it matters. You see, pretending something matters give us a reason to live.”
Michael paused, trying to understand what his Dad was saying. Then he calmly replied, “but don’t I matter Dad? Don’t I matter?”