The next Saturday afternoon I checked into my hotel in Edison, NJ, not far from the town of Woodbridge and the house I grew up in. I met up with my sisters, nieces and nephews who were also staying at the same hotel, as our mother had recently sold our childhood home and was now living near N’s house in Delaware. It was decided that all 7 of us would go to my father’s birthday celebration together in N’s mini-van. We left for Staten Island and about a half hour later arrived at the Italian restaurant which was located on the top floor of a strip mall.
Dinner was uncomfortable but we all knew that it would be. We played the role of loving, well-adjusted adult children though all of our relationships with A are strained and tenuous at best. We saw my father’s friends and family, most of whom we hadn’t seen in over 15 years. A majority of them did not recognize us kids at first, but all were happy to play with and help occupy N’s children. A wore a bandage over his swollen, gout-ridden fingers as he smiled, joked and pretended to be as happy and healthy a 70 year-old as there’s ever been.
Dinner ended, the cake was cut and goodbyes were said. Before leaving, I asked my father if the night had been everything that he’d wanted out of it. “And more, Matthew. It was wonderful, really, even better than I’d hoped” he answered. We drove back to New Jersey feeling good for having gone and fulfilled our duty. My sisters were headed back to Staten Island in the morning for one more meal with A but I had a plane to catch to get back to Seattle, so wouldn’t be joining them.
Almost 3 months after my father’s party, a week or so since he’s been in the rehab center I received another phone call from my stepmother,. There was excitement in her voice as she shared the news that her new, as-of-yet unnamed granddaughter was born earlier in the day, about a month before the due date. Baby and mother are healthy and recovering but I could hear in my stepmother’s tone that she eagerly wants to leave Florida and meet the little lady. She and my father split their time between the half duplex she owns on Staten Island and an apartment he owns in Florida near Boca Raton. His recent complications from the gout and accompanying bone infection accelerated in Florida, so down south is where they’re stuck, for now.
“Matthew, do you think I should pressure the doctor for a prognosis?” she asks me, while again, I hear the impatience building in her voice as she longs to head back north to be with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. “Yes, yes I do” I reply. “The thing is, if A’s mobility is as limited as it sounds, this may take a long time until he’s able to leave rehab and the two of you can be on your own again”. I’m not a medical professional but my opinion is that A isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m not going to tell my stepmother, but there’s a big part of me that feels like A may not be going anywhere else ever again. Not back to the apartment near Boca Raton, not on a plane headed back toward New York. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not. Only time will tell, but I just can’t help but think maybe, just maybe, my father is on his deathbed in a rehab center in Florida.