Friday, September 21, 2012

Tiny Love (Part I)

Angela received the call the previous night, about the impending death of her stepfather, Pops. She hadn’t seen him in six years, and had ambivalent feelings about seeing him now.

Even though they were living in the same town, it was difficult for her to see him. She didn’t like the crowd he kept – needy, slimy people who seemed to have some kind of agenda. His house was always full of them. The last time she had seen him, at a barbeque he threw, the place was full of his friends, stuffing their faces with food like it was their last meal, and tossing back top-shelf liquor like tap water. There were at least four women fussing around the kitchen like they were in charge; it was hard to tell which one, if any, he had been involved with then. It just wasn’t the kind of behavior becoming of a man in his late sixties, it was the reason she spent less and less time with him.

She had received the phone call the day before, from his girlfriend Linda, who had come into his life two years before, after his prostate cancer took a turn for the worse. She had re-introduced him to church, weaned him from the bottle, and apparently had been taking care of him for the past several months. Because her calls to him had become less and less frequent, she hadn’t known that he had been in and out of the hospital in the past few weeks. Linda had called to let her know that her time to make amends was now.

As she parked in front of his house she noticed that the grass was long and unkempt, the garage door was askew and there trash on the sidewalk. It was obvious that this was the home of someone who wasn’t taking care of things anymore.

Short, plump and graying Linda answered her knock. Linda had moved in to take care of Pops after he had come home from the hospital. She had taken a leave of absence from her job as a nurse and was working with the Hospice at Home people to make his transition as smooth as possible. Sitting down with Angela in the living room, she gave a grim update. Pops had a few more weeks to live, at most. He was still eating and drinking, still getting around and watching his favorite television shows, but he was showing signs of a failing mind in addition to a failing body. The cancer had spread to his liver and stomach; possibly his brain.

Linda was an enthusiastic Christian and lived her life according to the Gospel. She had taken Pops back to church two years ago, urged him to stop drinking and carousing, and get baptized. She took a great deal of pride in that, as Angela could see by her self-righteous expression as she said all of this. Something about it made Angela’s skin crawl just a little bit. It wasn’t the idea of being a Christian, which Angela had no objection to, though she didn’t believe in any of that stuff herself. It was the “self-righteousness” of it, the whole sort of “see what I did!” that was annoying. It just didn’t seem sincere, as if she were putting on a show. “Can I see him now,” Angela gently interrupted. She could see that this could last all night, and she really just wanted to spend some time with Pops.

Her relationship with Pops was complicated. He had married her mother when she was only 8 years, old, two years after her father’s untimely death. Pops had adopted her and raised her as his own, and she was his only child. She had been a late gift in the life of her parents. She had two siblings who had been away in college when her mother re-married. She loved him, but her first loyalty was to her mother, and her second to her father’s memory. He seemed to understand that he could never replace her father, which was good, but he never really knew how to parent. His idea of being a father was to provide for, but he didn’t know how to give a hug or have a heart to heart. He failed miserably in filling the void that her father’s death left, so she grew up calling him Pops and showing him the respect due a parent, but it wasn’t like having a father. When she had married and was at home with a young child of her own, she learned that her mother was divorcing him. It turned out that he had been having affairs for years, and she had just had enough. Angela supported her decision and helped her mother sell her house and move to Florida.

Once her Mom left she tried to maintain a relationship with Pops, but it was tough with all the partying and hangers-on. He had retired from a really good job; however she knew that he didn’t have enough money to maintain that kind of lifestyle. Somehow, he always seemed to have more than enough. There were always women – younger, older, Black, White, Asian, everyone was represented. His younger friend Joe, drunk, sleazy and leering, was always there too, eyeing Angela openly. She didn’t like going to his get-togethers, but that was the only time she was invited over. If he wasn’t entertaining, he was in the bars. All day, all night.

As she entered his room, he was propped up in bed, listlessly watching a game show on his big screen television. She sat in the chair next to his bed, grabbed his hand and said, “hey Pops. How ya’ feeling?” As he turned to face her, slowly, he started to grin and she didn’t recognize the look she saw in his eyes. “Hey, how are YOU doing,” he asked, grinning broadly, and, with a little start she realized that he didn’t recognize her. He thought she was someone else, and he was openly flirting with her.

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