The Judge has just told my father that he can’t go home yet.
Twenty minutes ago he was all over the place. We were waiting in the hallway for someone to summon us into the conference room where the commitment hearings are held, and he was talking about writing a book on mold, and about learning to become a court stenographer. And then he said something about his sister dying; and a party for my mom. He was everywhere. Now he is just here, in this room, crying. He is like a four-year-old who was happily pretending to be Superman – thinking that maybe he actually was Superman – and then a grown up came and told him that he wasn’t allowed to fly, and that he should just go clean his room instead.
They have him in a wheelchair today, and I don’t know why. He was walking perfectly fine two weeks ago, when they took him in. He has walked fine all of his life, as far as I know. But today: a wheelchair. And he’s wearing somebody else’s shorts. My mother brought him a suitcase full of all his favorite clothes when he first came here, but he keeps losing them on the ward, or maybe trading them or selling them. Who knows. Every time we visit, he’s wearing stuff that doesn’t fit, and it makes him look even less like himself to us.
Twenty minutes ago, when he was still Superman, I was concerned about the wheelchair and annoyed about the clothes, and I had some questions about his meds – ie. is there a chance they’re making him worse. But now that he’s crying, I too am just here, in this room.
I held his hand all through the hearing. I squeezed it, and I put my head on his shoulder.
When we get out into the hall, I hug him. He is sobbing now; he wants to know why we won’t let him come home. Don’t we love him anymore? Is he going to die in this place? I take his face in my hands and I make him look me in the eyes. I tell him, unequivocally that we all love him, and are doing everything we can to help him. I promise him that he will be home soon. Not today, but soon.
His skin is much thinner than it used to be, much thinner than it was when I was a kid. Back then I though he was Superman. He was tall with long legs and broad shoulders. He worked in the factory and he worked in the garden, and he yelled a lot, but he never cried. We didn’t hug and kiss and say I love you the way we do now. There was distance between us. I used to think it was created by all the unarticulated hurt and resentment of my adolescence. I imagined it building up like plaque and choking the air around us. But maybe that’s wrong, and the space was always there. We are both hard people, my father and I.
I’m not generally of the mind that everything happens for a reason. My mother is super religious; she prays the rosary every day – multiple times a day when my dad is sick. She sees every struggle as a test of her faith. She’s one of those. I don’t fault her for it – it’s how she got through nine miscarriages, two foreclosures, a drunk father, a drunk husband, and a thousand other struggles, without ever becoming unpleasant. I’ve never questioned the purpose or value of religion in her life. But I’ve never been able to fully adopt the premise for myself.
Except for right now, in this moment, with my father’s face in my hands. When I was a kid, this same face was always 1,000 miles away from me, even when it was in the same room: hidden beneath eyeglasses and a mustache, drenched in the sweat of a hard day’s work or a long night’s drink, or shrouded in the darkness of a room lit only by late-night television. It was coarse and unpredictable, something to avoid. Now it’s pale and soft with wrinkles. Now it looks up at me from a wheelchair, bewildered and afraid.
Now, I press my hands to it without hesitation and wipe tears from it with my thumbs. And it occurs to me that this exact moment might be the reason. I imagine all the rough years between us like sandpaper grinding down the corners, gradually weathering away the sharp edges — the same way that lapidarists will polish irregular stones into smooth shiny gems, or that eons of wind will make jagged mountains into soft round hills. Whatever the thing is that’s left when those processes have run their course, that’s what’s left between my father and I now.
After court, I head back to the city. My boyfriend sits next to me on the couch and holds my hand as I try to explain that moment. All that comes are tears, and in my head, the word sacred.