It was a Tuesday two weeks ago and I was sitting in my office at work. Things were pretty quiet, my boss was away. Summer light was coming through the window, the computer screen was my main amusement.
I had called my mother in the morning, some kind of short check-in call, nothing unusual, and she is calling me.
It’s about 1:30 in the afternoon and my mother’s name comes up on my small black iPhone. I felt a small click of alertness. My mother and I don’t speak twice in one day. Once we’ve had a call we wait at least a week.
But I’ve had that small click of alertness before when she has called or left a message, and there has been no reason for it. So I felt the click and answered the phone, waiting for it to be something unimportant.
But this time it finally wasn’t. This time finally it was the call I had been waiting for for a long time – months, years – my mother’s voice was the same – calm, quiet, concerned. She had just gotten a call, my father had died in his sleep that morning.
I heard it like I might hear any news. Calm, very calm. My mother and I spoke just for a minute or two and then I hung up.
I called Fred, but he didn’t answer. There was no one at work to go talk to. The afternoon continued – a few phone calls, some scheduling to figure out, emails to send, photocopies. When I passed someone in the hall I said hi the way I always do and once in awhile I noticed that I’d forgotten my father had just died.
For a long time, usually when I am driving, I have asked myself – OK, Dad is probably going to die soon. Are you done? Will you be OK if he does? Will you have any regrets of things you could take care of now?
And it always felt like there was nothing more to say or do.
Last year for his birthday I sent a Fritz Kreisler CD – some of my favorite violin music, very easy to listen to – I was sure he would like it. I hadn’t sent him a present in years, hadn’t been inspired until I got the idea to send him that record.
Somewhere last year I got some kind of note from him – he wasn’t writing himself anymore, someone was typing for him and he was signing an approximation of his familiar signature.
I had noticed his signature when I was little, had asked him about it. “Why do you write your name like that, Daddy? No one can read it.” I couldn’t read any of his writing when I was little, but especially that signature seemed not even meant to be legible. He had answered with some kind of pride, as if he had fashioned that signature with care, with an eye to impressing others, and I had done right to notice.
Last year, the signature he scrawled at the bottom of the short paragraph someone else had typed was shaky, spidery. In the note last year, the last one I’ve received from him I think, he had urged me to be more in touch. “We used to be such good friends,” he had written.
He must have been thinking of me as a toddler, adoring him.
I called on Christmas. He was unable to speak. I don’t know if he understood me or not. He managed one strangled phrase, “keep in touch,” though it sounded generic, something he might say to anyone.
So I will not hear his voice again though I can hear it easily in my head. I can hear his Hungarian accent that for the first ten years or so of my life I thought was just his voice.
The last time I saw him was 2006. I said good-bye from the back seat of a taxi, him in the front. He had insisted on getting a taxi for me and Fred to take us back to our apartment across the Danube on the other side of the city. We actually were staying much closer to my father, but I didn’t want him to know this, fearing that our presence would be in even higher demand.
I didn’t want my father to get the taxi because I knew he had no money. We didn’t either so I couldn’t pay for it. But he insisted, and he told the driver to take the scenic route by the castle lit up at night.
And when the taxi stopped outside the apartment we were not staying in, I was pretty sure this was our last time, and I think my father must have been thinking something similar. There were tears in his eyes, not unusual for him. “Goodbye, Dad, goodbye,” I said, not lingering.
It is a tragedy that anyone dies and disappears and is gone forever. And I feel that, but my father was my father and our connection was in shambles and irreparable. He is a sad being, someone I have felt sorry for for decades.
I have searched for a moment when we were together and he was not trying to impose something on me. I have searched for a moment when things were really right between us, and I don’t find one.
So I am left with the memory – a million memories – of him that I know I will continue to write and think about – someone I knew, my first lover, you could say, a deeply injured person, someone who was once huge in my life a long long time ago.