My father came to me last night in a dream. He looked as he did at my age, robust and strong. I was as I am now, as he gently escorted me down a busy city street to a night class. Traffic boomed all around us, headlights ablaze, and he did not speak as we walked amidst many others. Before leaving me, he pointed out the building I should go into as if I didn’t already know, and then he held me in his arms and kissed me on the cheek, his stubble rough against my skin.
Though I don’t often dream about my father, I still feel him with me these many years after his death. He was a simple man who put family above all. He believed in paying his way and if he couldn’t pay, he would do without. And we did, do without. Yet, I never went hungry or lacked a roof over my head. And it was only long after I’d left home that I realized how poor we truly were.
The following story, I believe, depicts my father better than I can using just words. I wrote it March of this year.
My father walked into our home, bloodied.
“Hijo, que te pasó?” Mamá leapt to her feet.
“Papá, what happened to you?” I echoed. His khaki pants were drenched in blood and he held one hand within the other. Between the two was a blood-soaked rag.
We followed him as he trudged through the living room and into the dining room. Taking his usual seat at the head of the table, he sat hunched over his hands. With a long sigh he slowly separated them and as he let go, a stream of blood spurted out.
I grabbed his hand and instinctively applied pressure to his wound. My mother hovered about us, unsure what to do. My father sat mute as I pressed down and squeezed his hand in both of mine with all my might.
“Que pasó?” my mother whispered, her voice tremulous.
“Me caí,” my father said simply.
“How did you fall, Papá?” I looked down at him, my heart also bleeding. After work, he’d gone to visit his own father in the hospital.
“Antonio argued with me. When he walked away, I tried to follow him, but I slipped and fell.”
My father had many brothers. They all lived near us in that small south Texas town, but we hardly ever saw them. And whenever their father was ill, they made themselves scarcer.
My grandfather lived but a few blocks down the street from us, yet we never saw him. My father had married the woman of his own choosing and my grandfather did not approve. Therefore, the six children that resulted from this marriage were not recognized by him. In his eyes, my father was single and childless.
Oftentimes while sitting on our front porch, I would catch my grandfather passing by. He seemed to quicken his pace as he neared our home, marching tall and straight, his beige Stetson firmly on his head. His pale skin was ruddy from the sun and his flowing mustache and hair were as white as snow. I followed him with eyes that did not exist.
My father never spoke to us about him, but in our tiny house not much was secret. It was easy to overhear our parents’ conversations, if we’d a mind to. I usually felt nothing toward my grandfather, but now my anger flared knowing he was somehow at fault for my father’s injury.
“Where did you fall?” I released the pressure slightly and the red migrated onto the white handkerchief my mother had stuffed on top of the saturated rag.
“I fell against the glass door. It shattered.”
“At the Emergency Room.”
I was speechless for a moment.
“And they didn’t take care of you?”
“No, I left in a hurry before they could see I did it.”
“But, Papá, this hand needs to be seen. You need stitches. We need to go back there right now!”
“I can’t, Mijita.”
“But, why not?”
“Because they’ll make me pay for the glass.”
I was shocked into silence. I realized then that my father did not see this as an accident, as something that the hospital would attempt to rectify by rendering him care. He instead considered himself culpable. He’d broken the glass door and now he was responsible and we had no money.
I sensed his fear and his stubbornness. And though I tried to get him to seek care that night, I could not convince him. At the age of fourteen, my words did not carry much weight and he refused to return to the scene of the crime.
When his bleeding slowed, I cleaned and dressed his hand, taping it as tightly as I could. The next morning our family doctor would tend to him and the wound would eventually heal without further complication.
My grandfather lived to go home once more, until one day he returned to the same hospital for the last time. My father was there for his every need. Thankfully, his brothers were not.