The prompts this time were:
Hold me, please.
Can I hold you?
What I wrote is below.
“How is your Dad?” someone asked me at my 30th high school reunion. I was halfway through my second glass of mediocre red wine and wondering why I came at all.
“He passed away three years ago,” I said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” they rushed in. “I liked him so much.”
I pressed down that part of me that feels pitiful every time I have the dead parent talk: on Mother’s Day, as the winter holidays approach, on birthdays. I know I’m not an orphan; my parents are dead, but I’m a grown man. Still, I feel compelled to tell anyone who says they’re sorry how loved I felt as he shrank away, how he offered each of his children praise in those last few months of his life.
“I just spoke with Dad,” my brother told me during that time. “Apparently, I’m the best-looking guy on the planet.”
“I know,” I said, “and according to him, I’m the best cook.” We laughed at how lucky we felt.
Sometimes, I tell people that he liberated me from the deep sorrow that comes with a long illness. He died of natural causes at 91: it was his time. “It was a privilege,” I sometimes say, and often when I say this, their faces go blank or their eyes well up with fear. “Anyway,” I want to say, “we all die eventually.”
I’m thankful I had the time with his body that day. I felt lucky to know how his hands felt when they were still warm. Late in his life, he would let me hold his hand as long as I wanted. I’m thankful to have been seen that way, to have been loved, and to be loved, still, by other living, breathing beings.
The day after the high school reunion, I drove around my old suburban town. I visited the empty outdoor halls of my high school and was reminded again how beautifully landscaped the school was. Empty and quiet on that sunny day, the school seemed innocuous. Then I ate a nostalgic meal at the BBQ restaurant across the street.
I sat at the counter with the old men who still read the newspaper and drink cup after cup of coffee. I ate my French Dip sandwich and thought about how lucky I will be if I live to be a very old man, how many more people I will have been loved by, how many more people I will have loved.
I was too full for a piece of one of their famous pies. But I figured I could come back. I could always come back.