It was a warm summer day. The bright sunlight flooded my room as I sat down in my bed thinking about how drastically my life has changed in the past few days. I had been away at college for almost 3 years now, and I rarely visited home. It was nice to finally be home, but I didn’t come home to visit. I came home because my father had passed away five days before. It all happened so fast, and as I still sit in my bed, I think and try to relive the moment it happened.
My mother had called me up late at night, her breath, short and staggered, as if she had been crying.
“Michael, I need you to come home, tonight,” she said in a demanding voice.
I heard her begin to cry, yet I still answered with an attitude, “I don’t understand. I’m 10 hours away, what could be so important that I’d have to come home right this second.”
She continued to cry for what felt like another 10 seconds, and then she replied “Dad passed away a couple hours ago, and your brother and I need you right now. I don’t know what to do with myself, Michael. I’m still sitting here in the hospital waiting for him to come out of the door, even though I know he’s never coming.”
I sat there in disbelief, and instead of being upset, I became angry. I clenched my fist and stared around my college dorm room aimlessly. I too, didn’t know what to do with myself; this sudden shock of my father’s death left me dumbfounded.
“Okay, I’m coming home, I’m leaving right now.”
All my mother could muster up was a simple “Okay,” and she hung up.
I put my phone down, grabbed my keys, and left my room. There was absolute silence as I walked down the hallway, down the 3 flights of stairs to the bottom, and out the lobby of my dorm. It was disgustingly hot and humid outside as I walked down the road. I hadn’t realized how tired I was, until I got to my car. My head was pounding, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I noticed that my hands were shaking, and I had goosebumps all over my body, as if it were freezing cold outside. All I remember after that was driving home half asleep, barely aware of my surroundings.
I heard a knock on my bedroom door, yet I continue to sit in bed. I didn’t want to leave my room; I had never been good at handling my feelings with other people. I’d much rather hide myself away from the world, alone in my own thoughts, yet I know I needed to be strong for my mother.
Another knock, this time accompanied with “Michael, get ready, we’re leaving soon. All of your family are downstairs right now.”
I didn’t answer, and I heard the footsteps as my mother walked back down the stairs. I felt ashamed and weak as I began to break down and cry in my room. I had been a horrible son, selfish in my own interests, never giving him a chance to hang out with me or do things that a father and his son would do. Ever since that one time that I had gotten so angry with him, that I decided I would go off to college and never speak to him again. That idea sounded stupid in my head now, but that’s how I felt then. I would call, but I never spoke to him about how my life was going, or how school was going, or how much I missed him, even though I secretly did, or even ask him how his life was.
I finally decided to get out of bed and get dressed. I stared myself in the mirror -- I looked beyond tired, the full dark circles under my eyes accompanied by my bloodshot eyes and dried up tears. I did my best to look presentable. I hated the fact that I had to be with all my cousins, and aunts and uncles; right now, I just wanted to be alone. I walked down the stairs and greeted my relatives. I was mostly greeted back with the same “I’m so sorry for your loss” response from everyone, but I didn’t care that they were sorry. I haven’t seen most of them in over two years, and now that my father died, they care about me? I felt surrounded by fake people, and it only made me angrier.
When we finally made it to the funeral site, I got out of the car and took a long breath of fresh air. The weather was gorgeous, despite this being a day of remorse and loss. The sun was bright, and there wasn’t a single cloud roaming the infinite light blue sky. The sight of all my family gathered around the open casket overwhelmed me. It just didn’t seem fair to me, like it wasn’t his time to go. It all felt so wrong; I was supposed to come back and fix our relationship, I was supposed to say sorry to him for shunning him for all those years, but regretting my decisions just made me more upset. I couldn’t stop what already happened, and that made me feel so hopeless inside. As I sat through the service, I couldn’t help but think back to that one incident that changed our relationship.
I was finishing up senior year. I remember my father coming up the stairs and into my room one night. He opens my door and says, “Hey Mike. I see you’re doing a lot of homework.”
I had my books sprawled all over my desk. I knew that he was just trying to spark a conversation with me, because I rarely had time to speak with him.
“Look, Mike, I know this is kind of out of the blue, but if you continue to work hard in school and finish off the year strong, I wanna get you something.”
“Oh, okay,” I said somewhat surprised.
After a pause, I continued, “You know I’ve always wanted to get another gold chain with Saint Michael on it.”
I had worn a gold chain with Saint Michael on it, years before. I wore it every day, took it with me wherever I went, no matter what. My father had passed it down to me. Originally, my mother had gotten it for him back when they were dating in their thirties. It was my prized possession, and I felt proud that my father had given it to me, rather than my brother. Having it stolen from me after I had put it down on a table at a party, made me feel not only irresponsible, but more like I didn’t care enough about my father, that I would just leave his chain, with so much personal value, to be easily stolen. That chain was beyond important to me, but my actions didn’t reflect my feelings.
“I’d be happy to get you another one, even though you lost mine, remember?” he said.
“I remember,” I said in a regretful tone.
I didn’t want to look him in the eyes, I almost felt embarrassed.
“Alright,” he said, and he walked out of my room.
Two months passed, and I finished up the year very strong, doing well on all my tests and getting accepted into a prestigious university. Not knowing when my father would get the chain for me, I decided to bring it up to him.
“Hey Dad, so, um…”
I couldn’t seem to get out what I wanted to say, expecting that he would already know what I was asking for.
“Michael, I know how badly you want that chain, so come back to me tomorrow.”
I sat there confused, but I listened, waited, and came back the next day.
That next day was a warm, Sunday morning. I slowly walked down the stairs after just waking up, and smelled the freshly brewed coffee from the kitchen. My father was sitting on the couch, watching the news. As I approached him, he turned and smiled.
“Hey, good morning,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied in a raspy voice, still trying to wake up.
We both knew I came down to talk about the gold chain, and I felt as if I was rushing him to get me it, but for some reason that didn’t stop me from asking him.
“So, you told me to come back the next day-”
I stopped myself and thought for a second. I knew my parents were tight on money. And I knew that they were even struggling to put food on the table every day. Even though I wanted it more than anything, I almost told my father to forget about it, until he said, “I did tell you to come back, but I want you to read this book first.”
He went into his office and came back with a huge book, probably some 1000 pages.
“What’s this?” I asked him.
“I just want you to read it for me, in its entirety, and I promise you’ll get your chain,” he told me.
“But you said come back tomorrow. This book is gonna take me forever to finish reading.”
I became irritated. I didn’t understand; I had done everything I was told to do, and now I had to do extra?
“I don’t want to read this stupid book!” I said as I began to raise my voice.
I looked down at it and read the title: Greek Mythology. What the hell did Greek Mythology have to do with me?
“I don’t understand why you want me to read this book?” I said to him.
“Michael, I promise you, just read the book for me, please,” he told me desperately.
“No, I’m sick and tired of you never fulfilling your promises. Every promise you make ends up getting broken.”
I stared at him, infuriated, and then threw the book at the wall. I remember the look on my father’s face, like he had just witnessed someone being murdered; he was shocked and heartbroken, and I didn’t care. I walked back upstairs and continued with my day.
The next few days, I couldn’t manage to say a single word to my father, nor could he. I felt that he deserved to be shunned by me. Though I wanted to talk to him, I wanted to stand my ground and wait for him to approach me. But he never did.
My mother would occasionally come to me saying, “Why don’t you go talk to your father, he’s very upset.”
And every time, I would sit there silently. I almost felt that my father was scared to talk to me, in fear that I would just get even more angry with him. The day I left for college, I couldn’t even look him in the eye as I said goodbye. And then I left, just like that.
“And may he rest in peace,” the priest said.
I hadn’t even realized that I had begun to tear up. I looked around to see everyone, in all black, sitting down. Some were still crying, others sat there, either looking up front or at the ground. I turned to the side to see my mother still crying, my brother and aunt consoling her. I couldn’t even be there for her. I wiped my tears in an effort to be strong for my mother, and I leaned over and gave her a hug. We didn’t exchange a single word, we just sat there, silently.
By the time the funeral was over and my father had been buried, and the last few relatives were leaving, I found myself thinking about how much I hated my selfish, self-centered, bratty, ungrateful self. My father was a good man, and deserved a better son than me. But again, I couldn’t stop what had happened and who I was back then.
“Come on, Michael,” my mother said, watching me stare into space.
Her eyes were bloodshot, her face looked beyond exhausted, like she couldn’t cry anymore. I walked over to her, and gave her another hug. We got into the car and drove home. The car ride was silent. I stared out the window, looking at the trees and cars fly by. My mother leaned on my shoulder, her eyes closed.
When we finally made it back to the house, I walked inside and changed out of my suit. My brother went into his room and slammed his door shut. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of emptiness around the house now that he was gone. Last week, my father was the last thing I would think about, but now, he was the only thing I could think about. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I walked downstairs into his office. I just wanted to see something that reminded me of him. His office was cluttered with papers from work. There were pictures of us hanging on the wall. His computer was still running, his New York Yankees screensaver displayed on the monitor. I stared at his collection of books, and somehow spotted the book that he had given me. I picked it up, stared at the cover, and wondered to myself why he would want me to read this book. I sat down in his chair and began to read the first few pages. Stuff about the Greek gods and their stories. After around ten minutes, I got bored, and quickly skimmed through the pages to see if anything caught my eye, and out fell the gold chain, right onto my lap. I sat there for a moment in disbelief. I just stared at it. I had been so oblivious to everything.
Why didn’t I just give him a chance and read the stupid book, I thought to myself.
I took the golden chain into my hands, and noticed the Saint Michael pendant on it. I choked on my own breath and began to cry, silently, alone in my own thoughts.