Almost Thirty Years

The old man lay on the bed, his knees drawn up to his chest, looking much the way he had on the day he was born. She longed to touch him, but couldn’t remember how. She hadn’t touched him in almost thirty years. Hadn’t said she loved him, in almost thirty years. He was so vulnerable, always had been. He loved too deeply, and didn’t know how to let go.
She reached for him with trembling hands, then, opted for another blanket instead, to cover his shivering form. She knew how to take care of him, she always had. She wasn’t sure how to love him, didn’t want to love him. She loved too deeply, and didn’t know how to let go.
She’d seen his mistake; made it herself, actually. She was thankful to have learned from him. She’d never make that mistake again. She prayed for the end of his life, the end of his suffering. She prayed to a God she didn’t trust, didn’t believe in, actually.
She’d believed once, she’d been taught to. God, she’d been told, could perform miracles. He could bring people back from the dead. “Yeah, and pigs can fly,” she whispered.
She remembered vaguely a little girl who’d prayed for her mother to get well, to come home. She’d sent letters to her everyday, letters that said, I love you Mommy; letters that said, Please come home.
She didn’t know how those letters had torn her mother in two. How they’d broken her heart.
She remembered the day the little girl took chicken to the hospital for a picnic. She was horrified to find that the nurses had cut off her mother’s hair. Her long beautiful hair had been crudely hacked away, and now resembled a boy’s. The little girl had been afraid to leave her mother at the hospital, afraid of what the nurses might do.
People from the church prayed for her mother. People from the church believed. People from the church were pathetic.
A barely audible gasp escaped her father’s lips, drawing her away from her angry memories. He hated God too. Hated a God that had robbed him of his life, yet been cruel enough to let him live.
It had been almost thirty years since he’d touched her, almost thirty years since he’d said he loved her. Almost thirty years since he’d been her father. Their roles had switched irrevocably that day.
The church people said they should be happy. They said the little girl’s mother wasn’t suffering anymore. They said she’d gone to heaven. They said she wanted to go- she wanted to be with God.
The little girl learned to hate that day. As surely and as deeply as her mother and father had taught her to love, God and the church people had taught her to hate. She hated her father for being so weak. She hated her mother for dying. She hated God for growing flowers. She hated God for changing seasons. She hated God for making rainbows. She hated God for killing her mother, but mostly, she hated God for not killing her father.
The church people thought something was wrong with the little girl. The church people wondered why she didn’t cry. The church people wanted her to cry. God wanted her to cry. Fuck God.
He stirred in his hospital bed with the starched white sheets. Sheets that chafed at his skin the way life had, rubbing away layer after layer of what had once been a man, leaving open sores like those on his soul.
She’d seen his suffering as no one had. She knew he longed to be in the ground, but had stayed for her. In some ways it would have been easier if he’d died almost thirty years ago.
The little girl had learned from watching her father that love was a bad thing; love could destroy your soul.
After almost thirty years he still slept with memories every night. The side of the bed that had once been her mother’s was covered with pictures, bobby pins, purses, clothing, gum wrappers (her favorite had been Juicy Fruit), and something the little girl had learned to hate: her mother’s cherished, white leather Bible. The Bible her mother had taken with her on her many hospital stays. The Bible her mother held when she prayed to get better. The Bible that filled your head and heart with faith, hope, love, and lies.
The hospital room grew cold and she sat on his bed trying to find the strength from within to hold his hand. She could feel death in the room now, and for the first time in almost thirty years, she felt a stirring of hope.
He opened his eyes slowly, painfully, and she begged, pleaded, with the God she’d come to hate to release his soul. His eyes met hers for the briefest of moments, and for the first time in almost thirty years she glimpsed the man he’d once been. For the briefest of moments, she saw the pain, the faith, the betrayal, the strength, and the love that had always been.
His eyes closed and she knew he was gone- knew he was free- knew she was free. The little girl knelt beside the graves of her mother and father, weeping openly. After almost thirty years she cried for her mother. She cried for her father. She cried for the God who had betrayed her.

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