I was driving through the tunnel and had my phone muted, so I missed Lil Bro’s text. I didn’t even realize he’d sent it until I started settling into my cubicle and my phone buzzed.
“Did you get my text? The visiting nurse found Dad dead this morning.”
I didn’t feel sad or guilty or shocked. It seemed like the old man might’ve had a few more years in him, but it was also clear his physical condition was a basket full of other shoes waiting to drop. The notion of a Gus-less universe was something I’d occasionally contemplated, but could never truly visualize.
No more pointless arguments. No more phlegmy chuckling at his own jokes. No more meandering stories about esoteric topics. No more Dad.
We’d ended our relationship on a stand-off. I’d called him out for being a shitty father. He’d called me out for being a shitty son. The last weeks before his death were spent seeing which of us would blink first.
I thought I had the upper hand. My birthday was coming up and my father made a point of calling me up on the exact anniversary of my entering the world — 11:58 AM on March 13. He’d marvel at where the time went and tell me again about how he’d requested his CO for leave when my mom went to labor and laughed when asked if he could return to duty that afternoon. (According to my mother, my dad showed up drunk and recoiled at my wrinkly newborn self. “He looks much better now,” he told her with visible relief the following day.)
The birthday call would’ve been the perfect time to mend fences — or, in true Weiss fashion, pretend the fight never happened so neither party would have to admit losing. He fell short of the target by roughly thirty hours.
The first reports said he was found on the floor, but the funeral director said he had passed quietly in his sleep. Cardiac failure did him in, beating out a disappointed lung cancer at the final post.
Maura and I left work and went back home to Woburn. The situation was still too weird to wrap my head around, especially on the heels of losing my grandmother the previous year and Maura’s mother right after the holidays. All huge presences in our lives, and now all gone.
Lacking anything better to do, I threw the 7-inch of “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert on the turntable. I’d bought it a couple months previous on a nostalgic whim. It had been one of my dad’s favorite songs when was kid. I suspected listening to it would make me bawl, and it did.
Maura hugged me until the song ended. I finished all the crying was was going to do over my father, wiped my eyes, and put the record back in its crate.
Lil Bro and his wife rode into Boston to make arrangements and retrieve the old man’s cat, which I’d be taking custody of again. He dropped the distressed critter off at my house later that afternoon. He and I then spent a good while in my living room, swapping childhood stories about our father while our more respectable halves listened in abject horror.
“Remember when I was a teen and Ma would ask me to defend her against his abuse? And I’d provoke him and try and prove myself but he’d beat the shit out of me? And Ma would cheer him on because she got off on Dad beating up guys on her behalf?”
Good times, and one of the reasons why nobody understands why I continued to maintain a relationship with the man.
My dad had a plot in the military burial ground in Bourne, where my mother had already been (re-)interred. He’d be cremated, as per his wishes, and buried there with military honors at a small service the following month. (It was the soonest available opening.)
In the meantime, Lil Bro and I used a bereavement day to clean out the old man’s apartment.
Most of his possessions went into the garbage. The sticky layer of tar and nicotine residue put a higher threshold on sentimentality. I grabbed his service medals, his bush hat, field jacket and dress uniform blazer, along with a substantial pile of old photos and other family memorabilia. Lil Bro was on the look out for any financial paperwork, as the old man’s promised “big plan” for handling his estate turned out to be “dying without a will.”
We also found this among his papers…
…and I still can’t decide if the placement was some dark posthumous humor on his part.