I tentatively turned the key in the lock, half expecting to hear the scrape of the cane across the floor as dad shuffled his way to answer my knock. But of course I hadn’t knocked since I knew dad would not be meeting me this time. Or next. Or ever again.
I hesitated, closing my eyes for a brief moment, then pushed to door open and took a step over the worn threshold. My breath caught for a second as the familiar smell of Old Spice mixed with Ben Gay and stale cigars hit my nostrils. I wonder how long it will take before I’ll no longer smell him – feel him – in this place?
It’d been so hard to come and visit him these last few months, what with him not even remembering my name most of the time. But still I came, usually begrudgingly, I’d make my weekly visit. Now I wished I’d come more often. How I’d love to sit down and let him beat me at a game of checkers just one more time. I wouldn’t even point out that he wasn’t supposed to move his piece that way.
As I walked around the empty rooms the reminders of him filled my senses and my mind. The Guidepost Magazine still open on the end table next to the extra-large recliner that he made sure no one used but him. The empty ashtray still on the top of the buffet even though he quit smoking years ago, other than the occasional cigars on the back porch. The quilt mom had made for him before she passed away two winters ago. The slippers kicked off near the bed, but not quite under the bed.
And the post-it notes. Every where I looked the small yellow squares spoke back to me:
“Yogurt before cookies” on the refrigerator.
“Brush your teeth and your hair” on the bathroom mirror.
“Channel 12” on the remote by his chair.
“Nurse Jane 3:30” on the cupboard door.
Each picture hanging on the wall sported one of those squares with a name penciled on. One for each child and grandchild. I remember making all these notes for him as he started forgetting. At first it was one or two by the calendar, slowly increasing more and more as he remembered less and less until his apartment looked more like a poster ad for Post-It Notes than a home for a beloved father and grandfather. But it helped. He was able to be on his own until the very end. I was thankful for that, as I’m sure he was, too, if he’d been able to remember the words to say to tell me he was thankful.
I moved slowly through the familiar rooms until I came to his bedroom. I stopped in the doorway and stared at the bed. It was here that I’d found him. Was it just a week ago? It seems so much longer than that. I knew right when I first saw him that he was already gone. His eyes were closed as if sleeping, but it was his face that gave it away. No longer contorted because of the ever present pain of the disease taking over his body, this time it was serene, peaceful. The physical change stunned me. When I was finally able to move again, breathe again, I’d sat on the edge of the bed and put my hand over his. Even his knobby knuckles felt softer, smoother.
I again moved to the bed and sat on the edge. As his smells and memories filled my senses I noticed it. A Post-it Note on the bedside table. I didn’t remember putting one there for him. In the emotions of the week before I must have missed it. I moved to the table and picked it up. The written words were not mine, but were written in the familiar scrawl of an old man with arthritic hands. I blinked back the tears that threatened to smear the love on that little yellow piece of paper. The words of a father, a dad, a man of God that simply state
“I love you. It’s time for me to go home. See you soon. Love, Dad”
Ok, aside from the fact that you made me cry, Julie...this is a wonderful story.
Loved the description of the smells of the house and the visual pictures you presented of the worn threshold and the post it notes all around the house.
Having nursed my Dad through cancer, I could feel the emotions of the main character.