by N. Mulhare
This story is inspired by a walk I took with my father.
Our Last Walk
A very excited ten year old girl laces up her hot pink L.A. Gear sneakers. She double checks her Jem book bag making sure everything essential is packed. That would include barbie dolls, paper, markers, fake lipstick, and of course my toothbrush. Mom instructed me to never use anyone else’s. Especially dad’s.
That’s where I was going today. Dad lives with grandma and grandpa. After waiting for what felt like an eternity, Grandpa arrived. He pulled up in his dark blue Oldsmobile, and we were off. Grandpa and I chatted about school for a few minutes, and then I watched out the window as we drove.
The fall in New Jersey was all around us. The leaves on the trees were the prettiest hues of red and orange. With my window cracked, the fall air was cool and crisp as I breathed it in. Soon after, we pulled up to the brick duplex, and grandma rushed out in her apron to greet us. Dad wasn’t far behind.
I hadn’t seen dad in a while. I only visited every other weekend. He had the same curly black hair, scruffy beard, and he wore his typical dark blue jeans and band t-shirt. It felt so good to hug him again. After warm greetings, we headed inside to eat. Upon entering the house, the air permeated with the smell of herbs. We were all in for a treat. Grandma was making her special sauce. The four of us sat down to eat and enjoy all of grandma’s hard work.
All through the meal dad and I made funny faces at each other. After pasta, dessert was served. Grandma made her little Italian cookies with sprinkles on them. I remember eating so many I felt close to bursting. After dessert dad suggested just him and I take a walk. So that’s just what we did.
He grabbed a football, and we were off. Dad said he needed to show me how to throw properly. He instructed that the fingers of my throwing hand needed to be lined up in between the laces and my thumb under the ball. After a few unsuccessful tries, I did it. I, a frilly, hot pink sneaker wearing, Jem book bag-toting girl, could throw a perfect spiral.
As we walked, tossing the ball back and forth, dad got serious. Dad voiced several times that he was so proud of me . That I was so much like momma. That I was beautiful, strong, and funny. I just listened. Even at age 10, I knew this would be an important conversation. This was no simple walk, each word he spoke would be significant, and I need to pay fervent attention.
As we continued in our steps dad told me he had made some bad choices in his life, and that he was sick. I asked if he had a cold. He replied that no, it wasn’t a cold. That he had a disease that can only be passed through blood and fluids. He said he was telling me because I had a right to know. That I was an intelligent girl, and that I needed to know for my own safety. Dad said to never touch his toothbrush or razor, and that we couldn’t shave together anymore. We did that every morning when I came for the weekend. Dad with his shave foam and real razor, and me with my kids little pink fake one . He would lather up both of our faces with his smelly shave foam and we’d shave side by side in grandma’s seashell decorated bathroom. I continued listening.
Dad never really had rules. He was a big, olive skinned, mop-headed clown. For dad to mention rules of any sort, worried me greatly.
Our steps took us to the tiny convenience store a few blocks up the street. I got a pack of gum and of course we got Slim Jim’s . Dad and I love those. Sometimes we ate so many that we both wound up with a belly ache. After making our purchases, we set out back to grandma’s . For the walk back dad suggested we give our throwing arms some rest. He said he’d hold the football under one arm and my hand in the other. Hand-in-hand we walked. Taking in the scenery of the middle class houses, and the trees with their myriad of colors that only fall leaves possess.
We even played the what’s that cloud look like game. I spied a cloud that resembled the shape of a bird. Dad argued it looked more like an angel. It was the best walk. I remember a few times dad squeezing my hand and just looking down at me and smiling. Each time I’d squeeze his hand right back.
We finally made it back to grandma’s. Over the next two days dad and I spent more time together than we had on any other visit there. We hung out in grandma’s tv room on her plastic-covered couches and watched our favorite movie, Spaceballs. Dad would steal a piece of my popcorn when he thought I wasn’t looking. After our movie, we continued my drum lessons in the garage. We were on to practicing to Led Zepplin. Dad said I was improving so much, that I’d be better than him in no time. We didn’t shave together, but we did so much more. It was such a memorable weekend.
On Sunday it was time for me to go back home. Dad hugged me extra tight before I hopped in the car with grandpa for my ride back to Mom’s. I was pretty quiet on the ride home. Grandpa didn’t seem to mind as he listened to his Italian music and sang along. It felt like with every mile we traveled away from grandma’s in the blue Oldsmobie, I was changing. As if my mind and body were steeling itself for what was to come. Almost as if on the ride there I was one girl, and on the journey back in the same seat, I was another.
As soon as mom saw me, she knew it too. I got her usual bright smile upon entering our two-bedroom condo. I hurriedly dropped my Jem backpack and ran into her arms. As she rubbed my back she said, “ He told you, didn’t he?” I replied, “ Yeah momma, he did.” She just continued in her caressing. Then said, “ Baby, I’m not going to lie to you, daddy may not be around too much longer. So you have to spend as much time with him as you can. That’ll make you and him happy.’’ “ When you don’t know how many minutes you have left with someone, baby, you learn to make each minute count.”
So that’s what I’d do. I would visit dad as much as I could. We’d make memories, and we'd make each moment count.