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 a toothbrush. Mom instructed me to never use anyone else’s. Especially not 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. 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 reds and oranges, and with the window open, the autumn air flowed all throughout the car. After a short drive, we pulled up to the brick duplex. Excitedly, Grandma rushed out in her apron to greet us, with Dad not far behind.
I hadn’t seen Dad in a while, as 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 our warm greeting, we headed inside to eat. Upon entering the house, the air permeated with the smell of herbs and spices. We were all in for a treat, because 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 we overindulged on pasta, dessert was served. Grandma made her little Italian cookies with sprinkles on them. I remember eating so many I felt close to bursting. When dessert came to a close, Dad suggested that just him and I take a walk.
He quickly grabbed a football, and we were out the door. Dad said he needed to show me how to throw properly while he had the time. He instructed that my throwing hand needed to be lined up with my fingers 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-bookbag-toting girl, could throw a perfect spiral. As we walked, tossing the ball back and forth, he got serious. Dad voiced several times that he was so proud of me, and that I was so much like Momma. He said I was beautiful, strong, and funny. Even as a ten-year old, I knew this was an important conversation, and this walk--extremely significant.
As we continued, 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. 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. He stressed 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. Dad never really had rules. He was a big, olive-skinned, mop-headed clown, and he wasn’t the type to worry for no reason. So, when he told me all the ways in which I needed to be careful, and why, I completely understood.
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’d eat so many that I’d get 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, while 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 then he’d just look down at me and smile. Each time I’d squeeze his hand right back.
We finally made it back to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Over the next two days, he and I spent more time together than we had on any other of my visit’s. We hung out in Grandpa’s tv room on his plastic-covered couches and watched our favorite movie, Spaceballs. Dad would steal a piece of my popcorn when he thought I wasn’t looking. We also continued my drum lessons in the garage. We were on to practicing Led Zeppelin. Dad said I was improving so much that I’d be better than him in no time. We didn’t shave together that weekend, but we did so much more.
Sunday came and 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 Oldsmobile, I was changing. It was as if my mind and body were steeling itself for what was to come. It seemed like on the ride there I was one girl, and on the journey back in the same seat, I was morphing into another. I arrived at my door feeling a bit perplexed by it all.
As soon as Mom locked eyes with 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 just what I did. I saw Dad every chance I got. We made quite a few more memories after that weekend. I can honestly say that from the day of that fateful walk, until his last breaths, I did my best to make each moment count; for him and for me. He’d be tickled to know that I play the what’s that cloud look like game with his grandchildren, and that they know all about him.