You ask your father which is the recycling bin and he tells you neither. He says it’s too hard to figure out on my own. He says Rush Limbaugh told him the earth will always survive. It’s Sunday, he says. I’m not doing this. He leaves for mass and you do not go, because last Sunday, you stood alongside the congregation, fist to chest, and mouthed the words with everyone else: my fault, my fault, my fault. You mouthed the words and almost believed.
Four years ago, when he thought about dying all the time, his last will and testament arrived in your mailbox, clear across the country. Power of attorney, too. Unfair, you said. But smart.
While he stands and kneels and prays beneath the hanging crucifix, you keep yourself busy in the house he built when your mother left. Out the window, cornfields. A landscape he’s chased with every mortgage, soon to be ripped up by new development, like all the others. But not before it’s my graveyard, he jokes now. Inside is all post-it notes and calendars filled with doctor’s appointments. Kidney, hip, blood pressure, back, methadone. Clocks on every wall, perfectly in time. A metaphor so obvious it feels guilty. Twelve ticking that you can see from where you stand in the kitchen, emptying wilted spinach and soggy ham into the trash.
In college, you sat in a therapist’s office and repeated what you’d heard from your mother. It would just be easier if he wasn’t around. If he died, I wouldn’t care. Now, you think you do. Maybe it’s because he is so lonely. Maybe it’s because you can still remember the shape of your death wish passing through your lips. The manila folder full of its too-official paperwork waiting for you, wedged into the shelves of your hallway closet.
Years later, when he calls you by your mother’s name, you are your mother.
In his room, you sift through a stack of envelopes, photographs he keeps in his bedside drawer. On your knees, some twisted form of penance, you wonder if he sees what you do when he looks at these images: all of the lack, the missing, what is already over and done with. A single photo of the back of your head.
Weeks after you have gone, he’ll text a photo of the sunset from his deck. He’ll say I wish you were here. He’ll say that was the best week I’ve had in years.