The Scripted Goodbye

As my father gently fades out in his 96th year, the friends who have known me forever are all poised for the inevitable announcement. A week ago I flew to California to steal a visit as word had filtered back east that his lucidity was wavering. For the umpteenth time this winter, I waited as a plane was de-iced. 8 hours later I climbed out of my car in the Palm Desert  warmth. When I unlatched the wooden gate and walked onto the patio, my dad, nattily dressed in a sweater and slacks, looked up at me. 

"That's my boy, Kenny!" he announced to no one in particular with this great craggy smile.

We had Mexican that night at an old favorite spot and my father paid lip service to his enchilada and beer. From there it was all down hill. By the time I left two days later, he had stopped eating and was barely getting out of bed. I waited as long as I could to leave, then gingerly entered his bedroom. He lay in a fetal position, in slacks and a velour pullover, curled up in sleep. I listened to his breathing for a long while, searching for what to say, before I came up with some uninspired words. He startled me when he awoke.

"You're going back to New York?" 

Out of his wavering blue, such a pristine recognition. It left me speechless. I sputtered for a moment and then finally said, "Seeya later old man." Not in an un-gentle way. It's just what came out. Real this time, and unscripted. Because he old man.