Anniversary – Tom Gaffney
I look forward to this. I hope they will remember to enjoy each other’s company at some point. Things happen, get in the way. It is easier to hold on to anger when you are young. Joe will have to be patient. There are times when we struggle to talk. Gradually we rebuild, construct new things to fill the emptiness.
You can take communication for granted, not remembering how precious it is, a miracle we can talk or share things, however imperfectly, at all. Sure there are regrets, but the accounting for the better times is often neglected and only missed when they are absent.
At least they can do it to humor me, son-in-law and grandson gather in Kit’s honor. It is what she would have wanted. She would have told them to forget the bumps and keep going.
Nick arrives at the crowded café. Party of three. Gets them on the list and sits outside in the sun with his coffee. Eyes closed, he sips, sighs, basks in the sun and imagines the cat at home, asleep in the window. Better for me to be here first, he thinks. Any problems are mine, and hopefully I can limit the wait.
There are better ways to spend a Sunday. Easier to leave Joe out of this. Nick is smarter and more patient. Is that wisdom? Despite the distance from youth he remembers better what it is to be young? Or is it just the middle-aged who are so unpleasant? An endless power trip, always wanting to tell someone what to do. Trash about attitude and respect. Not sure what he wants me to do, but he has something to say every time I see him.
Always has to be Joe’s way. Kimberly is lucky to have moved out of town. And I am happy to do this, for Nick’s sake. Dad though, not for him. Perhaps if he learned to apply his own standards to himself, we could come to a new beginning.
I have been dreading this day for a month. Hanging over my head. What do you think – ninety minutes? Two hours and then I’ll be free.
Sean parks without much trouble and ambles up to the café, he finds Nick outside.
“Good morning grandpa.”
“Hello Sean. What’s up with this grandpa stuff?” Eyebrows raised, he scans the young man’s face. He favors his mother. I can see her in his eyes. Perhaps it is better he smiles rarely at these events. The wave of sentiment might overwhelm me.
“You know Joe can’t stand it when I call you Nick. It’s disrespectful. I’m trying to get things off on the right foot. You know me; I don’t want to start any trouble.”
“Alright then. We’ll see how far you get. Probably better not to remind your father of how generous you are feeling this morning.”
I wonder who was more obnoxious when they were young, Joe or Sean? Their friction grows out of similarity. Whose grief is more difficult to overcome, the boy’s or the man’s? Or mine? Not sure. No good conclusions come from trying to measure it that way. The processes are complex. We need each other, I see that. Why we need to suffer with it, I do not understand.
Even if they just do this for me, I can accept that. It is one thing I know, I need them.
The waiter summons them, seats them by the window.
“Joe, late again. Imagine that. Do you think he had a work call this morning? Perhaps he is trying to avoid us.”
“You can start asking that if he’s really late. He’ll be here.”
“Not that I would miss him.”
“You would, we would.”
Joe’s bike turns the corner and he labors up the hill. He is aware that he is late. Not much he can do about it now. Maybe it was a mistake to ride, but it is a pretty morning and he will, most likely, have a huge breakfast. Our second attempt to, somewhat officially, commemorate our lost mother, daughter, spouse.
I’m sure Sean arrived already annoyed. But now, that I am late, it will be one more sign of my deficiencies and insensitivity. Alas. Do not be so dramatic. Even if you do not say it, thinking it will prime you for some kind of larger error – a critical comment, perhaps pointing out any number of things that bother me, that should bother him. Forget them. I shall try to keep the morning from exploding, because that will be better for all of us.
How do I understand that they need me to be here? Nick and I get along perfectly fine, and, if anything, see each other (happily) just to remind ourselves of her. Because she brought us together and we’ve always gotten along. And Sean is young and can’t stand his dad. And he is sad and bitter at the loss. And the sight of me embodies it, moves it from a silent presence to something personified that he can strike at.
No, that’s melodramatic. I need to be here, for me. I hope I can take what is handed out.
He sees them sitting in the window as he rides up. He taps on the window and waves, then goes to lock his bike. Sean does not look too dour, and Nick is his stately self. Three generations of men sitting down to a big breakfast on a sunny spring Sunday morning by themselves. Suddenly he aches with loneliness.
This tableau should be enticing, a reminder of how much they all have and how much they have shared. But it has become a picture of loneliness to him. He has started to go for days where he might feel alright, where he is able to proceed through the day without pausing, where he can remember without feeling, without a sense of desperation and loneliness.
But he sees them there. He tries to remember her face in his mind, but it lingers out of reach, out of sight. At moments like these her memory is suddenly a scar and he desperately does not want it to be that way, for him, for all of them.
I keep going. I know I can do that. But sometimes I wish I did not remember.
By the time Joe returns to sit, there is coffee and mimosas all around.
“Good morning gentlemen – Nick, Sean. I’m sorry I am late, but it seemed a crime not to ride this morning.”
“Morning dad – don’t worry, we have not been here very long.”
“Good to see you Joe. It is a beautiful morning.”
“A toast,” Nick announces, they gather their glasses and meet at the center of the table, “in memory of Kit.”
Food arrives and conversation ensues. Politics, baseball, books, music. Small talk. Simple companionship fills the morning, and their individual unease recedes, as if behind a curtain.
Perhaps we’ll be alright, Nick says to himself. Presence is easier to deal with than absence.
Maybe Dad’s not that much of an asshole, thinks Sean. Maybe I should leave before he ruins it.
Better off with them than without, supposes Joe. Time to savor a chance not to think.