If I Could Tell Him
He was lying there in a hospital gown, his organs shutting down, and I didn’t say a word.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about birds. He taught me how to draw the birds we watched gliding over the waves at Indian Wells Beach. I used to sit in his studio where he, next to me, painted the tranquil foam that drifted over the sand. His painting captured more than a photograph ever could. With each brushstroke came a memorized sweep of water.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about the boat. One afternoon at Three Mile Harbor, I dragged a net over the side of the boat he drove. I was trying to catch something other than shells and pebbles. The waves were more green than blue and more cloudy than clear, foaming at the tops before rolling under the boat as it pushed through the water.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about the Fourth of July. We were together every year for that. I would sit and stare up at the sky following his example. If we were sitting on our wooden porch or on the beach at Devon with tons of strangers, we watched a trail of lights go up in the sky, pop, and shimmer down.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about the bee. He was allergic to bees. We were driving down Route 27 on a summer day, when the hushed hum of a bee buzzed in our ears. Immediately, my nerves got to me, panic pounding through my body. Fearless, he pulled the car over and waved his arms toward the bee, pushing it out of the car window.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about ping-pong. The days we spent in the basement of his Amagansett house, chasing the small plastic balls that bounced off the walls and fell into impossible-to-get places. I swung the paddle the way he taught me and still hit the cold walls of the basement.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about the hail. I watched my first hail storm from the dining room window when I was six. I listened to the hard clink of pelting ice and watched until the storm passed. He had warned me not to go outside. He sat nearby, keeping an eye on me, making sure I would never feel a frozen bullet from the sky. Now I’m fourteen, and that first storm remains the only one I’ve ever seen.
If I could tell him something now, I would tell him about the buttercup. In Herrick Park when I was seven, I held the flower up to him, a shining, blissful sun upon his chin. We picked more flowers and let the cool wind grab them from our fingers. It was a great day.
He was lying there in a hospital gown, his organs shutting down, and I didn’t say a word. I was watching him. He wasn’t who he used to be, the amazing hero in my childhood memories. He wasn’t painting birds on a landscape. He wasn’t driving a boat. He wasn’t watching fireworks crackle then fade. He wasn’t shooing a bee away. He wasn’t playing a game of ping-pong. He wasn’t protecting me from a storm. He was dying.
He was yellow, but not the warm yellow of the buttercup I held to his chin. No, he had a tube down his throat. He could hold my hand. He could listen, but that is all.
I didn’t share these memories. These moments so embedded in my mind that they play over and over, like the water of the ocean that he loved so. I didn’t say a word.