Sunday, May 14, 2017

IRISH TWINS by Peter Nolan Smith

In the summer of 2010 my father drove into the town cemetery to visit my mother's grave. A squirrel had run across his path and he veered off the road. The town police had found his Mercedes and none of the officers could figure how he had gotten that far without hitting a single headstone.

“I never get in accidents," he protested to my older brother who had come to take my father home.

A tow truck hauled his Benz from the graveyard and the next month we moved him from his assisted-living apartment to an Alzheimer hospice south of Boston.

Once a month I rode the Fung Wah bus from New York to South Station and then took the commuter train to Norwood. It was a ten-minute walk to his rest home. Each visit he became less and less him by Labor Day my father lived completely in the present without any remembrance of the past and little hope for the future.He was better off without an explanation.

My brothers and sisters warned that he didn’t recognize them and I approached the converted doctor’s house with a heavy heart. His room was on the second floor. The door was open. My father sat in his old rocking chair by the window and smiled, as if shaking off the grip of senility.

“Do I know you.” One of his teeth gleamed in the afternoon sun. It was gold.

This was the man who carried me as a child.

“You do.”

He had driven me on my paper route on many stormy mornings.

"Just a second. It will come to me."

Only five years ago he had come to see my family in Thailand.

"Do you want a hint?"

"No, you're my son." He greeted me by name. I still existed as an atom within his brain.

"That's right."

His second born.

“Are you still in New York?” He was two for two.

“Yes.” There was no way that he could go three for three.

“I know what you’re thinking?” He frowned with a well-known sternness dating back to my youth.

“That I’m happy to see you?” I had disappointed him on more than one occasion.

“No, you’re wondering how I recognized you.” His eyes shone with alacrity.

“That too.” It was better to go with the flow.

“These people come here. I don’t know who they are.”

“The nurses?” I sat on the clean bed. This was a good rest home.

“No other people.” He picked at a dry patch on his forehead. I had inherited the same habit.

“Probably my brothers and sisters. They come to see you all the time.” At least 2-4 times a week.

“Maybe it’s them, but they don’t look anything like my children.” He had six, although my youngest brother had died in 1995 a year before my mother. My father had sat with him every day of the end. There was no sense in mentioning Michael now.

“They’re grown up.”

"We've been grown up for a long time."

“They don’t look like they did when they were young.”

“And I do?”
At 58 I had my teeth and hair, but the reflection in the mirror belonged to someone else than his son at age 15.

“No, you look like a stranger too, but something about you reminds me about your mother, so when I see you, I think about Angie.” He shuddered at the connection. My mother and he had been married over forty years. She was the only love in his life.

”I’m half her.” My father and I weren’t friends until my mother’s passage from this world. I talked a lot. She spoke more.

“And half me too.” My father looked out the window. His memory lost the path. “The leaves look ready to change color. They do that this time of year.”

My father had seen that New Englander phenomena over 88 times. I hoped for him to see more.

“It’s autumn.”

“September. I can’t remember what comes next.”

“You remember your son Frank?” The doctors had cautioned against any tests of the past.

“Frank is my # 1 son.” He was having a good day. “You two were Irish twins. Your mother dressed you alike to prevent you fighting over pants and shirts, but she also loved that people thought we were twins.

“We weren’t really Irish twins.” My older brother and I were separated by 13 months, so we were not really Irish Twins, but my mother’s family came from west of Galway and time beyond the Connemarra Pins was not measured by a watch.

Frank had been born on April 1 and I arrived a year and fifty-nine days later on the morning of May 29.

“60 days seemed like a week back then.” He was talking about the 1950s, when TV was black and white, Eisenhower was the president, and America was the leader of the Free World.

“You were never on time.” My father pointed to the clock on his desk. Time meant nothing to most to Alzheimer patients, but on time for my father meant to the second.

“I was never really late.” My punctuality ran 15-30 minutes behind the clock, although I had achieved perfect attendance throughout five grades in grammar school. My mother had saved those awards. The one from 5th Grade hangs on the wall of my apartment in Brooklyn.

“Oh, yes, you were and late by more than a half-hour.” My father’s Downeast blood worshipped order. Nothing was ever broken as along as you could fix it.

“I stayed out at my girlfriend’s house.”

“Past midnight and her mother wasn’t home.”

“That’s an old story.” Kyla and I had been alone. WBCN had been playing THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. We had come close to losing our souls to ROCK AND ROLL and I had kept telling myself that I would leave after the next song. Each one had been better than the one before.

“If it was so old I would have forgotten it.”

“Forty years is a long time.” Kyla had been wearing her cheerleader outfit. It was football season. She had been the first girl to say the love word to me.

“Forty-five years to be exact.” My father had been an electrical engineer. He had studied at MIT. Numbers and math were his expertise.

“You’re right on the money.” The year had been 1967. I was 15. My hair was over my ears. I liked the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a girl group.

Kyla’s mother had come home at 1:30. I had left through the backdoor with my clothes in hand. I had dressed in the backyard and watched the lights go out in Kyla’s house. There had been no yelling, but I waited for a minute to see if she came to the bedroom window. It was a waste of time. Kyla was a cheerleader and not Juliet and the only breaking light was a harvest moon.

I walked out the backyard onto the street lined by dark houses. Everyone was asleep. The buses stopped running at 9. My neighborhood in the Blue Hills was a good four-mile hike. I heard a car coming from the opposite direction. It was my Uncle Dave. The Olds stopped at the curb.

Uncle Dave had served in the Pacific. Three years on a destroyer had left him with shakes in his right hand. Smoking Camels helped calm whatever he had left behind in the Pacific.

“You want a ride home?” He was coming from the VFW bar.

“No, I’ll walk it.” I was in no rush to get home.

“Your mother and father know where you are?” Uncle Dave made no judgment of other people’s kids, even if they were family.

“Sort of?” It was a teenage answer.

“I was a teenager once. Your dad’s going to be pissed at you, if you haven’t called.”

“I didn’t call.” You sure, you don’t want me to drive you home?”

“I’m good.” I thought about sleeping in the woods. It wasn’t that cold, but that would make it even worse. “Thanks for the offer.”

The Olds drove off in the direction of Quincy. Uncle Dave would be home in five minutes. I figured that I had another hour to go.

I was wrong.

My father pulled up to me at the crossroads before the parish church. He flung open the door of the Delta 88. It hit me in the thigh.

“Where have you been?” He demanded with a voice that I had never heard from him.

“At a girl’s house.” I hadn’t told my parents about Kyla. My mother wanted me to be a priest. Kyla's mother was a divorcee. The pastor at our church regarded such women as a temptation to married men.

“At a girl’s house?” My father knew what that meant. He had six kids. “You have any idea about what your mother thought happened to you?”

“None.” I hadn’t been worrying about my mother or father or school, while lying next to Kyla’s hot flesh.

His right hand left the steering wheel in the blink of an eye. His wrist smacked my face and blood dripped from my nose.

“I didn’t want to do that.” Tears wet his eyes. “I thought something bad happened to you.”

“Nothing bad happened, Dad.” I rubbed my face and tasted metal in my teeth. All of them remained intact.

“Next time call and let us know where you are.”

He had never hit me before.

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s go home. I’ll handle your mother." he sighed with regret.

The next morning my eyes were shadowed black and blue. My mother was horrified as was my father. Kyla cried upon seeing my face. She said that she loved me. In some ways I felt like she had become Juliet, although I was no Romeo. My father and I maintained a cautious distance throughout the remainder of my teenage years.

Hitting me had scared him and at the nursing home I held his hand. I had kids now and said, “Now I understand why you did what you did that night.”

“What night?” The memory had sunk back into the fog.

And I left it in the grave.

Because my father loved our mother.

He loved his family.

And I was a little more like him than I wanted to admit as a young man, so I said, “The night you drove me home after midnight."

You were always a good father.” I kissed his bald head, as my older brother walked into the room. My father looked at him with doubting eyes and I said, “It’s Frank, your oldest son.”

“That’s not Frank. He didn’t look like that.” He squinted, as if he was trying to see through time.

I thought that my older brother’s wearing a suit might have thrown off my father and I stood next to Frank.

“See the resemblance.” My brother and I had matching smiles.

Our crooked teeth were a gift from our mother.

“We were Irish twins,” My brother took off his glasses.

In this light we had to resemble one another.

“Irish twins are born eleven months apart. You two were never Irish twins, except to your mother.” He smiled with the memory vanishing on the tide.

“It was good enough for her, Dad.” She had loved her children with all her heart as had my father.

“Then it’s good enough for me, whoever you are.” He offered a hand to both of both.

That visit we repeated our discussion about Irish twins three times in succession without my father retaining a single word. His mind had been swept clean of the good and the bad and I was lucky enough to possess a memory of both good and bad for him. My mother wouldn’t have it any other way, for my brother and I were her Irish twin and what was good enough for my mother was good enough for my father too.

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