The dream broke suddenly and I was awake. I glanced over at the clock reading 4:30 a.m. I stumbled in the kitchen in my boxers and robe. The coffee maker sat in the same corner it had for 40 years, accompanied by a pair of fiesta ware blue coffee cups. Everywhere I looked, memories flashed and seared back at me.
I’d sat at that same old oak dinette admitting to my parents that I was gay, and that Harold was more than a roommate. She’d responded with cool hardness. I was simply never welcome there again.
The worst of it was that Pop and I simply weren’t allowed. I know that sounds terrible, but it was the truth. This was the man who from the earliest age must have understood my view of the world, watching me fall in love with eighth-grade playmates, picking me up from theater rehearsals. I was always Daddy’s good little boy. I’d gone off to school and made a good life for myself.
A few years back, my sister invited Harold and I to her wedding. Harold couldn’t make eye contact with Mom, knowing how much pain her dismissal of us caused me and the rest of the family. Pop looked at me, across the room, trying his best. You could see her reach under the table and touch him when she’d catch him. I’ve tried not caring. It doesn’t work. I cared anyway. I tried for a while keeping the lines of communication open by sending notes and cards every holiday and birthday. None were ever responded to, and each day without a response is a new, raw wound. And I felt so utterly stupid and angry with myself after each unrequited outreach.
I’d truly given up hope, when one day I came home from a trip, and there was a phone message from the gallery. “Some guy came in and bought one of your pieces. The big orange one, the streetlight? He wrote something really odd.”
She handed me the check, and reading it, I began to tear up. Written in the memo on the check in my Dad’s immediately recognizable handwriting was, “This is the best yet, boy.” Pop had figured out a way to contact me.
He returned every six months to a year, always demanding to pay a little more than it was offered for, writing “Love this new direction you’re on,” “You keep getting better,” and “Harold must be so proud of you” in the check memo. We kept the checks in an envelope, treasured secret communiques received from behind enemy lines. My sister admitted that he’d bring the pieces to her, and they’d find somewhere to donate them, some way to send them to Dad’s business contacts or my sister would put them up in her office.
She called one evening to let me know Mom had a stroke, and while they had her at the hospital, there wasn’t hope that she’d recover. She died quickly and painlessly. Just as suddenly, there was the front pew in the church, with my sister, her husband, the twins, and next to Pop, me and Harold. The next few weeks were a blur of helping him get the house set up.
There I was, after all those years, right back in the kitchen at the crack of dawn.
“I betcha still eat bacon with that fancy-dancy, organicky, yoga-y diet of yers,” Pop asked, working over the stove. “Coffee’s on. I got some of that yellow poison you asked for. I figgered we’d go hikin’. Besides, why waste a beautiful day when it’s given to you.”
As I reached for the fridge to get cream, I noticed a photo on the door in a magnetic frame. It was a startlingly sexy, beautiful photo of her. She was in her 20s, laughing in the black and white light of a campfire.
“Yeah, I put away most of ’em, but that one stays,” Pop said, noticing me stop.
“She’s so happy, and beautiful…” I said, letting out a gasp.
“She really was, boy. She really was. But at some point she just forgot how to be happy, and I’m sorry for that, boy. I really am.”
The next few years were an amazing renaissance for him. He embraced the widower patriarch role with gusto, doting on his grandkids and family, quietly rediscovering himself. He spent a lot of time traveling, sometimes taking Harold along as he got old. Harold and my Pop became best friends, and art critic buddies. He’d come and spend long weekends at our place out in the woods hiking, finding beach treasures to send to the grandkids.
Pop’s been gone a while now. I guess it’s part of the heartache of it all. Pop had taught me that being awake at sunrise was a solitary gift to look forward to. I can remember sitting on the front lawn, he had his cup of coffee and cigar, me my cup of cocoa that was more marshmallows than cocoa. We’d sit there and watch everything reveal itself.
Particularly when fall comes around, I go out and walk in the darkness, the streetlights illuminating fall colors in the trees and swirls of fog. The harvest moon dancing with fading morning stars. I reach the coffee shop and I’m soon sitting in the park with the dog, as the first glimmer of dawn begins. It feels like this epic waterfall that’s been filling all night long and when it finally starts to flow over the edge of the world, it grows faster and faster. Through the trees, the bright sun breaks the horizon.
I smile thinking of Pop, who in his quiet gravelly voice would say “Now boy, how could you want to miss this?”