Every physical piece of your father’s memory is gone, except for a tattered studio wedding photo and a toy soldier. He was a steady stream of love mixed with confused anger at his powerlessness. His dream of playing professional baseball thwarted by a job at the corner store to help his immigrant family. The constant abuse of your mother’s brothers hung like poison in every railroad room in Newark. He stayed happy in is love for your mother. He wrapped the front door with paper and painted Christmas images every year in that wretched apartment. His children were everything when he could muster his true self. He remained a brave soldier in his painful death, unable to take another step, dying in a hospital bed.
When you lay in a Minneapolis hospital after a vicious rape, he boarded a plane, the first time since the Korean war in 1952, and was by your side within 9 hours. He was the only one who ever said he loved you meaningfully. In your agony, it seemed too late and not enough. It was potent nevertheless. He had to sit through countless retellings of the violent event, since all those people who came to see you had to know what happened. He sat there without complaint. He asked if he could go get a drink. He spent some time in a bar near the stadium, being a little relieved when he returned seeing some of the city. He left the next day and so did you.
In your constant moving, you lost a Star Ledger clipping of him and Mel Ott circa 1944. The most mournful loss of his life on hold. He was always interested in what his children did. He generally supported who they were. Generous to a fault. You made him cry every night for your safety for 10 years when you thought closing the shade on life was your only way out. He saw you recover and achieve the impossible. You talked to him every day, three days before his death, a rapid devolving of strength. When you had to find an airplane ticket quickly for the funeral from south Louisiana to New Jersey, you felt you were trying to catch a train that was past your efforts of running. At the viewing, after every guest left, you could not bear to leave him.
We often take too long to say the things we mean. We get caught up in the daily fight for existence in some families. The turmoil keeps our hearts closed. You learned to wall it all up as your mother’s family taught you. You eventually saved yourself but decades later must navigate the sorrow. With 19 restricting your rabbit tendencies, the urge to run extinguished by law and circumstance, you face these things again without distraction. You bought a cast tin Roman bugler in memory of him before the virus swirled around the world. He said in high school they made such lead sculptures and he enjoyed it. You cannot cast in bronze now but you traveled the world to do so. He would have liked that.