It was a small thing, but it bothered him nonetheless; the grass growing in the crack in the sidewalk.
His dad had always taken pride in having the nicest yard on the block. No weed was safe. No grass was allowed where it didn’t belong. He could picture his dad with his bucket and gardening tools, wearing his old leather gloves with holes in the fingertips from years of use, bending over to pull a tuft of grass from the sidewalk, his bucket almost full, a satisfied smile on his weathered face.
His father had been in the war, not Vietnam – that was his generation’s war – but World War II. His dad didn’t like to talk about it, but proudly displayed his medals in a small case on the mantel. Once, he had mentioned being captured and spending the rest of the war in a prison camp. He talked about singing with a band they had put together, and pulling pranks on the guards, but not the pain and humiliation that had followed him back home and continued to haunt him.
Some nights, when he was young, he would get up for a drink of water and see his dad sitting at the kitchen table, a bottle and half-full glass in front of him, staring off into space like he was watching a movie only he could see.
One night, he asked his dad what he was thinking about. His dad just shook his head slowly, put the cap back on the bottle, set the bottle and glass on the counter by the sink, and walked off to his room. He never asked again.
After is mother died, his dad started drinking more, and stopped going out. Whenever he would stop by, the house, and particularly the yard, was always neat and clean. His dad said that it was the one thing he could control, and he wasn’t going to let chaos into his life again.
That Thursday, when he stopped by with some groceries, he knew something was wrong. First, it was the grass growing out of the sidewalk, almost defiantly standing tall against the pale gray of the cement.
Then, when he entered the house, he saw a pile of dishes on the kitchen counter. His chest tightened. Something was wrong. He called out for his dad but got no response. His mind raced through the possibilities – heart attack, stroke, home invasion … he couldn’t bring himself to think of the ultimate possibility.
He noticed the empty whiskey bottle, lying on it’s side on the table, the glass with just a little clear liquid, the remnants of the ice his dad used to drop carefully in his glass before pouring in the rich, brown whiskey and swirling it around before taking a drink. When he was little, he used to think that “rocks” meant some special stones used with alcohol, and he was a little disappointed when he found out it was just ice.
He searched the house and finally found his father in the bedroom, sprawled out on the floor, one hand stretched toward the nightstand where his medicine and the telephone were located. He couldn’t tell if his father was breathing but had a sinking feeling as he reached down to touch his father’s shoulder and shake him, hoping to rouse him from a drunken stupor.
There was no response.
The paramedics responded quickly but there was nothing they could do. His father had died several hours before.
He felt a sadness he wasn’t prepared for. He was not close with his father and only stopped by on Thursdays because he had promised his mother he would. But suddenly he felt the loneliness his father must have felt, trying to be strong and hold everything inside, unwilling to show that anything could get to him.
He wished in that moment that he had made more of an effort to connect with his dad, to get to know the person that his mother had married and maybe help him let go of some of the pain that drove him inside of himself.
Now, it was too late.
On his way out, he looked down at the tufts of grass sticking out of the cement, and bent down to pull them out, silently carrying them over to the trash can and tossing them inside.