Counseling had been difficult . . . the drawn-out sessions that she dreaded, meeting with complete strangers in a crowded, stuffy room. There were painful accusations from her own children, that somehow, something was missing when they grew up. How could it be so? She had devoted her life to them.
The hurt welled up in her. It was difficult to fathom, to comprehend, to understand. She would if she could, but it seemed too broad a gulf, like an invisible wall of feeling that prevented a cave-in, that if she let go, the embarrassment and shame would be too much to handle. But there was nothing she knew of to be ashamed about.All of this played in her mind as her eyes washed over the countenance of her ailing father, in the hospital bed in the convalescent center, where she could hear people walking past in the halls. On the other side of the room, another elderly man, too far gone to be coherent, moaned from time to time. He lay, fetallike, facing the wall, half covered by a disheveled sheet, which he kicked at from time to time.
It was not an uncomfortable situation. She had long since grown used to it. Her father had been here for some time, since he had fallen in his little bungalow and no one had found him for hours. It was then that she realized that it couldn't keep going on like this. Her own family was suffering.
There was no time for the kids that she wanted, those still at home. And for the married ones it was the same. Always something to draw off the time. But that's the way it was. And it had worked out in the long run.
The people at the home had been so good to Dad. She couldn't imagine how she could have coped, even with her husband's close support, taking Dad out whenever he could get a day off early, driving him that one summer up to the old farm, and, even though it seemed that Dad didn't realize where they were much of the time, in the weeks after that he seemed to rally somewhat.
His eyes met hers in a strange, unfamiliar gesture, so foreign to the arm's-length love that the therapist had talked about, and even though he said that it was the way most people were in those days, it was little consolation.
As she looked at him she realized it was so, that she couldn't remember any time that her father had ever told her he loved her. But he didn't have to. She knew. She remembered the long nights staying up with her when she had scarlet fever, the touch of his rough, farm-scuffed hand on her brow, wiping away the fever. It was the closest, she guessed, that he had ever come. But it was enough.
She thought of the money for books and gym clothes when there was little enough for the mortgage. That was love, wasn't it? Of course it was, and she knew it. But still. . . .
She thought for a moment, like the diver on the edge of a high cliff, realizing the water below was purifying and cleansing, despite the total fear of it . . . a simple gesture, a terrifying risk. She bent over, put her arm around the old man's neck, touching the ham-pink skin of his neck, laid her cheek against the side of his face, and as she did, he pulled away, as she sensed he would, with a scowl.
"Hey, what's that for," he said.
"I just wanted to give you a hug," she said, "and let you know how much I love you."
And as she said it, tears welled up in her eyes, burning the inner corners of her soul in a way she had never known before. And with the sight of them, from behind the old man's disguise, on the corners of his mouth she saw the suggestion of that familiar grin he would sometimes get, that told her he approved of her. And though nothing more was said about it, the intense burning continued long after she had left the room and the building.
In the car even before turning on the ignition, she had to take a minute to control herself, to let the refreshing, painful waters of love flow over her whole being for a bit longer, tears against the back of her hand, since she had no Kleenex handy, and a bright, indescribable baptism of feeling for her father and all that he meant to her.