409: Most Sundays of my father’s final year, I take the 4:05 train to Lynbrook. For a couple of weeks in the spring and fall, the landscape glows, a suburban Hopper, and darkness settles as I go down the station stairway to my father’s car. Often, he is dozing off the effects of his chemotherapy, but today he is outside, leaning against the car door. Teenagers skateboard in and out of the parking area under the tracks, jumping curbs, dodging people. The youngest kid buzzes by my father, who yells, “Be careful!” The kid gives my father the finger. “Let’s get him,” my father commands, and runs after the kid with pre-cancer speed. I hustle behind him, furious at this punk kid. I cut around a railroad pillar and the kid screeches to a halt a few feet from me. My father catches up, winded but pleased. The kid smirks, “What are you going to do?” I grab the kid’s arm and hold on. First he’s scared, then defiant. “You can’t hit me. I’m a kid.” “You watch what I can do if you ever come near my father again.” I let go with a modest shove, and my father and I walk toward the car. I resist looking back, but tune my ears to listen for the sounds of pursuit. I ask my father if he is all right. He starts laughing, “Al, I didn’t really mean to go get him. I just wanted to scare him.” “Well, you might want to be more specific next time,” I respond, savoring the energy and camaraderie in my father’s face. When we get back to the car, the oldest one is waiting for us, cradling his board. He has scraggly blond hair and I read in his face that he is the punk kid’s older brother. Suddenly I am nervous that he will file a complaint with the police and I can kiss my teaching career goodbye. “Sir,” he says to my father, “I want to apologize for my brother. He was out of line. We mean no disrespect.” As he walks off, he gives me a respectful nod with his skateboard.
410: Inevitable meet-for-coffee with my ex, at the place we used to linger. The waitress greets “Oh, hi” and I order black. My ex asks for sparkling water and shrugs apologetically at my disappointment. When my cup is almost empty, the waitress extends the pot, raises her eyebrows, and I nod. As she pours, coffee aroma mingles with skin scent. “Are you ready for a coffee now?” she asks my ex. “No, I’ll pass.” After the waitress steps away, I blurt out, “When you meet an ex-lover for coffee, you really should have coffee!” “I can’t. I’m nursing.” Soon my ex will leave. The waitress will finish her shift. And I will wait until closing for one of them to return and refill my life.
411: The photograph came in the mail. It shows me walking away from my apartment, taken from my bedroom window. I have just stepped into the late-afternoon shadow cast by the tall building on the corner. I didn’t know the picture was being taken, but I remember turning briefly to watch the flame dip toward the Hudson and thinking that the sun isn’t leaving us—it is we who are spinning away from the sun. She might have pressed the shutter button a bit too hard, for the photograph is slightly blurry. That’s when she decided to leave. I do not have a photo of her on the same street, but I can imagine her hunched under her backpack, which she’d unpacked two days before. I ache for her that heavy finger on the button, those minutes alone, deciding to leave because I just wasn’t being the way I was when we were together in another city; packing in the dark room, leaving the note “sorry” (that should’ve been my last word), before following my path, now lit by streetlights, crowded with people returning home from the world into which I have disappeared.