In case you missed it, tonight I'm double-posting the last couple parts of my "Father's Days" story, so scroll down!
The next day I went to the hospital. I didn't think getting in to see my dad would be easy, but it was surprisingly not a big deal. Now, it's not like they just let strangers in to see patients, but Willy had sent advance word that "a friend of his" would be by to drop off a card he'd written. The thing is, there wasn't a card... but there was a letter.
When I couldn't sleep the night before, I opened up my laptop, and started composing some thoughts. I'd transcribe the letter for you here, but it was obviously very personal, and frankly kinda rambling. But I guess after all this time I still wanted to get some stuff off my shoulders, clear the air with him. Even though I've gotten pretty good at writing about myself through this blog, when I started thinking back on my old life, it came out confused and clumsy. Eventually I ended up writing a short note, from Willy's perspective, about how no matter the differences between us, no matter how far away I am, I'm still a part of this family, and even though we had problems, I'll always love and appreciate everything he and mom did for me.
And that part's true, and it was very difficult to get out. I printed it at a copy shop and left space at the bottom to add the personal touch... my signature, "JHCliff--" so he'd know it was from me. I haven't signed anything that way in years, of course, but surprisingly my hand made the signature exactly how I remember it looking.
When I got to the room, I found my dad resting. I said I wouldn't be more than a minute, I guess figuring I'd read the letter out and be, even though he was asleep it was going to be a token gesture on my part. But when I got in there, I was just, so overwhelmed by the sight of my dad, the unstoppable tough guy in a hospital bed. It stopped me cold.
I set the letter on the side table and took a seat next to him.
"Guess you can't hear me, huh dad?" No response. "Maybe I shouldn't talk. It's not like you're in a coma or something. You need rest." Again, he didn't flinch. I crossed my legs and straightened out my skirt... I had dressed formally.
"I never thought I'd see you like this. I never thought I'd see you again at all, and I'm sure you never thought you'd see your son looking like this. I sure as hell hope you can't hear me, dad, because I haven't admitted who I am... who I was... to anybody in a long, long time. Christ, Dad, if you could get a good look at your boy now, you'd have another damned heart attack."
I put my hand on his and watched him breathe a moment.
"It was exhausting being John Henry Clifford. Trying to be the good son, but having no clue how to live up to your expectations. You never really made me feel like it was okay that I wasn't the same as Bret. That I was shy. That I wasn't athletic. And when he went off to war and I didn't... it was like there was something wrong with me for not joining up. God, it's no wonder Willy knocked him out. But none of that's your fault. I don't blame you. You just wanted what was best for me, and in the end... I think I've got it."
"I was put in a bad situation, dad. Something happened to me that was beyond my control, that I never asked for. I know it seems like I should be embarrassed, but I like to think you'd be proud of me, for handling it so well. Making the best of a bad situation. Maybe you'd be shocked to hear that somewhere along the way I went from putting up with this life, to preferring it. I like myself better this way, dad. I won't apologize for that. But I guess we'll never know how you'd feel, because even if I could tell you where I've been this year, you'd never believe me."
I dabbed my eyes, which were slowly tearing up. "Sorry I'm getting so emotional here, dad. PMS is rough and I've had a weird week."
I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I left the note by his table, and walked out of the room.
In the hallway, I ran into my mother. It's weird being looked at by your own mom like you're a stranger, but I nearly called out "Mom!" but managed at the last moment to change it into "Mu-issus Clifford!" She leveled her eyes at me trying to figure out how she was supposed to know me.
"I'm Tori. I'm a friend of your son's. I actually came to Thanksgiving once."
"Oh! Of course, dear. You were dropping something off for Johnny."
"Yes, yes... dropping something off for Johnny. Look, I'm sorry about what's happened here. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
"Oh, that's not necessary."
"Please, you've been through a lot this week. I won't let you say no."
My mom's a woman that understands a thing or two about hospitality. We went down to the cafeteria and I bought her a tea and we chatted only as long as the walk back up to my dad's room.
"Is he going to be okay?" I asked eagerly.
"He'll live, they say, but if the bastard doesn't change his diet he won't have much time. I guess that's where I come in. I love him, you know, but he can be stubborn."
"Hah! Tell me about it!" I said, as if I was supposed to know the man.
"He'll put up a fight, but if he wants to live, he'll change. It's just a matter of making him want to change."
"I'm sure he'll find his way," I told her.
She nodded along, then asked, "So how exactly do you know my son?"
"That... is a really long, complicated story." Fortunately by this point, we had reached the room, so I excused myself.
Alex and I got some lunch and set out for the road home. Once we were in the car, I decided the time was right to clear some stuff up with him.
"Can I ask you something?" I asked timidly while I was driving. "What's your deal, man?"
He glanced at me. "My deal?"
"Listen, I don't wanna pry... I mean, I am, but only because I really just don't know. You know my friend Danny, right?"
"Sure... the gay guy."
"Yes. He mentioned, after I introduced you, he'd met you before."
"And he implied there was some kind of history between the two of you. But he's never been specific as to what."
Alex rolled his eyes some and finally relented. "It's not what you're thinking."
"I don't know what I'm thinking," I said.
"Well whatever happened, it wasn't anything serious. It was a very G-rated... thing."
"But what was it?"
"It was two guys meeting. One gay, one... not sure."
That gave me pause. I don't think I've ever met a man who would admit to something like that.
I stayed quiet. He continued. "It was at a time when I had reason to doubt... who I was. Who I am. What I want. I'm only telling you this because I feel like you'd understand."
"Why would I understand?"
"I don't know, I just... get this sense about you. Your story about how you couldn't be a baseball player. Going from dating popular guys in high school to dating someone like Buddy... that's not the same, but I think you get a sense of how someone changes over time."
"Uh yeah, definitely," I said, as if he should know my real past.
"So I'm telling you this in confidence." He went into a bit more detail about a period of his life, a couple years earlier, when he had just arrived in Philly and needed some company, and wound up, of all things, hanging with a mostly-gay crowd. I won't share the details, and I guess as far as Danny's recounting of the situation, there was a misunderstanding because of how unseemly he made it out to be. And for all I know, Alex is still covering for something.
But this left me with one question. Why didn't he like Raine when I set them up?
He said with a knowing smirk, "She wasn't into me and I wasn't into her. Two people don't have to want to fuck just because they're opposite sex and single, you know." He said it kiddingly, but it's something I've had weird time realizing since I realized I like guys... I haven't been "just friends" with one (straight and unattached anyway) since when Buddy and I were "just friends" he was pretty upfront about wanting to date me. Alex's words here seemed to indicate that's how he sees me, though.
Since "activating" this part of my life, I've jumped from Leo to Buddy, and maybe if I were someone else it would be healthy to be on my own for a while. But I've had plenty of time in my life to be alone.
It would probably be healthy just to have a male friend and not feel obligated to want to be with him, but at the same time, it hurts. There's nothing "keeping us apart" like attachments or orientations or distance... just a lack of interest on his part. Feels pretty familiar. Like rejection.
We got back to Philly and while I felt like I had managed to get some closure with my old life, my new one is still a wide open mess.
Thanks for listening. While I was typing up this long-ass story, I set up a Twitter account for some of us at the inn (we'll see if anyone else is interested in sharing) just for little thoughts between posts, updates... if any of you are on there, if you wanna follow us, it might be nice to interact that way because we don't always get around to replying to blog messages. For those of you still reading, it means a lot to us! (As specially since, as Greg seems to be finding, this story never seems to end!!)