He was the only person you could ever talk to.
Your sister plays high school varsity basketball and attends Bible study: two things you know nothing about.
He was the only person who didn’t treat you like a kid.
Your other brother flicks you on top of the head with his hard fingernail and makes jokes about niggers and watermelons—which you don’t get, not because you’re naïve about racism, but because you don’t find his jokes very funny.
He was the only person who ever listened to you.
To get Dad’s attention you’d have to turn off the TV.
He was the only person who ever understood you.
Mom gets a confused look on her face when you mention you’d like to be a writer.
And now he’s leaving.
Remember that time you walked together in the woods and you told him you were thinking about getting an M.I.A. bracelet and he said it was just a ploy to legitimize the Vietnam War. You never sent away for one.
Don’t go, you begged. Who will I talk to?
Remember that time he took you to Denny’s for a Coke and you sat in a booth and he told you all about applying to Indiana University, to their school of journalism. How wonderful, you thought, a place that rewards words.
Don’t go, you begged. To everyone else I’m invisible.
Remember that time you wrote down a story and read it aloud to him. When done, he asked if he could keep it.
Don’t go, you begged, binding the manuscript with ribbons and peppering it with ink hearts. You’re the only one who gets me!
Remember the time you tried to explain to Mom why she shouldn’t clean your room, or if she needed to not to touch stuff on your desk—and you came home to find she’d thrown out what looked to her like a nest of papers but which was actually the start to your latest novel.
Don’t go, you begged, don’t abandon me to an illogical mother.
But by then he was gone, off to college. He came home for holiday breaks and the tension in the house rose until he began to make excuses: work, travel, any reason to stay away.
For thirty years.
With a degree in Revolution and Labor Studies he lived in a commune in West Virginia, before moving to New York to work at a major news journal, after which he moved to San Francisco to advocate for AIDS patients.
When you reunited at the occasion of your father’s death you were afraid: it has been so long, what will we talk about, we’re no longer on the cusp, we are no one’s children. Yet you stayed up until two in the morning talking. You convinced him to take a diary of Dad’s you’d come across while clearing out the garage. In it Dad chronicled his son’s birth, with spare words that sought to belay the significance.
And driving him to the Cleveland Airport, you wondered: Will it be another thirty years? You pulled up and popped the trunk. Who will we be when we meet again? You hugged him and watched him walk away.
Don’t go, you beg, don’t go, you whisper into the negative space.