I was drunk when I was told Palmer’s father was dying from liver failure. He was a large man, an ex-pilot, and an alcoholic with shiny eyes and a thick head of hair he combed in three strokes every half hour or so at their country club, where he would order the entire table beers and club sandwiches because, as he said, who doesn’t like a goddamn club sandwich?
I was out with a new man, a man who treated me with something like respect, who found time to sneak behind me in the kitchen, kiss my neck, lift me to the counter, and tell me he wanted me and that all the bad things I thought about myself were untrue (and I trusted him when he said it). The night got away from us, our bartender heavy-handed, and me feeling ornery over work, and me also feeling like I should drink more as a result, only to find out in front of a white porcelain toilet that history does, in fact, repeat itself.
I answered Palmer’s call in this new man’s bed while I bent my knees over his, just as I used to with Palmer, using smoky sheets to make a tent over our bodies, where the air stank of liquor and no one could tell us we were littering our livers. He wasn’t the type to call even when he did love me, falling asleep before I returned home and not waking up until halfway through the night, head heavy with whiskey and comforted by the whoosh of AC and a low TV, a drunk’s favorite lullaby. To call after I left him months before, when I, bottle-bodied, took all of his glass replicas of torso and hips and smashed them in the sink, beading it with what was poisoning us, seemed strange. And there it was—his father was dying, would I come say goodbye? Yes, of course I would, and this new man, a good man with clean hands and dark hair, held me as I cried for Palmer in his bed.
At the hospital, Palmer’s father reclined in a sea of green sheets that covered once thick legs suddenly thin as a young girl’s. His face, always round and red, was emaciated. His arms were bruised, so weak that the IV caused injury. Believing him too feeble to embrace, I kissed him on the cheek, the skin familiar like leather of an old, loved purse. But he grabbed my wrist with a strength that surprised me, that I should have known he would show even then, and breathed, “Take care of each other.”
But you don’t tell a dying man you won’t take care of his son because you can’t, because he cannot take care of you or himself, because you both share the disease that damaged his liver beyond repair. You just say, “OK,” and then you go home to the new man you know is there, awake and waiting for you to return.
Lexi Senior is a Florida-based writer and MFA candidate at University of Central Florida. She can most regularly be found roaming the country for inspiration. Find her on Twitter at @discoeternal and read about her travels at www.lexisenior.com.