There’s a quick double rap on my apartment door and my son, Elijah, opens the door and walks in like he’s paying the rent. He ain’t. “Pop, what’s up dude? What’re you watchin? Why don’t you have the game on? You got beer? I know you got beer.”
He goes directly into my tiny kitchen and comes back with two bottles of beer. He flops on the couch beside me.
“Mom’s worried about you. Why aren’t you returning her calls or Yazmin’s or my calls? Are you returning anybody’s calls? What’s up with that?”
My son’s over six feet tall, has brown curly hair and tan skin. He’s a top of his class Cal graduate in “International Economics.” He does some mysterious stuff with other people’s money that always leaves him richer no matter what happens to his client’s investments. He literally has more income in a year than I made in my whole career as a civil servant.
I pause the TV. “When did you get back in town? How was Tokyo or Hong Kong or Toronto or wherever you were this time?”
“Tokyo. Good, good. I tried to call you several times. Are you okay?”
“What do you want? You can see me. Do I look okay to you? I’m fine. You can go and report that back to your mother and return to your important business, whatever the hell that is.”
“Pop, we’re worried about you man. You know, we have in-law quarters in our house in LA. We built it especially for you. I mean, you would have your own place, a maid, a cook whatever you want. And we could make sure that you’re okay. You could see your grandson every day – if you wanted to.”
“Generous of you. I don’t need your pity or charity. I’m doing just fine right here.”
He turns to face me, places his hand on my shoulder, “Pop, you’re not doing fine. You forget to pay the rent, renew your driver’s license or to turn off the stove. I’m afraid that maybe one day you’ll forget how to get home.”
“Take your hand off me.”
My handsome son drops his hand to his lap. He takes a deep breath before continuing, “Okay, okay. “The Raiders are playing…”
I remember. I laugh. “Your mother would not let you play football. No matter how hard I argued, and you cried she just was not having any of that football shit.” I laugh again. “You know why?”
I don’t wait for him to respond. “Because it was dehumanizing to have her black son play to entertain people that wouldn’t accept you in their homes or neighborhoods. You know what I said? I said that’s some crazy ass, West Virginia, cracker, hillbilly, bullshit. I played three years of high school and four years of college football.”
“You were good Pop. I still have—”
“Your, your mother said that playing football was a little like working in the mines you give up your youth and your body and pay the cost for the rest of your life. Goddamn, that white girl was way ahead of her time. Shakes me to the core now when I see all the brain-damaged players. If I hadn’t blown out my knee, I would have been one of them. Shit, I may be one of them.”
My son’s quiet for a moment. “Pop, I wish I had played. I would have made you proud of me.”
“What, what the hell would I be proud of? Your brain damage? Your broken back? Your ruined knees? I’m proud of you now for getting us those box seats. I’m proud of you for sitting in the stands like you got good sense. You need to thank your mother for that.”
“Yeah, but – Pop do you regret marrying mom because she’s white? Is that why you divorced?”
“What a stupid ass question. Your mother’s the only woman I ever met that would put up with me and my dumb-ass antics for more than a few days.” I stand up to lecture my son. “But sometimes, every now and again I lost sight of her and just saw a pale white girl looking back at me. I didn’t see Leah. I didn’t see my wife.”
My son gestures for me to come sit back down. I ignore him.
“She was PWT. She was poorer than me. Her father, and both her brothers played football. Her brother’s got scholarships to Alabama. Her older brother played five years in the NFL. She was not having any of that shit for you. Stubborn old bitch.” I wipe tears from my eyes. “No matter what I did or didn’t do you got a mother that loves you, loves you and your sister to death.”
I sit back down by my son, take a big gulp of my beer.
“Pop, Mom misses you. Could you at least return her calls or call her once a week or so?”
“And football’s worse now. The owners and the fans are saying loud and clear we don’t give a shit about police killing, abusing, and misusing you niggers. You’re our entertainment and paid well to dance the jig. Nigger dance your ass off and leave the politics at home. All them fans and owners yelling ‘Play ball, niggers, play ball,’ all at once drowns out everything I want to hear or see on the football field. Motherfuckers, every one of them!”
I feel hot like I’m about to have a heat stroke or something. I unbutton two buttons on my shirt, put my beer bottle to my forehead.
“Pop, I’ll get—”
“Sit back down! Don’t get me a damn thing. I’m okay. I’m alright.” I lean back and catch my breath. “They don’t care about the brain and body damage – soul-killing shit. They’re there to see the niggers do and die. Leah saw that. Saw that forty years ago. Saw it when I was blind to it.”
“Okay, Pop. I hear you. But, listen, Yazmin has been trying to reach you. She has a play opening Off-Broadway. She wants you there in the worst way. We will fly you first class or a bus or limo or whatever you want. Can you do that for your only daughter?”
“You know your mother’s a socialist. But she was also an anarchist and an atheist. Man, I was a misguided missile – believing in the Christian, free market, liberal progress, integration, bullshit. Boy, we used to have some arguments. We would argue and fuck all night long. Is she okay?”
“Pop that’s more than—”
“You and Yazmin keep an eye on her, hear me?”
“Of course, we—”
“You married that Vietnamese girl, right? You got any kids yet?”
“Pop, you – yes, yes ten years ago. We—”
“Oh, you got to go. Well if you got to go, you got to go. I understand about pressing business and all that stuff.”
My son has his hand back on my shoulder. “No, pop. That’s not what I said. I said we got married ten years ago.”
I stand up and shout at him, “Go on! Get out! Quit telling me you got to go. Just go goddamn it.”
He hugs me. He doesn’t even try to hide his tears. I close the door behind him. I remember to lock it this time.
I strip off my shirt. It’s just way too hot in here. I grab another cold beer. I lean back against the refrigerator. I know who he married and when he got married. I know he didn’t want to go just now. But more and more I get confused, and I don’t know what I know. The pressure of just trying to have a simple damn conversation… I can’t remember, remember who said what… I can’t remember shit.
I look out the window for Elijah, but he’s already gone. What I do know is that I’ll not be a burden to them. I would never do that to them. I’m in my right mind now. I need to act now that I know what I need to do.
I love you, Leah, more than anything in this world. I love you all.
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