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When This is Over
By Karen Rizzo

Some mornings Dad spends all his energy running after August. "Careful," he coos at her as she picks up a plastic sword and jabs it at his knees, which makes him laugh so hard that he covers his mouth for fear of spitting out the false teeth that have become too big for it. "She is the smartest…and she has a beautiful…form. She'll be…anyone she wants."

Fine, it's fine, better that he die running after his grandkid than live six months longer in a bed. I'm reminded of the scene in The Godfather when Marlon Brando runs after his grandson with an orange rind in his mouth, then keels over and dies.

"Dad, I'm gonna pick up Drake. I'll be back in 15 minutes."

"Is he at the airport?"

"No, Drake's at school. I'm picking him up and I'll be right back."

"Where are you going?"

"To get Drake."

"Where's Jim?"

"At an audition."

"Did he get the part?"

"He's auditioning."

"I hope so."


"I see. So, that's it then."


"You're alright, Karen?"

I remember acting in Ionesco's The Bald Soprano in 12th grade. I had no idea what I was talking about, but my parents told me that I was very convincing.

We take Dad for a drive to the mountains on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The rains have washed away the smog, and giant, swollen clouds are perched on the summits north against blue skies as we drive higher in spirals and dips up the Angeles Crest Highway. "Look, Drake. Look at those clouds," I say.

"Look at them," my father says. "I think I'll find a place up here when this is all over."

A place up here. When this is over. Dad as cumulonimbus cloud.

Growing up in a Long Island suburb, I never knew that my father liked mountains. We were never a family that played outdoors or cooked on anything other than our avocado-colored Amana. Outdoors we walked to the car. We walked from the car to Greek diners and movies and other people's homes. Sometimes we walked the boardwalk at Jones Beach at night in winter. After my mother died, my father spent days at the beach, walking, golfing, collecting rocks that he recognized faces in. Jim and I would take the train from Manhattan out to his tiny apartment on the northeast end of Long Island and he'd drive us to some rocky, deserted beach for a walk in icy winds. Dad would hold up a rock to Jim before sliding it into his pocket. "You see the profile in this one? Big Chief Meroke." Then, "Mrs. Rizzo and I used to drive down here."

"Did your wife like to walk on this beach?"

"Hell, no. We'd come down in a storm, sit in the car and watch the waves."

My father came to Ellis Island from Italy when he was four, with his parents and older brothers. Long ago when we were driving along the causeway to Jones Beach, I asked him if he remembered anything about that trip. He took a deep breath. "The smell. I remember it smelled like this." Then he added, "Your mother liked this drive."

That is to say, Mom would drive and Dad would sit back and watch the road fall under the car at eighty miles an hour. They came of age in The Depression, a decade or two older than my friends' parents. They never wore sneakers or t-shirts, and certainly never owned a pair of jeans. Jim bought my father his first pair for his 70th birthday. "They're Wranglers, you say? So, Jim, do you wear them belted or not?"

My father is convinced that there's something lodged in his throat and insists on seeing a doctor. His GP says to humor him, so Jim heads off with Dad to see a throat doctor who, evidently, has no fucking clue as to what hospice means. He tells Jim that Dad is terribly undernourished (no shit) and that death by starvation is a terrible way to die. Oh my God, what have we done? We call our hospice nurse, Cyn. I hear her yell to someone, "You won't believe what this asshole doctor said to my people." She returns to the phone. "Those fucking, excuse me, doctors," she sighs. "Doesn't he know what hospice is?"

"It's Dad's body closing down, right? Isn't that what's…supposed to happen? I mean, Dad said he didn't want feeding…all the tubes and --"

"Of course!" She says. "You're right! I'm so sorry. That doctor…he was just plain wrong. Damn doctor."

I throw together a milkshake, unable to swallow myself, and bring it out to Dad. "Please, you've got to drink this. Please."

Calmly, my father looks up at me as I twitch, my throat aching from fighting back tears, and says hoarsely, "Honey, I'm just not hungry."

A clear, full moon night, I'm barely awake after two glasses of wine with dinner, and the kids are asleep. "C'mon," says Jim. "Let's go out back with the rest of the wine."

No, it's cold, no, I'm sooo tired, no, I'm gonna be up at 5:30. "Okay," I say. Jim grabs the wine. He's hoping to get lucky, I'm hoping he does without my falling asleep, and we're both hoping for a few minutes of temporary amnesia.

I step one foot out the back door and stop cold. "Dad… he's out there. In the middle of the yard." In only an undershirt. Jim bounds down the stairs, then glides slowly across the grass to Dad's side. For a moment they are in a frozen tableau, younger man broad-shouldered and upright, legs apart in the moonlit patch, older man skeletal, hunched.

"Hey, Tony, whatchu up to?"

My father turns, looking as though he has just been asked to pass the salt at dinner.

"Oh, hello. Jim. I was…trying to find…the thing…lost."

"It's chilly out here, Tony. Let's go inside."

"Yes, that's a…" Dad's voice falls off.

Jim leads him to his room and tucks him in. I want to sleep for a week. Stupid wine. Stupid moon. Stupid dying.

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