I wake up early in the morning to take my dad to the airport. He is flying to Orlando where his father is in the hospital dying of lung cancer. It makes sense. The man smoked a pack a day since I was born, he says. When I returned home a week ago, my mother hugged me tight, but then pulled away. Her excitement to see me turned sour. I thought you quit smoking.
I put my dad’s bag in the back seat for him. The ride to the airport is long and we drive in silence. A sense of obligation to speak thickens in the car, and he asks me what classes I took in the fall and which ones I’ll be taking in the spring. I tell him, Yeah, I think they’ll be hard. But that’s all. What else is there to say after years of coming to terms with each other? And now that he’s said that he loves me no matter what, that I will always be his son, and now that I’ve told him I love him, too, all we can offer each other is a silent car ride.
I could hear him on the phone. When he hung up, he came to tell me everything that I already heard, and when he finished telling me, he fell silent. He stood in the middle of a room with nothing left to say, even though there is always something left to say. I have never been able to communicate with my grandpa. He speaks Spanish. I speak English. We have hugged and smiled at each other, and he has even run his hand through my hair and mumbled something in a language that I do not understand. We’ve said something, but what? My unemployed father sat in the living room, looking at the floor and waiting for my mom to come home from work.
Someday my dad will die. He has told my mother that he regrets being a bad father. He has never apologized, but I can feel that regret. If he ever tries to say the unsaid, I will stop him, and I will tell him that I already know.
I drive him to the airport early in the morning. It is pitch black and cold and it hurts to stand outside. I drive him to the airport and we go in silence. On the ride back home, the sun will start to rise. It will reflect in the buildings downtown and it will get in my eyes, which I will keep open because I’ll want to take it all in. And, as I cross over the Cumberland River, I will smile. I will smile because my feet have been in the Pacific. Because I have held my eye to the telescope at the Griffith Observatory, where seven million eyes have looked up before me. Because somewhere in the Arizona desert, where rocks have been moved and shaped by time, I will know they have been moved by me. Kicked or picked up or walked on.