Elmira, New York

I hadn’t seen my dad since he had left almost amonth ago, and now I sat in the lobby of the Elmira airport, waiting for him topick up our family. It was hot in the lobby of the small airport, and itcarried with it an unpleasant, musty odor. The sun spilled in through thewindows, warming my bare arms and legs. The stiff plastic seat in which I wassitting dug into my back as I reclined. I was tired from an entire day oftravel, and the monotonous slide and scrape of the automatic doors began tolull me to sleep. I closed my eyes.



I opened my eyes slightly, squinting in the brightsunlight. Directly in front of my face, I saw the glowing silhouette of a handat the end of an outstretched arm offering a stick of gum between its thumb andforefinger. It belonged to my sister.

     “Oh. Thanks.”

     I took up the offering and placed it in mymouth. I welcomed the cool rush of mint to my dry mouth as I slowly began tochew. My eyes were completely open now.

     “What time is it?” I asked.

     My sister pulled out her phone and checkedthe clock.

     “Eleven fifteen,” she answered.

     Just five hours earlier I had been asleepin my bed halfway across the country, but it felt like an eternity.

     “He said he’s on his way,” reported my mom,who had just returned from talking on the phone with my dad.

     My sister and I shifted in our seats to faceher, and she continued.

     “He’s driving your uncle’s truck,” she wenton. “It’s a green Chevy. He’ll be here in about fifteen minutes.”

     My uncle’s health had been rapidlydeclining, and my dad wanted to visit him in his last days.

About two weeks into the visit, we received thephone call we had all been expecting: Our uncle had passed away. I could stillremember the call – the pain in my dad’s normally strong and steadfast voice.

     “Youruncle passed away last night,” he had said. “He died in his sleep.”

     I triedto console him, but couldn’t find the words. Everything I thought of seemedtrite or insincere. No words could carry the weight of what I truly wanted tosay, so I answered the only way I knew how:

     “I’msorry, Dad. I love you.”

     There wasa long pause on the other line before he responded. I could tell my words haddone little, if anything, to comfort him. He sighed, longer and deeper thanI’ve ever heard a person sigh.

     “Well, atleast he’s not suffering anymore,” he said.

     I can’t remember any of the conversationafter that.

     But the words still hung in the back of mymind. I couldn’t imagine the pain he must have been experiencing — to sit athis older brother’s bedside, to watch him slowly slip away, to know that hecould do nothing. He was completely and utterly helpless.

It was a sobering thought.

     We now had been sitting in the airport lobbyfor about an hour, and I checked the clock on the wall above the blue monitorthat listed the docket of departures and arrivals. The fifteen minutes my dadestimated had turned to twenty.

     Upon seeing the clock, my sister sighedimpatiently.

     “I wonder what’s taking him so long?” shethought out loud.

     “He probably ran into some traffic orsomething. He’s got a lot on his mind,” my mom said.

     Her words were directed at my sister in analmost scolding manner. I now saw that the events that had transpired had takena significant toll on her as well. In a family where our father had normallybeen the emotional foundation, she was now required to take his place — calledinto action to stay strong, to hold the family together.

She now stood in front of my sister and me — herjacket folded over her right arm and her purse hanging over her right shoulder.Her long hair sat in a mess upon her shoulders, and her sunglasses were pushedup, resting on top of her head like a hairband. I could see streaks of gray inher otherwise dark brown hair. She looked tired.

     I stood up and offered her my seat. Shakingher head, she refused. But I insisted, and upon taking her purse and coat, Isucceeded in coaxing her to sit down.

     “Thank you, Dillon,” she said, running herfingers through her hair as she held her head in her hands.

     Just as she took her seat, a truck pulledup outside. It was dad. We all rose to our feet, and, taking the bags, I methim at the door.

     “How was the flight?” he asked.

     “Fine,” I replied. “We hit a littleturbulence over Michigan, but it wasn’t bad.”

     “Good,” my father smiled.

     He took one of the bags from me and proceededto load the cab. I walked to back of the truck and dropped the tailgate to fillthe truck bed. As I continued to load the luggage, he hugged my sister, greetedmy mom with a gentle peck on the lips, and opened the passenger side door,helping my mom into the truck. Once she was inside, he softly closed the doorand turned to me.

     “I’m glad you guys are here,” he said.

     He tried to smile again but couldn’t. Instead,he sighed.

     My dad always was reserved in his emotions,but now, for the first time in my life, I could see exactly what he wasfeeling. I saw just how badly he needed his family and how much his olderbrother had meant to him. I felt his pain.

I searched for the words to articulate how I felt.I wanted so badly to tell him that I was there for him, that after all theseyears of him taking care of me, I wanted to take care of him. I wanted toconsole him. But, like so many other times in my life, I found the right wordselusive. Yet again, I responded in the only way I knew how:

     “Yeah, of course,” I said. “We want to behere with you. We love you, Dad.”

     At this, he hugged me tightly, and I couldfeel his tall frame pressed against mine. After a few seconds, we separated.

He walked to the driver’s side of the cab, got in,and started the truck. I closed the tailgate with a heavy thud and climbed intothe backseat.

Troy was only a 30-minute drive from Elmira, butthe ride would seem much longer than that.

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