On Saturdays, I often use this space to go off-topic, leave books and publishing behind for a day, and turn my attention in another direction. Enjoy.
I remember how heavy the bike felt as I leaned into the pedals, gaining speed. It figured that the rental place would use sturdy bikes, but getting it going was tough. Once up to speed, though, I could cruise for long stretches on the smooth pavement of the bike path.
Gradually veering to the left, the path religiously circled Green Lake in Seattle. A thin band of parkland, then the bike and pedestrian path, and then the lake, all plopped down in a neighborhood of sturdy Seattle homes, two stories, deep dormers, greenery everywhere.
It’s about two and a half miles around Green Lake, it’s easy to let your mind go, just pay attention to the lines on the path. Roy was in surgery and wouldn’t be out for hours. Sitting around a hotel room didn’t sound attractive. Cruising this forty pound bike around the lake? Much better.
Roy had been his jovial self when I visited the night before, hanging out while he gave the nurses a hard time. This was something he did with waitresses too. We’d sit down at a table in a diner and right away he’d start.
“Do you have any sarsaparilla?” he’d ask, his eyes wide.
“Huh? No, we don’t have any whatever it is,” the waitress would reply.
“Good!” Roy would announce triumphantly, “I didn’t want any anyway.” He would laugh in appreciation every time he ran this little joke, constantly amused, like a little boy is surprised every time his wind-up car springs to life.
If he was nervous he didn’t show it. I hadn’t seen Roy nervous very often. Even the night B. took his car and drove off into the darkness, trying to escape the people on TV who were threatening him, trying to run from his demons. Even then Roy wasn’t nervous. He called B.’s shrink, who was of no use at all, then calmly went off to collect B. and the car from the local police station.
I came around to the bike rental and slowed down a bit. The gradual turning didn’t bother me, and the air was refreshing. I stood up on the pedals and started another lap. There were more people on the path as the day heated up, and the fall sunshine brought them outside.
The first time we came to visit Roy in Seattle, after Mary died and he’d moved West, we arrived in the middle of a storm. We had to run for the bright blue Super Shuttle with Max spinning his little legs as fast as he could, looking for puddles to splash through. Laughing, we shook off the water and pushed our lumpy bags aboard.
Roy’s new residence was better than I’d imagined, but it’s always the little things, the ones you can’t anticipate, that trip you up. Walking to the elevator with him, the smell in the halls hit me right away. A juicy combination of industrial strength cleanser, institutional food, and inevitable death clung to the walls, the floors, hung in the air.
We stood in the elevator with a few of the other residents. They looked like they had been dating when Roy was born, he was only 80. Their metabolisms were so slow I began to wonder if you could, if you locked your knees like a horse, if your could die just standing there, before the bell rang for your floor.
I wondered sometimes why Roy didn’t seem that interested in stories about what was happening to other people. I guess my reveries from childhood were so persistent that even facts didn’t disturb the picture I had of Roy. When I looked at him I saw the past, not the somewhat absent man in front of me.
I realized the bike shed had come and gone again, and that I was pedaling a bit too fast. I was panting, and had to lean back for a minute, shake my head and look around. If you know how rare sunny days are in Seattle, it will not surprise you that on a clear sharp day like this, at the beginning of October, brilliant and cloudless, people would start to pour into Green Lake Park. Some almost seemed to be stumbling like survivors of a tornado emerging from the root cellar, rubbing their eyes. They were pasty, a bit dazed but happy to be out. I had to be more vigilant to avoid the people walking three or four abreast, ignoring the juncture where the pedestrian path veered away from the bike path. And still the memories came.
The sternest talk I ever got from Roy, that time I rear-ended an off duty officer in the city, me with my junior license. The years we’d drive the big Hudson up Route 22, slowing for the speed traps in Millerton, on the way to the Boy Scout camp in Copake.
When I worked in the city we’d make it a point to have lunch together once in a while, taking turns selecting places to eat. For a while I tried to get to the designated meeting corner before him, but he was always there, 20, 30, 40 minutes before we were supposed to meet.
I was getting tired. The sun was quitting, and I started looking for the bike rental shed. I couldn’t remember any longer how many times I’d gone around the lake, but I knew I’d feel it the next day. The surgery would be over by now. I felt more connected to Roy than I had for a long time. I felt him deep in my heart, some place that couldn’t ever be dislodged.
I headed back to the hospital in the dying light of a perfect day, but Roy wasn’t so lucky. He died a few weeks later, the surgery a failure. But sitting here tonight, writing this story, I swear I feel him here with me now as much as I ever did when he was alive.
Enjoy your dad, however you can do it. Happy father’s day.