Another Prodigal Son
by Carlos Antonio Piñón
November 15, 2018
An open letter to my father:
I remember the day our dog Jerry died. It was June 5th, 2016 when a few friends and I ordered pizza. On our way to pick up the food, we noticed a small, brown dog lying down, but I didn't look directly at it. My friend Juan remarked something about the owners, but I replied, "Nah, it's better not to stare." We walked across the street on our way back.
My mom texted me when I got back home. "Be on the lookout for Jerry," she said. "He ran away last night." My body froze. I could feel every hair on my body shoot straight up, every inch of my arms had goosebumps. I called my mom saying I'd go make sure, and she told me that he had been wearing a blue collar.
It was a bright and sunny day with families flooding the grocery store. Right next door, I stood over my dog's lifeless body. I wanted it so bad to be some other dog, any dog but mine, but there was nothing I could do. It was him. It was my dog lying there dead with his blue collar. I wasn't ready. My dog was dead and I didn't even fucking recognize him. I took my shirt off, wrapped it around him, and carried him home. Part of me hoped he would start moving when I picked him up, but instead, he was stiff.
This was the first time I felt death, like really experienced it for myself. I watched our family pay respects in our garage one by one to the dog we had for over nine years. Jerry was always afraid of fireworks. Every year, we tried our best to protect him, but this year, we failed. We struggled as a family to grieve as Jerry's ashes sat on behind a glass cabinet door. Fireworks were never the same to me again, but by the next year, I was starting to move on. I was enrolled in a summer class, keeping myself perhaps too busy to notice our cat Patchy had been getting sick. Before I even realized it, he was vomiting, not eating, and losing so much weight that he no longer looked like the chubby, cheerful cat we knew.
We tried everything we knew to do. We watched his diet, monitored his poop, gave him cat grass. We were so sure it was just an upset stomach. Still he lost the strength to even jump onto the bathroom sink and his skin began to sag as if all this cat had left in him was bone.
By the end of the month, he needed surgery. We found out he actually had a foreign body in his stomach all along that he could not digest which was preventing him from eating properly. Because he kept getting sicker, he was too weak for an operation. We had no money and no options. As a family, we decided to put Patchy to sleep—all but you, that is.
I remember this day clearly as well. It was July 30th when my mom told me she was taking him to the vet. Before long, we were all crammed together in that suffocating room. Patchy had already been at the animal hospital for a few days, medicated and in a cone. We each took turns petting him one last time.
"I just feel like we're giving up on him too soon," my mom said. I looked at white-furred creature before us with, his black spots no longer filled with life they once had. "He wouldn't survive," I said, and we watched the vet stick the syringe into him. His tail stopped moving, and not even a minute after, they wrapped him in a towel and carried him away.
As a family, we all split the bill, paying hundreds each. But we kept this a secret from you knowing you never wanted him in the first place. When we first got our cats, we hid them from you then, too, because you were never willing to accept them into our family. "Fifi" is a forbidden name in our house because none of us want to remind of you our first cat; the very same cat you called the devil, the one we abandoned when I was a kid.
I was too young to understand it at the time. I never understood, nor questioned, the structures that be as I watched you crack open another can of beer. You would drink too much, say things you had repressed, and then smash things, but you never hit us. Even at your worst, I saw you as a good, albeit misguided father. You worked long hours to care for your family, and I can genuinely say that I turned out alright. Since then I've became old enough to see things exactly the way the are. This year I think I've finally lost you.
When it came out in February that I was in a relationship with my boyfriend Rapheal, we fought for a full month. I'm not sure why this was such as shock to you when you asked me directly about my sexuality before, lecturing me about what is good and bad in God's eyes. Since then, I've built a life without you.
I first met Maria, Rapheal's grandma, several months into our relationship. Her presence one floor below would become familiar to me. Her grey hair and experienced eyes were something Rapheal and I avoided as we let go of each other hands in her company. I would only ever know her as a grumpy old woman. She would only ever tell me, "Ah, que cara tan feo," but even then, I could tell all of her life's experience was too big for her now fragile body.
She died this past September. Rapheal's family watched as she went from living her life to the fullest to bedridden. The day Maria passed, she was surrounded by family, all of whom I have come to befriend and cherish, especially Edison, Maria's son and Rapheal's dad.
On the table were photographs of the family throughout the ages. As we flipped through them, I sought after any and all pictures of a young Rapheal, too innocent to ever deserve the pain of his grandmother's passing. Yet, I felt drawn to all the photos she was in. I did not recognize this young, smiling woman with jet black hair, not even as she laid ten feet away. Rapheal cried, telling me that he misses her cooking, and painfully remembering every mean thing he ever told her. I simply held him, knowing all I had to offer was my love and support.
All along, I had been trying to take care of this family I was now a part of. It wasn't until the wake when I started finally start to feel it. There, at the funeral home, I finally thought of you, a man I have lived with my whole life, a man who, even now, almost eight months later, I have lived with in near complete silence. Not one breath into the funeral home, I had the misfortune of realizing I had been here before. Just last year, I had been standing exactly where I stood again, only then it was for the wake of my friend Juan's dad. As I kneeled before Maria, I recalled kneeling before Jesús as if I had not left, and I had the hair-raising, goosebump-invoking realization that I would be here again and again until it was either you or me.
I watched the sorrow on Edison's face all throughout the funeral the next day. It was almost as if he wasn't there, instead with his mother. This was a man I have become close to, having worked for him a few months this summer doing janitorial work. I was often reminded of the summer days when I would accompany you to work, only you never wanted me to work for you. It was too late before I realized that you had only ever wanted my presence.
I thought of you, too, when Maria was finally put to rest. At the grave, when all is said and done, Edison was surrounded by family, relieved to know his mother was no longer suffering. I thought about how it must've felt like when you, not even half my age, lost your own father, and I thought of you now living in a different country away from your mom.
I don't ever want you to be out of my life. I don't care for your approval, or your disappointment; I don't care about any of it. All I ask is that you, my one father I get in this life, don't leave me for good.