Unrecognizable

'Hi, dad. How are you today?' I close the door of his apartment and walk through the small kitchen into the living room.
   As always dad sits in his favorite chair, the worn out light brown corduroy swivel chair we carry around every time dad has to switch from retirement homes. Her chair, a lasting memory of mom.
   'Dad. How are you?' No response. His grey eyes watch the park across the retirement home. Not that he can see much but he likes the idea of knowing the world is out there. The crossword book on his lap is still on page 31, the pen in his trembling hand still has the cap on it. He liked doing crossword puzzles. Keeps the brain in shape, he always said.
   I give him a kiss on his head, but he doesn't notice it. I place a hand on his shoulder. 'Hi, dad.'
   'John, son. I didn't hear you come in. Good to see you.' As if rudely awakened from a dream he tries to get out of his chair. 'Have a seat. I'll make you some coffee.'
   'Peter, dad. Sit down, I'll make us some coffee.' I pick up the book that fell from his lap as he tries to get back in his chair and step into the kitchen area.
   'Yes. Good. Good to see you, son. It's been awhile, hasn't it. Haven't seen anybody for a long time now for that matter.'
   'Dad, John visited you this morning.'
   'This morning?' For a moment he goes silent. 'No, that can't be right. I never get any visitors.'
   The dirty dishes on the counter tell the real story. My brother John and I visit dad every day since mom died. John has a hard time seeing dad like this: fragile, alone, unrecognizable, nothing like the energetic man he used to be when we grew up. Still he visits every morning, leaving again as fast as he can.
   I put my coffee cup on the small table next to the plate with one cookie left on it and put my dad's cup on the high table next to his chair. 'Thank you, John.'
   For a few minutes we just sit there in silence.
   The swivel chair moans as he turns the chair to reach for his coffee. 'Have you talked to Peter lately. It's been so long since I've seen him.'
   'Dad, I am Peter.'
   'Yes, yes. How's your wife.'
   'Daisy died four years ago. Marc is doing fine, thank you.'
   'Oh, that's sad. Terrible. My condolences.'
   'I'll pass them on to John.' I finish my coffee, write a few words to John in the diary, wash the dishes and refill the empty plate with cookies. I kiss dad on his cheek and lay the crossword book and pen on his lap, page 31.
   'See you again tomorrow, dad.'
   As I open the door I hear the moaning of the chair. I look back at my father, tears rolls down my face. Dad already turned his chair and stares through the window.
   'Bye, John.'

Letting go (the pain remains)

As I open the door, the room still looks the same.
Everything’s left as it was left behind.
Nothing’s changed, thrown away or moved.
A time capsule.

The stale smell of a boy’s bedroom has gone: the smell of the soccer pitch, smell of fear to fail, fear for girls, smell of too much deodorant.
His bed is still unmade. The pillow settled back, the shape of his head still visible of all the use of hair products. When I hold the pillow really close, I can still smell him. So much different than the smell of when he was a baby, the smell that leaves you crying when you think of the innocence, helplessness. When your child still needs you.
The cable of his laptop still lies on his bed, forgotten. His thoughts were always all over the place. The bloc note on his desk is ready to be used for homework, homework he never felt like doing, homework he never really did. The ink of the handwritten letter smudged.

I pick up the bloc note from his desk, sit at the edge of his bed and read the note, again. I must have read it 150 times already. I know every word, every blank space. He never was much of a talker. The written words have left a mark on my soul: the hopelessness, desperation. Unable to explain how much he suffered, how they broke his will.

It’s been a year now.
He closed the door behind him, on his way to school. The daily commute: hiding in the mass, loneliness in the crowd.
I really didn’t see it coming. You always think it happens to others.
‘Do your best,’ my last words. Soulless, my thoughts already with the daily boredom of my job. My job that always came first, before friends, family. Selfish.
‘Whatever,’ his final word. No hug, no kiss, no love. A teenager.
The phone rang at eleven that morning. Never made it to school. Cellphone no service. No connection to the world. Invisible, escaped from hell. His backpack and laptop were never found. His body found under the bridge. Lives shattered.
The bullying stopped.
So much pain, right under my nose. Hidden scars worn in public, not able to reach out. Unable to reach me.

I press the pillow closer to my face. I can’t go on, without him.

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