I don’t feel like waking up at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning to go to the beach. “But dad, we’re going out with some friends and I don’t know when we’ll be back,” I offer an apology on the phone. “Never mind, it’s only if you want to. So, you go out this late every week? I’m out there from six o’clock. I’ll take another Racquet with me either way.” “OK dad, we’ll see. I’ll try,” my heart is breaking. I know he really wants me to play with him. Even for a few minutes. For him it’s priceless. He’s been retired for years now. This is all he’s got. “Let the child be,” I can hear mom in the background, “let him sleep. He works hard all week. At least let him rest on Saturday. He’s thirty. Racquets, Racquets. Every Saturday the same song.” “I’m not forcing him,” dad answers her but speaks to me, “why do you have to interfere? Just keep in mind this is the best time of the year”. “OK, dad, I have to go, they’re waiting for us downstairs.” “Ok, good night, drive safely. Your mom sends her regards to Dana,” he hangs up.
Always the same crappy feeling. It’ll take an hour for it to go away. And as usual they’ll ask me what’s wrong. Nothings, it’s fine. Just the usual deal with my dad. Why can’t I say no? Just no. Sorry dad, I just can’t wake up this early in the morning. Old habits. I used to play with him almost every Saturday. Set an alarm for the morning. Madness. But not just for him. I used to love it. This way I had the whole day free. Up at six, Racquets at seven, breakfast at my parents at nine, by ten o’clock I was home. All that, instead of getting up at midday, as usual. It was great. Dad is a good player. Not one of those you’d stop to watch play, but good. Keeps asking me to slam the balls. He likes playing defense. So I did, but not too hard. I was so happy when he put a grip on the racquet handle to stop the blisters. It showed he was serious about it. That he has interests. That’s another thing about the emptiness of retirement. When life becomes this big block of time, and there’s no difference between morning, noon, evening or night. No purpose. Just surviving. Waiting for an illness. Or death. Whichever comes first. After the game I sit exhausted on the sand. He jumps in to the cold water and out for a long sprint along the shore. This time people do stop to look. He runs funny. Like a ballet dancer. On his toes. And he’s fast. Really fast. As if he’s trying to prove that he is still alive. A dialog with death.
“Hello, I’m death, I’m here for you.”
“Not so fast, pal.”
“Sorry, but according to our records you are retired. Pretty old. I think it’s time.”
“Old? Sir, check out this sprint. The whole beach is staring. Twenty year old would be grabbing their sides by now. And the Racquets, have you noticed the grip? It’s not there for a game or two. This is a grip for years.”
“Sorry, got to run. Take care.”
Six months ago I met Dana. Two months ago we moved in together. Since then I hardly ever make it to the beach. Hardly ever go to sleep early on Fridays. When I was alone, Friday nights would get so sad sometimes, that I would go to bed at ten. It’s a different story now. We go out every weekend till the small hours of the night. As if to make up for all that alone time. I’m back to waking up at midday on Saturdays. And if we wake up early we use the time for sex and breakfast at the local café. Dana has gotten used to my ‘threats’ about waking up early and going to the beach. She knew I wouldn’t. Once she even tried to wake me up, “hey, remember you have a date with your dad?” but I just turned over and kept sleeping. One Saturday I nearly jumped out of bed, but Dana hugged me really tight. So I gave up. In the evening, when we go to my parents, my dad looks at me and smiles, “the water was perfect today. You missed out. Never mind, next Saturday”. Yes, next Saturday. I’ll plan my time better. We’ll go to sleep early Friday. I’ll come home before Dana even opens her eyes. Dana looks at me. She knows what I’m thinking.
He hasn’t played in a month. Knee problems. Huge bandage around it. He’s a bit sad. Mom said he over did it with the running. Thinks he’s still sixteen. She’s been telling him to take it easy. But he’s stubborn. This week the bandages came off. The doctor recommended an extended rest. He called to make a date with me at the beach the next day.
We got home at five o’clock in the morning. I set an alarm for six thirty. My conscience set the alarm, more like it. I told Dana I made a date with my dad at seven thirty. She smiled. Didn’t answer. I have to try. He hasn’t played in a month. He’ll be so happy to see me there. He seemed to have gotten old all of a sudden. In one month. As if old age was just waiting for him to stay at home. He runs, plays, jumps but as soon as he sat down for a moment, old age caught up with him. But he won’t give up, I know him. I got up at nine. I can still make it. Last half hour perhaps. Dana was asleep. Stayed in my pajama pants and just threw a shirt on. Whispered to Dana, “be back in an hour,” and left. I drove like mad. Saturday morning. People are strolling in the spring sun. And I’m flying. I made it at half past nine. Looked over from the boardwalk. He wasn’t in his usual spot. I went down to the beach. Probably went home earlier than usual. But I have to be sure. I don’t want to call my mom because she stresses over these phone calls. And dad doesn’t have a cellular. I walked along the beach. Early summer. Too cold to swim but people are already filling up the beach, walking along the sand. I walked to the end and back. Nothing. I’m tired. Haven’t had anything to drink. Where is he? I can see his usual buddies. But he is not amongst them. Oh well, probably went home. He didn’t like the beach when it was crowded. I went home.
“Where were you?” I asked aggressively when we came to visit that evening.
“What? You came? How come I didn’t see you?” Dad was surprised.
“Sure I came. We had a date, no? I was there at nine thirty.”
“Ah, nine thirty. I was resting in the shade. Told my buddies if they saw my son to call me. You didn’t see them?”
“I saw them. But thought you’ve already left. It was so hot.”
“Yes, it was. But the water. Never mind, next Saturday.”
Dad passed away the next day.