I arrived on a greyhound at the bus station in Hempstead before midnight. There was snow on the ground—perhaps this was the last time I had ever seen so much snow on a Christmas Eve.
My trip was as long as it was as numbing. I sat in a window seat near the back of the bus and stared out at the changes of landscape. I watched the snow fall from a light-gray sky, which turned darker as night progressed. I thought about my destination and the future that was about to unfold.
I was 17 years-old at the time and you were 62 at the time of your exit.
The bus was late—so when I arrived at the station, I made my way over to a cab stand. Inside, the lights were very dim. There was a small Christmas tree with one strand of red, blue, and green lights weaved between the spiky green arms of its synthetic branches.
The bulbs were too large for an otherwise tiny tree, which was placed on a small table with a torn, red tree skirt beneath it. I could feel the heat being pumped into the room. The grayish walls were stained with black filth marks above the backrests of seats, which lined the walls of the small waiting room. The green carpet was ripped and beaten from years of foot traffic. The chairs were worn-looking and broken.
I spoke to a man behind a desk, encased by a wall, and behind a sliding glass enclosure. He was focused on the flickering bluish light given off from his small television set. His black mustache seeped into the contrast of his even darker brown skin. His face was heavy and his full belly seemed as though it would burst through the buttons of his flannel, buttoned-down shirt.
“Where are you going,” he asked in a Middle Eastern accent.
I could smell the wave of his foul armpits as he dug a white plastic spoon into a small cup of microwavable soup.
“I’m going to Hempstead General.”
He placed the cup of soup on the desk and pulled the radio handle up to his face to communicate with one of his drivers.
I waited several minutes before the next cad arrived.
Those minutes seemed more like centuries to me.
“Have a seat,” offered the man behind the desk.
“Someone will be here to take you soon.”
I looked around at the walls. I looked at the poor excuse for a Christmas tree and at the broken star, which sort of hung loosely at its top branch. I looked at the torn photograph of Jesus, which hung crooked in a broken picture frame against the wall.
“I’ll wait outside.”
I remember walking through the doors of the I.C.U. where I saw you last.
You asked, “What do you say, kid?”
You looked as if you had aged more than 50 years. Your skin was gray and there were tubes and wires connected to your body. The machines they tied you to beeped and the monitors weaved a green light, up and down, and pulsed across a round screen. I never saw you that humbled before. I never saw you so weakened or sick.
I remember the last conversation we had before the medication took your clarity. I suppose, I am not the only child to ever have this conversation with their father.
I asked, “Do you remember how you told me that you hate liars?”
“Can’t stand them,” you said.
“So then if I asked you a question . . . you would tell me the truth. Right?”
“You would tell me the truth because you would never lie to me, right?”
I asked, “Are you going to be okay? See, I can ask you this and if you say yes then I know you’ll be okay because you would never lie to me . . . . So I’m going to ask you and you’re going to tell me, yes. Okay?”
There was a brief moment of silence. I recall the heartbroken expression on your face as you looked at me.
I felt so unbelievably small. I felt so powerless and frightened.
“Are you gonna be okay?”
“I’m gonna be okay, kid. I promise.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” you told me.
“I’m a Kimmel . . . . and a Kimmel always keeps his word.”
I held you to that.
A lot has changed since then.
I’m 42 now. I’ve grown up, Pop.
I’m a dad now, just like you were to me.
It was hard for a while—and it still is, sometimes.
I have trouble looking at your photographs, and I still have my bouts with guilt. I still wonder what you see or if you can see anything at all.
Mourning your loss was a long and heavy process.
I felt as if I could not let go. I felt that if I did let go—then it would somehow be disloyal.
I felt that if I let go of the pain—it would mean that I let go of you.
No one ever told me it was okay to let go, Pop.
Today is Christmas morning. In a short while, I am going to have a big breakfast with my wife.
You would like her, Pop.
She made me a better person. And that’s the truth.
You died on the Friday of December 29, 1989.
The days between now and New Year’s are my own personal days of awe.
This is when I feel the loss most.
I still keep our yearly tradition and walk the beach at Point Lookout on New Year’s Day.
I don’t go to the cemetery though. That’s where dead people live.
I go to the beach because that’s where you live . . .
How do I know?
I know because you said that place belonged to us.
I know because you told me you weren’t going anywhere.
And this has to be so . . . . because you would never lie to me.
I know because you’re a Kimmel.
And a Kimmel always keeps his word.
Sleep well, Pop