“What’s wrong with you? Why would you say that?” I barked.
“Don’t talk to me with that tone, Levi. I’m just telling you what Lance said.”
It can’t be true.
My heart started pounding faster as I rushed out of my bedroom through the house. Mom was still talking on the phone, but I wasn’t listening anymore. Now all I was doing was searching through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, the drawers in the kitchen, and the coffee table in the living room. I was looking for any signs, any clear proof that Dad was sick.
Because if he had cancer there would be proof, right? He would have to take medicine. There would be paperwork or something…anything.
I looked at his office.
The door was closed.
“Levi!” Mom said in my ear, snapping me out of my hectic movements. “You’re coming home. There’s no way I’m going to have you there going through this.”
“I’ll call you back,” I said to Mom, hanging up before she could reply.
My fingers wrapped around the knob of the office door, and I pushed it open. Moving to his desk, I pulled open the side doors and looked at the orange pill bottles. I read the labels, but didn’t understand a single one.
I kept digging and found all of it. The paperwork. The medicines. All the proof.
I lifted a picture that was pushed in the back of the drawer.
Our fishing trip.
A lump formed in my throat as I stared at the photographic proof that we used to be happy together.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dad shouted, standing in the doorframe of his office.
Just staring at him I should’ve known he was sick. He looked sick. Skinnier than any man his height should’ve been. The circles under his eyes were dark, too, but I didn’t know what his normal look was and what was out of the norm because I didn’t know him.
“You a thief or something?” he hissed, giving me a look of disgust. “You looking for money?”
“No.” I cleared my throat, dropping his paperwork into the top drawer. “Ma just said—”
“I don’t care what your mom said.” His hand slammed against the door. “The door was shut, which meant stay out.” Nodding, I headed toward the door, and he stood in front of it, blocking my way out, his eyes filled with less emotion than before. “Don’t tell me you’re gonna cry. Pull your shit together and stop being a pussy.”
Who are you?
Pushing past him, I felt my breaths growing heavier and heavier.
Entering my room, I shut the door behind me. My back landed against the closest wall, and I pounded my hand against my chest, over and over again.
I couldn’t go back to Alabama.
I couldn’t walk away knowing that I was leaving him alone and sick. Plus, there was my selfish need to want to know more about him. What made him so cold? When did he shift from the playful guy I used to know into this mean personality? How could I fix it? Fix us?
I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t keep trying for a relationship with him before he…
I blinked and swallowed hard.
I need more time.
I came out of my bedroom an hour later and saw him sleeping on the couch. I knew if I walked away now, there would be no possibility of me ever learning about this stranger who shared my DNA. I also knew that if I left, he had no one. He would never admit it, but he had to be afraid. Cancer had to be scary, and he was going through it alone.
Maybe people said terrible things when they were afraid. Maybe Dad was always afraid.
I can’t go back to Alabama.
I called and told Mom. She cried a bit and told me she didn’t understand. Truthfully, I didn’t completely understand either, but in my gut I knew if I walked away now I would regret it forever. So, I would stay.
I headed out to the woods around eleven that night with a flashlight and my violin. I loved the smells of the woods, the calmness of nature. Back home whenever my mind was clogged, Mom would have me step barefoot into the woods, my toes curled against the grass, and I would just breathe.
There was something otherworldly about nature that made my problems feel less important, made my situation feel less dramatic.
I stared at the house that was hidden in the trees. The father who built that place with me still had to exist. I wouldn’t give up on him. Not now. I climbed up the rungs, and sat inside of the wooden house. I lifted my violin out of the case. Music would help me through this. Mom used to tell me that the violin strings were able to tell stories through the way the violinist played them; stories of grief, of suffering, of beauty, of light.
I started playing quietly at first.
The bow rolled back and forth against the strings, the sounds of my best friend bouncing through the sleeping trees, touching the resting woods. The plan was to play until I stopped worrying about Mom back home. I wanted to play until my father was my dad again. I wanted to play until cancer was just a word and not a death notice.
Yet it turned out I couldn’t fulfill those goals because at three in the morning, I was still worried about my mother, my father was still far from my dad, and cancer was still the most messed up word in the history of words.
By that point, I felt like I was crashing down.
For Sunday dinner Dad grilled out while Mom made potato salad, corn, and homemade applesauce. There weren’t many more days left for barbeques in Wisconsin since winter would be here soon enough, so I was pretty excited. Dad made the best hamburgers, adding his secret ingredient that he would never reveal.
We sat around the table, and Mike went on and on about the homecoming game coming up in a few weeks. “We’re playing against the Falcons and coach said a few scouts from UW-Madison are going to be there. Plus, next weekend recruits from Ohio State are coming up here.”