Last year my older brother was my # 2 friend. My best friend was my father. The native of Maine was 89. His address was an Alzheimer hospice south of Boston. Once a month I took the Fung Wah bus to South Station and then the commuter train to Norwood. It was a ten-minute walk to his rest home. Throughout the summer his condition deteriorated to the point where he couldn't remember where he was or what he was doing there. My brothers and sisters warned that he didn't recognize him and last September I approached the re-designed doctor's house with a heavy heart.He greeted me by name. My sisters saw him 2-4 times a week. My father has no idea who they were and I asked him, "Why can't you recognizes them?"
"Because they don't look like they used to?"
"And I do?" At 58 I had my teeth and hair, but the reflection in the mirror was not me.
"No, you look like a stranger too, but something about you reminds me about your mother, so I think of Angie and then you." He shuddered at the connection. We were never friends until my mother's passage from this world in 1996. I talked a lot. She spoke more. In some ways we were the same person for him.
"You remember your son Frank?" His memory was dim as a winter candle.
"My # 1 son. You two were Irish twins." My mother had dressed her two oldest sons alike since I stopped wearing baby clothes. Frank and I fought over everything, but she also loved that people thought we were twins.
"We weren't really Irish twins." The term pertained to children born within a year. My older brother and I were separated by 13 months. Actually 59 days. He was born on April 1. I arrived the morning of May 29.
"60 days were a week back then." He was talking about the 1950s. TV was black and white. Eisenhower was the president. America was the top world power. My father pointed to the clock on his desk. Time meant nothing to most to Alzheimer patients. "You were never on time." On time for him meant to the second.
"I was never really late." My punctuality ran 15-30 minutes behind the clock, although I had achieved perfect attendance throughout five grades in grammar school. My mother had saved those awards. I have the one from 5th Grade.
"Only once and once was more than enough." "That's an old story." My father was talking about the time that I had stayed over my girlfriend's house well past midnight. Her mother was not on the premise. We were alone. The radio had been playing THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. We came close to losing our souls to ROCK AND ROLL."If it was so old I would have forgotten it.""Forty years is a long time." Janet had been wearing her cheerleader outfit. It was football season."Forty-five years to be exact." My father had been an electrical engineer. He had studied at MIT. Numbers and math were his expertise."To be exact you're right on the money." The year was 1967. I was 15.
Janet's mother came home at 1:30. I had left through the backdoor with my clothes in hand. I dressed in the backyard and watched the lights go out in Janet's house. There was no yelling. I waited for a minute to see if Janet came to her bedroom window, but she was a cheerleader and not Juliet and the only breaking light was a harvest moon.My neighborhood in the Blue Hills was a good four-mile walk. Bus stopped running at 9. The houses were dark. Everyone was asleep. I heard a car coming from the opposite direction. It was my Uncle Dave. The Olds stopped at the curb."You want a ride home?" He had been coming from the VFW bar. Uncle Dave had served in the Pacific. Three years on a destroyer."No, I'll walk it." I was in no rush to get home. "Your mother and father know where you are?" Uncle Dave was a good man. He made no judgment of other people's kids, even if they were family."Sort of?" It was a teenage answer."I was a teenager once. Your dad's going to be pissed at you, if you haven't called. You sure, you don't want me to drive you home?""I'm good." I thought about sleeping in the woods. It wasn't that cold, but that would make it even worse. "Thanks for the offer."The Olds drove off in the direction of Quincy. Uncle Dave would be home in five minutes. I figured that I had another hour to go. I was wrong.My father pulled up to me at the crossroads before the parish church. He flung open the door of the Delta 88. It hit me in the thigh. "Where have you been?" He demanded with a voice that I had never heard from him."At a girl's house." I hadn't told my parents about Janet. My mother wanted me to be a priest."At a girl's house." My father knew what that meant. He had six kids. "You have any idea about what your mother thought happened to you?"
"None." I hadn't been worrying about my mother or father or school, while lying next to Janet's hot flesh.
His right hand left the steering wheel in the blink of an eye. I never felt his wrist smack my face. "I didn't want to do that." Tears were wetting his eyes. "I thought something bad happened to you.""Nothing bad happened, Dad." I rubbed my face. He had never hit me before. I tasted metal in my teeth. All of them were intact."Next time call and let us know where you are.""Yes, sir.""Let's go home. I'll handle your mother." He sighed with regret. The next morning my eyes were shadowed with black and blue. My mother was horrified as was my father. Janet cried upon seeing my face. She said that she loved me. In some ways I felt like she had become Juliet, although I was no Romeo. My father and I maintained a cautious distance throughout the remainder of my teenage years. Hitting me had scared him and at the nursing home I held his hand. I had kids now and said, "I understand why you did what you did that night.""What night?" The memory had sunk back into the fog. "Drove me home in the dark. You were always a good father." I kissed his bald head, as my older brother walked into the room. My father looked at him with doubting eyes. "It's Frank, your oldest son.""That's not Frank. He didn't look like that."My brother was wearing a suit and I thought maybe that threw off my father. I stood next to Frank."See the resemblance." "We're were Irish twins," My brother took off his glasses."You two were never Irish twins, except for your mother.""It was good enough for her, Dad." She had loved her children with all her heart. My father too. "Then it's good enough for me, whoever you are." He offered a hand to us both. We spoke about Irish twins three times in succession without his retaining a single word. His mind had been swept clean of the good and the bad and I was lucky enough to possess a memory of both good and bad for him. My mother wouldn't have it any other way.I was her Irish twin and that was good enough for my father too.