by: Tom Rau
This is a letter I wrote to my dad almost 25 years after his passing. It was originally posted on an old blog. My co-editor thought I should give it a more permanent home. Here it is.
I know you won’t believe me, but i really did want to swallow the peas and the beans. I mean a part of me didn’t and that’s probably the same part that thought you were an asshole and I guess in turn the same part that refused to let me consume them without either gagging or just plain puking. But the other part of me, you know the part that didn’t want to get spanked, the part that was scared shitless of you, the part that both loved you and feared you in equal measures. That part, it wanted to eat it’s fucking peas. Trust me, you have no idea how bad i wished i could have stomached one pea for every year I had spent on this planet. It would have saved us all a shitload of time and effort. Oh and I probably wouldn’t have completely covered the dinner table in puke the one time you tried to make me eat eight black eyed peas. Yeah i took a beating for that one, but we both know I won the battle.
Honestly though, I don’t remember that much. When i was six or seven you lost it on me at the beach one summer because i was hiding under a table and kept calling your name. You were sick and in bed and kept telling me to come in the bedroom. I wanted to play, I kept telling you to come find me. I went on and on and on and on. Eventually you kinda snapped. I took a pretty solid whipping. That one hurt. I didn’t know better. I thought we were playing a game. That one is on you.
You hit me hundreds and hundreds of ground balls every day. I was Ozzie Smith or Shawon Dunston. I was a beast at that age with a glove. You fucking loved that sport like a kid who just got his first bike. I mean who has a batting cage, a baseball field, and a pitching machine in their backyard, pretty much nobody right? And you never got tired of hitting grounders or throwing batting practice. But when you were gone it all lost its meaning. That one is on me.
Garrison Keillor cracked you up. I don’t understand it to this day. And God knows i’ve put my time in trying, but I just don’t get it; not funny in my eyes. But still my all time favorite scene of you, and that’s kind of how i remember you, like a movie i loved when i was kid but haven’t seen in years, involves a laughing fit brought on by his strange baritone; something i surely didn’t understand at the time, and that must have lasted at least ten solid minutes. Whatever that strange and almost comically unfunny man from Minnesota said that day just caught you like an uppercut; fucking tears just pouring down your face like heavy rain on a kitchen window. I don’t even remember if Mom was laughing. All i remember is you couldn’t stop; waves of laughter, then you’d slow down. Oh no, not done yet. Let me cackle and howl and cry for another few minutes. It was pure joy. I live to laugh like that; because in those moments I know exactly how you felt and that’s as close as we get.
I have a few other vague recollections. You setting up the back of the van so i could play with my toys on road trips. Me telling you there was nothing behind us when we were backing up in the same van and then at the last second saying “except that little red corvette”. Everyone else thought that was hilarious. You letting me help put a cast on Denny Walling, who was the first MLB player I ever met. I got some small stuff. I do. And I know that you loved me. I know that you loved all of us. But what kills me to this day is that sometimes I don’t know why you didn’t say goodbye. Maybe you thought I was too little to understand it. I mean shit, I’m writing about it 25 years later and I still don’t understand it, but I’m sure I would have taken something from it. At least I think i would have. It wouldn’t have had to be something cheesy like, be a better man than me, or learn how to go down on a woman, just something you know… maybe hey i’m sorry I have to die, but do your thing and do it hard; or just something simple like stop rooting for the cubs and bet alot of money on Mike Tyson because he’s gonna be a sicko for a minute. I’m not even sure if it matters I just want that memory. But whatever i’m not complaining; all things considered I love my life and how I turned out and a huge part of that is the fact that Mom gave me the freedom to explore who I am and the culture to find that guy.
Towards the end of your life all I knew is that you were sick and were in the hospital for awhile1. Then you came home but we couldn’t really play because you were tired and weak. You were so pale. But I remembered you still smiled. I’m sure now you knew you were dying and wanted to spend your remaining time here with us. Putting myself in your shoes I cannot even imagine. It kills me. And then I one day you went back to the hospital. And I remember:
It was the middle of the night and I was in bed in my room directly adjacent to my brothers room. My favorite grandpa, your dad, had died less than a year before so I kind of had a small handle on the death thing and the fuzzy little warm hole it makes. Anyway I heard mom coming up the stairs in the middle of the night. And then I heard mumbling in the other room. And I knew… I fucking knew exactly what was happening. And I knew she was coming into my room next to tell me. And she did. I think I got the jump on her and started crying before the words even came out. When it was still just footsteps in the dark. Later downstairs at 4am my brother and I played baseball on an old Mac. I think i remember smiling or laughing through a veil of tears and feeling guilty. Sometimes I still feel guilty.
I’m not really sure why i’m writing this. Or at least why i’m sharing this; but bare with me for a minute. I look like you, I look alot like you. It’s weird, when i’m back home and somewhat clean shaven2 people that knew you sometimes get startled and say it’s like seeing a ghost. And then they tell me you saved their life, or their legs, or their something and were an incredible man. And as great as that is it still scares me. We have the same body, the same head. And in someways I know I have your spirit. I can feel it when I laugh. So I’m scared you might have given me cancer too. Sometimes I think i can feel that shit in my bones, or in my blood; inside me sleeping, waiting patiently for me to smoke another cigarette or eat another cheeseburger. Looking at me from deep inside it’s cave with it’s head cocked slightly to the right as if saying, “come on motherfucker, I can’t wait to eat you.” I’m not trying to dance like that Pops, but i’m getting ready. And in the event I do catch that murder, maybe you did tell me something cheesy, to be a better man than you. You just didn’t say it out loud.
I was nine when you died. And you were the ghost of man that was once a bear. I remember more of what’s not there than what actually is. So as i am literally part missing, you are wholly missed. But you should have said bye. Let me cry on you, cried on me. I’m not going to hold it against you though. You gave me life. And as sad as it is to say I think you might have done something to give it to me again one day.
Your youngest cub