by: Chris Thompson
Sometimes, the things we want most in life take all our courage to ask for….
My father glanced up from his rye and considered me for a moment. His eyes were shades of blue flecked with gold, swimming in the shadows of a heavyset brow and the only sign of life on his otherwise ashen face.
I stared back at him from across the cramped kitchen table, the remnants of his senior center dinner littering its cluttered surface. It had been turkey meatloaf. He hated turkey meatloaf. Roz, the senior center’s driver, usually dropped his dinner off at his apartment at 6pm, but this evening she had been late. Something about a pack of wild dogs blocking the road she had muttered as I met her at the front door. The lateness of his dinner had only served to dampen my father’s mood that evening and we sat across from each other in utter silence.
“The mind is like a crystal, son,” my father abruptly growled, stabbing out his Lucky Strike and then quickly lighting another. I had been staring down at my own drink. Lost in thoughts of the future and gazing at the ice as it melted into the oak-scented bourbon. My father’s words startled me and I snapped my eyes up to stare fixedly at his. With his finger, my father began to slowly trace a circle across the weathered skin of his temple. He cleared his throat loudly before continuing to speak. “Place that mind in a room, and it takes on the colors of its surroundings.”
I found myself staring deeply at the web of wrinkles anchoring my fathers mouth, pondering the significance of his statement. He didn’t speak often. These visits were usually staring matches, or fruitless, one-sided conversations where I labored to chip away at his walls with stories of my own life. Where I’d been. What I’d done. So when he did speak, he had my attention, because it usually meant that something important was on his mind.
With palsied hands my father brought the Lucky Strike again to his lips, inhaling deeply of its spirits. My fathers eyes, more alive than any other part of his body, searched mine for a glimmer of understanding, a speck of comprehension on my part regarding his words. He raised his eyebrows as if willing me to speak. He dropped his hand to the rough-wood of the table and deliberately circled the rim of his glass, his crooked finger sounding out a low, hollow note as it ran itself across the smooth crystal. I watched, transfixed, as ash from his cigarette fell into the brown liquid with each revolution of the rim. I was still young, barely into my thirties, and for the majority of my life, the things that my father had said were difficult to comprehend.
“If that’s true, then what color is your mind, Dad?” I finally asked, locking eyes with his penetrating stare.
“For as long as I can remember, its been red. Red like blood spilt on freshly fallen snow. But lately, its color has begun to change.”
“What caused it to change?”
“You did Luca. You’ve been coming to see me for years, and all the while, all I’ve ever offered you is walls. Dead-ends. I’ve been nothing but a pain in the ass. But you still came. “
“You’re not a pain…”
“Let me finish Luca. Don’t interrupt. This isn’t easy for me.”
My father took another drag from his Lucky Strike and then a long, slow drink of his rye. “The knowledge of your existence has diluted the colors of my mind. And now, now that I’ve watched you grow-up, the redness is all but gone. You see, it’s our intentions that determine the true nature of our actions son, and for the longest time, my only intention was to cause hurt and suffering in the world. But then you decided to not give up on me and everything began to change. You see, inherently, our minds, like a crystal, are neutral, devoid of any colors. And it is the choices that we make in life and the actions that we perform in the name of those choices, that gives our mind its hue.” Saying this, my father glanced up from his tumbler and there were tears welling up in his eyes.
“How many colors to the mind are their Dad?”
“Infinite son, as many as grains of sand that line the beaches. Only some colors are much more important than others.”
“Then what about red father? How important is that color?”
“It is the most important one of them all Luca, and one that should be avoided at all costs. For it represents pain and suffering and death, and all that is evil and wicked in the world. You would be best to avoid people like that in your life, for they will offer you with nothing but hurt and leave you with an emptiness inside.”
“But-but…that means you are one of those people.”
“I know son. I know. I have blood on my hands and a darkness to my soul. I’ve done terrible things for terrible people. I’ve hurt folks I’d never even met because they fell afoul of someone with deep pockets and a score to settle. I’ve never spoken much to you, because I was afraid of what might come out. Of what you might say. But that’s all behind me now Luca. You have to believe me. I’ve seen the error of my ways and been shown the new path. That new path is you son, and I mean to follow it to its very end. For you. For me. And for us.”
Leaning forward in his chair my father grabbed his rye and downed the remainder of the dusky liquid with an enormous gulp. The glass smacked down loudly upon the table and he ran his bony fingers through his thinning hair.
“There you have it son. Now you know who I really am. The question you must ask yourself now is, is it all too much? Too much for you to give me a second chance? To let me try and love you the way that you’ve loved me?”
I leaned forward and took my father’s weathered hands in my own. How much hurt had these hands caused? I wondered. “The mind is like a crystal,” my father had said. And a crystal, like a family, is held together by its ordered pattern of bonds. I had been trying to form a bond with my father for a lifetime.
“The past is but the past, Dad” I said, as tears began to fall from my father’s eyes. “It’s a future with you that I want to create, in all its colors and form.”