Simple Things/ Lang Kenneth Haynes
Song for my Father
I had known for a long time that this day would come. I imagined it and, more or less, accepted the inevitability of its arrival. But
here it was standing in front of me like a clock the size of a harvest moon with its hands frozen on eternity.
Dad's forehead was cold and unyielding to my last kiss; the flesh becoming only slightly more supple from the warm, solitary tear that
ran down my cheek to my lips. There is a torrent of tears that will flow someday and the time and place will not be determined by me.
In March of 1994, Mom called me in Wisconsin to say that Dad's cancer had turned the final corner. He was experiencing increasing
discomfort and knew and accepted that he would be moving on pretty soon. His remaining wish was to not linger in pain. But through it
all, he continued to do many of the things he had always done. He went on his daily expeditions to the stores along Avenue C and Avenue
D to buy essential and non-essential items and to play the numbers. Kept looking for that big hit, the instant pay-off that it had taken him all
his life to earn. He continued to stop many times along the way to talk to the hoards of people who had come to know him as Uncle Lang,
or Mr. Haynes over the 45 years he had lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He knew the intimate details of their lives and he was
never too busy to stop and offer assistance or words of encouragement.
I flew out to New York with the woman I had been sharing my life for nine years. Dad was happy to see us. He almost seemed like his
old self, but his pain was apparent and there was a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. When I hugged him, he said, "Go easy
Kenny, I hurt all over."
It felt very familiar, and more than a little surreal, sitting in the little living room in apartment 1-I in 11-15 F.D.R. Drive in the Jacob Riis
housing projects where I had spent so much of my life before moving to Wisconsin in 1971.
We had a good visit and spent most of our time in the fondest enclaves of our past rather than the painful present. Dad walked us out
to the hallway, the morning we left, and stood at the window waving goodbye as we walked past the benches and the basketball court
where I had dunked for the first time after years of trying. Dad had waved at me from that window many times before, but I realized that
this would be the last wave. I looked back at the window. Dad still stood there waving. His figure became smaller as we got closer to
Avenue D. I could no longer make out the features of his face, but I felt his smile which held a secret that he couldn't tell. I turned to my
companion and broke out sobbing. "I'll never see my father again" were the salty words that dripped from my lips.
I tried to carry on with life in Wisconsin, but it didn't work. Previously high priority areas of my job slipped in the hierarchy of
importance until they had no more significance that jock itch. It sounds strange to say, but I think that I was almost as obsessed with the
notion that we would all close our eyes one day, never to gaze upon this world again, than I was with the imminence of my father's death.
I kept ruminating on the idea that one day I too might have my loftiest ambitions put to rest in an oblong box with a substantial portion of
I knew that Dad was very tired of this world, and this knowledge made letting him go a little easier - but not much. I flew back to New
York less than two weeks after the first visit. The second visit hurt less and I found myself anxious to get back to Wisconsin to get on
with whatever I was doing with my own life. I was 45 years old at the time, but I felt like a 19-year-old trying desperately to extricate
himself from the nest. I couldn't get back to Wisconsin fast enough.
My phone rang on the evening of April 15th and I knew what it was. The ringing resonated in my stomach and before saying hello or
verifying who was on the other end I asked, "This is it isn't it?" My mother told me that my father had passed away that afternoon at
Veteran's Hospital where he had been admitted a couple of days after my second visit. Mom said that the day before Dad died he told her
to gather together his clothes because he was going home to Tennessee. Mom told how she stood up and watched in amazement as Dad
made his way to the door of the hospital ward. She sighed and said, "You know how your father is when he makes up his mind that he's
going to do something. I was starting to wonder if he actually would walk back to Tennessee."
My father left this life as we know it on tax day 16 years ago. This reminiscence is for him. No. This story is for all of us. Those who
have lost a loved one, those who will be written about when we close our eyes for the last time, and those who will dissolve into the
next reality without fanfare. Like I'm trying to say: This story is for all of us.