My Father's Last Gift
MY FATHER’S LAST GIFT
In October of 1996, the last gift that my father gave to me was a long sleeved tee-shirt for my birthday—about two months after he died. If you are reading this story, you’ve read the words correctly, and if you’re listening to me speak, you’ve heard the words correctly—two months after my father died about a month shy of his 59-th birthday. It’s not entirely common for dead people to give gifts to the living, so the following will explain this strange claim that I just made in this introductory paragraph.
Prior to my driving my father to Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu at the end of May 1996, we as a family—my father Gregory, my mother Polina, and I—led a fairly humble life. Our amusements consisted mainly of going to the various parks where papa could breath fresh air, going shopping for groceries in large supermarkets like Safeway or Star, or mega warehouses like Sam’s Club or Costco, and then occasionally going to the malls, especially Pearlridge near which I lived. I still windsurfed quite often at that period of my life so we would go to Kailua Beach on the windward side of the island of Oahu; while I windsurfed my father walked along the beach and took pictures of me—he was my most devoted fan—he said that it made his heart feel glad to watch me gliding across the water.
Papa could not walk very far or very fast without tiring quickly, especially in the unusually hot weather of 1996 which was the result of the ocean trying to lose the excess heat in the aftermath of the nuclear detonation that the French conducted about that time in the South Pacific, in the vicinity of Tahiti.
After surviving an open heart surgery in 1992 at the Cornell Medical Center, papa walked around with wires attached to what was left of his heart muscle after most of it was excised during a surgery in order to prevent an aneurism from bursting. The clump of wires protruded from his body and was clearly visible under his skin just below the rib cage on his left side; this clump of wires—as big as a medium sized pickle—was pushed out by the body three months after the 1992 operation—the wires were intended to be attached to a pace-maker, but no pacemaker was ever attached, and for a reason unknown to me, the wires were not detached and were left attached to the heart muscle to weigh-down my father’s already weakened remnant of a heart which beat at a rate between 88 and 96 beats per minute towards the end of his life.
The doctors never told my father about the wires left in his body; he tried to find an attorney to sue the medical center—all reputable firms turned his suit down, and when he did find a small-time lawyer to take the case—that fellow only managed to send my father a document that would allow all parties to drop the case without a penny of settlement money. I told my father to sign the document so that he would stop worrying about the injustice of it all, and to prevent his wanting to fly to New York to settle the matter. He went to New York for a deposition in 1995, and came back to Honolulu with legs so bloated from poor circulation that it took him several weeks to recover with the help of a drug Lysex. I sent the document dropping all claims a couple of weeks prior to my father going to Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu, in May of 1996.
My Father lived in Honolulu full-time from 1994 to 1996, and when we went to the mall we applied for and received frequent shopper cards—one for every member of the family—mother, father, and myself. These were light-blue cards with a word Pearlridge written in cursive across the face and a customer number on the back. When we came to the mall, it was our custom to insert these cards into an Automatic Teller Machine which dispensed promotional slips—mostly news about sales in stores like the nearby Sears or 10% off certificates for eateries like Sbarro’s where from time to time I would buy a cheese and spinach calzone with the inside corners of inevitably undercooked dough which I scooped out prior to dipping the outer crust in the tomato sauce.
Being the youngest in my family and the most patient when it came to dealing with technology, I was eventually entrusted with all three of these plastic cards—this was a good idea, since I was the only one who had the patience and did not forget to go through with the ATM ritual while my parents walked into different small shops as they were wont to do. “Why do you waste your time with that?” my mother would ask when I put the cards into the machine; I would shrug my shoulders and she would say, “Well, it’s a harmless exercise.”
While my father was at Queen’s Hospital, these visits to the mall ceased. My mother and I spent about 60 days at my father’s bedside. His doctors administered morphine—it knocked out his kidneys; my father also complained that a male nurse --one of those “flying” nurses who come to Honolulu on a six months-contract from the mainland--tore out all his catheters one night after visiting hours—the violent removal of catheters caused my father considerable pain—this incident derailed any hope of recovery just when my father seemed to be on the mend; when I complained about that night to the case physician, my father’s complaint was dismissed as delirium of a person on medication, but I believe my father. After putting up a valiant fight for his life, he died at the end of July of 1996.
When my father died, I was 36 years old—a grown man; notwithstanding my chronological maturity, I missed my father terribly, and I felt extremely guilty that I brought my father to the hospital and watched him walk in as I drove away to park my car, but I couldn’t take him out of the hospital as I had done at other hospitals before. Thus I became the head of a family.
After my father’s death, I rarely went to the mall, but when I did, out of habit, I would stick the blue cards into the machine to obtain the discount coupons or the mall news. Imagine my surprise when one evening in early October of 1996, the automatic teller machine dispensed a ticket informing me that the bearer (me) was entitled to receive a free tee-shirt of his choice from a Red Dirt Shirts store in Pearlridge.
I sauntered towards the store and wandered about the empty sales floor looking at the T-shirts without seeing anything too exciting—I had plenty of T-shirts, but this was a gift-horse after all. Then I felt an impulse not to give up my search, and I decided to take a chance and look at the long-sleeve shirts—I showed the coupon to the sales person who told me that it applied to any shirt—either long-sleeve or short-sleeve. Then I found a long sleeve shirt with a design that spoke to me personally—on the back of the shirt was a picture of a surf-board standing upright along the length of the wearer’s spine; on bow of the board were the initials –capital R on the left and capital D on the Right—these are my initials that coincidentally correspond to the name of the store Red Dirt Shirts. The fact, however, that these initials appear on a surfboard make the application of the letters to me personally very poignant.
Had it not been for the winning ticket, I would’ve never walked into or browsed at the back of the clothing store. But here I was; I stood with my hair standing on end as I realized that the winning ticket was issued to my dead father’s card—a card which I inserted automatically because I didn’t recognize the number which belonged to my father.
The clerk took the coupon, and I walked out of the store with a long sleeve shirt that had a surfboard design with my initials—only someone who knows me would know that such a shirt would appeal and have a special meaning to me. This is how I knew that my father sent me a birthday gift, the last one, from beyond the grave. I wear this shirt once in a while to this day.
A few weeks after I received my shirt, the Red Dirt Shirt store closed its doors at Pearlridge. About the same time, the Pearlridge Mall discontinued its promotional coupon program and removed the automatic teller machines from the kiosks at its “uptown” and “downtown" sections of the mall.