I was in Paris, waiting to undergo what promised to be a pretty disgusting medical procedure, when I got word that my father was dying. The hospital I was in had opened in 2000, but it seemed newer. From our vantage point in the second-floor radiology department, Hugh and I could see the cafés situated side by side in the modern, sun-filled concourse below. “It’s like an airline terminal,” he observed.

“Yes,” I said. “Terminal Illness.”

体育投注平台Under different circumstances, I might have described the place as cheerful. It was the wrong word to use, though, when I’d just had a CT scan and, in a few hours’ time, a doctor was scheduled to snake a multipurpose device up the hole in my penis. It was a sort of wire that took pictures, squirted water, and had little teeth. These would take bites out of my bladder, which would then be sent to a lab and biopsied. So “cheerful”? Not so much, at least for me.

体育投注平台I’d hoped to stick out in the radiology wing, to be too youthful or hale to fit in, but, looking around the waiting area, I saw that everyone was roughly my age, and either was bald or had gray hair. If anybody belonged here, it was me.

The good news was that the urologist I met with later that afternoon was loaded with personality. This made him the opposite of one I’d seen earlier that month, in London, when I’d gone in with an unmistakable urinary-tract infection. The pain was a giveaway, as was the blood that came out when I peed. U.T.I.s are common in women, but in men are usually a sign of something more serious. The London urologist was sullen and Scottish, the first to snake a multipurpose wire up my penis, but, sadly, not the last. The only time he came to life was when the camera started sending images to the monitor he was looking at. “Ah,” he trilled. “There’s your sphincter!”

体育投注平台I’ve always figured there was a reason my insides were on the inside: so I wouldn’t have to look at them. Therefore I said something noncommittal, like “Great!,” and went back to wishing that I were dead, because it really hurts to have a wire shoved up that narrow and uninviting slit.

The urologist we’d come to see in Paris体育投注平台 looked over the results of the scan I’d just undergone and announced that they revealed nothing out of the ordinary. He also studied the results of the tests I’d had in London, including one for my prostate. My eyes had been screwed shut while it took place, but I’m fairly certain it involved forcing a Golden Globe Award up my ass. I didn’t cry or hit anyone, though. Thus it annoyed me to see what the English radiologist who’d performed the test had written in the comment section of his report: “Patient tolerated the trans-rectal probe poorly.”

How dare he! I thought.

体育投注平台In the end, a quick prostate check and the CT scan were the worst I had to suffer that day in Paris. After taking everything into consideration, the French doctor, who was young and handsome, like someone who’d play a doctor on TV, decided it wasn’t the right time to take little bites out of my bladder. “Better to give it another month,” he said, adding that I shouldn’t worry too much. “Were you younger, your urinary-tract infection might not have been an issue, but at your age it’s always best to be on the safe side.”

体育投注平台That evening, Hugh and I took the train back to London, and bought next-day plane tickets for the U.S. My father was by then in the intensive-care unit, where doctors were draining great quantities of ale-colored fluid from his lungs. His heart was failing, and he wasn’t expected to live much longer. “This could be it,” my sister Lisa wrote me in an e-mail.

The following morning, as we waited to board our flight, I learned that he’d been taken from intensive care and put in a regular hospital room.

体育投注平台By the time we arrived in Raleigh, my father was back at Springmoor, the assisted-living center he’d been in for the past year. I walked into his room at five in the afternoon and was unnerved by how thin and frail he was. Asleep, he looked long dead, like something unearthed from a pharaoh’s tomb. The head of his bed had been raised, so he was almost in a sitting position, his open mouth a dark, seemingly bottomless hole and his hands stretched out before him. The television was on, as always, but the sound was turned off.

体育投注平台“Are you looking for your sister?” an aide asked. She directed us down the hall, where a dozen people in wheelchairs sat watching “The Andy Griffith Show.” Just beyond them, in a grim, fluorescent-lit room, Lisa and my sister-in-law, Kathy, were talking to a hospice nurse they had recently engaged. “What’s Mr. Sedaris’s age?” the young woman asked, as Hugh and I took seats.

“He’ll be ninety-six in a few weeks,” Kathy said.

“Height?”

Lisa looked through her papers. “Five feet six.”

Really? I thought. My father was never super-tall, but I’d assumed he was at least five-nine. Had he honestly shrunk that much?

“Weight?”

体育投注平台More shuffling of papers.

“One-twenty,” Lisa answered.

“Well now he’s just showing off,” I said.

体育投注平台The hospice nurse needed to record my father’s blood pressure, so we went back to his room, where Kathy gently shook him awake. “Dad, were you napping?”

When he came to, my father focussed on Hugh. The tubes that had been put down his throat in the hospital had left him hoarse. Speaking was a challenge, thus his “Hey!” was hard to make out.

“We just arrived from England,” Hugh said.

My father responded enthusiastically, and I wondered why I couldn’t go over and kiss him, or at least say hello. Unless you count his hitting me, we were never terribly physical with each other, and I wasn’t sure I could begin at this late date.

体育投注平台“I figured you’d rally as soon as I spent a fortune on last-minute tickets,” I said, knowing that if the situation were reversed he’d have stayed put, at least until a discount could be worked out. All he’s ever cared about is money, so it had hurt me to learn, a few years earlier, that he’d cut me out of his will. Had he talked it over with me, had he said, for example, that I seemed comfortable enough, it might have been different. But I heard about it secondhand. He’d wanted me to find out after he died. It would be like a scene in a movie, the wealthy man’s children crowded into the lawyer’s office: “And, to my son David, I leave nothing.”

体育投注平台When I confronted him about the will, he said he’d consider leaving me a modest sum, but only if I promised that Hugh would touch none of the money.

Of course I said no.

体育投注平台“Actually, don’t worry,” I said, of the plane tickets. “I’ll just pay for them with part of my inheritance . . . oops.”

体育投注平台“Awww, come on now,” he moaned. His voice was weak and soft, no louder than rustling leaves.

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“I’m going to turn him over and examine his backside for bedsores,” the hospice nurse said. “So if any of y’all need to turn away . . .”

I was in the far corner of the room, beneath a painting my father had made in the late sixties of a monk with a mustache. Beside me was the guitar I was given in the fifth grade. “What’s this doing here?” I asked.

“Dad had it restrung a few months ago and said he was going to learn how to play,” Lisa told me. She pointed to a keyboard wedged behind a plaster statue of a joyful girl with her arms spread wide. “The piano, too.”

Now体育投注平台?” I asked. “He’s had all this time but decided to wait until he was connected to tubes?”

体育投注平台After the hospice nurse had finished, my father’s dinner was brought in, all of it puréed, like baby food. Even his water was mixed with a thickener that gave it the consistency of nectar.

体育投注平台“He has a bone that protrudes from the back of his neck and causes food to go down the wrong way,” Lisa explained. “So he can’t have anything solid or liquid.”

体育投注平台As Kathy spooned the mush into my father’s mouth, Hugh picked the can of thickener up off the dinner tray, read the ingredients, and announced that it was just cornstarch.

体育投注平台“So how was your flight?” Lisa asked us.

Time crawled. Amber-colored urine slowly collected in the bag attached to my father’s catheter. The room was sweltering.

“Was that dinner O.K., Dad?” Lisa asked.

He raised a thumb. “Excellent.”

体育投注平台How had she and Paul and Kathy managed to do this day after day? Conversation was pretty much out of the question, so they mainly offered observations in louder than normal voices: “She was nice,” or “It looks like it might start raining again.”

I was relieved when my father got drowsy, and we could all leave and go to dinner. “Do you want me to turn your TV to Fox News?” Lisa asked, as we put our coats on.

体育投注平台“Fox News,” my father mumbled.

Lisa picked up the remote, but when she jabbed it in the direction of the television nothing happened. “I can’t figure out which channel that is, so why don’t you watch ‘CSI: Miami体育投注平台’ instead?”

Amy arrived from New York at ten the following morning, wearing a black-and-white polka-dot coat she’d bought on our last trip to Tokyo. Instead of taking her straight to Springmoor, Hugh and I drove her to my father’s place, where we met up with Lisa and Gretchen. Our dad started hoarding in the late eighties: a broken ceiling fan here, an expired can of peaches there, until eventually the stuff overtook him and spread into the yard. I hadn’t been inside the house since before he was moved to Springmoor, and, though Lisa had worked hard at clearing it of junk, the over-all effect was still jaw-dropping. His car, for instance, looked like the one in “Silence of the Lambs体育投注平台” that the decapitated head was found in. You’d think it had been made by spiders out of dust and old pollen. It was right outside the front door, and acted as an introduction to the horrors that awaited us.

体育投注平台“Whose turd is this on the floor next to the fireplace?” I called out, a few minutes after descending the filthy carpeted stairs into the basement.

Amy looked over my shoulder at it, as did Hugh and, finally, Lisa, who said, “It could be my dog’s from a few months ago.”

I leaned a bit closer. “Or it could be—”

Before I could finish, Hugh scooped it up with his bare hands and tossed it outside. “You people, my God.” Then he went upstairs to help Gretchen make lunch.

体育投注平台Continuing through the house, I kept asking the same question: “Why would anyone choose to live this way?” It wasn’t just the falling-down ceilings or the ragged spiderwebs draped like bunting over the doorways. It wasn’t the tools and appliances he’d found on various curbs—the vacuum cleaners with frayed cords or the shorted-out hair dryers he’d promised himself he would fix—but the sense of hopelessness they conveyed when heaped into rooms that used to seem so normal, no different in size or design from those of our neighbors, but were now ruined. “Whoever buys this house will just have to throw a match on it and start over,” Gretchen said.

What struck me most were my father’s clothes. Hugh gets after me for having too many, but I’ve got nothing compared with my dad, who must own twenty-five suits and twice as many sports coats. Dozens of them were from Brooks Brothers, when there was just the one store in New York and the name meant something. Others were from long-gone college shops in Ithaca and Syracuse, the sort that sold smart jackets and white bucks. There were sweaters in every shade: the cardigans on hangers, their sleeves folded in a self-embrace to prevent them from stretching; the V-necks and turtlenecks folded in stacks, a few unprotected, but mostly moth-proofed in plastic bags. There were polo shirts and dress shirts and casual shirts from every decade of postwar America. Some hung like rags—buttons missing, great tears in the backs, as if he’d worn them while running too slowly from bears. Others were still in their wrapping, likely bought two or three years ago. I could remember him wearing most of the older stuff—to the club, to work, to the parties he’d attend, always so handsome and stylish.

Though my mother’s clothes had been disposed of—all those shoulder pads moldering in some landfill—my father’s filled seven large closets, one of them a walk-in, and hung off the shower-curtain rods in all three bathrooms. They were crammed into dressers and piled on shelves. Hats and coats and scarves and gloves. Neckties and bow ties, too many to count, all owned by the man who since his retirement seemed to wear nothing but the same jeans and same T-shirt with holes in it he’d worn the day before, and the day before that; the man who’d always found an excuse to skimp on others, but allowed himself only the best. There were clothes from his self-described fat period, from the time he slimmed down, and from the years since my mother died, when he’s been out-and-out skinny: none of them thrown away or donated to Goodwill, and all of them now reeking of mildew.

I nicked a vibrant red button-down shirt from the fifties, noticing later that it had a sizable hole in the back. Then I claimed the camel-colored, moth-eaten beret I’d bought him on a school trip to Madrid in 1975.

“It suits you,” Hugh observed.

体育投注平台“It matches your skin and makes you look bald,” Amy said.

We were all in the dining room, going through boxes with more boxes in them, when I glanced over at the window and saw a doe step out of the woods and approach some of the trash on the lawn near the carport, head lowered, as if she’d followed the scent of fifty-year-old house paint hardened in rusted-through cans. “Look,” we whispered, afraid our voices from inside the house might frighten her off. “Isn’t she beautiful!” We couldn’t remember there being deer in the woods when we were young. Perhaps our dogs had scared them off.

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体育投注平台“Oh,” Lisa said, her voice as soft as our father’s. “I hope she doesn’t step on a rusty nail.”

体育投注平台Gretchen served Greek food for lunch, and afterward we drove to Springmoor. It was a Saturday afternoon in late February, cold and raining. Our father was in his reclining chair covered with a blanket when we arrived, not asleep but not exactly awake, either. It was this new state he occasionally drifted into: neither here nor there. After killing the overhead lights, we seated ourselves around his room and continued the conversation we’d been having in the car.

体育投注平台“I asked Marshall to write Dad’s obituary, but he doesn’t feel up to it,” Gretchen said, referring to her boyfriend of nearly thirty years.

体育投注平台The rest of us glanced over at our father.

“He can’t hear us,” Gretchen said. She looked at me. “So will you体育投注平台 write it?”

I’ve been writing about my father for ages, but when it comes to the details of his life, the year he graduated from college, etc., I’m worthless. Even his job remains a mystery to me. He was an engineer, and I like to joke that up until my late teens I thought that he drove a train. “I don’t really know all that much about him,” I said, scooting my chair closer to his recliner. He looked twenty years older than he had on my last visit to Raleigh, six months earlier. One change was his nose. The skin covering it was stretched tight, revealing facets I’d never before noticed. His eyes were shaped differently, like the diamonds you’d find on playing cards, and his mouth looked empty, though it was in fact filled with his own teeth. He did this thing now, opening wide and stretching out his lips, as if pantomiming a scream. I kept thinking it was in preparation for speech, but then he’d say nothing.

I was trying to push the obituary off on Lisa when we heard him call for water.

Hugh got a cup, filled it from the tap in the bathroom, and stirred in some cornstarch to thicken it. My father’s oxygen tube had fallen out of his nose, so we summoned a nurse, who showed us how to reattach it. When she left, he half raised his hand, which was purpled with spots and resembled a claw.

“What’s on your . . . mind?” he asked Amy, who had always been his favorite, and was seated a few yards away. His voice couldn’t carry for more than a foot or two, so Hugh repeated the question.

“What’s on your mind?”

体育投注平台“You,” Amy answered. “I’m just thinking of you and wanting you to feel better.”

体育投注平台My father looked up at the ceiling, and then at us. “Am I . . . real to you kids?” I had to lean in close to hear him, especially the last half of his sentences. After three seconds he’d run out of steam, and the rest was just breath. Plus the oxygen machine was loud.

体育投注平台“Are you what?”

“I know what you’ve come to expect from me is physical comedy, but tonight I thought we’d try something a little different.”
Cartoon by David Sipress

体育投注平台“Real.” He gestured to his worn-out body, and the bag on the floor half filled with his urine. “I’m in this new . . . life now.”

“It’ll just take some getting used to,” Hugh said.

体育投注平台My father made a sour face. “I’m a zombie.”

I don’t know why I insisted on contradicting him. “Not really,” I said. “Zombies can walk and eat solid food. You’re actually more like a vegetable.”

“I know you,” my father said to me. He looked over at Amy, and at the spot that Gretchen had occupied until she left. “I know all you kids so well.”

I wanted to say that he knew us superficially at best. It’s how he’d have responded had I said as much to him: “You don’t know体育投注平台 me.” Surely my sisters felt the way I did, but something—most likely fatigue—kept them from mentioning it.

As my father struggled to speak, I noticed his fingernails, which were long and dirty.

体育投注平台“If I just . . . dropped out of the sky like this . . . you’d think I was a freak.”

“No,” I said. “You’d think you were a freak, or at least a loser.”

Amy nodded in agreement, and I plowed ahead. “It’s what you’ve been calling your neighbors here, the ones parked in the hall who can’t walk or feed themselves. It’s what you’ve always called weak people.”

体育投注平台“You’re a hundred per cent right,” he said.

I didn’t expect him to agree with me. “You’re vain,” I continued. “Always were. I was at the house this morning and couldn’t believe all the clothes you own. Now you’re this person, trapped in a chair, but you’re still yourself to us. You’re like . . . like you were a year ago, but drunk.”

体育投注平台“That’s a very astute . . . observation,” my father said. “Still, I’d like to . . . apologize.”

“For being in this condition?” I asked.

He looked over at Amy, as if she had asked the question, and nodded.

Then he turned to me. “David,” he said, as if he’d just realized who I was. “You’ve accomplished so many fantastic things in your life. You’re, well . . . I want to tell you . . . you . . . you won.”

A moment later he asked for more water, and drifted mid-sip into that neither-here-nor-there state. Paul arrived, and I went for a short walk, thinking, of course, about my father, and about the writer Russell Baker, who had died a few weeks earlier. He and I had had the same agent, a man named Don Congdon, who was in his mid-seventies when I met him, in 1994, and who used a lot of outdated slang. “The blower,” for instance, was what he called the phone, as in “Well, let me get off the blower. I’ve been gassing all morning.”

“Russ Baker’s mother was a tough old bird,” Don told me one rainy afternoon, in his office on Fifth Avenue. “A real gorgon to hear him tell it, always insisting that her son was a hack and would never amount to anything. So on her deathbed he goes to her saying, ‘Ma, look, I made it. I’m a successful writer for the New York Times体育投注平台. My last book won the Pulitzer.’ ”

“She looked up at him, her expression blank, and said, ‘Who are you?’ ”

体育投注平台I’ve been told since then that the story may not be true, but still it struck a nerve with me. Seek approval from the one person you desperately want it from, and you’re guaranteed not to get it.

As for my dad, I couldn’t tell if he meant “You won” as in “You won the game of life,” or “You won over me体育投注平台, your father, who told you—assured you when you were small and then kept reassuring you—that you were worthless.” Whichever way he intended those two faint words, I will take them, and, in doing so, throw down this lance I’ve been hoisting for the past sixty years. For I am old myself now, and it is so very, very heavy.

体育投注平台I returned to the room as Kathy was making dinner reservations at a restaurant she’d heard good things about. The menu was updated Southern: fried oysters served with pork belly and collard greens—that kind of thing. The place was full when we arrived, and the diners were dressed up. I was wearing the red shirt I’d taken from my father’s closet, and had grown increasingly self-conscious about how strongly it stank of mildew.

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“We all smell like Dad’s house,” Amy noted.

While eating, we returned to the topic of his obituary, and what would follow. A Greek Orthodox funeral is a relatively sober affair, sort of like a Mass. I’d asked if I could speak at my mom’s, just so there’d be a personal touch. If I were to revisit what I read that morning in 1991, I’d no doubt cringe. That said, it was easy to celebrate my mother. Effortless. With my father, I’d have to take a different tone. “I remember the way he used to ram other cars at the grocery store when the drivers—who were always women—took the parking spots he wanted,” I could say. “Oh, and the time he found seventeen-year-old Lisa using his shower, and dragged her out naked.”

How could I reconcile that perpetual human storm cloud with the one I had spent the afternoon with, the one who never mentioned, and has never mentioned, the possibility of dying, who has taken everything life has thrown at him and found a way to deal with it. Me, on the other hand, after half a dozen medical tests involving the two holes below my waist, before even learning whether or not I had cancer, I’d decided I was tired of battling it. “Just let me die in peace,” I said to Hugh, after the French urologist stuck his finger up my ass.

体育投注平台Meanwhile, here was my father, tended to by aides, afforded no privacy whatsoever, and determined to get used to it. Where did that come from? I wondered, looking at my fried chicken as it was set before me. And how is it that none of his children, least of all me, inherited it?

体育投注平台Of all us kids, Paul was the only one to fight the do-not-resuscitate order. He wanted all measures taken to keep our father alive. “You have to understand,” he said over dinner. “Dad is my best friend.” He didn’t say it in a mawkish or dramatic way, but matter-of-factly, the way you might identify your car in a parking lot: “It’s that one there.” The relationship between my brother and my father has always been a mystery to my sisters and me. Is it the thickness of their skin? The fact that they’re both straight men? On the surface, it seems that all they do is yell at each other: “Shut up.” “Go to hell.” “Why don’t you just suck my dick.” It is the vocabulary of conflict, but with none of the hurt feelings or dark intent. While the rest of us may mourn our father’s passing, only Paul will truly grieve.

体育投注平台“Hey,” he said, taking an uneaten waffle off his daughter’s plate. “Did I tell you I just repainted my basement?” He found a picture on his phone and showed me what looked like a Scandinavian preschool, each wall a bold primary color.

“Let me see,” Amy said. I handed her the phone and she, in turn, passed it to Lisa. It then went by the spots where Gretchen and Tiffany would be if Tiffany hadn’t killed herself and Gretchen hadn’t fallen asleep at her boyfriend’s house earlier that evening, and on to Kathy, then to my niece, Maddy, and back to Paul.

体育投注平台We were the last party to leave the restaurant, and were standing out front in a light rain, when Amy pointed at the small brick house across the street. “Look,” she cried, “a naked lady!”

“Oh, my God,” we said, following her finger and lowering our voices the same way we’d done ten hours earlier with the doe on my father’s lawn.

“Where?” Lisa whispered.

“Right there, through the window on the ground floor,” Hugh told her. He and Amy would later remark that the woman, who was middle-aged and buxom and wore her hair in a style I associate with the nineteen-forties, made them think of a Raymond Chandler novel.

“What’s she doing?” I asked, watching as she moved into the kitchen.

“Getting a drink of water?” Lisa guessed.

Paul turned to his daughter. “Look away, Maddy!”

When the light went out, we worried that we had scared the naked woman, but a second later it came back on, and she was joined by a dark-haired man with a towel around his waist. The two of them appeared to speak for a moment. Then he took her by the hand and led her into another room and out of sight.

体育投注平台It was all we talked about as we made our way down the street to our various cars. “Can you believe it? Naked!!” As if we’d seen a flying saucer, or a congregation of pixies. To hear us in a gang like that, the wonder in our voices, the delight and energy, you’d almost think we were children. ♦