This morning I awoke with my outlaw father on my mind. I call him that not because he was a criminal, but since divorce no longer made him in-law, he became my outlaw. I would not, could not, X him.
Alex and I had loved one another from the first night we met. My ex-husband (we were “just friends” at the time) had to stop by his dad’s. Of course, later I realized it had been important for my ex-husband that I meet his dad before we became romantically intertwined. It was part of the pre-relationship hazing he required. Oblivious to any motive other than the one I’d been informed, I pulled a chair up to his dad’s bed and chatted away.
Alex was an invalid and lived with piles of books on art and history, surrounded by a panoramic view of Riverside Park. From that quick introduction, we bonded over time with our mutual love of opera, jazz, art, a keen interest in people and conversation. His was a slow progression of multiple sclerosis, before the drugs that provide options for patients now. One day I will tell Alex’s story, because it deserves to be told. But today I will tell you, that he had a great passion for his children and for life. I consider myself very lucky to be one of the people he loved, because his love was unconditional.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, the separation had to be severe. This is a long story for another time. It began my deep study of the Tarot, which I totally embraced since the divorce was a Death process for me.
We had no children. But the love I had for Alex could not be severed. I continued to visit him, call him and send him postcards wherever I roamed (in his confined state, he loved to travel in his mind).
In the years to come, his illness claimed his slender hold on freedom and health demands sent him to hospitals, then inevitably a nursing home. The last time I saw him I took the subway far out in Brooklyn and walked a couple of miles listening to Bonnie Raitt (on my Walkman). I finally found the enormous VA facility with a fabulous view of the Varazanno Bridge. When I arrived in his room, his roommate greeted me from a box out of his throat with tremendous excitement. Both men had been a long time without a visitor.
I took Alex to the conservatory area and we sat together until his obvious strain demanded his return. When I got ready to leave, he held my hands with his tenacious will. My ex-husband’s wife did not have the joyous years I’d had with Alex; she’d only known him as he slipped deeper into the pool of unresponsive muscles. His young grandchildren understandably did not come to visit him. After my long odyssey out to make this visit, I sympathized with the difficulty this presented for his children. Years after my divorce to his son, I still felt the deep tug of connection to Alex. Yet we both knew this would be my last visit.
I walked back to the train and passed a schoolyard with kids running around a pond with ducks. Neat houses, taller than wide with immaculate front lawns no bigger than the width of the house flanked my path. My eyes intermittently blinded by tears, fought to make sense of the map. The cool anonymity of the subway carried me away and calmed my distress. I could no longer visit him; it was far too painful for both of us.
His daughter sent me a note later that year informing me of his death; she understood my deep love for him. His death ended any need for conversation with his children. Of course I cried, but I knew the life he’d loved had long since ended.
I do not choose to forget my dear outlaw father. He remains in my head and heart with his salty jokes, his raspy laugh and his large amber-colored eyes. There are times when I seek his advice during meditation or the problems of my day. So today when he came to me on waking, my immediate thought was: “OK Alex, what is it you need to say to me?”
And of course, his deepest message, is to always give yourself unconditional love. That way, you have it to share with others.