September 2021’s Short Story of the Month
After my father’s stroke, he started crying all the time. He cried about everything; sentimental commercials, pop songs on the radio, or saccharine movie endings. It was like he couldn’t stop crying. It was such a contrast to the man he’d been before that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to interact with him.
Growing up he’d been stern, and my mother was the one who my brother and I went to when we needed comforting. The one and only time I’d seen him cry before the stroke was when his dog of fifteen years passed away. He didn’t even cry or get choked up when my wife and I announced we would be adopting a baby because we couldn’t conceive one. He’d just nodded.
The first time he broke down in the car was on the way home from the hospital. After being there for several days, I knew he was relieved to be released, but I didn’t expect him to cry. Having a stroke was terrifying. I didn’t say anything. I thought he was most likely just happy to be alive and out of the hospital.
The second time it happened later that day as we were sitting in my living room watching tv while my wife, Annie, prepared dinner in the kitchen. I was busy reading an email from my boss about the work I would need to catch up on the following week. A commercial for the Humane Society came on, and my father burst into tears. They weren’t subtle silent tears. He was balling, the crocodile tears leaving streaks on his face. His nose was snotty, and he reached for a tissue all while trying to stammer out, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
I just shook my head. I didn’t know what to say.
Over the next week, it kept happening. On Saturday, my brother arrived at my house around lunch time. We’d decided it was better, for now at least, for Dad to stay with one of us. We would have to trade off until work slowed down for me. Flood season was always a busy time for a water mage.
My brother walked up the path to my porch. He didn’t speak but arched an eyebrow when he saw me.
“I’m guessing since you’re standing out here waiting for me, that you want to tell me something without the rest of the house hearing it.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth slowly waiting for me to speak.
“So, about Dad…” I didn’t know what to say. I felt like I was tattling on the man who’d been such a fierce figure in my life. I know my brother felt the same. “He’s been different since he got out of the hospital.”
“What do you mean?” my brother asked.
“He’s just not himself.” I still couldn’t say it out loud. It was too strange. “He keeps…”
“Come on, out with it. What could be so hard to say?” My brother was always the more impulsive of the two of us.
“It’s just that. He keeps crying.” I finally said.
“Crying?” He looked at me like I was losing my mind. “Dad? Our dad?”
“Well, he’s been through a lot.” He stopped rocking. “Our Dad?” he asked again.
“Yeah. I know. It’s weird. Everything sets him off. Tv, music, reading, you name it. I just wanted to let you know so when it happens you won’t be concerned.”
“Well, it’s too late for that, I’m concerned now. Our dad doesn’t cry.” He paused and opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but then stopped.
“Yeah, I know.” I clapped him on the back.
The next day, I was casting spell after spell working with my team to try and redirect some troubling weather formations, when I got a call from my brother. Nothing we were doing was making a difference. Sometimes mother nature had her own plans, and nothing we did could change her mind.
“Let’s take a break,” I told my team.
I called my brother back, and he picked up before it even rang once.
“Chuck,” he said, “you have to let Dad stay with you. I can’t… I just can’t handle him like this.”
“Calm down,” I replied. “It’s only been one night. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“It was. He’s not the man I remember. I know it’s sound dumb, but I can’t be around him when he’s like this. It’s too much for me.” He paused only for a moment before he said, barely above a whisper, “It’s like he’s a broken man.”
“Don’t be that way. The doctor did say that what Dad went through might cause more changes over time, including his personality. Near death experiences change people.”
“It’s too much. Our dad doesn’t cry.”
“You can handle this. Give it a few more days at least,” I told him before hanging up.
I went back to work and finished my day, but I kept playing that conversation over and over in my head.
On the way home, it was like it was on surround sound in my head. All I could think was, “Our dad doesn’t cry.” Over and over. I didn’t know what to do with those words. I felt the same as my brother. What was wrong with us? Our dad had almost died; he was entitled to cry.
I don’t know if it was the song on the radio or what, but a tear fell slowly down my cheek. I wiped it away, but it was followed by another. What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind too? Why was I crying? I needed to pull myself together, if only the radio would stop playing such sappy music. I jabbed at the radio knob, and the car was filled with silence and the sound of me sobbing.
I turned off at the next ramp and parked my car in a space away from prying eyes. I cried, and I cried.