He Who Is In A Hurry Always Arrives Late
I was running, clutching my purse and holding my powder blue Samsonite train case. My dad was saying, “Hurry, Nan! We’re so late! I’m afraid you’ll miss your flight.” We rounded the corner of the parking garage and headed down the stairs. Six foot two, sixty years old, and still in good shape, my dad was ahead of me, flying down the stairwell when I tripped. I felt the air go out of me, and when I opened my eyes he was peering down at me and asking if I was ok. I had fallen down the whole flight of stairs.
“What hurts? Can you get up?”
“I think so. My leg hurts.” And I saw that my kelly green wool slacks were ripped and I was bleeding from the knee.
“Try Nan, you can’t miss the flight. I have to be back to work this afternoon,” and he extended his hand to pull me up. My leg quivered as I stood and felt the broken heel of my right shoe.
As we fast-walked and hobbled to the boarding area, Daddy turned to me and said, “I’m sorry you fell. Hurry now and get on the plane,” and he gave me a quick side hug.
I heard him say he was sorry, but I knew he was secretly proud that he had pulled it off, yet again. But, this was his way. To wait until the last minute and then hurry, hurry; feeling that adrenaline pump. He got a kick out of barely making it. I had long learned to accept it. I had made it on time and I’m sure he was halfway to his car before the plane had closed its doors.
When I got onto the plane I found my seat and plopped down next to the window. My new wool pantsuit was ruined. The knee was raggedly torn, and the hem of the bell-bottom leg was ripped, just like my pride. Blood was staining the fabric which I knew would never be the same. Big, hot tears rolled down my face as I lit a Tarryton 100 cigarette and flicked the ash into the micro ashtray on the armrest.
I was nineteen years old and beginning my second year of college. My dad was attending the Naval War College in Rhode Island and had surprisingly asked me to join him for a long weekend in Boston. We had toured the city and even dined at the Officer’s Club with some of his contemporaries. There was a formal happy hour one night and Daddy took me to the bar and ordered us drinks, while I stood shyly in the long, yellow and white, halter dress I had sewn myself, trying to look sophisticated.
Some of the men thought I was his date and kidded him about robbing the cradle, which made him proud, but laughingly he would introduce me as his daughter, visiting from college. This was a night of firsts. My first happy hour; the first time to eat shrimp and clams; the first time I remember older men telling me I was pretty; and the first time I lit a cigarette in front of my dad.
“I smoke now,” I said while we sipped our drinks.
“Really? Go ahead, if you want to smoke,” he smiled. And I fumbled for my pack of Tarryton 100’s and promptly lit the wrong end. I felt humiliated and quickly put it out in the closest ashtray. Later, I tried again, but I was never comfortable smoking in front of him. My attempt at being a grown-up felt like a failure. The next day I would be flying back to school, although I enjoyed seeing Boston and going to the Officer’s Club, I was ready to feel free to be myself, away from his critical eye.
Daddy was notorious for waiting until the last minute. He would pack as much as he could into every minute no matter what was going on. We’ve had many an outing splotched with his tight-lipped anger that we needed to ‘hurry up or we’ll be late.’ Late for the train from Silverton to Durango, Colorado, late for the plane, late to see the show, even late to church. I was always the last one picked up from school, waiting solemnly by the trees, avoiding the eyes of the other children and parents. I felt last, and unimportant because Daddy always made sure I knew that his work came first.
I suppose my father felt superior at his work. He was an electrical engineer with a large company where he worked for over forty-plus years. His last years were filled with disappointment and anger that he was passed over for more promotions. He verbalized his displeasure and angst to anyone who would listen while faking his ‘yes man’ appearance to bosses. He blamed the higher-ups for their incompetence at not seeing his value and appreciating all that he had done. He blamed everyone else for his failings, never taking responsibility for himself. Even though it would be his actions that would make us rush places, it would be our fault if we were late, inferior that we could not handle the stress. Weakness in any form was not tolerated by my father.
Forty years later, I was sitting in a fake leather, semi-padded armchair near the foot of Daddy’s bed in the nursing home. Cancer and heart disease had taken their toll on his body, leaving him almost unrecognizable. Though his mind was sharp, he was gaunt and physically frail, something he never wanted to be.
I was pretending to knit, yet secretly counting breaths. After each inhale I waited for the exhale and then tried to count how many seconds until the next breath. “Come on, breathe. Breathe,” and I would let out my own exhale when I saw the rise in his chest.
Without warning, his eyes popped open, and he said in a raspy voice, “Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m just looking at you, Daddy. I love you.”
“I know,” he said. “You think I’m going to die, don’t you?”
For a few seconds we looked into each other’s eyes and without blinking he said,
“I’ve always felt so bad that you fell down the stairs at that airport in Boston. I cried all the way back to the base, knowing it was because of me.”
“Thank you, Daddy. That was a terrible fall.”
Then I saw his eyes close and his breathing slow. Was he sleeping or just feigning weariness after his honest disclosure?
With Daddy, I could never tell.