He raised his head to the infinite grey above him, as though trying to take in one last breath before he drowned in the well of emotions that was slowly consuming him. When did it go wrong? When did I become so broken?
Today felt weird. Feeling devastated from all of the fights and misunderstandings and hostility, Alan grabbed his jacket and left the house in the early morning. It was already clear that everything was falling apart. He felt desperate, and he hurt. Pushing life’s responsibilities aside, he just wanted to get away, even if for a little while. He did not care where his legs carried him. The thick fog filling the streets and parks added to the sensation of strangeness and desolation.
Primarily though, it was within his own mind that everything felt alien and broken... He felt lost and he just wanted to have someone to talk to him, without bias. Maybe listen to him and his predicaments, and offer insight. Frankly, he was so inside of it all that he had no way to even begin untangling the mess that he felt weighing in on him from every side. The only perspective he ever got from outside was that of the party convinced that he was the problem. They were vehement about letting him know, at every subtlest opportunity, at every little slip up, that all of the problems were his fault. At lowest times, he even found himself believing that one-sided onslaught. Now however, the fog within him, as well as around him, was so thick that he did not know anymore what to believe.
There were days when he wondered what happened to all of the friends he once had. He used to care about them, and they about him, but somehow they all fell apart, one by one, and then all at once he found he had no one to call when it was his thirtieth birthday. There were coworkers of course, and his girlfriend his was then convinced he would live “happily ever after” with. He did not question that on most days, to save himself from the unpleasant experience. He wondered how he let all those good people go. There was Turner. They were close... not anymore. There were a couple of others, too. Now when he felt he needed someone to understand him, there wasn’t anyone. Just him, in his desolation, left to wonder how it all went so wrong. He had plans... He had plans and now he didn’t anymore.
Completely withdrawn within himself, he did not look as his feet carried him down lanes and streets, to places of the town he rarely visited now. Places he once used to know, but had not seen for more than a decade. In these parts, there weren’t too many people, just odd strangers passing by, each attending to their own little worlds, suddenly stepping out of the fog, and just as as suddenly disappearing within it.
Thus he kept looking at the unseen sky, trying not to let the emotions spill out. Already his eyes were watered.
A sudden bump on his shoulder shook him somewhat out of the gloom and made him look at the old man who happened to be passing by too close. He man was once broad in the shoulders, although they were hunched down as though some heavy burden or illness was weighing down on them.
Apparently the elder was just as distracted by his thoughts as Alan was. The man did not turn right away, and made a quick motion to wipe something off his face as he quickly apologized, too quietly for the troubled young man to hear. ‘I apologize. Are you alright sir?’ Alan said, already sinking back into his mind, but strangely glad to be offered liberty from the metaphorical quicksand of his mind, however brief.
The older man flinched as he heard Alan’s voice, and quickly turned. ‘I’m sorry. Wait. Alan? Is it really you?’
The man’s voice stirred up a current of emotions in the young man. It sounded somewhat different from how he remembered it, somewhat frail and softer, announcing advanced age. The man was in his sixties, but there was no mistaking it. Although he was very much changed, Alan’s father stood before him. Mixed emotions. Fear, dread, relief, excitement, worry, happiness. There was a whole rainbow of emotions, the colors as complex as the relationship between the two men, young and old.
He did not answer right away, studying his father. Every detail that his inquisitive eyes discerned made his heart ache. His father was much older now. He wore simple clothes, which showed subtle signs of neglect. Of course, how could it be otherwise? He must have been living by himself, that’s how it always was, even when Alan was a baby.
‘Yes, it is me. How are things, father? How are you?’ he spoke softly. Although he learnt long ago that being too soft could backfire, he felt it was appropriate. After so many years, seeing his father in his current state, he couldn’t quite help it. The troubles of the past did not quite resurface yet.
‘Things? Things are good. I am fine too. Living, you know. How are you Alan? Tell me about yourself.’ Alan could sense that his father wanted, just as he himself, to try and reconnect, to melt the ice that was in between them.
‘I’m alright, alright, don’t worry. Everything is normal.’ They both were at a loss. So much was between them, and yet they were at a loss for words. There really was nothing easy about this for either.
‘That’s good son... Let us walk together.’ he beckoned with his arm, slowly starting to a walk. ‘Come. Come.’
Alan could not get accustomed to just how frail his father’s voice sounded. He almost wanted to ask him, how he really is. Like a son would ask his father. He knew that they were too far apart for that to transpire between them. He poked at himself to try. It is your father, Alan, he berated himself. If only he felt a little better, then he would find the energy to try. He caught up and they walked next to each other. They were very much alike, both reserved and both men of few words.
‘What brought you to this park?’ Surprised by the question, Alan looked around himself. He really did not know where he was and how. He wasn’t conscious of it. Looking around now, seeing the benches, and noticing the familiar pavement pattern, he quickly oriented himself. It was the park. How many times he wanted to come here, but never found the courage and resolve to do so. Not because the park was frightening to him. Quite the opposite. The park to him was a fond memory. A place he often wanted to come to, especially when it became hard. He never did, though, because he wanted to keep the memories intact. He wanted to leave the place as it was in his mind, unchanged, separate from the reality of his life. At a certain point when he was young, he resolved to come here only on one condition. When I am happy. He smiled at that. How naive that kid was, and also how desperate.
‘I just wanted to come here, have a look around, to see if anything changed at all’. ‘Mhmm’ was all that the old man said. He knew how his son felt about this part of the city, ‘old town’ he called it as a kid. He knew that his son would do anything to get out of these places, and he always guessed that he was part of the reason for that. It was strange, then, to see him here. Alan was already a grown man, and just glancing at him and his outline filled the old man with pride. How he carried himself, always in thought, probably contemplating some new project of his, always buried in his work and in his science. The old man wasn’t a quick learner himself, but life taught him a lesson through the years. His son was his sole pride.
‘What happened, my son?’ he stopped and turned to Alan. He was weary, and time was of the essence. There was so little of it left, there was a perpetual worry of letting things slip away. Seeing his son before him, hurting no less, for he could see it, regardless of how terrible of a father he was, he wanted to do something, anything while he still could.
‘Just, nothing serious. You know I’ve always been pensive.’ Alan felt his emotions could burst at any moment, and it was difficult to hold it all back.
‘That you were, son,’ the old man smiled, and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. Just like that, he burst. It suddenly did not matter how many wrongs his father did, nor how many times he failed Alan. After all, that was past, right? Broken as he was, he could not find any capacity in himself to hold on to all of that.
Afterwards, the men resolved to meet there every day. Alan admitted finally to himself that he was wrong about her, and his father admitted finally to his faults. They talked. They listened. They understood.
Both men decided that the past, regardless of how indescribably terrible it was, did not matter when it really mattered. The both men chose not to let it be stronger than their bond. After all, isn’t that what family, and love, is all about?
A month had passed since the chance encounter. It was the happiest Alan remembered in all of his life. It was the same for the old man. How fitting that was, to have the last month of your life also be your happiest.