Discover more from Poiema
“I bet Daddy’s got a tool for that,” Cason said as four of us huddled together underneath the hood of my truck at two o’clock this morning.
One of my headlights had gone out again so we decided to come outside and fix it because that’s what the menfolk do when the house is full of people just standing around waiting on someone to die.
My Uncle Tony, barely in his fifties, is eat up with cancer and the family is taking it hard. His once strong body has shriveled to a shell of its former glory, his breaths are labored and shallow, and his time is short. The family has been called in at least three times in the last two weeks. “Tonight is the night,” we’ve been told. Each time, we gather and cry and wait. And each time Tony refuses to go. But he has always been stubborn like that.
The men in my family aren’t cold and unfeeling, but we have never been much good at public displays of emotion. I don’t think we are Stoic as much as emotionally ignorant. We just don’t know what to do in times like these.
Dad is angry. Angry at God for taking his wife and now his brother before he was good and ready. Angry at himself for things he has said and done to his baby brother over the years. Angry at Tony for agreeing to take the chemo that has robbed him of what few good days he had left.
When he walked into the house last night he took one brief look at the man lying on his deathbed in the living room and walked off to the back room. My Grandmother rose to follow him but I gently took her by the arm and said, “Let him be. He doesn’t want us to see him cry.” But we still heard him, terrible broken sobs and desperate prayers to a God who remains a stranger to him.
My Grandfather studied the hardwood floor between his boots, trying not to look in the direction of such great sorrow. Trying to stifle his own tears. He pet the Dachshund at his feet, speaking more to himself than to the dog, “It’s gonna’ be alright. It’ll be over soon.”
My cousin, Cason, Tony’s youngest son, stood over his daddy talking about the big Buck deer captured on his game camera. He’s in his mid-twenties and has never had to grieve. Mourning is a learned skill with which he’s had no experience. Even so, he is doing it the way that all of our men have taught themselves to do it–by making small talk and swallowing the hot emotions bubbling up from hidden places.
I look over at my Grandmother who buried her last sibling last Friday. She has Tony’s frail hand in hers, pressing it against her cheek. I can see his knuckles shining, wet with his mother’s tears. My thoughts are selfish now. “This will probably kill her,” I think to myself. “It’s too much and she loves too hard.”
And with that, I rose to go outside. I am my father’s son, disinclined to brandish my own grief, to uncover my naked sorrow in the presence of others. After a few minutes squalling on the porch, I think about my headlight.
I stepped back inside. The ladies were all hugging each other and chattering away–their own peculiar way of ignoring their grief. The menfolk sat quietly watching Tony get on with the hard work of dying.
My thoughts ran to Abraham, the night God came to him and spoke a hard thing. “Abraham,” said the Lord, “Take thy Son, thine only son Isaac whom thou lovest, and offer him to me as a burnt offering in the place that I shall tell thee of.”
I thought of how Abraham rose the next morning, hours before daybreak, saddled his asses and chopped firewood beneath the bone face of the moon. He had dozens of servants who could have done that for him. But he needed a distraction, a way to busy his hands as well as his mind. A way to grieve away from the eyes of others.
“Dad, do you have your tool bag with you,” I asked. Of course I knew he did. He never went anywhere without it.
“My headlight is out. I came over on the backroads to try and avoid the cops. I figured we could go ahead and swap it out. I was going to do it earlier but I didn’t have the tools at home.”
At once, all the guys came outside and gathered around the truck. “I have a wrench but I don’t have all of my sockets with me,” Dad said. “And it looks like we’ll need something to be able to get to that bolt on the bottom side.”
Cason piped up. “Let me go look in Daddy’s truck. I bet he’s got a tool for that.”
Directly, he came back with a big black box of sockets and wrenches. As he hunted for a 3 ⁄ 8 bit the rest of us stood around with our phones in our hands turning them into flashlights, cussing the Chevrolet company for turning little jobs into big ones.
“Looks like we’re gonna’ have to take the whole stinkin’ grill off,” said Drew, Tony’s step-son.
“It would’ve been too easy otherwise,” Dad said.
For the next hour or so we cussed and laughed and pulled wrenches. Thankful for the distraction. “I sure am glad your Daddy didn’t sell all his tools when he quit work,” I said to Cason.
“You know he ain’t gonna’ be without his tools,” He said.
“He can’t afford to, driving them sorry ass Ford’s,” Dad said.
We laughed for moment then everyone grew quiet. Thinking the same thing. Tony would never drive that old pickup again. Never pick up another wrench or pair of pliers. Probably never say another word this side of eternity.
“When he got sick,” Cason began, “he told me I could have all his tools. But I told him to wait he might need them again.”
“You’ll likely never have to buy another one,” Dad said. “He has a tool for everything.”
Cason looked at Dad through wet brown eyes, “Yeah. Everything but this.”
No one said anything for a long time. It was dark and we couldn’t see each other's faces, but we all knew that they were all pink and slick. The cloud covered moon, discrete as a cloistered priest, had given us silent permission to do what we couldn’t in the light.
If you have found value in my work and writing, then consider becoming a supporter.
If you would like to support our work on a monthly basis, consider doing so as a paying subscriber for just $30 a year, or through Patreon.
If you would like to make a one time donation, you can do so by sending it directly through PayPal. Thank you.