Saturday, September 12, 2009

Truck

The ’96 Ford Ranger XLT came fully loaded with an AM/FM cassette player, air conditioning, power steering, four voices and a ghost. Turned up loud, the radio almost drowns out the voices, but the ghost still rides shotgun.

The day before my father died, I sat on the edge of his bed while he sat in a chair looking at his dinner and picking at it. The tubes he wore were too numerous to count and the IV machine’s alarm kept going off giving a sense of urgency that I shoved to the back of my mind.

I gave Dad a flyer I had downloaded from a website that my husband, told me about. A procedure to help minor blood vessels take over from the damaged vessels at the heart. It was successful on one of my husband's co-workers, it would be with Dad. But he barely looked at the paper before folding it in half and tucking it inside his unread paperback novel.

He kept fidgeting. Finally, after some idle chat, he looked away and said, “You know, Joni, this isn’t going to last forever.”

“I know Dad,” I quickly responded and pushed those thoughts away again.

“Do you want the truck?”

“Sure. Unless Greg...”

Dad shook his head and murmured something about Greg not needing it. We resumed our trivial conversation. Neither of us could talk about what was staring at us in that room.

Dad died early the next morning.

Six months later, I drove away from my parents’ house with the truck. Dad sat there, turned slightly towards me, elbow resting on his raised knee, nodding. Greg’s grief-stricken mandate, “You will never sell that truck!” came in one ear, while Mom’s disgusted voice declared in the other ear, “Just like your father. If I had known, I would have bought you a car. Greg should have that truck.” Then Gary’s gentle voice said, “It was your father’s wish. You need to honor that.” Soon, I heard myself at the hospital with the sudden realization that Dad knew he was dying, “Dad wanted me to have the truck.”

I cried most of that two-hour drive home. Dad sat silently beside me, nodding.

They are still there. They wait for me to back out of the driveway before pecking away at me. I talk to Dad. The voices stop while I tell him how much I love that truck even though I fear the day when something will happen to it and Greg will find out. He nods.

Each jolt and jounce of the rough suspension brings me closer to the woman I want to be. Tough, independent, and confident. “I’m driving a truck, Dad. I’m not a wimp anymore.” He nods.

I tell him how even though we all must die, no one is ever ready to go or to let go. I tell him how much I miss him even though we argued about most everything. He nods.

Then the voices start in again. I turn up the radio and deliberately aim for the bumpy part of the road. We all drive on. Together.