“You have to come home.”
“I don’t have to do shit.”
“He’s your father!”
“He was absence, violence, and tyrant! He was no father!”
“You’re the oldest! It’s your responsibility!”
“Stop saying that! I don’t owe him a fucking thing! You hear me? Not a fucking thing!”
“Stop acting like a…”
The fragile cell phone skipped and shattered across the pavement to a cacophony of obscenities. The conversation replayed itself hundreds of times over in his head with each rhythmic beat of his racing heart. He paced clenching and unclenching his fist longing to brutally end the haunting ghosts of his path. Instead, with little satisfaction, he settled for kicking the wreckage of his phone further down the road.
Marcus Corvin Rivers had spent a lifetime leaving his past behind him, but somehow his past was always present; always at the forefront of his mind. Medication and therapy did little to alleviate the weight on his shoulders. His only sense of solace was in having maintained a silence between his family, the church of his youth, and himself for nearly a decade.
Now, after eight years, his past had caught up with him. The pastor of his father’s church had somehow found his number, and for the third time in a week called Marcus to inform him of his father’s passing, and demanded that he return home at once to settle his father’s affairs.
His youngest brother lived in Ireland with his family, his sister was studying abroad in Germany, and his middle brother had been in and out of jail for drugs. He knew he was the only one capable of returning home to settle his father’s affairs and lay the old man to rest. As much as he wanted to simply leave that corpse to rot in the fruits of its labor, he could not shake the sense of responsibility from himself. He knew that this was his cross, and he would have to bear it.
Marcus drove across town to Saint Michael’s Cathedral. The parking lot was empty save for Father John’s humble sedan. Not an unexpected sight for a Wednesday afternoon. He parked next to the sedan and took a deep calming breath before getting out of his car.
Fashioned in the likeness of an old Gothic European cathedral, with watchful gargoyles and saints, the 80 year old church towered over him and stole his breath with its beauty. He had been a faithful parishioner for the last four years since his conversion, and the church never failed to entrance him.
Inside evenly spaced pillars stretched for an eternity towards a high arched ceiling. Stained glass windows and extravagant art depicting saints, saviors, and salvation history lined the walls leading to an ornate altar standing before a life sized crucifix carved of ash.
The crucifix was an intricately detailed depiction of the suffering savior. Marcus could remember sitting for hours gazing upon the figure hanging from the cross bewitched by the perfectly conveyed sense of agony and sorrow. The eyes of the figure looked down with a piercing gaze bringing to reality the unfathomable depths of God’s love for a broken people.
The image stood in stark contrast to the depiction given him in his youth of an eternally disappointed God who refused to be satisfied by anything less than him striving to look like, and please, the chosen elite of his church. It hurt him to remember the many years wasted trying to find acceptance among a cruel people incapable of being pleased.
Father John’s jovial exclamation broke Marcus from his reverie. The priest was a lively man in his late fifties; a down to earth sort who spent 33 years in the Navy before retiring and transitioning into the priesthood.
Marcus couldn’t help the smile that broke across his otherwise grim expression. Father John was not only his priest, but a close friend, confidant, and mentor. Not to mention one of the few people who could talk sense into him when he would rather dwell in the realm of foolish impulsivity.
“How are ya? You’re either really early for the evening Mass or really late for noon Mass.”
Father John laughed generously at his own jesting. His combined Irish-Bostonian accent and good natured spirit made his joy and laughter infectious. Even in his darker moods Marcus couldn’t help smiling and laughing when he was with his friend.
“Ah. I see.”
“Every time you start with ‘Well Father’ and pause, it means I need to put on a pot of coffee and we need to sit down.”
“Now hold on. That’s not fair. You don’t know. I may be here just to visit. Enjoy your good company. Bask in the beauty of the church. Take in the intoxicating aroma left behind after years and years of burning Frankincense. To…”
“Where are we going?”
“Out back. I just got in some great cigars.”
Marcus and Father John sat quietly on the stone bench under the great oak tree in the cathedral’s prayer garden. Rows of rose bushes lined winding walk ways frequented by visitors trying to collect their thoughts, or find a restful moment of quiet meditation. Marcus reflected upon the many hours he and the priest had spent in the garden drinking coffee, smoking cigars, and navigating the overwhelming hurt he never seemed to rid himself of.
“So, other than smoking my cigars, why are you really here?”
“I got a call.”
“From the pastor of that church I’ve told you about.”
“That’s the one. And, I don’t know how he got my number, or why he keeps calling me. I mean, I get it, I’m the easiest to get a hold of out of my siblings, but…”
“Why did he call?”
“My father past away and…”
“Marcus, I’m sorry.”
“Oh I’m not. That was the good news…”
“Sorry. Y’know where I’m at. Look. He keeps calling me and goes on and on about how I need to come home, settle the old man’s affairs, own up to my responsibilities and all that bullshit.”
“And I’ve no desire to go back. I don’t want to go back. That whole town can sink into the ocean for all I care. I don’t want to go back!”
“But I can’t shake this guilt that I’m supposed to go back. Like it is my responsibility to go back and put that man in the dirt and settle his affairs. And I can’t break this sick sense of obligation. I know I don’t owe him or them anything. Yet here I am feeling like I do.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Jesus help me. I don’t know. On one hand I think it would be best if I just stayed right here and let the dead bury the dead. Let them have him and be responsible for him since that’s what they did all those years ago. They stood between me and him, told me how I was wrong for trying to do the best I could with what I had, told me I was in sin for not leaving my job, my life, everything and coming home to care for man who refused to care for himself.”
“What’s on the other hand?”
Marcus took a deep thoughtful draw from his cigar savoring the peppery earth tones of the smoke before releasing it in a cleansing exhale.
“On the other hand…” He dropped his eyes from Father John and gazed sullenly out over the garden. “…On the other hand I am terrified that the only way I can truly cut myself free from all the crap that plays over and over in my head, get the nightmares to go away, and to make the hurting finally stop is to put that man’s dead body in the dirt.”
“So I ask again, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to argue with myself. I’m going to tell myself that it is best to make them suffer and hurt by not even showing up to his funeral. I’m get pissed off that they have the audacity to call me. And then I’m going to finally admit that there is something to the other hand.”
“So why not skipped to the ‘other hand?’”
“Because I wouldn’t be me if I did?”
“Ah. That’s the Marcus I know.”
They sat together in a comfortable silence savoring the hand rolled cigars, taking in the beauty around them, and meditating quietly on things to come. When they had finished Marcus stood and embraced his friend before heading to his car.
“Marcus, hold on.”
“Wait here a moment?”
Father John disappeared into the church. After a few moments he returned carrying a bundled black velvet cloth. He walked with Marcus out to his car and unfolded the bundle on the hood his sedan.
The priest did not wait for Marcus to reply. He knew him well enough to know that he would allow the priest to offer a blessing. He picked up a small silver vial, removed the cap, and dipped his thumb into a sweet smelling oil.
Making the sign of the cross, the priest anointed Marcus’s forehead, blessed him, and offered up a prayer. He set down the vial and picked up a Rosary. The crucifix, as well as the links linking each rose colored prayer bead together, was cast from sterling silver.
“I know you’re gonna go. After all your griping and arguing and yelling and in-general tantrum throwing, you’re gonna go. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t. Take this Rosary. It was given to me when I went off to become a priest. I want you to take it. I think it will bring you strength. Remember the Rosary, pray it. May the Lord bless you and strengthen you through it.”
Marcus smirked at the old man grateful to have such a spiritual father in his life to make up for the real father he never had.
“Thank you. I…it means a lot to me. I will. I’ll remember.”
He embraced his friend one last time before getting in his car and driving away.