I remember a photograph of a time when I was five and at a birthday party. I wore a conical party hat, its thin rubber string strapped beneath my chin, and I was in my father’s sturdy arms, crying. “It’s all right,” he must have said. “Everything’s going to be all right. I’m here.” He would have carried me countless other times, too, in my early years, embracing, nurturing, loving.
But as I grew and he aged, there came a time when he carried me less, and I him more. Like the time my brother Gerard and I draped his arms around our necks and carried him, stooped forward like a crucified Christ, into Dr. Howley’s office on Alexander Avenue when he’d blacked out in the waiting room, his bandaged hand too tightly wound from an accident at the bakery where he worked as a mechanic. Or the time we carried him braced on our criss-crossed arms across 188th Street to Union Hospital, stopping traffic as we went, when he’d been held up and stabbed in a robbery at the candy store he owned in the Bronx.
And then, years later, near the end, the time I helped to carry my father on a stretcher, tilting him nearly upright, gripping and grimacing, down the narrow stairwell on Decatur Avenue to the ambulance that would take him to the hospice. “You just want to get rid of me,” he said in his ache at leaving home to die. Little did he know, little did he know that I’d have held him in my arms the length of all the earth and back again, whispering, “It’s all right, everything’s going to be all right, I’m here,” could I have carried him so.