At night, I would often be woken by a train’s whistle, drifting up from the flatlands of Oakland. Gradually, the sound of metal wheels on the track would also make their way to me, a lulling, whispering, rhythmic click-click-clack, click-click-clack.
Once the train had passed, and the night once more settled, I’d remain awake, my eyes fastened to a ceiling I couldn’t see. As the sleeping city murmured and rustled, my mind would grow noisome with thoughts. Concerns. Regrets. Questions. These questions were not gentle. They were sharp, peppery. Sometimes pain would accompany them. Sometimes, that pain took my breath away.
I’d remember my father, in the early days of his confinement in the nursing home, suggesting, gently, it was time to go home. It was time to leave this place, whatever it was, that we found ourselves in. Sticking close by my side, so he’d be sure to get home, to not miss his ride, not understanding that home in the sense he meant no longer existed. He’d sold his home decades before. And my home? There was no bedroom available for him there.
And then, the castigation would begin. The lamentation. Why hadn’t I fought harder to bring my dad home to our house, home to family, home to the only people who would care about him, not just care for him in a perfunctory fashion, but really care. Love him. Why had I abandoned him to a nursing home? Why had I let our cruel society’s normalization of this practice persuade me it was okay?
On the financial front there were questions and missteps as well. Why hadn’t I used what money he had left to buy a larger place that could have housed us all? Why had I given that money over to a slippery corporation full of the fattest cats, enriching themselves at the expense of their fragile “clients.” Why hadn’t I kept that money in the family? Why hadn’t I a clue of finance, or wealth-building? I’d blindly trusted a nursing home, for Christ’s sake, to care for my father in his final years.
Then, I go back even further, remembering when my mother died, and my father was suddenly hell-bent on selling the house. And the way I hadn’t much questioned it. I knew he was being hounded by creditors associated with the money he’d “invested” in my sister’s ill-fated “company.” What I didn’t know was that my sister was urging him to sell the place so she could further fleece him. She wanted to “collect her inheritance” for said “company.” She recently told me, bald-faced and innocent-like, that she “assumed he was giving us all our inheritances too.” She took advantage of him. And us too.
I was too busy living my life to pay much attention, to probe, to ask. I was busy separating myself from my family because that’s what we do in North America. The notion of family unity, of the family being the bank, of family as fortress, that doesn’t exist here. We’re all so busy getting “independent” and essentially signing our lives and money over to corporate entities eager to help us detach from our family by providing all manner of “services.”
No, I didn’t understand what family was for. That all came much later, with David.