Nothing Left Unsaid

In mid-July, Malcolm Watkins attended the funeral of his friend Guillermo Rivas, who overdosed on OxyContin. Guillermo was only 26 when he died. His behavior had grown stranger by the day, but he hadn’t said anything to anyone about being suicidal, so no one could tell for sure if the overdose was intentional or not. This was the first time Malcolm had met the Rivas family. Guillermo had never said anything to Malcolm about his home life. Other than the priest, Guillermo’s father was the only one who spoke. He kept begging his dead son for forgiveness. He wept so much throughout that it was difficult to understand his words. He kept saying he knew Guillermo would surely forgive him because this was the sort of person Guillermo was. The priest offered ambiguous euphemisms for what would happen in the afterlife. Malcolm found out later that for months after the funeral, Mrs. Rivas just sat in a chair for hours on end, rocking silently back and forth and staring out the window.

In late November, Malcolm attended another funeral, this time for his friend Jamal Moore’s father, who died of pancreatic cancer. During the service, Jamal’s sister Jada delivered a beautiful eulogy honoring Mr. Moore. She said that no matter what sorts of mistakes the Moore kids made, her father always let them know that things would be OK. He encouraged them to believe that they were probably doing the best they could at the time and would do better in the future. He told them he was always in their corner, and since the sun was going to rise tomorrow with or without them, they might as well enjoy life as much as possible and do something useful because every moment above ground was worth appreciating. At the post-funeral reception, Malcolm heard Jamal say quietly to a small circle of listeners that his dad had never been anything but kind to him. The entire family seemed at peace with Mr. Moore’s passing despite the sorrow they felt from losing such a gentle, decent person who meant so much to everyone who knew him.

On his drive home from Mr. Moore’s funeral, Malcolm thought about his own father, Ben Watkins, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ben already struggled with PTSD and various Agent Orange-related illnesses from his three tours in Vietnam. For years, Mrs. Watkins and the children walked on pins and needles trying not to upset Ben, who could explode at a moment’s notice and beat the kids when they didn’t follow the house rules to the letter. He never once struck Mrs. Watkins, but sometimes he knocked her out of bed at night when a car driving by would backfire, or when some other loud noise triggered a disturbing flashback. Ben would certainly yell at Mrs. Watkins when his mood took a wrong turn.

Malcolm decided to swing by the old neighborhood and visit his parents before heading home. He parked in the driveway, entered through the front door, and headed into the living room. The lights were dim, and his dad was sitting in front of the TV in his reclining chair. He had a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigar in the other. He looked up at Malcolm and said, “Hey, aren’t you that gay boy who used to be my son?”

Malcolm sat down in a chair a few feet away from Ben and said, “Anybody you raised was bound to turn out gay. Where’s Mom?”

“Sleeping,” said Ben.

“Wanna shoot the shit for a little while?” Malcolm asked.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” said Ben. “Glad you still have a spine, son. Let’s shoot the shit. Nothing better to do.”

Ben poured Malcolm a whiskey, and they struck up a long overdue conversation. Ben did most of the talking, often getting confused or repeating himself, but reminiscing tirelessly about all the good and bad times the family had shared over the years. He said you could never miss people if they were always in your memory, and the only thing to do was remember what made them happy because that made you happy, too, even when they disappointed you, but it hurt when they didn’t know who you were at the core because we all have to hide part of ourselves just to keep each other safe, or else the world would tear itself to pieces; and Ben told Malcolm about the moon rising above the South China Sea and how he fell in love with Malcolm’s mother the moment he laid eyes on her in Saigon, and how he beat his cousin Darius half to death in a drunken argument for calling her racist names, and how the drugs he was taking just weren’t working very well anymore, and Malcolm listened and nodded and laughed and kept from crying at times because he knew Ben considered that a sign of weakness, and the two of them talked deep into the night until there was nothing left unsaid.