Collie was on the same flight. We could rest our conversation – what conversation, my goddamn soliloquy – until later, if at all.
We were both worn after the long hours of listening to my voice. Hesitant, then rolling downhill. Collie fed me warm Coca-Colas from his back-pack, and I drank them without complaint. A little firewater would have helped the flow, but I still had my two-year chip and it mattered.
We finally boarded at 4:42 in the morning. The snow had passed, and the maintenance crew plowed through it by two o’clock. Announcements that flights would resume started around three.
My words started to dry up by the time I told him about my dad and finding him dead on the lawn. If there’s such a thing as a dignified death, I suppose that was one. He was wearing his work pants and a clean t-shirt, damp from sweat. His eyes were closed, as if just resting after a strenuous job. There were no final words, no final signal that he was through. I always thought of him as a strong, thoughtful man; not much to say, but when he spoke, we all listened. We were not close friends, but I respected him. He was a father, not a friend.
How do you say those things to a stranger? You can talk about your passions and your failures more easily than you can about that kind of moment, when you accept and even embrace your own mortality for the first time.
I am five years older than when he passed. The keeper of the flame, and a damned sorry one at that. Of all the people I knew, Collie respected me the most, and he didn’t even know me. Sure, the annotated portions, but without context, they were a story told by an old man. If Collie lived another fifty years, he might understand, and probably hear many more. Old men have regrets. Old men have sorrows. Old men wish for better, happier, wiser. But they’re still words of an old man. The world is filled with them. Soon enough, they make even me yawn.