“I’ll start working on dinner, Frank. You get settled – find something to watch on TV,” said Frank’s father.
Hobbling inside on crutches, Frank made straight for the couch. The crutches still felt foreign and uncomfortable. One of the nurses had coached him on how to use the crutches – position them against the side of the chest as much as possible. This way, the bulk of the torso rests directly on the crutches, not on the shoulder joints. Uncomfortable, but it was working; and Frank was starting to feel normal again.
That is, except for his leg. Wrapped in a grey fiberglass boot, Frank’s left left leg was shrouded from just below the knee to the end of his foot, with just his two biggest toes sticking out the end. The pain since the surgery had lessened as well, but Frank was still popping Tylenols every few hours.
“Okay.” said Frank. Sitting down on the couch, he could hear whistling from the kitchen area, the clatter of a pot, and the beep of the oven. The living room lights were on, and Olaf stalked across the room, leaping onto the couch beside Frank.
Except for Olaf, nothing about this situation felt normal. The leg, the crutches, most of all perhaps – his dad being in his apartment, fixing dinner. He hadn’t seen his father in over 4 years; since the day Frank graduated from school: a happy-sad day fill with rushed greetings, saying hello to his mother and her new boyfriend and then bidding them goodbye in time to say hello to his father. The divorce had only been final for a few months, but both parents would sooner die than miss their son’s graduation.
Frank’s Dad (his name was Bruce) had given him one of the big, chest-squeezing, back-thumping hugs he was known for.
“I’m so proud of you, sport. That’s what all these parents are here telling their kids. But you’re special, kid—not everyone can graduate magna cum laude with a degree in computer science. You’re gonna do great.”
Frank loved his dad. He loved the unequivocal support his father had always provided – a man who himself had never been college material and had struggled all the way through high school until finding a path in the Air Force.
But deep down, Frank felt embarrassed – because he knew that what he’d done wasn’t that impressive. Sure, he had made good grades, but it hadn’t been a struggle for him. Most weekends he played video games or watched movies. It was easy to keep up with his classes since he didn’t have anything else to do.
Still suffocating inside his father’s hug, Frank appreciated the moment for what it was – a father who loved his child and was immensely proud. “Thanks, dad,” said Frank, quietly.
That was four years ago.
Walking in from the kitchen, his shirtsleeves rolled up, Bruce was drying his hands on with a towel.
“Hey sport, remind me, how do you like your steak?”
“Oh, um, medium well,” said Frank, who never ate steak and had no idea how he actually liked it.
His dad gave him a long look, “Medium-well? You sure son?”
“Well,” said Frank. “Medium would be fine too.”
Bruce nodded and retreated to the kitchen, from which soon emanated the sound of sizzling meat. Frank’s show – Persons of Interest, droned on in the background, but it was an episode Frank had seen, and Frank found himself thinking about how different his father seemed.
Time had changed Bruce, but it had not ruined him: the salt and pepper of 40 had given way to the silver of 50, and the twinkling eyes and quick wit had given way to a more reserved, thoughtful presence. He had always been a trim person, and this had not changed. The distance of 4 years allowed Frank to look at his father through new eyes, to not see him just as “Dad” but as Bruce Ockburn, American Airlines pilot.
A knock sounded on the apartment door, followed by a chime. “I’ll get it,” yelled Bruce from the kitchen. Walking out, drying his hands, and grumbling amicably under his breath, “You never interrupt a man when he’s making steaks.”
Frank couldn’t see the door from where he sat, but he could hear everything.
The click of the lock and the “schuuuk” sound as the door opened.
“Hi there,” said Bruce. “May I help you?”
“Hey! This is where Frank lives, right?” said a woman’s voice – Janet perhaps? Frank’s heart rate went up.
“Yes, it is. I’m his dad, Bruce. May I assist you, young lady?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m Janet from next door. I just wanted to check and see how he’s doing.”
“He’s doing great. Thanks for asking,” said Bruce. “We just got back from the hospital, in fact. It’ll be a while before he’s 100%, you understand, but all in all, he’s great. I think he mentioned you actually – you’re the Janet that got him to the hospital?”
Frank envisioned a head-nod. “Mm-hmm! Yeah, and I just wanted to let him—and you—know, my boyfriend and I wanted to have you over and make dinner one night – or bring it over here, if that’s better.”
“That’s very nice of you,” said Bruce. The conversation continued, but Frank’s thoughts had detailed onto another track: she had a boyfriend. Ah well. It was his fate, it seemed, to die alone.
Returning through the living area, Bruce pointed a thumb back towards the front door. “Nice young lady. Gonna have you over for dinner sometime.” He disappeared back into the kitchen, before quickly re-emerging with two plates. “I haven’t had a TV dinner in ages,” he said.
Frank had not done a TV dinner in 5 days, but that was because he had broken his leg and had been sleeping in the hospital. The steak was good, and the mashed potatoes, and the corn on the cob. They ended up watching The Big Lebowski, one of Bruce’s favorites.
When they finished, Bruce took the plates to the kitchen while Frank played a game on his phone. His leg was started to hurt again, so he deposited a couple Tylenol in his mouth and took a swig of cola.
“Okay, son,” said Bruce, returning to the kitchen. “You gonna be okay?”
It was a general question that Frank was unsure how to answer. After a pause, he decided to answer a general question with a vague answer: “Yeah, I should be fine.” After all, he could work from home, as he had always done.
Bruce eyed Frank closely. “Great,” he said, before pausing. “Great. Well, I’m gonna get going, but here’s what we’ll do – I’ll come by on Friday and take you grocery shopping until you can drive again. Sound good?”
Frank nodded. “Thanks, Dad.”
After gathering his backpack and other effects, putting on his pilot’s jacket, and placing a hand on Frank’s shoulder, Bruce said goodnight.