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Cardellla: In the Dark

He was watching the morning news. The president was leaving for Kenosha. And then suddenly his mind flashed back and he was back in his parents’ living room. It was dark. His father had always insisted on the living room blinds being drawn. He didn’t want to be on “display.” October 1984. He knew the year and the time because of baseball. He remembered the years by which teams were playing in the World Series. The Padres and the Tigers. The game flickered on the old television. He and his father talked a little about the game. His father had never been much interested in baseball. His mother was the real fan. And now she came over and sat on a chair near him. His father was dying.

It’s funny, he thought, how human beings can hold a conversation while thinking entirely of something else. So — while the three of them spoke about yet another World Series, his thoughts weren’t about baseball at all. He, who had organized his life around the World Series in October, found for the first time that he finally found something more important to occupy his mind. His father was dying of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The figure crumpled up on the couch couldn’t be his father. His father was strong beyond belief. As strong as he was not. Not a big man, but well-muscled from a body-building routine that he remained faithful to until this strange illness had struck him down in the summer of that year.

His father mumbled that he would really like a hamburger. A hamburger and a bottle of FRANK’S Cream Soda. He jumped at the opportunity to run to the store, as much for the chance to leave the dark living room as to fulfill his father’s request.

He was back in no time. But the mood had already changed. His father seemed to have forgotten he was hungry and thirsty. His mother tried to coax him to eat the burger. He took one bite and put it down. “He won’t eat,” she said. “Just won’t eat.” His father didn’t offer at the soda at all.

He thought about how his parents had fought constantly when they were younger. He’d never doubted that they loved each other deeply. But his mother was extremely jealous of her husband. His father mostly stayed quiet while she screamed. And that seemed to infuriate her even more. Her anger was righteous. Sometimes even violent. He knew his mother had cause, but he loved them equally. He couldn’t stand it when they fought. He remembered wishing he could become invisible. He thought that if he closed his eyes tightly enough and wished real hard, he could disappear until things calmed down. In a way, that’s how he was feeling now about America in September of 2020.

It was always dark in today’s America. Like his parents’ darkened living room was so long ago. The upset. The anger. And not just the conflict in the streets. It was the shouting from the White House. The fury. The president, it seemed, always yelling about something or at someone. Even when he didn’t raise his voice, his words tumbled out dividing Americans into us and them. Inciting violence. Destroying the peace because he seemed to need the chaos. The fury from the bully pulpit like the fury in the house of his childhood enveloping everyone in it. Impossible to escape because it was always there. Sometimes subliminally. But always there. You could never relax because the next explosion could come at any time. The uneasiness ever-present. In everybody’s living rooms. Not knowing what to expect when you turned on the news. An unwelcome drama playing out on our streets. Just wanting it to stop. One side thinking that re-electing the president would bring the calm they desperately needed. The other side feeling just as strongly that only the man’s exit from the White House could bring about peace. The country was at loggerheads. Each side growing more determined each day. But deep down wondering if there ever would be an end to this conflict of our hearts and minds. Just as he wondered that day 36 years ago whether his parents’ conflicts would ever end and whether the two people he loved most could learn to co-exist.

Those two people eventually did learn to not only to co-exist, but to be gracious toward one another. To honor each other. As the fire of their youth dimmed, so did most of the righteous fury. The sparks died. But the embers glowed warmly and the old conflicts were buried, even as new ones grew. He hoped as much for the America of 2020.

The day after his mother had joined him and his father to watch the World Series game in 1984, he tried to be positive with his mother on the phone.

“Dad seemed better last night,” he said. “Even watched the game with me.”

“No,” she responded, “he had me shut the TV the moment you left.”

There was acceptance in her voice.

He continued to accompany his father for the cancer treatment, but they both knew it was useless. He had never before told his father he loved him. But he finally did tell him. On the last day he saw his father alive.

Until this day, he doesn’t remember much about the 1984 World Series.

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