Morituri te Salutant By D.I. Jolly
Frank sat across from his father listening to him explain something, while drinking coffee and desperately trying to ignore his own rising anxiety.
“So basically, while I love your mother, of course I do, I wonder if we have anything in common anymore. And that’s not to say we’re unhappy or getting a divorce or anything. That would be ridiculous, especially at our age, but after 47 years of marriage, and our whole lives. I think we have just very slowly walked down different paths. You know what I mean?”
Frank had heard all the words but hadn’t really heard what was said, except for one key phrase that began to play on a loop in the back of his mind. “I love your mother, of course I do… I love your mother, of course I do.”
After a minute of only hearing his father’s voice in his head, he heard him say out loud.
Suddenly his eyes focused and he half remembered where he was and what he was doing, but the spiral still spun on. He reached for his coffee but missed, then said almost angrily.
“How can you be sure?”
“Be sure of what, son?”
“That you love her?”
“How can you be sure that you love her, I mean, if spending your life together means love then sure. But if you honestly feel like you’ve spent your whole life walking next to someone on a different path, getting slowly but surely further apart, why do you think you love them? If love isn’t connection, then what is it?”
Frank managed to get his hand on his cup this time and took a sip of coffee, while his father stared on confused and deeply concerned. But before he could form a full thought, Frank continued;
“You know, how do we even know love exists? Maybe everyone feels the same way, that ‘of course they love their partner’ because that’s the expectation. But because no one can really say what love is, everyone just pretends. They think they know what love is, but if you look at the songs, the books, the poems. No two messages are the same. It’s just stabs in the dark by people hoping to sound profound. Maybe love doesn’t actually exist and everyone is just pretending for the sake of seeming normal.”
This time, and for the first time, Frank’s eyes focused on his father as he waited for some kind of reply. No longer angry, or distracted just eager to hear his father’s thoughts, or to quantify some aspect of what he’d just heard. But in the moment while processing everything Frank had said, all that came out of his father’s mouth was,
“So, you do think I should divorce your mother?”
“What? No, maybe, no that’s not what I’m saying at all. I want to know if you think love is just the lie we tell ourselves and everyone else so that we can fit in. I want to know if you think it actually exists or not.”
“Frank my boy, is everything okay?”
The question irritated him, it wasn’t an answer to his question. In fact, it side-lined the whole conversation he had been having with himself and was trying to have with his father.
“What does that have to do with anything? Answer the question. Do you think love is just a lie?”
His father let out a breath and stared at him for a long minute thinking.
“No, I don’t. But I also don’t think it’s a switch that’s just on all the time. But I do believe love is real. It’s an expression of a feeling, much the same as happy, sad.”
He gestured at Frank with his hand while also raising his eyebrows in a very familiar way.
“Angry… All things that you feel for a moment or a day or a week, but they fluctuate in intensity and relevance. But you can generally be happy while also being angry in that moment. Likewise, love is something that you can feel while not being in love in that moment. You can love someone in general and hate them in a single moment. And the other way around. So no, I don’t think love is a lie. But, at the risk of annoying you further, I don’t think you’re okay right now. So, how about we talk about that for a minute?”
Frank stared at his father who had taken on a look of patience with expectation. The same look he had whenever he knew Frank had done something wrong but hadn’t admitted to it yet. The same look that often followed the phrase. “So, is there anything you’d like to tell me, boy?”
The truth was, Frank was fine in general, but intensely stressed. His job as a police officer had recently become exponentially more difficult and dangerous as he was on the verge of going deep undercover. The problem was, he also couldn’t tell anyone about it. So, it was something he had to carry around with him. A weight that so clearly sat on his shoulders that he had to pretend wasn’t there, even when people stared straight at it.
“I’m fine, work shit, same as always. And for the record, no I don’t think you should divorce mom. What would you do without each other? Realistically, I don’t think you’re that different. Maybe you like to tell yourself that, but you’re both retired home bodies who get excited about new seasons of old tv shows, and angry when prices change in super markets. Maybe you like to think you’re different because you’re hanging onto some idea that while mom is now old, you’re still somehow, young, but you’re not.”
“Language please. But, that is an interesting idea. Thank you for your honesty.”
Frank couldn’t help but smile at that. ‘Thank you for your honesty.’ The most sarcastic sounding but genuinely sincere thing his father would say after an argument. After a lifetime of conversations, he knew that when his father said that, what he was really saying was, “I think you might be right, but I need some time to think about that and I’ll never let you know what I decide. This conversation is now over.”
Frank took another sip of coffee and their conversation fell into a comfortable silence. Frank’s mind focused on what his father had said, and wondered if maybe he was right, if maybe love was like any other temporary emotion. Something you felt in a moment that was true for that moment and then it faded. He then thought about the first time he saw his son, and then work came back to his mind and he wondered if he would ever see his son again.
At the same time Frank’s father thought about his wife, the life they’d had, the time they still had, and what he could make them for dinner to show her that he still, in fact, truly loved her.