She walked down the stairs to her father's basement apartment. There was one dark window in his home, but it didn't see any light. Piles of boxes sat on the tile floor at the bottom of the carpeted stairs. Dust had collected on the binders of stamps, piled atop the boxes. Her father took these things him from apartment to apartment, over the period of multiple decades.
He sat, unintentionally reclining in his worn office chair. His friends, who were also his landlords, had found the chair on the street. It was better than the other office chair he had been using before, which sat beside the pile of boxes, with a stack of paper on top. Used, falling apart, but useful — that was just his aesthetic and what he had gotten used to in life.
She didn't wear her mask to protect herself and others during COVID-19. He was going to die later that day. It was planned. He had chosen it himself. He finally took control over the suffering he experienced. For one of the first times in his life, she thought, he was choosing not to be a victim. Perhaps, strangely, he chose death — an end to his life — as a way to claim autonomy over his failing body, ravaged by fifty-six years of smoking, dependence on alcohol, and malnutrition because of his diet. The grandparents who raised him never taught him how often he needed to shower.
When she hugged him, she had learned to protect her body from him. She had learned the hard way that it was up to her to shield herself from his unwanted touching.
She observed her surroundings. A desk, beside the boxes, with more piles of paper. A computer keyboard, on the desk, with dried stains that were probably from all the room temperature soda that he drank. The other day he had asked her to grab him a Pepsi from beside the fridge, offered her one, and explained that cold drinks hurt his gums. Since his thirties, he had needed dentures.
At the bottom of the carpeted stairs, on top of one of the boxes, she saw a form to inform medical professionals that he was not to be revived if, for example, his heart stopped. DNR. Do Not Resuscitate.
She thought about the spectrum of compassionate treatment that we reserve for the most ill. The way we don't interfere with death if it would otherwise be inevitable. The way we bring it upon a person, under certain circumstances, when they choose.
When he stood, her father was a tall man. Six foot three. In his worn but still useful office chair, he looked large yet frail.
This was the man who had raped her before she was nine years old. Court documents and the evidence in the criminal trial revealed that she could never be sure of when, exactly, the rape had taken place. Somewhere between the ages of three to eight. He had overpowered her. Pressed his body on top of hers. Tried to put his full-grown penis into her still-growing vagina. Though she had begun crying, he only stopped, as far as she remembered, when she told him that it hurt.
Here was the man who raped her. Who, at the very least, had tried to.
Since she had reconnected with him at the age of 17, it seemed like he told her each time she saw him that he had “a lot of regrets in life.” He started saying this only after she persisted in asking him to admit that he hurt her. That he had sexually abused her. He wouldn't admit it at first. Not with the social worker present, who had to accompany her first visit and conversation with him since she had gone into foster care at the age of nine.
Her father hadn't undertaken the counselling that the Children's Aid Society had required of him in order to have visits with his children, after he was acquitted of the charges against him when she was eleven.
But she was thirty-one now. She had just turned thirty-one three days before he died. For the first time in her life since she was nine years old, she spent her birthday with her dad.
With his body so frail and worn now, there was no way he could hurt her; he could not, at least, hurt her physically.
When she hugged him now, she had less fear. She was less scared now that he would do something like graze her breasts with his arms, which she had experienced on two other occasions when seeing him. The second time it happened, she chose to stop talking to him. She was twenty-four.
Now it was time to say goodbye forever. After she helped her dad do a video call later that afternoon with his estranged sister and niece, she wrapped her arms around him. She broke down when her aunt said to her father, “Nan (grandma) is waiting for you.” She flung her arms around his neck like the child she let herself be in that moment. She told him, through tears, that she loved him.
This time, he didn't tell her she was crying “crocodile tears” like he used to do when she was young. He didn't tell her to stop crying, which he did when she was an adult because it hurt him to see her sad.
This time, he let himself shed a tear or two, which she had seen only him do once before. He grabbed a tissue from the Kleenex box, which sat on top of his desk with piles of paper. Her father wiped the tears from his eyes, and told her that he always loved her, that he never stopped, and that he will love her even when he is gone.