Trip to Pearland
Sam Wallace was determined to confront and persuade his estranged son Daniel to let him see his two grandchildren Kanish and Aishika before the cancer raging inside him took its final toll. To that end, he drove four long and grueling days from his home in Seattle, Washington to Pearland, Texas and checked into a Holiday Inn a few blocks from Daniel’s house.
The next day, he called several times and left messages on Daniel’s cellphone, home phone, and business phone. But Daniel didn’t return his calls. So, the following morning, he drove to Daniel’s house and rang the doorbell.
Anju, Daniel’s wife, opened the door. She and Sam hadn’t seen each other in more than fifteen years, and he could tell by the expression on her face that she didn’t recognize him immediately. But when she did, her face turned pale.
“Hi, Anju,” Sam said with a smile. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with Daniel. Is he here? If so, I’d like to come in and speak with him.”
Her response was curious. She raised the index finger of her right hand to her lips and said almost in a whisper, “Wait.” Then she closed the door.
Sam waited outside as the cool morning air gave way to the ungodly heat and humidity that is typical of Texas, even in October.
Minutes later, Daniel came to the door, flung it wide open, and stomped outside past Sam and into the front yard. Anju closed the door behind him.
Noticeably ill at ease and angry, he turned and faced Sam. “What are you doing here, Dad?” he shouted. “You show up after fifteen years and bombard me with phone calls, even where I work. Don’t call and talk to the people where I work!”
“I called you on your cell and home phones several times and left messages, but you didn’t return my calls. So, I tried to reach you by calling you at your business. One time, your partner answered the phone. He said you were not there, and he wasn't sure where you were. We had a friendly chat when I told him I was your dad. That’s all.”
“So why are you here? It’s been fifteen years since you dumped me and my kids—my family—because you didn’t get your way. You have a history of doing that sort of thing.”
I didn’t dump anyone. You were disrespectful, and I refused to listen to your attempt to rationalize it. So, YOU DUMPED ME—cut off all communication and ties.” Sam said. “You didn’t even let me know that I had a granddaughter.”
“My kids didn’t need an absentee grandfather.”
“I was absent because you cut me off from them. I’ve done what I could to keep in touch. I’ve sent cards to them on their birthdays and Christmas every year since they were born.”
“That’s not keeping in touch.”
“Yeah well, it was the best I could do. And if you didn’t let them receive the cards, I hope you took out the hundred-dollar bills inside before you destroyed them.”
“I didn’t destroy them. I tossed them into a box in a closet—unopened. But that’s not the issue at hand. Why are you here? What do you want?”
“Well, I certainly didn’t drive all the way down here to rehash the past or get chastised for your version of it. I have cancer, and it’s terminal. So I came down here in hopes of being able to see my grandchildren at least once before I die.”
Daniel hesitated, clearly caught off guard by Sam’s revelation about his condition. “I. . .I don’t know about that,” he said. “I don’t know how they would react.”
“The alternative is for me to forget it and just go away. Is that what you want?”
Again Daniel hesitated. “No. . .No, I guess I don’t want that either,” he said. “But I’ve got some pressing business-related things I must get done today. Text me the address where you're staying, and I’ll come see you this afternoon around four. We can talk more about it then.”
With that, Sam felt that he had his proverbial foot in the door, so he returned to his motel, texted Daniel the address and his room number, and waited.
Promptly at four in the afternoon, Daniel knocked at the door of Sam’s room. His manner was guarded, but there were no signs of the anger and recrimination he had expressed earlier that day.
He began his talk with Sam by admitting Kanish and Aishika should have had a grandfather in their lives, and he missed having a dad. Then he went on to tell Sam a little about them, mostly about how intelligent they were, and how Kanish had been tested “over the top brilliant”. When he mentioned that Kanish was a rabid Marxist, Sam smiled.
“Yeah, Kanish thinks Bernie Sanders isn’t a socialist at all,” Daniel said. “He thinks Sanders is really a capitalist who sees a problem with it and merely wants to correct it and move on.”
“He could be right about that,” Sam said. “As for the Marxist thing, that may just be a phase.”
Sam was surprised when Daniel apologized for coming on too strong in his front yard earlier. He was grateful for that, although apology or not, it would not have made any difference in the way he felt about his son. His love for Daniel had never wavered in spite of their falling out, differences, and years apart. And at that moment, Sam regretted that he had not made the trip to Pearland years ago.
Daniel didn’t ask questions about Sam’s condition, but Sam made it clear that when Daniel settled his estate, the online savings account with First National Bank was to be split evenly between Kanish and Aishika and given to them when they became eighteenth years old. Sam told him it wasn’t much, a little less than two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but he wanted them to have it to spend with no strings attached.
“That will come in handy for their graduate education,” Daniel said in a tone and look of relief on his face that suggested he had been worried about not having enough money saved to cover their expenses.
And that worried Sam. For a moment, he became very quiet and detached—lost in his concern that Kanish and Aishika might face financial constraints that would limit their ability to get the undergraduate and graduate education they wanted, and he wanted for them.
“Dad?” Daniel said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I just drifted off into my thoughts for a moment.”
Daniel smiled. “Yeah, I’m beginning to do that sometimes too.”
“Sorry. I’m back in focus now. So, tell me, what about seeing my grandchildren?”
“Well, let me begin by saying they have always known you exist. And they are naturally curious. So, Anju and I have decided they should meet you.”
“Great! When and where?”
“How about we pick you up in about an hour, and we go to a place nearby for some ice cream?”
“Great! I’ll be ready.”
Daniel smiled, and when he had gone, Sam took a shower and put on his best shirt and slacks. Then he went down to the lobby, stood inside the front entrance, and eagerly awaited Daniel’s return with his family.
At five, Daniel drove up in his white Lexus SUV and parked in front of the entrance. He and his family got out of the car. He introduced Kanish and Aishika to Sam. Awkwardly, they said hello and shook Sam’s hand.
Sam wanted to hug and kiss them, but resisted the urge for fear of scaring the hell out of them. They were so beautiful, he thought. Kanish at almost 17 was medium height for his age and slim with bright and alert eyes and a mass of jet-black curly hair. His features, especially the eyes, favored the Indian side of his family. Aishika at almost 12 was slim as well and very pretty with facial features much like those of her paternal grandmother, especially around the eyes.
Sam was pleased that both were well-proportioned and dressed unpretentiously in plain cut clothing, much like that of the hippies in the 1960s, but without the down-and-out look of not having had a bath recently and wearing ripped and dirty clothing. On their feet were sandal-like shoes with straps—nothing fancy and again in the hippie style.
Anju motioned for Sam to get into the front passenger seat next to Daniel while she climbed in the backseat with Kanish and Aishika. Minutes later, they arrived at an ice cream parlor.
While the girl behind the counter took and prepared everyone’s order, Sam said to Kanish, “I think they’re going to get your old buddy Trump this time. He keeps digging the hole he’s in deeper and deeper.”
“My old buddy Trump?” Kanish said with a puzzled look on his face. “He’s not my old buddy.”
Sam guessed that from Daniel’s earlier remarks about Kanish, but thought the tease would get a dialogue started between the two of them. It was not a good idea, and he hoped he had not screwed up their first meeting.
Minutes later with cups of ice cream in hand, everyone seated themselves at a table in front of a window. Sam sat between Kanish and Aishika so that he could more easily engage each one of them in some get-acquainted conversation.
Kanish and Sam engaged in conversation immediately in spite of Sam’s earlier tease about Trump. Kanish was outgoing and spoke with confidence, letting Sam know at the beginning that he was a Marxist. Aishika spoke with confidence as well, although less outgoing—more reserved—than Kanish. Sam sensed she was holding back, a little uncertain about how to react to this old man who had shown up out of the blue and claimed to be her grandfather. Both were tactful and polite, but didn’t hold back in expressing their respective points of view. Aishika was more formal than Kanish when expressing herself. Kanish was chattier and more analytical.
Sam told Kanish about his website and suggested Kanish do him a favor by reading some of his serious writings to make sure there were no errors in the logic of his arguments. Daniel was listening and said to Kanish in a parental tone, “And remember to do it respectfully.” That suggested to Sam that Kanish could become insulting when someone else's point of view differed from his.
The subject of conversation between Daniel, Kanish, and Sam then turned to an essay Sam had written and posted on his website. Daniel explained to Kanish that Sam had used the concept of Pareto Optimality to rationalize support for people who wished to transgender. Kanish understood the argument immediately and voiced approval.
In a back-and-forth about reading materials, Kanish made it clear his primary reading interest was about Marxism, which led Sam to believe that his focus may be too narrow. Aishika didn’t express any interest in politics or economics. She explained that her favorite reading material was mysteries.
Anju remained silent, but Daniel, Kanish, and Sam continued to engage in friendly exchanges with occasional comments from Aishika. The exchanges were lively with laughter.
Daniel must have thought the get-together for ice cream had gone well because he invited Sam to dinner that evening. Sam accepted without hesitation, pleased that he had earned a second phase of his get-together with his grandchildren.
The Indian restaurant where they had dinner was a favorite of Daniel’s family because they could order food that was strictly vegetarian, even in the way it was prepared. Sam asked Daniel to order for him.
The food was spicy hot, and Sam had a problem with that. But when he noticed that Aishika toned down the hotness by mixing yogurt into her food, he followed suit. After that, the only thing he found problematic was his lack of interaction with Kanish and Aishika. It was not as lively as it had been early at the ice cream parlor. He hoped it was not because they were bored with him, or worse, they didn’t like him.
But be that as it may, Sam wanted them to be able to receive the cards and gifts he would continue to send as long as he was able when he returned home. When he leaned over during dinner and asked Daniel in a whisper if they could, Daniel said yes, and Sam was delighted.
Sam was even more delighted when Daniel volunteered that he and Anju had decided to let them have the cards with money gifts inside that Sam had mailed to them during all those years of estrangement. It delighted Sam because it would let Kanish and Aishika know that he had never turned his back on them, that he had always thought about them, cared about them, and loved them, albeit from afar.
After dinner, Daniel drove Sam back to his motel and parked in front of the entrance. Everyone got out of the car, and Anju took a couple of photos of Kanish and Aishika with Sam. Kanish and Aishika had big grins on their faces, and each one made a thumbs up gesture for the photos.
Then much to Sam’s surprise, Daniel hugged him and said goodbye. After that, Kanish and Aishika did the same. Next, Anju took her turn. Kanish and Aishika’s hugs and goodbyes seem sincere enough. But just as Sam had suspected earlier that Daniel had instructed them to be on their best behavior during their meeting with him, he suspected Daniel had instructed them to bid him, their dying grandfather, a kind and compassionate farewell with their hugs and goodbyes.
Whether it was true or not that Daniel had engaged in a bit of staging, Sam loved it. And he slept well that night before getting up early the next morning and beginning the long drive back to Seattle. He was pleased with his trip to Pearland because he had accomplished more than he expected. He got to see his only son, his beloved Daniel; his very quiet but lovely daughter-in-law; and his beautiful, intelligent, and well-mannered grandchildren. And too, Daniel had agreed to let Kanish and Aishika receive his cards and gifts from then on.
As he left Pearland and the rest of hot and humid Texas behind, he had second thoughts about his decision to let his cancer end his life. He had told Daniel that his cancer was terminal because his oncologist had told him it was if he didn’t undergo radiation therapy followed by chemotherapy. And before his trip to Pearland, he had decided against both, especially the chemotherapy because it had made him so sick and miserable after the cancer returned the first time. He had lost most of his hair, looked like a ghost, felt nauseous much of the time, vomited a lot, and lacked the energy to do almost everything.
Besides, he was satisfied with the life he had lived. It had been productive with lots of positives. There had been negatives as well, and he had tolerated and survived them. But before the trip to Pearland, he had decided the second return of his cancer and what he would have to endure to fight it was a negative not worth tolerating and surviving. And too, even if the fight was successful, he thought the quality of his life at age 85 going forward would be seriously lacking—unproductive, mostly vegetative, and boring. In short, before his trip to Pearland, he felt there was no reason for him to make an effort to extend his life—no reason for living.
But since his trip to Pearland, he had something new to take into consideration, namely the possibility that his grandchildren would not have enough funds for the college education they were capable of and he wanted for them. He realized that if he changed his mind and undertook the radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and they were successful in extending his life, he could continue to accumulate savings from his retirement income. And that would help ensure Kanish and Aishika would not be held back by a lack of funds.
“I need to do everything I can to stay alive,” he said to himself aloud while cruising West on Interstate 80. “My grandchildren need me, so I can’t give up and die just yet. I need to stay alive for as long as I can and save as much as I can for their education. And who knows, I might even be able to take another trip to Pearland and spend more time with them. And just maybe by then, it will be okay for me to shower them with hugs and kisses without scaring the hell out of them.”
Copyright © 2023 Frank Zahn. Published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Volume 17, Issue 3 Casserole, September 2023, pp.102-07 - https://www.meatfortea.com/pdfs/meatforteav17i3.pdf; After publication in Meat for Tea, it was added to People Alive: Short Stories and Memoirs, Vancouver Books, Kindle Edition 2023 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CB4YM52H