Nothing Left to Say

Four a.m. and the phone call comes. Already I know as I rush to the phone exactly what waits on the line: My sister’s voice, struggling to get the words out. “Dad’s dying.” The words still a shock, words that speak reality into being. Don’t mention it. Don’t say it. Don’t make it real. A code my parents lived by for so long. Maybe it will go away, without doctors, without help, by faith alone.

Faith. That word, too, hangs empty in the air.

Four a.m. and there’s nothing left to say. I wish I could be there. I wish I could’ve talked to him. I wish I had spoken up. It doesn’t matter now. Words don’t matter now. Perhaps they never did.

Four twenty-six and there’s nothing left to do. The ER doctors have done all they could. “I think they’re going to pronounce him soon,” my sister says. They’ll say the words. The end will come. Like magic, speaking death into existence. Don’t say it, and maybe it won’t be true.

Four thirty-eight and there’s nothing left to feel. Shock, disbelief, anger, sadness have all washed over me in waves. They will return to scrub my mind again until it’s clean and whole, ready to face the pain that comes with living, and the cruel fact that everything must die. Even you. Even I. Those we hold closest to our hearts. Those we wish we’d held closer. 

Five thirteen and there’s nothing left to write, except, “I love you, Dad.”

Bruce Wayne

He calls himself Bruce Wayne. He was once my guardian angel.

It was my first year in the city, and I was a bundle of raw emotion. Coming out had been a rollercoaster of exhilarating highs and devastating lows. Weekends often found me on “The Strip” celebrating my newfound liberation—sometimes too much. On this night, everything had been fun until it wasn’t. Dancing at the only lesbian club in town, I suddenly found myself very drunk and in need of home, my bed and safety. I made a hasty exit and jumped on the next bus, only to find my vision blurred, my walk unsteady—not exactly the condition you want to be in late at night on a city bus. It was well past midnight when I exited the bus. 

“Steady now. Tuck your wallet in,” came the voice behind me, making me realize my wallet was quite exposed in the front pocket of my jeans. An older man walked behind me, keeping enough distance not to cause me alarm. Quietly, he followed me home through the dark streets, three blocks to my house and then vanished into thin air. 

For a long time, I actually wondered if he was an angel.

Many months later, as I was walking into a convenience store to pick up a package, a man cordially asked if I could buy him a meal. I immediately recognized his voice and face and was glad to comply. We walked in, and I bought him a hot dog and drink while he told me about life on the streets. I asked him his name and he said, “Bruce Wayne.” The way he said it suggested more of an inside joke than actual delusion.

More months pass. I move to a new apartment a few blocks up the street, leaving the sadness of the old place behind. My life has found an even keel, a steady equilibrium, a balance between work and play. The city is the same—frenetic, at times pathetic. A melting pot of those with much and those with nothing. The crazy and the sane. The sick and those who just think they are healthy.

Rushing to pick up a prescription, I see a familiar face. He’s sitting on the ground in front of the drugstore. I smile and ask him how he’s doing. “Just trying to get a meal,” he says, and I agree to buy him a Gatorade and turkey sandwich.

When I come back out, I apologize for having forgotten his name.

“Bruce Wayne,” he says. “We’ve met?”

I remind him that we met at the 7-11.

“I can’t go there anymore. I got shot,” he says, nodding toward his left arm wrapped in a sling.

“How did it happen?”

“You know, things happen … even to Batman,” he says with a smile. “Maybe I needed a stronger cape.”

He asks me my name. I tell him again and he shakes my hand in both of his. 

“I like you, Jennifer. You’re always so nice to me.”

I don’t think he remembers the time he helped me home, but I do. Meeting Bruce Wayne reminds me that kindness cuts both ways, and heroes are always in disguise.