When Tommy and me were born, my Dad adopted the philosophy of “tough love.” I asked my mom when I was older whether he was so gruff before we were born, and she said no. Apparently doing less than one-fourth of raising the kids had turned him hard. Tommy reckoned it was losing so many in the war. I thought he was crazy until I was nearly thirty-nine years old.
Tommy and I were really close growing up, being identical twins. Sometimes we would dress exactly the same, just to confuse people. Folk used to say if there wasn’t such a difference in our personalities, they’d never tell us apart. Tommy was quiet and calm, forgiving and smart. I played football, started fights, and could hold a grudge ‘till Judgment Day.
Then, one day when Tommy and me were thirteen years old, Tommy got really ill. After a few months, he couldn’t get out of bed anymore. I quit playing football and failed eighth grade that year. Tommy died three days before our fourteenth birthday. My dad caught me crying one night in my room after the funeral.
“Tommy’s gone and dead, boy, now you suck it up and move on!” he yelled. I never forgave him for that, and didn’t talk to him for three weeks straight. After a while we started talking again, but it was real stiff and formal and didn’t feel like father and son anymore. My momma started getting real quiet around then. She’d just sit on Tommy’s old bed and stare at his poster of Monster Trucks. She never let me move any of his stuff.
When I was seventeen years old, my dad’s business, a hardware store called “Bill’s Hardware and Supplies”, went bankrupt. I passed his room one night and heard him crying.
“Dad,” I said, my face expressionless. “Your store’s gone and dead, now suck it up and move on!” My voice increased in volume so that by the end I was screaming. That night I packed up and never looked back. I grabbed Tommy’s Monster Truck poster before I left, though.
One day, when I was thirty-nine years old, with a wife and two kids, a got a letter from my mom saying that my dad was dying. I hadn’t gotten over my grudge, but I went to see him anyway. I felt obligated; he did help create me, of course. Seeing him lying on a bed, all old and sickly, when I hadn’t heard hide nor hair of him for over twenty years sent my head spinning. He looked just about to cross over into Jesus’ arms.
"Sean? Sean, is that you?” I leaned in closer. “Y’ know, that day at Tommy’s funeral? I didn’t mean to mess things up so bad. I didn’t mean to say all those things about you forgettin’ Tom. Truth is, Sean, I’ve been dying every day of my life since Tommy died. I wanted you to know that. I did care. And if you had died before I did, I wouldn’t have sucked it up and moved on. I can’t live without my boys.” And with that he closed his eyes and died. I felt the last breath leave his body, like I thought I had when Tommy died in the night. When I looked in his old, worn face, I didn’t feel pity or grief. I felt an undying love for the man who tried to be strong in the face of unthinkable tragedy, and had finally found peace with his son in Heaven.