Edward Murdock opened the sliding glass door to his deck and stepped out into the chill November air. After such a hot summer, the cold seemed ready to make up for lost time and winter had arrived earlier than usual. Not for the first time he thought how smart it had been to refinish the deck this year and not wait.
It was well after five in the evening and the sunlight was quickly being replaced by the darkness of night. As he walked over to the steps that led down to the yard, he heard laughter coming from inside and smiled.
It had been a wonderful Thanksgiving, the first really good one they had had in quite some time. Judy’s two sisters had been able to come in with their respective husbands while Edward’s own sister Carol had made the trip up from North Carolina with her husband Robert. Unfortunately most of the assorted nieces and nephews had made other plans, but a Thanksgiving made up of almost all older adults wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Liz hadn’t been able to come but both he and Judy understood. The twins had just turned four and Eric had promised his parents that they would spend the holiday with them on the West Coast. It did bother Judy a little bit, but as grandparents you learn quickly you have to appreciate the time you get when you get it.
At least Diego had been able to make it, even if he was uncharacteristically quiet all night.
Edward sat down on the top step and looked out, taking the scene in. The grass was covered in leaves that had fallen from the massive oak that was on the neighbor’s property as well as needles from the pine trees that stood guard at the back of the yard. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, enjoying the smells and sensations of fall.
Once again he thought about how perfect a pool would fit and how great it would be for the summer. He had always intended to put one in but it never seemed like the time was right. Maybe in a few years after he retired.
Edward fished in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled pack of Camel cigarettes as well as his Zippo. Judy had long ago laid down the law that if he wasn’t able to quit that disgusting habit, he would smoke outside, no exceptions. It never really bothered him all that much. If he was being honest, he enjoyed the time alone and being able to have a moment to himself, away from his wife and the constant drama.
It wasn’t that he didn’t love spending time with his wife. Quite to opposite was true actually. It was just that with her, every issue or problem ranked a ten on the importance meter.
“My boss quit today and I have to run the department!” Ten. “We’re out of milk!” Ten. “We need to reorganize the garage!” Ten. When they had first gotten married it could be incredibly draining.
However, Edward had gotten used to it over the years and even found it endearing most of the time, considering it one of Judy’s charming quirks. And when he couldn’t deal with it anymore, he would go outside, smoke a cigarette and everything would be right with the world once again.
With so much company invading for Thanksgiving, it was only natural that Judy was on overload, trying to make the perfect meal. Edward tried to help when and where he could, but his wife would invariably throw him out of the kitchen, calling him “useless” as she did so.
That said, all the work and stress had been worth it. The dinner turned out better than anyone could have expected. Everyone, including her incredibly picky sister Donna, had said more than once how Judy had outdone herself.
Edward smiled again. Beautiful, smart and one of the best cooks he had ever met. How did he get so damn lucky?
He pulled a cigarette out of the pack and lit it with his Zippo. Once he closed the lighter he looked down at it in his hand, running his thumb over the words “Wish You Were Here” for what was probably the millionth time.
People constantly asked him about the lighter, what the engraving meant and where he got it. Edward usually just told them he bought it down on South Street in Philadelphia when he was a teenager and that usually placated them. Which was fortunate because whenever he thought about the real story it always left him with an ache in his heart.
Edward was all of 18 years old and getting ready to graduate high school with his best friend Jan. They had known each other since the first grade and were practically inseparable. The two friends had planned to go to Penn State together where Edward could study computers while Jan majored in journalism. They would get an off-campus apartment and live it up like they had always talked about growing up.
That was until Jan was awarded a partial scholarship to UC Berkley. There was no way he could say no to the offer so Edward would have to go to Penn State alone. It was devastating for both of them, but more for Edward who felt like he was losing a brother.
The night of their graduation, Jan gave Edward the lighter as a gift. He said that every time Edward lit a cigarette in the future, he would know Jan was thinking of him, wishing he was there.
After graduation they had done their best to keep in touch, but as happens when you grow up, childhood friendships are eventually replaced by adult concerns. Weekly phone conversations became more sporadic and in time the two best friends were lucky to talk to each other once or twice a year.
Then Edward learned that Jan had died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 36.
He rubbed his thumb over the engraved words on the lighter again, thinking of his childhood friend. He thought to himself that sometimes, life could be so incredibly unfair.
Edward inhaled the smoke, enjoying the sensation that came with it as he listened to the laughter coming from inside the house. Thinking he had better finish his smoke and get back inside before Judy started to make a fuss, he heard the sliding glass door open. He turned to see his son Diego standing there, pulling on a hoodie as he walked onto the deck.
“Hey champ. What’s up?”
He grinned as he saw Diego visibly grimace at being called “champ.” Edward had decided a long time ago that if he ever had a son, he would call him by some silly nickname just because he could. What was the point of having children if you couldn’t make their lives unbearable from time to time?
It had bothered Diego so much that when he was about to turn 15, he had sat his father down and had a long discussion with him about the nickname. That he had never liked it and that he really felt it was time for Edward to call him either Diego like everyone else or Darren like his mother. It had even included graphs, a pie chart and a worksheet.
Edward was so impressed that he starting throwing in the occasional “sport” as well as continuing to call Diego “champ.”
Diego walked over toward his father, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans. “I was wondering if we could talk for a few minutes.”
“Sure thing. Is everything all right? You’ve been pretty quiet all day and I was starting to wonder if something was wrong.”
Diego sat down on the wooden steps next to his father, looking out at the yard. “Everything’s fine. Better than fine actually. I’ve made a pretty big decision and I wanted to tell you about it.”
Edward was surprised and pleased by the tone of his son’s voice. Diego had been a pretty lighthearted person before everything that happened over the last year. His son had been through a lot, most of it caused by his own poor decisions and it had taken a toll. However, for the first time in a long while, he sounded confident and sure of himself, like the Diego of old.
“Okay so spill it. What’s the huge announcement?”
Diego blew out his breath as if he was gathering his courage and then said “I’m leaving.”
“Before dessert? That’s not like you.”
Diego continued, ignoring the joke. “No. I mean I’m leaving Philadelphia.”
“To go where?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Edward took a drag off his cigarette and looked at his son, trying to understand what he was saying.
“What are you getting at son? Because I’m not following.”
Diego turned to look his father in the eye, and Edward saw a resolve there he had couldn’t remember seeing before. “I’ve decided that I need some time away. Away from home, away from people, away from all the memories and heartache and crap I’ve been dealing with. It feels like I’m drowning in quicksand and I can’t escape.
“I just can’t get my head right anymore. I can’t deal with the looks I get from my friends, like I’ve disappointed them. I can’t concentrate on work. I can’t go anywhere without being reminded of what happened and the shitstorm that resulted. I feel like I need to figure out who I am again, that I need a fresh start somewhere where no one knows me. To try and make sense of everything and learn from it so I don’t make the same dumb decisions again and hurt someone else.”
Edward saw that Diego was close to tears, his voice filled with raw emotion. He knew his son had been having a rough time but he had no clue it had gotten this bad for him.
“When were you planning to tell your mother about this?”
“I’m not going to. I’m not going to tell anyone what I have planned.”
Edward was a bit surprised by this. It wasn’t like Diego. “So what, you’re going to disappear into the night, never to be heard from again?”
Diego looked down at his feet, unable to meet his father’s gaze. “Something like that.”
“So why did you tell me?”
“Because I felt like I had to tell someone and for some reason I don’t understand, I knew you’d get it. That you’d hear me out and respect my decision.”
Edward put out the cigarette on the wooden step, thinking to himself he’ll have to remember to throw it in the wash basin in the corner later. He rested one hand on his knee while he opened and closed his Zippo with the other as he looked at his son. A son who was hurting and he had no clue how to help.
Except maybe to let him go.
“You know, there was a time I was pretty confused about who I was and my place in the world.”
Diego looked at his father. “Really?”
“Yep. I had always wanted to travel the globe, see and do a lot of things before I settled down and started a family. Then I met your mother and suddenly my plans became our plans. Then those plans changed again when we found out she was pregnant with Liz. I really wasn’t sure I was ready to give up all my dreams to become a father. There was a moment or two when I seriously considered running.”
Diego looked at his father with an incredulous look. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. Even looked at a couple different Greyhound bus routes. But then Liz was born and I discovered that being a father was what I was supposed to do. Being your father was what I was supposed to do. I got lucky. I found my calling and I didn’t even have to leave the house.”
Edward put his arm around Diego’s shoulder and pulled him close. “Not everyone is that fortunate. Maybe you need to get out there to rediscover who you are and learn from your mistakes.”
Diego gave his father a relived look, like the weight of the world had just been lifted from his shoulders. “Thanks Dad. For some reason I knew you’d understand.”
“But you really should tell your mother about this.”
Diego shook his head. “No way. You know Mom. She’ll try to talk me out of it and when that doesn’t work she’ll try to use guilt to get me to stay. I can’t deal with that.”
“As much as I love your mother, I have to admit that you’re probably right.”
Edward nodded his head resolutely, making a decision he knew was in all likelihood going to cause him some grief in the future but this was for his son. He was worth dealing with any consequences that were to come.
“Okay then. When were you planning to leave?”
“I still need some time to make plans, get rid of most of my stuff and save some more money. But I was thinking sometime after the New Year.”
“I know if I wait I’ll overthink the whole thing and get cold feet. The sooner I get out of here the better.”
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
Diego hesitated. “I really don’t know.”
Edward nodded his head again. “I see. I just have one more question then. Are you ready for the repercussions of your decision?”
“What do you mean?”
“Diego, you’re talking about leaving without saying a word to anyone. Walking away from your life without any warning to the people who care about you. You can be sure most of them are going to be none too pleased and I can almost guarantee some of them won’t be able to forgive you if you go through with this. Have you given that any thought?”
“Actually yeah, I have. I decided that I need to do this for my own sake and that it’s more important than other peoples’ feelings. That may make me seem selfish but honestly, I don’t care.”
“It doesn’t make you selfish son. It just means you need some time to help yourself. Your real friends will hopefully understand and respect that.”
The two were looking out at the yard when they heard the sliding glass door open behind them. They both turned to see Judith walking out onto the deck, arms folded to try and keep warm against the chill in the air.
“Are you two going to spend all night out here? We have guests and the ice cream for the apple pie is starting to melt.”
Edward smiled at his wife. “We’ll be there in a minute sweetie. Promise.”
Judy let out an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Just make it quick.”
Edward gave his son a sidelong look once Judy was back inside. “So.”
“Keep me in the loop okay? Let me know when you actually leave. And it goes without saying that I’m going to miss you.”
“I haven’t left yet Dad.”
“I know, I know. Consider this preemptive missing.”
Diego laughed as they both stood up. “Thanks Dad.”
“No problem champ. You know I always got your back.”
Diego hugged his father then and Edward was pleasantly surprised at how tightly his son embraced him. He hugged him back, enjoying the moment while his son was still here.
As they both walked toward the sliding door to head inside, Edward looked down at the lighter still gripped in his hand. He had often thought about giving it to his son but once he quit smoking that seemed like a bad idea. Maybe when Diego when came back from his trip the time would be right to give it to him.
There should be plenty of time then.