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A New Lease on Life
by Mary Jo Balistreri

He speaks on the phone with a deep raspy voice,
and I think of the only picture I have of him
as a young boy. He leans against a beat-up Ford.
hair hangs over one eye, and his jeans look
like they could stand alone. He smiles that devil
may care
attitude. Rust sparks off the dents in the fender.

I realize it is the same attitude I hear today in his voice.
No matter that fluid collects in his lungs or that he walks
with a cane. He can drive this old car awhile longer.
In the kitchen, he breaks eggs, fries bacon, measures
out cheese, onion, a dice of green pepper. He gets out
the skillet known only to omelets. I ask about balance,
if it makes him nervous being on the ceramic tile.
Responding patiently at first to my questions, his tone
changes slightly and I hear the familiar edge of irritation.
I prefer to think it’s the omelet browning too fast,
or perhaps the onions burning.

He tells me in no uncertain terms he is trying to make
his dinner in time for McNeil and Lehrer at six o’clock,
so I get off the phone before my own frustration feeds
into his anger. He has a short tether these days,
the strong will of a toddler, the rebellious nature
of a teen-ager, reliving all phases of his life at once.
Doesn’t he know how sick he is?

I am proud of him, furious with him. He will make it
or not. I begin to see that dismissal of me is part
of his risk taking, the power that has fueled his survival.
I ramble over Dad’s long life, realize that he knew
from the time he was young, how the will to live and do
for oneself can beat poverty, loss,
                                             and for awhile, even death.


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