The Dinner Party

“You know that stuff is going to kill you.” I watch my grandfather across the table. He is slicing gleefully into a longanisa, alongside an oily fried egg and some garlic fried rice. I can see a tiny rivulet of fat running onto the plate, and even though I’m somewhat repulsed, I know it’s delicious.

I imagine what it must have been like in the bank when it happened. From what I remember it was sudden, and there wasn’t a lot of pain. Just a old man in a Wells Fargo security uniform, splayed out on the floor, his face a grimace of pain until finally, he relaxes.

He dips the longanisa in the coconut vinegar careful not to get any on his sportscoat as he moves it to his mouth. I imagine the flavor, the tang, the powerful garlic infused vinegar tempering the sweet sausage. I haven’t had any in literally decades, and my mouth waters at the thought of the sweet and the sour flavors mingling. He finishes the bite, following it with a forkful of fried rice. He finishes the bite, wiping off his mouth with a napkin before speaking to me.

He smiles.

“I know, Peejay” he says. “But not right now.” I’ve forgotten his voice. When I hear him speak, what I attribute to him as his voice is approximated, an amalgam of older Filipino men that I’ve heard over the course of my life. I realize that I haven’t heard that voice at all, in a long time.

There are no older Filipino men in my life right now.

There’s muffled laughter from the other side of the table. There’s my father, overdressed as usual, sipping on a cappuccino.  I look past him out the windows and see rain slicked pavement reflecting the streetlights.

For some reason he’s also having breakfast.

“You laugh, but that’ll kill you too, eventually.” I warn. He shrugs with one hand and simultaneously drinks his cappuccino. The one with too much sugar already in it.  Strangely it wasn’t complications due to his diabetes that led to his death. It was a cardiac event, just like his father.

And for this one I have a first hand eyewitness account. I don’t have to imagine what it’s like. I learn all of this from one of my father’s coworkers, in a hotel suite right before my father’s funeral. My mother and brother are beside me.

My father is working in a warehouse. His coworker asks him if he wants a coffee.

“Sure,” my dad says, looking down at a clipboard, checking boxes, “two sugars,” he adds before saying thanks. Unlike my grandfather I know his voice. Bright, strong, with an accent battered down as low as it can go after fifty years of speaking English. Most importantly, it’s loud.  I hear it in my head, echoing in the warehouse.

The coworker is gone for five minutes and discovers my father laying flat on the ground, face down, clipboard several feet away from him.

He jokes with my father briefly before throwing the coffees to the ground and calling Emergency Services.

When they were done, he tells me, “it looked like they tried to save ten men.”

Too fast. It was just too fast.

My father takes another sip of his cappuccino and audibly smacks his lips, wrinkling his face and closing his eyes as he sighs. He looks happy.

“Hell of a dream I’m having.” I say. My grandfather swallows another bite and then looks over at me. He turns to my father with a knowing glance and nods.

“Peejay,” my father turns to me and takes a bite out of a croissant that was on his plate. Crumbs spilling everywhere he manages to verbalize, “This is a really good croissant.”

I look around the room. It’s a dining room composed of all of the fanciest country club dining areas I could imagine. It’s wood, incandescent lighting, good china.

It’s a large space and we’re alone, but it doesn’t seem empty at all.

I look down at my plate. It’s a flank steak. I slice off a small piece and take a bite. It’s delicious and from what I’ve learned it’s probably a 131 degree Fahrenheit cook for five hours in the sous vide and then seared in an iron skillet with a pat of butter.

And because it’s apparently breakfast, a poached egg.

They don’t want to talk about it. I get it.  I turn to my Grandfather, the first Filemon.

“So I’m curious, what did I look like initially when you got here?” I wonder, briefly if he saw an eight year old boy with a bowl haircut and a private school uniform. It was the last time I remember seeing him alive. The next time I was wearing a navy blue suit and tie at the funeral. I was too young to understand death then. I’m really sure I don’t now.

“No I saw you as you imagine you are now. Not as pogi as when I was your age, but you’re not bad.” He chuckles.  I struggle briefly before remembering pogi is handsome in English.

“Not as handsome as me?” my father protests.

“First of all,” I interrupt, “Dad, you have croissant crumbs all over your jacket.” He looks down, appears surprised, and starts to brush them off. “And secondly, I know I look better than all of you because you only get something right in the third generation.”

We laugh. We eat, we talk. Mostly, we laugh. Big resounding laughter fills the empty space and gives it life. In that moment, I know where I get it from, the ubiquitous it that my friends point out.

In between the laughter, I want to tell them everything. But for some reason it’s all small talk. And it’s nice, and pleasant, and all the things I wanted from dinner with my grandfather and my father.

All the things I’ll never get.

Dinner is over and we begin the walk out the door. I’m rather reluctant to leave, but I know I have to be somewhere.

“Well, I guess—” my father has run up to me and is bear hugging me. Somehow he’s lifting me and he looks so happy. I am filled with an overwhelming happiness myself. Somewhere, in the back of my head, I wonder, “How am I so light?”

And then it’s over.

I wake up.

I’m crying.

And I’m so heart achingly happy.

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