Throughout my childhood, there were few fictional heroes that measured up to my Papa and his reputation. His exploits were the stuff of legend, with seemingly everyone in the family attesting to the strength, generosity, or intimidation my grandfather exuded. Called "Iron Mike" by his fellow NYPD officers, he had the respect of nearly everyone who knew him. In the mid-1960s, Iron Mike narrowly escaped death when a suspect's revolver, which was pressed firmly to my grandfather's neck, miraculously misfired, allowing him enough time to disarm the perpetrator and take him in to custody. He has continued to ignore death's call to this day. He's now a 93-year-old man, having outlived every one of the siblings, soldiers, and officers that he once stood shoulder-to-broad-shoulder alongside. He also outlived his partner of more than 50 years: his wife, Gladys. As a child, I idolized him; as a man, I now pity his loneliness.
He wanders his 3-bedroom home, a withering husk of the larger-than-life man that I used to look up to. I am perpetually pestered by my mother to spend more time with Papa, because we never know how much of it he has left. For the last 15 years, she's insisted that I attend every Christmas dinner, because it could be his last. That I have to make time for each birthday, because he may not have another one in him. That each Easter, each Thanksgiving, each New Year's Day is more precious than the last; because any given mark on the calendar, she warns, could be the final opportunity to see my grandfather. Whenever possible, I ignore her pleas and make excuses for my absence.