February 25th, Again

It’s been one year since I got that mid-afternoon phone call. The one where I asked, “Mom, what are you saying?” when I knew exactly what she was.

“I don’t know,” she said. Her voice shook and rose in pitch. “I’m scared.”

Fear overwhelmed every cell in my body. My mom had never told me she was scared before.

But that’s what we’d be for the rest of the day, and for the next week and a half. That’s how long my dad would live—for another week and a half. The doctor didn’t think he’d survive the night. Clearly he didn’t know my dad.

I spent that day alone, jittery and nauseous. “Wait for me, Daddy,” I shouted as I drove to Wendy’s for a baked potato. I didn’t yet know that he’d prove the doctor with the awful bedside manners wrong. “Please, wait for me,” I cried over and over. My voice became an echo of fear and prayer. Traffic darted around me, as if synchronized. It was just there and I played my role in the play. Down tree-lined Chandler Boulevard, up Van Nuys through Auto Row, and eventually over to Sepulveda. I knew only two things on that drive: what I wanted. And what I wanted was my dad and a baked potato. It was all I could think about. My dad and a baked potato. A baked potato and my dad. But I barely touched the baked potato.

I lived that day one petrified thought to the next. Still I tried to force normalcy as it stretched on for at least 700 years. I called work to say I wouldn’t be in that night, or for the rest of the week. I emailed my professors to say the same. I threw a few articles of clothing into my smallest suitcase, unsure how long I’d be gone. I gave my keys to my roommate’s friend to feed the cats while we were both out of town. And I tried, again, to eat. But as soon as the vegetable soup reached my stomach, it came right back up and into the sink I ran to.

By time I got to LAX for my midnight flight to Buffalo, I accepted that all I could do was operate on auto-pilot. Normalcy was out of the question for a day more surrealistic than any painting. My dad was dying. Dying. All from a broken leg and what we thought had been a successful surgery. But the surgery that put his femur back together had affected him elsewhere. And the trauma was all it took for my dad’s already damaged lungs to say no more. I can still hear the nurse inform us over and over again: he’s drowning. He was drowning in himself. And I was drowning in grief.

I opened the stall door in an LAX restroom to a woman whose shirt I wanted to believe in. She washed her hands as I moved in slow motion, processing the words across her back. Miracles do happen. I wanted so badly to believe it. I wanted so badly for it to be a sign. This woman was on my flight. She sat in front of me. How could it not be a sign that a miracle would happen, that my dad would heal and survive?

I revisited the idea of miracles after he died. “Maybe the miracle was that we got to spend more time with him. We got to say goodbye,” my mom said. And maybe it was. I’d feared he would go before I made it across the country, but he waited just as I’d begged him to. And with my grandma holding the other, I was there to hold his hand when he did go. I didn’t get the one I wanted, but maybe we can’t be picky with our miracles.

My dad loved to tend the lawn. He loved it so much that after we got him home for the last few days of his life, he tried repeatedly to get up, insisting he needed to mow it. (photo by my brother)

 

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