Monday, October 26, 2015

The Funeral

The flooring of the Seattle airport is made of large, shiny, brown tiles. As a little girl I would walk the silver outline of them, my arms stretched out like wings, and wonder how many people could fit in one of the big squares. How many grown ups? (two) How many kids? (four) How many smurfs? (100, probably, but maybe more.)

My father would be there. If I was arriving, we were happy and hurried. We'd get to the car and drive through the winding spirals out of the parking garage and onto the freeway, because they call it a freeway out there in Seattle, not a highway. If I was leaving, there was a different tone. We were slower, my stomach in knots over the anticipation of the goodbye that was waiting. Sometimes I cried before we got to the gate. Sometimes I held it together until they called my flight. The older I got, the better I was able to control my tears. But I could never shake that knot of dread in my stomach when I'd leave. 

But those were the trips of my childhood and adolescence. Now as I look down at those familiar brown tiles I try not to think about the fact that my father isn't waiting for me this time. There will be no bone-crushing hug. There will be no warm voice to call me sweetie or pumpkin face. 

Because I am a grown woman now. And my father has died. 

*     *     *     *     *
It's after 11 when we get to the hotel, which means my body thinks it's 2 in the morning. My hotel room is cold. I don't bother to take off my coat or even my shoes. I turn the radio on to static because it's too quiet. I take a Tylenol PM and lie down and wait to fall asleep.  

I think about how I want to go home.

*     *     *     *     *

The next day we drive to my father's house, my in-from-out-of-town family and I. I sit in the backseat. We pull up the driveway.

I can't get out of the car. 

It's overcast. Maybe it's raining. Maybe I only remember it that way because it seems like it should have been gray and rainy.  

I have to get out of the car. I have to go into the house where he's not anymore, where I've never been without him. It's going to be the most real that it has been so far and I know I have to do it.

But first, I need a minute. 

*     *     *     *     *

That night, there's a party. The house is full of strangers, people from all aspects of my father's life that I didn't know, but they are warm and welcoming as I float among them. There's music and whiskey and laughter. I think about how much my father would love this, everyone talking about him. The house is warm and bright and full of love. 

It might be the best party I've ever been to. 

*     *     *     *     * 

The next day I put on a black dress and heels that hurt my feet. The celebratory feel of the night before has evaporated. 

I'm careful not to look at the wooden box of ashes sitting upon the altar. I wonder for a moment where my dad might be, if he's there with us or if he's in some place called heaven or if he's just ashes now in a box. 

I push that thought out of my mind. My brother holds my hand. I tune out most of what's being said. 

I've written something for the service. There was nothing I could do for my father while he was sick, while he was dying. I couldn't comfort him or bring him tea or make him toast. But I can do this for him. I can get up in front of all of these people and take my words and put them together to say something that will honor him. 

I read my writing. I am steady. 

My voice breaks at the very end.

But I do not cry. 

*     *     *     *     *

As soon as they call my flight to board, my heart begins to race. My stomach twists. There's a lump in my throat. 

I cry as I board the plane. I rest my forehead against the window, turned away from the passengers walking by. I watch the airport recede as the plane pulls away from the gate and moves towards the runway. I can't stop crying. We're taxiing. 

The plane begins to gain speed for takeoff. 

I don't want to leave here, I don't want to leave you, I think in a panic as we rush down the runway. 

I'm not ready to let go. 

I'm not ready, I'm not ready, I'm not ready. 

And then, we're airborne.

And I am going home.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Things I've Forgotten

These are the things I've forgotten.

They are the things I don't think about when I look back, the things that don't ever burn or sting. They don't actually make me feel anything.

That's the beauty of forgetting. 

I don't remember the sound the pressure cuff made when I peeled it from my arm after the doctor left the room to arrange my transport into Boston. "Unfortunately, there's a mass on your brain," he had said, so there was not, I decided, any further need to watch my blood pressure or track my pulse or even for me to stay in the johnny. They already knew what was wrong with me. I don't remember getting dressed or brushing my hair or refreshing my lipstick before I started making phone calls. That piercing rip of the velcro from the cuff as I freed myself from the bed and took what little action, what little control I could...I don't remember that sound at all.

I forget the understanding that settled upon me in the ambulance ride from the small hospital to the big one. Stuck in rush hour and hockey playoff traffic, I forget that moment of realizing the EMT didn't know what to do with me. I forget how he got chatty, how he felt the need to fill the sad space that was the back of the rig with words about his daughter preparing for college. I forget how he asked again and again if I was too cold or too hot. I forget how I wanted to put my hand on his arm and tell him that it was okay, that silence didn't scare me. That I needed the calm and the quiet to catch my breath in preparation for what was next. I forget how he eventually grew still and the gratitude I felt for it as I waited to be delivered to my fate. I forget that his mustache was reddish blonde and that the driver was young. I forget how I made a joke to that young driver as they lowered the gurney out of the ambulance. I made him laugh. I forget the look in his eyes at that moment, in the second after he laughed, the look that fell just shy of pity but not quite shy enough. I forget how that look chilled me. 

I don't remember the moment,a few hours later, when the nurse gave me a steroid shot. I don't recall the terror I felt as I bolted upright. Something was wrong; my chest was buring, every pore of my skin alive and prickling and stabbing. I don't remember the way it felt like tiny shards of glass piercing my skin, from my scalp to the roof of my mouth to my legs and my feet and I tried to say as much but all I could do was grab my friend's hand and gasp, "Shards of glass!" I don't remember how the nurse moved down to my ankles and grabbed them, holding them tight. I don't remember the way he looked at me, steady and sure, and told me I was okay, that sometimes this happens and that it would spread through my entire body but it would be over in about a minute. I don't remember that the way he held my feet grounded me in that moment or that, when he told me it was almost over, I believed him. I don't remember it at all.

I have forgotten the minutes and days and years that hung in the air when the neurosurgeon on call that night asked me, "What year is it?" I forget the work of trying to answer. I forget the "19-" that came to my lips. I forget the thought, "Wait...wait...not 19...wait." I forget the blackboard I saw in my mind that said, "20-" and how I couldn't figure out what came next. I forget the way he told me that it was alright. I forget the realization that I hadn't been able to answer, that it wasn't alright. I forget that I cried in that moment, the moment I knew this was all really happening.

I don't remember it at all, really.

I don't recall the fear that weaved in and out of those days.

I don't recall the lists and plans I made in preparation for potentially leaving my children motherless. I don't recall kissing them good-bye. I don't recall the feeling in my chest in that moment, a feeling exactly the same as the first time I touched them as newborns. I don't recall thinking that this was a delicious secret, how the intensity of love is the same at the end as in the beginning and I don't remember that I thought that was beautiful and gracious.

I don't recall the night before surgery, alone in the dark of my bedroom, lying awake staring at the ceiling and making my peace with the possibility that I would die the next day. I don't recall feeling at the same time that I had never been so sure of anything as I was right then that I was strong and ready to do anything I  needed to do to get back to the little boys I loved so much.

I don't remember these things. To remember them would be to dredge up the pain and beauty and clarity and fear and pain and love and grace and strength and pain and pain and pain.

These are the things I'll fight to forget.

These are the things I've already forgotten.