Archive for May, 2012

There was Only One Mike Powell

May 28, 2012

This Memorial Day is especially hard for me. My Dad passed away on May 13th after battling Lymphoma. He was a career Navy man, twenty-two years in the Navy (USS Iowa and the USS America), then worked twenty-two years Civil Service. The walls of his office at home were decorated with plaques and certificates of commendation. He was so proud of his country.

I wore his Navy ring on a chain around my neck today in his honor and below is the piece I put together for the minister to read at his funeral. On this day of remembrance, I have a new and much better understanding of the sacrifice and service of our veterans.  I will miss you Daddy.

 

I remember his visits when I was a little girl. He came fresh off the ocean, tall, handsome, and bearing gifts:  a set of dolls with costumes and matching hats, a tiny leather purse with a “Paris” label,  a royal blue tapestry decorated with solid white kittens, and the best present of all, his time.   

I knelt on the couch, holding the sheers back, my faced pressed to the glass, waiting.  He drove a shiny blue car. I got to ride up front with him. He pulled to the curb, looked up into the mirror, ran his hand through his wavy hair and put on his sunglasses. 

 I jumped down from the couch and ran outside to meet him, a whirlwind of arms, legs, ruffles and ribbons.  He picked me up and swung me around, laughing and calling me doll baby.  Mama handed him my overnight bag.  I never looked back.

 My Daddy and I had fun. We went to the Gypsy Hill Park, rode the little train through the tunnel. He folded up his long legs so he could sit beside me, his strong arm wrapped around my shoulder, his sunglasses on my nose. He smelled like spice and his face was a little scratchy. We laughed and ate ice cream and drove fast with the top of the car folded down behind the back seat.  My hair blew into my eyes, and it didn’t matter.

 “I bet Grandma fixed a good dinner for us. We’d better head over there before we’re late and get in trouble,” he said, laughing.

 Those two days with him went as fast as the previous six months went slow. On my way back home in the car, I couldn’t talk. I was too busy holding back tears.  “No tears,” my Daddy said, “we’ve had too much fun to cry.”

 He carried me to the apartment door, my fingers holding tight to the back of his shirt. As he left, my sound was a wail; my grief, determined.  Daddy had gone back to sea and my Mama knelt down before me.  “I found something special for you while you were gone,” she said with her hands behind her back.

 I looked up, tears running off my chin.  I couldn’t talk.  She smiled at me and presented me with a small, orange-striped kitten.  I reached out and took the ball of soft fur. I held him in my arms as I cried, my tears making wet spots on him.  He was nice, but he wasn’t my Daddy.

 I realized early on that nothing  or no one could take the place of my Daddy.  There was only one Mike Powell.

 

 

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Prom Night

May 12, 2012

 

It was prom night and my mother had spent all she had left from her paycheck on that long periwinkle blue dress I’d been coveting for months. She curled my hair into long ringlets and applied my make-up herself, matching the eye shadow to the color of my dress. She dabbed a drop of Chantilly behind each of my ears and loaned me her good pearls.  She stepped back and smiled. “You look stunning,” she said.

She took photographs of me and my date on the front porch of our duplex and helped me fold the bottom of my dress into his truck so the door wouldn’t close on it.  She blew me a kiss as we drove away.

Seven hours later my date carried me to my mother’s front door and rang the bell. I was too drunk to stand. The world spun. Half a fifth of Jack Daniels didn’t mix well with Dr. Pepper and a virgin drinker.

“Why in the hell did you let her get this drunk?” My mother questioned my date, but didn’t wait for an answer. She directed him to carry me upstairs and deposit me on my bed. She then escorted him from the house.

My mother was the one person I could count on to be there for me, no matter what. Whenever I was sick, she was the one with me on the bathroom floor, holding me, pressing a cool washcloth to my forehead, whispering that everything would be alright.  She made homemade chicken soup when I had a cold and bandaged my scraped knees. She stayed up late helping me staple and paste construction paper models of the universe for a school project, and sat on the kitchen stool reading off the recipe for enchiladas I planned to take to Spanish class. She woke me in the mornings for school and made sure I ate a hearty breakfast. She patted my back and held the tissue box when a boyfriend dumped me.

After my date slipped from the room, I lay on my bed dreading my mother’s wrath. She knew how to make me quiver with a look. She knew how to make me cry just by expressing her disappointment. She knew the most painful punishments. I was in trouble and dreaded the consequences.  I fell asleep with my head full of spinning fuzz, but I was sober enough to know I needed to atone for my sins.

The first wave of nausea woke me. The room spun. I swallowed convulsively. I was going to throw up. I still had on my long formal dress and it tangled around my legs as I tried to weave my way to the bathroom. I pulled the dress above my knees and attempted to run, but the spin of the room and my navigation skills didn’t match. I bounced around in the door frame of my room and lurched across the hallway to the bathroom. I missed the toilet, spraying vomit across the small tiled space. I knelt before the toilet and heaved what remained of my stomach contents into it.  I couldn’t find a washcloth to wet with cool water. I couldn’t find my legs to carry me back to bed. I lay alone on the bathroom floor,  slick with my emesis, and fell back to sleep.

I woke again some time later. The house was dark and I was still alone. The smell of my own sickness overcame me and I lifted my upper body, embraced the commode and vomited the bile that had collected during my sleep.  My hair was stuck to my head, wet and sour smelling. My beautiful dress was slimy and ruined. I couldn’t remember ever being so sick.

I dragged myself up and into the shower, dress and all. I turned on the water and stood under its spray, heaving and crying. Where was my mother when I needed her? How could she sleep when I was so sick? How was I going to make this right? How could something that started out so fun, turn out so horrible? How was I going to live through this disaster? What would my mother do to me?

I left my dress in a heap in the tub, spread one bath towel on the floor so I wouldn’t step into my own vomit, and wrapped the other towel around my wet body. I stumbled back across the hall and fell into bed, my hair a tangled mess, my make up streaked down my face, and I slept.

The next morning, I could see the light through my closed eyelids, but my head hammered so badly I was afraid to open my eyes. The headache made me nauseous all over again. I knew today was the day of reckoning. I would be on the receiving end of my mother’s wrath. I would be grounded until I left for college. I’d never drive again or see my friends. My boyfriend was history. My room would become my jail cell. My television would be disconnected. I’d lose contact with the entire outside world. I wanted to roll into a ball and die.

I opened one eyelid. The room wasn’t spinning anymore. That was a good sign, but the light sent an excruciating bolt of electricity through my skull. I closed my eye again. I listened for sounds of my mother, kitchen rattles, vacuuming, the crack of a bull whip as she honed her aim. I cringed. She wouldn’t actually use a bull whip would she? I didn’t know. I’d never done anything like this before. The only sounds I heard were the birds outside my window and they were screaming.

I continued to lay there. I couldn’t get up. My head pounded. Movement made me sick. The thought of food made me sick. The thought of television, radio or reading made me sick. Then, I heard a faint sound from the first floor,  footsteps ascending the stairs leading to the upper floor, leading to my room. They were my mother’s footsteps, slow and steady, sliding onto the hardwood steps one at a time. I counted them, trying to remember how many would bring her to the landing, then to my door. I hid behind my closed eyes and waited.

When her footsteps stopped and didn’t move past my door, I pictured her there, veins bulging at her neck, her eyebrows knitted, her fists clenched, her mouth a thin line of anger. I imagined her toe tapping against the floor. I knew she was standing there waiting to mete out my punishment.

I opened my eyes to slits and met my mother’s gaze.  She stood leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed, but not looking like the monster I imagined. She didn’t say anything for the longest time. She just stared at me, her daughter, a towel covered, bedraggled, tangle-haired, make-up smeared, head pounding, mess.

When I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer and wanted to whisper to her to take out a gun and shoot me, to put me out of my misery and hers, she raised her hand, pointed a finger at me, smiled,  and said, “Bet you never do that again.”

Then she turned away, walked back down the stairs, and left me to clean up my own mess.

 

Ups and Downs

May 2, 2012

I enter the Hampton Roads Tunnel and the rain suddenly stops. Usually I don’t like the tunnel. Going from bright sunshine into darkness illuminated only by artificial lights and knowing I’m underwater frightens me. Today, the tunnel is a relief, it feels like a refuge from the storm. The serenity only lasts a minute or two before I’m spit back out onto the bridge spanning choppy water. My windshield is pelted by rain. I look to the horizon and spot one lonely sailboat, its triangles of white canvas, stark against an all gray waterscape. I think the boat a brave little vessel to be bobbing there.

The tunnel separates my home from the land of my father. He is a retired Navy man. He still wears his USS America Cap with its pins attached when he ventures out for appointments and to run errands. Hampton Roads is home to military families, active and retired. There’s a sense of urgency here that I have not felt in other places.  I only lived here for the first two years of my life, and I don’t remember those. My mother and I moved three hours west in 1963. I’ve only come to visit since then.

Last Thursday and Friday when I was here, I had such hope. My father was better. He was still weak and he tired easily, but he was less pale. His hug felt tighter around my shoulders. He was able to drive us to the commissary for groceries, and to the Mexican Restaurant for dinner. He collected the chicken eggs in the morning and washed a few dishes in the sink. His biting sense of humor seemed to be returning and he had regained ten of the twenty-three pounds he’d lost after the first round of chemo. The suspenders he wore to keep his pants up looked endearing.

Bev called this morning to tell me he was being taken to the Emergency room. We knew this new round of chemo would be difficult, make him weaker, more susceptible to infection, possibly take away his wavy white hair. He took the treatments all day Thursday, half a day Friday and then went for a blood booster shot on Saturday. Bev and I kept in close contact over the phone each day.  We strategized my visit to coincide with our projection of the worst. By our estimation, Sunday would be the day the effects of chemo would begin to hit my father. Our projections were twelve hours off. By Sunday morning, he’d fallen twice from the side of the bed and the pain in his back was so severe he couldn’t move without screaming.

I had spent all day Saturday and early Sunday morning cooking in preparation to leave Sunday afternoon. I wanted to take enough food to carry us through the difficult part of the chemo. No one has the energy to cook after care-giving. I gathered all my things, packed the food in a cooler and picked up the interstate three miles west of our house. I tried to concentrate on the book being read to me on CD as I drove. Twenty minutes into the trip, I gave up, ejected the CD, and listened to my thoughts for the rest of the drive.

The hospital is only four blocks from my father’s house. It’s easy to find. The parking is atrocious though. I circle and circle the emergency lot, hoping for someone to get well enough to leave so I can claim their space. I pull out my cell phone and call Bev.

“We’re still in the emergency room,” she says. “Room thirty-four.”

“As soon as I find a parking space, I’ll be right there,” I say.

I wind my way through the emergency department until I come to the last row of doors on the last hallway. The door is shut, the blinds closed. All I can see is darkness. As I raise my hand to knock, a nurse comes up behind me.

“Can you wait here just a moment?” she asks, not waiting for me to answer. She shuts the door behind her, leaving me to wonder.

Panic sets in. Am I too late? Has he died while I was searching for a place to park? If I had known I would have parked in one of those ‘Employee of the Month’, or ‘Doctor Only’ spaces. I’d have double parked and not worried about the towing bill.  I’d have left the car running with its driver door open, not worrying about it being stolen.

The nurse comes back out and ushers me into the room. My dad is laying flat on a stretcher, his face so pale and drawn, he doesn’t look alive. His eyes are closed. He grimaces; and I let out the breath I’ve been holding.  “We’ve given him morphine,” the nurse says from the door. “It should kick in pretty soon.”

I hug Bev, lean to kiss my dad on his forehead, wheel the rolling stool in the corner of the room closer to his bedside. I take his limp hand in mine, and wait.