Posts Tagged ‘coping’

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.

A Kitten

November 30, 2010

Mama’s frown deepened, her hands went to her hips and I knew I’d pushed her limit. I also knew a kitten was what I needed. “I want a kitten,” I begged. “Just one little kitten.”

“We aren’t home enough to give a kitten the attention it needs. I work and you go to school.”

“Molly, in my class, has a cat and her mother works,” I countered.

My mother rolled her eyes. I thought maybe she’d say, ‘If Molly jumped off a bridge would you do it too?’ But she didn’t.

“We live too close to the road. It’ll get killed,” my mother said.

“I won’t let it out of the house.”

“Who’s going to feed it and clean up after it?” she asked. That sounded like a maybe, like she was giving in.

“I will. I’ll do it all, feed it, clean up after it, brush it, everything.”

“Pets are expensive. It’s all I can do to feed the two of us. Besides…”

“Please Mama, a kitten’s small. It won’t eat much.”

The phone rang.

My mother answered it with a smile, but that faded and her head dropped into her hand. She rubbed at her temples with her thumb and middle finger, keeping her eyes closed. She only answered with “yes,” or “no.” Her voice was quiet and she sounded sad. I knew the look on her face, the tone of her voice. My Daddy was back in town and he was coming for me.

He showed up every six months, fresh off the ocean, tall, handsome, and bearing gifts from foreign lands: a set of dolls with costumes and matching hats, a tiny leather purse with labels like “Paris”, “London”, “Sweden”, and “Japan” stitched on it, a royal blue tapestry decorated with solid white kittens, and two days of his time.

I kneeled on the couch, holding the sheers back, my faced pressed to the glass, waiting. He drove a shiny black convertible with a silver stripe that ran across the hood, and trunk. I got to ride up front with him. He pulled to the curb, looked up into the mirror, ran his hand through his 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 didn’t look back.

“What’s my girl wanna do?”

“Go to the park. The one with the train.”

My Daddy and I had fun, went to the park, and 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 face. 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, throwing his head back, laughing.

While he was in town, we stayed at my Grandma’s house. Her kitchen smelled like black pepper. We sat at her red, Formica and chrome table, eating pot roast, pull-apart tender, green beans cooked with new potatoes on top, corn pudding baked golden with yellow kernels nestled in custard. Grandma’s biscuits rose thick and hot. Her homemade blackberry jam dripped out the sides, all the food, my Daddy’s favorites.

At the supper table, he winked at Grandma, then told adventure stories about pirates with peg legs and hooks for hands, how he turned the tables on the meanest one with an eye patch and made him walk the plank. The Navy sounded exciting with sunny ports and big adventures. My Grandma looked at Daddy like I wished my Mama would.

Two days went as fast as six months went slow. Before my father left, I watched the clock over the mantle in my Grandma’s living room. The second hand ticked his time away, pushing me closer and closer to my mother, further and further away from him. I couldn’t talk in the car.

“No tears,” my Daddy said, “we’ve had too much fun to cry.”

He carried me to the apartment door. My fingers tightened into the back of his shirt, my face pressed into his shoulder. He hugged me tight and then began to push me away. I clung. My mother was behind me, trying to pull me away from him.

Both of them were talking to me, wanting me to stop crying and clinging, wanting me to give up the struggle so everything could return to normal. My father needed to rush off to some other part of the world and my mother needed to pull me inside the apartment and close the door, so things could go back to the way they were before the weekend started. My sound was a wail; my grief, determined.

Every six months, he turned his back and left me crying. My mother was left to try to put a small broken child back together.

“I found something special for you,” Mama said, her hands behind her back.

I looked up, tears running off my chin. I still couldn’t talk, but my mother had a gesture. 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.