Posts Tagged ‘father’

Jade East

July 22, 2012

There is nothing romantic about cleaning a bathroom. Rusted razor blades hide in the medicine cabinet. Strands of hair stick to porcelain surfaces. The wrappers on band aids in a hinged-top metal box are so old they fall apart with only slight pressure of thumb and index finger. I’m on my knees, cardboard box to my left, trashcan to my right, sorting my father’s medicinal, toiletry, and cleaning supplies. It’s hot in here and the humidity of a June day in Chesapeake is almost unbearable. My limp hair won’t stay put in its rubber band and falls into my face as I reach way back into the cabinet for the last bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a half empty can of shaving cream. I’m trying to salvage what’s left. My dad doesn’t need this stuff anymore. He died on Mother’s Day.

I always hated cleaning the bathroom, my least favorite chore, and I always got stuck with it. I lean back against the tub, close my eyes, and wipe the back of my hand across my sweaty forehead. My Dad’s radio in the dining room croons an old, sad country song. None of us likes hillbilly music, but no one has the courage to change his station. I hear my step-sister in the kitchen, rattling glassware, arranging it for the auction house to pick up. In another room, one of the girls exclaims over an old photograph. “I haven’t seen this in years.”

We’re all here, minus our parents, my father, their mother, both dead within a year of each other. It’s their house and we feel like interlopers and thieves, deciding which items to take home with us, which to sell, which to donate, which to throw away. Every piece we touch goes into a box, even the objects that have held a place of honor for years. Rooms empty one memento at a time.

“I’d like this little pewter clown,” my step-sister calls from the other room.

“Put it in your box,” I call. My step-mother collected clowns, had hundreds of them. My father collected frogs. I’d most likely find a small one to place in my box to remember him.

The cabinet under the sink is bare. I rise and look at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Evidently, I am an adult now. I think it happened May 13th.

Shaking my head, and looking away, I open the wooden cabinet on the wall above the toilet. My father’s salves, liniments, after shave lotions and razors display themselves in neat colorful order from tallest to shortest. Some are still new in the package and others are waiting for him to return to finish their contents. I open each container, judge its usefulness, its age. I toss his Carmex lip balm and the ever-present tin of Cuticura ointment, underarm deodorant, and a 1960’s safety razor.

The last item is a clear bottle with green liquid. I’ve never seen it before. The label is black with a green and gold border. Asian characters above the words JADE EAST are written in a bamboo shaped font. I unscrew the black cap and inhale. I close my eyes and swear my father is standing right there in front of me. It is his scent. I thought I had lost that forever, but here it is in this square glass bottle.

I run into the other room and call my step-sisters to me. We pass the bottle around and I watch my own reaction repeat itself with each girl. We take turns dabbing a drop behind our ears, enjoying my dad’s spicy scent. Leslie hands the bottle to me. “You should keep this,” she says.

I hold the bottle to my chest. I’d offer it to them, but can’t bring myself to. I want this treasure. I want to be able to open the top and find my dad when I need his presence. I never knew my father wore cologne, never thought about it. I did know his scent though. No other man in my life carried it.

I walk back into the bathroom and place the bottle of Jade East carefully into my cardboard box of keepsakes.

Derecho

July 12, 2012

“Get back in the house!” Bruce yells at Ryan from the driveway. If the wind wasn’t howling so loudly, Bruce’s voice would be much louder and more forceful. Ryan hears his dad though, turns, pulls hard on the front storm door and opens it against the straight strength of the Derecho. He squeezes his lanky, sixteen year old frame through the opening, then the door slams shut behind him. I’ve never heard or seen such wind. Even when we had the tornado touch down near us, the storm was over almost before it began. This wind won’t stop, won’t even slow.

“What does he think, I’m five years old?”

“He just wants to keep you safe.” I answer in a shaky voice from the darkened hallway. Our lights died within ten seconds of the storm, no warning, no time to scavenge for candles or flashlights.

Ryan moves the curtain aside at the door and peers out, watching as the lightning flashes a second’s worth of brightness. I can see the tall oak trees shaking and bending, whipped back and forth, shuddering. I find myself shuddering along with them. I reach out to Ryan and wrap my arms around his shoulders. He’s as tall as I am.

“He and Ben are out there running around in the damn wind, and he wants to keep Me safe?” the youngest of my boys pouts.

“Watch your language,” I say. “Your dad and Ben were out there already, working in the garage. They’re trying to secure whatever they can,” I explain.

“I know what they’re doing. I could be helping,” Ryan says, trying to pull away from me. My grasp tightens and he relents, sighing. I imagine his eyes rolling.  “You think I’m five too,” he grumbles.

I feel my baby’s heart beating beneath my right hand and remember a time when he was pre-school age and easily corralled. When he was five, I could scope out most any situation and make the tallest tree in the yard off limits, lock the doors with deadbolts too high for little hands to reach, or secure the sharp knives in a special drawer. Now, the gate is harder to close, the tether looser, this sixteen year old wants to run free. I hold him back as best I can. His older brother and father are outside braving hurricane force winds, daring limbs not to crush them, shining lanterns and flashlights into the shaking trees. They hear the same strong two hundred year old oak crack, splinter and crash to the ground as I do.  I can’t see out the door. Their flashlights have disappeared, the lightning has stopped.

“I don’t see them anymore, Mom.”

“Me either, let’s go,” I say, pulling the front door open.

We step onto the porch, take off in a full run toward the steps to the driveway. Lightning flashes and the huge tree branches seem to grow straight out of the ground. Leaves and branches are everywhere and we fight our way through and around them. The wind is still blowing, pushing us backward, sending small pieces of wood stinging  into our faces and arms. My heart is racing. I hear its beat in my ears. The sound is louder than the roar of the derecho. I’ve heard people on the news say, “The wind sounds like a freight train.” This wind is louder than that.

Ryan is ahead of me, fighting through branches, yelling for his dad and brother. Another flash of lightning. I hear crashes in the woods. The ornamental grass across the driveway, waves like a giant cheerleader’s pom-pom.

“I said, get in the house,” Bruce yells from somewhere to our left.

“You’re alright,” I yell just as loudly, relieved but still worried. “Where’s Ben?”

“He’s right here with me. We’re coming. Run back to the house,” he growls, grabbing Ryan’s arm and turning him, pushing me afterwards. We run up the steps, all four of us trying to get to the safety of our cinderblock fortress. Ryan wrenches the storm door open, and holds it as the rest of us fall into the front hallway.  Ryan squeezes through and the wind slams the door shut behind him.

“Why would you leave the house when I told you to get inside,” Bruce yells at us from his bent position as he tries to catch his breath.

“We were worried that you were trapped under that damn tree,” I yell back.

“It almost got us,” Ben says from behind me. “Five seconds before, or five seconds after, we’d’ve been mashed flat.”

I take a deep breath and hug myself tight, trying to stop the shaking.

And the wind blows, and blows, and blows, with no reprieve for an hour and a half. We watch and listen to trees uproot and crash to the ground, feel the house shake from the force of impact, listen to the howl  and grimace at the pressure building in our ears. It eases, then builds again.

And as fast as the derecho came, it leaves. The air stills to a dead silence and the humidity rises. We step outside to witness the damage. The flashlight illuminates shadows and hulks all around us and unfamiliar. We walk the driveway, car to car, hoping, praying. Not one is flattened.  The tree that fell behind the garage, grazed the back wall with its very top branches. The yard and highway are a mess though, a massive cleanup that will take more than a week to complete, but nothing and no one is hurt.

Cars are lined up on the highway, just the other side of the driveway in front of the house. A huge white pine lays from guardrail to guardrail and beyond. People empty from cars to survey the damage and possibility of moving forward. Forward is not an option. Neither is backward. A heavy black power line, sparking on one end, lays across the road.

“Let’s go get the saws,” Bruce says to Ben. “We’ve got some clean up to do. May as well start now.  Don’t have enough beds to sleep all these folks.”

Ben turns and walks to the garage in search of his work gloves and McCullough chain saw.

Ryan and I turn and head toward the house.

“Where are you going Ryan?” Bruce asks.

“To bed I guess.”

“Oh no you don’t,” his father says. “We need your help. No time like the present to learn a trade. You might have a future as a lumberjack.”

Ryan turns back as the clouds lift from the face of a bright moon and I see a smile on my baby’s face.

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.

Early Spring

March 22, 2012

I look out my open living room window and see bright spring color. A breeze, still cool, but warm enough to hold the promise of April’s temperatures touches my face. Our weather comes from the west and this is the coldest room in the house, but my view is cheerful. The trees, bare, just days ago are full and ripe with bloom. The red-pink of japonica, yellow of forsythia, and white of bridal wreath vie for attention with the purple of crocus and the lavender of violets. Days are longer. People whistle walking down the sidewalk, and smile.

It’s the first full day of spring. Sometimes, in years past it’s been so cold the first day of spring that only the resilient daffodils show their colors above the snow on the ground. This year the season came early. Dogwoods will bloom well before the town festival and the Bradford Pears have already begun to shed their blossoms. The early birth seems to be pushing time forward for me, pulling up that hope still dormant in me.

It’s Wednesday and I know in two more days I’ll see my father. I can’t help but wonder how much thinner he’ll look this time, how much of his hair will be gone, how bent he will be over the walker. I know how he sounds. I talk to him every night. His voice is scratchy and ancient. His breathing is labored. He’s scheduled for a blood transfusion tomorrow. Those make him feel better.

I pick up the phone and make the nightly call. The phone rings and rings, then the line connects. “Can I call you back in ten minutes?” Bev’s harried voice asks as soon as she picks up the phone. Something is terribly wrong, I know it. I pace the floor, looking at my watch every thirty seconds, trying to push the time forward by the sheer force of my will. He’s stopped breathing, I think. He’s fallen again. His temperature has reached that critical one hundred seven degrees that sends you into brain damage. I can see her pouring ice cubes over him to cool his hot skin. I can see his eyes rolling back in his head.

When the phone rings exactly eighteen minutes later, I am breathless. “Hey,” I say.

“I guess you think I can’t tell time,” Bev says, a smile in her voice. My heart rate calms. “That’s OK,” I say. “I knew something was up.”

“We had just walked in the door from the chemo when you called. They started the drip at 9:30 and we didn’t get in the door until the minute you called just after six-thirty.”

“How’s he doing?” I ask.

“Pretty good. For some reason his appetite increases on the days he gets the chemo. He chows down on those peanut butter crackers they give out. I packed a cooler this time to be prepared. He nibbled all day long.”

I’m glad to hear his appetite has increased. The last time I’d seen him he said everything he ate tasted like cardboard or worse. Even fudge ripple ice cream, his favorite, held no appeal. Now he was eating yogurts, peanut butter sandwiches, apple slices, and pretzel sticks. My spirits lift.

“Here’s your Dad,” Bev says, handing the phone to him.

“Hi daughter,” he rasps to me.

“Glad to hear your appetite’s better,” I say.

“Things taste more like they’re supposed to. We stopped on the way home and got a hot fudge sundae.” I imagine him sitting in the car, spoon to mouth, eyes closed, savoring his ice cream. It makes me smile.

“Yum,” I say. “Wish I was there to have one with you.”

“Me too. You still coming this weekend?”

“That’s my plan,” I say. “Anything I can bring you?”

“Some of that warm weather you’ve been having up there,” he answers. “I’ve been waiting all winter for some spring.”

I think I’ll cut some japonica, forsythia, and bridal wreath from the bushes, put the branches in a vase, and carry them to Chesapeake with me. It seems a little early spring is good for the spirit.