Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The lesser of two evils is never an easy choice. Evil is never a good option. There are no good options for my dad as the dreaded day approaches. I worry and I pray and I remember.
My dad is a stoic man; strong, reliable… a rock, really. As a child, I saw him most often in his blue police uniform, stripes and pins, badged and official. He wore his weapon and his duty proudly. He never seemed tired or deterred to me. These flashes of my crime fighting dad were of his coming home or leaving, often sleeping when the world was busy and alert when the world slept. For thirty-five years he worked the streets of a crime ridden city.
When he was at home, he usually busied himself with some job or another. He was an efficient man and made good use of his time. He had a workshop in the basement of our house where he cut and hammered out leather holsters and belts; a very successful sideline business that he so wanted me to learn and to take over. When it came time to sew the leather together to make a holster, he would summons the nearest available family member to sit across from him to hold his project steady while he methodically pushed the wooden-handled needle through and back, over and over creating machine-like perfection; every piece a custom work of art. These would have been good times for chatting, but he was a man of few words. I often wondered if he was thinking inside and why his thoughts were not like mine; always bursting to be let out.
My dad was a problem solver and a do-it-your-self-er. He insisted that we too, grew up capable of doing things ourselves. We needed to pay for our own cars and had to know what everything was under the hood. As the only daughter of his four children, he didn’t cut me any slack in this area. In fact, I remember how he insisted that I learn to change my own oil. I’m not talking about ‘checking and filling’ the oil, but actually draining and changing it. As I lay beneath my 1970 silver Vega with black oil drip, drip, dripping on my cheek and gravel grinding into my elbows, I managed to convince him there were actually honest mechanics in the world and I would risk being taken advantage of in trade for never being dripped on again.
My dad patrolled the streets of the city that I called home while living in college, always nearby with help and a lecture when I ran out of gas, got a flat tire or in some other way needed rescuing. I thought my dad was invincible until 1983. Just before my final exams, I received the call that my dad was in the hospital. Chest pains. He was 50 years old.
I remember so clearly the feeling of panic when they said my brother should come home from his military service. I also remember the strong crooked smile on my dad’s face, attempting to upstage his fear when the doctors came in the room. My dad lay in a blue and white checked hospital gown; funny how the young and old, powerful and powerless all look vulnerable in them. Machines monitered and spoke messages to the doctor in a language we did not understand.
“Got any plans tonight?” the doctor asked, compassion on his young face.
“No, I don’t think so,” my dad answered, trying to appear casual.
“Good, in that case, were going to do a little surgery.” I watched my sure-footed father, smile never wavering, nod and answer questions with a shaky, frightened voice. I think I saw his eyes look misty, but perhaps it was the water in my own.
“By pass... open heart...” the words were a blurry noise, but I was fixated on the crystal clear look of fear in my dad’s eyes and I was terrified. My mom, the other pillar of strength in my world seemed shaken, disoriented. My brothers and I took over making phone calls and doing the busy things that keep the seams glued tightly together. As if nothing bad could happen if we tied all the ends tight.
The waiting was awful. Sitting and pacing, reading and praying. Scratchy striped couch fabric and blue pleather chairs became our new living room and the hours ticked by. Triple bypass surgery and then post-op intensive care. It was in the intensive care unit that I saw my hero with tubes and wires coming from everywhere, arms strapped to the bed to keep him from pulling out the tube that was down his throat. Machines blinked and beeped and dripped. He seemed to be choking. I squeezed hard at the tears stinging in my eyes and pushed back at the lump squeezing up in my own throat. I imagined what it would be like to be choking on that tube and not be able to tell anyone or move to pull it out. I tried hard not to picture what that would feel like and yet I ran the thought through over and over in my head, building my own panic. I wondered desperately if they knew he was choking as they read the machines and poked around with charts.
The waiting was endless.
My dad recovered.
He was too strong to let a heart attack stop him. Chest wired back together, he attempted to appear good as new. But he was not good as new. Life would be lived differently now: desk job and medication, no more smoking. Life took on a new normal, but returned to a regular rhythm.
My parents divorced some ten years later and my dad retired to Florida. He had always wanted to live in Florida with its year round good weather and Tiki bars. He adjusted to this new life fairly quickly. He remarried and found happiness.
While golfing and enjoying his new life, his heart continued to decline in small, unnoticeable attacks. He had a stroke several years ago. He started to slow down.
Three years ago the doctors said surgery was necessary.
Three years ago the doctors said he would likely not survive surgery.
Three years ago they decided he could go another three years on medication.
Three years is up.
He can no longer golf. He can no longer walk to the mail box. His heart operates at only twenty percent. Last week his only brother died. He made the three hour trip to his brother’s house the day he died. He made the three hour trip back for his doctor’s appointment. He told us he was having a procedure this Friday to look for blockages. He did not tell us about the surgery that would follow; doesn’t want to worry us. He needed two blood transfusions to ready himself for his procedure.
Three hour trip for the funeral.
Three hour trip back.
Three more days until his procedure.
Three more days and we can’t tell him that we know.
I wish I could rewind.
I wish I could stop time.
I wish for three more years.