Think back to that person you loved—truly loved—with all your heart, who didn’t love you back.
Recall and relive with me that sweet, sharp pain whenever you thought of them, saw them, replayed an interaction looking for signs… wondered where you’d gotten your signals crossed, what you’d done wrong, how you could have failed to win their love.
I’ve asked you to do this not because I’m a sadist, but because that pain you’re currently reliving is nothing compared to mine.
Let’s back up a bit, because you’re due a few updates.
First: about a month ago I got a call from Marsha. She had, she reported, three days to live. My father was also dying, but in another facility; she claimed not to know where. She was gathering her children around her and—as I was brusquely informed—that included me. I was to call the house for further information, as one of my father’s brothers (Mark, if you care—we’ll get to him in a minute) was staying there and generally holding down the fort.
You will forgive me when I confess that I called the house for confirmation of her story.
Also to demand, “Where is my father?” in my very best Mother of Dragons voice.
Mark sadly confirmed the timeline: Marsha had three days at the outside, Dad maybe a week or so.
I now had three days to get myself and my son, PFC Squdgee Booboo, back to Tiny Mountain Town, Colorado (population 400 when we first moved there, but of course it’s grown along with me).
If you’re thinking I was set up to fail, you’re clearly familiar with my family’s play book (is it possible we’re related somehow?) But Offspring and I had been planning for this and his E-packet was already half-done; he was just waiting to fill in the actual dates. So I called the Red Cross—a phone call in which I repeated, “Yes, both of them. Both. At the same time. It’s like The goddamned Notebook, only shitty!” about thirty times—and he bought a ticket to St. Louis and we drove out together.
To find my stepmother, in excellent spirits and demonstrably not dying, holding court in her hospice room over her three actual children. (One of whom I’d never met before, but let’s save that family drama for a later post, eh?) How had they got there so quickly?
Why, she’d called them two weeks earlier, of course!
And my father?
Turns out she knew where he was all along:in an LTAC with end-stage COPD. Very ill indeed, but miles away from death’s doorstep if he could be convinced to actually cooperate with the prescribed treatment. So I did what I do best: I fought with him. I stood toe-to-toe with the Marine who had his visiting brothers (also Marines) hiding in the hall if they brought the wrong donuts and I shouted at him to wear the fucking mask, do the gat dammed breathing treatments, listen to the doctors, and all the other things. And when I had nothing left in my bag of tricks I cried in front of my daddy and begged him to choose life.
Dad, you see, was all about trying to talk about the wills, the life insurance policies… basically all that dying stuff I didn’t want to hear. And yes, I know it’s great that they had their shit together. Very responsible. Hoo-fuckin’-ray. But I find the whole concept of profiting from the death of a loved one grotesque. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that money?
Do I take a vacation? A yay, they’re dead vacation?
Buy myself a new car? Drive around town in my shiny new orphanmobile?
Ooh, maybe put a down payment on a new house! And then pretend every day that the house isn’t basically their second grave marker even though it totally is.
Nope, that money will be tainted. The only thing to do with it is let it sit in an account to wait for the day when my need is so dire that I no longer care where it came from.
DAD: I need you to know, our wills—
ME: Don’t care. How ‘bout we get you started on this chocolate pudding?
DAD: (sighs, coughs) Listen. If Marsha goes first—
ME: Gross. Stop talking.
DAD: There will be a lot more money involved.
ME: Oh really? Well that changes everything!
DAD: (looks up)
ME: Will it be enough to make me care less that I’m an orphan? Will it take away the pain of losing you?
ME: Because no, shut up, that number doesn’t exist. So stop talking about money. It’s gross.
DAD: I want—
ME: Dad, I swear to fuck I will walk out of this room and have them drug you until you shut up if you bring it up again. Wouldn’t you rather eat some ice cream?
DAD: (smiles) I surely do love you, Little Girl.
ME: I know.
Wonder of wonders, now that he’s sober (forcibly, but it counts!) for the first time in my entire life? I’m meeting a whole new man. And he’s… not awful. At least, not all the time. Sure, maybe some of it is Old Person Trying to Get Into Heaven but most of it seems like genuine clarity. I know one thing for sure: the father I grew up with wouldn’t have caved when I yelled at him to wear the fucking mask. And the tearful plea would have been met with a rant about ungrateful daughters even a year ago.
ME: Dad, please, I need you to focus on this—
DAD: I want to talk to a lawyer.
ME: Okay, we’ll work on that. It’s Sunday, I’m sure there are no end of lawyers in (tiny town) just sitting around their offices waiting for a phone call from cranky old marines who don’t listen to anybody.
ME: Now, are you going to start taking—
DAD: I’ll do whatever you want, as soon as I figure out what it is you want from me.
ME: What I want?
ME: (tears up) Okay. Real talk?
OFFSPRING: (smells ozone, gets the fuck outta dodge)
ME: I want what I’ve always wanted from you. What I’ve been waiting for for forty goddamned years. I want you to show up. For me. I want you to be there. For me.
DAD: (looks away) I did try…
ME: Oh, sure. But there was always—
ME: Look, this is what I want: I want you to look at me and be able to say, “I’ve got something to live for.”
DAD: (tears up) (reaches for my hand)
And it must have worked, because he’s still alive. He even graduated to a terrible rehab facility where he spent two whole days working hard on building muscle before they had to send him back to the hospital (and I’ve reported their mistreatment of him, believe you me) septic and with multiple infections, prompting my panicked return to the land of thin air and prairie dogs. This time I flew, because solo roadtrips are bullshit. And I stayed with a friend because Mark (remember him?) told me I was absolutely unwelcome in my childhood home. Also, how dare I presume to be contacting doctors anyway?
But all of that nonsense is probably for the next post, because I just looked over this one and realized it’s heavy and full of awful. And try as I might, I don’t see where I can inject some… oh, wait! There was this thing:
If you’re even remotely familiar with the geography of the USA, or are a person who is willing to look at a map now in order to follow along on Offspring’s and my journey of a month ago, you will note that the biggest obstacle for two people in St. Louis who want to be anywhere in Colorado is the entire state of Kansas. Having made that drive more than a few times, I know what a hazard Kansas is but for the uninitiated: long stretches of perfectly straight, flat road with no surrounding features contributes to drivers falling asleep at the wheel even if they weren’t previously feeling sleepy. There’s also a phenomenon called empty field myopia, where your lazy-ass brain actually decides what you’re forcing it to stare at is too goddamned boring and just starts deleting the “irrelevant” information… lane markers and the like—you know, nothing terribly important to staying alive and on the road.
Offspring, being 19 whole years old and possessed of all the knowledge in the universe, was stunned to find Kansas featureless and dull.
OFFSPRING: I don’t understand. Why is it so… flat? There’s literally nothing!
ME: Not true. They’ve added these windmills since the last time I drove through, so that’s nice. Something to look at.
ME: Baby, what were you expecting? I told you this would be the worst part of the drive.
OFFSPRING: I was picturing… (gestures) Kansas!
ME: (points) Kansas.
OFFSPRING: No, I mean… in the movies it’s all rolling hills and fields of flowers and—
ME: Are you talking about The Wizard of Oz?
OFFSPRING: … Maybe?
ME: That was Oz!
ME: Kansas was the other part.
 Hey kid—roadtripping with you was actually awesome; let’s do it sometime for non-shitty reasons, k?
 Let’s put a pin in that for now. You’re really going to have to stop interrupting me or we’ll never get through all this. But yeah, it’s that thing you’re thinking.
 Long-term acute care facility… basically a hospital for people who need to be in the hospital too long for hospitals to be the safe choice. Hospitals be germy, yo.
 Wait, there’s more
 I would submit that Kansas is more or less always an obstacle, but let’s not start a potato war. Or whatever they’ve got.