When we left off, I promised that I would be moving forward with the story and telling you about my return to (my) Oz and my father’s return to very critical condition.
Instead, I think it’s important that we circle around to the issue I’d been avoiding for some time: the wills.
This is partly for story reasons, because telling the whole thing in a day-by-day recap would become overwhelming very quickly and also because I’m personally ready to examine some things.
That’s right, y’all are here to walk me through some free therapy. Hey, I’d do the same for you!
Let’s begin with my first actual contact with Marsha upon arriving in Colorado. Sure I mentioned how I found her in fine spirits, but if you think I drove into town and went anyplace but breaking down doors looking for my father, you haven’t been paying attention. Mark was actually the one who told me where to find Dad, and also explained that Marsha knew exactly where he was.
Anyway, I burst through the front doors of that facility like
And it didn’t take long to get my basic point across: this is a high-priority patient and I am his high-maintenance caretaker; fall in line or I will burn this shit to the ground.
nb: Offspring makes a game of guessing when we meet new hospital personnel which ones will love me and think I’m the best sort of family member and which will hide from me by the end of the shift. I can tell what sort of facility we’re in, quality-wise, by the skew on that split.
So there I was, sitting in Dad’s room—actually, I was arguing with a hospitalist and a pulmonologist at the time regarding my father’s need for the BiPAP versus their concern that he kept taking them off in his sleep and had recently broken one—when his room phone rang. It was Marsha, calling to talk to Dad. I told her he was napping but she was just as willing to vent to me.
MARSHA: Can you tell him—or just tell Mark to lay off?
ME: Tell Mark… what?
MARSHA: He’s really buggin’ me!
ME: Oh-kay… what’s he—
MARSHA: He keeps getting all—and he’s messing around in—and he’s acting like we’re already dead!
ME: Well… (is confused)
MARSHA: We’re not dying yet!
ME: Right. Not dead, not dying. Um… I will definitely inform Mark that I spoke with you. And that I didn’t use a Ouija board to do it.
DRS: (muffle laughter)
ME: (realizes Drs have dealt with Marsha) (rolls eyes)
MARSHA: Thank you.
ME: You’re welcome.
MARSHA: When are you coming to see me?
ME: Well, I’m here with Dad now, but—
MARSHA: But you’re coming to see me, right?
ME: … Yes, that was going to be my very next stop.
MARSHA: Okay, good. (hangs up)
I sat there and babysat my father’s hands for a few more minutes, chatting with the doctors and nurses who came and went… and an interesting point came up.
DOCTOR1: So you’re his… daughter?
ME: (looks up from father’s gaunt, sleeping face) His only child, yes. (points at Offspring) And this is my son.
DOCTOR1: So who is Mark?
ME: Mark is his younger brother. There were… (ponders) seven of them, I think? It’s so hard to keep track. One girl. One of the boys died, though, so I suppose there might be six now. Unless I’m wrong and there were eight originally, in which case there are seven now.
DOCTORS: (look stunned)
ME: Catholic. Why?
DOCTOR1: Well, we understand that Marsha is in hospice…
ME: Cancer, yes. I haven’t gone to check on her but they say… days, maybe?
DOCTORS: (make sympathetic noises)
ME: (waves off unhelpful noises)
DOCTOR1: We understand that she was his medical proxy?
ME: (nods) Yes, and… there was some drama around that. Marsha… anyway, what I wanted was to be able to bring my father out to St Louis for whatever time he has left. You know, with the better air and—
DOCTORS: (share a look)
DOCTOR1: We’ve been dealing with Mark as the default proxy, because he’s here. But now that you’re here… we’re thinking maybe it should be you.
ME: (nods) Isn’t that… I mean, I’m his next of kin, right?
DOCTOR2: (nods) That’s correct.
ME: (pats father’s hand) Then it’s settled.
DOCTORS: (breathe sigh of relief)
ME: (is now thoroughly confused)
What’s this got to do with the wills, you ask?
Well, possibly nothing. But, at the very least it informs some drama that will come later.
On the other hand… possibly quite a bit. Let’s let you be the judge and me the storyteller, hmm?
After that odd conversation the doctors left my company. Offspring sat on my father’s opposite side and together we gently swatted his hands any time he made his weak efforts to remove the mask. And we waited. It wasn’t long before two brothers—I’m sure I should refer to them as uncles but I’ve only ever met them once in my life and that was at my grandfather’s funeral when I was 12—made an appearance. These would be Mark, whom I was expecting to see at some point, and Ben, whom I was not.
This is when a proper novelist would take the time to introduce you to these two idiots; really develop their characters. Me, I think it will be better if you learn about them as you go, the same as I had to. Onward!
The pair made me guess who they were—nevermind they couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup, they thought it was hilarious that I didn’t know which one was Mark—then I delivered Marsha’s message. Mark protested his innocence, claiming he’d only had a peek at the will and was entitled to do so as the brother of the soon-to-be deceased; then Mark and I took a moment to have a quiet talk while Offspring and Ben babysat Dad’s hands. He was approaching the wakeful horizon, so we kept our voices down.
ME: The doctors are being so unhelpful about how much time he has left!
MARK: Not long; I told you that.
ME: Yeah, but… they’re not confirming that. They keep saying it’s up to him. Whatever the hell that means.
MARK: Yeah, well. Doctors.
MARK: This is what they want.
ME: I spoke to Dad while he was in the hospital, right after he woke up. He was so emotional. And he said the oddest thing…
MARK: (sharp-eyed) What was that?
ME: He said, “I didn’t know they would do this. They’re just regular cigarettes, they’re not anything… they’re just regular ol’ cigarettes. I didn’t know they’d kill me.”
MARK: (shakes head)
ME: And I thought, didn’t you ever see the warnings on the side of the pack? But what I actually said was, “Yeah, Dad… cigarettes are pretty unhealthy.”
MARK: (still shaking his head) Naw, he knew.
ME: Right? I mean, everyone knows—
MARK: No, he knew what he was doin’. He planned this.
MARK: He knew Marsha was goin’ and he timed this.
ME: (stares) (stands up) (walks away)
Lapsed my father might be, but still a Catholic. And what Mark accused him of flirted with the definition of suicide, the one sin he could never confess. I was not going to sit there and let anyone talk like that about my daddy.
Dad woke, saw me and his grandson, and many cheers went up because it was the first time he’d been awake for days. Then I gave him what-for about cooperating with the doctors, and the brothers cowered in the corner because somehow no one expects my father’s daughter to be a goddamned warrior.
Once sufficiently oxygenated and fed, my father had only one thing on his mind: the damned wills.
DAD: I need to explain about the wills—
ME: No, you really—
MARK: I already had a look at yours.
ME: Let’s not talk about that right now, Daddy.
DAD: I need to explain. There are two different wills.
ME: It doesn’t mat—
MARK: Yours and Marsha’s
DAD: (nods) Now… I want to understand. If I go first—
ME: Dad, no—
DAD: Her will stands, right? But if she goes first…
ME: … I think… I mean, last man standing wins, if that’s what you’re asking. But what does it matter?
DAD: (turns to me) (sadly) Our wills… are…
ME: (confused) Are… are you saying your will is different from hers?
DAD: (nods miserably)
Now, exhausted innocent that I was, I was confused by this but also still firmly of the belief that none of it mattered. Because whatever they have belongs to them and they are free to do with it as they please. I still think this. In fact, I’ve told my father that what he really ought to do with the whole lot is sell the house and everything in it, cash out, and spend every last dime before he dies on living well. He scoffs at this advice, but I continue to offer it free of charge because I’m a giver.
You’ve probably figured it out by now, but let’s go check in with Marsha, shall we? She was, as you’ll recall, holding court visiting with her real family over at the hospice down the road.
Now, I’m no idiot. I know hospice patients don’t get better and go home. But this woman was laughing and joking and easily the rowdiest patient in the whole bloody building. I said a brief hello to Kenny and Katy and finally met her oldest daughter Lucy—who now prefers Lucille but it’s too late, we’ve all only ever heard Lucy and can’t quite get the hang of it. Kenny kept half an eye on me much as he always has—I’ve bitten him before, and a survivor like him knows the correct distance to keep from a feral cat. But I was surprised at the way the girls looked at me; there was something sharp and bitter in their eyes that made no sense. It wasn’t just that I was an interloper on their time with their mother, because I came prepared to sit quietly and wait my turn; there seemed to be an undercurrent of something unknown only to me and Offspring, who misses nothing and commented on it later.
At length, the trio departed to have a nice family dinner in my childhood home. I smiled and waved them off as if it were nothing to me at all to be relegated to a hotel while they roosted among my memories. Then I turned to hear Marsha’s confession.
ME: I did talk to Mark—
MARSHA: (waves me off) Oh, we talked. I think he’s fine, I just wish he’d stop messing around in things. (narrows eyes) And you know, he’s the one who got everyone all worked up about wills and everything.
ME: I don’t think that’s—
MARSHA: It’s true!
ME: … Marsha, even if… you know about Grandpa’s will, right?
MARSHA: (cagey) Yeah.
ME: You know how badly that went. How awful it was for everyone because the person who was most trusted took advantage and stole everything.
ME: Now, I’m not saying this is the same. Thank God it isn’t! But… it left deep wounds. And now that their brother is… well, I’m sure they’re worried and want to know what his wishes are. So they can see it’s done right this time. That’s all.
MARSHA: Well we’re not gone yet! And wills only matter once we’re gone! (glares at ceiling)
ME: Agreed. Which is why I wish everyone would stop bringing them up. (smiles)
MARSHA: (turns back to me) You know… My will is different from your father’s.
ME: He mentioned. I don’t care. It’s y’all’s money to do with as you please.
MARSHA: (frowns) Yes. Well. I want you to know why.
ME: (shakes head) It doesn’t matter.
MARSHA: (grabs my hand) You’re not in my will.
ME: (shrugs) Okay.
MARSHA: (as if I haven’t spoken) And I’m sorry about that. We did them when you were… you know. But you are in your dad’s.
ME: (shrugs) ‘Kay.
MARSHA: (narrows eyes) But I’m going to tell them to change it. And I want to just put it in there that everything goes (gestures) fair. And even. To everybody.
ME: As you like. Personally, I’d rather be left out of the whole thing. It’s weird and creepy and gross.
ME: (shrugs) I don’t like talking about your deaths like it’s a payday. Sorry.
MARSHA: (laughs) Well. You know.
MARSHA: I just want to make it fair.
ME: Okay. I’m sure they’ve got people here who can help you with that.
MARSHA: (quickly) Oh no—I’ve got a lawyer!
MARSHA: (teary) I just want you to know how much I love you.
ME: (grasping her hand) And I love you.
MARSHA: And I know you don’t think I took very good care of your father, but I want you to know that I love him. And I did try. And I need you to forgive—
ME: (carefully) Marsha… do I think you always made the very best choices? No. Did he? No. Did I? Nope. And do you know what that makes us?
MARSHA: (hums a bit) … Did I show you this? (pulls necklace out of pajama top)
MARSHA: It’s got (points) the birthstones of all my kids on it. You’re at the bottom, because you’re the youngest.
ME: (smiles) And got the most boring stone. Sorry ‘bout that.
MARSHA: (shocked) Whaaaat? But yours is the most expensive!
ME: (pulls face) Never liked ‘em. They’re boring. No, if I had my pick, I’d go with an emerald.
MARSHA: That’s mine.
ME: I know. You were smart.
And that’s where we left it. Because—and let’s see if you’re picking up on the theme here—I truly didn’t give a fuck. She did what she did, he did what he did, and everyone kept trying to talk about money like that was the big issue and not the health of two people we loved. And every time I called them on it, asked them to stop, told them it grossed me out and I didn’t care about the wills or the money I just wanted my parents, they all said the same thing:
“Yeah, I know. Me too. I don’t even care about it, you know? I’m with you: I’m just here for (Mom/your dad)”
But they kept. Talking. About. It.
Exhaustion quickly set in.
Eventually one day I’d had enough and—this was why I’d driven instead of flying—decided I’d just experienced my last day in hell. We would leave the next day, after performing one more miracle.
I took four things from my parents’ home that trip—three with permission and one without:
- Photo albums—specifically the albums from the early years of my father’s marriage to my mother. No one else in the whole world has any reason to want those, and I want those photos preserved. I also took an album of my baby pictures that was a gift to my father (the cover is actually embossed, “To Daddy, with love, Chase” and I have so many questions about where he was when those photos were taken but that’s some stuff for another post as well)
- The swords that were gifted to my father by his unit when he left Okinawa. Dad insists they’re not worth anything and maybe they aren’t, but they always hung in every home we lived in my entire life and I want them preserved, not sold to a random creepy teenager at the estate sale. Offspring says he’d like them, which makes me happy.
- My father’s medals and awards. Not all of them, because some are missing—see the next item—but what he had, I now have. I plan on making a shadow box for them and will need all new ones for that but somehow it felt wrong for his actual pins to go to the dump.
- His DD-214. This was the thing I technically stole, though maybe not really? I’ll have to go into that later. Suffice it to say, I need it to replace medals but more importantly it needs to be corrected because—typical of the military and especially that era—it’s rife with errors. I had permission to do so, but it was revoked. More on that later, k?
My point in mentioning these four items is to illustrate that I am not a bohemian or a monk who refuses all worldly and material things. If either of them had offered me things they wanted me to have I would have tearfully and joyfully accepted. But no, they want the house emptied and everything of value sold so they can leave behind cash.
I spoke with my father about it (most unwillingly) again on this last trip.
DAD: I need to talk to you about the wills.
ME: If I let you do that, will you drink your protein shake?
ME: (glares harder) (passes shake) ‘Cuz you’re drinking it either way.
DAD: (sips shake) My will is… different. From Marsha’s.
ME: She mentioned. Keep sipping. You’ve still got that cookie.
DAD: (huffs) It took me all night to finish the last one!
ME: I know, aren’t they great?
ME: (bares teeth lovingly)
DAD: (sighs, sips shake) You’re not in hers.
ME: I know.
DAD: She didn’t—
ME: Dad. I. Know.
ME: Please believe me the first time I say things, okay? She told me. And… yeah. It is what it is. I suppose I might feel differently if I thought she did it out of spite—
DAD: No, she didn’t do it out of spite.
ME: But not because then I don’t get stuff.
DAD: (looks at me)
ME: That’s not… I don’t… (shudders)
DAD: (wide-eyed, smiling) You honestly don’t care.
ME: I really don’t, Daddy. What would hurt—if she’d done it out of spite, or some desire to hurt me—would be… you know, that she’d wanted to hurt me that much. That she’d been walking around with that in her heart and rather than talking to me about it she’d… done that.
ME: But she didn’t.
DAD: (quietly) No, she didn’t.
ME: And either way…
DAD: (smiles) You don’t care (coughs alarmingly for several minutes) (wheezes) about money.
ME: (squeezes hand) Weeeeell… Not exactly. I mean, I like money. It allows me to buy things like protein cookies and dog food and… ooh, what’s that stuff?
ME: And pay my rent and stuff. But your money? (pulls face) Keep it.
DAD: (finishes shake)
ME: (offers cookie)
DAD: (waves off cookie, reaches for sandwich)
DAD: (between bites) I want… to leave something to my brothers.
ME: O-kay… like what?
DAD: Some money.
ME: (imagining Kenny The Executor’s face when he hears this) So… an eighteen-way split? Sorry, how many of you were there again?
DAD: (scowls) (lists brothers)
ME: Okay. Set it up.
DAD: No, I just want to leave them a little something. Mark’s been…
DAD: He’s been helping a lot…
ME: (grits teeth) Sure, Dad.
Let’s meet some brothers!
 I excused this at the time as confusion on her part. Because I loved her and didn’t want to think or speak ill of the nearly dead.
 Remember, by her own calendar this was supposed to be the day she died.
 Who now insists on being called Ken or Kenneth but I say if you haven’t made that push in your 30’s or even your 40’s then it’s too damned late my friend. Your name is Kenny. And no, that mahoosive cocaine habit wasn’t a valid excuse for not ditching the nickname when you were younger—it’s just an example of why we don’t take you or anything about you seriously. Yes, even if you’re “clean” now.
 Fun Family Drama Fact: when I was 17 I was… well, according to them I ran away and made up a bunch of lies. According to police reports I fled to safety and was legally removed from the home, temporarily placed with friends and eventually moved back with my mother. According to me, I finally found a cop who believed me. Regardless of which version you’re chewing on, it’s bound to leave a taste in your mouth and the town hasn’t forgotten either. So yeah, I don’t doubt that Marsha went right out and made sure that I wouldn’t inherit a goddamned thing when she died. And I don’t begrudge her that choice—it’s her fuckin’ money… sort of.
 You see it, right?
 I really do, you know.
 Nice sidestep there, right? Reassuring, but not offering her what she asked for. Because… well, I’ll explain all that later.
 Does that get its own entry? I haven’t decided. Sorry, but I’m really flying by the seat of my pants on these.
 HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. aha… whew.
 Okay, good. Now we’re both liars.
 Foreshadowing: it’s a Fancy Writer Thing. All the Serious Writers do it, then draw attention to it so you notice and think, “ooh, she’s a Serious Writer!”
 Nope, sorry, still can’t remember.