After I sat there—letting four grown-ass men who don’t know me shit all over me, call me a liar and worse—I left the hospital sobbing.
I was almost certainly in no condition to drive, but I did so anyway because what I needed more than vehicular safety was distance from the location of that verbal hit-and-run.
Wait—no, that’s not the right term. A hit-and-run would have been quicker. They stuck around to watch my suffering. Is there a vehicular equivalent to the torment I’d just silently endured?
I called Husband with the report, still kicking myself for not defending myself, not outing Mark as the liar in that room. I had the proof, why didn’t I use it?
Because I was still bleeding internally from the loss of my stepmother.
Because I was reeling at the discovery that she’d hated me.
Because every time I opened my mouth he got more vicious.
Because my father was already weak and suffering and the one thing he’d asked was for there to be no fighting. So I didn’t fight back. And Mark used that against me, as proof that I was a liar—only a liar would sit there and let people call her a liar, right?
Husband, predictably, was furious.
ME: And I just… sat there. And I… took it… (sobs)
HIM: What. The. Fuck.
ME: (incoherent noises)
HIM: Seriously, what the fuck is his problem?!
ME: And then Dad turned to me and he was like, do you know what this is?
HIM: What was it?
ME: (hiccoughs) He said it was “classic Chase.”
HIM: WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?!
ME: (wails) I don’t know!
HIM: He doesn’t know you!
ME: (gasping) Right?
HIM: (growls) (huffs)
ME: I’m there. Every. Day. I’m helping them wipe his ass. I’m helping the CNA’s turn him, reposition him; I’m talking to his doctors and tracking his meds; I’m out buying things I think he’ll like to eat and chasing down the nutrition department to make sure they learn how to make a goddamned PB&J exactly the way he likes it; I’m staring at his monitors and running for staff the moment something looks hinky—before an alarm goes off; I’m fluffing his fucking pillows and trying to get his teeth; I made sure they got to see each other before she… (breaks off crying)
HIM: (gently) Exactly.
ME: Because that is who I am.
ME: (bitterly) That is “classic Chase.”
HIM: It is. And he’d know that if he knew you.
ME: But he doesn’t (more crying)
HIM: (sighs) I’m so sorry, honey.
HIM: You don’t deserve this.
I made it all the way to the office of my friend and former boss, where I ugly cried all over her conference room. She let me, and also fumed over how I’d been treated. We went to dinner, and swapped stories of family drama—she’s still trying to settle her parents’ estate, nearly a decade after their deaths, due to Drama and Bitches so I got a good glimpse of how ugly it can get—and we sorted through a few things for me.
- I sat there and took what they dished out because I was still in shock—and that’s fine—but if I continued to let the attack on my character stand, I was officially a pussy. And (here she smirked) while I was always shit with numbers, I was never weak.
- The road ahead was going to be long and messy at best. There would be highs and lows. But I would stay classy, honest, and would continue to fight for what I knew to be right only as long as I was willing—at any time I could throw up my hands and let the assholes win, knowing that no one would judge me for protecting my mental health over my father’s legacy.
- The only way to know if you’re winning—or indeed, what you’re fighting for—is to go into every situation knowing exactly what you want out of it. I had to make a list of my priorities, those things I felt actually mattered, and leave everything else in the lap of the gods.
ME: (determined) I need to get that PoA.
LIZ: (nodding) Then you’ll get it. But know that… (sighs, remembering) Even getting it—and getting it ain’t gonna be as simple as walking in and getting it; it never was—doesn’t mean much.
LIZ: Once you’ve got it, you’ve got to keep it.
ME: (realizing) He’ll challenge me.
LIZ: Oooh yeah. And with your dad in the state he’s in…
ME: (ponders) So… it’s best if we do it while he’s in the hospital.
ME: (shrugs) Surrounded by doctors. Social workers. People who are constantly assessing his mental state—people who are trained to do exactly that, who would be the ones called in to do so if he challenged—
LIZ: (chuckles) That will help, yup.
ME: (pushes fajitas around) And after I’ve got it, I should be ready to move him.
LIZ: As quick as you can. Because if he’s here…
ME: Mark can go to work on him.
LIZ: (nods sadly)
LIZ: You okay?
ME: I don’t think I can go to Marsha’s funeral.
ME: Like, even if they put it off until I can be back—which they won’t, let’s be honest.
LIZ: I understand.
ME: (looks away) (quietly) She hates me.
LIZ: Well, that’s her loss.
ME: (smiles) I just… she wouldn’t want me there.
LIZ: Yeah, but she’s dead. You should go if you want to be there.
ME: I don’t enjoy going where I’m not wanted.
LIZ: Well that’s not true. (smirks)
ME: (rolls eyes) Okay, fine… but crashing her funeral? Fuck it. I’m not buying a damned dress just to show up and think about how much she must have hated me to waste her few remaining breaths talking shit about me.
LIZ: (nods) So don’t go. Fuck ‘em.
ME: (stronger now) But Dad’s funeral…
LIZ: (nodding) That’s different.
ME: I didn’t know I felt this way until Kenny—
LIZ: Jesus, your family makes me think maybe mine wasn’t that bad.
ME: (laughs) We were talking about the funerals last time I was out and I told him funerals aren’t my bag, you know? And I said he could just do whatever and I’d send flowers. Lovely flowers. But then…
ME: He promised he’d handle Dad’s.
ME: And he said, “Don’t worry, your dad will be buried with full military honors.”
LIZ: Of course…
ME: And then he asked, “Who do you want to receive the flag?”
ME: (wide-eyed) And Offspring… bless that boy, he can still smell the oncoming storm… he starts pulling at my sleeve, all “Mom, Mom, come see what’s… uh… over… here…”
LIZ: (laughs) Ah, the flag…
LIZ: Well you know—
ME: Your drama, right. But I didn’t think I would…
ME: But then I’m standing there, perfectly still, and Kenny says, “Do you want me to receive your father’s flag?”
ME: And I turned (whips head ‘round to demonstrate)
ME: And it was all just a haze of red. And all I could think was, YOU KEEP YOUR FILTHY FUCKING CLAWS OFF MY DADDY’S FLAG!!!11!
LIZ: (laughs outright)
ME: Whyyyyy? Why do I care so much?
LIZ: Because that’s what they fought for, worked for—
ME: (scoffs) That’s not it.
LIZ: (sympathetically) … And that’s what they were doing, instead of being home with us. It’s what we’ve got instead of memories.
ME: (tears up) That’s it. (nods) That’s what it is.
LIZ: I still have Dad’s. I won’t look at it, and I avoid that part of the house, but it’s up.
ME: It’s like I need a magnet for all the resentment.
ME: So I’ll go to his funeral.
ME: And that’s my flag.
ME: It’s not like your dad’s. Nobody’s left to keep it from me.
LIZ: You’d be surprised. Just… don’t fight over it. They know what they’re doing, and they’ll make it right.
LIZ: I know.
ME: My flag.
As we were polishing off our seventeenth iced tea refill, I worked up the courage to ask Liz what it costs to bury someone. Because the amount of life insurance my parents were carrying seemed… excessive. She shrugged and replied that she’d got it done very neatly for around five grand, because hers were buried at the air base.
Why hadn’t I thought of this?
At a national cemetery, they would share a headstone, share space… and they’d be far away from the house where they’d entered the terminal feedback loop that would ultimately kill both of them. Plus, Dad’s primary concern for the funeral arrangements was cost (ick) and simplicity—it doesn’t get any simpler than a national cemetery!
Armed with this brilliant idea—and my rediscovered gumption—I returned to my father the next day. A nurse intercepted me on my way in to inform me that a social worker and notary would be by later to handle that PoA we’d requested yesterday.
Whatever. I started the day as usual: fixing his breakfast order, (why did they keep sending him pancakes? It never went well for them!) chatting with the doctor, respiratory therapy; assist with a breathing treatment, discuss his positioning with nurses; pop quiz with the pulmonologist and his entourage while we all discuss what to do about the conflicting meds fighting it out in my father’s system… you know, just an average weekday. Then when the parade slowed to a trickle, Dad brought up Mark. I’m trying to remember what he said, I really am, but all I remember is that he brought up the ugliness from the day before like he was gonna start in on me and I… well, I snapped out my backbone like a freshly starched sheet and went to work on him.
ME: Yeah, about that… (stands up) We need to talk.
ME: (heading for door) (holds up hand) Actually? I need to talk. You need to listen.
DAD: Now wait—
ME: Nope! This is your listening time. (closes door)
ME: (returning) Because I sat here yesterday and let you, and your three useless brothers—
ME: —who don’t know a damned thing about me, by the way—shit all over me for about an hour. And I sat here and I took it. Because I had no choice! Every time I opened my mouth he was jumping down my throat!
DAD: (points) You—
ME: AAAHT! My turn!
ME: (pulls out phone, unlocks it) Here’s every text I ever exchanged with Mark. Everything. Ever. Go ahead, take a look. (hands him phone)
DAD: (takes phone, eyes me suspiciously)
ME: I have nothing to hide.
DAD: (scrolls through texts)
DAD: (points) What’s this one?
ME: (looks) That’s your DD-214. I took the original—the scanner at your house wasn’t working—and texted copies to Kenny and Mark. Then I emailed a copy to Kenny and mailed six paper copies to the house. The original stayed with me.
DAD: (keeps scrolling)
DAD: (hands phone back to me)
ME: (flicks through phone menus) This is the voicemail I got from Mark after we argued about me coming out here and I hung up on him—I told you about that call and I can play it for you if you like. (plays voicemail)
VOICEMAIL: (is fucking brutal and so not how you talk to your niece)
ME: (flicks to different menu) As I mentioned yesterday, I have an app on my phone that records all calls. I have every call I ever had with (rehab) right here (shows screen) from the two days you were there. Including (pulls up call) the call on the first day you were there where I talked with Mark and he confirmed he knew you were there and had spoken with them. Because—and I’m quoting him here—he was listed as their “first contact.” Would you like to listen to that one? Because his story that I cut him off and he didn’t know where you were? PURE FICTION.
ME: Everything he said about me yesterday was a lie. And easily disproven lies at that!
ME: Would you like to listen—
DAD: (holds up hand) Now is not the time for blame.
ME: Excuse me?
DAD: Now is not the time—
ME: Yuh. I heard you. I just can’t believe that’s your defense.
DAD: (frowns) I don’t—
ME: You sat there yesterday and listened to him spin a ridiculous tale about me—an easily disproven bullshit story for which he had no evidence, save the word of a liar—and you swallowed it whole.
ME: Didn’t even need them to cut it up for you. Just… (slurps)
DAD: I believed it because you have done things—
ME: So have you.
ME: So has he, apparently. The difference—the only difference—is that you’re willing to believe that he and you and everyone else you meet is capable of growth and change. Only your daughter—
DAD: WHOM I KNOW!
ME: Whom you knew, sort of, for a few years when she was a child—is somehow exempt from ever growing up. I’m 40 years old, Dad. The same age you were when you married Marsha. Were you the same person then that you were when you first went off to boot camp?
DAD: (looks away)
ME: Fine. Don’t talk to me about it. But know this: I’m not ever again going to let you or anybody treat me the way I was treated in this room yesterday.
DAD: I don’t—
ME: Because I stand up for myself now. And that (hard stare) is “classic Chase.”
And then I went to disinfect the crap out of my phone, because C.Diff is no fucking joke.
nb: I had spent a bit of time out in the hall the previous day, enough to be truly frightened of the medical unit. They had actual MRSA! Just… you know… right fucking there! Two doors down from my daddy! And what’s worse? I heard the family of that patient bitching about the precautions before they went in!
LADY: Do we really have to do all (gestures) this? Is this really necessary?
RN: Um… let me check what he’s on Contact for…
CHARGE NURSE: MRSA!
LADY: (huffs impatiently)
RN: Okay so he’s got MRSA…
LADY: I know.
LADY: Can I go in now?
RN: (over it) Well, it’s up to you. I mean, the infection he’s got is contagious and very difficult to treat and potentially fatal, but we can’t force you to take precautions that keep yourself and others safe. (walks away)
LADY: (rolls eyes) (walks into room without anything on but her designer threads)
ME: Lord have MRSA.
ME: Bet she licks the wound.
When I got back to the room, Dad and I sat in the uneasy silence of an impromptu cease-fire and watched whatever he’d tuned to on the television. Eventually, he asked for his laptop; I watched him struggle with something for a few minutes before offering assistance. He flopped back against his pillows, closed his eyes and pressed his fingers against them with a rough sigh.
DAD: I can’t… remember…
ME: What are you trying to remember? Maybe I can help.
DAD: (looks at me) I can’t remember my password.
ME: (confused) For…
DAD: To get into my bank accounts!
ME: (peers around at screen)
DAD: (pecks at keyboard)
ME: Um… isn’t Mark handling all that?
DAD: (shoves laptop away in disgust) Do you remember the name of my lawyer?
ME: (shakes head) That was nothing to do with me—I wasn’t there that day, remember?
DAD: I need the name…
ME: You’d have to ask Mark.
DAD: You could get it.
ME: Nooo, because I would have to ask Mark. Which I’m not doing. You can ask Mark.
ME: What’s wrong?
DAD: (picks up room phone) Help me (pokes at buttons) call the house.
ME: (shrugs, dials)
DAD: (listens to ringing, gets voicemail) No answer. (hangs up)
ME: (checks monitor) Daddy, what’s wrong?
DAD: He hasn’t called!
ME: Who hasn’t?
ME: You talked to him yesterday. (drily) Remember?
DAD: Yeah, but he’s supposed to be running everything past me!
DAD: The money!
ME: Wait… I’m confused. You gave him Power of Attorney over your finances.
DAD: But he’s supposed to get approval for everything from me!
DAD: (as if I’m the stupid one in this conversation) What, you thought I just gave him control over my money?
ME: Well… yeah.
ME: So he hasn’t updated you. I’m sure it’s fine. He probably hasn’t bothered because things have been… (gestures) and there’s nothing weird you need to be apprised of.
DAD: I need to be consulted!
ME: Okay, fine. So talk to him. Don’t yell at me—I’m not in charge of it.
DAD: I need to talk to the lawyer.
ME: Okay, so get that info and talk to the lawyer. And for the love of crap, calm down!
And that was the moment the social worker chose to come knocking.
Because—in case you hadn’t picked up on the trend—this trip was a shitshow of highs and lows, she was there to discuss my father’s PoA… which, just yesterday, he’d been dead-set on granting to me. But then I’d been branded a liar and worse and now I was out of time to change his mind—and I’d just wasted my last few minutes talking about fucking Mark and the stupid money!
SOCIAL WORKER: Hi, Lee!
SOCIAL WORKER: So I’m one of the social workers here and I help people with their advance planning—
DAD: I already know what I want!
SOCIAL WORKER: I understand you spoke with someone yesterday and thought you might want to do a medical Power of Attorney but weren’t quite ready to make that decision?
ME: (holds breath, prays he’ll ask for more time)
DAD: (points to me) I want her to have it.
SOCIAL WORKER: (looks to me) And you are…
DAD: My daughter.
SOCIAL WORKER: Okay, well we can certainly do that!
Grab a mirror and look at your face right now; is it a portrait of “what just happened here?”
Because mine sure the fuck was.
But in short order I was handed a form and told to fill in my info as “agent.” There was also a spot for “alternate,” and I was all set to suggest Offspring or Husband (you know, to keep it in the family) but Dad, in an unprecedented display of even-handedness, suddenly barked that it had to be Mark.
W H A T E V E R.
Everyone knows that Alternate is just First Place for losers.
Then it was time to move on to Advance Directives, for some ghoulish reason. I don’t know, maybe this bitch hated me? Dad and I started talking through them—I knew his feelings on most items, but was hoping to change his mind on a few—and she ducked out, reminding us there was no rush and someone could come back another day or even next week to notarize everything. Admonishing us one last time not to sign without a notary, she left us to our debate.
DAD: No tubes! I don’t want tubes or machines!
ME: Right, and I get that… but we also talked about the fact that you were intubated before, as a short-term measure to save your life. And you were fine with that.
ME: (raises eyebrow)
DAD: (points at me) Short term.
ME: (nods) Agreed. And I’ll have Husband right there reminding me what that means. Nothing like an engineer for those details…
ME: Now we come to the sticky bit, because I’m going to have some things to say about this one.
DAD: What is it?
ME: Artificial nutrition and hydration.
DAD: (shakes head) Don’t want it.
ME: I hear you. But can I just make one point?
DAD: (suspiciously) What’s that?
ME: Starvation is a fucking horrifying way to die. And it takes a very long time.
DAD: I don’t want tubes… down my throat…
ME: Cool, ‘cuz unless you’re unconscious that’s not how they do it.
ME: Generally it’s a direct tube into your belly. Or some other means. And… as far as the artificial hydration?
DAD: DON’T want that!
ME: (taps IV line) You’re already getting it.
DAD: (looks at IV curiously)
ME: That’s all it is. Just an IV with saline. Right now yours is spiked with… (glances up) two antibiotics on one side and an antifungal on the other. Huh. No wonder they double-tapped you.
DAD: (prods at IV, considering) That’s what this is?
ME: Yup. Now, you don’t need yours for hydration—you’re still drinking just fine. But haven’t you noticed you’re not as thirsty as you ought to be?
DAD: … Hydration’s fine.
ME: And nutrition?
DAD: … As long as they don’t put it down my throat!
ME: Um… if they tried that while you’re conscious, I’d be screaming for another doctor. ‘Cuz that’s fucked up.
PALLIATIVE LADY: (breezes in) Hi, Lee! Remember me? We met the other day with your family!
ME: (glares, but for different reasons)
PALLIATIVE LADY: And you are…?
DAD: My daughter.
ME: His next of kin.
PALLIATIVE LADY: (blinks) Oh. Well, they said you were going over some advance directives in here and I thought I might come in to lend a hand! I spoke with Lee quite a bit the other day and I think I got a pretty good feel for what he wants…
DAD: (loses interest)
ME: (hates her on sight)
PALLIATIVE LADY: (to me) Hi! I’m Audrey! (offers hand)
ME: (bares teeth) I love that name!
PALLIATIVE LADY: (withdraws hand carefully) So it sounded like there was some disagreement when I came in… what were we talking about?
DAD: I don’t want tubes!
ME: We had just decided that artificial nutrition and hydration are better than the alternative.
PALLIATIVE LADY: (nods) Well, and I know it’s difficult for family members to understand this, but a person in the end stages of life will naturally start to shut down and will have less of an appetite. And it sounds like Lee is already there, right Lee? You’re eating less?
ME: (glances meaningfully at wrecked tray that once contained three sandwiches—his snack)
PALLIATIVE LADY: So what we need to do is respect that. (smiles at me)
ME: Five days.
PALLIATIVE LADY: I’m sorry?
ME: Five days it takes to die of dehydration; starvation takes weeks. All numbers are approximate, of course… it’s possible you could hang on longer or go a little quicker if the pain and muscle cramps cause a heart attack.
PALLIATIVE LADY: … In this culture, we do feed to cure, but when people are dying—
ME: (snaps) That is the worst way to die. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Would you?
PALLIATIVE LADY: …
DAD: But the odds of that being the only thing wrong with me by that point…
PALLIATIVE LADY: Exactly! By that time, there will be so many other problems.
ME: No, this form is very clear; if at any time artificial hydration becomes necessary, should we allow it? If not, we’re giving you at most five days to live. In. Agony.
DAD: Hydration is fine, I said!
PALLIATIVE LADY: (shifts)
ME: And nutrition?
DAD: As long as they don’t put that tube down my throat? (waves hand) We’re good.
ME: I said they don’t, and won’t. Or I’ll shove something—
PALLIATIVE LADY: It’s very unlikely they’d do it that way. We actually—
ME: (abruptly) Moving on to the next point…
And so it went. I did not care for Palliative Lady. I actually skipped over a lot of her nonsense here, but basically imagine a constant litany of, “You’re dying, did you know that? Because you are. Just accept it! Embrace death and die gracefully, because you’re here to diiiiiiiiiiie.” As a person who feels Full Code is not enough—in the event I require life-saving measures, all resources should be diverted from elsewhere in the hospital (especially maternity; and while we’re at it nobody cares who just pushed out a crotch goblin so quit playing the fucking song on every floor!) and put to work on me; I want Hopkins-trained surgeons jumping up and down on my chest before anyone’s allowed to give up—I found basically everything about her offensive.
But eventually she left, as everyone did. I mean, she left with instructions to call Mark and find out the name of my father’s attorney, but she sent someone back with that post-it so I was able to tell myself I’d seen the last of her.
And Dad called the lawyer right in front of me; he complained that Mark wasn’t reporting to him the way he should and threatened to take the financial PoA away from Mark and give it to me. The lawyer agreed to come out the next morning to see Dad in person and discuss what was to be done.
DAD: I’m gonna sort this out tomorrow.
ME: Sure, you do that. But…
DAD: (eyeballs me) What?
ME: Well, I’m just not sure you need to go changing up who does the financials.
ME: (shrugs) If you’re still getting reports, does it matter who’s doing it?
DAD: But I’m not getting them!
ME: Okay, so… change that. And, by all means, audit. You can audit at any time. You can have someone else audit—the lawyer can do it, or you can give someone else, a third party, audit authority.
ME: Think about it. (offers chocolate pudding)
My father, the medieval king…
 Nevermind that every time I did defend myself he turned to his jury with the “SEE HOW SHE LIIIIIIIES?!” roar.
 Sorry, super-patriots—only military brats really get it. Hell, Offspring doesn’t understand my bitterness, but Husband was out long before he was born. He says things like, “you know it wasn’t his choice, right?” and I start throwing things. Because it totally fucking was. Every time he re-upped, he chose the Corps over me.
 For some reason, this point in particular upsets me. I don’t know, maybe it’s a courtesy thing? Like, if you’re going to lie about me at least put the time and effort in to cover your tracks. Show some fucking pride in your craft—show me you care.
 I’m sorry—am I a day late for that? Because yesterday sure as fuck seemed to be the time for blame!
 For the record, I did not and do not believe this. Trust, but verify—that’s my philosophy. And Mark has proven he’s not a person I can trust, so… yeah. But do I think he’s dumb enough to start siphoning funds away from Dad right away? Nah. Do I think he needs independent oversight? YUP! But here’s the thing: I’m not dumb enough to come right out and accuse him of being a thieving asshole to my father—if I’m right, I’m stuck with the shit job; if I’m wrong, I made an obvious play to discredit a saint and failed. My other philosophy: avoid no-win scenarios at all costs.
 My father has never grasped the concept of specialization, particularly in a hospital setting; to his mind, everyone there is part of his team and can do everything and anything he asks, one way or another. What’s weird is, he’s not wrong… somehow.
 I had not. But the next time, I’d be asking for her. Go figure!
 Do not want DO NOT WANT DONOTWANT! Why does no one ever ask first?
 Yup, this was and is my honest advice. Because I am a stupid person who does things like offer her honest advice rather than advising strategically.