Monday, June 7, 2010

The first time

The first time we thought my dad was really sick was a summer night two years ago. I had gotten off the Greyhound in DC and found my sister's car waiting outside, slung my bags in her trunk and climbed in the passenger seat when she looked at me, gripping the steering wheel, her eyes like bowls.

We drove straight to the hospital.

It took some time to get back to the room where they had him; they were only letting in two visitors at a time, and there were four of us: me, my mom and my sisters. It became a game, dodging past the orderly when he wasn't looking - slinking through the electronic gated doors.

My dad was scrooge in a nightgown, white-haired and naked under his hospital gown. He was busy plucking off the electrodes stuck all over him, which was sending the heart monitor into an alarmed wail. No no no, we said, pulling them from his hands and pasting them back onto his skin. Even with them in place the heart monitor was skipping all over the place. I'm leaving, he insisted, trying to swing his legs off the bed. Tracey sat like a bulldog at the foot of the mattress and taunted him: How are you gonna do that?

Dehydration, they eventually said. My mom had found him in the backyard with soiled sweatpants and a sweat-drenched sweatshirt in the afternoon sun. She had washed him in the shower and he had gone to the bathroom again, so she washed him off a second time. She thought he'd had a stroke because he couldn't string a sentence together.

That night on the way to the hospital we didn't know if we were driving to say goodbye, and so I started memorizing. My sister's face, the shake in her voice, the night highway.