My cell phone was on the kitchen table, an overused tool, the great interrupter, an annoyance. I often leave it there while I work my dogs. Yesterday, when I returned to the house two hours later, the small plastic iPhone glared at me from the table, silent, yet I felt the urge, the addiction, to check the weather, emails, phone calls. It would only be for a moment, a phrase I use a lot to justify thirty-sixty-ninety minutes mesmerized by the Internet. Today would be different.
The phone’s screen lit up when I touched it, showing a phone number I know all to well. It could only be bad news, a contrast to this quiet Sunday afternoon. For three years my ninety-year old dad has lived in a memory care facility, stubbornly surviving, coherent, knowing enough that he is in a place with no way out except death. He hates it but we both live with the reality of his physical and mental decline.
I called the phone number, steeling myself, the memory of the call I received three years ago a reminder of how one’s world could disintegrate, the day my mom fell and died in this same facility. Today it was Dad who fell and he was rushed to a nearby hospital, while I, oblivious, without my cell phone, trained dogs with my friends and laughed and enjoyed my life. Within thirty minutes I was by Dad’s side, where he looked grey and shook with shock and cold, yet he managed to argue with the nurses one minute, then told them he loved them the next. The nurse had the results back from the x-rays: a broken arm and broken hip, a scary prognosis that no senior citizen wants to hear.
The minutes ticked by as I stood near Dad’s bed, as usual we had nothing to talk about. He told me he loved me and called me by name, a forgotten word I had not heard from him in three years.
Suddenly I had to sit down, feeling faint, the enormity of the moment catching me by surprise. Here laid my father, the man who was rarely ever my friend, a stranger, abusive, abrasive, autocratic, his harsh words imprinted on my brain since childhood. Yet it now means nothing. He’s a flesh and blood person, my father. To hate him is to hate myself. Let bygones be bygones. Does hatred matter at the end of life when death is tantalizing the living, its blackness so close you know the spirit world is hovering, hoping for a new soul. There is a time to give up hate, to give up memories of pain and emotional injury. There is a time to forgive and love the person while he or she is on this side of life. Now. No regrets later.
Dad is tough. He has survived open heart surgery, a stroke and polio. All these thoughts filled my mind as I looked at Dad on the emergency room bed. He started to look better, color returning to his face, a healthy pink, the pain killers were taking effect. He said that I should leave him. We both felt awkward. I kissed his warm forehead, signed a surgery release form, thanked the nurses and left.
The hot early evening air outside the ER touched me, refreshing and normal again. But I wanted to avoid what the next few days may bring, decisions and calls and months of rehab for dad. A part of me wanted to run away, grab the dogs and drive all night along the Gulf Coast, to get out of the van in the dark and run barefoot, my toes digging deep into the wet sand. I wanted to forget and ignore and be a little girl again with no worries and no responsibilities. But I, the adult, the daughter, drove dutifully home, to wait for results of the surgery and knowing I have to take one slow step at a time, forgetting the past, to watch the grains of sand slowly sliding down the hourglass of time.
Monday, 6:30 a.m.
I opened the back door to let the dogs out and was greeted with a rainbow. As I stood there watching the morning sky the rainbow grew from a tiny sliver to completion. A sign?