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"Yes. Of course Iíll help." I must. Heís my father.

"Thank you, honey." He smiled softly.

"No problem, Dad. I'm so sorry this happened."

I turned to my mother. "What kind of cancer is it? How long have you known?" I thought of how she'd seemed a little absent-minded lately, and figured that waiting for this diagnosis was the likely cause of that.

"We found out last week. Friday." She hesitated. "Your father's doctor called, after some tests the week before and consulting with other doctors. There's colorectal cancer, they'll do surgery for that first, and thereís also cancer in the top lobe of one lung. Theyíll have to wait for the first surgery to heal before they can do the second one."

"So, when's the next appointment?" I glanced back and forth at them, waiting for an answer.

"Tuesday." Mom responded. "He has to be at the hospital by 7:30 in the morning. His surgery will be a couple hours later." We agreed I'd be at their home in Edmonds by 6:00 am to pick them up. I'd have to leave home at 5:30, the same time Mike always left.

I couldnít imagine Mom driving into Seattle and back every dayósheíd probably get lost, or scrape someone elseís car trying to park. The possibilities would be worrisome for my Dad, something he certainly did not need at this time. Nor did he, my kind and gentle father, need or deserve this cancer. I struggled to hold back my tears Ö until they drove away in Dadís red Chevy Impala.

Tomorrow I would need to make a list of what to do and what to take along, plus assess the leftover store stuff waiting to be relocated from our basement.

My morning glance at that glut of goods downstairs nearly overwhelmed me. Too much to be handled in one day, or two, it would probably take months. The first task was to cover the basement windows so no one could see inside. I took measurements, then drove to the discount fabric store in our neighborhood mall.

I knew the hall to the fabric store would take me past our now-closed shop, but I vowed not to let it bother me. When I rounded that corner, however, my heart skipped a beatónot because of our dark, lonely-looking store, but because of a sign on the upscale jewelry store across the hall that read, "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE."

One of the girls behind the counter waved at me and smiled. I took that as an invitation, and stepped inside to offer my condolences. "We were aware that this was coming for quite a while," she told me. "The economy has just been too bad for too long." I knew their family business had run successfully in the same spot for over twenty years, and now even they couldnít survive. After a brief chitchat, I moved on to the fabric shop carrying a less-weighty sense of failure about our own loss.

I filled the gas tank in my car on the way home. That evening I sewed and hung the curtains for the basement windows, gathered my take-along items for the next day, and stored lunches for both Mike and me in the fridge.

We drove away the next morning as plannedóMike to his road job, me to Edmonds to pick up the folks. Some eight hours later, Dad had survived his colorectal surgery and been returned to his hospital room. The surgeon visited within minutes, explaining to Mom and me the procedure they had done, that they believed they got all the cancer and what care and attention his colostomy would require. We stayed in Dadís room, watching him sleep off the anesthetic, barely conversing with each other. I wondered if she at all remembered her visit to a California hospital nineteen years ago, when Mike was in critical condition, and she was less than supportive to me. Probably not, I surmised, and kept my thoughts on my father.

By late afternoon, Dad was able to talk a bit despite the hoarseness caused by intubation. An aide brought a cup of broth for him to sip, so while Mom assisted him with that, I used the phone to call home, hoping Mike would be there and in good shape. Please God, let him answer.

That day he did. But not always, and when he didnít, I worried that he might be in an accident somewhere, or be storming around out of his head while insulin surged in his system. Or be found dead.

A week or so later, when Dad came home from the hospital, my schedule reduced to three or four trips a week to my folks, whether it be to help my mother or take Dad to a doctorís appointment. That allowed me a day or two per week at home, trying to find buyers for the leftover store stuff. I placed ads for the clothes racks and mirrors in the Seattle paper, and within two weeks, they were gone. I located a liquidation company that offered me ten cents on the dollar for the apparel that was left, "as long as it is unused, undamaged, and still tagged." I accepted their offer.

Dadís doctors began to pressure him about healing quickly so they could perform the lung surgery before that cancer spread. Though I didnít object to helping them, that second surgery pushed my folksí need for help well into summer. A hot summer. The kind that put Mike at more risk for insulin reactions.

One day, after an early-morning trip to pick up Mom, drive her to the hospital and take her back to Edmonds that afternoon, I got home before Mike did. When he arrived, walking unsteadily and inarticulate of speech, I suspected low blood sugar. Once upstairs, he flopped down on the bed. I rushed to the kitchen to sugar-up some juice, but the phone rang.

It was a coworker, another inspector, wanting to talk to Mike. I returned to the bedroom and handed him the bedside phone, then headed back to the kitchen. When a barrage of profanity shot down the hallway and scorched my ears, I stopped what I was doing and hurried again to the bedroom. Mike was lying there, flailing the phone in the air, talking nonsense and grimacing.

"Whatís going on?" Instantly, I knew.

He popped upright and sat on the edge of the bed, phone in hand, his other fist clenched. Anger filled his eyes and words. "You told LeRoy to hang up, didnít you?"

"No. I didnít tell LeRoy anything."

"You did." He shouted. "You disconnected us, didnít you?" He glared at me and stood up, letting the phone fall to the floor and stepped toward me, fist still clenched, like a snake about to strike.

I eased backward, toward the doorway. "No, honey. I did not."

"You did! What did you say to him?" He demanded, coming even closer, his jaw clenched as tightly as his fist.

I stepped back again. "Nothing. Honest. I didnít talk to him."

He advanced more, less than a foot away, a tight fist at the ready and pulsating slowly as if preparing to punch my face. My heart pounded with terror, my hands went cold, my knees weak, my bowel and bladder begged to evacuate. God, no! Help me, please. Give me the courage and wisdom to handle this. Prepare to hurt. He's about to break my jaw. No sudden moves. Donít back up any farther. Do not show weakness.

"Hold on, Mike." Slowly I raised my open hand, as if stopping a car in traffic. "Hold on, I have something for you." I turned, walked quickly but did not run down the hallway to the kitchen, picked up the sugared juice and grabbed a towel. I started for the bedroom, juice in hand, but stopped short when I saw him coming at me, already halfway down the hall.

He stopped outside the door to the bathroom, placing his clenched fist purposely against the hallway wall. Then, as if in slow-motion, he pulled his arm back and POW! Punched a hole through the plasterboard. I swear he growled at the same time.

Shuddering with shock, I managed to remain calm. I knew I must. He seemed a bit nonplussed himself, so I took advantage. "Hereís a cool drink, Mike. Have a sip."

He reached for the glass.

I kept hold, trying to keep it from spilling.

To my surprise, he raised it to his lips and drank it all, then stood in a stupor, glass in hand.

"Iíll take it for you, Mike." My fear faded. "Why donít you go lie down for a few minutes, while I fix dinner?" I pointed to the bedroom. He began to scratch the top of his head, as if acknowledging his confusion, then returned to the bed without a word.

I went into the kitchen to fix dinner. If he slept for twenty minutes, that would be time enough for the sugary drink to restore things to normalówhatever that might be for us.


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