I tried my best to hear everything and nothing at the same time.
The way you do when the news is bad.
The way you do when the news is over the phone.
The way you do when you try to place your physical body in a way that could shelter you, just in case. Not in the case of rain, as this day had a cruel sun, and all the shapes and rhythm of a tuesday, because that’s exactly what it was.
My phone rang and I was in between my front door and my car door.
And so, I chose the middle to hear, everything and nothing with the same amount of effort, because I rarely pause on my front porch. But walking through my front door and opening my car door are things I do often, and I did not want to be in the doorways I always am, because news has a way of staying in a place.
I sat down against the pillar, and turned toward the house instead of toward the street.
I sat down with my skills of any child, with their knees tucked in, and their breath shallow and noisy, that if I cant see them, they cant see me.
I was proven wrong immediately, as my neighbors dad with his big smile, pulled up to the street in front of my car, and his boxes of pizza, flagged me to come over to watch the giants game. I was not hidden at all.
I smiled, and pointed at the phone.
Knowing now that my neighbors dad, and his kind smile, and his boxes of pizza were going to be a part of what I remember about this day now, I didn’t want him to come any closer. To hear everything and nothing at the same time, I needed to be alone.
I slid my finger across the screen to answer the call.
And braced myself as I have always, braced myself for conversations with her.
She says my name with a question on the end. ‘Lyn’ ? She says my name and she is tired.
And I am reminded of the million times she has said my name, and I am just realizing now that she has always said it with that question at the end, especially when she’s tired, which is almost always.
As if to affirm am I really here.
And my lifetime of affirming. Am I really here.
We’ve been dancing like this, my whole life.
In between sobs she tells me that the other night she dreamt he was crawling to her.
‘he was crawling over to me’ she sobbed. ‘I dreamt he was crawling over to me’
And I stared ahead unable to say anything.
Yeah, mom, I’m here.
Lyn, he was crawling over to me, you know what I mean? When you have known a man for 40-years, you know before he knows. Do you know?
Do you know?
I said I did. With a heavy sigh. I said yes, and I sighed, in the same breath. The breath I was struggling with anyway, barely out of my body. And me barely in my body. It’s hard to see your own hands, when all you are thinking about are someone else’s.
I said I did, but I don’t know. How could I know.
I knew she needed to be understood. And she needed to hear yes. And she needed me to breathe yes, and dance with her in our whole lifetime of her questioning me, and wether or not I’m here, and asking me impossible questions, and my whole lifetime of affirming the same damn question. Am I here. Do I know.
It was 7 hours since his surgery. And just 24-hours since I knew that my Dad was getting his right leg amputated above the knee.
It had been 2-weeks of bad news. And every time the phone rang I’d scramble to get somewhere I wasn’t always, because like I’ve told you, I don’t want to hear news like that in the places I always am. I took a lot of calls on the side of the road in those 2-weeks.
That whole day I was prepared to hear anything back.
And everything back.
And hoped for nothing back though. No more calls that started with my name in question form.
I had been moving through the past 2-weeks in very vivid flashbacks. Dad pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill in our backyard. The sound of the basketball against the driveway, and how that feeling of being a kid, and playing ball outside with your Dad, and how it’s summer, and how the day gives you almost every single hour to be outside, and how I’d go to bed sticky and smiling, thinking of the three point shot I sunk from the far point of the driveway, and how we both threw our arms up in the air.
I thought of tossing darts on the back porch with him.
And shooting pool.
And our million car rides, and our 20-dollar hand-offs whenever I was driving back to college, and the dinners we’d have just me and him on Friday, his famous line ‘I’ll buy if you fly’ and I’d jump into my shitty car I loved because it meant freedom, and come back with a bag of cheeseburgers for us, big grin on my face.
And then I had all these vivid flashbacks of just him, which I feel like I was always observing. Everyone in our home. But with Dad I was always observing with such tenderness, cause he was always looking at me the same way. Always.
I’d peek out the window and watch him manning the grill. And I knew the exact series of sounds that meant it was time for dinner, the clink of the plate, the open/close of the grill, the porch door opening and closing. His footsteps up the stairs.
And when I was on the sidelines with my team, I’d always glance over at Dad, and he’d always be glancing on the field. Never caught up in the drama. He’d throw his hands in the air for me, whenever it called for it, which according to Dad, was always.
And all last week I saw him sitting there, like 20 years ago was yesterday, and we hadn’t had 20-years of things getting worse. I saw him sitting there in his Dad jeans from Sears, with the wallet outline in the worn right back pocket, and his weathered looking chair, that he’d calmly walk to and from the car with. He’d sit away from the other parents, and not cause he was rude, it’s just that he liked quiet. And he loved the ritual and tradition of a ball game. The crack of the bat. The hustle to first. The snap of the ball in the mitt.
He loved seeing Fryer, on the back of the million jerseys I wore. Always the smallest one on the field. But I never felt small with him. I felt like the biggest person in any room, on any field, always. In his eyes, there was and is, nothing I could not do.
And in my eyes, there was nothing he could not do.
Which I think is what makes fathers and daughters, fathers and daughters.
They gave the phone to him that morning so he could talk to me. And I pictured now the hospital rooms which isn’t hard to do. I see so many in my job as an account manager in medical device. I tell a million stories in my head about the people I see, the stories are different if they are young, or old, if they have family with them, or they are alone, if I know their name or if I don’t. I don’t just do this in the hospitals at work, I do this everywhere I go. You ever look a stranger dead in the eyes and in a moment you know everything about them? This happens to me all the time. I wondered if anyone was looking at my Dad in that moment, and knowing how we got here.
We made jokes to each other, like we do.
We were kind to each other, like we are.
They came in to wheel him out for surgery, and then we both started to cry.
I love you buddy, he said. And then he said it again. There was an urgency.
I love you Dad. Be brave.
I will buddy. I will.
7 hours later I wondered in my body what it would feel like to know that those were the last things we said to each other.
And as the hours went on, I practiced in my body what it would feel like to find that out. I pulled myself into my own huddle, and I bowed my head, and made a strategic plan about where I would be when they told me. And how I would be okay. I would need to be okay.
For 2-weeks I practiced what it would feel like in my body, what I’ve been afraid of my whole life, where I would be and how I would know, that the one guy who never asked me to affirm my life, was gone.
I took every phone call of knowing he didn’t die, as one more phone call I got where I didn’t need to start living my life without a Dad. And a Mom who still had a husband.
When my Mom told me 7 hours later, 5 hours more than they told me to expect a call, she said Dad was still alive and recovering. I didn’t even have the energy to be angry that no one called to let me know that, that my name filled up the cue on their flip phones, filled up the cue on the hospital voicemail, that there was barely a moment in the past 5-hours when I wasn’t practicing in my body to be someone without a Dad, and to begin the unique life of taking care of a Mom who cannot manage the simple things, and therefore, cannot manage a life. All the work I had done to untangle myself from them, the past 2-weeks, frantic, we were becoming tangled again. I was doing a slow march back towards a life I ran like I was on fire from, and took so long to not be angry about. And what I can tell you on this march is, I wasn’t even angry, I was just desperate, I was not ready to return there. I spent 2-weeks with my hands clenched, refusing to be open in anyway to receiving this life that I did not want. I spent 2-weeks with my jaw clenched, refusing to say the terrible truth, I spent 2-weeks crying a lot, by myself, because you cannot close your hands and our your mouth, and your eyes, when you have been living to undo that. You do not get to go back. You have been living too open, too long. You cannot go back.
But I couldn’t bare the questions in my body, and I most certainly could not say them out loud except to a few of my very best friends. My voice wild, and afraid.
What I have come this far in life and this is as far as I go. What if this is it.
What has happened.
What do we do now.
How am I going to fix this.
And I couldn’t breathe, again. And I could not do, what was being asked of me to do, again.
And I could not remember a single thing in therapy, a single moment on my yoga mat, or teaching from a place in the room in a yoga class, a single moment with a best friend with my feet on the earth, and a million mile view, and the beauty of knowing I made it out of there, a childhood that was not meant for making it. It was meant for surviving, and wrestling down the anger and fear and staring it right in the eye.
I wasn’t angry. I was desperate.
I was not ready to receive this life again yet.
I was too young.
I was too young now, and I was too young then, when I was given a life I prayed hard on my knees to go away.
And now, I was praying on the sides of roads, careful not to be in any doorways I am always. I already hated remembering how these days felt.
God, can you give me just one more phone call.
God, can you give me just one more day, I gotta change the flight days, call the hospital.
God, can you give him just one more year, he’s close to retirement, they’re almost there.
God, can you give her all my breath, I’ll get mine somewhere else, I know how to find more breath, she doesn’t.
When I wasn’t practicing in my body for the phone call where I found out that he died, I was sending up prayers by the dozen. My forearms burning and tired, from running them up a million miles up to where God lives.
And when you are in a place in life when you are sending up prayers that urgently, you start to realize I think that you’ve been praying for the same things for so long.
Ever since I learned the act of placing my hands together and looking up at the sky, most of my prayers have always been for them.
And though my understanding of God, has changed a lot over the years, I place my hands together most days. I look up at the sky, everyday.
I am trying hard.
When I said that there was nothing my Dad believed I could not do, and I for him. That was true. True right up to the point where I told you I was, at about 15 or so, I started learning the terrible truth, that parents and grown-ups are not indestructible.
I had known this about my Mom always, cause she was far more obvious about it.
But not my Dad.
I learned the truth, the way we learn the truth. Through experiences and paying attention. Learning I couldn’t talk to this indestructible guy after 7pm, cause this is when he was drunk, learning that anything we said to each other in this time would be forgotten about the next day, and he would not remember.
How we said we’d go look at that old volkswagon I had circled in the paper that we both agreed was so super cool.
How I think I could make that D1 team at that school in Ohio.
How we could paint the walls in my small bedroom blue, because I hated the color they were now.
There was no point in talking to him after 7pm, so I didn’t.
This is also when my Mom, observant about the shift in how we all were, this is when she’d start to yell. Which wasn’t always reserved for 7pm and after, but maybe it’s cause the house was so quiet outside of the crack of a new beer opening, and wheel of fortune playing on the TV.
He’d retreat onto the back porch.
And my Mom would lure me into all her anger, and I’d sit at the kitchen table, and try to get as small as I could. She’d tell me hateful, terrible things, and I don’t know why I stayed, other than that’s the allegiance of a child who loves their troubled mother. And I stayed even when she’d strike out at me, her words, through her hands.
This was not every night with her.
But it was every night with him.
And you can imagine that a man who cannot remember talking about a car with his daughter, can also not remember the violence in the small space of a suburban kitchen, and how I can tell you exactly where those walls needed repair, small cracks in the wall, a corner piece of the fake brick broken off, 3 up and 4 over from the bottom. You start to study these things, because it’s the only way you will ever survive hearing about how you are a terrible, selfish person, how you make everything worse, how you are responsible for how this has all ended up for us, how it will never ever ever get better.
You learn when the hum of the fridge will kick into a groan and how that noise will be the new noise for approximately 25 seconds, when it will return back to normal.
And you will know this, because your ears will ache to hear anything than the words that are now filling up the kitchen, that you voluntarily have walked into night after night. The words always got louder and meaner, and when you start to hear them a lot, I will tell you that it is very hard not to believe them, especially when they are accompanied and ushered in with physical force, and you will spend most of your life affirming them with everyone else, and every other experience, until finally someone comes and tries to save your whole life.
And someone else will come and try to save your whole life .
And finally, after enough people come, and love you so hard, that you start to hear their words, instead of her words and his silence. And enough experiences will come, and you’ll be in awe of the ocean, and the mountains, and the 60 degree air that you woke up to.
You will begin to heal.
You really will.
And you will actually and truly start to believe you are loved.
Maybe on my 300th yoga class I started to believe it too.
Finally heard the words, and the teachings.
Somewhere between the first 500 classes I taught.
Finally heard my own.
Finally believed that we really are all one. that there are no accidents. That everything in life is happening for you, not to you.
You do all this work, again and again, and then at one point, or in my case, 2-weeks ago, you are asked by God if you actually mean it, and you actually learned it, or if you were just faking it.
Well God, I guess the real answer is, a little bit of both. But I am trying hard.
My Dad had his 65th birthday this week and I was talking to him when this sweet carol of nurses came in to the rehab facility where he is learning to live his new life, with a cake from the cafeteria, singing their asses off. This wasn’t a group of teens singing at chili’s, wondering if their lives will ever get better than singing to some lady who is clearly faking a birthday to get the free cake, while her drunk friends all clap along. This was a group of kind-hearted beautiful humans, who decided they were gonna go in with as much gusto as possible and sing to my Dad, while my Mom tried her hardest, to sing too.
The gesture of it, was enough to send both my Dad and I to tears. He held out his flip phone and said, Lyn, Lyn, you gotta hear this. They’re singing to me Lyn.
And I’m picturing my Dad, holding out his flip phone into the air, and my Mom, and the balloon she brought into this room, and the loneliness of it all, but the realness of it all, and I cant stop crying and neither can he. We both tried to hide the fact that we were crying, then he gave in first, and we spent the last minute of our conversation wiping tears from our faces.
I’m pretty sure we were crying for everything.
And how everything was different now.
And how there just wasn’t anymore time to hedge all our bets on a life that would get easier someday soon, so close to retirement, so close to not having to work so hard, so close to being able to afford more than the bare minimum, so damn close.
Life now, with an above the knee amputation.
Life now, with the truth of how this happened as well as the disbelief of how this happened.
How a knee surgery in July, turned into a terrible infection that went unnoticed, and by my Dad, unspoken about, because you don’t all of a sudden learn how to start speaking up. It takes a while.
And so he never said he was in pain.
And neither he nor my mom knew to ask what questions to ask. Or what to ask for.
And how they, sent a man home who should have never been sent home quite yet.
And how she, a sweet nurse who came to the home, said with urgency, this is not okay, you are not healing.
And how he, was back at the hospital to hear a new truth of how they had to amputate his leg.
Which is how we, ended up on the phone together last week, and he’s telling me he loves me, and I am doing everything I can to remember exactly how he said it, because I want to be able to hear it again and again whenever I need to know it. And as I am trying to remember how he sounds, both the cadence and the quality of his voice, I am alive enough to remember to say it back to him, knowing that I am the last person he is talking to before he goes into surgery. He is not drunk of course, but he is on pain meds, and his voice sounds like his voice after 7pm, but I’ll take anything I can get, any last I love you. I’ll take anything.
Through the past months they discovered a heart attack, that they call a ‘silent heart-attack’ from what they say is two-years ago. I don’t know how they know this. But I what I want to tell them is I’d bet everything the only silent part about this was my Dad’s voice.
I bet he knew. I bet he held his hands on his body, just above his heart, and let the pain pass, and said nothing.
And they discovered his slow, low-quality circulation, years of smoking and drinking, and his low low barely alive blood pressure that has been sustaining him all these years.
And his broken heart, and this broken body of his, and his almost 65-years on the planet, and how any surgery, let alone a 3rd surgery in 3 months would have no guarantees. He’s lost 20-lbs, down to 128 lbs, just a little more than me, he’s barely here.
My Dad and I have talked more these past 2-weeks than we’ve talked the past 2-years. I had placed my parents on the periphery of my life, and talk with them from there. I strung 2-soup cans and a really long rope, and threw the second can out to them, and talk with them for no more than 10-minutes at a time. I do this because I am scared she’ll say something mean again, or he’ll be drunk again, or the whole call will have so much pain in it, disguised in all this talk about the weather, and I cant bear it to be a part of it. I feel like a fraud. And I feel frantic. And I feel like I have to hang up, and go outside and take big gulps of air, and pray to God.
This is how I’ve survived it.
These past 2-weeks I have found myself talking to both my parents at the center of all of our lives where we all intersect. My Dad is sober, and in pain. My Mom is doubting that she can do this. My Dad is learning to get into a wheelchair, and how to go to the bathroom. My Mom is overseeing the wheelchair ramp being built at home. My parents seem like strangers to one another, both in shock of how much their lives have changed so quickly, and how the life they spent their whole life waiting for, seems quite far now, if at all. They are operating as strangers, and I feel like the interpreter. I wonder if this is how it felt when my they first got married, and my Mom could not speak the language, and his family was not kind to her, and they began forging their way together, bringing their pain together.
I am stunned at my own ability now to navigate these phone calls. To be 8-calls in to finally getting his medical records. To having his social worker block off an hour on the calendar Monday for me to conference in so we can discuss the treatment plan. To know every single person responsible for his care, and to have them know me. To be able to keep up with all the conversations, to make suggestions, to be at the helm of how and where he is discharged. I will no longer stay silent on his pain, I will speak on his behalf.
I am stunned at how my Mom can call me sobbing, and I do not meet her tears with my own, which was always my immediate reaction. I listen to her, and I do not yell when she yells. I do not hear her anger in my body and identify it as my own. I see and hear her as a woman who has spent a lifetime of barely being here, and I know I cannot fix this. Or them, or give them the life they thought they were headed towards. But I can do whatever I can to make it better, and that’s what I am trying to do.
I am implementing strategy after strategy with the precision of someone on a medical team. Grateful for my job that has armed me with the ability and confidence of knowing what to say.
I am talking to my sister everyday, and we are figuring this out.
And then. I am breaking the fuck down. And calling my best friends. And crying, because I am in pain. I am hearing them when they tell me I am okay. And I am going to the mirror to tell myself. And I am going to yoga to remind myself. And I am holding my friends hands in yoga right now, at the end, at the part in which you rest, savasana, because I am needing to rest, and I am needing to hold hands, and I am needing to hear that I am okay. I’ve been walking around so aware that I have 2 feet on the ground and breath that moves through my whole body.
What’s been the most startling to me about this all is the initial reaction I had to this, that it’s not supposed to be like this. Which is exactly where suffering lives. Suffering is born from, and sticks around in that declaration.
‘it’s not supposed to be like this’
These are the words I repeated and felt through my entire childhood, often wondering how my sister and I made it out of there. Knowing very well there were many moments in my life, where I got very very close and sometimes even crossed over and danced for a bit in a life that ultimately would have kept me in pain and silent. Numb. Lots of drugs. Lots of alcohol and blacking out. Lots of pretending that didn’t happen. That I never said that. Lots of denial. Lots of meaningless sex that I pretended was meaningful. Lots of anything but this life. The past few years have been much better, but still, a handful of dark moments where I think the whole point is to ask me, what kind of life do I want.
Not that one.
I don’t know what happens next. My Dad’s anger is settling in. He’s avoiding my phone calls right now, and visits, and this is hard to know, but my Dad needs a little time to be with his new life. I still call him everyday, a few times a day. He’s said I can come visit in November, so I will. He’s sober now, forced into it of course, and his body is reacting, and so is he. He and my Mom are not partners right now, they’re both so hurt, and they are saying hurtful things to each other. I think they’re both just so terrified.
They walked me through the measures of how they determine an amputee can go home, and I was surprised to hear the thresholds. My Dad’s really going to need my Mom, and I’m afraid for what happens next.
I cant think too far into that, it takes me so far backwards when I do.
He’ll retire now, a year earlier than he anticipated. After a 40-plus year tenure. I told him we could figure this out with the union, he told me no Lyn. I don’t want to finish like this. I am done.
I wonder if my Dad losing his leg is what ultimately begins to heal our family. Of what has us all having conversations at the center, where we all meet, instead of at the courtesy and safety of the periphery. If this means we will finally begin to have conversations that matter, and that he, our patriarch is the one to finally start it.
I pray that my Dad stays sober.
I pray that my Mom does not let her anger move like thunder across their home.
I pray for health and healing.
I pray that I do not collapse back into that version of life where I was barely there, and walked willingly into the fire of both physical and emotional pain, there is nothing left there for me to learn.
I pray I do not feel like I am becoming a burden to the people who remind me how I am not just loved, but that I am love. To you all who are this for me, please stay with me as I try my hardest, I’ve never been here before and I need help.
And to my Dad who will likely never read this, or even know I am a writer. You are my number one guy. I know now what I knew then, all those hours we’d spend shooting baskets, playing catch, catching fish, taking drives and eating cheeseburgers, there is nothing you cannot do. Nothing. I believe it now the way I believed it when I was 10-years old. Before I stopped believing in you. I hope you know that wasn’t personal. It was just me surviving, getting the hell out of there, starting a life I know you’re so proud of me for.
We’re gonna figure this out, and I’m going to get you the best care.
There’s no other guy on the planet I’d ever pick to be my Dad. And i’m sorry for all the years which were many, where I would have picked someone else, A doctor Dad, or a lawyer Dad, or some kind of white collar Dad who could have gotten me into his alma mater, and had conversations about my course load over steaks, who knew the answer of what to do next when my car was breaking down, who had high powered friends who could get me internships, I’m sure you felt that. I wasn’t ashamed of you, I was just sad for you. And sad for us. I wanted life to be much easier than it was, and I held you responsible for not playing your part. Turns out, you were playing the exact part you were meant to, and Dad, you did an awesome job.
One day, we’ll dance at my wedding.
I don’t care if I have to wheel you around, or we hop around, I think you’ll get used to your life on your new leg, whatever it takes. Me and you, we’ve always been improvising.
You cant make it this far Dad, and quit now.
That house on the lake to retire to, the premium cable package with all your dumb Nascar, the car you’ve been wanting to buy for mom. All possible.
To all the Dad’s out there who love your daughters the way my Dad loves me.
You’re goddamn superheros.
To what’s ahead.
But most importantly, to what’s today.
If you’re reading this, you are alive.