Tag Archives: Creative Non-fiction

Waiting to Die, Part II

Catch up by reading Part I here.

“Oh, my. Oh my,” Coach Dunnigan repeats, “You need to go home,” pinching his eyebrows with concern and pain for me. He stands up from his desk and gives me a hug. My arms wrap around the top of his belly – barely – and he smashes my head into his chest. Black mascara leaks onto his yellow sweater. He pats my head with his massive rough hands, the kind that most guys aren’t blessed with unless they were raised on a farm or have worked hard or are just genetically blessed for women like myself who may or may not have a hand fetish to enjoy.

Nothing I can do will stop my dad from dying, nothing I can plead to God will keep him here . . . nothing. I feel small and unsure of what to do, and I don’t want to leave Dunny’s office. We take a few steps out of his office and he gives me another hug, and another once we are out in the hallway, and another before he sends me on my way back to my room.

Once back in the suite, I try so hard to pack a suitcase with a weeks’ worth of clothes, but I end up getting a small workout in: walking to the closet, turning around to open all three drawers in the dresser, walking out of my room to my desk and pulling out all of its drawers, just to return to my closet, never finding whatever it is I’m looking for. My brain? It’s like I don’t have one. My ability to plan ahead and handle multiple tasks is the one I put the most value on, and it’s failed me.

Some time later, back in the class that I got that first phone call from mom, my professor spilled his coffee and semi-frantically said, “Keep calm and carry on!” and skip-ran to the paper towel dispenser. That was my dad’s favorite quote, which was neatly printed on his favorite coffee cup. He would say that the British or English or whoever would say it during a war. Or something like that, during a time when it was definitely difficult to stay calm. But somehow, dad was always calm, no matter what was happening. Obviously not like me and my reactions in the course of the day. Finally, Grandpa calls me back and says that, no, Mom was not exaggerating and yes, dad has pneumonia. His request was that he not receive any kind of treatment.

“ Dunny told me to go home,” I say.

“Just hang tight for a bit,” he says gently, “Let me see what Grandma thinks and what your mom wants. I’ll talk to you in a bit, sweetheart.”

While I wait, I shuffle around the suite relocating clothes and shoes and shampoo but not actually getting anything packed.

Why? Why is this happening? Why now? Why me? The “poor me” syndrome is taking effect, and it’s burning every part of me. My life is a mess, my family is crumbling and old and ill. Why can’t I have a normal life, with normal parents who aren’t almost 30 years apart age-wise, who aren’t emotionally unstable, who aren’t dying so fast.

Grandma calls and says that dad is not well. She was a home health and hospice nurse for twenty or thirty years and watched people die daily. She was calloused to this stuff. But at the end of the phone call, she started crying. Shit was real. I was going home to wait until my dad died.


How Embarrassing. . .

An early morning sun shone through the tiny south-facing window, replacing the green and orange and red from the street light at the end of the block that flashed all blessed night. Icicles hung from the window pane and a thin frost had gently froze over the light brown grass. I sat up slowly, being careful not to move too quickly. My sinuses were threatening to explode, so I sat there with my mouth wide open sticky-dry and eyes swollen.

The bed had felt like sleeping on a linoleum floor with only a blanket for padding. I rolled from front to back to side to the other side for eight hours trying to find a way to breathe. And to add a cherry on top for a splendid night, Hobie had stolen my pillow. Come to think of it, he had taken all three: the mostly flat one, the lumpy one, and the wafer-flat one. So it really didn’t make a difference anyway.

Once upright, I swung my legs off the edge of the bed as my head pounded at its barriers. Hobie and I had been engaged for maybe a couple of months, so should I still be in that phase of worrying about how I look when I sleep? Well, I’m not. In Hobie’s giant gray P.T. shirt emblazoned with ARMY in reflective letters across the chest, no bra, a pair of red and black 2-XL basketball shorts, black cotton tube socks which weren’t close to being at even locations up my shins, and thick curly blonde hair going who knows where around my oval head, I looked as pretty as I felt.

I bent over to rest my head in my hands, palms on forehead, elbows on knees. These simple  movements caused a tumultion of creaks and moans within the bed, waking Hobie. He rolled over and rubbed my back, asking if I was okay. I grunted an affirmative, hoping to give the impression that in that moment, life sucked. I stood up, shuffled to the crammed and dirty bathroom, and peed. At least my bladder could feel less pressure.

Hobie was under the one blanket we had available for a room without heat, naked, when I return. He’s six foot two, two hundred forty pounds, and covered with about half an inch of hair. Everywhere. So even though there wasn’t a heater in the room, there was one in the bed. I pulled the cover back and crawled into the center of warmth. Hobie pulled me close and, thinking that I was simply in a bad mood, began to tickle me.

Nope, not happening. Crossing my legs and sitting up, I took all of the blanket with me. That made him curl up into a big furry ball. Since laughing hurt too much, I just smiled. Apparently that was some sort of cue for him to force out some built up gas. His aren’t just any typical fart though. No…no, they sound like a duck quacking into a porcelain bowl.

That did me in. I sent out silent roars and plugged up snorts, rolling around on the bed, out of the general area that his gaseous expulsion was blown into. Not that I could smell it. I rolled back into my cross-legged pose, still laughing like a little girl in a giggle-fit, when it was my turn. A tiny little “Pffttt” came out from between my legs. Heat rose in my cheeks and my eyes watered. I looked at Hobie, biting my bottom lip, hoping to God he hadn’t just heard that.

He was just staring at me with his eyebrows pinched trying to figure out where the noise came from. When he saw how red my face was, he knew what happened and started his own laughing fit. Still sitting, I wrapped the blanket tighter around me and ducked my head and told him to stop laughing, it wasn’t funny. Between his laughing and throat clearing he said my toot was cute.

CUTE?! A cute…toot. Right. Well, I suppose this is where I put in my two cents on love and soulmates. Women, if you can find a man who claims he finds your first fart in his presence to be “cute,” hang on to him. He’s a good one if he accepts you for your gross bodily functions as well as your beautiful face and body. Men, don’t embarass your lady if she accidentally lets one slip out. Yes, accidentally. We women are very good at covering up, hiding, and dispelling gas without you even knowing about it. But if it does happen, she will be very very embarrassed. Yes, insignificant things like a toot will blow our cover of carefully constructed likeablility more than pictures of a crazy night out. In the end, if you stay together long enough, it will become normal. Don’t believe me? Check out this site of other things that become normal in a long-term relationship: 23 Words That Mean Something Totally Different When You’re in a Long-term Relationship.

Waiting to Die, Part 1

Join me on the journey through my father’s death.
Part one. 

I’m sitting in class when my phone lights up. For the last month or so the phone has been an omen; when it rings, one thing or another is wrong or Mom is making a huff about something that really isn’t a problem. I slide my finger over the screen to “Ignore.”

She was probably calling just to pass time or complain about how hot it was in the room or how loud George’s TV was or to tell me that she was alone all day at the nursing home; alone, with a hundred old people. A minute later the light is blinking green, telling me she left a voicemail, too, as if I wouldn’t see that she called. Guarantee it starts off, “Hey Jess, it’s Mom. It’s about (insert time) and I’m just calling for (insert reason).”

While I’m walking back to my dorm room, I listen to Mom’s message: “Dad – sob – has – gasp – pneumonia – sob – again,” along with a few other slurred words coated in tears.

When she cries, it’s like someone pulls the skin on her face toward the back of her head and her lips get all tight, making it difficult to understand what the hell she says. After her and dad got married, she decided to get lip liner tattooed on. Obviously that doesn’t sound like a good idea in the first place, but something went wrong and now her lips are kind of. . .stuck. Or maybe it’s her medicine. Hell, it could be a bunch of things.

I delete it and call her back. She sounds upset and congested, nose packed full of snot. But she manages to get out “Dad has pneumonia again. The doctors have given him a few days to live.”

I get into the suite and, thinking the room was empty, throw my backpack and water bottle onto the floor, take two stomps to my room and slam the door. I don’t believe this. I don’t believe her. She talks for a while longer. I hear none of it. We hang up.

I cry. At 21 I’m losing my father of everything but my genes, the man who taught me so many things. Every thought is focused on how awful this is going to be for me. Not mom, not my brothers, not anyone but myself.

Through my annoying hot tears, I scroll through my contacts and tap on Grandma’s name to call. No answer. Grandpa, no answer. There’s a stupid drip of snot about to come out of my nose and slide its way to my mouth. I need a damn Kleenex.

Little did I know, Leslee, one of my roommates, is here. Even though she is the youngest of the four of us, she’s kind of the “mom.” She has a soft, kind face with huge dark blue-grey eyes.All she says is, “Do you wanna talk about it?”

I take a deep breath in, wipe a few tears from my cheeks, and in a rush tell her everything mom said. She opens her arms and says, “Oh, hunny, c’mere.”

And she holds me, the 5’9” hardass shot putter against her gentle 5’7” frame, and lets me cry and shake and gasp and get her shoulder wet.

Leslee and I walk to the cafeteria for lunch to get my mind off Dad and home. I nibble on a piece of crusty pizza. Thoughts of wanting and needing to go home are swarming in my head: “Do I go home? What about track? I feel like I need to be there for mom. . .but the conference meet is next week, I need to be here. And I have an appointment for my tattoo to be filled in.”

Leslee is trying to keep things light by talking about the weather and this funny thing that happened to her this morning. But I keep quiet. My internal thought debate is too much for me to handle, so I pick up my phone to text my coach, telling him that I need to talk. “I’m in my office,” prompts me to excuse myself from Leslee, put my tray up, and walk with a hot face through the cafeteria fighting tears and telling my throat to relax.

I hate crying. When I do, I get pissed that I’m crying and then cry even more. In the back of my head I know that it’s bound to happen as soon as I see Coach Dunnigan. As one of his throwers, he treats us girls like we’re his granddaughters; when we’re one-on-one with him, he cares for us, asking about our day and classes and families, and giving us big grandpa-like hugs. He just has something about him that makes me open to him.

Initiate stone-face.

No tears escape, mostly because it’s below freezing and I’m power walking. I get to the Field House, which has our indoor track and coaches offices, and pieces start to break off my mask.

My bottom lip pulls down at the corners.

Enter the hallway, my breathing gets heavy.

Open the door to the coaches offices, my body is shaking.

I step in to Dunny’s office, he starts with a smile, sees my face and changes his, then asks, “What’s up kiddo?”