Join me on the journey through my father’s death.
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.
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?”