Sunday, May 21, 2006

You guys could learn a lot from Paige...

January 3, 2006, 9:27pm
Steve's house

The phone rings, and I jump, knocking over my water bottle.

Dad is gone. He must be. The paramedics didn't even seem to be in a rush, according to Greg. They didn't even turn the siren on. He must have been a lost cause.

It seems unfair. I know that we are all supposed to outlive our parents, but it wasn't so long ago that mom bit the dust, and she wasn't much of a mother to begin with. I hardly ever saw her, and when I did, she was loaded and dropping more F-bombs than Richard Pryor.

Dad is different. He was a great father. He was hardly home during the day, like mom, but that's because he was working 12-hour shifts at a hot, smelly garment factory so my brothers and I could buy our Sega Genesis and our Reebok Pumps.

My dad used to collect $40 from me every month for car insurance. I bitched at him all the time about it, about how unfair it was that I had to pay for my insurance when other kids my age did not.

I was packing my bags to go away to college for the first time when dad walked in and handed me a manilla envelope, grinning. "What's this?" I asked, and opened the envelope.

Inside was every dollar of insurance money I had given him.

For some reason, even after all these years, after everything that's happened, I just keep thinking back to that manilla envelope. He taught me the value of saving money, and he showed how much he loved me, all at the same time. That is what good fathers do.

My brothers and I deserve to have a father like ours around for a long time. He ought to be able to see all of us married, with families of our own, before he dies. It only seems fair, but I know it doesn't work that way.

"Please don't go over the bridge on the way to the hospital," Tim says.

"I have to, Tim. It's the fastest way there."

"Why don't you take Cold Spring Street?"

"That's five miles out of the way!"

"So what?"

"So he'll be dead by then," I snarl, recoiling at the sound of my own voice.

She stares straight ahead, chewing a fingernail.

"Why are you so afraid of bridges anyway?"

"I don't know! Stop asking me!"

"Does it have to do with--"


"You'd never guess it was me who's under stress," I say. "It's my dad who's in the hospital, in case you've forgotten."


Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, Intensive Care Unit family room

"Hi, gunkle Steve," Mackenzie says. She's up awfully late.

"Hi, honey."

"Gunkle! Look at my Polly Pocket," she says, waving a four-inch tall doll at me.

"That's nice, sweetie."

"Steve," Chris says, ominously, from the doorway, and with his shadowy face and dark jeans, he looks just like the Grim Reaper. I don't like the sound of his voice.

I hug him. "You okay?"


"Is he-- how is he?"

"He's stable for now. His kidneys shut down. His lungs are filled with fluid. He's also got some heart damage, evidently."

"What are his chances?"

"The doctor says if he wakes up to say goodbye we should consider it a victory."

Greg sobs softly.

"Gunkle, why is my daddy crying?"



I remember the sound from when mom was in the hospital. Dad has a thick grey tube shoved down his throat to help him breathe, just like she had. It's odd to think that, less than two years ago, dad stood next to us, strong and healthy as an ox, as we watched mom die. Now, we're watching him die, and he's every bit as weak and helpless as she was.


"Dad?" I say.


He looks old, with a frail neck and 2 days' worth of salt and pepper stubble. His skin is yellow and clammy.

"Dad, the doctors are taking care of you. You're going to be all right."

"He's got pneumonia," Greg says, to no one in particular.

They're hitting him with big-gun antibiotics, and pulling water out of his system as fast as they can, but progress is slow. Even so, seeing a nurse standing beside his bed with pages of notes, rushing from machine to machine, is comforting. She's helping him, and she hasn't given up hope.

"He's a sick man," the doctor says. "I don't want you to get your hopes up."

"What are the best case and worst case scenarios?" I ask.

"Best case? He gets up and walks out of here. Worst case--"

"He goes out with a toe tag?"


Tim is in the family room, watching Mackenzie. "I'll go relieve her so she can see your dad," Nancy says.

"She doesn't want to come in," Nancy says, two minutes later.

Tim hates hospitals. After being raped and stabbed, I guess I can't blame her, but I was hoping she'd come and see dad, just for a minute.

"You sure you don't want to come in?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Are you-- is this--"

"I'm fine, go be with your family."

"You're family, too."

"Thanks, hon," she says, rubbing my forearm. "I'm sorry, but I just can't. I was going to try, but--"

"I understand."

"I promise I'll keep you company when we get home, but I'm just gonna stay in here."


January 5, 2006, 4:56pm

"Dad, it's time for us to go home now," I say. "We'll come back this weekend."

His right eye twitches.


His eyes open.

"Dad! Dad! Guys, he woke up!"

Greg and Chris rush to the bed. "Follow my finger, dad," I say, and slowly move it from side to side. He stares straight ahead, one eye open wider than the other, like a stroke victim.

"He's heavily sedated," the nurse says. "Whenever we intubate, we sedate them, so they don't get agitated."

"But this is a good sign, right? Opening his eyes?" Greg asks.

"He's very sick," the nurse says.