Flying

I was standing on a roof.  My roof.  My parent’s roof.  I was looking down on our front yard; they were staring up at me — the kids from the neighborhood.

There was the chubby girl with the beautiful face who would wind up getting pregnant much too early, and her younger brother who died from drugs much too young.  Next to her stood the much-too-cute-for-me boy who would be not-so-cute later, but played a wicked game of baseball.  Beside him stood the goofy, home-schooled kid who was more fun than all of them put together.  Behind this group stood the only black kid on the block — he thought he was tough; I beat him up once for hitting his puppy.  My sister stood next to him — this beautifully simple girl who would become so complex.

I had informed this group of neighborhood kids that I could fly.  I figured that in the course of the conversation if I just tossed this bit of information in casually, it might be commented on as something really neat, but ultimately dismissed as something that anyone would want to see.  Kid logic.  Go figure.  Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyway), I was asked to prove it.

While my sister proceeded to defend my honor, “She can fly; I’ve seen it,” I began to devise a plan.  I noticed how close the large tree in our front yard was to our house.  Doing quick geometry (which I didn’t know was geometry then) I estimated that if I ran hard enough I could launch myself from the top of our one-story house, grab the tree and ultimately make it look as though I flew to the tree.  At this point, I surmised that the neighborhood kids would be sufficiently impressed, and I could tell them I would never fly in front of them again because they didn’t believe I could fly in the first place.  Brilliant!  My plan was in place.

I climbed our fence and hoisted myself up onto the roof.

Now, standing on top of the house, looking down on my friends, I felt a sort of calm.  I wasn’t nearly as scared as I thought I’d be.  What if I could actually fly?  That would be something, wouldn’t it?  And I would never have known it because I would have just assumed I couldn’t.

I walked backwards up the roof, lining myself up with the tree in front of me.  I screamed, “Ready?”

There were yells from below, inaudible, but I got the picture, “Do it already.”

I started running.  I got to the edge of the roof and launched myself toward the tree.

———————-

You know that moment right before you realize you did something really stupid when time seems to stand still.  That’s what happened.

There was a moment when I thought, “I’ve done it.  I’m going to make it.”

That moment was short lived as I felt my fingertips brush the tree branches and felt my body slowly fall to earth.  I landed on my face — the breath knocked from me.  I think I might have also lost consciousness.

I rolled over to find my sister looking down at me.  I don’t know how long I had been laying there.  Everyone else had gone – scattered when I landed with a thud and appeared dead.  I looked up at her.

“Almost,” was all she said before she went to join the others.

Dinner with Dad

Rabbit

“It’s rabbit.  Eat it.”

My sister had gotten sick.  She puked in the corner of my parent’s bedroom.  My mom took her somewhere.  They were still gone the next day.  Or maybe only my mom was gone.  I don’t know.  It’s fuzzy.

What’s not fuzzy is that my dad was spooning out a red, gooey mass of something onto my plate.

It sat in a clump, steaming.  I looked from the pile on my plate to my dad and back again.  Surely he wasn’t going to make me eat this.

“What is it?”

“It’s rabbit.”  He glanced at my brother who just kept looking at his own plate, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth.  In between bites, as goo lined his lips he would smirk at me.

“Since when do we eat rabbit?” I asked.

“Since I serve it,” he cleverly retorted.  My dad always had a reply for everything.

———–

“Why can’t I go outside?”

“Because I said so.”

“But I wanna!”

“Well, want in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.”

See?  Clever.

———–

“I won’t eat it.  You can’t make me.”

He could, and he had before — or, at least, had attempted to with a plate of liver and onions.  Our standoff had lasted nearly two full days with my mom finally stepping in.  I got a bowl of cereal, and I don’t think my dad ever forgave me.  Was he proving his “Dad-ness” now with Mom gone?

“Fine,” he said.  “Don’t eat it.  But you don’t get anything else.”

That night, I ate the bread he had served with the rabbit, as I watched my brother shovel more and more into his mouth.  Even now, I try to remember if I was hungry that night.  I don’t think I was.  I was sad for the rabbit.

The next night my mom was home.  No tattling on Dad.  Just eat whatever is put in front of you so it’s not brought up.  But when I got to the table, red-faced from playing outside, there it was again: a platter of rabbit.

I stared from my mom to my dad, who at this point looked surprisingly calm.  He was going to have to explain to Mom that I had gone without dinner last night and would go without dinner again tonight, a replay of the Liver and Onion Days.  I figured I might as well get it over with: “I’m not eating that.”

“Why not?” my mom asked.

“I don’t eat rabbit.”

There was a long silence—that much I remember for certain—as my mom stared at my dad, then at my brother who was chuckling uncontrollably.  I didn’t get the joke.

“That’s not rabbit,” my mother directed at my dad through clenched teeth, “It’s. Lasagna.”

Father’s Day

I woke up from what had to have been the most vivid dream I ever had (before or since). It was an Ambien dream filled with death and fear and vivid colors. The nurse had warned me that it might happen, but I remember waking up in a panic. And there he was.

I don’t know how long he had been sitting at the end of the bed, but when I awoke with sweat running down my brow and crying in a panic, he didn’t panic. My mom would have panicked; she wasn’t there. My dad just asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” I can hear it vividly in my head right now. His voice. His inflection. It’s as though my mind recorded it, and I can play it whenever I want.

I was in the hospital. Had been for several weeks. My mom stayed with me every day. My dad checked in when he could. That’s not a judgment…that’s a true statement. In that moment, when I awoke in a panic, in a lot of pain, barely able to keep my eyes open, that simple phrase, “What’s the matter, baby?” was what I needed. No panic. No fear. When you’re sick, the last thing you want to have to do is to ease the fear of others. If you’ve ever been sick – particularly in the hospital – you know that this is what you end up doing.

I won’t bore you with the details of why I was in the hospital, but know this: I thought I was dying; no one could figure out what was wrong. I’m fine now.

In that moment, when I awoke in my panic, I wanted to not take care of anyone. He made sure I didn’t have to. He listened to my incredibly long retelling of every vivid detail of my dream without interruption. I was better when I was done.

This was 2004.

In 2011, my father had a stroke. Now, he was in the hospital. Again, I won’t bore you with the details, but know this: an incredibly stubborn, independent man was reduced to the mentality of a 5-year-old. He was unable to take care of himself. At all.

We moved him to be near me. In the first place we moved him to, within the first 16 hours, he had wandered outside to the busiest street possible four times. We were told that for his safety he’d have to be moved to a secured facility. There was only one that took Medicare.

It took a few days to get him in, and when we did, I was mortified. The facility – the only secured facility in my entire city of over 1 million people that we could get him into – was literally a scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: people wandered aimlessly from room to room; there was the pungent smell of feces and urine; the halls echoed with the moans and wails of people who were lost in their own minds.

There was absolutely no way he was going to stay. I made two phone calls: one to the secured, private facility we would ultimately move him to, so I could secure his apartment for the next day; and one to my brother to discuss our options.

It was decided that because it was nearly 7:00pm, we would leave him to sleep there, then transfer him to the new place in the early morning.

I couldn’t believe he was staying in this place overnight – that I was letting him stay in this place overnight. I sat on the bed in his room, trying to hold back tears…not doing a great job of it. He was looking out the window. He turned and looked at me. Saw me. There was a moment of lucidity, I think. Then…

“What’s the matter, baby?”

I lost it. He hugged me, providing the comfort only a parent can. I cried into his chest. I apologized for leaving him there overnight; I apologized for not checking the facility first; I apologized for not really knowing how to maneuver the entire situation.

He listened to my incredibly long apology without interruption, letting me cry and beg for forgiveness. The patient was forced to ease my fears. Then, nodding towards the window, he said, “I think we’ll have to cut back that tree tomorrow if we want it to be ok for winter.” The moment was over; I still felt better.

In August of 2011, he died. Just like that. I was with him. Watched as the breath left his body.

On this, my first Father’s Day without my father, if he asked me his question, I would answer with a simple, “I just miss you, that’s all.”

Image

Hal Cox, 1941-2011