Sunday, August 20, 1989.
That's the day when life, as I knew it, changed forever.
That was also the morning after my father's emergency surgery had taken place; a procedure to repair what we all thought was a hiatal hernia, only to discover that it was cancer, riddling through his body, that was making him all swollen, and sick... and dying.
My father was dying.
My husband and I awoke quite early that morning. Instead of having a house full of noise and activity, it was dead quiet. Instead of going downstairs to a table bursting with people who had taken their fill of the huge selection of breakfast foods, prepared by whichever able hands reached the kitchen first, the table was empty. In fact, the whole house was empty, offering up an eerie quiet that gave me the heebies, and made me want to rush out of there even more quickly... even though I knew full well what the terrible reality was that waiting for me back home.
My father was in a hospital bed, recovering from a useless, senseless surgery.
My father was dying.
He had been cut open in a straight line, from the tip of his pubic area to the bottom of his navel, only to discover that his stomach was swollen to three times its normal size, and his liver was three-quarters full of cancer.
The (useless) surgery had allowed oxygen to hit all of those nasty cancer cells, making it spread like a California wildfire gone completely out of control.
There was nothing they could do, but to close him back up, and start him on chemo, and radiation, and morphine.
And let him die.
The thoughts whirled through my head like a virus, hitting every nerve, every vessel, every orifice until I felt as if I were suffocating from it. Drowning from the inside out. Wanting to scream bloody murder and cry until there were no more tears.
I wanted, so badly, to wake up from this horrible nightmare. To come to like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, only to find out I'd gotten a bump in the back of my head that knocked me unconscious, and that really, everything was bright, and beautiful, and just as it always had been. The real nightmare was discovering that the only thing that was cracking me in the back of the head was an overdose of reality.
I walked around the house in a daze, picking things up and packing them away. My husband and I barely talked those days... we were at the end of a really bad marriage, and in my heart, I'd hoped (beyond hope) that this time away would rekindle our relationship somehow. But, karma's a real bitch. What happened in the course of the three days we'd been there put all of that on the back burner. I was far too stressed, too worried, and too tired, thinking about the fate of both my father and mother, to worry about what was going on with my own relationship. The mess that was the tail-end of my bad marriage was going to just have to wait.
Three days. That's all the time we'd spent in that cottage. We'd arrived on a Friday night, giddy for the time away from work, and the time to spend with each other. Here we were, just three short days later, leaving on a Sunday morning, knowing that what we were heading back to was far worse than the jobs, and the life, we'd both have to return to.
The drive home was excruciating. I don't think I spoke three words the entire time we were in the car together. I can't remember whether I'd been talked to, either. The only thing I could think about was the course of events that had unraveled everyone's lives over the past three days, which ultimately led to my father, the strongest, proudest, most stoic man I'd ever known, being laid up in a hospital bed. Dying.
We got back into the city about an hour and a half after leaving Cape Cod. The stagnant heat from the pavement and the buildings shoved close together in the ground hit us like a wall when we got out of the car. I so wished I could go back to the beach. I'd love to go for a quick swim in the ocean, and feel the warm salty breeze on my face. But I knew, somehow, that I'd never return to that place again.
I also knew that a super-sized dose of reality was calling, and whether or not I was ready, willing, or able to....I had to answer.