Outpatient Amendments: 3,652 Days
“I want to feel the way our fathers felt when it swept them off their feet. I want to feel the way my father felt, is it easier for me? I want to feel the way your father felt, was it easy for belief? I want to know if there’s a higher love, he saw that I can’t see”
It has been 10 years.
I watch my father sleep on the hotel bed from the couch. on his left side, legs parallel on one another, slightly curls. his left arm under a pillow, his right hand curled up just under his chin, a childlike pose but a big child. I noticed we sleep in the exact same position. The tv is playing a football game. Washington vs NY. He jokes how he won’t fall asleep and gives me random stats and trivia about almost all the players on each team. where they’re from, their high school and college career, and occasionally coaches the players from the bed. He would have been a fantastic coach or offensive coordinator. He’s tough, direct and gentle. above all, he’s gentle. again, he says he’s tired but won’t fall asleep. I hear him start to lightly snore a few minutes later. he’s been traveling for 3 days to come see me. he deserves a rest.
writing this from the couch in his hotel room, his back is to me as he sleeps. this man has had such a busy/tumultuous/successful life with a hand full of specific failures like we all have. but right now, I see a gentle man who is built like a lumberjack with a hard outer set of armor and a man who is so tired, fighting the worn of being out. Holy, soft, not brittle but more brillo, still fighting, still sharp. I wonder about his fears. I wonder if he questions what’s next’. I wonder if he ever has hopelessness or a shadow. I wonder how he has continued to thrive all these years, especially the ones without me entirely. I had so much to learn and unlearn about myself, about him.
Lunch was at a local bar & grill restaurant, the Green Turtle. it’s your copy and paste sports bar. spacious, tvs everywhere a 24 hour stream of teams and commentary about who will take some championship. A menu with all the staples you could correctively guess. Fish tacos, 5 different burgers, wings, sample platters and an option to put old bay or crab meat on anything because that’s what Maryland does best.
A Pepsi for him, a club soda with cranberry for me. Old bay wings, salmon salad bowl and fish tacos. From the start there was a constant stream of conversation. Again there was a small tv next to us showing the Packers vs the Lions. Green bay is his favorite team and again he riddled of a dozen trivia facts. When the young woman, who was our server would come and check on us, he would instantly break our conversation, even mid joke and always give a “yes ma’am we’re doing fantastic, thank you very much” and go right back into his story. The second time she came by and left he said he almost wanted to ask what the soup du jor was, citing the famous line from Dumb & Dumber:
“what is the soup du jor?”
“it’s the soup of the day”
“mmmm…that sounds good, I’ll have that”
I started to see the similarities we had, still have. Our sense of humor and taste in movies, doing Jim Carey impressions back and forth, we pronounced certain vowels the same. We talked about science fiction, the magnificence of the movies Dune and Interstellar, how to time travel and if aliens exist. When we look down at our food or pause before a thought, we had the same lip-chin-tuck-frown wherever ours eyes focused. I learned we were both blood type O-negative. I learned he got his masters degree in organizational leadership. He sent me music links to Gordon Light Foot and Arlo Guthrie. I sent him music from Manchester Orchestra and The Used. Hell we even walked the same, both with lower back issues, slightly bent forward but shoulders back, the difference was he had a smile and I mostly had a frown.
We told each other stories of our life over the past decade. some filled with dread but most were heart warming and fact checked hysterical. I only cried once at lunch, between the main course and desert. we retold stories of old that seemed even funnier now.
One of my favorite’s was a memory about the time I visited for Thanksgiving and learned we weren’t going to our usual grandmother’s, instead everyone was going to Golden Corral, in a limo. yes that actually happened. all 15 of us, a bunch of sophisticated red necks and a kid from Baltimore city pulling up to an all you can eat buffet. I mean, I was a stoner back then so I had endless plates of food Infront of me, giggling at the situation I was in. yet somehow, I didn’t mind in the slightest.
And the time when I was a pre teen, I went with him to the Boonie’s of Gretna Virginia. farm land as far as you can see. I didn’t know if it was a family reunion or just a gathering but it was a bon fire. but Instead of fire wood or logs we burnt down a barn. 100 foot flames that clearly violated law in some way burned well into the night, children and dogs ran around freely. my father would play guitar and sing with a fake pair of crooked teeth in his mouth A total clown, the life of the party. I loved it all. We laughed so hard, these stories sounded brand new to me. Maybe it’s because it’s been so long that I had someone who knew how to tell the same story Infront of me with different verbs, almost the same point of view, like I was holding up a mirror.
when we first got to his hotel to check in, I said I wanted to stay the night, wanting to soak up as much time with him as possible. of course this wasn’t a problem. we entered his hotel room and both saw only one bed and a couch. He laughed and yelled out “ aahh shit, you wanna be big spoon or little spoon”. Responding with the same laugh I said “I’ll take the couch, dad”.
I sat on the couch while he out his belongings in their respective places. stiff, non worn fake leather, the slight smell of cleaning solutions, the room was a series of colors that spanned from sand to grey to sandy-grey. Two painting hung from the wall that captured a sunset and a splatter painting that resembled a castle and water, maybe a mountain. I felt a little awkward at first, there was some silence between things. I watched him unpack his clothes, how he touched things, plug in his phone, and put his toiletries neatly on a towel. two razors, David Beckham cologne, contact solution, toothbrush. I wouldn’t say it was sad but rather careful. Like he’s done this before many times but this time it’s under extremely different circumstances. it felt worried, thin ice, a small cry but from my direction.
He called his wife to check in. She was happy he traveled all this way. They talked about the NFL games today, they spoke about their dog put him on facetime. I got a sense of his life from his conversation. it was all simple conversation, but he was happy to have it. It made me sad, I needed to say yes and just enjoy the small talk, it wasn’t all about me and I saw that in him, it wasn’t all about him. that knot came back in my stomach. I thought about home. I thought about if ‘m not communicating about anything that enages you, then the value of my communication, even the value of our presence risks falling to zero. So I must determine how to value it so that you can also benefit. It cannot be good for just me. It must be good for you and me. He asked if she missed him, she said maybe and laughed. I love yous went around and he hung up.
It was the beginning scene of the movie. I was on the couch, he sat on the edge of the bed facing me. we spoke about my brother who I hadn’t seen since I was 20. he was in Alabama working at a printing company. I told him more about my condition, my regrets, morbidity, my suicide attempt, my trip to the hospital and how now I’m here. He spoke to me with analogies and concisely careful words that made sense and shared some light. he could see through my tears and stuttered speech I was having the hardest time loving myself, even allowing it given my situation. he said someone at my age should never have to go through so many wrecks in such a short period. that right now I’m at the lowest low I’ve ever faced so there’s only two choices, change it and show up or don’t. it starts with love for yourself then you work on the others you love. Using your anger as a positive force to pave a direct line back and not use it monstrously anymore, forever. his way of saying this was a shit ton more specific and philosophical then what I’m writing, but rest assured it was impactful.
after explaining what brought me to the hospital, my condition, and the events during and after, I asked him how he’s doing since his thyroid surgery years ago. He held his breath for a second and explained what was going on with him.
My father had thyroid cancer years ago and had it removed entirely. Since then he get routine blood work done and has to take medicine to regulate his metabolism for the rest of his life.
A few years ago he went to a doctor in Reno, Nevada for a prostate exam. A doctor Hal performed the exam. My father mentioned how he felt uneasy in the doctors office. There were too many people in the room, some weren’t wearing gloves, it didn’t seem sanitary enough.
The procedure was on a Friday and that weekend my father and his wife were attending a BBQ and music festival in town. Throughout the night he started to mention how sickly his body felt, he couldn’t eat the food and suggested that they go home. When they got back home my father passed out and slept for two days. This man gets up at 3:30am every day to drive 2 hours to his job site so of course for his wife, this was a huge concern. When my father finally woke up he couldnt see straight, he was running a high fever and he started peeing blood. No urine, just blood. They rushed to the hospital where he stayed for a week while various tests were done. It turned out the prostate exam that was performed on him started a hideous infection that ran through his body and almost complelety obliterated his white blood cell count. He was heavily medicated and given several medicine drips to get his body healthy again and after a week the fever broke and he was cleared to leave.
two weeks after the procedure, my father returned home. He immedietly went to the doctors office to put fear in his heart. I could imagine the running script he would be practicing to himself in his car, trying to find the right poetic words to insult and demoralize the doctor for almost killing him. But that didn’t happen. When my father burst into the doctors office to tell him his shit practice had him on a his death bed for a moment, the doctor apologized and said;
“I’m very sorry for what happened to you, really I am. I take full responsibility. i was actually on my way to calling you right now. We got your results from the test back today, I’m sorry Scott, you have prostate cancer.”
Cancer. my father has cancer.
Fucking. A. Everything I had said to him up until this moment seemed moot. Yea my entire life has been uprooted and has dissolved into a trillion little pieces, but this was bigger than me. This was an *actual* fight for a life. I didn’t know how to respond properly. I was leaned forward on the couch with my hands over my mouth. I could only whisper to him that I’m sorry. What else could I say? I asked how bad is the cancer?
He told me the doctor said that he needs to be operated on ASAP. My father went home and started to look up doctors in the area who were much more qualified than the hack who got him sick. And almost like another switch was turned on, he became even more ill over the weekend. Pale white, more blood in his urine, dangerously high fever, he wasn't able to stand up. His wife rushed him to a hospital and told the intake nurse what was happening. My father was checked in again and in only a matter of an hour he was being flown on an emergency plane to Renown hospital in Las Vegas (they lived in Arizona). My father had come down with sepsis that was rapidly posioning his blood and dropped his blood pressure so slow his heart was on the verge of stopping completely, it just wasn't strong enough to fight back.
He said he only remembered bits of the plane ride. He remembered looking out the window and seeing it was a full moon. Remembered the smell of the cabin and the sounds of several machines beeping around him. He remembered hearing a nurse ask the head doctor what the procedure was going to be once they land, and the doctor responded that it doesn’t matter. If they didn’t make it in 2 hours he was a dead man anyway. he remembered when he heard the doctor give his life a time limit, that was the only time he ever felt truly afraid. Wondering if he was doing to die 20,000 feet in the air and his wife, family, and me wouldn’t know. Even though there were people with him he was afraid of dying alone. I know my father as being a fearless man and hearing him say this turned me inside out.
Thankfully they made it to the hospital just in time. Rushed to the ICU and watched around the clock 24/7. The sepsis wasn’t completely gone so the infection came back faster and started to eat away at his blood worse this time. A central line was inserted through his neck directly into his heart where three individual tubes pumped various medicine to keep his body in the fight and his blood pressure normal. He woke up in the ICU room and saw a half dozen other patients all in various states of perma-death. Some death bound, some about to be. He recalled every morning watching orderlies wheel out a patient who passed away in the night. After three days one of his nurses came in to check his vitals and inform him of some good news. And just like the funny man that he is he said;
“I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance?”
Everyone laughed. The nurse said no, but last night the doctors removed his vitamin drip and central line and his body came back to normal levels on its own. No more infection. no more heart risk. This was fantastic news but the aggressive prostate cancer was still there and the hospital was going to fly him to St. Marks in Salt Lake City for surgery. Another plane, another hospital but this time it was to remove what was actually going to kill him.
Another plane, another hospital, another surgery. This time done by a robot. the AI was named the Da Vinci. A silent perfectionist that opened his body and removed his prostate. That was hard to hear, Removing what some people called your actual manhood because it was going to kill you. How strange it is, to try and define “what is a man” just by our parts alone.
His cancer levels are low and almost at zero. But now he has to get tested every year to see if it comes back and there is a chance it might. It's gone but hearing there's a chance it could come back was maddening. He has been through enough and tells me this with a smile on his face. I can see his own enlightenment in the situation. What truly matters. His fear is gone. Maybe he is on his own journey of redemption just by being here. If that is the case, open the gates, Peter, this man has a free pass.
This all happened 3 years ago and I had no idea. We didn’t speak. I was mad at him for all the wrong reasons and right for very few. This humility brought me back full circle. I felt selfish. I felt wrong. He could have died and I would never have been the same again. Unpolished words never spoken, hands never shaken, forgiveness never given. My father had come back into my life at a moment where not only I needed it but so did he. We needed each other and were committed to being there. No matter the cost. Whatever it took. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and look at the bigger picture and feel sorry for others. For there are people who have it worse and if you can help in anyway, you earned your wings. My father has his.
A little more than 12 hours ago I hugged my father for the first time in a decade. 10 years. 3,562 days. It’s hard not to cry as I type this, so I bite the inside of my lip and force a grin, swallowing the gulp of wallow every time it creeps up. I was nervous to see him and riled with excitement. he pulled up in front of the house in a rented Ford fusion and I walked out onto the driveway, standing at the bottom.
Stepping out of the car he let out a “hhaaeeyy MAN!” in a voice that still had that happy laughing tamber to it. That uplifting tone I always heard as a child. the same one he would say to friends and family, always warm, always thankful.
I recognized his voice.
My father. My dad. I recognized him.
I managed to say “hey dad” without my voice cracking. I could feel bubbles coming to the surface, my body temperature rising, ignoring the frigid outdoor winter. We stood in place only for a moment, 30 feet from each other as if we were in a western standoff. Only a passing tumble weed would have made it all more aware for us. Both hands in our pockets, me in my t-shirt, jeans and boots, him in his black wind breaker, jeans and boots. we took a second to really see each other. to detect, download, and discover. He approved.
a grin a nod and said, “you look great”.
The ice broke. the world collapsed and returned just as quickly. Almost as if something pushed me forward, head down, I bee-lined to him and threw my arms around him. His huge linebacker arms wrapped around me and I melted. Of course tears came immediately, almost instantly freezing on my cheeks. I gripped his jacket in my hands, and could feel he still had back muscles like a dinosaur, like strings made out of steel. He didn’t let go either, a huge hand rubbing my back half the size of his and said in my ear with care;
I was choking, I couldn’t open my eyes. once I caught my breath, I managed to get out a whisper; “hhaeey dad”.
He pulled back, still in my grasp. Grabbed the muscles between my neck and shoulder squeezed then put his hand on the side of my face.
Something felt found. a puzzle piece back in the center. The set of keys you ran around looking for and they were on the kitchen table the entire time. A nation united. Contact has been made. The hug was no longer then 2 minutes but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to stay there forever. A moment frozen in time accompanied with an unquantifiable amount of emotion. A sad like, joyous company.
I had been holding my breath for so long, years. I could finally exhale. Father and son being father and son again.