It’s Monday night. After a long holiday weekend, and a single day of work, I’m off for a week. Sarah and I are traveling to Texas tomorrow, to meet with her friends and family and celebrate the memory of Drew, as they’ve done yearly since his death.
The loose ends are tied up at work. Our bags are packed and we’re into the impatient “waiting game” that comes before any longer trip getting started. I wish we could just leave right now. Visions of the beach, and lounging beside the pool seem like they’ll take forever to become reality.
Aaaaaand my chest is tight. I’m uncomfortably nervous and anxious. Something just feels...well…”off”.
I have the general worries that I’m going to forget something that I need...like a driver’s license or my wallet. There’s worries about the house being broken into or some great flood happening when the hot water tank inevitably bursts while we’re 1400 miles away. What if we accidentally leave the stove on, or get to Texas, and realize that my cell phone is slowly draining its battery...sitting on our kitchen counter? These are just some of the inevitabilities that flash through my mind on EVERY trip I’m preparing to take...once we get to where we’re going...they fade away.
But that’s not it. Those thoughts simply manifest themselves into a sharp sense of preparedness. I make checklists, in duplicate, and do a walkthrough of the house before we leave. I make sure that notes are left with parents about where we’ll be, when we’ll be there, and how to reach us. I get the car packed the night before, so I can have an easy morning where I walk outside, put the keys in the ignition, and leave. The kind of stuff never makes me feel this way.
What I think might be happening is that an old and familiar friend is rearing it’s ugly head...survivor’s guilt and illness.
We visited my parents on Easter, as per usual. My dad, who has been a solid, well built, hard working man ever since I’ve known him, looks, well, horrible. He’s lost at least a third of his body weight over the past year, most of that seemingly in the past two months or so. He’s weak, barely able to walk straight. What used to be the simple task for him of installing a small air conditioner in his kitchen window has become almost impossible for him. He actually asked me to take care of it for him, without me soliciting my services...that is not something he does.
He’s a proud man, sometimes to a fault, but there isn’t any denying that he does things for himself, and doesn’t like to ask his kids for help with the “small stuff”. But he needs it right now. It’s a big step for him just to admit it. We’re pushing for him to get to the doctor as soon as possible, and my mom is setting up an appointment for him, but truthfully, he doesn’t want to go. I think he’s afraid of what they’ll tell him, even though he has to know something is seriously wrong.
And here I am, having he and my mother watch Shelby and the dogs while I go cavorting around in Texas. While I’m toasting a beer to someone I never met, my dad may be getting diagnosed, or refusing to be diagnosed rather, with cancer. Yeah, I said it. I think he has cancer. It runs in my family. Both of my grandparents on my dad’s side died from it. One of his sisters, and one of his brothers have died from it. This isn’t one of those “hope for the best” moments...I’m fucking worried. Possibly more worried than I ever was when I would leave Megan for a few days to go backpacking.
See, Megan had an unpredictable and complicated illness, but at the first sign of trouble or “flare-ups”, she would be on the phone with her doctor, and making sure she was getting admitted as soon as possible. I could feel some comfort in knowing that even if I wasn’t around, she would take care of herself right away, as she had been doing for years. Hell, we took two vacations in a row over two years, and both of them came complete with trips to the ER...one for altitude sickness (at less than 7500 feet, mind you), and one for pleurisy (at 3:00 AM after a 14+ hour drive). But that was the thing, we knew how to handle it and where we needed to go. What we needed to say. Who we needed to talk to and what medications, allergies, and her normal vital signs were.
With my dad, well, he hasn’t been to the doctor since...actually...I don’t know if I’ve EVER seen him go to the doctor. He’s the kind of guy that would cut his thumb off, and staple-gun it back on...sealing the wound with duct tape. He has an innate anxiety about hospitals, even though he would be right beside my mom when she had her various surgeries or issues herself, sitting in that hospital at all hours. God forbid he ever even go to a clinic for a checkup himself though.
And that's where my anxiety about taking this trip seems to be stemming from. Out of everyone in my immediate family...I am the one person most experienced with long-term illness. With hospitals and doctors and how they operate. I’m the one that is in the best position to know the “whos, whats, whens, wheres, and hows”. I’ve been the person sitting beside a sick and dying loved one at all hours of the night...just hoping for a brief moment where they open their eyes and acknowledge your presence before letting the morphine go back to work. I’ve carried my wife down two flights of stairs, and physically loaded her in a car to go to the ER. I’ve spent the night in a vinyl recliner in a room filled with machines and hoses and wires and motionless bodies more times than I can count.
My dad is a tough nut to crack though. It’s hard for my mom to get him to go see a doctor, especially when she is just as worried, and doesn’t want to work him up. I am my father’s child. I get his anxiety and stubbornness, because I have them too. I am the most suited to pick his emaciated ass up and force him into the car, telling him to quit feeling sorry for himself, and quit being selfish, because there are people that rely on him. To be blunt I’m probably the best person to be sitting beside him if he IS sick or admitted to a hospital, quite simply because I lived that bullshit for so long that it doesn’t phase me as much. If he needed someone that could be steady and solid while he stares down the barrel of something that scares everyone, well, dammit, I’m the guy.
And I’m leaving for a week.