“This way,” Dad said, inclining his head to the left.
I followed him up the sidewalk, him on the outside by the street. He refused to let me walk on the outside – that was his job. He was the first line of defense in case a car jumped the curb.
Cold burrowed into my neck. I always forgot to bundle up enough for these walks. The sun crept over the trees, but its slow ascent would remain the background of our walk. The dew hung in droplets off of the tired grass. Tired, because it was still green and this was October.
“I have a new business plan,” I said. “About a social network for truckers.”
“Huh,” Dad said. “What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
I smiled. He smiled too, and we segued into talking about our family and the latest problems we had run into. We walked slowly, which was hard for me to do. Old habits. It helped that the street was a good uphill terrain. The houses we passed lay quiet. Too early for chaos yet. Just wait till we got around the bend – children would be waiting for the bus, parents watching from the porches.
Always seemed too early for people that age to leave for school.
Dad listened when I talked. He asked questions. He gave insight. Sometimes he made sarcastic or funny comments. Mostly we just relaxed our speech, focused more on just spending the time.
It was Tuesday. Breakfast with Dad was on Tuesday. My 3 sisters and their kids would gather at my parent’s house for pancakes or eggs and bacon every Tuesday morning. Dad always made the food. Sometimes other people brought tasty things as well – not me though, I lived the farthest away and used the extra time before my siblings arrived to walk alone with my dad.
Alone time with my dad kept me going in a very dark time.
The summer had left me bereft of my closest friends. Due to work schedules and a nasty breakup between some of them, the entire group left me and my spouse in the dust. Accustomed to meeting once every week for 2 and a half years, I found myself lost. Introversion is a curse, not a strength. It is a terrible thing to depend on a small group that decides to fracture and leave you behind. An extrovert could make other friends or have other friends, but I didn’t have anyone really present in my life except family.
Not that family isn’t a joy and a comfort.
My family, however, was suffering. My sister was in the middle of a lengthy, aggravated and combative divorce. Despite her best efforts to peaceably separate herself and her 4 kids from her husband, he was unwilling to yield.
We were unprepared.
My other older sister was carefully and diligently helping her youngest child of 3, a girl barely 1 year old, recover after a second surgery. Baby A was a miracle that almost left us the year before, but the prognosis was starting to look up after all the hospital visits and surgeries. It is strange how much you can love someone you’ve only known for such a short time.
My younger sister and her husband had serious, re-occuring health problems. His daily struggle kept him from a normal work schedule, and she was picking up the slack as best she could. The next few months ahead would see them moving out of their house for weeks in order to eradicate mold, all while dealing with special diets and multiple jobs.
My older brother had the least of the burdens, but his life wasn’t easy. At that time he was in a beautiful relationship with a lovely woman, one he wanted to marry, although I’m not sure she knew that yet. But he had been this close before, and things had gone very badly for him. Instead, he focused on his job and helping out his family as best he could.
My parents cared for my in-process divorcing sister, her 4 kids residing happily in my parents’ small home. At the time the oldest was 7, the youngest 1. Too young for their own suffering.
And I…my suffering was different. I was married to someone I loved, who apparently didn’t want to be married to me. Instead, he was quietly pushing me to unravel everything real about myself and morph into the person he thought I should be. He had moved me away from my family and my church. He was in the process of starting a very intense affair with a very young person. He constantly flirted with other women in front of me. He told me I wasn’t living up to his expectations, but he refused to tell me what those were. He shut me out of his thoughts and when he wrote future goals, none of them included me.
He asked me to marry him, but he was giving up on me.
But when I was with my dad, I felt valuable. In a sea of suffering and chaos, Dad took the time to just walk with me. Just be.
It is more than a year later. We haven’t done Tuesday breakfasts in about that amount of time. It just became too much of a hassle.
This past spring my former husband’s many affairs came to light. Instead of facing the truth about himself and his actions, he chose to give up and shut me and my family out of his life. He is not regretful. He is not sad.
In the middle of the summer I found myself displaced, but eventually, with the help of my grandparents and family, I am now in a stable living situation and moving up in a job that I love. The week I moved into my current place, I had no bed. I didn’t think I even had the money for a bed. Instead I placed my camping pad on the cement floor of my place and layered some blankets on it. It hurt my back a bit, but I was free from the constant emotional and mental prison, so who can’t deal with a little back pain?
Dad and mom insisted that I have a bed. Not only did they find me a mattress, they bought a frame and came to my house to assemble it. Mom also brought me numerous household items, as I had left my old living situation in a hurry, without any dishes and most cooking utensils.
A few weeks later, Dad came over to help mount a curtain rod in my room because the outside lights were keeping me awake most of the night. When I had a housewarming party, Dad volunteered to buy pizza when he figured I didn’t have enough food for people. There are too many other things to list.
As this past fall progressed, Dad felt worse and worse. His work back injury was taking a much harsher toll in him. His stomach was hurting all the time, and his blood pressure was suddenly off – something that had never happened to him. Finally the pain was too much, mom brought him to the ER. Several unfruitful days passed – they sent him home with no news. He went back and was committed again as his health deteriorated.
A few more days passed. My sister came over to my house to make food with me. Mom called and asked where she was. Then she said she was on her way.
I knew then.
When mom came in I was quiet.
“They have discovered that he has tumors in the lining of his stomach,” she said. As she explained the rest of the situation I just stood there, silent, controlled, watching her and wondering how long I could keep it together.
I hugged her at the end. So did my sister. As she left, she told us that she was headed to our other sister’s house, then the next. She had already called my brother, who had moved 10 hours away upon his marriage to the lovely girl.
We could fight this, still. There were home remedies. Treatments. Options.
As the options are exhausted, the home remedies rendered impossible due to increasingly complex problems, I see Dad suffering. At first all he could say or think about was all of us.
“Let me walk you out to your car,” he said to me when I was leaving his hospital room. He was attached to multiple machines and beeping up a storm. I smiled and told him I would be fine.
He bought the neighbor’s car when he found out they were getting rid of it, because “your sisters might need it.”
He talked to a guy a church and asked him to check on my car if he had time.
In one year, I have experienced the complete definition of a selfish man and a self-less man. The selfish man chose to leave and continue his him-focused life. The self-less man is suffering every day and chooses to live his self-less life for his family.
When I was 9 I told my dad that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer.
Dad, when I grow up, I want to be you.