Memories drift by in my mind of times when you weren’t sick. I look at myself then and want to grab me by the shoulders and yell what the future holds. To warn myself. Not that it’d do any good. Regardless, you’re gone now and I can’t talk to you anymore, I can’t hug you anymore. It causes me ceaseless pain and great sadness. What am I supposed to do with these feelings?
You took in a boy and made him your own and I didn’t make it easy on you at all. I regret that even though I know you hold no grudge against me for it.
I wake up most mornings and feel so empty. I don’t like it, I detest it. Where are you now? What do you see? Do you have a routine? What’s it like when you look in on us and see that we are still so deeply grieving you? How are you more alive than you’ve ever been -what does that mean?
When we spoke, you told me you believed in me and knew I would fly high with my new career, my passion and yet I’m still fumbling to make ends meet. I give 100% every day and success still evades me. Am I being impatient? What would you say? I refuse to quit, I told myself when I flew out for basic training in Cleveland that there’s no turning back, that even if things didn’t go as I imagined I would I find a way to maintain until I hit my flashpoint and catapult forward as a professional dog trainer. I told you that, too. I thought of you when I graduated on March 29th and I truly felt like a superhero when I put on my uniform. I still do. But without you here I feel like I’m flying blind.
I remember when mom called me and told me you checked into Eisenhower. March 27th. We thought it was a fungal infection and pinched nerves due to your previous radiation treatments from your first bout with the tumor in your arm. Mom called me later that evening to update me. It was dark outside and tiny snowflakes flurried through the air. I could see my breath. The lights at the training center across the street were still on. She kept telling me the doctors were almost certain it was cancer but were waiting for test results. That I shouldn’t worry just yet. My heart dropped a thousand miles in the blink of an eye and I knew this was it. I knew you were dying. My mind went blank.
I went inside on auto-pilot. Rick, Bret, and Nick asked if I was ok. I lied and said I was fine. I made dinner and went to my room. Little puddles formed at my feet and grew with every tear that fell onto them. I didn’t make a sound but my body trembled and then it shook. I didn’t sleep that night.
The next day I received a picture of you in your hospital bed, spirits bright as always and your food tray in front of you. I know that smile you had on your face didn’t come easily. I felt stuck. I didn’t want to leave my training and put it on hold. No turning back, remember? But I was overwhelmed with the urge to get to California that second to be by your side. To rally the entire family and call them to your side, a loving display of solidarity for the man that bettered this family by being the foundation on which we built our lives.
I’ve never had such trouble focusing before but I knew I had to if I wanted to graduate and become a part of the team. I wanted to focus. I was acting a little different and some of the trainers noticed. Some didn’t. I didn’t want anybody to notice anything. What was I supposed to say if they asked what was wrong? A part of your lung had collapsed and tumors were growing everywhere.
The color orange, concrete, and then a mix of muddy and frozen grass. I had walked from the training center to the outside near the back of the kennel runs. I paced. I spoke with both of my sisters, my brother and my mom. I let my mentor Lorenzo know what was happening and he called me to talk. He offered to fly me out to you. Dad, I want you to know that someone that had never met you and didn’t even know me entirely showed me such generosity and compassion without reserve. It further deepened my commitment to him and the company. It made my chest tighten – I had never been on the receiving end of something like that. It mattered to me.
I thought of you early in the morning as I ran two miles on the morning of my graduation test. March 29th. I mustered every bit of energy I had left to catch up to my mentor as he jogged past me at the tail end of that run. I wanted to impress him, I wanted to show him that even though I was exhausted I could still move, I could work, I could get it done. I find myself in a similar situation now where business is so slow and I’m struggling to keep up with life but I’m still moving. I won’t stand still. One way or another I’m going to make this happen and with the help of my team, be successful. I saw it in your eyes when I talked about professional dog training that you believed me, that I had found what I was looking for. I just wish you were here now to see me through this challenging time.
I stared at the green curtain that hung at the entrance of your room as I approached it, telling myself that this moment is about to happen and will be gone forever. I told myself that every day I was in California. I just wanted you to be healthy again. I wanted you to at least feel Makayla move. It ripped me through to pieces to watch you place your hand on her mother’s belly.
There were many times where we all gathered in that hospital room and filled the halls with our laughter, an unintentional and outward reminder to all that not even the ominous presence of death could break the love that bound us all together. You were a celebrity there, hospital staff not assigned to you would hear about you from their peers and come to meet you. You and ma, Happily Homeless. The greatest love story ever told.
The OxyContin. Terribly powerful and you were on such a high dose. I was there and you were so under it’s influence that you kept forgetting to breathe. You’d jerk and inhale sharply after a few minutes of not breathing, as if your body’s instinct kicked in. Do you remember that night? I sat next to you and calmly breathed with you:
“Good job, pop, great job.”
Over and over. Mom says that kept you alive that night.
The hospital staff put options on the table. Treatment. Likelyhood of survival. Hospice. Hospice…….hospice. We spoke twice before on the phone and you said you wouldn’t give up, that you’d fight this but I believe you said that because I needed to hear it. You wanted to protect us. Then came the day. Early afternoon and the sun was hitting the walls of your room because the blinds were partially closed. I kept staring at you, trying to figure out what you were thinking and feeling as we all discussed the route of hospice with you. I feel like I could tell you preferred to let nature take it’s course but didn’t want to tell us because you wanted to protect us from the heartbreak. We all knew. We closed in around you. Ma was at your side, Rae and boy by your legs. I took your hand and told you we supported and respected your decision to go into hospice. You clutched my hand and have never squeezed it so firmly. Your eyes clouded up and I know you wanted to cry. Boy took a picture of our hands firmly clasped together.
Sometimes I live these memories again and again. They’re terrible, they’re beautiful, they’re many things at once. What were you thinking? You put on such a brave face throughout this period. The handful of times you and I cried together while you were sick were the only times we ever did. I want you back. It’s a foolish thing because I know it will never be but I feel as if I will always have a hole in me that appeared when you left.