I got used to the antiseptic smell and the hovering sickness of the hospital as well as any teenager did, confronting subjects of life and death after my father had a massive heart attack when I was 15. My mother and I clasped our hands together as we huddled on the hospital coach, watching doctors and nurses rush by with equipment as “CODE BLUE CCU” blared across the system. We knew they were speaking of my father, and I was frightened.
We had only been close until I began school, after which he drifted away from my life. He worked the graveyard shift and was rarely awake when I came home to a darkened flat in the evening, hunching over a tiny stool to do my homework. I never went had that grand, regretful epiphany that compelled me to want to make up for lost time after he fell ill. It was my mother who forced me to visit my father in the hospital every day after school, demanding that I remain there for four to five hours until she could bring me home after her work.
My mother had just recovered from stomach cancer, and her insistence on secrecy and keeping her illness private meant that I had to go through that entire experience alone. By the time I began visting my father, I was already wary of the equipment, the smell, the sugary sweetness of the hospital staff and of sitting on cushioned seats watching a loved one trying to recover.
My father, however, had other ideas for my visits.
Everyday, he would save the hospital food that he hated into his little side drawer, fishing it out it in its soggy, cold state. “This taste like shit. I saved it for you,” he would say as he shoved portions of food wrapped in napkins towards me. After pushing the food back towards him until it ended up back in his drawer at his request, he would ask me about wrestling, if the San Francisco Giants lost – even though it was no longer baseball season and if my mother and sister were well. Once those preliminaries were done, he would turn away and begin speaking to his roommate, an onery old man who would swap stories with him of life on the sea.
It was like this everyday until that one particular evening when I visited him after skipping a day. He was already speaking with is new roommate, then stopped, grabbed my hand introduced me to an African American gentleman in the bed next to his. Without waiting for me to settle into the guest chair, my father resumed his chat with his roommate.
“I can’t goddman understand it. It sticks up in the morning again like I was a young guy. I feel better.”
The roommate offered a hearty laugh. “Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re saying. I’m getting all hard in the morning, too. What are they giving us here?”
I looked at my father, who seemed so very pleased with himself. An event of celestial proportion seems to have taken place beneath his hospital gown, although I was most likely the worst person on the world to be in on his celebration.
I tried to ignore the conversation. I stared at the dentures floating in the glass next to his bed. I wiggled my toes. I frowned a great deal, and even tried to pull my hand away from his grasp. My father would not have any of it, at least not when both he and his roommate were in raptures.
“I feel like I am wasting it in the hospital,” my father added. “I haven’t been this hard in a long time. I thought I forgot,” he laughed.
By this point, I had realized that my relationship with my father was less parent/child and more man/annoying child who kept changing the channels when he was sleeping. It would never be normal, or even on and off. It was abnormal on the scale of Rosemary’s Baby strange.
The conversation continued as a middle aged nurse entered the room to check different equipment and medical conditions, and I saw her eyebrows wing upwards as she caught wind of the discussion. She stared at me, giving me that nun’s guilty once over, as if I initiated the conversation. I tried to give that beagle eyed look that would demand sympathy. Instead, she pursed her lips and left the room.
Finally, their conversation segued to wrestling, which I assume is a natural pathway for men. My father finally released my hand, and I backed away, finding the comfortable guest chair and burying myself in math homework.
My mother came to get me a few hours later, double parking her burgundy Toyota Corolla in front of the hospital. Our usual silent and short ride home was broken when I suggested that instead of waiting for the evening ride’s home, I could easily manage the short walk. I ran through a myriad of reasons why this would make sense as we walked into our flat.
As we settled into the cold and dark house, my mother turned to scowl at me. “You have to spend time with your father. What if he died? You should talk to him while you have time. All you have to do is sit there, do your homework and visit. He can barely move.”
That’s what you think, mom.
(c) 2014 Slow Suburban Death. All rights reserved.