Friday, February 6, 2015
A Parting Gift
On July 21, 1978, I was 5 years old and the only child of my father, Keith. I was the apple of his eye. He thought I was the cutest thing ever. He was totally right, of course. Later that day, however, things were going to change. There was going to be a wedding... My dad was marrying Peggy and she and her two children, Dawn and Scott, would now be in our family, too. We were all going to be in the ceremony.
My dad and I went into the entrance of our church with the long hallway. This time, though, we turned right immediately and walked a hall I'd never been down. It was probably the only place there I hadn't yet explored. We went to a very large, old church with lots of mysterious alcoves to explore. My future brother and I went on adventures every Sunday while the grown ups talked after services. We knew this was the hall we had to avoid. I was with my dad, but it still felt like I was getting away with something. This curious path ended up leading to the doors the reverend would come out of each Sunday. This time, though, my dad and I came out of them. Together. We met up with my new mom, brother and sister and we all committed to be a family.
I was going to have to share my dad now. He was the only person that I knew really loved me. For sure. I was uncertain about our new additions, but I was also glad to have more people in my family. My dad worked a lot. I spent much of my time with babysitters or in the alterations department at the store with our seamstress, Norma Needle. (I can promise you that Needle wasn't really her last name, but I honestly don't ever remember her having had another). Now I would stay home all of the time and be with my family every day.
We never referred to one another as step-. We were brother, sister, mom and dad. It was very Brady of us. It felt right, though. My mother was garbage and so was their father, so we all easily acclimated into our new roles. There were plenty of ups and downs growing up, but I think we were pretty much a normal American family with a mom who was too soft, a dad who was too hard and, eventually, three pain in the ass teenagers.
I was always very aware of my fathers disappointment in me when I would let him down. He never seemed to be as upset at Dawn and Scott when they screwed up. They always seemed to get lighter sentences, too. I thought he was harder on me because he liked them better. Looking back, I think he was disappointed because of our first five years together. He knew me as a sweet, loving, perfect little girl. It was probably a lot harder for the two Angies to coexist in his mind. As much as I disappointed him, he never stopped loving me, though. I knew that. I used to joke around when I would call the store. Whichever of the girls answered, if they would ask, " Can I tell him who's calling?" I would always answer, "Tell him it's his favorite daughter." A part of me was kidding. But a part of me knew that it was true.
My dad was a caretaker by nature. All of us kids have stories of his generosity. When he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, Audrey had just started at a very nice private school that I really couldn't afford. I gave my Jetta back to the bank and got an absolute piece of shit so I could make my monthly payments to her school. It needed fixed so often that I should've kept the Jetta. I had to borrow money from my parents sometimes to cover the repairs. My dad wasn't really sold on the idea of the private school at the time but he knew I was doing my best to give Audrey an education equal to her abilities. So he helped. He said he believed that when his kids were doing the right thing, he wanted to support that. We could've argued about whether or not I had been doing well before then, but I can just resolve that " the right thing" is subjective. At least he thought I was on the right track before he left us. Because he had just been diagnosed and (now I understand) given six months to live, he bought me a car. It was only two years old and had 14,000 miles on it. He told me he wasn't going to leave this Earth and have to worry about Audrey and I on the side of the road in the Buick. I didn't remind him that we both had cell phones and I had my annual AAA gift from he and mom. I graciously received the car. It meant everything to me. That is one small example. I do believe my dad would've left my mom a millionaire if it hadn't been for his generosity and care for others.
When my dad was in the hospital, and then hospice, I wanted desperately to return his many favors and care for him. I'd have done absolutely anything to bear his pain. There really is no more helpless feeling than watching someone you love suffer and having no capacity to do anything for them. I had memorized all of the "safe" zones on all of his monitors. I would harass his poor nurses whenever he was out of range. I could at least make sure that the people who could help him were doing all they could. I'm sure they wanted to kick me in the head.
On February 6, 2011, I woke up and looked around. It was still dark outside and everyone was still asleep. We had all made camp in the hospice family room and were sleeping in chairs. I went to the bathroom then headed down the hall to see dad. The nurse had told us what each of the final stages would be like step by step. We noted each step. They each took time. Hours. I passed mom and Scott in the hallway. Mom said that my dad had just entered the final stage of shallow breathing. We all figured that would be a long one, too. Mom and Scott were heading down to the cafeteria to get everyone some breakfast. I'm sure dad was tickled that they finally left. I know that he wouldn't want to go while anyone was there. Of course, then I walked in and blew it. I sat down beside him and wished him a good morning. His breathing was very obviously different. I was making small talk to him. I said,"I haven't even seen a mirror yet today. I'll bet I look like a witch." I walked into the little bathroom in his room and ran wet fingers through my hair. I went back and sat down beside him again. He was gone.
I could finally hold his hand again without hurting him. I told him how much I loved him while I cried and tried to catch my breath. I paused for a moment before I called mom and Scott to come back. I realized that I had just been so fortunate to have awakened at the exact moment that I did. I was with my dad when we entered our family and I got to be with him when he left. I felt guilty for being selfish, but I felt like he was just a little bit more mine than anyone else's. And I felt honored to have been given that final moment alone with my dad.