I wasn’t expecting anything much. Just to hang out, drink some coffee, write a bit, see a few people, talk to my family and my girlfriend recovering on the other side of the country.
But, I came back from dinner with friends and walked into a home filled with friends. People were even going to Skype in from other cities and countries! But, in a bizarre twist, our internet was down. Still, people called in and I spoke to friends all over and some of those that could Skype were able to Skype with each other and it was a-well-an unexpected surprise. A huge unexpected surprise. All arranged from across the country by my beautiful girlfriend and some very secretive characters here.
I don’t know how to thank those that I saw or talked with or those that left messages or to my sweet Ruth. I’m still trying to process it all now. Words fall short. So, I will say thank you and I love you all very much and here’s a story that I wrote yesterday morning which now seems all the more fitting:
All day, yesterday, I kept thinking about my tenth birthday party, back in 1990.
It was a very concise invite list. My Dad, my Mom, my brother, and my sisters. It was near Easter, though I can’t remember if it was on Easter-as my birthday has a habit of doing from time to time. It was a warm day. A spring day. And we were in a hospital in West Virginia, where my Dad had been transferred to for inpatient rehab.
It had not been long since he had come out of his coma-though how long, I cannot remember anymore.
But, I remember clearly the day I saw him for the first time after his heart attack. It was just my brother and me, if I recall correctly. My sisters were too young to go in, I think. I can’t remember when they got to see him for the first time. But, a nurse took my brother and I into a room before we saw our Dad. They wanted to show us the machines that were hooked up to him and explain what they did. “This is the ventilator. It helps your Dad breathe.” “This is the heart monitor. It tells us how your Dad’s heart is doing.”
It was a kindness for which I’m still very grateful.
What I remember next is looking up to my brother. Looking up because he was always taller than me and looking up because I have always looked up to him and his quiet strength. And I could see he was keeping it together and I remember making a promise that I would hold it together, too. That I would be strong for him, for my Mom, and for my younger sisters-maybe even for the nurses, too.
And, when we walked into my Dad’s room, we could barely recognize him. Machines were connected everywhere and they pumped and pressed and beeped and made our Dad a robot while keeping him human.
And I can’t remember whose hand was at my back-a nurse, my Mom’s, my brother’s. I can only remember a hand being there to let me know that someone else was there with me. And that was good to know because I did not know where I was. The feeling of the hand I remember, too. Because it felt firm. It felt like the shape of a hand. But, if I didn’t know that, I don’t think I would have known what the hand was either. I had gone numb. I had looked up to my brother to confirm our decided strength and he was crying. And I was crying.
I remember that day so clearly. And I remember various days through the coming weeks of my Dad slowly coming back. I remember him shouting at shadows, still unconscious, still sorting through memories long ago. I remember so much kindness from family and friends. I can remember being completely confused about how to feel about everything happening around us. I can remember my Mom being an example to us of what courage and love are, pushing herself and four kids through a dark period that doctors gave little hope for a happy ending.
And I can remember turning ten.
I can remember going to visit my Dad at his new hospital in West Virginia. Up until then, he had been at a facility in Bethesda, Maryland. I can remember his slate-colored gray smock. And I remember the smells of the hospital.
And I can remember the birthday song being sung.
I remember my whole family was singing. And I can clearly remember my Dad proudly singing even though he could not remember all the lyrics or the proper melody. But, he shouted loud the words he knew. This made the silent gaps of the words he could not remember all the more blaring. But, still he boomed forth those that he did. And I cried. I cried with sadness that he had forgotten some. But, I cried with joy that he remembered others-that he was there.
It was an odd feeling to get a gift after that. To open the wrapping paper and get a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure when you knew the real present was seated on his hospital bed remembering the words to the Happy Birthday song. And my Mom, my brother, my sisters, the nurses and doctors and therapists who were pushing my Dad through rehab, and all those that were not there in West Virginia that day, but who had been there leading up to it. You begin to think-even as a ten year old-what isn’t a present?
And I can’t remember if I had always had this issue or if it stemmed from that day. But, I’m not very good at accepting gifts. I say thank you and I mean it dearly. But, I know I do not beam forth all the feeling of external thanks that I should. And, please, accept this as my apology. I am still in shock. I am still blown away by that whatever that has happened to make something else happen to make another thing happen to introduce me to you. I am still thanking the Rube Goldberg machine of life that has given me your friendship and I was not ready or expecting another gift, my friends.
We do not know how long we have here. But how amazing is it that we get to be here in the first place.
And, furthermore, that in all the gazillion types of cells possible, ours came out human. And, with all the roads and paths and tracks and tunnels that there are to travel, ours crossed.
My Dad passed away three years ago this past December. And I can remember people asking a particular question once they had heard. And it’s a common question that we ask in times like those. Because we want something to grip, something to make it a little easier.
People asked, “Was it expected?”
And no. It wasn’t.
All of these people, places, and things were given. But, none of them were expected.
Thank you for giving me the moments that made up my first thirty years.
My love to you all always,
Originally Posted On Facebook.