The Authenticity Experiment, the visitation edition. I’d just finished riding a really long ride with the Opera Singer. The longest I’d ever done. I was back in the hotel room and I called my dad to tell him. He was still sane, had not gone off the rails yet, and the last cogent thing he said to me was, “Thirty-seven miles, Jesus, Kaydoos! Does your ass feel like hamburger?” Which has become a longstanding joke with Lesbiana Profundis who is also my best riding partner. Every, every, every time we get off the bike she says, “Does your ass feel like hamburger, Kaydoos?” A nod to my dad, as well as joke, I suppose.
Yesterday, I did 40 fairly fast miles, my longest ride of the season so far. And, although the miles were flat, I was riding with a new bike partner—one who is lighter, and fitter, and faster than I am—and I pushed myself to keep up. I think this is good to do once a week, ride with someone else, someone stronger, so I can get fitter and faster myself, and push myself.
But, because of this, at the end of the ride, my ass felt a bit like hamburger. Especially because I forgot the Chamois Butter which makes everything better down there, everything slide around nicely and not get hot or stuck to the chamois in my shorts. I rode 7 of the 40 miles alone and I thought about my dad. Thought about how he was the first to go. He died just as FB was taking off and, six years ago, on April 28th, a little more than three weeks before he died, and just one day after my first longest ride, I flew from Sacramento to Seattle, then drove a steel blue Subaru Outback to Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, Washington, where my father had been admitted.
My first status update was the next morning, at 7:06am. “It may be like riding a bicycle, but my body and psyche don’t want to remember the profound exhaustion of this task.” Cryptic, in the days when cryptic FB status updates were the norm. How do you ask for help for a death watch? Because that’s what it was. A death watch. Even though my parents were in denial.
My dad thought he’d go home and live another year. My mother didn’t think he was going to die, but she wanted him admitted to skilled nursing so they could take care of him. I wanted to bring him home and start hospice. There I stood, right in the middle of their marriage, pushing back against my formidable, angry mother and all her undigested rage at what had occurred during her own hospitalization four years earlier. I remember her words and tone so clearly, “I’ll decide when it’s time for hospice, not you, Katie.” The diminutive, Katie. Daughter. Child. And also the one who got all the calls every time something went wrong with either one of them.
By now, the cancer tatted through his femur, his iliac crest, his ribs, and maybe a few other spots I can’t remember. It pushed so on his esophagus that swallowing hurt and spicy food burned the eroded lining. Dilauded, MS Contin, and Fentyl patches kept the pain in check. But he’d accidentally overdosed the day before, or, as he told me, my mother deliberately gave him too many MS Contin. She, an ICU nurse with Alzheimer’s, he an addict with a penchant for hyperbole, the truth, I imagine, is somewhere in the middle, and something I’ll never know.
I argued my case with my mother. When she’d been the one in the ICU, we’d simply made decisions and told my father how it was going to be. He didn’t like it, he swore at me, but he knew my sisters and I were considering all the angles and making sound decisions. My mother refused to let us make a single decision around our father. I called Sue, crying, from the hospital parking lot, sitting in the driver’s seat of the Blue Su-Bee, door open, left foot propped on the door jam. I still hang to what she said that day which was, in essence, yes it would be better for dad to die at home, but our mother couldn’t care for him physically or emotionally. He’d get better care with strangers.
Thirteen hours later, I posted another status update. “Ahh, there’s nothing like a post-ICU gin and tonic. Well, except maybe the pre-ICU gin and tonic, but that just isn’t right. Or is it?” I can’t remember where I went. I checked into a hotel, I know that much. I needed some space because I was so angry at my mother. Also, I think that by this point, the Opera Singer had arrived in her Red Honda Element with our bikes, the yellow Necky kayak, and our dog, having driven the 17 hours alone. And dear god, I needed a debrief away from my family.
Whatever else the Opera Singer was, she felt fiercely protective of me, and demanded time away from my family for me, for us. It’s another one of the great lessons I’ve carried forward from her. She held me on the bed, I’m sure, as I cried and cried and cried about my dad, about seeing him bald and sick and hopeful and still taking up so much space in that hospital bed. Just like my ex-wife had held me four years early when I’d cried about my mother’s ICU admission. I’d learned some of my lessons by then, much to my father’s chagrin, learned the only life you can save is your own, so I wasn’t willing to kill myself fighting my mother or researching Hail Mary treatments.
This Monday past, six years elapsed between that bucolic ride and my final cogent conversation with my father, I woke to voices after a late, late night. I thought I’d inadvertently hit the clock radio and turned on NPR. But the voices were murmuring in another room. I leapt out bed, pulled on a t-shirt and headed towards them; they were coming from my office. The television in there—no cable, only Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Pandora—was on and Fox News was screeching about whatever egregious subjects Fox News screeches about. Tucked into its drawer was the remote control, so that cat did not accidentally turn on the TV, although, she, too, was in office, sitting and staring at the TV. When I walked in, she turned and mewed at me—a holy-shit-WTF-I-didn’t-even-know-you-had-one-of-these-things kind of mew.
It was Lesbiana Profundis who suggested I check the calendar and see if April 25th was an significant date.
“Hi, Dad. I’ve come to appreciate you, my father, the NRA-loving, Ross Perot-campaigning, George W. Bush-voting (twice!) man. Thanks for finding a way to reach through time and space to let me know you’re still watching what’s going on.”
I was pretty sure he wouldn’t vote for Trump or Hillary, so I turned off the news and relished thinking for a while about the best of him.