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Ashley tossed and turned. She was having that dream again. The panic, the agony, the dream. She was sweating, crying, swimming in liquid on her bed. She couldn’t wake up, couldn’t pull through into reality.
Suddenly she woke up. She bolted upright. She gulped down air and wiped sweat off of her forehead. She looked over at Amy, her three year old sister. She was sleeping calmly, she hadn’t even stirred.
The last thing Ashley wanted to do was go back to bed. She pushed off the covers. She waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark, then went over to her bulletin board. There was a ticket stub from when her dad took her to a Phillies game, a postcard that she and her dad bought at the shore, pictures of her and her friends and family. Then came the hard stuff. Hospital bracelets, pictures of waiting rooms, occupied hospital beds, pictures of her dad going into surgery, with IVs and tubes all over.
Three years ago when Ashley was just 9, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Every time they removed it, it came back somewhere else. Her dad had been through rough times, but usually pulled through. There would be maybe, months, no more than two, where he would be home and they would have “family fun time,” which would be soon interrupted by pain or crying.
Now he was in the hospital, he was really sick. Ashley looked over at Amy. She let out a small groan and rolled over. Ashley decided it was now or never. She pulled on her Hi-tops, tied her hair up, slipped into her jacket, and crept downstairs.
She headed out the door and down to the flashing sign that said “Bryn Mawr Hospital Cancer Center”.
Although she didn’t want to, Ashley kept going. In order not to turn back, she ran all the way up the stairs, through the halls, flying, tears streaming. She let the tears come, crying freely. Then she reached the room. 513. She turned the handle and pushed.
There was her dad. Breathing heavily. Heart monitors beeping. Beep. Beep. Beep. It had a steady beat. Her dad was deep in sleep. She sat in the corner chair, the stiff wooden ones.
Her dad smiled stealthily. He knew she was there. Every night she snuck out. It was a secret between Ashley, her father, and the entire hospital staff. He rolled over. His eyes opened. Ashley walked over to the bedside. He looked weak. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“You don’t have to say anything, Daddy,” Ashley whispered hoarsely.
He took her hand. For awhile they stood there looking in each others eyes.
The heart monitor beeped slower and slower.
Quietly, she let him go.
She stood there for awhile then she ran. She didn’t know where to run to, so she just ran. Running. Running. Heart beating furiously. Feet flying. She ran until morning and then came to the curb of her house. She was numb, cold, and stiff, and couldn’t do anything about it.
When she woke she found herself on the grass. The first word that came to her was “unconscious.” She struggled to remember what had happened. Then it was clearer and clearer.
More words came. Dad. Dead. No more. Gone. Heaven. Running. Park. Good Bye.
“Daddy,” she cried, lip trembling. “Daddy,” she said again, “Daddy.” “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” each time she said it she called louder.
She was panicking. Breathing became harder and harder. Her throat was on fire, lungs constricted. She tossed on the bed of grass, looking everywhere, as if her dad was right there, playing some harmless joke.
“It was a dream,” she tried to convince herself. “A dream that’s all. When I go inside Mom will be making pancakes, Amy willing be humming some odd tune, and Dad will be reading the paper. It’s all right. Calm down.”
Even as she said the words she knew something was wrong with them. But she decided to move on, go inside and take a shower, because now she was covered in a thick layer of sweat. She peeled her self off the grass and headed inside.
Running again. Only this time, not so long of a journey. She ran into her mom’s arms. Tears pouring down her face, her mom could only stare, blankly.
“Oh Ashley honey, what’s wrong? Where were you? Why weren’t you sleeping in bed? What’s going on?”
Ashley kept on crying. She looked around. Amy was eating waffles, blissfully unaware of the harsh reality of life easing into death. There were needles and thread on the table. Her mom had been sewing. She was furious at these people. Who were they? Unaware of what was going on.
She couldn’t help it, her dad, Amy’s dad, Mom’s husband, was dead. D-E-A-D dead. They just kept moving on with their lives, as if he wasn’t important. Just someone, no something that had slipped their mind. For them it was an ordinary run of the mill day.
Who cared? Who cared that he was gone? Was she the only one who loved him?
Still furious, mind racing, Ashley tore away from her mom. She didn’t want to be with, or related to these disgraceful people.
As she went down the hall and up the stairs she heard the phone ring. Then she heard “Oh my.”
She lay on her bed. Choking from crying so hard. Wanting to melt, melt away from it all. She knew now. Though not wanting to, she new more than only minutes ago, laying on the ground. “Reality is bitter,” she thought. That was true. Way too true.
Her mom came upstairs with Amy on her hip.
Amy’s carrot-colored hair was pulled into a short, thin, wispy, pony-tail. Her still, blue eyes complemented her pale skin and dainty features. She looked soft. A soft person. The spitting image of her father.
Ashley’s curly, brown hair, medium-dark skin, and brown eyes were the exact opposite.
For a moment, Ashley was jealous. It was just another way Amy was closer to their dad. Amy and Ashley both had always been Daddy’s girls. He would take them to the lake to swim. They played board games together. Every summer day he was off or not in the hospital would be spent in some fun way. They loved to go to baseball games together. Sometimes major league. Usually just the township boys. It was all the same to Ashley though.
And plays. They’d loved going to plays. The most recent was The Sound of Music, and Ashley loved every minute of it.
So many fun times had been with her dad. Then she felt a pang in her stomach.
That was it.
No more swimming in the lake, baseball games, or shows. Daddy was gone. The good times they planned on having were all done with. Kaput. Through. Over.
Just like him.
Snapping back into reality Ashley stopped being jealous. Amy couldn’t help it. She was just being crazy.
Ashley and her Mom melted on the bed. Crying, crying. Amy went off to hum and color.She would always just hum and color.
The week before Ashley had had a mass at school. They had them about once a month. She participated in the choir at school. Thinking about all the songs they had sang, one struck her in particular. “Live to die, rejected and alone. Like a rose, trampled on the ground.”
That’s how she felt. Forgotten. As if it were her dad’s fault. She wanted, needed, a way out. A way in maybe. In to heaven. “NO!” She slapped herself. “I will not kill myself. That’s not the way to get to Daddy. No. I‘m not suicidal.”
The first day back at school. It was only a half day, so her mom said it would be a good day. You have to go back sometime. As she walked in, everyone stared at her in wide-eyed wonderment like, she was a ghost. Mrs. Benson, her teacher came over and smiled at her.
“Ashley, it’s good to see you back. I’m so sorry.”
Ashley didn’t know how to respond to that.
“Thank y-you,” she managed to get out. With that Mrs. Benson took her cue to let her unpack. She stumbled to her locker. As she opened the red door she heard mumbles around her. Jayne came over and put her arm around her.
“When’s the funeral?”
“Next week. They have to do an autopsy, to be sure what killed him. This week my house is crazy. I just want to be by myself. My cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are flying in all this week. My Gram is already there. She is mostly taking care of Amy which is a huge help for my mom. She’s been really great. And she knows just what to do. She cleans while my mom’s on the phone. She arranges the flowers everyone sends. If the funeral planning gets too hard for my mom, she lets her take a nap while she plans, for awhile. I don’t know what we’d do with out her, but my cousins are a lot.”
Just then the school bell rang, and we went to our classes.
Kay and Isabella walked in the door. They were the first cousins to arrive. Their dad, Peter, was my Dad’s best friend and big brother. His wife MaryAnn came in with the baby Leah.
Bella and Kay looked solemn, with matching black dresses, stockings and Mary Jane’s. It looked cute on Belly, being 4, but the 10 year old versions on Kay wasn’t so pretty. Leah was wearing a cute black headband with a flower and a black dress with lace trimming.
Peter slowly came in and put his arm around my mom. For awhile they just hugged then Gram came and showed them all their rooms.
The cousins kept on coming. Ashley was sick of them. They were all cheerful until Ashley or her mom would come by, then they would all be quiet, with childish,
“I’m-not-doing-anything-wrong,” smirks on their faces.
The funeral mass was nice, except for the incense. It made Ashley cough. Ashley’s uncles carried the casket in and out. In the beginning everyone went up to pay their respects. Ashley, not knowing what to say kept snaking to the back of the line when she got close.
When she finally got up there she somehow knew exactly what to say.
“Daddy, Thank you for all the wonderful times. The plays, baseball games, shows. Now you know I’ll be missing you, but I can’t help it. Life’s going to be hard with just me and mom, and Amy but we’ll do it for you. But please, all I ask is for you to send signs, just small ones, to remind me of you when you need a reminder. So good-bye Daddy, I love you. I always will.
Ashley grew up to be a fine young woman. She became a doctor to save all the Daddies she could. Amy grew up to be a musician, always the humming girl. Mom fell in and out of love, but said no other man was right for her.
The most remarkable thing and why I tell you this story is because of the “signs.”
Ashley’s last words to her father were; “Send me some signs.” All through out her life she saw those signs present. In family pictures her dad was always there. He just showed up on Ashley’s. An outline, right next to her. His room in the hospital was always cold no matter how high the heat was on. Sometimes when Ashley would think of him something moved, ever so slightly. These are only some of the many “famous” occurrences.
Although Ashley’s dad died his presence is with her, wherever she goes.