All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
June 31, 2007, started out like a normal summer night. I hung out with friends, my dad picked me up, I stayed up late watching TV and reading a book, and finally I went to bed. All seemed fine and I was content.
Then at 2 a.m. I was suddenly woken by the phone. Even though I checked the caller ID and saw that it was Valley Hospital, I felt no panic. I rationalized that it must be a nurse calling to confirm my father’s cardiology appointment. So, when I answered and was greeted by my mother, I became a bit confused, to say the least.
“Mom? Why are you calling from the hospital? What happened? Are you okay?” I asked.
“Ashley … your father’s with the doctors. He’s had another heart attack. I don’t know when I’ll be home … sometime later this morning.” Although my mother sounded as if she’d been to hell and back, she was all business. After an awkward moment, we said good-bye halfheartedly.
After I put the phone down, anger like bars of searing iron seemed to embed itself in my chest, replaced moments later with an arctic chill bleeding through me. My father had almost died, and I had been reading a book. I had been told the danger was over, that his heart was healing after multiple stents had been inserted, but apparently, it wasn’t over. I wanted to cry and vomit but I didn’t dare do either. Instead I walked to the living room, sat on the couch, and thought.
Mostly I thought about my past with my father. It was 1996 when he had the first heart attack, and life hadn’t been the same since. My “daddy” had been taken away and a new, more intimidating and angry man came home from the hospital.
Then I thought of the recent past. How we got into petty arguments almost daily. How I had told him I loved him when I was thinking I didn’t at all. How I aggravated him because I refused to let him intimidate me into being obedient (as he had when I was a kid).
Although our relationship had been improving lately, I still hadn’t forgiven him for how he treated me or my mother when I was growing up. My mother always told me to let go of it because she had. But I couldn’t, and in that moment, I regretted that. All I could think about was that my father could die without really knowing his daughter and I would never know the man my father truly was.
The next day is still a blur. I remember walking through the hospital lobby that looked more like a hotel (except for all the sick people in wheelchairs), thinking about the words my mother had said to me when I was 15. She told me that God does these things to us because he knows how strong we are, because we are the ones who can handle it. She said that God knew the weak wouldn’t be able to handle these hardships and that is why he sent them to us, because we’re survivors.
“That is why we cannot cry,” she said gently but firmly, as if teaching a child an important rule. “We need to be strong for those we love.”
Although I tried to compose myself in that blank, white hallway, nothing could have prepared me for the sight when I walked into my father’s room. My strong, healthy father had been reduced to a haggard old man in just hours. His face looked ashen and aged, with every wrinkle and blemish accentuated by the fluorescent light. His salt and pepper hair seemed brittle and thin. Tubes and wires ran in and out of him in every direction. I didn’t know if I could handle seeing this, but I knew I had to.
I still remember the blood stain on his sheets from when his catheter tube was taken out. The dark crimson seemed to be screaming at me in that white, sterile environment. The horror of seeing my father’s blood spilled and not being able to prevent it … I’ll never forget that. The worst part was pretending it wasn’t there. Pretending that everything was okay, that I didn’t sob when I was alone begging for this to be some kind of sick dream and for forgiveness, and begging that I wasn’t really sitting in the Critical Care Unit of Valley Hospital with my father looking as if he’d stared death in the face and barely managed to come back alive. The entire scene disgusted me in a way that still haunts me in an occasional nightmare.
At first, my father and I didn’t look at each other. Whether we were both pretending like we usually did or were afraid of the emotion we might see in each other’s eyes, I’m not sure. But when my father’s tired, brown eyes finally locked with mine, a lazy grin spread across his face, and I knew my world had changed again. I knew I had forgiven him. Life was too short and too fragile for me to stain it with my stubborn refusal to forgive him. Finally I understood my mother’s words and I became what she told me we were: a survivor.