The Good Fight

October 10, 2007
I dropped out of catechism class when I was fifteen years old. Christianity seemed like such a typical crutch to latch onto when in need of something uplifting to fill the hours; when in need of something strong enough to remove the rock that was weighing me down. I knew that I was there for the wrong reasons, figuring it into my escape plan from reality. Every Tuesday night when I went to the local Methodist Church to attend catechism class, my father was at home, spending the last Tuesdays of his life. Fall felt more like winter that year, and I refused to continue hiding behind a book, denying the fact that what started as an incline (first word, step, birthday, all followed by seconds, thirds, fourths, and so on) was now a decline (last book read, last meal made, fourth, third, second to last, and finally last Tuesday).

Three weeks after walking out halfway through what ended up being my last class, I was home with my family. My father’s mother, sister, and brother had been staying at the house for at least a week. Others had come and gone, bringing over dinner and things for my father: A Les Paul Guitar, courtesy of Gibson, not that my father ever learned to play, or could physically even if he had. Among all of the gifts, his favorite of all were the candy. Since my first taste, I was never a fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; the combination of chocolate and peanut butter was always thicker and never as smooth as I anticipated. My father however, was a loyal customer. His closest friends would bring over cards, encouragement, and bags of Reese’s for my father to enjoy. Even though he was limited to a diet consisting solely of liquid, we all pretended he could eat the peanut butter cups, that they were just what he needed; The miracle cure for his fatal sweet tooth.

After the people had come and gone with their gifts, “Hellos” and hugs, it was just my family and myself left. It was another late night and we were all bunking in my family room. An addition to the house, the family room was usually closed off by November, an attempt to keep the cold air from leaking into the rest of the house. That night the heat from all of our bodies in that one room was almost unbearable. My father lay, bound to his new bed, a leather recliner, where he had been staying for the past few weeks. Before I was informed of his fate, I told myself that he slept there because the room was made of windows. There were only thin sheets of glass between him and the outside world, which I imagined to be very therapeutic. I often wonder now how it felt for him to gaze out of those windows on the days when he found the strength. The windows must have seemed painfully like mirrors, emulating him, as nature progressed on its path parallel to my father’s. In reality, those days spent in that chair were probably the most isolated of his life. Unable to get up the stairs, then move, until he could no longer speak, the chair was the only thing that held him.
We all knew it wouldn’t be long. The windows remained open, although they should have been boarded up weeks earlier. The days were shorter, but more painful. After spending hours taking turns speaking to my father, our words never met by his, we decided to retire to bed. My grandmother, a woman with more strength than one would expect from someone who had outlived their spouse, and later their first son, said a prayer while we all formed our cocoons on the couch, cot, or floor of the family room. In retrospect, I am very surprised at the amount of sleep everyone was able to receive that night. The anxiety of not knowing what we would miss if we shut our eyes even for a moment, usually kept everyone in the house awake. We welcomed the sun back into our lives as if it had been merely minutes since our last encounter. Tonight everything seemed quieter; our bodies gave into the thick, almost tangible exhaustion that covered everything.

My mother was awoken by the ringing of the phone at five am, before the sunlight was able to sneak in and flood the room through the walls of windows. The arousal of my mother soon woke us all. On the other line of the phone my father’s doctor who was also his best friend, was apologizing. Although I couldn’t make out anything he was saying while my mother listened on the other line, I could hear the familiar panicky sound of his voice, which was now drowning in anxiety and confusion. He claimed to have woken in the night with a weird desire to call and check on my father. He couldn’t explain the force that woke him any more than we could comprehend it at that time. After all, we were all sleeping soundly for the first time in days. I don’t know if we cared more about easing his mind or our own, but we all got up and headed over to my father, laying in what was once his thrown. He was now an unidentifiable prisoner, captured and defeated by a deadly disease- his internal army completely wiped out.

I’m not sure if I already knew what was coming next at the time, my memory has taken on the effect of boiling milk, most of it blurred, evaporated into the air of every day. I do remember though, the synchronized tears that ran down every cheek in my family room, except my father’s,
My mother hung up the phone silently, hanging up the towel after the longest journey of her life. The rock was lifted from us all, just by being there at that moment. A long breath escaped my father’s lungs, the countdown now over. The days that followed weren’t as hard as the amount of support I received implied, even though they marked the beginning of a new battle. It wasn’t until months, even years later that the void made a home in my heart, even though the image immediately became a part of me. The truth is, as soon as one rock is lifted, another takes its place. No matter how heavy it is and how appealing the thoughts of escape and denial seem, there is no better place to be than the battle, on the front line.

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