Too Close MAG

January 9, 2012
By Alison Riley BRONZE, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Alison Riley BRONZE, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

On April 25, 1989, my father had a heart attack. I think about it all the time; it has affected my decisions, my security, my thought processes, my defense systems and my conscience. I have written this essay a million times in my head.

My father and I were staying at my grandmother’s house over spring break. The three of us had planned to go out for dinner that night, but my father was not feeling well. So, my grandmother and I decided to go without him.

We spent the evening discussing where my grandparents had met, their courtship and their engagement. We talked about my grandfather’s views on child raising, and we talked about his death two years before. He died of too many heartaches, my grandmother said. What I remember is him lying on their couch after numerous heart attacks and cursing about how the buttons on his sweater always snagged on the crocheted blanket over him. He was a wonderful man, we both agreed: I loved the side that noticed little things like buttons in blankets, and she loved his vulnerability under that blanket.

My grandmother asked why I thought my father hadn’t come. I was tired of reassuring her there was nothing wrong, but I did so once again. He had said he was not feeling well and chose to stay home to rest. The concept was not that difficult, I thought, angry at my grandmother’s insecurity. She always seemed to make sure no one was having a problem and no one was mad at her, and she had to go through a process of checking on everyone before settling into a real conversation. I had lost patience for this as I had seen my father do many a time. I felt guilty after snapping at her and saw that she was hurt. I apologized.

After dinner we were back into the car. It smelled like the cigarettes she used to smoke and the butterscotch she had replaced them with.

I opened the door before she had even stopped the car in the driveway. I had to go to the bathroom so badly! I ran in the house, through the kitchen, through the breakfast area, through the family room. My father was there. He was lying on the floor, but I had no idea ….

“Hi, Dad,” I called out.

“Hi, Al,” I heard as I ran through the living room into the bathroom.

When I walked back into the family room, my grandmother was quizzing my father. He was in a great deal of pain. She was on the phone and repeated our address five or six times. She looked very upset. She was staring at my father. When she put down the receiver, she missed the phone. She told me to go wait outside for the ambulance. My head was spinning as I ran outside. It still was unclear what the problem was, but I had no time to think. I strained my eyes to see the man in the driver’s seat of the Honda coming up our driveway. I glanced at the back seat thinking there was no way my father would fit back there. He assured me that the ambulance was on its way.

From there things begin to blur together. I clearly remember watching him being helped during the three hours the ambulance sat in front of my grandmother’s house. Eventually, it left for the hospital and I couldn’t go. I was extremely hospital phobic and being there would be too much.

I stayed alone at my grandmother’s house. I waited for calls from the hospital and talked to people from home. I hated being in North Carolina, so far away from the things that would make me feel better. The plan was that I was to go to neighbors for the night. I grabbed my father’s handkerchief as I left. I cried into it all night. It still hangs over the left corner of my mirror.

I went to the hospital the next morning. He had had two more heart attacks that night. But when I saw him, he wanted to know who had won the Sox/Yankees game. I cried harder. I would miss him too much.

Days went by and I was supposed to go back home. I was not confident of his recovery, but I was glad to be going home. He flew home a few weeks later. He was stable, but weak and very scared. I felt five years old giving him a hug, and I felt like he was, too. I found it hard to trust his health and hard to depend on him. I hated to think about him dying, but realistically, he just had.

Things have changed a great deal between my father and me since then, but the night of his heart attack was unforgettable. No matter how much our relationship continues to change, or how much distance comes between us, I will always remember each moment of that night because I lived them as if they were his last.

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