Muddy Misfortune

March 14, 2012
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It was a scorching 90 degree day in my grandparent’s lonely town of Oquawka, Illinois. My Papa was not in good shape, so my mom told me to take the day off. The waves crashed on the sandbar on the muddy Mississippi river. I was fishing off the sandbar, hoping something would tickle my line when I got a call that put a look on my face like I saw Casper. I raced back to the pier, ready to hear the worst news of my life.

Papa and I were like two peas in a pod. He was my best friend, a papa, and a teacher. Everyone found their own reason to love him, he was a well-liked man. He built and owned a bowling alley for 25 years, which was called Riverside Lanes. He is recorded in the Bowlers Hall of Fame, and has bowled countless 300’s. He ran bowling leagues, a bar and grill, and on the side a motel located in the same parking lot as the bowling alley. He was a leader in their town. His hobbies included casting a line into the depths of the Mississippi, mowing the lawn, and drinking beer on those humid summer nights. My nana stays at home at does the bills and takes care of the house and pets. They had the perfect set up down there
; Quiet town, financially stable, living healthy and happy.

Around April, Papa went into the doctor’s office because of a sharp pain in his knees. He’s had this pain on and off for years but finally decided to face the music. The routine checkup consisted of x-rays, MRI’s, and other technical doctor stuff. The doctor returned with a straight look upon his face.
“Well Hal, after taking a closer look at your MRI’s I found what looks to be cancer”, he explained.
“What kind of cancer?” my papa asked.
“Spider cancer, it spreads throughout the body at a rate that’s near impossible to stop”, he told him.
“What am I going to do….?” he questioned with a terrified look on his face.
“I suggest telling your family first”, he said.
Papas life had come to a sudden halt, of all people he thought, him, cancer, why me? He didn’t bother to call any of us for a few hours. He took a drive down to the river to think about his life and what he must make of it before the cancer takes him.
A few weeks after the appointment, he finally decided to let us know. I remember the day I heard, it was such a shock. I didn’t know what to think, feel, or do. He went through chemo, for weeks; his appearance became more sluggish and miserable every day. After a few weeks I decided it was time to go down there and stay down there until the day. The town of Oquawka was a good 5 hour drive from Hartford. It consisted of overpriced pay tolls and endless truck stops. I was satisfied with my intake of cheap, greasy gas station burritos by the time we arrived. The whole ride all I thought about was that man, my papa. I wished I could take his place.
I saw the rickety motel sign in the distance; it felt as if my mood had just suddenly changed. I felt a mixture of worried and scared and I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my papa in the shape he was in. I didn’t bother grabbing my bags nor grabbing my phone. I jetted for the door and walked through the antique, knick knack filled house. The smell of dinner filled the air. I thought it was spaghetti with her homemade sauce, and of course garlic bread. I continued down the hallway until I reached his room. It smelled different, looked different. Nothing was normal. I saw my papa lying in his hospital bed, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He looked as if he was just skin and bones, a yellow ting to his skin, his goatee over grown and hair messed up. He had wires, tubes; you name it covering his body. I immediately thought why this disease exists. No one should experience this. This is the worst sight of my life, and I feel bad for everyone who had to experience this. Seeing someone you know and love in a state of pain, and agony puts a hurt on your heart like no other. I walk to his side and hold his hand. It’s frail, cold, and lifeless. He could barely talk, and when he did it was scratchy and very hard to understand. I waited by his bed, watched over him, thought the whole day, night and into the morning. I had been up for over 24 hours in the same spot, yet I didn’t want to ever leave. My mom came in the bedroom and explained that I needed to get out.
“Justin, it’s such a nice day out. Enjoy it get your mind off things”, she suggested.
“I guess, but what?” I asked.
“Kyler’s dad called, he said him and Kyler were going on the boat today”, she explained.
“Okay, I guess so,” I reluctantly got up from the chair I had been sitting in.
Kyler was a kid I met years ago when I came down here, we’d become good friends. He was also part of the bowling league Papa coached. I’d gotten on my swim trunks and grabbed a towel. We’d made it to the river, backed the boat in and took off. As we cruised down the river, it just made me think of Papa even more, the endless hours spent on it. We reached the sand bar, and I immediately brought the poles out. Kyler set up a dugout we could cook over in the sand. While his dad started to tie down the boat. The waves crashed on the sandbar on the muddy Mississippi river. All I heard was “Get to the pier now!” I tried to yell to Kyler and his dad what we needed to do, but I began to fill up with emotions that I can’t describe.
The ride back was silent, I sat in the corner of the boat and cried, cried, cried. I remember being very angry and disappointed in myself. I knew I shouldn’t have gone out. I should’ve never left his side. The one day I do, this happens. My mom was waiting at the pier. I immediately raced to her car and we took off. The Mississippi river was not far from the motel, as we were there in minutes.
I began to run through the house when I was stopped by my aunt. I got just enough of a glimpse of his lifeless body, gone, forever. I slid down to the floor and balled. I didn’t know what else to do. This had to be the worst moment of my life.
My nana in his room, is crying as well. I hear her yelling I heard his last breath. She tries scooping the foam from his mouth when the priest said just stop. I walk out to the front yard gazebo in hopes to calm myself down. The coroner already penetrated the house handling my papa like a ragdoll. I hear the screech of the old screen door open. Out come two sharp dressed men holding a long black bag. I turned my head away, trying not to think my papa was lying in that jet black bag, being taken away from my life forever.
His ashes we through in the Mississippi, which is what he wanted. I watched as the shades of gray ash float down the river, hoping he’s happy. A memorial in the heart of the town to remember this great man was also put up, which I visit on a yearly basis.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away, which is not something you wish to experience, it last for years. Not taking life for granite could make this a lot easier on you after the fact. Sometimes you feel responsible, and frightened. That’s not something you want to carry. Face your grief, and eventually the bad feelings will fade.

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