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The Fall This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


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There's a time in a kid's life when the answer to the question, who's your hero is always Mommy or Daddy. To a kid, Mommy and Daddy are more than just Mommy and Daddy. They answer every Batman signal in the sky. They always swoop in and save the day. They might as well get a matching pair of capes and tights. They're superior, untouchable, immortal heroes. So what happens when kids realize that their parents are mere mortals?

I have always looked up to my mom as a role model. She's a powerful woman at her company, an excellent provider, and a caring mother. But it's always been different with Daddy. The second I open my mouth, people say with one hundred percent certainty that I'm his daughter. I have more than just his genes. I have his sarcasm, his stubbornness, his laziness. And I hope to have his strength.

At 18, my dad was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which shrinks the intestine, making digestion very painful. Since this diagnosis, he's had four operations to correct his intestine: Two before I was born; one when I was little; and one two years ago, right after he was diagnosed with cancer.

The summer before the last surgery was fairly normal. As usual, Daddy talked a lot on the phone to the relatives. He would joke and laugh his big, loud cackle. He followed every mention of his cancer with some witty remark about the ridiculous amount of syllables in its name, or about his young doctor he called Doogie Howser.

To hear Daddy talk, cancer wasn't a big deal. Sitting at the table I was more worried about my summer reading. When he started chemo pills, he added a couple more dice to his game of Yahtzee he had to swallow three times a day. And when the chemo pills and the Crohn's pills started to intensify their side effects, Daddy listed his pains and problems with the dulcet tones of antidepressant commercials. It was hard for me to keep a straight face.

When my uncle and cousin from New York came to visit, we decided (meaning Daddy decided without consulting anyone) to schlep to Disney World. In spite of the fact that he hadn't eaten much for two months in preparation for his surgery, had dropped 50 pounds, and remained on the same dosages of his mini pharmacy as when he was 50 pounds heavier, Daddy was still smiling and cracking jokes. So we smiled too, and drove three hours in Daddy's pimped-out minivan to the happiest place on Earth.

It was hot. As a person who sweats when he eats ice cream, Daddy leaked from his pores in the scorching heat. He led us to the Rockin' Roller Coaster, our favorite ride. We proceeded to wait in a never-ending line that wound in and out of the sun and the shade, in air conditioning and out of air conditioning. Daddy talked the entire hour that it took us to make it half way through the line. Specifically, Daddy talked to me about my future – college plans and the usual things he could offer his wisdom on.

We rounded a corner and the cooling shade we had enjoyed was replaced by blinding sun. I was facing the sun, but Daddy's head blocked it, enveloping him in a halo of light. I looked into his eyes as he lectured me on career options like a Harvard professor.

“The future is scary,” I commented earnestly. “How am I supposed to get along in life without you?”

I looked up for the sensible advice I expected. But I caught the focus of Daddy's piercing eyes just before they started rolling back into his skull.

“Daddy?!” The world moved around me but I was rigid, not knowing how to react, not wanting to process anything. His knees were buckling, the air was escaping from my lungs, his back was hitting the ground, my uncle was lurching to his side, checking his pulse, calling his name, forcing water in his mouth, but the world was muted to me. Tears poured from my eyes as the park paramedics blurred around me, picking my father up and propping him in a wheelchair.

I wasn't seeing the worried faces of the others, or hearing offers of water and food, or feeling my little sister's hand clutching mine. I was seeing my graduation ceremony with one proud face missing. I was hearing the absence of a father-daughter dance music at my wedding. I was feeling one less pair of rejoicing arms to place my first child in. I was crying as numbness spread through my body.

My trance only ended when a quiet, familiar voice broke through my barrier, and relief flooded my body.

A small smile spread across Daddy's face as he made one of his witty remarks, but I wasn't finding it funny. My breathing had barely returned to normal as we sat in the clinic, waiting for him to be cleared for release. The park workers offered us a ride to our van, so my dad wouldn't risk fainting again. My mind stayed empty the whole ride home. Tears welled up once in a while, but I fought them back. My dad joked that if he had known fainting was the way to get the ultimate fast pass, he would have done it sooner. My face couldn't make itself smile.

Back home, my mom greeted us with her normal hello, like any other day. Resuming his usual position in his “command center,” my dad leaned back and flipped through the channels. But nothing was the same for me. I listened to him on the phone with his friends, and his comments about X-rays “lighting up his lungs like Christmas trees” didn't roll off me anymore, but furrowed my brow. The lump on his forehead indelibly painted the picture of that day at Disney World in my mind.

Every time he fell into my line of sight, every time he spoke to me, I saw that day. I saw him falling. I saw him broken. For the first time, I saw him losing against the world. He can't live forever.

“The cancer won't do anything for a long time,” my mom assured me. “Not for a long, long time.”

Time doesn't really matter to me. Cancer isn't just a visitor in my dad's body, and neither is Crohn's disease. They're foes he can't beat. They plague my mind every second of every day, warning me, preparing me, making me realize that Dad isn't Superman, or Hercules, or even Edward Cullen. He isn't immortal or invincible.

He's just Daddy.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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