What's Really Going On?

At eight thirty this morning, the phone rang. My mom. Five blocks away. My dad, diagnosed two months ago with terminal cancer, was having trouble breathing. Can I come over and rummage around in the basement to find that extension tubing, so he can move around the house while connected to his oxygen-generating machine? Had they called hospice? Nope. Yea, I'll be right over.

He seems small and scared when I arrive. Dressed in his bathrobe, not breakfasted yet. I found the tubing and extra connectors and plugged him in. Stayed to assemble breakfast. Coerced my mom into calling hospice ("They don't work weekends," she insisted!), and the nurse returned the call in five minutes. She called back an hour later. Stopped by to check vital signs an hour after that, and called every hour into early afternoon, when the morphine and the attention had lulled him into sleep in his chair.

Back later, made them some lunch. Back later to make some dinner.

He, embarrassed that he slept the day away while I puttered in the yard, plotting sprinkler positioning and well pump capacities. The huge yard half watered by day's end, I came home to my own dinner, my own life.

My own life is melding back into theirs now. I'm on call. I've been lurking, waiting for the moment when I might make a difference. They only call when they are really scared, and who am I to make a difference then? No one special. Able to move across the room as if their special gravity didn't affect me. As if I were immune. For now.

I can warm leftovers. Prepare the green beans so they are more than just a color contrast on the plate. Properly sauce the strawberries so they taste right, even to someone who's taste discolors every flavor. Small contributions. Just about the best anyone can do.

These are long days. The longest days of this year, and the longest days of any I remember experiencing in my own short life. Neighbors are disappearing. Old age is reaping her harvest. Across the street. Down the block this week. He sends cards for every occasion, especially the final ones. These he takes special care to acknowledge.

Now that he knows he's on the final approach, his temper is sharper. His patience thin. He submits to the help he needs, but complains about having to accept it, and, truth told, doesn't fully accept any of this.

So, a publisher's interested in my new book. I spent the morning until the phone call shuffling chapters and fine-tuning the stories. I left my marker, $$&&, at the point in the manuscript I was interrupted. I'll get back to my work early tomorrow, before the sun comes up. And I'll work until the phone rings or until my curiosity gets the better of me, then I'll go do that other work that consumes my days these days.

This is what's really going on. If I seem distracted, it's only because I'm distracted. I moved here, close, seven years ago, in preparation for these long days, but I'm no better prepared than I ever was to live them. I live them anyway.

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