December | 2003
The gravel crunches after I shift to drive and we slowly begin the descent down our driveway. The roles are reversed. Instead of my dad driving me to a sleepover while we listen to classical music or Fat Bottomed Girls, I am now his chauffeur. I don't choose any background music. There are very few things that my dad can still do independently, and driving isn't one of them. I am one of his keepers.
When we get to the dialysis clinic we will sit together for hours, not saying anything. I will read magazines, he will lie with his eyes closed under heated blankets. This is a biweekly appointment that he has kept for over a year. Dialysis sucked the salt, waste, and excess fluids from his body - along with his energy. By the time he recovered, it was time for the next all day hookup.
Exactly one year earlier he chose a family vacation spot to Florida that was close enough to a clinic so he could continue treatment while also enjoying the sun’s warmth. I was cranky the entire week, for reasons I couldn't explain. My sour mood was obvious to everyone. That was the last vacation my family took together, so shame on me. It's also the last memory I have of my family when all five of us were together. Now his dialysis appointments are the only reason he leaves the house.
He is perched on a pillow next to me. His backside lacks any padding and he needs whatever extra cushioning he can get. I am trained to search for the smoothest path, to avoid any unnecessary bumps that will jostle his body. I look over at him quickly, assessing his state. He is so small, a fraction of the man I have known my whole life. My dad alway wore a soft leather coat in the winter. My parents used to have matching ones - in the way couples liked to do in the 80s. Now his coat is enormous because he has shrunk. Even with the multiple layers beneath, trying to keep him warm against the December darkness, he is still so impossibly small.
As we continue to move down the driveway, he stares ahead and says to me, or to himself, or maybe to no one, “This is not a life. How can this be a life?” His voice is weak in the way voices are when there’s not much time left. I agree, so I say nothing. Or maybe I’m a coward, and that’s why I said nothing. I am still not sure.
He died six weeks later.
The only photo I can find of just us when I'm older than a baby. My dad would have hated this photo because his face is swollen from steroids. This was taken in October, 1999 in Freeport, ME.
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