You know that part in a job interview when they ask you about what your biggest strengths are? I always have my answers ready. I'm a true team-player. I'm a very smart learner. I'm not afraid to take the lead. Those are my stock answers. Those always get me the job. But my real strengths aren't something I can tell people in a job interview. My real strengths are that I am so detail oriented and remember the least important things imaginable or useful.
Like the way My Boy of Ivory's eyes caught the light that one time, and I realized his eyes are green, not brown. Or the way he chuckled, and then kissed me immediately after, and put his hand on my left thigh in order to make sure he balanced himself to get the perfect angle. Like the very first time I had my heartbroken by David Zimmerman in pre-school, and how immediately after he told me I was too stupid to be a doctor because I was a girl. And how I punched and kicked him because I was so angry at his horseshit. But the memory that I can't shake off today, is that seven years ago, I was wearing my green dress that my best friend Wendy and I got at Banana Republic just a few days earlier. We were shopping at the outlets and it was the first time in ages I had been shopping, I had just gotten divorced from my ex-husband, he had cut off all of my finances a few weeks before, locked me out of our apartment "for good this time" and I kept checking my phone for the call.
I knew it was imminent. My dad had been diagnosed about ten years earlier, when I was 19, with stage 3 liver and lung cancer. I didn't know whether or not to believe him. My dad had been telling me tall tales-- you know what? Fuck that, this is my space and I don't have to protect him. My dad had been lying to me through the roof for a number of years, even as a teenager. It took me a number of years to believe him. The first time he called me to ask for a ride to chemotherapy, because his latest girlfriend had bailed, I rolled my eyes and told him to fuck off. If he wanted to borrow money, he could just go pick it up at Western Union so I didn't have to drive all the way up to Santa Paula. When he called back and said "he was really sorry, but he didn't have the money for the bus, and that he really needed the ride." That would be the first trip of 74 different doctor/radiation/chemotherapy/hospice visits, up to Santa Paula and back.
I remember the green dress from 7 years ago because it was the only thing that was clean. I had been driving up to Westlake Village, back and forth, 70 miles round trip, every single morning, for the past three months. I was working 10-12 hour days (I will still always take a job that has an hourly wage rather than salary because of that sweet sweet overtime [My Boy of Ivory will tell you that this is my poor person mentality, I will agree with him]) and hardly had time to do laundry. In those days, I remember being able to drive to Starbucks and back, with a drink in hand on the way back, in under 15 mins. It was my first stable paying job after my divorce. I worked for a very, very large bank (you probably have an account with them), and my division was in charge of making sure that the homes we sold to people who couldn't afford them, looked good enough to be sold for pennies on the dollar. I remember being able to distil that information down in exactly that way, to the room of people who were present, when I was wearing the green dress, and got the phone call. I remember wearing the green dress, and the Starbucks getting, because I was the only one in the conference room who had a Starbucks drink, and I spilled it all over my green dress when I rushed to get up and tell everyone, in the middle of an "important" presentation, that this was the call, and I had to go.
I would arrive about 70 minutes later. My dad was unconscious and starting the excruciatingly long death process. The kind of process where you know it's going to happen any moment. His organs were stopping functioning. He had eliminated all over the bed. I thought it was spilled coffee, just like I had, but a few inches closer, I realized what it was. I remember phoning my brother, and having him ask me if I could put the phone up to his ear. My mom and sister were on their way up from Los Angeles. They would not arrive in time. I sat alone, off and on, with my ex-stepmother keeping me company between leaving the room to go call people and cry.
Watching someone die is, as cliche as this sounds, like a reverse birth. Wendy told me that when she was in the room for our friend who gave birth about a year ago, it was the most incredible thing she's ever witnessed. There were three other people in the room. The doctor, our friend the new mother, the nurse, plus Wendy, and then suddenly, boom. There were now six. And there is crying. And there is a room full of emotion. And suddenly there is a whole team of people who come in, and whisk all of these things and people away. It was remarkably the same for my dad. The arrival of the people. The whisking away. The crying. The emotion filling the room. But the last breath, that one part, with his eyes rolled back into his head, when you heard it, there was nothing that was more instinctual and human that knowing that there were three, and now there were two.
My father's body would become jaundiced, a shade of yellow I never want to see again. There is an emptiness and anxiety and my own personal shortness of breath, that will never be satisfied. I'm learning how to come up for air though. Little short breaths here and there. So if you're ever around me, and you hear me sigh, or you see me close my eyes and take deep breaths, more than seems necessary, I'm just reminding myself that I'm alive. And remembering that sometimes I can breathe.