As she scurried up to my taxi her first words to me were a frantic shout. "Don't pay them. I already paid them!" Not a smile. Not a hug. No thanks for coming.
I had traveled from Florida to Arizona to see my parents. Rather, I had flown in to see my father who was suffering from a rapidly growing brain tumor called a glioblastoma multiforme. I had found out about his condition from a brief phone message left by my mother. "Your father had brain surgery last week and he is home now."
What? Why did I not know about this? I called my sister and she filled in the blanks, including her extended visit to Arizona for his surgery. Why had I not been told that he had been tripping over his feet again (as my mother described it to my sister) while walking to his favorite place of nickel slots and ladies playing the tables?
My mind reeled as I checked off his symptoms, from an ungainly gait to blurred vision, all signs of something very, very wrong. Why was I not clued in about the seizures after one of his frequent falls, the most recent from the top rung of a 6-foot ladder? Why was I not informed that he had been diagnosed with the most common and most malignant of brain tumors, had a go at surgery, and was now undergoing followup radiation treatment?
I dropped everything, packed my bag, and flew to Phoenix.
I walked into the living room. There he sat, bald with black lines on his head, areas marked for radiotherapy. He sat in a straight-back chair because he was having difficulty managing the soft-cushioned sofa. I dragged in another chair so he could be more comfortable. We made a game of me working on my laptop during brief periods of the day while he dozed and when he woke I would say, "The office is closed!" Only then did his smile widen.
I wanted to talk with my dad. Reminisce about the past. Talk about my childhood dogs and our cool 1967 Chevy convertible. But we were never alone as my mother hovered and interrupted constantly. When I tried to take Daddy outside for a brief time to sit and get some fresh air or suggest we go out to his garage — his special getaway filled with posters of Navy jets and picture frames full of his matchbook collection — I was met with fierce objection by Mother. So I gave up trying to chat and decided to sit beside him inside to watch a baseball game. As I turned up the volume, she turned off the television. I kept suggesting I could take care of Daddy so she could have a break, do something nice for her own self.
The total control was stifling. She locked the front door from the inside and hid the key. There were burglar bars on all the windows and, as a former paramedic, I knew I had better have a plan. I kept trying to spend some quality time with him, as I knew this was probably my final chance. We had been close in a far-off way as he had always worked the second shift and I only saw him on the weekends, except in the summer while school was out. I remember he always gave me the same gifts for Christmas. Hanes silk stockings and Heaven Scent perfume. Mother scoffed every time, but I loved the fact that these gifts were especially for me.
Daddy said he did not understand what was going on and I told him he had a brain tumor and was dying. He thanked me for telling him the truth. Mother heard my comments and bolted up, blocking me with her arms as I tried to re-enter the bedroom to talk with him. She stood in front of me, daring me to pass her and as I pushed her away, she fell to the floor. In horror I swooped to pick her up and she struck away my arms. I tried to apologize. She sat on the sofa with her hands over her ears as I begged forgiveness. I became angry and said I was leaving. She asked coldly why I had come.
I tried to understand that not only was I losing a parent, she was losing her longtime partner. But I only saw her caring without love and still trying to shore up the wedge she had always tried to place between Daddy and me.
He died soon after my trip. My daughter had called to see how her grandfather was getting on and received the news that he had passed in his sleep a few days earlier. He was cremated without a service and I am told his ashes were scattered near one of his favorite fishing ponds. No ceremony for this World War II vet, no gravestone, no final closing. No last words. When I called my mother she offered no explanation and said, as she hung up the phone, "Do not call me again. I will never forgive you for what you said to your father."
That was 10 years ago. We haven't spoken since.
Beverly Phillips works as a publicist and enjoys writing poetry.