Leaving: Three Views


Leaving: Three Views


This part will be bad.

I don't know how I know it. I have fallen asleep in the lift chair Linda and Allen bought me six weeks ago. Linda said they needed to bungee cord it to the tail gate of her SUV and then Allen had to maneuver it up the hill and into the house. It is a comfortable chair and for the first time in a very long time I am feeling content. The constant pain in my chest and belly is gone and I am dozing. I could have gone to bed, getting myself into my wheelchair and transferring into the hospital bed that hugs the wall in the dining room. My room. But Linda and Bonnie will be home from the beach soon and I want to see them before I go to sleep.

I'm so tired though. So tired of the pain and the medication and the doctors. So tired that Linda needs to do so much for me. And my chair is just so comfortable. I push the remote and lean back as far as I can.

Then, even though my eyes are closed and there is a wall between us, I see Linda and Bonnie out front. They are just getting out of the SUV, dragging suitcases and a bag from Dolle's. Caramel popcorn. Linda has promised me some. She always remembers. Bonnie puts her bag in her red Civic parked out front and for a moment I think she will get in her car and leave. Come in, I think. Say good-bye. And maybe she hears me or maybe she loves me because she walks up the path with Linda and they open the door.

Now it gets really hard.

"Hello!" they say and they drop their bags on the porch. "We're home!" They are at my chair now and I am trying to open my eyes and find my voice but I cannot seem to move. I feel--well, I'm sure Linda could think of a better word for it--but I feel absent, like I'm not even there.

Bonnie shouts at me. "Dad? Daddy?" and Linda shakes my arm. I hear Allen coming down the stairs, Allen who went up to WaWa to buy me a soda and a pretzel a while ago then went upstairs to play a computer game. "What's wrong?" he says.

It gets really confusing now.

Linda grabs the phone and I know she is calling for help and she says she thinks I am not breathing and I want to tell her that I am, too, breathing but then I think that maybe I am not. Bonnie continues shaking me and Allen gets a glass of water and pours it on my feet to wake me up and I want to wake up or maybe I don't want to wake up because sleeping or whatever I am doing is so nice.

Then there are people coming into the house and they have black bags and there are blue lights flashing outside and I think how they will confuse Allen and I want to tell them to turn them off but everyone is talking and Bonnie is crying and Linda is controlled because she has had to be. There are cold things against my chest and people--paramedics, I guess--are pulling at me and one of them tells my wife and kids to leave the room.

I am warm. I am floating. I hear a voice. It is a little like a warm summer breeze and I know that no one else can hear it.

"Son," says the voice and it sounds a little like my dad and a little like Harry Callas, "it's time to come home."

And I want to say, "I am home. I have lived here with Linda for 44 years." But I know that it is not true, that this little house has never been home, and as the people--what are they called again?--are trying to bring me back, I am already gone.


The obituary will say that Ron passed away quietly, but it is not quiet here now. There are paramedics who have asked us to leave the room as they assemble their equipment and try to bring Ron back; I want to tell them to leave him alone, his body has been through enough. But I am busy answering questions for a police officer and showing him Ron's ID and wondering where the cat is. Bonnie and my best friend Chris are in the kitchen and Allen is in the dining room, telling and officer that his dad has just fallen asleep.

Then the policeman sadly shakes his head at me and says, "Time of death, 9:43" which is ludicrous because Bonnie and I walked in the door at 9:10 and found him in his chair, already still. Allen shouts, "My dad's not dead!" and runs up the stairs. Chris hugs Bonnie and Bonnie takes out her phone to call her husband and her older brother and I know I need to make phone calls to Ron's family but I cannot find my own phone. I walk back into the living room; Ron has been covered with a pink sheet and it seems an odd choice for my big, burly husband. My purse is on the floor where I dropped it and I take out my phone but the battery is running low. A policeman is at the door and he tells me the medical examiner will need to come out because Ron's death was unattended. I want to protest, because Ron has always been tended. The Saturday aide was here until 5 and Allen was upstairs and Bonnie and I were on our way home. But I nod my head and agree not to move or touch Ron--as if I could move a man who weighs over 300 pounds--and I grab the landline. The front door is open and I spy the cat crouching at the open door. I scoop him up and hand him to someone--Jared, maybe?--and tell him to put the cat in my room. 

Bonnie's husband puts the cat upstairs and goes to join Bonnie on the porch and I heard other voices on the back deck. Dennis and Laura. All of my children are here. I think of how many times we have all gathered for a surgery or an emergency and how they have always come, pacing floors and offering hugs and holding hands.

I start to cry.

I sit at the kitchen table and call my father, who thinks we are calling to tell him we have arrived home safely. He is surprised, but not stunned. On some level, we have spent years expecting this. Dad murmurs sympathy and love. Then I call Ron's brother Tom and he thinks it is Ron calling at 10:02 to talk sports but when he hears my voice, he says, "What's wrong, Linda?" and I tell him. He shouts, "What?" then he is calm. Tom says he will call Ron's mother and I am relieved. How do you tell a 92-year old woman that she has outlived her son?

Chris has fixed tea and hands me a mug and I think I smile my thanks, then I call my brother in North Carolina. He does not answer his cell phone and I do not know if he is home or away on business but I call the house phone anyway and he answers on the first ring. I can feel his love through the wire: "I wish I was there with you, Linda. I wish I could help you." I tell him I will let him know when we make arrangements and he says he will round up all his kids--three boys, one girl--and they will all come.

I am heading out to the deck to be with my kids when the phone rings and it is Ron's mother and her voice is heavy with sadness but she says she is okay and she wants to know if we can use Bateman's for the funeral and she offers to pay for it and I am still too numbed to think of it all. We agree to talk about it on Sunday.

I am almost to the deck to be with my kids when I notice that Allen, an adult with Asperger's Syndrome, is sitting in what has been Ron's room for the last nine months. He is holding an ice cube in each hand. Stimming to calm himself. I ask Jared to keep an eye on him. Finally, I join my older kids on the deck.

Bonnie is crying and hugging Laura, Dennis' girlfriend, and Dennis is leaning against the deck railing, tall and thin and pale. I go to him and I reach up to put my arms around him. He folds himself over me, tears streaming down his face.

"You sacrificed your life for Dad," he says. "No one could have done more for him that you did. You are a good, good woman." I hope that it is true and we stand there for a long time, hugging and crying until the mosquitoes attack us and the medical examiner arrives and we head into the kitchen.

She is young, the assistant ME, and kind. She asks for Ron's ID and I produce his wallet. She asks about his medical conditions and I give her the litany of surgeries and illnesses of the last 19 years.

Impressive, she says. 26 surgeries in 19 years. Twice as many hospitalizations. Then she says she needs to take picture and I should leave the room again because the paramedics will need to move the body--not Ron now, just the body.

We are back in the kitchen again and someone--Laura? Jared?--goes for coffee. We talk and share stories about their dad. We laugh. We cry. The ice cubes have melted in Allen's hands and he is sitting very still, clutching the blanket that was on Ron's bed.

We are going to be okay, I think. We are numb, still processing, but the kids are saying, "Remember the time Dad..." and sharing their childhoods.

In my mind, I say to Ron, Your kids loved you, and I know that he hears me.

Then the ME, Jenny, asks me to come back into the living room and says she would like to take the body--Ron's poor, broken body--back to the office but she is sure he died of natural causes. She wants to do an external autopsy to rule out any mechanical defect in his pacemaker. I can have the funeral home pick him up in the morning.

But it is morning now, and still we are talking about Ron. The police have left and the cat has been freed from my room, but is is cowering under the couch. Chris promises to call on Sunday and talk to the minister after church and she leaves. We sit in the kitchen, and it is suddenly 2:30 and someone says, "We should get some sleep," and the older two children and their partners leave but will be back in the morning. Jared and Dennis move Ron's heavy chair into the dining room because I cannot look at it.

There are more hugs and tears at the door and Allen shakes hands and gives hugs. I turn off the porch light and lock the door and ask Allen if he is doing okay.

He shrugs. "I'm going to go finish my game," he says. Then he turns to me, adamant. "Dad's not dead. People should stop saying he is."

"Okay," I say and nod.

"He'll wake up," says Allen. "You'll see." He heads up the stairs and into the office and I hear the sounds of a computer war.

I try to sleep. I can do this, I think. For the last 19 years I have done the impossible. I can do this.


The policeman tells me that Dad is dead but I do not trust him. Last year when I was trying to change my flat tire the same policeman said I was acting in a "threatening manner" and took me to the hospital because he said I was "talking crazy." I was only telling him what the directions on the Fix-a-flat can said and he thought I meant the can was talking. Now, that WOULD be crazy.

But this is different. People think I don't understand because my mind gets scrambled sometimes but I know what I know. And I know they all think Dad is dead, even Mom who should know better. But Dad gets really tired and he sleeps for a long time and we just need to let him sleep and then he'll be okay.

Mom said the lady who came to examine Dad--Jenny?--took him someplace to sleep for as long as he needed. But I do not know why he could not just sleep here. His bed is here. He'll wake up, everyone will see. I just need to believe it, that he can wake up. 

Mom says we will have to plan his funeral tomorrow with Dennis and Bonnie and Mom Mom and Uncle Tom. I don't care about it, but I will do what Mom wants me to do. It's going to be really funny when we plan it all and then Dad wakes up.

He's just got to wake up.

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