I originally wrote this about a month ago. I revisited it today with the plan of changing it - giving it a different ending, as the story is now over - but I decided to let it stand as it is. It was a slice of life. Apologies for giving you a story about Spring in the Summer (TECHNICALLY still Spring, I guess.....) and for telling the story out of order, but I wasn't ready to post this when I wrote it. Now I am.
I’m on my way home.
I don’t even know what that means anymore.
Is home the suburban tract house where my husband and children sleep? Is home the small-town house in the mountains in which I grew up? They say home is where the heart is. If this is so, home, right now, is a hospital bed in the neuropathy wing on the tenth floor of Memorial Hospital.
It doesn’t matter. It seems like I’m always headed to one of those places these days, and whichever place I am, I’m missing the other. Can one be homesick from home?
Most of the time, when I am not driving, I sit with my mother in my father’s room. We watch him – making too much of every minuscule sign of progress and every equally diminutive sign of regression. We react to every sigh. We hold his hand and fuss over him when he is awake and we exchange concerned glances when he is asleep. Although we rarely leave our vinyl covered, hard backed chairs, it is exhausting.
My mother washes her clothes every night because she can’t stand the stink the hospital has left on them.
His window affords us a view of a mountain; a small mountain, to be sure, but decidedly more than a hill. When he first took up residence in room 1034, the trees at the bottom of the hill were bright green with young leaves. These gave way, further up the mountain, to trees that were red with buds, which went on to give way to trees that were still presenting their stark, winter silhouettes at the top of the mountain against the horizon.
We watch, day by day, as spring moves further up the mountain.
We watch, day by day, as my father moves nowhere at all.
I’ll have to go home, soon; home to my husband and children. I don’t want to leave him, but neither do I want to be away from them. I miss them – I miss being around people who like me for who I am – who aren’t constantly telling me how I need to change – how I need to be someone who I’m not – someone better. Ah, home.
When my father’s stroke stole his ability to speak, I taught him to squeeze my hand three times – I. Love. You. He did so every night before I left his side to go home. I cherished it. One night he did not squeeze and I was disappointed, until I leaned closer and heard him laboring to make out the words. I. Love. You. He got all the vowels out, but none of the consonants. His eyes filled in the gaps they left. Yesterday morning, when I left for home – my home – the home where my husband and children were missing me – he didn’t squeeze. He didn’t attempt to make words. He didn’t register my message in his eyes. “I love you, Daddy.”
His response was a mumbled, “yeah” – the same mumbled “yeah” he gives in response to all of the queries of the doctors and nurses and therapists.
“I miss you already. I’ll see you in three sleeps.”
I cry in the privacy of my car. I’m headed home. Over the mountain, past the dark, maturing leaves to the light leaves in their hopeful infancy, through the red buds and into the bare branches, then down again – the same progression in reverse.
I’m headed home for now; for three sleeps. And then I’ll turn around and head back home.
Where my heart is.