My dad nonchalantly informed me I’d have to take him to the hospital in a week, a routine colonoscopy and then added that it was nothing to worry about.
“Sure, no problem, just remind me the day before,” I replied back with equal nonchalance.
The truth is, I was happy and honored that he’d asked. Since I lived in Berlin, it’s not exactly convenient for me to fly to Tucson and help him check off his important todos.
The day before his appointment, I received a Facebook message with the details of his exam. “I’ll be there!” I quickly wrote back.
When I picked him up, his spirits were quite high considering the fact that he’d only consumed liquids over the last 24 hours. Now that I thought about it, he did seem a bit more aloof than usual. “Low blood sugar,” I concluded silently, though part of me entertained the idea that he might be worried, worried that today would be the day his years of downing cheese crisps, bachelor burritos, and cheap beer would finally catch up with him.
In the car, I proudly announced that I’d be staying in the waiting room throughout the procedure. I said what I wished someone would say if I were in his position. Though I’m a master of nonchalance, false pride, and practicality, I’d want someone to voluntarily stick around long enough for me to come out of my comatose prodding and back to reality. But I wouldn’t want to ask someone outright, especially someone who I thought had better ways of spending their time.
“You can also just drop me off and pick me up when it’s over. Whatever you want,” he replied back.
I didn’t sense any manipulation there. He seemed to be genuinely telling the truth.
“Ok, maybe I will just drop you off then. I need to work a bit anyway.”
The truth was I wanted to stop by the thrift store first to pick up a brown leather jacket with cowboy fringe. I’d wanted to buy it the day before but the cashier informed me if I waited until the following day, it’d be half off. ‘if it’s here when I come back, it’s meant to be.” I told the universe.
“When will you know the results?” I asked my dad. For some reason, I felt like the silence was too loud. I wanted to chat. “Oh it should be pretty quick, normally they tell you right away if they see something,” he didn’t seem worried. Tired and out of it, but not worried.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was still trying to decide if I should stick around. Though my dad hadn’t been around a whole lot when I was younger, I’d made amends. Still, though, the lack of close proximity growing up left me unable to read his underlying emotions much like I’d been able to easily do with my mom. My mom would have wanted me to stick around.
Within a few minutes, a nurse called out his name. She then informed us both that he’d be ready for dismissal no earlier than 12. My dad didn’t look back at me before being whisked away. His compartmentalization had been both a gift and a curse; a way to escape the chaos of growing up with 6 siblings and being raised by a conservative catholic cop and a fierce seamstress who made her kids pick out their own switches, a way to ease his guilt of not having been a better father. And now, a way for him to deal with the annoyances of getting older. We both knew that in a few hours his life would either change drastically or go on being exactly the same until, that is, another routine checkup came around reminding him of his eventual demise.
I decided to sneak out as quickly as I’d snuck in, the smell of hospital being my final deciding factor. Crazy that I used to want to be a doctor, loved being nestled between the beeps, sterile hallways and fluorescent lighting. Now, these combined factors made me nauseous and gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Two hours later, I strutted into the hospital wearing my crisp “new” jacket, the fringe making a soft swish as I walked. I arrived in the empty waiting room and the nurse on duty calmly asked how she could help me.
“I’m here to pick up Ray,” I said, “Is he out yet?”
“Just a minute, let me check.”
She picked up the phone and confirmed with the other nurse that he was indeed ready to go home.
“Go through the doors and head to bed 4, he’ll be there.”
“Thanks,” I replied with confidence, something about this jacket made me feel more assertive.
When I arrived at bed 4 I saw a man with a shaved head crouched in a fetal position. My heart sunk, what the hell did they do to my dad?
Before I could draw any morbid conclusions of my own, a nurse passed by and asked who I was there to see. She must have seen the shock on my face. “Ray,” I said. “I’m here to see Ray. They told me he was in bed 4.”
“Oh, he’s in bed 8, follow me.”
There he was sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, his gown twisted and pulling in different directions, his hair sticking straight up. He was disheveled, yes, but alert and doing much better than the guy in bed 4.
“How’s he doing?” I asked the nurse nervously, as if he wasn’t sitting right there. God I needed to get better at this kind of stuff.
“He’s good. Healthy colon, no problems whatsoever.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. The other things she said after that fell on short ear. Honestly, I just wanted to get out of there.
My dad seemed uncomfortable too like he too wanted to get the hell out of there. Maybe he also needed to get better at this kind of stuff.
We both shared a similar happy go lucky demeanor, were the jokesters of the family, the ones who made heavy situations lighter while sometimes making the situation too light, thus leading others involved to think we were insensitive, aloof, detached. Maybe we were. Or maybe we weren’t. Maybe we just understood that life’s perceived heaviness depended on who was around at any given moment. Around us though, life felt lighter and sillier. That was our role.
While the nurse explained some of the paperwork to my dad, I averted my eyes to give him some privacy. It was then that I looked down at my father’s socked feet and immediately smiled. In addition to sharing an aversion to hospitals and seriousness, we both each had an abnormally long second toe. I often had to throw out perfectly good socks because the long toe would wear the fabric down leaving a hole in its place. The same was beginning to happen to my father’s sock. Perhaps our long toes were also in the business of making light of serious situations.
“Let’s get out of here, pop.”