Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Very Covert Christmas

 Note: The challenge by writing coach was, someplace in the story, to include the phrase "she couldn't help herself from planting the seeds of doubt."

“When I was little, we’d leave cookies and milk out for a Santa, and on Christmas Day there’d be nothing but crumbs.”  Sitting across from her 9 year old niece, she couldn’t stop herself from planting a seed of doubt.   “Anyone can eat cookies and drink milk, Aunt Jane.” Fiona countered dismissively.  Though Jane never expected the kid to bite, it helped reinforce the career CIA operative’s belief in what she was up against.

Jane Davis accepted her situation and she really felt like she was growing into the role.  Guardian to her niece, Fiona Davis, daughter of her only sibling, Jeffrey.  She wasn’t able to make it back for the funeral, but knew the circumstances meant that her career would take a sudden turn.

At 40, she wasn’t holding her breath about marriage, but she never really saw herself as a mom.  Just not something those of her gender did in this line of work.

She’d spent the majority of the last 15 years on various overseas assignments, all where she served as an Operations Officer in the Clandestine Service of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Her official job description included “establish strong human relationships resulting in high-value intelligence.”  She recruited and ran sources, paying people to spy for the United States, and she excelled at it.

None of that meant much now.  With her brother and sister-in-law dying in a car accident, and their will naming Jane as Fiona’s guardian, Jane was on indefinite leave from The Company.  Money from life insurance policies allowed her to focus on Fiona.

In just under a year, she’d grown to adore the child.  It was why she was pretty sure her CIA career was over.  Fiona didn’t need to be uprooted from the only home she’d known, and Jane had little interest in working out of DC.

With their first Christmas less than two months away, Jane got a feel for Fiona’s beliefs, or in this case, disbeliefs, and Jane decided, “Operation Save SC” was on.  One of the great CIA spooks would leave no doubt as to the existence of Santa Claus.  “Besides,” she thought, “this kid is growing up too fast already.  She could use Santa in her life.”

With the cookie story failing to impress, she knew she needed to plant seeds of Santa in other ways.  She had about a month to pull this off.  As long as on 25 December, Fiona believed in the miracle of St. Nick, the Op would be a success.

She asked herself what things convince, or dispel, a child that Santa exists?  Where were her exposures?  So Jane started making her list, and she laughed, “Hell, yeah, she wouldn’t need to check it twice.”

So Jane created an employment application for the local mall, including the disclaimer that “the employee will respond as Santa Claus during all work hours”, and agrees to represent the true Santa Claus, listing specific traits of the man himself.

Santa getting down the chimney presented a few issues.  She could hear it, “Auntie, some people don’t even have a chimney.”  Fiona would also question anyone fitting down their’s.  Jane would simply point out that, in the old days chimney’s were bigger and everyone had one to heat their house.  Though Santa prefers a chimney, he can use a window or door.  Sometimes he has to use a door because the toys are so big.

Next issue: time zones.  Santa makes time stand still on Christmas?  He’s so fast, he moves at the speed of light, and presents magically appear?  This was a tough sell.  She knew all the words in the world wouldn’t convince her of this one.

She needed to blow the kid’s mind.  Luckily, she had connections with the greatest deceivers in the world.

When the time came, no one noticed when two vans, of various disguise, parked on Jane’s street and two on the street behind, forming the corners of a large square perimeter around her house.  The technology inside so advanced that when operational, you’d never notice.  Gone where the days of antennae or satellite dishes.

So when Christmas Eve came, Jane was glad Fiona slept soundly.  Gifts were in place.  Santa’s cookies were eaten.  Feet wiped on the white rug, mimicking good manners the Christmas legend would certainly possess.  Remnants of devoured carrots strewn on the roof, appreciated by his flight crew.  Attention to detail.  Doubtful Fiona would want roof access, but if she did, Jane had her.

Show time.

Jane leaned into her sleeping marvel, “Fiona….Fiona, he was here.  Santa was here!”, she whispered with tempered elation as she rubbed her back, her adrenalin surge reminded her of when she infiltrated Hezbollah with a prized, high-level informant.

As they looked over the evidence and gifts, there was a clatter on the roof, that on any other night would make you think a repairmen where working overtime, but perfectly fitting for the night.  “What the…is he still here!” Jane said, crouching eye-to-eye, then taking Fiona’s hand and charging out the front door.

The roof agent lay flat on the roof, out of view.  When agents in the vans heard the Go word in their earpieces, they lit up the sky.  The four holographic beacons projected perfectly on the roof .

When Fiona and Jane turned to look at the roof, they saw a sight that baffled the child for years to come.  With a pull of the reins, a sled pulling by eight reindeer vaulted into the sky.  Santa Claus looked to the side, saw Fiona, smiled and blew the girl a kiss.  Jane, tears pooling in her eyes, smiled, then the agent in her kicked in.  “Please God, don’t let her ask about Rudolph.”  Noticing a certain red nose not guiding the sleigh tonight.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Teddy Bear and the Alaskan Bares

Note: This is dedicated to John Carlson: a travel companion, drinking buddy, and former co-worker.  He is a kind man, good friend, and simply a damn, good guy.  John, I can't believe we lived so close to each other in Atlanta and saw each other so little.  I know I speak for so many others---I just can't believe you're gone.  

Damn it, Carlson.

If you’ve never been to Alaska, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The raw beauty will blow your mukluks clean off your feet.  Glaciers, mountains, the Northern Lights, and for me…bares.

My Alaskan journey took place in February 1986, when some sunlight was returning to the area.  I was joined by Maureen, Mark, and John.  Maureen was a cool, easygoing chick who would’ve done well in the 60’s.  Mark, the burly, offensive lineman type who’s good to have on your side if there’s a rumble.  John’s a Long Islander who looks like an off-the-boat Irishman, forced to avoid the sun.  He’s also quite flappable and prudish, like any good Irish Catholic.

Here’s some news, Alaskans like their alcoholic beverages; great, something in common.  That weekend was Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous (aka Fur Rondy), a festival featuring dogsled races, a parade, but from what I could tell, its purpose was to sell you a button and get the booze pouring.

During our first night on the town, I encountered two men that I’m pretty sure would’ve fought me for 1) Drinking a screwdriver, 2) Wearing a red shirt.  I think the second guy was part bull.  A learning experience for sure.

The population of Alaska is 99.4666% men and the remainder, some quite discerning ladies.  Men without women, living in winter darkness, simply put---want to fight.  Red shirt wearing, screwdriver drinking outsiders are evidently a prime target.

The morning’s hangover delayed our arrival at Portage glacier until early afternoon.  That’s one big piece of slippery ice.  A few miles down the road was the perfect thawing place called The Bird House Bar.  The t-shirt I purchased noted its address as 33rd and Bird.  32nd and 34th were nowhere in sight.

The Bird House was part cabin, part shoebox.  I’m not sure where its fame came from, but it’s a fair guess that freezing tourists from the glacier needed a place to recover.  Everything inside was in some stage of the log to lumber transition.  The bar was solid wood, bar stools were logs.  It’s a staple stuff on the walls and ceiling place.  Ceiling reserved for bras, of course.  We found a table away from the bar and hoping clear liquids didn’t promote violence, I decided on a gin and tonic.

We nursed cocktails, wading back into the buzz pool.  A barrel-shaped man in his 40’s approached, introducing himself as Teddy Bear.  Let’s change that to a Teddy Bear-shaped man.  He’s apparently the welcoming committee.  I have to admit I didn’t listen too closely to him, not wanting to become too friendly with a local given my brief history.  “Do you folks know the history of the Birdhouse bar?” he asked with not his first beer of the day in hand.  Admittedly, I wasn’t versed in 33rd and Bird lore.  He goes on, sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me(wah wah woh wah wah), until I hear “naked.”  “Teddy Bear, could you repeat that last part?”  He told us this bar has a history of people getting naked.  About all he got out of us is a doubtful nod and Ok.  “And my goal today is to get everyone at this table naked.”  Awfully pie-in-the-sky, Mr. Bear.  We laughed and wished him luck with that.

The day went on and so did the drinks.  Teddy kept checking in on us, insisting naked was going to happen.  In all fairness, I should be clear that Teddy Bear couldn’t have given rat’s ass about seeing us three males naked.  Maureen was the obvious target.  We were collateral, naked damage.

Out of nowhere, Maureen started negotiating with him.  “If the guys take off all their clothes, I’ll strip down to my bra.”  Now, I have no problem with naked, it’s just that Maureen in her bra was not incentive, nothing against her bust.  Her ace-in-the-hole was John.  There were not enough bra-clad women in all of the Yukon to get him naked and she knew it.

Joining Teddy Bear was his sidekick, Darwin.  Seriously, a man who shares his name with the Father of the Theory of Evolution was using those much-evolved genetics to get strangers to disrobe.  I’m sure Teddy and Darwin have an impressive, naked resume.  They did show me a picture of some 20 naked patrons showing off their rear ends at that same bar, so there was precedence for naked at the Bird House.

Gin and tonics were my friend.  Not like beer or whiskey.  With the G&T, drunk gently slinks up on you, like a dog not allowed on the couch inching its way to your lap.

Drunk was definitely slinking.  Although, Mark and I plotted against John, there was no way naked would happen. But as long as John didn’t know that for certain, we could still get some decent panicked blushing out of him.  And did we ever.

Out of nowhere, Teddy Bear and Darwin delivered a whole bunch of naked to our table.  These guys play the game like it’s meant to be played, shrinkage be damned.  I almost feel obligated.  I’m held back by the notion someone might want to fight me because I’m circumcised.

I should note that there’s nothing quite like tourists’ facial expressions when they walk into a dark bar, their eyes adjusting from the bright outdoors, and they come face to face with two naked, middle-aged men.

Even with no intention of playing the game, it’s fun to mess with John.  Mark or I pretended to plot, then one of us would make a trip to the bathroom, causing John to blurt out, ”Oh my god, he’s going to do it!!!”

The look on John’s face when he emerged from the men’s room to see Mark and me in our tighty-whities was everything you’d expect it to be.  His entire body just wilted, like his last line of defense had crumbled and the enemy was taking his clothes prisoner. 

A small crowd gathered, in expectation of a very, very special moment.  The crowd: a husband, wife (Mary, the self-proclaimed millionaire, real estate tycoon), and son.  Yes, a son.  Seems Alaska has its own brand of Hill People.

Mary was a big fan of men getting into their undies.  She cheered as Maureen ordered John to his.  She even helped with the process.  All John could muster was, “There will be no pictures of this!”***

Maureen was a good sport, taking off her sweater to reveal a pretty sturdy bra, much to the chagrin of the undressed duo of Teddy and Darwin.  Mary, openly hot and bothered at the three of us men, could not get her top off fast enough.  Did she wear the sheer bra on purpose?  Something told me this wasn’t Mary’s first Bird House-undressing-rodeo.

She after demonstrating a unique way of checking us for tonsillitis, invited us to her hot tub.  Seemed we reached the intersection of 33rd and Weird.

John unveiled a seemingly brand new freak flag to fly as he announced he was all for the hot tub.  Mark maintained a sense of reason.  I found my limit was a hot tub event out of an Appalachian porno.

In the end, two bras were added to the ceiling, we got John dressed and back to Anchorage, and we all left knowing we had a real estate agent in the area ready to give us all she had.  Certainly, Teddy Bear and Darwin lived on, seeking out nudity where one would expect none, like a log cabin bar at 33rd and Bird.

***-Maureen - scan and post to your heart’s content!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How France Got A Disneyland

Note: National Public Radio's All Things Considered's contest has a simple premise: Write an original short story that can be read in three minutes or less (no more than 600 words).  For this round, the judge, author Brad Meltzer required original fiction that revolves around a U.S. president, real or fictional.

This is my entry:

“Finally,” thought Bronco, Secret Service name for President Alexander Halsey, “the French Summit was over.”  He didn’t have to talk about that crap for the rest of the day.  It’s not unusual for someone to hate his job.  It’s just a surprise when one is the President of the United States.

“Bronco is secure.”  The newest member of Halsey’s detail listened in his earpiece, stationed in the guest wing of the Elysee Palace, home of the 1985 Summit.  A senior agent approached, reminding him, “Even though it’s their guy’s house, they’ll leave us alone down here. Just us and our guy.  Although, don’t be surprised should you meet ‘Busted’.”

The newbie just shook his head, still outside of this inside joke.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” he smirked, having witnessed plenty of first family foibles in his career.

“I really don’t mind these summits,” Bronco said to his wife, Candice as they relaxed in private.  “I thought it went well, a meeting of two great nations.”

“Oh, spare me, darling.  It’s just us.  You’ve got the world fooled, but I know how much you hate this.”

“It wasn’t all bad,’ he persuaded them both , wishing to ring out decades of stressful expectations through his clinched hands.  The only son of a billionaire father whose failed political aspirations anointed him the obligated, and reluctant, chosen one.

“Andre’s a sharp kid,” the French president’s 10 year old son, who spent a good 30 minutes at dinner insisting the leader of the free world put a Disneyland in Paris.

“He knows more about the Star Wars movies than you, that’s a rarity.  Although, I doubt he’s been on as many roller coasters the last two years as my husband,” she added.  Their laughter skirted the issues of a man whose childhood showed all the signs of a political candidate testing the waters.  Although in his case, being thrown in it. “Alex, a president doesn’t do that,” echoed in his mind.  Words he’d heard way more than “I love you.”

Those who knew him, knew he fought it.

The itch.

It came at night, like this night.  A bug bite he couldn’t pinpoint.  A nerve in him lit without fire.  Only he could reach it, his way.

“It’s my one thing,” he pleaded to his parents growing up, and confided to his wife on their wedding night.

With Candice long asleep, he strolled the guest wing, Secret Service at a distance.  Along with carte blanche at amusement parks, the job had other perks.  He marveled at the places he stayed.  This palace, a museum.  His guests let him walk around at night, but they didn’t know of his itch.

So he meandered alone in his presidential bath robe.  He was careful.  He didn’t touch everything.  Some things just scratched it though.

The first one slipped into his robe pocket so cleanly.  An ashtray.  His itch releasing with a sizzle, like molten lava into water.

One helps, another helps more.

So many ashtrays in this place.  He salivated as he grabbed another.  So consumed, he didn’t hear the commotion.

“Mister Alex, you took that.”  He turned to see Andre at the table where previously sat the worthless ashtray.  Did the kid not notice he left the table-sized Matisse sculpture?  “I’m telling.”

Bronco, embarrassed like many times before, knelt down to the boy, leaning in his offer, “So Andre, let’s talk about this Disneyland thing.”

The new agent nodded as he watched from the doorway, whispering in his microphone, “Bronco’s busted.”

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Reality of Losing Someone

I entertained this reality in my mind many times.  When I saw it happen to others, I thought maybe I understood.  However, no matter how much you try to imagine it, or prepare yourself, no amount of mental rehearsal comes close to the reality of losing someone you love.

First off, I’m incredibly lucky.  My dad passed at age 84, after a decade of roller-coaster health and hospital stays.  His old self was an expectation adjusted with each episode.  The first time a doctor truly pronounced him as mortal, my mind projected forward to the voyage of a life without him.

It was hard to watch him deteriorate over the years, but we got to do just that.  Enjoy his company.  His two lung cancer surgeries flipped the egg timer on his mortality.  Sand running from the full end, filling the empty lower half.  That’s when I truly realized his time would eventually run out.  Until then death was a nebulous concept, one that occurred in others’ lives.

A college acquaintance of mine’s parents were killed in a car accident.  I didn’t know the guy well; probably didn’t offer condolences.  I do remember thinking it was a colossal tragedy, and was baffled that he made it back to school.  He looked normal, just as I remembered him before.  I couldn’t imagine having the strength for that, yet I held my denial, my belief in my own parents’ immortality in an iron grip.

My dad isn’t immortal though.  He’s deceased.  Not of this earth.  I will never see his face or hear his voice again. 

I had tons of I Love Yous with my dad.  No regrets.  Nothing unspoken.  He had ZERO doubt of how I felt about him and a MASSIVE vice versa.  I also know he was proud of me, of the man I’d become.  He was proud of all of his kids.  He and our mom turned out honest, kind, decent people; qualities that mean a parent has done a good job.  None of this changes the simple fact.  Loss is still loss.

He’s just gone.  No matter how hard I try, or where I look.  Gone.

I think its human nature to prepare for these things.  I know I played it out in my mind.  Prior to his death, there were times when I’d look at him and sort of erase him from the moment.  Him not saying grace before dinner.  Him not sitting in his spot in the den.  Not strong enough to think about holidays though.

So there’s nothing more.  No more birthday phone calls, holidays, hugs, or kisses goodnight.  No more anything, everything.

I remember being in 8th grade, getting up one morning and my dad in the living room.  Just sitting, doing nothing.  He just stared.  “Did Mom talk to you?”  No.  “Papa died last night.”  His dad died.

I know that stare now.  I catch myself in it every day.  At first, the stare is you thinking about the reality of what’s happened.  Reliving the words in your head that someone you love is gone.  Over time, it changes.  Different for everyone, I’m sure.  It’s approaching six months for me and the stare now is when my brain goes into a cloud.  A cloud of perpetual wonder that death is something that affects everyone in the world, and happens every second of every day.

However, we continue.

Do people notice any difference in me?  Do I look normal?  When I stare, does anyone wonder what’s up with me?  What about people who know what’s happened?  Do they see a change in me?

Life goes on.  There’s a reason for the cliché.  Aside from a handful of people, the world won’t skip a beat when someone dies.

Though my dad is irreplaceable to me, there’s no great cavity in humanity.  No streets of wailing citizens.  No candlelight vigils.  Even for some people who knew him, tomorrow was just another day.  They paid their respects in whatever way they wished, and moved on.  That doesn’t make them bad people.  It’s just how things are.

Yet for some of us, there’s a hole in our lives.  It is different.  My family and I got a lot of extra years with him.  Not to prepare--as much as I might have thought that possible--but to appreciate him.  I know we appreciated the hell out of him.  Still, there’s loss.

I feel different.  I function fine.  I’m sleeping ok.  I eat.  I exercise…well, as much as I did a year ago.  However, I’m not the same.  It’s like my emotions were in a car wreck.  Like a body wracked with broken bones, a serious injury that requires rehabilitation.  So I cry a little every day.  I’ve always been a sucker for a tearjerker or homeless animal commercial, but this is extreme.  You name it, it’ll make me cry.  Songs.  Sitcoms.  Commercials.  I well up.  If I fight it, it’ll stop there.  Sometimes, I don’t fight.

I find myself staring off into space.  Not at anyone.  At nothing.  I’m not thinking about anything in particular.  Just feeling how different things are.

How did I react when someone, an acquaintance really, told me that he or she has lost a loved one, especially a parent?  In all honesty, looking back, I see myself as pretty indifferent and oblivious.  Kind of an asshole.  Maybe that’s harsh.  Maybe the reality hit too close to home and I tried not to think about being in that person’s shoes.

I’d offer condolences, of course.  I might ask for a detail or two, but once our conversation was over, I’d pretty much moved on too, not noticing the hole the person’s life, their stare.  Even with friends, real friends, I didn’t have much of a follow-up.  I never really kept tabs on how that person was doing.  He or she seemed ok, and that was good enough for me.  I never asked.  I cannot believe I never asked.  Having been on both sides now, I’m ashamed of myself.

The next time someone tells me about their loss, I won’t say, “I know how you feel.”  I’ll never know how anyone feels.  Our realities are different.  Our relationships were different.  However, I will have an understanding.  I’ll ask, and above all, I’ll follow up.  I’ll hope that they appreciated their loved one like I did mine. While I won’t know exactly what they are dealing with, I will know--absolutely know--that their loss is different, and much more than they imagined.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Last Whisper

When the phone rang at 1035pm, the caller ID read FAIRVIEW SOUTHDALE HOSPITAL.  I listened as the caller spoke to my mom, who was awakened out of a deep sleep and a bit out of it.  The nurse was trying to tell mom that Dad wasn’t doing well and did she want to come to the hospital?  When I spoke up from the other line, the nurse said what I thought was the reality.  My dad has passed away 10 minutes earlier. 

From that point on, life took on a certain level of surreal.

He’d been in a rehab facility for awhile, following a partial hip replacement.  So, for tracking purposes, my dad had: 1 and 1/3 lungs, 1/3 of his stomach, congestive heart failure and very poor heart function (maybe 25% of normal), a pacemaker, and a foot of intestine removed.  So when I say that we were lucky to have him the last 12 years or so, you see why.

At this stage, rehab wasn’t going to bring him any increased quality of life.  As he got older, and had more setbacks, his quality of life ceiling lowered.  Meaning that he was never going to get the level of healthy back what he had before.

The rehab place wasn’t doing him any good.  It was on the degrading side, which is the side where most health-related issues reside when you’re in that condition.  I just tried to look past it all and see the man laying there.  Just connect with him and bring any amount of comfort possible.  I’d have gladly given him part of my lung at that point, because that’s what his world revolved around, trying to catch his breath.  The slightest effort created gasping like he’d just finished sprinting.  I wasn’t expecting conversation about how things were at work.

I was a bit relieved one day when Mom told me they’d taken him to the ER because his breathing was bad.  No one really expected him to come home.  We figured he‘d be in some sort of nursing home, so until then, at least he was comfortable at a place that treated him with more respect.  Rehab places aren’t in the business of nursing ailments other than what causes you to be there.  They get you back on your feet and functioning.  Hospitals are for whatever ails you.

There’s no need for play-by-play.  As much as the body that held our dad in place was crumbling, the tenant in that structure was same gregarious Irishman we all adored.

He got better in a day or so.  He flirted with nurses, winked at grandkids, held hands with whomever was closest, and made a bit of conversation.  He wasn’t ‘out of it’, but was still 84, a bit disoriented from being bounced from facility to facility, and certainly not as mentally sharp as his heyday.  However, he knew who were and what our stories were.  So when he stared straight ahead at the person not there and asked us, “Who’s limping?“, it registered.

Having a couple of siblings in the medical profession helped when, the next day, he was having an issue for which the doctor recommended a test.  We were all in agreement, mom included.  No more tests.  No more procedures.  His systems where what they were and no test would change that. We weren’t given up on him, but we weren’t going to put him through any more discomfort.  If your car has a bad engine, mentions of a new muffler fall on deaf ears.  Dad’s engine couldn’t be fixed.  Once that message was relayed to the doctor, she advised me that they’d be moving him out of intensive care to another room.

He went from a room with lots of machines to one with hardly more than a TV.  He was comfortable, quiet, and wasn’t speaking much because of a dry throat from lack of fluids.  We went to our respective homes, and mom asked if I wanted to go back later.  I said yes, since we were so close by.  We’d stop by to tuck him in for the night, then go to dinner.

I talked to my sister a little while later and she asked that I call her oldest son in a few days.  He’d just gotten back from his honeymoon to South Africa, and whether he’d be lucid enough to understand, he wanted to tell Grandpa all about it.  When a 34 year old man still thinks of his grandpa as his go-to guy to tell a cool story to, like he did when he was six, you make sure it happens.

So when we got back to his floor a few hours later, there was more activity.  Groups of people hanging out in visitor areas, and I’m pretty sure I smelled pizza.

Dad was sitting more elevated, at least a 45 degree angle.  His condition changed.  His breath rattled like a fan touching metal.  His eyes were focusing, just not on us.  He was looking at something I didn’t see.  Like he was watching an action movie on a big screen.  Normally, he’d hold someone’s hand, now he was busy, like he was moving things out of the way, brushing things aside and picking things up.  He heard us and responded though.  This is when that little voice kicked in.

We all hear it.  The one whispers for you to do something.  “Call Pat now because there might not be a tomorrow.”  So I called that first grandson, told him what was going on…that grandpa isn’t going to sound too good, but he can definitely hear you.  Holding the phone to my dad’s ear.  Tough stuff.  Whatever he was telling my dad, the oldest grandchild was saying goodbye.  Grandpa absolutely knew who was talking, I could tell the voice in his ear got his attention.

Before we left we chatted with his nurse a bit, mom gave Dad a kiss and made her way to the door.  I leaned in, kissed his cheek and whispered something in his ear.  His body sighed.

So they called at 1030p to tell us he'd passed.  Mom and I went to the hospital and Mom asked how he passed.  The nurse looked at me and said, "I don't know what you said to him, but I’ve never quite seen anything like whispered something in his ear and I saw his whole body calming.  He just relaxed and I had a feeling it might not be long.”

He was still in his room, so we went to see him.  I was honored to be there with my mom as she comforted her husband of 60 years.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, but to some degree it’ll always haunt me.  No one wants to see a loved one deceased in a hospital bed.  It’s not a funeral home open casket.  Honor, sadness, pride, pity, love.

Heading towards the elevator, looking around, I saw where we were.  This wing was for terminal patients.  Rules were broken here.  Visiting hours were whatever you wanted them to be.  Families shared pizza in a room with a cancer patient.  People congregated anywhere they could, perhaps rotating visits in and out of their person’s room.

I always wondered how I’d find out.  Living out of state, someone would call me.  I guessed my brother-in-law.  My sister would get the call first and she’d be too out of sorts to make the actual call.  It made sense.  It could happen other ways too, but not 1% of me thought I’d make the call telling my siblings that our father died.

I never imagined I’d be the last family member to speak to our dad either.  We knew his time was short, but we didn’t think it was just hours.  We’d have had that pizza party.  Instead, that voice whispered something in me that night, so I whispered in his ear for the entire family.

“You’re a great dad.”