The hospital was white.
And cold. Hospitals are built that way.
Nothing is more clean than white. Nothing is more cold than white.
Color and warmth breed germs, comfort and life. We cannot live in hospitals so we must make them unbearable to live in.
My mother was in a coma.
She was pale and her face was swollen. Machines beeped, bags dripped and I rested against the wall so that my father could sit in a brown wooden chair. We were alone in the Intensive Care Unit. He didn’t look at her. He kept his eyes on the hat that he held in his hands.
“Mr. Oliver, we’re going to have to ask you both to step out. We are going to adjust Katherine to make her more comfortable. We’ll call you, of course, if there is anything that comes up.”
He didn’t acknowledge the nurse. He never did. I stepped forward into the room.
I was now the woman of the house.
“Thank you. We’ll go home.”
We drove in silence. He chain smoked. He was uneasy without her. We have never had to depend on anyone but her. Both of us were unsure of the other.
“Maybe tonight we’ll just have some sandwiches,” he said as we turned into the driveway.
“Can you make me a ham sandwich with some tomato and …”
“Yeah, like she does. You know?”
I woke up to the sound of music playing.
I got out of bed and went to the living room. The record player top was open. Patsy Cline’s voice was sweetly caressing the room.
No one was there.
But then I heard his voice.
Years of smoking, and drinking, had left his voice rattled, heavy, full of rasp and gruff. Yet, he was singing as though he wrote the song himself.
“I’ve got your memories, or have they got me? I really don’t know, but I know, they won’t let me be.” ~ Patsy Cline
I went to the kitchen.
The room was dark except for a single candle on the middle of the table. My father stood by the stove, swaying. In his left hand he had a cigarette burning and in the right a high ball glass of Black Velvet, my mother’s favorite drink.
At that second everything changed for me.
He hated Black Velvet. He always made fun of her for drinking cheap whiskey, and when she was away, sick in the hospital, maybe never coming home—he was drinking her drink as though it were his own.
It didn’t take him long to turn and see me. He smiled his toothless smile.
At a young age he lost all his teeth in a car accident.
He had the most beautiful smile.
It wasn’t insecure, or afraid. It didn’t remember the accident.
We didn’t speak. He opened his arms and I went to him. I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him as tightly as I could. He smelled like her. Cigarettes and whiskey.
As the record played and we slow danced, he began to sing again, and suddenly, for the first time I became aware of him as a man.
He wasn’t just my dad. He was a man. A man who loved women.
A veteran. A carpenter. A handyman. Totally painfully real. Human. He was no longer immortal. Or perfect. Or untouchable. He suddenly became the example of the man I want to marry.
Hearing his hard, time worn voice singing loudly, feeling his sweat through his white t-shirt, I knew that I’d look for a man like this to love me.
A man who would weep, worry and feel unbearable need when I was sick. A man who slow danced. A man who drank my drink when I was gone to taste me. A man who raised a little girl to want to be a woman that beautiful men would love.
A beautiful man my mother loved.
When the record ended we parted ways as though it never happened.
I returned to my bedroom. He flipped the record. For hours it played.
I lay in bed listening wishing I could go to her and tell her how much he loved her. Wishing she could be in the kitchen with him, holding him and assuring him she wouldn’t die first.
This is how heartache begins.
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Author: Jacqueline Kirkpatrick
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
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