Home Coming

After a month of rigorous rehab, Dad is finally deemed well enough to travel. It’s time for us to go home. For me, that means returning to my apartment and life in Newport Beach, CA. While I have been trained in “proper transfer technique”, I am nervous about transferring Dad in and out of his wheelchair and the taxi, not to mention how I am going to manage the airport and the plane.

This is the first time either of us has flown first class. Unfortunately, it is out of necessity – his wheelchair will not fit in the narrow economy aisle and it would be impossible to transfer him to a seat there.

I wheel Dad onto the plane and pause for a moment as I try to figure out the best transfer strategy. A magnificent, muscular mountain of a Hawaiian man appears out of nowhere like a genie and asks me if he can help. I look up (and up) and gratefully nod, “Thank you.” He instructs me, “Take your father’s feet.” I’m not sure what he has in mind-this isn’t what they taught me, but I do as I am told. From behind, the gentle giant puts his hands under Dad’s armpits and asks him if he is ready. Dad nods. In one smooth, easy motion, the man lifts him up and over the wheelchair and the top of the seat and sets him down as if he were just a feather pillow. Dad is 6’ 2” and used to be 200lbs. He’s lost a bit of weight these past few months… Before I can thank the man again, he’s vanished. I turn to Dad and start fastening his seat beat for him, “Big guy,” I say, Dad nods, his eyes wide.

As we prepare for takeoff, I shut my eyes and think about when I was a child  and I thought of him as the strongest man of all.

We had our own language and counting system based on my toddler misspeaks. Counting went one, two, three, eleventy-seven. We used to count together one, two, three, “upadad” and he’d lift me high up above his head then set me on his shoulders. With the sun on my face, my hands clasped on his forehead and my heels tapping against his chest, I couldn’t have been happier. Remembering how he used to push me on the swing.  I’d be soaring so high with my feet waving at the tree tops. And the adventures we had like the time we forged our way down the Connecticut River on “dadmade” rafts of air mattresses and wood – one, two, three, row .

Dad has not recovered his swallow reflex so he will not be able to partake in the complimentary first class beverages and meal service. He insists that I eat. I have no appetite. All I can think about is how much my father loves to eat and how he’s been deprived of this simple pleasure for 3 months. He commands me in his typical 1 word directive, “Eat.” Sitting beside him, I obediently and mechanically bring the fork to my mouth, swallowing hard and washing a few  mouthfuls down with water.

We land in LAX where my brother and mother (she’s has flown in from the East Coast for Thanksgiving) meet me. I explain the transfer and diapering process to my brother and let him take my father to the bathroom when we arrive. He spent some time in high school working as an orderly so I figure it won’t be too difficult for him. It still feels awkward to me. Next stop is a rehab hospital in Long Beach.  Dad went completely without food or water while we traveled. Suffice to say that it was a very long and challenging day. When we arrive at the rehab facility that evening, I brief his care team and set about the task of settling my father into his new room. My brother and mother wait in the background as I finish unpacking Dad’s things and decorating the room. While Dad naps, they tell me they are going to Palm Springs for the holiday weekend and ask If I’d like to join them. I decline. I can’t imagine just dropping Dad in this new hospital and leaving him— even though it’s only a few days. Besides, after 3 months of unplanned life hiatus, I’m eager to get home myself.


Autumn Tale

My father was never one to send cards, flowers, or gifts. He wasn’t one to call either. Of course, he didn’t have a phone for many years (but that’s another story). For Christmas or birthdays, he would usually show up with a brown paper bag with a toy or two in it. My parents divorced when I was four so I don’t have any memories of him being home with us. What I do recall is the rush of adrenaline on Sunday mornings when we’d hear his Chevy pull into our driveway; how my brother, Gregory, and I would race downstairs, throw the door open and leap into his open arms.


The first stop before the day’s adventure would begin was the Jiffy Mart. Dad would give each of us a tiny brown sack that we’d fill to the brim with an assortment of penny candy―Fireballs, Bazooka gum, Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tarts and miniature Charleston Chews…(Who knew about sugar hyperactivity then?) No matter, Dad would call it “energy” for our explorations in Forest Park. I loved romping through the thick fallen leaves, inhaling their delicious scent in the crisp air. When I’d get tired, Dad would offer me a piggy back. “One, two, three, upadad”, and he’d lift me up, high above his head and set me on his shoulders. In that instant, my view would change from brown bark to glorious golds and ruby reds. I’d rock back and forth, looking skyward until my neck ached―my butt bouncing on his shoulders, heels tapping his chest.  Sometimes we’d head to the park’s playground.  “One, two, three, push!”, and I’d be soaring, safely tucked in the toddler swing, my feet waving at the tree tops. Sometimes I’d have to have a “pit stop” in the middle of the forest. Dad would find a sheltered spot, bow down clasp his hands together, and offer me the cradle of his bare arms. To still my squirming, he’d distract me, “Listen, I hear a Lydie-bird.” With my bottom bobbing in the breeze, I’d listen intently for the tell-tale, sing-song bird’s call as I piddled on the blanket of pine needles, leaves and twigs below.

As a teenager in boarding school, I envied the others girls when they ran to the phone to talk to their fathers, received impossibly large flower bouquets, or bragged about the father and daughter “date” they’d  had—a Broadway show in NYC or a trip to see the Comos and meet Pele. I secretly wished my father could be more like theirs. I remember blushing when a girl pointed out the window as my dad pulled up to the dorm in his multicolored (self-repaired rust spots) station wagon, “Is that your dad?”

In college, I looked forward to Dad’s surprise “gifts”. There were $25 checks for my birthday, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, made up holidays and random occasions that he’s commemorate with captions such as “Fall Colors”  and stick figures that danced across the memo line with rakes, shovels or the like.

After college, I moved to California and the animated checks kept coming— $50 now.  I really looked forward to them and it wasn’t just the “gas money” as Dad liked to refer to his contributions (even when I didn’t have a car).  It was Dad’s personal brand of Hallmark that I really treasured; his quirky commentary on daily or cultural happenings―”Fall Here”, “DJ near 10,000”, “Jobs!” (when he landed some part-time gigs after retirement), “Tax time”, “Greg is coming today” Market Up & Down”, “Tons of leaves” etc…. Some of the checks had not so subtle hints as to what to do with the proceeds― “Roth it”.  Dad didn’t write letters much, but I learned about his activities by reading his checks and asking follow –up questions when I called him on Sunday nights. (He finally got a phone the summer I lived with him, the year I left for California.) Once I sent Dad a couple of poems I’d written about him, one of which won an award in a little contest.  The following week, I received a check with the memo “Poems”.


One September afternoon, over a decade after I had moved from the East Coast, I received a package from my father. It was flat & shaped like a 33 record album. I turned it over in wonder—a package from Dad? Meticulously and copiously sealed with duct tape, this had to be some kind of special cargo. It took me a while to carefully cut the tape down the line with my little scissors.  Finally, I finished with one side and opened it like a book. On top of a perfectly cut square piece of newspaper was a check for $50 – the memo read “Homegrown Leaves”. I lifted the newspaper and found a huge maple leaf glowing gold and red.  Under that, there was another perfectly cut square of newspaper and another leaf, and so on until I had a bouquet of a dozen maple leaves in my lap. It wasn’t Sunday, but I called him anyway. Dad said in his quite voice, “They weren’t supposed to make you cry.”

When my father passed away a couple of years ago, I put one of the twelve leaves in his coffin with him. I still have the rest of them.


Yes, you can!


Most mornings on the drive to the hospital, I stop along the roadside to cut some flowers for Dad. There’s an endless variety of exotic colors, shapes and scents. Dad has always been one to stop and smell the flowers so I bring them over to his bedside first to give him a sniff of the fragrant plumeria or ginger. He inhales and nods in appreciation. We’ve established a morning ritual. First, I  hand Dad a warm washcloth so he can wash his face.  Next, I partially fill a cup with warm water, put toothpaste (not too much) on his toothbrush and hand it to him.  He brushes his teeth and spits into the pink spittoon I hold under his chin. We do that three times and then I use the washcloth to catch any drool. Finally, I hand him his electric razor and he makes clean tracks across his face. There’s an area on his left side and neck that’s a bit overgrown. He hands the razor back to me and gestures to that area. I’m awkward with the razor, I never seem to get it all. We perform in silence.

Dad doesn’t say much these days, but that’s nothing new, he has always been a man of few words. When he does speak, his voice is slightly garbled like he is talking underwater. There are no conversations, just two or three word directives, “Cover my feet”, (with his 6 foot 2” frame, Dad’s feet are constantly coming uncovered), or “Warm blanket”, (the one amenity of this hospital), or “Suction.” I have to call the nurse for suction, looking away as she threads a plastic tube up his nose and down his throat past his gag reflex to suck up the salvia and mucous. Dad gags and his face twists with discomfort. His sounds, the gurgle and the grey green fluids rising in the jar against the wall nearly get me gagging.

Today, a doctor arrives to give Dad a tracheotomy. With a tracheotomy they can better manage his mucous and saliva – bypass sticking a tube through his nose for a more direct route through his throat. I watch from the door. While the doctor is cutting a hole in my father’s throat (without anesthesia – just topical), I see Dad’s left arm and left leg move. I can tell they are not reflex motions like those from a yawn or a cough.  I recognize them as pain protest movements reminiscent of what I do in the dental chair at points of high discomfort. I barge in as soon as the doctor is through, “Dad, you can move your left arm and your leg, I just saw you do it.” “No, I can’t,” he says. “Yes, you can,” I insist, racing out the door to share the good news with his physical therapist. I can’t find her. The next day, I see Dad moving his left arm and left leg in his sleep – intentional readjustments. When he wakes  up, I tell him what I saw, again he denies that he can move his left arm or leg. This time, I’m able to find his physical therapist. When she comes in, she sits by the bed and holds his arm in a conducive position.  She asks Dad to bring his hand towards his body― his forearm moves ever so slightly.  (In sleep, he is uninhibited by his “I can’t” thoughts.) “See Dad,” I exclaimed thrilled to contradict him on this, “Yes, you can!”

George, george, bo beorge, banana fana, fo forge, me my mo morge, george

In Memory of George W. Morgan June 23, 1930― June 29, 2013Image

“Uncle” George became the stepfather who played the banana name game, recited ooey gooyey  and fuzzy wuzzy rhymes ,  Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem  “My Shadow”,  and read “The Goops” to us– how they licked their fingers and their knives and led such disgusting lives. He enjoyed telling tales of his own mischievous childhood too, especially about the time he served his pet goat’s poop pebbles as hors d’oeuvres at his parent’s cocktail party.

 George was the son-in-law who played dominoes with OomMama until the wee hours of the morning and insisted she join him and Mom on their weekly dinners out.  He was the one who bought us Sea Monkeys when we saw the packages displayed at a toy store counter. We could barely wait to put them in water and watch our sea monkey family spontaneously appear. Weeks later, all we had were white specs that looked nothing like the pictures of the sea creatures on the package. Not long after that we came home from school  one day to find an aquarium filled with exotic fish. There were kissing gouramis, neons,  a purple  and red Japanese fighting fish and a speckled newt. A practiced escape artist, the newt could be found out exploring  the yellow shag carpet in the mornings.

I recall one Sunday evening, George had me sing my favorite song to him, “Rain drops keep falling on my head.” I only knew one verse, but he didn’t seem to mind. He smiled and kept saying “One more time!” I happily obliged until Mom interjected. “That’s enough!”  And sent me to bed.

 One time, my Stepfather had us memorize the meaning and spelling of E L E E M O S Y N A R Y so we could trip up our teachers. (Just a random multisyllabic word that means charitable.) He was the one who took us to the pet store and bought us our first golden retriever, Brutus.

One night, my brother, Greg, and mother ran into my bedroom. My mother slammed the door and locked it, pushing Greg towards my bed. My stepfather was on the other side of the door threatening to break it down. He threw himself against it and the wood  cracked. My mother had a gun in her hand and was trying to undo the safety latch. My brother tells me we walked right past my stepfather who stood aside, sweating and breathing heavily. I don’t remember that part. I do remember the hammer sticking out of the TV, the huge zig zag cracks in the picture window, and the overturned aquarium. And how I gave my mother a hard time because I  didn’t want  to be seen in public wearing PJs.  We stayed in a Howard Johnson’s for what remained of that night. George was gone when we returned the following day.  Mom said he was in the hospital and would be back in a couple weeks.  My bedroom door never closed completely after that.

 At one point, my stepfather was in the pizza oven and pizza supply business for bars.  I remember making the pizzas in our kitchen on weekends. We’d lay out a half dozen frozen crusts on the green Formica table and dress them with a giant metal spoon of red sauce spreading it out in circles. Then we’d sprinkle 3 handfuls of mozzarella cheese and place a dozen pepperoni slices—nibbling on cheese and pepperoni as we went. Perhaps that was the catalyst for my stepfather and mother to go  into the restaurant bar business in a nearby town. Mom tells a story that he was drinking too much one night and she told him he had a drinking problem. The argument escalated and he smacked her. I barely recall the restaurant.  But I do have a picture of me there, sitting in the red booth on my 5th birthday, spoon in hand poised to dive into a great big, hot fudge sundae.


A couple years later, George talked my mother into selling her house in Longmeadow, MA and buying the Elms Hotel, restaurant and bar in Charlestown N. H. There were only 25rooms in the hotel. My parents shared a suite with me and my little sister, Helen.  Next door was my brother’s room. In his freshman year at Deerfield Academy, he wasn’t home much.  Next to Greg’s room was our communal bathroom. We lived in the hotel  full  time.

  One night I woke up to violent arguing. I remember sitting up, holding my pillow to my chest―rocking . I was amazed that my sister in the crib next to me didn’t wake, even with the huge crash, glass shattering, and door slamming. Minutes that felt like hours went by until I had the courage to tiptoe over to the door and peek around it.  Mom was sitting up in bed. When she saw me, she laughed.  “That idiot thought he pulled the phone out—but it’s still connected. I’ll fix him and call the cops. What are you doing standing there?  It’s just a broken lamp, go back to bed. “

 Once after a stint at rehab, my stepfather apologized to me. My mother walked in and interrupted, “You don’t need to apologize to her.”

In the fifth grade, I wrote an essay about how lucky I was to have 2 fathers at the Thanksgiving table – my dad who came to visit from Massachusetts and my stepfather, George.

 In sixth grade, my parents bought another hotel in Jaffrey, NH and we moved into it. The Monadnock Lodge was a 3 story rustic resort surrounded by 27 acres of woods. There were 2 dining rooms, 2 bars and a huge stone fireplace that reached all the way up to the lofted wood ceilings. People would come from New York and Boston to get away and enjoy the entertainment. Alongside the long and winding driveway was a duck pond. My father came up from Massachusetts and built a barn for my horse nacky (named after the Lodge) and the seven ducks that I hand fed.  I had a huge crush on my teacher, Mr. Carlton, that year and enjoyed the attention of several “boyfriends” in my class (Tommy, the jock, Dennis, the nerd, Ronny, the all around great guy, and my two best friends,  Jennifer and Rhonda.) It was Mr. Carlton who got me started writing poetry.


 Andrea was the head waitress at the Lodge. Her shiny auburn hair was always in a sophisticated  French twist.  She wore  white nurse uniforms that fit her petite frame perfectly and served our meals efficiently in silence. Once when a wasp appeared on the window next to me, she took a white cloth napkin and calmly pressed it against the wasp. Then she dropped the napkin with a shocked look and put her manicured red fingernail to her mouth. Mom hated her. Presumably she was having an affair with my stepfather. After Andrea came Aggie, one of the cooks. She was a Polish tomboy with short course, bleached  hair and a squashed nose.  She wore jeans and T-shirts all the time and drove a van with groovy painting on the outside and velvet seats and an eight-track player on the inside. Mom referred to her as “that Polish peasant”.

 Since the Lodge was 7 miles from town, Mom would always drop me off and pick me up from school. One December day, two days after my twelfth birthday, I stood waiting just inside the door until the late bus and the last car had left the parking lot. The janitor told me I had to leave and jerked the door closed behind me. I started to walk home not sure that I could make it before dark. I walked fast out of town beyond the traffic light and stores, beyond where the sidewalks run out.

 What the heck, was Mom was coming to pick me up or what?!  At some point I remembered that today was the day she was picking Greg up from Deerfield for his winter break. Must be my stepfather had forgotten that I needed a ride. I tied my winter jacket around my waist, sweating in the cold. It was getting darker now. As I walked by thick clusters of bare trees their long shadows reaching across to me from both sides of the road. I tried not to think about the film I’d seen at school as a child, the haunting image of a girl’s patent leather shoe in a stream, her whereabouts unknown. At one point 3 or 4 fire trucks raced past me, their sirens screaming. I kept walking. Looking up only when I heard repeated honking. It was Aggie in her crazy, hippy van. She opened the passenger door and yelled  “Get in!” I hesitated, remembering how Mom had always told me never to get into anyone’s care, even if you know them. “There’s a fire at the Lodge—get in – your father’s waiting!” I climbed up onto the blue velvet seat. Aggie was leaning forward, almost on top of the steering wheel. “How big is it?”, I asked. “Not that big”, she mumbled,  her eyes staying on the road.

 Aggie held my hand as we watched the flames rip through the third story roof of the Lodge as if it were cardboard.  Brutus was barking in the distance – he’d run away into the woods.  My stepfather was somewhere in the clouds of smoke. Huge fire hoses snaked everywhere around us. The firemen were standing in small groups here and there watching. The duck pond was drained. They’d given up the fight.  People were lined up along our road as if it were a parade. My stepfather found us and we started walking back along the long charcoal driveway that carved its way through the snow.  I kept my head down and tried to pull my hand away from Aggie’s .  I didn’t want anyone to recognize me and mistake her for my mother. That night in our competitor’s Inn while we waited for my mother and brother to find us, I kissed the single tear that rolled down my stepfather’s bloated cheek and told him, “It’s ok.”

The next morning, my mother insisted that I go to school. And I did, in the same clothes I’d worn the day before. All I could think about was losing all my new dresses and toys from my birthday two days before.  At recess, a boy I didn’t like came up to me and sneered, “My father said your father did it for the money.” Mr. Carlton told me it was “Ok” and kissed the top of my head when I told him I couldn’t concentrate on my writing assignment. The headline, Suspicious Origins”  burned on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. There wasn’t much to salvage after the fire. The only thing left standing was the massive stone fireplace. My mother did find the tiny diamond ring her father had given her as a sweet sixteen present. It was charred and warped and she was going to throw it away. I asked if I could have it and she gave it to me.  Later, I would take a pumice stone to it, scrubbing until the blackness gave way to gold.


The Lodge was underinsured. Eventually, after renting a house “in the boonies” as my mother referred to it, we all moved back to the Elm’s.  Greg stayed at Deerfield, and I applied for scholarship at a couple boarding schools. My entry essay was about the fire. I was accepted to the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut. My school was just an hour away from my brother’s and 2 hours from home. Despite 2 of the 3 kids being out of their hair, things weren’t improving for my parents  on the home front. I’m not sure whether my mother told me about the “dryer incident” by phone or in person. She said she filled the bath tub and told George that the drain was plugged. When he knelt by the tub, rolled his sleeves up and put his hand in, she threw in the hair dryer. Nothing happened ―it wasn’t turned on. She said she just couldn’t take it anymore.

 It wasn’t too long after that when my mother filed for divorce. When it was final, we put up hand-made signs in the kitchen and had a party. In the midst of it, George showed up to pick up his remaining belongings. I looked down while his eyes took the room in. he said nothing, just picked up the trash bag Mom had left by the door and walked out.  After that I lost touch with George. My sister, his biological daughter, visited him through the years. He stopped drinking in 1985, but he never turned his life around. I saw him at my sister’s graduation from college and law school and at her first wedding. He was barely recognizable anymore―unsteady on his feet, a small shrunken man. We would make friendly small talk. He always asked me how I was and what I was up to in California. After a stroke debilitated him, my sister moved him into a nursing home near her.


It was during those years, when I was going through some memorabilia that I found some old postcards that were signed “Love Dad”.  The signature wasn’t in the precise draftsman hand writing of my dad. It took me a moment to realize that these were the postcards that my stepfather,  George, had sent me when he was on the road as a traveling salesman. My favorite was the “Jackalope” from Wyoming, he actually had had me convinced that it was real.

 More than 30 years after “we” divorced George, I would visit him in the nursing home when I visited my sister and send him Father’s day and birthday cards when I remembered.


On one visit, I watched as George’s girlfriend, Muriel, came up behind him at lunch, told him she missed him, and kissed his cheek. I was touched  to see him blush like a grade school boy.

 Never afraid to pull a punch in jest or defense, from his wheelchair at age 82, George challenged an ambulatory nursing home resident who was flirting with Muriel to a fist fight. A year later, when Muriel was wheeled into his hospice room, he simply stated, “She doesn’t remember me anymore.”


I can almost see him now, the sleeves of his white colored shirt neatly rolled up his elbows on the table a hand placed casually over a fist in his characteristic pose. I can hear the crimkle of the foil as he unwraps another pack of Tarreyton 100’s, tapping it against his muscular palm coaxing the tip of the cigarette out. There’s  the click of his silver lighter opening and closing, the quiet before his first puff, followed by the  long exhale,  and  the telltale clink of ice in as he lifts his glass.


His insatiable thirst for Pepsi, continued through his dying days— long after he stopped adding alcohol to it. I was there when he went into hospice care. “Did you bring me Pepsi?” he would ask every time we visited. I’d stand back and watch as my sister would  carefully pour some Pepsi onto a teaspoon and feed him  the sweet syrup like medicine.


Georgie porgie, pudding and pie.



in the park across the street

from the hospital.

Fallen pink blossoms

litter the grass

like crumpled Kleenex.

Clouds swirl and sweep

across the perfect half dome of sky.

 A woman chases her toddler son,

pushes him down hard.

“I’m not laughing”, she shouts.

Neither is he.

Bird calls and sirens

drown out the boy’s cries.

Journal Entries October -November ’99


Dad moved out of ICU and back into his original cardiac care room.  He goes in today for surgery for a PEG feeding tube through his stomach.


That’s the date on the sputum canister that is filled to the top with a murky grey froth…Today, he breathes without congestion. The man of so few words has been reduced to none by the tracheotomy. His pale, blue/gray blinking eyes do all the talking for him.


I watch Dad’s face as he watches the nurse feed chalky liquid through his stomach tube. Despair. He has been without real food or drink for 34 days. It all feels like too much to bear.  It’s so hard to see him this way—unable to roll over in bed without help, to keep from drooling when sitting up. What prepares us for this?


Tried to give blood today at the blood bank outside the hospital. Halfway through my blood clotted and stop flowing. Have a meeting at 1:30 with Dad’s doctors. Prognosis poor – they say we’re looking at long-term care. We need to talk about living will and power of attorney.  The social worker is going to initiate the conversation – phew.


Yesterday was a bad day. We had Mom do us a favor and drive over to Dad’s house to turn the furnace on to keep the pipes from freezing. She turned the one without the vent on, which could cause an explosion. So I’ve got Mom on the phone yelling at me and Dad in the hospital bed going into conniptions.  Day 40 and I’m not sure how long I can keep holding things together. Just got a message from a friend whom I haven’t heard from since this whole thing started, calling to “See how it’s going”…


Dad moved his left leg several times! He will come out of this and walk again. And if he walks again he may get his life back. He’ll prove those doctors wrong.


Dad was bright eyed and cooperative this morning. The antidepressant must be helping. Surprised that he agreed to it. I’m feeling very unproductive. Went for my break at the beach. Didn’t  run, didn’t swim, didn’t read, didn’t write, didn’t sleep. Back at the hospital now.


Dad startled me today. I had my back to him and was writing him a note that I came by again since he had fallen asleep.  “Aren’t you cold?” he asked, his voice strong and husky. This is the best his voice has sounded and the first time he initiated conversation or asked about me.


Dad looked good this morning, then threw up and wasn’t doing so well. It’s like New England weather—unpredictable and mostly unpleasant.  One day, I think we are on the road to recovery, the next, it looks like we still might lose him. 50 days in the hospital. I can’t believe my best friend hasn’t called all this time…I asked Greg to start looking into facilities for Dad in CA…


Dad can move his left arm! I saw him moving it in his sleep – not reflex moves, but intentional readjustments. When I asked him, he said he couldn’t.  Now the PT confirmed it- she held his arm in a conducive position and he moved it ever so slightly. (In sleep, he is uninhibited by his thoughts.) He was off oxygen all day today too.


Before I left last night, Dad asked me to read Mom’s cards to him again. He said he wanted to know what she was thinking of him. It hit me – could he still be in love with her after all these years?

Been bugging Greg to come back…He said MAYBE he will make it out in a week.


Life changes tomorrow. Dad goes to a rehab hospital in Honolulu. It will be a different commute for me. Dad said something on the phone to Greg about how I am the only one who knows how to take care of him. I can only imagine what he’s thinking…


They think Dad will be able to partially walk with a cane and personal assistance. They say it’s where the person is at the six month point that is telling as to how much they’ll recover…Dad’s spirits are up. He’s telling jokes and I’ve actually seen him laughing.


Dad had a cognitive evaluation the other day. He read a paragraph from the newspaper and then summed up what he had read.  He did fine.  In the hospital he had me read his Calvin & Hobbes to him because he said the print was too small…not so apparently… At least I was doing something for him that he wanted. Perhaps he knew I would be better doing something. There seem to be deficits here and there – he spelled his last name with 3 b’s and wrote 11K instead of 1k. The therapist did not seem alarmed, just said Dad would need to work on attention to detail. I’ve been handling all his bills anyway. He is starting to talk more and more spontaneously with the speech device in the trach—rarely resorting to the clipboard. Hopefully he will kick the infection and pneumonia soon…


Dad was in a bad mood. They keep putting diapers on him. It’s more convenient for the nurses. I don’t care. He is not incontinent—just needs help to the toilet. Also, I noticed that there is no consistency with how the aids put him back in bed and they do not encourage him to help. I thought this was rehab?! Will talk to them.


I’m exhausted. I think it’s going to be a while before I feel like myself again.

Need to talk to discharge planner about dates so we can lineup the facility and flights. If only his ability to swallow would come back in time for Thanksgiving—that would be something to be thankful for. Need to make phone calls and figure out Dad’s insurance details. Need to figure out what I am going to do for work when I get home.


Took my friend’s dogs for a hike. Made phone calls to sort out the insurance mess.

11. 16.99

I have a headache. Spent most the day with Dad. He surprised me by saying “Thanks for coming. It was great.”


So the day has finally come. I’m going home and Dad’s coming with me. The other day he gave a direct blue-eyed gaze and quietly asked, “Will you come live with me?” Ugh. Part of me wants to do anything to make him feel better, but …I evaded the question the best I could. That would certainly be the end of life as I know it. At 35, I feel as if I haven’t even had a chance to really live myself.

I’m a little concerned about the flight for Dad. He hasn’t been doing so well these last 2 days. He pulled his trach out the other night because he couldn’t breathe. He could have ended up back in ICU or worse.

Hospital Commute : Kamehameha Highway, O’ahu

No movement from the dome tent

in the beachside park.

Shirts hang headless from branches,

heavy from night rains.

Take the mini-bridge

over the lagoon,

and on the right,

a stream disappears

into the rain forest.

Just beyond the lagoon,

there’s the  house with a 180 degree

ocean and mountain view.

It’s mud trampled yard is littered

with rusted car carcasses, a kitchen sink

and no trespassing signs.

The distant surf

looks like low clouds.

Two rock islands hold down the horizon.

The sea always salts the air here,

but you notice it more in the dark.

A concrete pillbox on the bluff

guards the expanse of green valley behind it.

You have to slow down to read the sign

on the barbed-wire and wood fence

reward for information about anyone

interfering with free roaming livestock.

An archway of violet and fuchsia bougainvillea

in the rearview mirror

frames a postcard view

of white sand and pacific blue

—somehow more alluring

when you’re driving away from it.

Follow the road as it winds into shade,

sheltering a flower and fruit stand

with flaming torches of ginger

sprouting from white plastic buckets

and boxes overflowing with pineapples, mangoes,

mountain apples and sugarcane.

The evening air is cooler along here―

ripe, pungent.

Slow down for the yard that is packed

to each corner

with upside-down blue trash cans.

Notice the Hawaiian cocks

claiming their turf on top of them,

the mangy dog rigid at the end of his 3 foot rope,

just outside his dilapidated doghouse.

At night spotlights light up the yard.

Next, you’ll see a makeshift fence

of wood and twine

encircling a half-made outrigger

balanced on criss-crossed sticks

its final planks yet to be fitted.

And ahead on the left,

grazing on a lawn

that dissolves into the gravel

of this street,

the horned cow

with its companion white egret

on its back.

Getting closer to town now,

before the turn off,

you’ll see the two cemeteries,

the man on the lawnmower

churning grass and worms.

And without fail,

every morning,

the fresh mounds of dirt.

“The Nurses Like It.”


Amazingly, Dad is now awake and alert.

I walk in and there’s some drama on his tv—the surgeon turns away, zoom in to the flat blue line on the vitals monitor, quick cut to the hysterical family in the waiting room. It hits me much too close to home. I can’t help but blurt out, “Geez Dad, haven’t you had enough of this hospital stuff?” He moves two fingers of his working hand together and across the empty space in front of him. I place the pen in his fingers and hold the clipboard steady. We haven’t communicated since his stroke, a month ago. I hold my breath as he writes one shaky letter after another until the crooked words descend the page, “The nurses like it.”

A week later Dad’s condition is upgraded and he is moved out of ICU to the telemetry floor. This time, the view is of the rooftop and air conditioning ducts, which is actually more intrinsically interesting to him because of his HVAC business… In any case, we are both happy to sacrifice the view for a better overall outlook.

The uphill struggle begins. Dad is paralyzed on his left side and has lost his ability to swallow—dysphagia. They’ve already put in a g-tube in his stomach to feed him. We believe this is a drastic, hopefully temporary measure, until he recovers…


Chatting with an old boyfriend,

I get lost driving through my past.

Twice I loop through the same

two intersecting freeways―the 405 and the 710,

get off and back on the same two ramps―Alameda, del Amo.

as if I am drunk, dreaming or lapsing into early dementia.

It was August of ‘87 when he picked me up at LAX.

I’d come far to leave my family behind in New England.

We’d taken the freeway to Long Beach—

passing signs for Wilmington, everything engulfed in concrete.

billboards, electrical wires, oil refinery towers congesting my view,

circles of smoke rising against a  horizon of yellow haze.

Too many cars and people, had I made a mistake.

He tried to help with google maps,

but couldn’t locate me.

Lost in the Port of L.A.

a headache coming on–

should have eaten before I left Carlsbad.

Driving in circles for half an hour,

tracing a figure 8 of my forty eight years.

Headed for Long Beach, my old stomping grounds,

hoping to find my way.

Vaguely familiar, yet altered –

a time warp into a future that no longer belongs to me.

Insanity―doing the same thing

and expecting a different result.

My second time through,

a right at the light at Magnolia makes the difference

and soon I am climbing the heights of the Vincent St. Thomas Bridge,

a sense of vertigo, even from the car.

The glistening turquoise water on either side so far below―


Force my gaze back to the expanse of bridge stretching before me,

San Pedro next two exits.

It strikes me as funny, imagining the exits dropping straight off the bridge―

cars plunging with spectacular splashes, one after another.

When I arrive at the assisted living facility

where my mother moved the day before,

she’s not there. No one knows who she is or

where she is. Neither my brother or mother answer

their cell phones.

It’s as if I am watching myself from outside myself,

waiting to see what will happen next.

Finally, someone tells me her room number.

And I realize it’s Saturday – she’s at dialysis.

Her door is ajar—moving boxes stacked, overflowing, untouched.

Toppled oxygen tanks, hoses, bandages litter the floor.

Soon I have the two closets overstuffed with glittering gowns and suits

that she no longer wears, but insists on keeping.

Arranging the furniture, far too much for one small room―

two zebra chairs, 2 end tables, a bench,

a bar cart where I display her souvenir shot glasses,

her queen bed, matching nightstand and hutch

with the hidden compartment

where she had kept her father’s rare coins

that my brother and I tried to steal

to cash in for candy in ’68.

I push against the secret compartment twice

and return the jewelry I’d been safekeeping

while she was in the hospital.

She can’t wear the rings anymore,

they fall off her fingers.

Finally, I hook up her stereo

and play her favorite Tchaikovsky CD.

I’m hanging pictures when she returns.

From the bed, she weighs in on which picture should go where

though it’s clear she’s too tired to care

When her dinner tray arrives, I help her sit up,

her collarbone a wishbone between my fingers.

You have to eat, I say, handing her the sandwich,

taking it back, then handing her the spoon

watching as she forces some soup down.

She invites me to stay over,

with her in her bed.

I can’t, imagining lying awake

listening to the oxygen machine’s pumping,

her constant throat clearing,

trying to stay still, fighting the impulse to flee.

I don’t get lost on the way home.

Once I hit San Clemente,

the night sky opens,

stars reveal themselves

and I exhale as if I have been held

underwater for days.

And for the first time since Dad died,

I find myself

writing again.

Sketch 1: Winter Siberia , Late 1890s―Eduard

A spark in the night, a man is shot out of a tree and into his destiny. Eduard, a Viennese officer and prisoner is a regular guest at the lavish weekend parties at the Ignatov’s Estate. An accomplished pianist, Eduard plays piano with the orchestras and solos as well, conversing with the Russian officers, charming the wives and dancing with their daughters.

Fluent in 5 languages, he provides translation services to Sophia Tolsky and is offered a professorship at Omsk University, which he declines. Instead, Eduard converts from Judaism to Catholicism and marries his young bride, Manja Ignatov. Their first son, Paul, is born in the midst of the great famine. Too soon, Manja is pregnant again. A female physician performs the abortion, the first in a series.

Eduard insists on leaving Russia and returning to his homeland, Vienna. Only allowed to bring the clothes on their backs, the couple is strip-searched by the Bolsheviks. Fortunately, the Bolsheviks don’t check the baby’s very full diaper where Eduard has stashed some jewels.

They travel by cattle train for days from Omsk to Lithuania and then passenger trains through Poland. By the time they arrive in Vienna, Manja has become quite ill with malaria. In the years to come, her suffering would take many forms.