Thursday, April 26, 2012


April 26, 2012

Stella sits on the end of the dining room table.  She is guarding the papers pulled from the three file boxes in the garage. 

And intermittently watching birds that pass through my backyard.  Every once in awhile a small gray bunny visits.  Sadie is laying next to me.  Her presence constant, quiet.  Every so often she stands, puts her head on my thigh and looks up at me with her round brown eyes.

Steve said to me last night “I’ve been meaning to remark on something.”


“I hope you won’t take offence.”

“Tell me.”  I am insistant.

“You know how they say people start looking like their dogs….”

“You think I look like Sadie?”  I ask.

“Well you have to admit, there is something in the eyes.”

I take no offense.  I love Sadie. 


I am trying to make some order of your old school papers, my marriage licenses, my decrees of dissolution, my juvenile court reports, photographs, journals.

One day this would have all been left to you and your sister to sort out.

Instead it is me.

Trying to piece together a past.  Create for you some sort of narrative of our history.

Most of my writing is undated. 

In a Harvard Law School spiral bound notebook  there are 80 pages of 16 pound paper.  The notebook cost me $1.55.

There are lists, random thoughts. 

My backpack is always a mess.  Notes on napkins, elementary school—day care notices, an empty fun fruits package.  Crayons mixed with fountain pens.


                   My heart
                  drowning in this sea of tears
                   I reach out for you
                  and touch the night.

Nothing is dated.  I think this journal is from my third year of law school, and right after I graduated from Harvard.

Another note—

My childhood hits me the hardest when as a parent I realize what I’m willing to do for my children.  Absence of mother and father willing and able to provide for me echoes inside the hollow places their absence has left.

My childhood hits me hardest…

We both know what hits me hardest now.

Closing my eyes, I breathe deep.

My childhood hits me hardest.

I dodge an iron thrown at me by my stepmother, a teakettle full of water from the stove.

I hear the silent scream inside myself.

This note in purple pen, set off by itself in the middle of the page--Discipline has been used as a shield for maltreatment of children.

From age 12 on, suicide seemed a plausible escape from broken blood vessels that pooled into bruises where skin met palm, met fist, met leather, from “your are trouble—you never will amount to anything—flat chested—fat assed—whore like your mother,there is a spot on this plate, take all the dishes, pots, pans from the cupboards, wash, dry, put them back—you have 45 minutes to finish—if you aren’t done, if there is a spot on anything—the belt.  I was hungry.  There is nothing to eat.  There was no place that is safe.  There was no love.  There was plenty of hate.

I had to get away from this.

I have to get away

What held me back?

I do not know.

Twelve years old, standing in the coal bin in the basement, light filtering around the outline of the closed chute with a knife, trying to cut my wrists.

They would realize how bad they treated me when I was gone.  Then they’d be sorry.

The knife was dull.

Fourteen, swallowing 10 baby aspirin, crawling into bed, terrified of dying from the overdose, too emotionally broken down to live.

Later it was you, you and Erin that held me back.

When I was 27 years old, I sat on the edge of the bed with a fistful of sleeping pills in one hand, a glass of water in the other.
          January 1983.  A few weeks earlier, we celebrated your first Christmas, and then your first birthday. You slept on my bed, curled up, legs tucked up under your tummy, clutching your white teddy bear under one arm. I watched you as you lay there, holding back my tears. I had given life everything I had to offer.  There was nothing else to give.
I walked into the bathroom, opened the medicine chest, surveyed its contents.  Should I take the bottle of sleeping pills? Should I take the bottle of pain pills?  Or should I take both? I wanted to end my life.
I reached for the bottle of sleeping pills, opened the white childproof lid. I dumped them into the palm of my left hand, curling my fingers around them. Taking the glass sitting by the toothbrushes on the side of the sink, I filled it full of water.
I walked to my bed where you were sleeping and sat down on the edge. I opened my left hand and began counting the number of pills. There were twenty-three. Twenty-three small white tablets. All I had to do was put them in my mouth wash, them down. Then, I would curl up on the bed next to you and go to sleep. For the last time.
          But what would be left for you? Who would take care of you? You would be an orphan. If you were lucky, somebody would adopt you. But, could they have that same fierce love for you that pierced my very existence?  For nine months I carried you under my heart.  Then, at first sight, you moved into it.
This is what I thought of as I sat there, looking at the pattern the sleeping pills made in the palm of my hand. I did not really want to die.
I wanted my life to change.
I hated standing in food bank lines at the end of the month for enough groceries to get through until the next month’s food stamps and welfare check came in. I could not stay in another relationship where one minute I was adored, in the next foul names and inanimate objects were flying at me. Where I was bullied and pushed around the house because I forgot to buy toilet paper--or because dinner wasn't ready on time.  There was no more that I could take and I had nothing left to give.
          Sitting there on the edge of the bed, sleeping pills in hand, I began to see your life and play out before me. What a thing for you to bear in life, a mother you would never know. You were not even walking yet. I would not witness your first faltering steps from coffee-table to couch to chair and across the room where I knelt with open arms to catch you. Who would read you Mercer Mayer books and Dr. Seuss? Who would be there when you got up on the seat of a bicycle and wobbled on the sidewalk after the training wheels were taken off? Who would be there for your first day of kindergarten, your first day of junior high, your first date, when you graduated from high school, when you got your first driver's license, your first prom, your wedding, your babies, all of the important events of your life? Who would guide you and protect you?
          There could never be anybody that would love you as much as I. Never.
          I got up from the edge of the bed. I walked to the bathroom, opened the toilet lid, and dropped the sleeping pills into the bowl. I put the glass of water on the side of the sink. Walking back into the bedroom, I went to the bed and crawled in. I molded myself around you. When the tears came, I cried until I fell asleep. I dreamt about the past.
          And then, I dreamt about the future.
I chose this future.
Well, maybe not all of it.
I constantly remind myself of that.  I have a choice. 
I choose to only think of living now. 
And how much I miss I’ll miss it when I am gone.
It has been a long day.  Sadie is still sleeping her beside me.  Stella has left the dining room table. 
It is almost bed time.
Love you Andie—

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 24, 2012

You can’t remember writing these, Weekend News, by Andrea. 

My dad remains in the Critical Coronary Care Unit at TG.

I won't go back.  I don't do crazy very well anymore.

So, I start the slow process of sifting through the legal size boxes in my garage.  The ones I found in your storage unit last summer.  The ones that smell of mice, mildew and aging ink.

I pull out a handful of files, a red binder with your school work.  I work on piecing together our history.  Yours and mine.


1988, you were 6 years, 9 months.  You were learning penmanship, spelling, story telling. 

Sunday I woke up and played inside and then I Went to Sunday School then came home and played outside and had my onw club And went inand ate dinner and took a bath and Went to bed.

In the same folder, one line written by me on a pink sheet of notebook paper in that same year, 1988, my second year of law school. 

“In my family, the poverty and abuse stops here.”

A folder marked Welfare, full of  Recipient Information, Action Requests, Planned Action Notices, Requests for Fair Hearing, an old Medical Coupon.

1984 I was a welfare mother.  Had been for a few years.  No child care.  No child support.  No job skills.  Minimum wage jobs. 

In January 1984, you’d just turned 2.  I walked onto the University of Washington campus for my first day of classes.  I was pushing you in front of me in your fold up stroller.

Recipient Information or Action Request

You must register with the Work Incentive Program (WIN) since you are out of the home on a regular basis while in school.   Please take enclosed registration form to the WIN Unit for completion at time of interview.  Call 872-6310 for an appointment for interview with WIN Worker.

Please register before 4-3-84 to avoid having your 5/84 warrant held.

Notice of Planned Action
April 2, 1984

To date, we have not received verification that you have registered with WIN.  As you are a full time student, you are a mandatory registrant for WIN.  As such, your needs to be deleted from the grant, and grant will be just for the two children.  Please supply verification of registration by 4-12-84 to avoid being deleted from the grant.

Recipient Information or Action Request
April 27, 1984

Hurrah! Hurrah! WIN now has a way to register people like you and put them in a special status so they can go to school even tho’ the program exceeds one year and not to re required to actively seek work while they are attempting to better themselves.  SO if you get registered with WIN and put in the special status you can continue your education and be on assistance also.

Recipient Information or Action Request
February 26, 1985

When you began working last fall WIN somehow got the idea you were employed full time and off assistance.  Therefore they deregistered you from WIN.  This is in error.  You should’ve remained registered with them but in “student status” if possible.  Call WIN at 872-6310 make an appointment to re register and take enclosed form EMS 587 to the appointment.  Since you are a full time student, as defined by the school you attend, you can NOT be exempt as the primary caretaker of child(ren) under age 6.

You can't be exempt.  That meant I had to quit school.  

With laser focus, I was going to school.  Nothing was going to stop me.  It was my only way out, my children's only way out of a past that continued to grab at my ankles, hold me up, trip me up.
My sister Kathy remarked I am only where I am today "because I worked the system."  Got something for free.

It is easier to believe in that than to believe someone can get someplace by working hard, never losing focus and something others call luck--I call synchronicity.  Taking risks.  Putting yourself out there and having faith it will work out.

A Notice of Award and Acceptance from the University of Washington.   Autumn, Winter, Spring 1984-1985.

College Work Study                                      2400
Univ Tuition Exemption                                 1308
National Direct Student Loan                      1100
Suggested Guaranteed Student Loan        2500
Estimated Pell Grant                                    1675

DAWN NEWSLETTER                    MAY 1987

Domestic Abuse Women’s Network.  DAWN.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(see Page 4)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Page 4

* * * * * *CONGRATULATIONS!!* * * * *
To Sherry C. for getting accepted to Harvard Law School.  Sherry has worked long and hard to achieve this goal.

Sherry has been a DAWN Volunteer for 3 years.  She attended the U of W (graduating in 3 ½ years!), served as Chairwoman for the Office of Minority Affairs Student Advisory Board, and was student representative on the ASUW Child Care Advisory Committee…AND she has two daughters Erin 11 and Andrea 5.

We are proud to have had Sherry as a DAWN Volunteer and will certainly miss her.  We know she will be very successful at Harvard and we are in full support of her next goal after graduation from Harvard – “I’d like to become the first woman President.”

Sherry, CONGRATULATIONS – and thank you for all you’ve done for DAWN.

In 1987 I had dreams of being the first woman president.  You wanted to become the Tooth Fairy.

I love you Andie.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012


April 21, 2012

I dreamed you last night.

Singing in the front row of a choir.  Your hair was still long, pulled back in a pony tail.  You were 8 or 9. 

Seeing you, I held my breath.  You turned your head to me, your eyes met mine.  You stopped singing for a moment.  Smiled.

“I dreamed Andrea last night.” I told Steve as I came down the stairs this morning to the smell of brewed coffee.

“I know you were dreaming something.”  He said.  “You were making all kinds of sad noises.”

“I am really sad this morning.”  I told him.

“I’m sorry baby.  What can I do to make it feel better?”

What can anyone do to make this all better?

A bandaid.  Kiss the owie.  An ice pack.  A heating bad.  An ace bandage.  A cast.

My pain is on the inside.  Where it can not be seen.  Where I need to let my mind work on it, my heart heal.


I felt pure joy looking into your eyes for that moment.  Seeing your smile.

And then the pain of letting go again.


In my dream, you were about the same age I was when my Dad met Willa. 

Willa hated me the first moment she saw me.

I was too bossy.  Too big for my britches. 

I was trouble.

I was a perceived threat to her oldest daughter, Linda Jean.  My dad’s oldest child, her oldest child.

I was a matter of survival.  Crawling out the window of the bedroom my own mother had locked us five kids in.  Roaming the streets of High Point.  Shoplifting penny candy when the clerk turned her head the other way.  Testing my neighbors’ houses for unlocked doors, sneaking in to raid their refrigerators, their cupboards.  The cupboards at my house were bare.  Hiding my bruises from fights with neighbor kids who taunted me, and when my crying wasn’t enough, kicked me, punched me, pulled my hair and spit on me.


Linda Jean and I were in the kitchen.  Arguing like sisters over something.  Linda picked up a knife, waved it threateningly towards me.  I grabbed a pair of scissors from the counter in front of me.

Willa walked in.  Took the scissors from me, and began punching me, hitting me, kicking me until I peed my pants.  When she grew tired of hitting me, she grabbed me by the hair, dragged me though the dining room and living room threw me outside, slammed the door.  “Your father will deal with you when he gets home.”

I sat on the grass, my back against the telephone pole, smelling the wet urine drying, evaporating, the smell concentrating.

The smell of injustice.  The smell of powerlessness.  The smell of fear.

“Your father will deal with you when he gets home.”

My father did not get home til supper time. 

I sat out there the whole day, my back against the telephone pole, peeing myself because I was not allowed inside.  Hungry, because I was not fed.  Terrified of my Dad coming home.

My dad, his black belt.  Summary punishment.  No chance to explain. 

The sharp sound of the belt as it met my skin—Thwack.



“must never”


“point a pair of sharp scissors”


“at anyone.”

Thwack, thwack, thwack.

I held my tears as long as I could. 

I do not know what hurt worse, the belting or the fact I felt I had done nothing wrong. 

I was defending myself.


“Wait til your father gets home.”

Every day I walked home from grade school at Holy Cross Elementary, thinking “If Jesus could die on the cross for me, I can bear these beatings.”


“Wait til your father gets home.”


Walking home from Holy Cross Elementary, my bruises stinging under my crisp white blouse, my plaid uniform jumper.


“Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall.”

Humpty Dumpty is sitting on the wall built around my past.

“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

Humpty Dumpty is trying to not to fall, to get pushed in to all the inner walls contain.

Teeters on the edge.

“All the King’s horses and all the King’s men………”

“Do you have any idea how much strength it takes for a 16 year old to take herself to, turn herself into the juvenile detention center to get away from home?”  My therapist asked me this question.

“How much strength it took to get from where you were to where you are now?”

I am sitting on the couch, kiddy cornered to her.

My body knows.  My mind does not want to remember.  It wants to just keep progressing forward.  But I get drawn back in.

And I am about to fall off the wall.

Adversity has not made me stronger.  It has made me tired. 


Two weeks before his heart attack, my Dad called me.  “I need to talk to you and Linda and Karen.” 

“Dad, I’m in the middle of a crisis here, my house is torn up from water damage.  Can this wait until I can catch my breath?”

“I’d like to do this soon.”  He told me.

“Just let me know when and where.  I’ll be there.”  I told him.

My sister, Karen is ambivalent.  Linda does not want to go.  She does not want to hear excuses.  There are none.

There is only what happened.

“What’s the harm, Linda?  Let’s hear what he wants to say. Karen and I will be there.”

We all agreed to meet on April 3.  6 p.m. at his house.

April 3, 6 p.m. Dad was in a four bed ward at Madigan waiting for heart surgery.

I am in hibernation.  Staring blankly at the wall.  Trying to hit the delete button.  Delete.  Delete. Delete.

I can’t find the places all the memory is hiding in my computer. 

It will never be fully deleted.

Standing at the sink, Steve came up behind me.  Put his arms around me.  “This is tearing you up, Babe.”

“It is.”  I told him.

“It’s just like on an airplane.”  He said.

“An airplane?  What are you talking about?”

“Oxygen mask.  You have to put yours on first before you can help anyone else.”  Steve explained.

My therapist.

“You have no reserves.” 

“I used to be strong.  Be able to handle anything.”  I told her.

“You have no reserves.”  She says again. 

She is right.

Since you died, I have no reserves.

And then you came to me in a dream this morning smiling.

I put on my oxygen mask and  I breathe. 

Love you baby girl.  Mom.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Reckoning

April 21, 2012

I can see my father now—his mouth twisted tight as a sailor’s knot, punctuating each word with his index finger.

He would be saying, “You can go fuck yourself.  My daughter is laying in the Critical Care Unit and you want me to meet with you about MY BEHAVIOR.  I have done nothing wrong.”

Even though I am my father’s daughter, because I am my father’s daughter, I do not say this when the Social Worker calls me from the hospital to tell me I must meet with them before I can see my Dad.  Because of the tension my very existence and proximity to my father creates.  For his wife.

Before the call I already decided I was not going to go see my Dad again.   Yesterday, before the call, I wrote to you about that.

Either he would get better, or he would not. 

Without me there. 

It is clear to me Dad can not take any conflict in his room. 

It would kill him. 

He needs all his strength for healing.  It will take everything from him and then more.

I break down.  I babble to the social worker.

I am caught off guard with a bottle of Windex in one hand, a paper towel in another, having just sprayed my bathroom mirror. 

The cell phone rang.

Unknown the screen said.
“This is the Social Worker at Tacoma General.  First thing I want you to know is that your dad is ok.” She said. 

It is one thing to decide you are going to do the right thing and do it voluntarily. 

Because you love your dad. 

Because you made promises to him.  Promises you cannot keep.

But to be told, “you cannot see your dad again until you meet with us.”


My sister Linda has been unfriended too. 

She does not want to go back to the hospital either. 

She wrote this to the family today.

I have been un-friended. Okay. So what I hear you telling me is that you no longer want or need me in your life. Okay. I am not offended by this. I welcome this as if you think that little of me then I no longer need you in mine. Yet it saddens me that the trust, the friendship and the love I felt for someone and I thought they felt for me can be so easily thrown away. It certainly is not the first time someone in my family has turned on me or any one of us. And if any other member of my family wishes to un-friend me after reading what I say here, be my guest. We are a throw away family. We have learned this well. We were taught to turn on each other as a form of survival. My family is toxic. I have heard this phrase repeatedly over the last couple weeks. It is true. My family is toxic.
I am transported back to my childhood where each of my siblings had a role to play. One is the tattler, one is the butt kisser, one the taunter, one is the name caller, one is the protector, one hides in the corner and so on and so on. We learned these parts well to survive and we still are playing them. Information is given according to the role we play. We choose one target and all gather around the mother hen playing her game so we can stay in the nest. Not speaking out for whatever reason we have learned. Well I want to be the shadow and hide from all of this but I am no longer a child. I will no longer be told what to do, what to say or to be silent. I no longer concern myself about pleasing this sister, this brother, that mother, or my father so I can be accepted. Where were any of you when I needed your voice when an injustice was done? Where are we all now when one of our siblings is being treated unfairly? Are we fighting for her voice to be heard? No! Everyone is playing their role.
Many things have been written on facebook over the last couple weeks. We write our feelings. We write our daily activities. We write anything and everything. Sometimes we write things others take offense over. Personalizing every word, every phrase, and every paragraph. Sometimes we write to heal ourselves or to relieve the pain of what we feel is an injustice. Then friends and family comment adding their input based upon statements made by the post, input made based upon one side of the story. And then sides are taken. You get mad because someone else has posted their side of the story. So are you implying that your story is more important than the other’s? Is your version any more real than the other person’s? Are you now ostracizing them and cutting them off from family and/or friendships because they too told their story, their version. We own our stories not to be broken down by anyone. No one has the power to do that. We have the right to speak our mind just as you do.
You say you are stressed. Own your stress. Do not say it is because of this person or that person. Our stress is based upon how we chose to act and react. It is based upon a feeling whether it be an insecurity, an irritation on past experiences or just because we are angry or scared. Do not tell me it is this person’s fault or that person’s fault. Don’t elaborate the story just to get sympathy for yourself. Own your words and your actions. During this time of dad’s recovery, we all want to know what is going on with him. We are all concerned about him getting better. We all spend time with him as we are able according to our schedules. Just because one person is there more than the other, doesn’t mean he is loved any less by anyone of us. Do not accuse, blame or cut off others just because you are feeling angry or scared. We all are feeling the same way but we all express it differently. Dad said this will be a time for us all to pull together for the strength he is going to need. But in this time of need, you have turned on a few of us. You say this time is not about this person or that person, it is about my dad. Then act like it. Don’t make it about you and what makes you mad. Make it about working together for one common goal. That is what my father would have wanted. I respect the fact that you are my dad’s wife. I am happy he has found someone to love as he loves you. I know he is fighting now for life for you. Be secure in that knowledge. We should not be acting out (as what happened yesterday) in his presence. It is not good for him. Differences should be dealt with as adults, person to person, and not with an audience.
My dad is a fighter. This is just one more obstacle in his life which he has to overcome; with the love and assistance of his wife and with the love of his children. What is happening with this family at this time of uncertainty is definitely not right. I will not do what someone else tells me I have to do unless I feel it is the right thing. I will not be silent. Just as my father is your husband, my family is my family. I will not be silent.
I called Linda. 

“You did not put in Trouble Maker.  That was me.”

“No.  You were the protector.” She answers. 

“Great protector I was.”  I tell her.  “I ran away. And left you all in the house with Willa and dad.”

“You did what you could.”  She tells me.

I should have done more. 

But it was all I could do at 16 to save myself. 


And yes the past was the past. 

I think I’ll stick my finger down my throat and make myself puke if I hear that one more time.

Because of my past I have major depression, anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress syndrome.

Because the past is never really the past.  It follows you around collecting dust bunnies in its blanket that have to be shaken out once awhile.

There’s a lot of dust in the air right now.

It settles to the floor, collects in piles.  The air catches it, swirls it around, makes small dust devils that dance unpredictably around the room.

Lisa calls your aunt.  “Mom, what kind of family did you get me into?”


I want to ask my Dad, “What kind of family did you get me into?”

One I cannot function in.

“I want to make it clear we aren’t excluding you, but you are on a list of people that is not allowed to visit your dad until we meet with you.  We have to go over the rules and guidelines for appropriate behavior in your father’s room.”

Like I don’t have the sense God gave a granny goat.  I know how to behave in my father’s room.

The social worker has no idea how many hours I have clocked in hospital rooms.  With you.  My child that died.  Your essence following me into the parking lot of every hospital, every Emergency Room, Waiting Room, Hospital Room.

She has no idea that just a little over a year ago I sat by your Great Grandpa Roger’s bed in a hospice center and read him   poems from Yeats.  My favorite line, “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in me…”

Great Grandpa Roger could not speak.  He could not swallow.  He could only project sheer terror in his eyes until they closed and he breathed peacefully under the influence of regular injections.  He squeezed my hand after I read that Yeats line the seventh time.  A few days later he was dead.

She has no idea that I promised my dad that I would be there to ask questions, to get answers, to advocate on his behalf.

To reassure him everything was going to be ok.

She does not know that in my baby sister’s eyes, I am the protector.  That is my role in the family. 

There has been a hostile takeover. 

The social worker knows nothing about me except what she has been told.

And I must meet with her before I can see my dad again.

Depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder. 

I spray the floor of my shower with Formula 409.  Breathe in the fumes of chlorine.  Yes, I know.  This is harmful to me. 

I try to make the shower floor clean.

Cleanliness is close to Godliness.

I need divine intervention right now.

“Family is important to the patient’s healing process.”  The social worker tells me. 

I am crazy with the craziness of this.

Throw gasoline on a burning match and see what happens.

Is this for real?

Was I dreaming this?

“We don’t want to exclude you.  Here’s my number.  You must meet with us before you will be allowed in to see your dad.  I want to make that very clear.  We are a hospital and we can exclude anyone we perceive to be a threat to a patient’s health.”

“I am staying away for now.”  I tell her.

“Staying away is your choice. You have to meet with us before you can see your dad.”

This is her mantra.

I am trying to find my breath.

I am trying to find my mantra to get me through this.

Right now the only thing I can hear is my dad’s voice, that voice, the voice that says “Fuck you.”  Through clenched teeth a mouth that does not move, only makes sound.

My dad will get better, or he will not. 

In the meantime, I will wait.

I will not be the tension.  I will not be the conflict. 

I cannot be the protector.

I need to save myself right now. 

I love you. 


Friday, April 20, 2012

Letting Go

April 20, 2012

Andrea--I am so glad you are still there to write to. 

That, has to be enough.

Sunday, April 1 my Dad had a heart attack after being in an accident with a hit and run driver. 

My sister Linda and I went to the hospital that afternoon to see him.  To see if there was anything we could do for his wife Mari. 

A heart cath was scheduled for Monday morning. 

My sister Linda and I called in to work to sit with  our Dad's wife.  So that she would not be alone if anything happened.

Always be prepared.

If you can be.

The cardiologist said the procedure would be about an hour.  We could expect to see him in about half an hour or forty five minutes.  If they found a blockage Dad might be in a little longer because they put in a stint.

I watched the door, beginning at the half hour mark. 

An hour later, still no doctor.

An hour and fifteen minutes later the cardiologist came in.  He had a pad of paper, and a young woman in a lab coat with him. 

I could feel in an instant my chest bracing for bad news.

“I wish I had better news.”  The cardiologist sat down next to Mari, took his pad of paper and drew an outline of a heart for her.  I watched over her shoulder.

“Your husband had a major heart attack.  The arteries on the right side are totally blocked.  That side is dead.”

He scribbled ink in the right side of the heart for emphasis.

“And there are three other major arteries.  One is totally blocked.  But it has compensated with other blood vessels and has created a sort of bypass of its own.”  He drew pictures of three arteries on the left side of his hard.  “So we have one vein totally occluded.  The other 2 are about 90% or more closed off.  We have to do heart surgery.” 

I’m watching Mari watch the doctor draw his pictures. 

My brain freezes up.

Negotiating Possibilities it says on its screen.

What possibilities. 

“We also my need to transplant his aortal valve as it is not functioning at peak capacity.”  The Cardiologist adds.

“Any questions?”  He asks.

I have a hundred thousand questions, but I know he does not have all the answers. 

Chances without the surgery. 

He could drop dead from a major heart attack on his way to the door of his hospital room or he could live another 10 years or more with the heart the way it is.

Chances with the surgery.

There is about a 90% chance he’ll survive the surgery.  Later he would explain to my dad that means 90% chance he will survive the first 30 days.  After that…
I am his oldest child. 

He wants my input. 

It is his decision.

We walked into Dad’s hospital room together.  Linda, Mari, me.  Dad was awake.  Mary went to his right side.  He took her hand.  From the foot of the bed I witnessed that moment when my dad confronted his mortality and his wife faced the possibility of losing him.  I saw the tears fill their eyes, run down their cheeks. 

I looked at Linda, she looked at me.  “Let’s go out in the hall.”  She said.


Twenty days later my Dad whispers to me “I am tired.”

He struggles for breath even with an oxygen mask.

“I know Dad.  You need to rest.”



I will not get drawn back into this.


I say goodbye.



I will no longer be a part of it.

I kiss my Dad on his cheek.



On the way home from the hospital I stopped at Safeway, bought a dozen red helium balloons, took them to Frontier Park.  Released them one by one into the sky.



I took the basket I had packed for you—the promise of lunch today.  Sitting on a log, I spread the red cloth napkin on my lap.  I cradled the bright porcelain Asian sceened bowl between my thighs.  I opened the thermos full of Ginger Chicken soup, with pieces chopped to the speech therapist’s and nutritionist’s specifications, low sodium everything.  The smell of lemon grass, kefir leaves, lime and coconut milk snaked its way through my nose nesting in my salivary glands. 

I promised you soup.

I promised you I would be there to help Mari.

I promised I would be there for you.


I am cold. 

Thank God it is not raining.

Looking into the lake, all I see now is my reflection.

Listen to birds.


My balloons float overhead.


I am my father’s oldest daughter.

He was counting on me.

He is counting on me.



I have to be stronger.  I pour the soup into the bowl cradled between my thighs.  I love to eat soup with the bowl shaped porcelain spoons I bought at Uwajimia. I stir the finely chopped chicken, the minced baby corn cobs, carrots, mushrooms, fill the spoon with that and broth. 

The soup is stove hot.  It burns the roof of my mouth, my tongue.  I wait for it to cool. 

Close my eyes and feel myself breathe.


The 12 red balloons have floated away.

Another spoonful of Dad’s soup warms me. 


I am sorry.

I am not strong enough for this.


I remember you yelling at me the last day I saw you alive  “I am going to die.  I am going to die.  You have to accept that Mom.”
“You can’t die.”  I told you like I was saying “you can’t cross the street without holding my hand” when you were younger.

You looked at me.  

“You won’t die.” I commanded, as if I had control of anything.

“I’m sorry, there was nothing we could do.”  The medic told me.


Eleven days ago, as my Dad lay on the operating table, his chest cut open, I heard you whisper through me, “He will be ok.”

Now I wonder what that means.

He will be ok.

Please explain.

Awaiting your response.

Love, Mom.