Waking up in a groggy haze was (and still is) my morning ritual. However, today I was not greeted by my parents waking me but instead with the sounds of muffled conversations. I staggered into my parent’s room, wiping the sleep from my eyes, and noticed them talking while enjoying their morning coffee in bed. They quickly looked over at me and realized that in all the chaos of the morning they had forgotten to wake me for school! With the combination of Dad heading into surgery that afternoon and mom trying to get her the two teenage boys out the door, somewhere along the way I was left with no wake-up call. My parents quickly decided that I could stay with them for the day and my fifth-grade self-felt on top of the world. I piled into bed next to my daddy and snuggled down into his side, which was my usual and favorite place to be. We lay there for a while making jokes and talking about the disastrous sugar cookies I had attempted to make the night before. I held his hand, and then something occurred to me.
“Daddy, when you go into surgery, are you going to have to take your rings off?” I asked.
“Well yes, why do you ask?” he replied.
“Because your hands are so fluffy. What if they’re stuck on there forever? You never take your rings off!”
Dad just laughed and wiggled both his college ring and his wedding band off and then back on again. “See, look! They come right off. I think I’ll be okay.”
Leave it to me to be most concerned about the jewelry when heading into surgery. We went about our day, preparing to leave for the hospital, but before we left I noticed a post missing in the fence where our basset hound Buddy was about to stick his head through. I got teary-eyed at the thought of our dog getting stuck and quickly looked up at Dad.
“Don’t worry KK,” he whispered. “I will fix that post just as soon as I am back.” Instant relief came over me, knowing that Daddy would always take care of me and our family.
Walking through the hospital hallways seemed like just another routine day. The waiting room was especially comfortable equipped with puzzles and sunflower wallpaper. My dad’s siblings, Aunt Sheshe, Aunt Nikki and Uncle James, were all there that day. I was very close to Sheshe, and I was looking forward to catching up with her. Right before Dad went into surgery, I was able to go in and give him one last squeeze. I was met with an unsettling feeling I’d never felt before. I never liked to see him with the IVs and pre-op tools around him, but it was all so normal by that point that I was usually okay. He saw the uneasy look in my eyes and squinched his pointer finger at me, signaling for me to come over to him. I did, and he said, “I love you KK,” and gave me a long hug and an Eskimo kiss. As I turned to walk out, he stopped me again. “Uh-oh KK, I don’t think I can get my rings off now!” he exclaimed jokingly. I turned back and smiled at him.
“I told you to leave them off! Now, they’re stuck forever,” I laughed. I blew him a kiss, and he gave me wink as I walked out the door and back down to the waiting room. Just like he had my whole life, Dad was able to squelch my fears and comfort me in the face of scary obstacles.
Soon the doctor came out and told us that the surgery was a success. But, his tone was very apologetic and none of us could understand why. Nevertheless, Dad was out of surgery and life went back to normal at home that day as he recovered in the hospital. Aunt Sheshe took me to dance practice that night, so everyone was asking where Mr. Tim was. I explained that he had gone in for some surgery, but that he was out, and everything was good. Aunt Sheshe started helping Nicholas with a school paper and asked me if I had any homework. I said no, so she told me to get ready for bed and lay my clothes out for school the next day. Lay my clothes out? I thought. I never do that. But, I did as I was told and went to bed.
In the middle of the night, I was woken up by the cries of my frantic mother. There was an emergency, and we had to go to the hospital immediately. Suddenly I was thankful I had laid those clothes out the night before. Quickly, my aunts came by our house, and they ushered me, my mom, and my brothers into whose? hideous green van to head to the hospital. I was in my usual groggy haze and did not understand what was going on around me. Everything was happening so rapidly, and yet everyone was quiet. It was around 2:30 a.m. when the silence was broken by Aunt Nikki’s cell phone. After a brief moment, she began sobbing. Mom just continued to sit in the backseat in silence, staring out the window. Being so young, I could not compute what was happening. No one came out and spoke the harsh truth out loud. My ten-year-old mind started racing with confusion and worry. Why wouldn’t anybody explain to me what was going on? I knew my dad was recovering from his surgery and that we were going to see him, but I did not get why it had to be in the middle of the night.
My parents had that really unique love between them, a crazy romantic connection that is only heard of in movies. To this day, their marriage is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. An otherworldly connection. Mom just knew. She grabbed Aunt Nikki’s shoulder and whispered, “I already knew, Nikki, I just already knew.” Knew what? I thought. Why weren’t they telling me anything? It wasn’t until we arrived at the hospital that I began to wonder, Is he gone? When we got inside, we were ushered into a different waiting area than our usual one. This time, there were no sunflowers on the wallpaper or puzzles to pass the time with. It seemed like an eternity that we had to wait in that ominously dark waiting room. No one spoke. When we were finally escorted back to Dad’s room, my mother turned to me and said, “Are you sure you want to come back here?” I nodded yes and thought, I have to see my daddy. A few short steps and there Dad was in his bed, lying still, very still. No beeping machines, no smiling nurses. Then, it started to sink in.
I frantically grabbed his hand. There’s something about a person’s hands that holds a deep connection to those around them. I don’t know if most people notice it. I never did, until I clutched my daddy’s lifeless hand as he laid there on the sterile white sheets. His face looked different somehow, like it wasn’t really him, but his hands—they were still Daddy’s fluffy hands. The pattern of his veins, the smoothness of his skin, the tightness of his rings, the calluses from playing his guitars, it was all still the same. Except now they weren’t squeezing me back. It was in that surreal moment that reality began to set in. I was suddenly aware of the rest of my family and the tears streaming down their faces. This could not be happening. It just couldn’t. It wasn’t real. I felt so helpless and small. My heart was pounding. My breath was heavy, almost violent. My stomach was churning. It was as if all of my bodily organs were working double-time, trying to work for his, so he would just wake up. All I could think of in that moment at his side was how I was not going to be able to be his little nurse while he recovered at home. He wasn’t going to recover, and he wasn’t coming home.
looking back on, that silly conversation about his rings was the last conversation I would ever have with Dad. Thank God I hadn’t known that, or my last memory of my daddy alive wouldn’t make me smile today. I still miss him, every day, and sometimes my only strength comes from my memory of those last happy moments.