My father is very sick. He has been for a long time. Years of smoking and welding and working in coal power plants have ruined his lungs. His doctors shake their heads and say, “Those lungs, they’re bad.”
He is fifty four years old.
Last month a sudden onset of pneumonia left him on a respirator for eight days. All of his muscles atrophied. Even now he can’t walk, although his strength is coming back.
He’s been sick for a long time, but suddenly he is an old man. Frail. As he was coming off the respirator, my mother asked his doctor how long his condition would be so tenuous. “When will he be out of the woods?” she said. “He won’t be.”
I’ve been “his baby” all my life–he loves my brother, but the two of them don’t click. Even with that, there’s a lot of reserve between us. He’s the strong silent type. Yesterday on the phone he rushed to make our Christmas plans before my mother could intervene. She thinks my dog would be afraid of the wheelchair, worries that the little anxious guy will scratch Daddy’s thin skin. “Your Mama is worried about you staying here, but we’ll be fine. I want you to stay here anyway.”
He worries, too, that this will be his last Christmas.
I hung up the phone and e-mailed my husband. “He doesn’t ask for things. This is now non-negotiable.”
Later, I was making a batch of scones and burst into tears. I wanted to go home. Not just for Christmas, but move back forever. It’s a ridiculous thing. I spent my whole life wanting to leave, and I love the fact that I made it out. Moving back would make me crazy. People there disagree with every single one of the things that matter to me. My extended family is a vortex of awfulness.
At one o’clock in the morning, I looked at my sleeping husband and almost woke him up to say that it was time to leave. We’d had our adventure, now it was time to go back where we belong. Of course, we don’t belong there anymore. That’s the downside of moving around: you don’t belong anywhere.
Today the big news at my husband’s job is that the only person standing between him and the promotion of his dreams is leaving. Moving away now would be imprudent.
But the feeling remains–“time to go home, time to go home, time to go home.”