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Flash fiction: I saw my father today

January 17, 2014 13 comments

I saw my father today. Though two years in the grave, he stared back at me from the mirror as I went through the motions of shaving the stubble from my face. And I wonder if he ever felt as I do today … tired, worn out, hopeless. I lay down my razor, lean forward, and hold myself up on the edge of the counter. I push the lift rod and watch the shaving cream, water, and tiny pieces of beard circle around the sink, eventually winking out of existence down the drain. I pause, wondering if I should even bother to look up, or whether it would be best to simply turn and leave and go about the day, as if nothing has happened.

He’s still there, standing just as I am. Though I’m thirty years younger than he was when he died, my reflection has taken on the years, the myriad lines of age reflecting back at me. I look as old as I feel, and I’m weary. I should leave, but I don’t. We stare at each other, the father and the son. One and the same. Despite every intention, every attempt at making myself something he was not, I am him. I have nothing but questions.

“Why?” I ask.

He looks at me quizzically, puzzled by my simple question. He runs his age spot wrinkled hand through his thinning hair; I notice my hand going through the same motion, though I feel my own hair, still thick and vibrant, not yet having succumbed to the decades to come.

“Why didn’t you tell us, dad? We know nothing. You just left.”

My throat aches as I push the words through my mouth.

He looks away, and I see his face begin to age. What’s left of his hair recedes, brows grow curly and gray, silver stubble adorns his chin. He thins, his features becoming gaunt, like that of the sick and feeble, and he hunches over. His eyes have become sunken and cloudy.

“I don’t know, son. I don’t know. I just thought I’d have more … time.”

I watch my father’s hand rise until, when it’s level with his shoulder, it appears to touch the mirror from the other side. I gaze at the reflection, until finally, I reach out and touch the elderly hand upon the glass. I feel the warmth of his finger tips spread throughout my body, and it’s then I finally grasp the unraveling of his soul, the depth of his pain, his isolation, confusion, and disbelief that life was coming to an end. A small tear forms at the edge of my father’s right eye, eventually sliding down his cheek, until it drips from his face and lands on a counter top somewhere in another world.

“I understand, now,” I whisper.

He smiles, as if relieved. “Love you, son.”

“I love you, too, dad.”

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On NaNoWriMo 2013: a confession

November 6, 2013 21 comments

I first tried “winning” NaNoWriMo back in 2010. Much to my surprise, I “won” with just over 50K words. Since then, that original manuscript has doubled in size and become what I think is a pretty darn good story. It has a few plot holes and characterization issues that I’ve been beating my head against the wall trying to correct, but other than that, I’m proud of the effort.

In 2011, for no good reason other than perhaps I was simply uninspired, I started writing and crashed and burned within a week. In 2012, I once again threw caution to the wind and leaped headlong into the frenzy known as NaNoWriMo. With a good idea and a little bit of inspiration, I was typing away like mad and looking forward to another “win”. But then the phone call came on Sunday evening, November 25th. I rushed to the airport and boarded a plane to meet up with my family in Arkansas. My father was dying. NaNoWriMo came and went and I didn’t care.

And here it is, nearly a year later, and NaNoWriMo is here once again. For a few months prior to November, I was convinced I would attempt NaNoWriMo yet again. But as the winds grew cold and the skies turned gray, and as the days on the calendar inexorably found themselves inching toward the first of November, I found myself losing interest in something as mundane as a writing challenge. And now, NaNoWriMo has begun and I am nowhere to be found.

So this year, as I find myself facing the first anniversary of my father’s passing, I sit on the sidelines and watch so many of my blogging friends enjoying the frenetic pace of generating 50K words this month (all of course except for Eric who was willing to confess his disdain for the month of writing like a madman). I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find myself missing the excitement of the challenge, of sitting in my office each night, pounding away on the keyboard until I hit the minimum word count, knowing that there are many thousands of other fellow writers around the world doing the very same thing. On the other hand, I’ve found that life so far this month has been more relaxed as the holidays approach, and, perhaps more importantly, I’ve felt at peace as I head, for the first time, toward the anniversary of the worst day of my life.

What will next November bring? I don’t know for sure … time will tell. But for now, I wish all my blog friends out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo the best of luck. Have a blast, drink plenty of coffee, and hit that 50K goal and “win”. I’m rooting for all of you.

–dp

On life/writing: missing in action

April 26, 2013 18 comments

Yep, that’s right. Missing in action. Guess that sums it up. Over the last couple of months, I took a nosedive in the creativity department and lost pretty much all my energy for writing. Why? Not sure, but I think it was a couple of things that combined to disengage me from the writing world.

I think it all started when the family gathered together on what would have been my dad’s 80th birthday, which was February 25th (he passed away on November 30th of last year). We’d planned it as a celebration of his life, and I think, at the time, that was what it was and what it felt like. I remember, on the 24th, me, my mom and my sister, were sitting at the kitchen table on the evening before my dad’s birthday, talking and reminiscing about life in general and about my dad in particular. Time passed, memories and tears were shared, and before I knew it, when I glanced at my watch, I saw that it was just a couple of minutes before midnight. When the clock struck twelve, I stopped the conversation and told my mom and sister that it was dad’s birthday. We all smiled, clinked our glasses, and wished him a happy 80th. Afterward, we continued our time of sharing while we sat at the table, then finally, around 3am, went off to bed. It felt good. It felt right. I think my dad would have been happy to see us there, talking, remembering, and celebrating.

I don’t think the real impact of  my dad’s birthday, or even his death, hit me until I returned home. It wasn’t like getting zapped by a lightning bolt, though. It was more a gradual, suffocating despair, like a blanket floating down and covering a bed, that led me into a deep malaise from which I’ve yet to fully recover. Along the way, it managed to sap from me any real zest for life, any sense of wanting to do anything but just manage to get by day to day. And so I did, with each day coming and going, as I tried to make sense of life and sort through thoughts that I just couldn’t get rid of.

I suppose I could have made it through all that well enough, and probably been able to continue creating, putting words to “paper”, hopefully allowing the ideas threatening to paralyze my thinking to escape in some manner, had it not been for what I think was the other essential element leading to my creative demise: deadlines at work.

In my world of software development, much of my time is spent in “normal” work mode. Schedules are set, tasks are worked on and completed as part of an overall goal, and life is good. Good, that is, until the date of a product release approaches. Suddenly, then, all those features that aren’t quite done yet, or those important bugs that must get fixed immediately, or those important customer requests, all become high priority and all must get done NOW. Suddenly, each day is filled with relentless mind-numbing work, where attention to detail is critical, yet hours are few. So days and weeks become longer, with little to no downtime. The end result? A brain so overworked that thoughts much more complex than staring at a DVR recording of the latest episode of such and such are almost unthinkable, and the idea of sitting in front of a computer for even one more minute than necessary is impossible to even conceive. Unless, of course, that time consists of theta wave inducing surfing of the web for nothing in particular.

But now, where am I? Well, I find myself at the end of the recent release cycle craziness and returning to “normal” work mode, which is good. As for the passing of my father, and its effect on me, I think the jury is still out. I’m beginning to feel like I’m emerging from the fog of apathy his death has caused, and I think life is beginning to make sense once again. If it weren’t, and this is reassuring, I most certainly wouldn’t be sitting here at my computer at this hour (8:41pm), typing away at a blog post, which while it isn’t the most creative of activities does at least require some level of interest and energy to produce. So I’m encouraged.

Where does that leave things? For now, I think I’m ready to resume blogging. And I think I’m ready to resume reading blogs and actually participating in the discussion they evoke. And, more importantly, I think I’m ready to get back to working on accomplishing those goals I set for 2013. Inside, I feel a twinge of excitement, a small flicker of desire to create once again. And it feels good. It’s been a while since things have felt good, since I’ve had the time to even think about anything beyond making it through the day and getting work done for my job. In a way, I’d like to think these words, from the seventies song “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, apply to my life:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day.

I Can See Clearly Now

Time will tell.

–dp

On family: the walk we must all take

June 12, 2012 3 comments

NOTE: I wrote this several days ago but am just now posting it. Life has been busy …

I’m sitting here in the bedroom of my parent’s house the night before the last day of my dad’s second round of chemo. I’ve only been here four days but I find myself weary. Watching someone succumb to the strains chemo places upon the human body isn’t easy; it’s worse when the person you’re watching fall apart is your father. You know, father’s aren’t supposed to get sick, let alone fall victim to a form of one of this world’s most dreaded diseases. But it’s happened, and reality has begun to sink in.

I was with my dad during the first few days of his first round of chemo. The way he handled them, and the accompanying radiation treatments, was nothing short of inspiring. Despite the deadly chemicals flowing through his system, and the radiation burning away at the two tumors in his lungs, he was upbeat and full of good humor. Even by the time I left, he was still showing no signs of the effects of the chemo or the radiation.

That was about a month ago. After going home for a few weeks, I’ve returned to my folks house and been sitting with my dad as he’s finished up his second round of chemo. While the humor remains, there are hints that the upbeat attitude is beginning to erode. He’s become weak and, for the most part, barely able to walk a straight path. I worry about him.

This recent experience reminded me of a music video from years ago that I really liked. At the time, I was the father taking care of his son(s). Today, time has passed, and now I am the son taking care of his father. Life has begun to come full circle. Yet despite the difficulties of helping my ailing father through the most critical time of his life, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to repay just a small portion of that which he sacrificed for me and our family.

–dp

On life: blessings in disguise

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Warning: A personal story and thoughts related to living and dying follow, as do recollections of recent events. If easily bored or depressed, you might want to skip this one.

So keep’em coming, these lines on the road
And keep me responsible be it a light or heavy load
And keep me guessing with these blessings in disguise
And I’ll walk with grace my feet and faith my eyes

from the song, Faith my Eyes by Caedmon’s Call.

Life has a way of throwing curves at you, even when you think you are prepared for the inevitabilities which come from simply being one of the billions of fragile creatures that inhabits this planet. Despite what we think about ourselves, and the ways in which we collectively fool one another into believing that bad things won’t ever happen to us, there’s something on the horizon for all of us, and not a single soul on the planet will escape it. At some point in our lives, we each must face our own mortality.

It either happens unexpectedly, or, perhaps worse, with plenty of advance notice. For example:

I’m sorry, sir, you have cancer and you probably only have a year to live.

The things that go through one’s mind at such a moment are, at least for now, unknown to me. Though I can easily imagine what I might think, until I actually hear those words directed at me, it will remain speculation.

Recently, my father, who is approaching eighty, received such news. I was there visiting my folks when he first heard words similar to what I wrote above. I was visiting with my mom, sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee (something my family does a lot of), when my dad returned from his follow-up appointment with his doctor to get the results from his recent physical. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I could tell simply by looking at this face that something bad had happened. His expression was a subtle mix of confusion, a “deer in the headlight” look, and, for lack of a better word, shock. After a few awkward moments, my mom mentioned that my dad had just returned form his doctor’s appointment. As is her usual way, she downplayed everything to a ridiculous extent, saying only that they’d found a couple of spots in his lungs.

That was it. Nothing more. My dad knew the reality. I knew the reality. My mom, I believe, really was attempting to avoid the reality altogether. So we all sat there at the kitchen table and sipped our coffee. Several minutes later, someone spoke. I don’t remember who, but after that, we all fell into our roles of denial and our visit continued.

Since that day, weeks ago, my dad and mom and us kids, have experienced firsthand a whirlwind of tests, bad news, worse news, some hope, and finally, acceptance and treatment. At this point, my dad is in the middle of treatment, receiving both chemo and radiation over the course of several months. We’ve been fortunate so far, because side effects from both treatments have been minimal. And even better, my dad has been feeling just fine throughout it all.

So where are the blessings in all this? Easy. We were blessed with my dad’s good health for almost eighty years; an intact family with parents married over fifty-seven years; time for all of us kids to return home to be with him and my mom through this tough time; an opportunity for me and my siblings to spend more one-on-one time together with my dad than in as long as I can remember; treatment that has progressed well with little of the debilitating side effects that are so common. And for the first time this year, I’ll be spending father’s day with my dad, something I’ve not done since I was a kid. I’d say that was a pretty big blessing as well.

Perhaps the best of all blessings, though, just might be the change in my father’s outlook on life. He seems to be a man changed by the prospect of staring death in the face. Seeing such a thing has a way of shaping one’s perspective into something focused on the important things in life rather than on one’s self and whatever petty problems may have been around before.

A final note. It was just about a year ago that I first felt the sting of death, though not nearly to the level of potentially losing a parent. It was small, yet painful, and it forced me to realize that death really does exist, that things don’t just continue forever unchanged. Unbelievably, this reminder didn’t come until I was over fifty.

On losing Milkdud

–dp