Underwater

I press the red button and disconnect the call. I feel disconnected, as far away from myself as the 2400 miles away I actually am from the person on the other end of the line. 

My sister? Was that my sister who just called to tell me our Father has cancer? 

I grasp at land. Yes, my sister. Yes, my dad. Has lung cancer. 

His lungs, or what’s left of them. Now we have a name for what has consumed the left one like a delicious hors d’oeuvre, and slowly working it’s way to the right for the main course. 

It’s not good, she’d told me at the beginning of the conversation. 

While we were still on land. 

Dad has lung cancer. 

It is then I let go and slowly slip underwater, the rest of what she says coming to me in waves and disappearing into bubbles that burst before they reach me. 

I hang up and continue holding my own breath. My father can’t breathe and I am underwater. 

Holding my breath for him. 

I start to marvel at all the things I can do while underwater, just look at me! 

Folding laundry and ordering nothing online and talking with my employers and nodding as if I can hear what they are saying.

I can’t though. 

My dad has lung cancer and I am underwater. 

I make lunch for the child I nanny and cut his cheese into little shapes. A star a dolphin a bright cheddar sun. A scene I create from distant memories of the unattainable land above. I place them carefully on a paw patrol plate and slip them into the tiny waiting hands belonging to a child who’s father can still breathe. 

My dad has lung cancer. 

He can’t breathe. 

I am underwater. 

Minutes pass and then days, I think. I say “cancer” and “lung” and “dad” out loud to a few close friends. They say I’m sorry. I keep saying thank you. I’m not sure what I’m thankful for, and I don’t know why they are sorry. 

Some call to check on me, and some I want to hear from stay silent. This makes me sorry for every time I did the same. 

I wait the amount of days you must wait for results of the scans that will tell us if the cancer has spread to the rest of my dad’s body. I say the prayers you should say, and think the positive thoughts you are supposed to think. 

I wake at 4am every morning, the same memory from my childhood waiting for my open eyes. 

My dad and 5 year old me at Disneyland, riding on Pirates Of The Caribbean. We get to the part of the ride where two pirate ships are in battle, shooting cannons at each other, our small fiberglass boat on it’s metal track perfectly placed in the fake crossfire. Small explosions are going off around us, splashing us just enough for a quick thrill. The cannon soundtrack booms on speakers somewhere above us and I hear water hitting water. I bury my head into my father’s shoulder, convinced we were about to be blown to smithereens.

“None of this is real, princess,” he says. “Don’t be scared.” 

As a child I was afraid of everything, and my imagination was my worst enemy.

“But what if it is real, daddy? What if the bombs turn into real bombs and get us?” I ask. 

“I’ll never let anything get you, Jacqueline, I promise,” he says. “You are always safe with me.”

When the results come, more words travel to me from doctor’s mouths in waves and bubbles. 

Stage 4. 

Incurable. 

Treatment plan.

Survival rate.

Oneyearmaybetwo. 

The doctors want to know if I have any questions. 

“Have I been a good enough daughter, or was I always too afraid? 

Is one year long enough to make up for every single thing?”

I want to ask. 

But I don’t. 

My questions and I float around together in silence.

My dad has lung cancer.

He can’t breathe.

I am still underwater. 

On the third day of being underwater with my father’s lung cancer, I’m told there is a rabbit lying in the driveway. My coworker has a plastic bag in his hand, the rabbit resting at his feet. 

I was going to throw it in the trash, he says. But it’s still alive. 

The rabbit is breathing, deeply enough for me to see his stomach rise and fall. 

I find a towel and scoop him up, away from the family dog or any other predators close by. His body is broken, limp apart from his legs that kick out in resistance from human touch. I have no treatment plan, no survival rate to give whatever kind of broken this still-breathing rabbit is. 

So instead I hold him close and bring him under the water with me. 

It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay, I whisper. The lie travels to him through the air pockets we share beneath the surface. 

I hold him while sitting in a tiny child’s chair in the backyard play kitchen where it is quiet. I stroke his soft fur. It’s raining on land and all I can hear is my own whispering along with the sound of water hitting water. 

My dad has lung cancer. 

He can’t breathe. 

I am holding my breath and this rabbit and we are so still, under the water. 

I watch him breathe as mediation, and I stare into his eye staring back into mine. I see random flashes of my world spent on land with my dad; bedtime stories of his childhood told alongside the smell of his aftershave and the sound of ice clinking against the glass of his evening scotch and water. Ski trips and lake trips and long road trips and trips the store to get whatever kind of sugar cereal my mom would never let me have. The handwritten notes on torn yellow legal pad paper inside my lunchbox,

“JQ, my special girl, have the BEST day. I love you. Love, Dad.”

Willie Nelson on repeat and perfect Frank Sinatra Christmas’s. Countless “I love you no matter what’s”, even when my teenage angst and drug addiction and even my recovery refused to let me hear them.

I wonder for a moment if any of this is real, or if I will ever feel safe again.  

The rabbit lets out a final sigh and his rise and fall stops completely. 

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry is all I can say.

I burst to the surface then, treading water, holding death in my hands and inhaling gulps of lost breath and not enough time. 

3 thoughts on “Underwater

  1. A heartfelt and wonderful tribute. Unconditional love from your dad to you. Many warm memories and may they stay with you forever. Forgiveness lasts forever and it is a give and take. Father daughter love.

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  2. Ofcourse…so sorry. Your blog is the best cope for you and everyone who loves Jerry. It helps. My prayer, caring presence, and living memories of your wonderful father-all sending out.
    Love your writing, poetry, and loving depth!
    ♥️ Webster

    Like

  3. So very sorry about your father’s diagnosis-I couldn’t breathe while I was reading this… sending you a virtual hug. There are no words for this kind of heartache.
    Patrice xxx

    Like

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