I had a friend who always used to say to me, “you live a TV show life.” It was the most bizarre… compliment? Girl, I guess. But I knew what she meant by it. I was mostly a living embodiment of The Cosby Show. The lovely house, with the nice parents, we went on a family vacation every year, and ate dinner together every night, and went to church every Sunday. We were the suburban family you see on TV, and for those who didn’t have this type of family life, it seemed like some corny unrealistic show that doesn’t exist in real life. But it did. We did. I remember this friend texting me asking what I was doing one summer afternoon, and I replied, sitting on the porch reading the paper with my parents. “That’s that TV life,” she joked. And she was right. Our home life was always picturesque, and I had the privilege of everything going right for me growing up as a kid. Maybe there were a few slight snafus, but much like the 25 minute Brady Bunch resolution that existed on sitcoms, trouble never really came to stay. Then one day, the TV network must have hired a new head writer, and that’s when the entire show jumped the shark.
It started when the doctors told my dad he had diabetes. Nothing changed immediately once this happened, but you can track the story back to this exact moment as the impetus for everything that would change our lives forever. At first, it wasn’t too alarming. He took his meds, laid off the sugar, even got a personal trainer for a while. More than a decade goes by, and everything is fine. We just kept trucking along with our sitcom, not knowing that sometimes even in the slapstick world of good hearty, wholesome fun, there’s always tragedy lurking just around the corner. I should have paid more attention to Good Times instead of The Cosby Show. James Evans could have better prepared me for the reality. It all started gradually. The writers said to themselves, what if we raise the stakes a little bit by writing frequent trips to the emergency room as apart of the plot? So throughout two years, my dad would have symptoms of high blood sugar and make his way to the ER. Each time he went, he always refused to be admitted because sitcoms don’t do long story arcs where the protagonist stays in the hospital. Remember, you have to resolve the issue in the 30 minutes allotted. But I guess the writers realized the ratings were slipping a bit each week, and that’s when they decided to go in a completely unprecedented direction.
In February of 2015, my dad went into the hospital, and this time agreed to hospital admission. I guess even the most stubborn of us eventually get tired of always fighting the doctor’s recommendation, so he complied and did what they asked. I remember visiting him in his room; he was only there for foot pain and had to have some tests run to find out what was causing it. We talked about money, more specifically my lack of it, and I was trying to get help from him about it. This memory stands out to me because I would later feel the weight of the guilt for coming to him to save me, as he always did in what would end up being the last fully lucid conversation I ever had with him. He slipped into a coma days later, and when he woke up a week after, he was never the same. Then, after almost two years of my father being bedridden with a decline in his mental faculties, we lost him in December of 2016. During my unbearable grief, I remember thinking one day about my friend, who always joked about my TV life, and I thought to myself, “things like this don’t happen in my sitcom world.” This kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. We are the ones who have our problems magically solved, so how could something so permanently life-altering be happening? I didn’t scientifically measure my stages of grief, but I know for sure that denial made a prominent guest appearance on that season of the show.
A friend of mine recommended a book for me to read, My Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and I identified so much in particular with the author’s need to hold onto her dead husband’s clothes because “what will he wear when he comes back?” I remember my mom pulling out my dad’s clothes and preparing herself to give them away. And I asked her; please hold onto them for at least one year. She obliged. You see, I was still waiting for my TV life to save me from a world that now felt empty, dark, and scary without my father in it. I was waiting for us to turn into one of my favorite daytime soap operas and get to the part where he’s magically still alive, and there was some mix up at the hospital. I mean, after all, none of us stayed in the room when the doctors pulled the plug. Anything could have happened. Where are those writers when you need them? They’ve made a mess of my favorite show, and now it will never be the same.