On this day
Jan 17, 2012
I remember this day like it was yesterday.
After a brief visit to the newsroom, I dragged myself home, assuming I was suffering from an extreme menstrual cramp. 4 hours later, I would be admitted to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Several months later, Dad would be found dead in the Aptos Hills. A couple months after that, Mom would be diagnosed with terminal cancer. And then, a year and a half after that emergency surgery, she would be gone, too.
Nov. 5, 2012
On this day, my father went missing. He had gone to a church retreat in the Aptos hills (mind you, a Unitarian church retreat — so all kinds of spiritual ethos were included, including my father’s ex-catholic, pseudo-zen, yoga-obsessed one). My mother stayed at home. She, as well as the rest of us, had grown exhausted by my father’s constant need to socialize with the weirdest of people; constant need to be doing, experimenting, in his old age. She did not like church. She did not like his church. So he went alone, giving mom some peace and quiet. Until he went missing.
I was at my then-boyfriend’s house in San Rafael when my mother called me. At that point, dad had only been missing a few hours, but I quickly left for home.
A few hours became several. Several became one full night. A night, we imagined my father cold and alone in the forest. Lost, but, assuredly, okay. People get lost on hiking trails all the time, we told ourselves. He is healthy and, although eccentric, very capable for a man in his mid-seventies. He will be fine.
Nov. 6, 2012
The next morning, mom and I drove to Aptos. A woman hit our car in a gas station on the way. “My husband’s missing” is all mom said to her before driving away. I still loath that woman at the gas station.
Aptos is beautiful.
At the retreat site, where my father’s church friends had been, there were maybe 100 search and rescue members, some on ATVs, some on horses, some with dogs, some simply with first aid supplies and orange jackets. They were all there looking for dad.
A large, double-pained white board stood outside, with a small group of newly arrived search and rescue personnel crowding in front of it. A map of the surrounding area was displayed with zones designated by search priority. A police officer explained it to us briefly. “Why aren’t you looking here,” I point and ask. “It’s unlikely he went that direction — there’s nothing that way that he would have been attracted to.” Okay, fair enough.
There was some information gathered from two hikers who had run into him the day before. He had been seen on a trail. That’s all we were told.
We waited inside the retreat center. For a full day. We waited. at the near 36 hours missing mark, my father’s more distant sons started to arrive. We were told not to go out looking for him; it could risk us getting lost as well. Dad’s older sons did not care, they went out. They did not find him.
A second night out in the cold.
Nov. 7, 2012
Or so we thought. Date of death was marked Nov. 6.
I hope desperately that this is true, that he only suffered one night outside. Or, better yet, he really died on Nov. 5. I can’t imagine dad being out in the woods, alone and cold and scared. I hope it never happened. But they recommended we didn’t see his body, “It’s best to remember him how you knew him…seeing him now…you don’t want to remember him like this.”
He died of over exposure. I’m not a medical expert, but I’m guessing one doesn’t die of exposure without spending at least one night outside.
They found his body in a ravine, in one of the low-priority search areas. Turns out, a couple of women who had seen him (and who had spoken to police about seeing him) had pointed him toward Chabot College — the direction police were certain he had not gone. The women hadn’t known how to get him back to the retreat center, so they pointed him toward the closest landmark they could think of. Why this information hadn’t come up before my dad died alone in the woods is beyond me. All I can do is assume that officials did the best they could.
But they obviously didn’t. Why would they? A 74-year-old man goes missing in the woods — they aren’t going to work all out for that. He’s old. His death wouldn’t be a tragedy, but simply a fact.
Jan. 20, 2013
I’m back at school. Distant, but physically present.
Feb. 21, 2013
Mom tells me her cancer is back. We considered her a cancer survivor after her double mastectomy in 2010. Like so many, we jump to conclusions and ignore the fact that you really aren’t out of the woods until at least 5 years of remission. To this day, I despise people who call their loved ones “survivors” after only the first signs of remission. The anger I hold deeply beneath a cheery disposition bubbles up with their optimism. I want to scream, “don’t you understand how naive you are? You really think it’s that easy to kill something like this? Stop fooling yourself!”
May 18, 2013
I graduate from college, despite not attending most of my classes and not completing most of my work. My professors felt bad for me. That’s the only reason I made it. I abandoned the newspaper and my wonderful writers and editors. Because all I could bring myself to do was drink and watch The Office.
May 31, 2013
I’m home again. But home isn’t the refuge from responsibility it used to be. I’m a caretaker now. I don’t realize it, but I am.
I join my mother at doctor appointments. I make sure the house is clean, her medication is picked up. The work required isn’t much yet.
Hugs hurt. I can’t stand to be touched. I know now, that’s a primary manifestation of my depression.
June 13, 2013
Her grandson is born. We travel to Southern California for a month to be with him and my brother.
Mom receives radiation treatment there. The tumors that were once breast cancer have reappeared in her lungs, since she has no more breasts to infest. She has trouble talking, as her vocal chords are pushed into her throat from the inflammation in her lymph nodes. Radiation won’t save her, but it will slow the process.
She is bedridden. I make her food, I clean the house, I talk to the doctors, I facilitate hospice.
I stay up all night with her, administering oral medication as a liquid since she cannot swallow pills or lift her arms. Sometimes, my brother, his wife and our sister-in-law are there to take a shift.
One night, as I’m pushing the liquid through a syringe into her partially opened mouth, my finger slips. All of the liquid comes out at once and she coughs, spewing medicine. I cry. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. She tries to reach to hug me. This is the first time I let her give me a hug in months. And she can barely do it.
I drink. I steal her medications. I sleep.
September 10, 2013
Watching someone die is not like the movies. Thick, black goop drips from her mostly closed eyes. Her mouth is partially open, head turned to the side. She is yellow from jaundice. Her heart slows to a stop. But she has looked dead for days. She couldn’t talk or eat for over a week. But here, her children, grandson, mother and sister with her, she leaves.
I drink. They take the medication after she dies. Alcohol is all I have left.
Sept. 15, 2013
My current boyfriend, who I’ve lost interest in, attends Mom’s funeral.
We break up soon after.
October 23, 2013
I start my first real job after graduating from college. I work in customer service. It’s fine.
I’m promoted. I love my job. It keeps me focused on something other than my tiny, cockroach infested studio apartment.
June 25, 2014
I come into work drunk. My boss notices. She doesn’t fire me, but she gives me a warning. “You’re the best employee I’ve had, I don’t want to lose you.”
I’m done. I can’t keep going like this. I have to change something about my lifestyle. Too many nights alone, drinking, crying, vomiting. I have to stop.
I’ve cut my drinking down to only special occasions, when I’m not alone. I’ve started going to the gym.
Nov. 14, 2014
I meet a new employee at work. He quips, “football has fewer minutes of actual game play than baseball,” while discussing the merits of baseball with another colleague. I will befriend this man. I will sleep with him. This is when I meet Cooper.
Dec. 18, 2014
It’s the company Christmas party. Cooper sits at a table alone with a drink. As I approach him, I realize I’m doing something I haven’t done in years. Damn, another girl walks up. His roommate — I bet that’s code for “friend with benefits.” Still, I can do better than her.
We chat for a while. Eventually, we lose each other in the crowd. I end up on a balcony, sipping my drink, away from the noise. He finds me. “Do you smoke?” “Smoke what?” “Good answer”
We go back to his place. I sleep with him. We have little intention to continue in this way.
Jan. 6, 2014
Back from Christmas travels. Cooper and I have been texted nonstop for the past couple weeks. We are seeing each other more and more. I know I feel something for him and I want to play this game to win.
March 10, 2014
After a week of severe illness, during which I am with him constantly, Cooper asks me to be his girlfriend. He wrote this date down in his phone, that’s how I know. I agree. I already know I love him. My brain works quickly like that.
On this day, today.
-35 pounds. In love. Sometimes I drink.