I waited in the lobby for a few minutes for my dad and mom to arrive. Dad entered first, looking tired and worried. And old, I suddenly realized. I had always thought of my dad as young and strong and in command and perpetually 39, and suddenly, it dawned on me that he wasn't that any more, not at all. He was over 60 now, and the possible loss of his mother, who he had been looking after since he was 12 years old, was clearly taking its toll. Ever since my grandfather had died of cancer when he was a boy, dad had found a way to protect her. She had never learned to drive--some of my earliest memories are of him driving her to the mill in the morning, and when I was five she had moved in with us, much to my mother's chagrin. Now here was something that my father, the great provider, the caretaker of so many, was unable to overcome. Mortality.
"I saw dad cry Saturday," my sister Kerrie whispered to me, as I greeted her in the hall. I hugged her and shook my head, unable to imagine my father crying. But then I looked over in his direction, and I suddenly could imagine it.
Tommy was in the room as we entered it. His eyes were puffy and swollen, and I realized that he had gained a bit of weight in the few months since I had last seen him. He's starting to resemble George Castanza, the continuous loop inner sacastic soundtrack that I can't turn off if I tried recorded, as I shook his hand. We didn't say anything, but hugged each other, and then I turned to take a look.
She lay on the bed, a thin blanket covering her. She was hooked up to an oxygen tank, and the tubes were drooping out of her nostrils. Her eyelids were fluttering, open and closed, as she slept. Her mouth was slightly open, revealing pink fleshy gums. Her dentures had been removed. No need, she wasn't eating anyway.
We all sat down, after exchanging inconsequential small talk about health and kids. Dad sat next to Nana, holding her hand. Tommy sat behind him, Kerrie next to Tommy. I sat in front of Mom. The room was dark but cluttered with pieces of her old inlaw apartment at the old house--afphgans she had knitted, a large oil painting that used to hang in her living room, her rocking chair. A large crucifix.
And a picture, on her wall, of the front door at the old house. My sister Kerrie had given all of us that picture, an oil painting from a local artist, the day my parents had sole the house. It always reminded me of Fire Walk With Me , and the scene where Laura Palmer receives a painting of a room with a door, which she places in her bedroom. And, later that night, as she dreams, that door opens up, and she rises and enters.
We sat there, silently, each wrapped up in our own thoughts. And then, I heard a sniffle, and I looked over, and I realized that my mom was crying.
Mom. Crying. I don't think I had seen that since Laurie had insulted her cooking one night when I was thirteen. "You think it's so easy, you try it!" she had screamed, and then ran into her bedroom. Such a petty thing to get upset about. Yet I knew that Mom was an emotional person, that she cried quite often, even if she hated to do so publicly, that she kept the failures of yesterday close to her heart and worried incessantly about her children and grandchildren. Even me.
"Dad, when was the last time you ate?" Kerrie asked, poking him in the stomach.
"He hasn't eaten since yesterday," Mom replied, wiping her eyes.
"Dad, you need to eat. Why don't we go get a hamburger from McDonalds. Tommy, Teddy, you want to come?"
I watched Tommy nod and get up at the same time my father did. Tommy had been in this room since noon. They looked so close, I thought to myself, and the spectre of my recent life changes, changes that my dad and I would never discuss, entered into my head. I felt jealous, I felt different, and so I sat there, in silence.
"Teddy, you coming?" Dad asked, as he made his way out the door.
"Nah, I'm not hungry," I lied.
"Keep mom company, Teddy," said Kerrie, as they left.
Mom moved over to fill dad's place. "How are you doing?" she asked me.
"I'm okay," I said. "You know. How's dad doing?"
Nana moaned in her sleep, and mom reached over to grab her hands. "He's not doing that well. It's been a tough few days. And he's working like crazy. God forbid he should take a day off. Even now. No, the whole school would fall down if he took a day off."
"What's going on with Nana, Mom," I whispered. I knew she was asleep, but part of me felt guilty, talking about this in front of her.
"They don't really say," she said. "About nine months ago they said she had a touch of cacncer. But at her age...I mean, she's 91...they're not going to do anything to her like chemo or anything. That'd kill her. But who knows? They think she might have a touch of pneumonia again. Can you get me that cloth?" I reach over and handed her a cold cloth, which she applied to Nana's forehead. Nana moved her head, and her eyelids fluttered a bit. "She's had a good, long life," she said, and I knew she meant it. Despite all her grumbling, Nana had been, for all intents, her mother, too, in some ways. Mom had a rocky relationship with her own mother, who was an eccentric Yankee, and had never really forgiven her for marrying a Catholic. "And she's surrounded by people who love her, and that's important."
"I'm so glad that we were all able to be with her for Thanksgiving," I said. "I know that meant a lot to her. And I guess, I just feel bad..." No, don't say it. Don't talk about it, not at a time like this. But I had to get it out, had to say something. And there I was, getting all weepy. "I feel bad that I behaved the way I did at Nana's 90th birthday. I was in such a bad space then, but that's..."
"Oh, Teddy," said Mom, and looked over at me and patted my cheek. "Oh Teddy, you silly, silly man. Nana didn't even know how you behaved that day. She was just happy that you were there. She didn't know that anything was going on at all."
Mom hugged me. It felt good, mom hugging me. In some ways, we've gotten closer this past year. She's told me things that she kept from me for years, things about her family, her relationship with her parents. Things she would only tell Kerrie.
Nana groaned a bit, and so we moved back. Mom cooled down her forehead, and I grabbed her hands. "She feels so warm," I said.
"She's sweating," said Mom. "And it's hot in here."
"Do you think this is it?" I asked.
Mom patted her hand. "Who knows? She's a tough old bird, Teddy. The doctor thought she wasn't going to pull through last time, and she proved him wrong. That's why he's not saying anything now. He knows better, with her. But it just may be, and if it is, she's in a place she loves and surrounded by people she loves, and you really can't ask for anything more than that."
"It's funny," I said. "I sometimes get this image that our entire lives are spent living in a passenger car, surrounded by the people we love. And our job in life is to usher our family in and then usher them out, when it's their time to leave. With dignity. Just the way we'd want it to be when it's our time to leave."
Nana opened her eyes at that point, and started mumbling. We moved in to help, to say nice words, to tell her that we loved her. Her eyes stared at me, but I couldn't tell if she recognized me.
That night, after the kids were in bed, I lay on the couch, next to TJ. And I thought about our old house, and Nana's inlaw apartment, and how I used to go down there, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, and sit next to her on her couch, as she crocheted. We'd watch TV. She'd make me toast and tea. We'd talk.
What I wouldn't give, to sit once again on that couch, next to her. What I wouldn't give for just one more night.
What I wouldn't give to see that door open and to be able to walk through it. Even just in dreams.
Tears in my eyes, I made my way into Corb's room and hugged him tightly.
This morning, my Mom called with good news. Nana was sitting up, and eating and drinking. She had pulled through, for now. Tough old bird, that one is. I hope this means that she'll be on the passenger car for a while longer.