The Novel

Good morning,

I’ve been quietly working on a novel for the last several months. I’m not very many pages into it because it has become one of the most painful processes that I’ve encountered in some time. It’s semi-autobiographical and draws mainly from the period from my dad getting sick up to more or less when my second daughter was born. I’ve had it squirreled away, partly out of worry that it will show my humanity in a way that I’m not 100% comfortable with, but what’s writing if not terribly personal? I figured it’s time to let it breathe a little and maybe get some feedback. Only two people other than myself have had access to it so far. 

 Here is the first page or so. I’ve got a couple of working titles but for now let’s just call it

Room Full of Strangers

I was born in a room full of strangers.

The doctors, my parents, everyone a blur in the delivery room.  A world of unknowns beyond those four walls of which I was completely unaware.  This feeling is not one that I’ve always been able to identify, to confine or define.  However, in retrospect, it’s one that has always been there.

Me.

All alone.

In a room full of strangers.

I found myself most recently in a stranger-filled room the day my father died.  My wife was on a food run.  My mom was downstairs.  I discovered that a new inhabitant had taken up residence in the room I had left minutes prior.  A stranger with familiar, familial features.

Can it be? I thought, and for one, brief moment, my world froze in a solid silent vacuum as the reality of my dad’s lonely death seeped into my eyes and ears, my nose and throat, my pores.  Death, on tiptoes, stole the man I knew and loved and left in his place a strange, empty shell; someone new and unfamiliar.

Did I know this man, my metamorphosed father?  Of course I knew who he was once was.  In his previous iteration, he was there in the delivery room.  He was there in the emergency room when I broke my arm, the courtroom when I married my wife, every childhood bedroom that a sicker, younger version of myself occupied.  But then, now, in that moment, he is, was not that man.  In that moment, in that room where I watched him slowly grow older, sicker, more broken, he became a stranger once more.  A week later, a lifetime later, a lifetime ago.

The memorial service.

Were we remembering the same person?  Or so many iterations of one person?  The uncle, the husband, the businessman.  My father, my hero, my friend.  The people in that room that I’d met before were as strange as the ones I hadn’t.  Ah yes, I’d say, of course I know who you are.  Who, I’d think, is this person?  Thank you, I’d say, for your condolences.  Why, I would think, are you here?  I saw everyone there through melancholy lenses.  People changed by, dressed in, obscured by death’s cold hand.

Even I, my most familiar self, was not who I had been.  My reflection, a refraction.  My memories and perceptions hung at arm’s length in the rough-hewn obsidian remains of my soul.  Darkness?  No, no.  Darkness gives the illusive promise of a reciprocal light.  The graying world as I saw it seemed fake, painted, staged, wrapped in cellophane.  I could perceive in the corner of my eyes a barrier separating me from the rest of the world, like the lines around a moving cartoon, defining it from its surroundings and confining it to itself.

Confined to myself, to the what’s it called? Cortege?  The funeral procession, the line that defines those that belong to the living and those that belong to the dead.  I look to the left and a stranger is standing there.

“I understand the large hearts of heroes, the courage of present times and all times.” – Walt Whitman

I found this quote tucked cleanly between the introduction and first chapter of a collection of American Tall Tales that I found in my childhood-ish closet.

Let me explain.

I spent the night at my parents’ house this past Thursday night because I was accompanying my parents to my dad’s doctor’s appointments on Thursday and Friday. I couldn’t sleep that night so I went through the closet in my childhood-ish room and reminisced and threw a bunch of stuff away (and found several interesting trinkets along the way).

Let me explain further.

Last Tuesday, I started the day with a call from my dad.  In that phone call, my dad informed me that had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

The news was devastating.

Somehow, the last 8 days have felt like 8 years and 8 minutes.  Time doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  This whole situation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I’m trying to wrap my head around of this and do as much as I can to help.  But I’ll get back to that.

My dad is the toughest guy I know.  He played high school football.  He served in the Navy for seven years.  He was a mailman for a while when mailman were still called mailmen.  When my brother and I were born, my dad continued to work his way up in the retail realm to provide not just the food, clothing, and shelter that we needed to live, but also whatever basketball stuff my brother needed or musical stuff I needed for band.  At one point, he started his own company out of our house.  He put us in good cars and taught us how to fix them.

Everything I fix with my own two hands is thanks to the spirit that my dad instilled in me.

Every truly manly thing I’ve ever done is thanks to seeing my dad do it first.

This whole cancer thing is scary because my dad was still operating in Beast Mode prior to being diagnosed.  My parents babysit my niece and nephew while my sister-in-law is at work, so he was still being called upon to be the main positive male role model for those two for the majority of their week.

[I think that’s pretty awesome though and good for everyone involved.]

We all still need him around.

My dad had surgery on his neck when I was a teenager.  I remember it not just making me nervous, but really shattering my worldview, because I began to see really see my dad as a human being.  While I understood the glory and infallibility of his enormous heart, I remember the realization that my father’s body, like mine and everyone else’s, would be eroded by the sands of time.  It was a total mind-cuss and has kind of lingered in the back of my mind since then.

{I have shared this story somewhat recently with my best friend in El Paso, whose dad has also undergone multiple back-related surgeries and he felt/feels the same way.  The impact that a man’s father poor health/injury can have on that man is, it seems, staggering.  He and I are both younger brothers, though.  I wonder if that might have something to do about it.  I should investigate.}

Through it all, through different jobs and parenting teenage boys and good times and bad, my  dad has shown the overwhelming size of his courageous heart.

What amazes me now, is that he is, in many ways, staring down this diagnosis like it’s a flat tire or a leaky faucet.  Not in the woe-is-me way that others might, but like it is just another problem that needs to be fixed, so where do we get started?

My own coping has developed from four different sources: the courage of my father, the courage to put this and everything else into God’s hand, the power of knowledge and credible research, and the love and support of my wife (who is always there for me, even when I’m not feeling very courageous at all).

This has been the longest short road so far and we’ve still got a ways to go.  But we will stay courageous, ever courageous.

I’ll keep you posted.  Please keep us in your thoughts.

Courageously,

Glass