Friday, March 02, 2007

My Papa Died

On February 20, 2007 at 11:05AM Sty-a-chin died.

At 7AM the local DJ was assuring everyone that today’s sunrise would be a “ten pointer.”

I was reading the Drudgreport and nursing black coffee when the phone rang.

The Telephone’s Caller ID flashed “Scottsdale Medical Center.” Perhaps the liver transplant consult had been arranged for Papa. The woman on the phone asked, “Is this the son?”


“You better come down. It’s happening.”

Six words but I knew exactly what she meant. I rousted Auntie S, Auntie J, and Cousin M by repeating those same six words. Though, they were still wrapped in their bed sheets, no clarification was necessary. In two minutes, Auntie S and I hopped in the Honda and sped down the 101.

The calm I felt was as big as the sky and scared me. I might be too calm. One phone call shattered the last-ditch hopes we had that Papa was going to “make it.” Shouldn’t I be crushed? Shouldn’t my body be a tangle of inoperative limbs with my gears slipping from grief? I must be gliding across the Plateaus of Denial and the cliff will soon come.

The 101 was jammed up at Cactus Blvd. Traffic was an inconsequential annoyance considering the circumstances; Auntie S and I took evasive measures. Through a series of illegal but carefully maneuvers we made it the Scottsdale Medical Center in minutes.

Auntie S, Auntie J, and I donned the all too familiar yellow smocks. These were the ceremonial garb of the Medical Religion. I eschewed the Laytex gloves. If my father really was dying, I was going to hold his hand with my hand.

My father’s lungs shoveled the air. The color in his face was rosy, like he’d just gotten off the slopes for a quick Irish Coffee in the lodge. His eyes were closed, and the lids were shiny like in the old-time cartoons. I could not believe he was dying.

With my head on his shoulder I cried. The sadness swam up from the dark like a giant manta ray. This was my Papa. A fantasy whispered that my love vibes might work their way into to his subconscious and wake him up, but his eyes did not open. I knew they wouldn’t. When my tears receded I held his hand.

The red splotches and broken capillaries in his wrist were too biomedical to look at. A trickle of blood leaked from where his IV entered his body. The crooked blood trail made his arm look cracked as if it had splintered. It seemed like the kind of thing nightmares were made of, but then I let go of the fear out of respect. I looked at him to know him and honor him. Pain and Death and Separation are the archangels of fear. I would not allow them to prevent me for witnessing the last few moments in the world of my beloved papa.

I wiped the tears from the stems of papa’s eyes and wiped his mouth. My presence and touch would be the last telegraphed messages of love to wherever he was inside. The room flooded with family.

I recounted the Lore of Joe Bowen and his Bountiful Adventures: the “close call” when a gray whale leaped out of the water a hair’s breadth from our boat, the “journey” across the badlands in a VW bus, the strange gravies he ladled over wild rice and forced everyone to eat, paddling a canoe across “S’Klallam Bay,” the great fireworks “debacle” when a box of fireworks fell on its side and pointed right at the house, the infamous wild Indian Ball he held on an island entitled, “Last Chance for Romance.” The laughter surprised me. Even in this grave moment, his adventure’s made others laugh.

The nurses returned and tweaked boxes and tubes like navigators. They were a team. A gay Cambodian named George and Meg was a pregnant tall White woman. They were perfect for their parts because they stayed out of the way and demonstrated the requisite deference. I asked them, “How do you do it? I can’t imagine going through this more than once?”

Meg looked at me and then said, “Well, most of the times the patients get better. And that’s the rewarding part. But it’s also an honor to be here during times like this.” A bright orange poker of Anger stoked my heart and hurtful things to say buzzed around like campfire sparks. The desire to unleash my rage on this nurse blossomed like a gasoline rose. But a deep breath reminded me that this wasn’t about the nurse, she did not kill papa. I set my energy to something more meaningful like memorizing his face.

Papa spoke of his pending death often to me, even when I was young. Even when he didn’t talk about it, his obesity was poignant reminder. He maxed his body out repeatedly and kept asking for more credit. It was just a matter of time before the bill came due. Even giants are made of flesh. We traveled a lot when I was a kid, and that’s when he told me stuff. He dictated to me what would happen to my mind when and if he died. “You’ll forget things. You’ll forget what my face looks like. And then eventually you’ll forget what my voice sounds like. You’ll try to remember but you won’t be able to.”

I was skeptical. At the time I did not know he spoke from his own experience. When he was 22 his mother died of cancer. He was not making predictions for me but telling me what had happened to him. In the hospital I burned his face into my memory:

He had a ruddy face, with long dark, straight, long eyelashes. He had a W.C. Fieldsian nose, or maybe a little Tip O’Neil-ish. It was a lawyer’s nose, rounded from drinking and thinking. The flat delta under his nose gave him a thin upper lip. His bottom lip was thicker. When he grew a moustache he darkened it with wax because his facial hair was lean. His round chin rested in a swath of healthy skin. His whiskers were usually clean shaven. Although, every once in awhile he’d go Rambo and let the iron stubble grow in. He had anti-gapped teeth. The front two were tight as stones in a Roman arch but he had gaps on either side of them. He’d always meant to get them filled. Once we went down to Rocky Point, Mexico together to investigate “affordable” dentistry. Sometimes he’d squirt a dual stream of pool water through the teeth while swimming. He dyed his hair with Just For Men hair product—Ash Brown. It was a good color for him because it was not overly dark. A ripple of gray was emanating from his head because coloring his hair was an impossibility at the hospital. The grisly fact that the hair continues to grow after death made an appearance in my mind. He had dark brown eyebrows over the crown jewels of his face—his eyes. They were stark blue like two glacier shards.

I rubbed my dad’s feet one last time. Growing up my dad made me rub his feet. I hated it. It was a loathsome and awful work. It would have been easier to wear stripes and break rocks than rub his feet. They were like petrified tree trunks. His callouses were like heat shields from the space shuttle. But I rubbed his feet for the long walk he was making.

The bright red numbers indicating blood pressure declined slowly. My father was slowly easing off the throttle to coast for awhile. He did not visibly wince or grimace. He slept as peaceful as a prince except for the labored breathing. I held his hand and told him that I would be happy in life and love my family.

The blood was leaving his face like a firing going out. His skin became the predawn. His eyes in rolled up into his head and I knew, I absolutely knew that we were made from things in the earth. He bit down on his nasal cannula. His neck thickened. The blood pressure sunk below 30. Legal regulations required Meg to ask us if we wanted to put a breathing tube in Papa’s mouth. It was out of the question.

The totality his absence brushed against me like sharks. I did not crumble, I carried forth, holding his hand, the cracked hand. The nurse turned off his monitors so we didn’t have to listen to the alarms and buzzers. I radiated as much love for him as I could. We said a prayer and then I sang the bear song for him. He took one last breath, his body tensed up and then relaxed forever.

He changed in front of me. He went from my papa into a woodpile. Without his spark I saw nothing in the body laying in the hospital bed. The clock said 11:05AM. I must remember this.

Everyone cried. Everyone took their turn to say goodbye to him.

Eventually the people made their way to the cafeteria, I waited alone with my dad’s body for the pastor and the doctor. I thought about the times when I was so little I could sleep on his back while he watched football. I snipped some of my dad’s hair of for myself. I felt a little morbid but I wanted a piece of him with me to keep me going, to keep me strong to keep me alive. To keep me from grinding myself between the Wall of Routine, the sort of thing my father fought against.

So I snipped his locks, enough for a little natural gray and the “coloring” and used medical tape to hold it together.

The doctor came in and put a stethoscope to his chest and formally pronounced that he was dead, and that she was sorry. That was the end to the best papa that ever lived on god’s green earth. He was excellent. Now I will be happy, love my family, and remember him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice words. You have honored Big Joe. I changed cars recently and made sure to transfer the empty casing I keep from the gun salute at my Dad's funeral. the ole aybee

10:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You for Expressing yourself in such Solemn Times. You are truly Loved Bopalito!

3:30 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have always honored your Pop.You are a great son.Rico learned alot from Sty-a-chin.


11:22 AM

Blogger Joseph said...

What a beautiful tribute and appreciation of Sty-a-chin's life. A magnificent send-off too. His journey continues in you
and yours. You done your daddy proud!

12:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

11:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such an excellent blog . I stumbled upon it and I couldn't stop reading. Thank you for sharing one of your most vulnerable times. You are the kind of son any parent hopes for. You have a great talent . Hopefully you will start blogging again .
I don't' spell check .

4:45 AM


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