I was standing next to the bed when the doctor began preparing the long probe and swabbing the target with local anesthesia. Looking up, he asked warmly, "So, who's going to hold your Dad's hand?"
Inside, I ran, but my feet remained planted on the hard linoleum. Hold his hand? I couldn't remember a single time in my life that I had held my dad's hand or vice-versa. It was so...intimate.
"Mom?" I called across the room. "Don't you want to hold Dad's hand?"
"Oh, no," she replied, without a second's pause. I'd seen her nearly faint at the sight of my sister putting an earring in; I knew there was no way she could stand spitting-distance from her husband in the process of a bone biopsy, but you can't blame a girl for trying.
My only other hope was my brother, Jim, sitting with Mom on the couch. Jim, the stand-up guy, the other male leader of our family, the executor of their estate, the brother we would all turn to first if we needed help.
"Jim?" My eyes threw the rope, but it fell short.
"No thanks. You go ahead," he answered, relief in his voice. "I'll keep Mom company over here."
Great. By default and proximity, I had been elected to stand with my dad as they shoved a needle into his hip bone and dug around for possible causes of his recent fatigue and the unexplained bruising all over his legs.
"Jim, we think you might have leukemia," they had told him two days prior, after he had driven himself to the Emergency Room to get checked out (Mom had uncharacteristically put her foot down and insisted). We would soon know if they were right.
"I guess you're stuck with me then, Dad." I took his hand, forcing a confident smile. He silently held on tight. The procedure seemed brutal to me; shoving a needle into someone's very core like that. Tears squished out of Dad's eyes as he grimaced in pain. Suddenly, this man I had loved, yet feared, so much of my life became as vulnerable as a little boy. My own eyes welling, I fought the lump in my throat and let him squeeze harder.
When it was over, he looked into my eyes and said tenderly, "You're beautiful."
Three days later, he was gone.
[This post is a small part of a long story that I hope to tell one day.]
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