As mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'm going to post some of my own work from time to time. This week will be the first of those posts.
This story, Tomorrow too soon, was written several years back. It's a true story and one that I quite like although it always makes me weepy. It won first prize in the Society of Women Writers Vic Christmas Awards in 2010 and received an Honourable Mention in the Writer's Digest Writing Competition 2011.
It tells the story of the last time I saw my dad - he passed away in 2008 from cancer. At the time my brother and I were not on good terms so it was only as our dad was very ill that we began talking again. It was Dad's last wish that my brother and I reconcile our differences.
My brother, Brad, and I have since gone on to be very good friends - we'd always been good friends before our falling out, and it's nice to have my brother back.
We have since also lost our mum so it's only the two of us now and we're both very conscious of that. As my Grandma Olive used to say, "Life is too short to spend it in conflict." Wise woman, my Grandma Olive.
Okay, here it is...
Tomorrow Too Soon
“I’ll see you Thursday,” I said.
I leaned in and kissed your brow. You didn’t smell the same. You smelled like disinfectant and a bit sour. You didn’t smell like my dad anymore. Your skin beneath my lips was dry and it felt thin. I turned away just as your hand came out. You reached for me and there was something in your face. In a split second I considered responding but the fragment of time was so fleeting it passed as a blink and the moment was lost forever.
My brother watched on. Estranged these last years, it was only this family crisis that brought us together again. Our eyes met. Unspoken apologies and unnecessary words passed silently between us. And there was a terrible knowledge there too. It lurked beneath the surface and threatened our counterfeit optimism.
I nodded to him. “See ya,” and he nodded in reply.
When I looked back at you, there was wetness at the outer edges of your eyes. Was it because your two children were talking again – at long last? Or was it because you shared our knowledge? The truth hanging above us all like the swinging blade as in Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum?
Perhaps the former; it couldn’t be the latter since we’ve all disallowed it for so long. Why at this juncture would we be accepting it now? Why would my brother decide that we would reconcile this night when all previous attempts had failed?
The truth was that we all knew, yet by dedicated, silent agreement, we all denied. We said words like home-help and respite, and spoke sentences that started with, when you’re feeling better...
How could it be that such weighty knowledge among three people, related in the most fundamental way that nature allows, could exist without any individual ever speaking it out loud? Like the way I kissed you and walked away. Like the look that passed between my brother and me that said so much it will haunt me for a lifetime. Like the tears you so stoically plugged until that moment.
So when I turned away, you reached for me and it made me pause. You never did that. You’ve never done that. We were not a touchy-feely family, and public displays of affection were for other families – softies, marshmallows. We were tough. No PDAs for us! But the love was always there. Even if we didn’t show it – it was there and it was a ferocious thing; driving, changeable, eternal; as elemental and durable as the wind.
And we scoffed at religion. Yet in this last week I saw the Catholic pamphlets on your side table and you looked at me and said, almost apologetically, “Makes me think of being a kid again and going to church with Mum.”
New words and concepts; palliative and power of attorney, crept into our conversations and you pretended you didn’t know what all the paperwork was for when you asked me to sign the documents. All our years of straight-shooting, no bullshit, evaporated in a heartbeat as I talked in code and skirted issues, and you let me get away with it. We engaged in the performance of our lives – each playing our parts to perfection in a bizarre perversion of reality. How desperately we held it at bay.
“Yeah, the food’s not the best here but the more you eat the stronger you’ll get.”
“Do you want me to go buy those jeans, you know, the ones they had on sale? You’ll need them when you go home.”
Yet that night, I kissed you and turned away.
But what if I had stayed? What if I had continued the farcical conversation? What if I had accepted your hand and returned to your side?
“I’ll see you Thursday.” That’s what I said, and it set the wheels in motion.
At that moment, did you know? Had I pressed the little red button that triggered an unstoppable chain of events?
How inexorable is death? How unrelenting is its approach? If I had clung to you, if I had held you with all my strength, could I have prevented it from taking you?
Would you have wanted me to?
“I’ll see you Thursday.” But by tomorrow...
Tomorrow I would no longer be a daughter.
Tomorrow would be my first day in a world that you didn’t also inhabit.
Tomorrow was too soon.
This is me with Dad and his mum my Grandma Kay.