Domestic Abuse — “A Family Matter”


Dearest Readers:

Below is an excerpt from “Chattahoochee Child.”

A FAMILY MATTER…

Domestic Violence…Domestic Abuse… Regardless what it is called, it is truly a vicious monster. A wild, destructive monster that roars with such anger and turbulence I vowed never to allow it to knock at my door as a grown up. There were times I felt domestic violence knocking at my door, especially whenever Garrett felt threatened by his green eyed monster of jealousy. At times I was horrified of my husband, especially on one occasion when we were fighting most of the day. He was in one of his PTSD rages, shouting at me, raising his fist, threatening, and when his anger got the best of him, he thrust his fist through the doorway of the hall. I jumped back.

“Was that directed at me?” I asked him, rubbing my face.

He smirked. “No. I’d never hit you.”

I raised a manicured finger at him. “If you ever hit me, our marriage will end. IMMEDIATELY. Domestic violence is something I will never forgive.”

Garrett rubbed his fist. “Whatever,” he said, walking away.

In my marriage I was blind sighted to domestic violence. I made excuses. He didn’t mean to swing at me. He didn’t mean to squeeze my arm so tightly, he left a bruise. I smiled at the wrong person. Garrett just doesn’t understand. I LOVE getting attention. He will never hurt me. It’s because he loves me so much… Always forgiving Garrett’s jealous rages, I tolerated his verbal abuse. Excusing his quick, hot temper as another rage from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologized for making him angry. Whenever men looked my way, I quickly glanced away. I did not want Garrett to lose his temper, or shout at me. I closed myself inside my home, afraid that if he called and I wasn’t home, he would retaliate with another shouting match.

Domestic violence I knew much about as a child, although at the time it did not have the title of domestic abuse or violence. It was labeled a “family matter…” It’s just the way marriage is… Shunned…Never mentioned. Ignored! As a married woman, never did I consider that my husband might become violent, and on the day that he thrust his fist through the door, I felt the fear that a victim of domestic violence fears and I promised myself that I would not become the next victim.

At the age of five-years-old, I saw domestic violence for the first time. My mother was outside, gossiping with neighborhood women at Joel Chandler Harris Homes in Atlanta, Georgia. I was inside our apartment playing with my doll babies when I heard my daddy shouting, calling in a harsh voice for my mother. I screamed at him, “Daddy, she’s outside talking to the neighbors.”

“Go get her.” My daddy demanded.

I rushed outside. “Mommy. Daddy wants you inside.”

My mother laughed. “He can come get me,” she said. One of the five women she was gossiping with snickered. “Guess you better get inside. Gotta keep the ruler of the house happy!” All of the women roared in unison.

Living in a housing project, the women were not exactly the Donna Reed style of women, dressed in fine clothing and high heels. My mother wore bed room slippers and a dirty housecoat. No makeup or lipstick. Two of the women were dressed in raggedy jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was messy and they smelled like dirty ashtrays. I decided on that date that I would always do my best to look my best – to groom myself like a woman and wear makeup and have my hair styled. Never did I want to be ‘frumpy’ or a plain Jane.

“Mommy,” I said, my voice rising a bit. “Daddy’s gonna get angry.”

The back door closed. My daddy rushed outside, waving his fist, shouting.

“Sa-rah!” He roared. “You get in here now.”

My mother did not move. Daddy rushed to her, grabbing her arm. She pushed away from him and he shoved her, knocking her to the ground where she hit her forehead on the concrete curb. The metal trash cans by her fell over. I saw blood on my mother’s forehead. Daddy grabbed her arm. “You get up…Now.” He barked.

My mother struggled to get up. I reached to help her. I touched her forehead. “Are you, Ok, Mommy?”

I stood between my parents, my arms crossed tightly in front of me, daring my daddy to reach for her again. “Daddy, don’t you ever do that again!”

My mother glared at me. “Hush, child.”

Daddy stomped back inside. Never did he show any concern for my mother. Mommy followed. The women standing nearby snickered amongst themselves and I realized I was the only one who came to my mother’s rescue. No one cared. Domestic violence was a family matter at that time. Everyone looked away, with exception of me.

One of the women turned to move away, whispering something about a family matter while exhaling smoke from her mouth. I didn’t understand her words, but I did know I didn’t like any of these shabbily dressed women, and I hoped that woman would choke on her cigarette smoke. I wanted to shout at them, asking why they didn’t help my mama. After all, I was a small child. Too young to help, too young to have any rights or say-so. I decided these women were nothing but trouble! ‘Poor white trash,’ I thought to myself…’Nothing but white trash!’ I followed the blood trail from my mother’s forehead back to our apartment.

After Mommy got inside, I got her a cold washcloth, placing it on her forehead.

She rested on the tattered sofa of our apartment, blood still pouring from her forehead. I brought her another washcloth.

“Get me a butter knife,” my mama screamed. I rushed to the kitchen. She placed the cold blade of the butter knife on her forehead.

“Don’t cut yourself, Mama. Please. You’re still bleeding.”

“The butter knife will make the swelling go down.”

That night when I said my nightly prayers, I prayed that my mama would be all right, and I ask God to make my daddy stop hitting and knocking my mother around. After my prayers, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow any man to ever hit me, or knock me down, like my daddy knocked my mother down. At the age of five-years-old, I became the referee to my parents.

Ten years later, I served as the referee for the final time… Arriving home from Russell High School in Atlanta, I rushed inside; anxious to tell my parents I had the lead in a play at school. I knocked on my parent’s door. No answer. I rushed to my room. A voice inside my head encouraged me to go back to my parent’s door. I knocked again. I heard the shuffling of feet, and a slap. I opened the door. My mother was standing hunched over, blue in the face, gasping for breath. A handprint was on the side of her face.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked. My mother was getting weaker. I rushed to her side. My dad stood by the bed, cursing and throwing mail at me.

“She’s made all these damned bills. They’re garnishing my wages. I can’t afford this. To Hell with her.”

Moving my mother to a chair, I sat her down and moved closer to my dad. “Don’t you ever hit her again? Do you hear me, Daddy? I’ve watched you over and over again hitting my mother, and I’ve watched her hitting you, but this has got to stop! One of you needs to leave this house and marriage. One of you needs to leave before someone gets killed.”

The next day, I rushed home from school, horrified I would find my parents fighting again. My mother was sitting on the couch with tissues in her hand.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

My mother threw a tattered pillow in my direction.

“I hope to hell you’re happy now,” she shouted. “Because of you your daddy left me today. It’s all your fault. He’s divorcing me. I hope you’re really proud of yourself, you stupid girl.”

“How is it my fault? Yesterday, he was beating you. You said you hated him. You called him words a child should not say. All I did was make him stop beating you.”

“That ain’t all you said. You told him to leave, and he did. He came home this morning. Packed up his things and moved out. It’s all your fault. You ain’t never to say his name inside this house again. Do you hear me, child? Never! Your daddy is dead. DEAD. Dead. DEAD! It’s all because of you. We’re moving from Atlanta, and I never want to see that bastard again. NEVER!”

“Where are we going, Mama?” I cried, tears rushing down my face.

“We’re moving to Columbus, to the mill village. We’re gonna live with your grandparents now. I hope you’re happy.”

I was heartbroken. I would not get to be in the play, or have the lead. I would not sing on stage. All of my hopes and dreams were vanishing.

Years later, I became an advocate for domestic violence. I was thankful when laws against domestic violence became a crime and I was thankful that I did not have to be the referee between my parents anymore. In their later years, I became their caregiver, serving as a parent to my abusive, cruel parents.

After their divorce, my dad became a new man. Kinder. Happier. Religious and gentle. I received birthday gifts on birthdays and Dad and I bonded as a father and daughter. Never did we discuss domestic abuse. We focused on happy times. The birth of my child. The home Garrett and I bought in South Carolina. Our strong, happy relationship as father and daughter. Before his death in 1999, we were closer than ever. Dad was fun to be around. Never did he show any anger or hostility at my mother. Reborn inside the body and mind of my father was a man easy to love. So different. So kind. So caring.

My mother? Slowly, she became outraged. Violent. Bi-polar. She died a questionable death after suffering a stroke. The one concern from my youngest sister on the day after her death was, and I quote, “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

My youngest sister spent the night at the hospital with our mother on the night of her death. Suppose I’ll let this story decide if an autopsy was necessary, although I suspect an autopsy should’ve been completed – to discover the true reason our mother happened to die on the one and only night my youngest sister chose to spend the night at the hospital. Interesting?

And so – now I am developing the poignant story of “Chattahoochee Child.”

Family Matters…Oh how they matter!

Cruising On The Carnival Ecstasy


Dearest Readers:

Now that we are home from the cruise [Carnival Ecstasy –September 3 – September 8, 2016] departing from Charleston, with stops at Half Moon Cay and Nassau, Bahamas, I realize there are times I still have sea legs. Earlier, while pouring a cup of coffee, my body swayed back and forth, just like the ship rocked while we were aboard. I laughed. Silly legs. Just keep moving!

Our cruise was booked about a year ago, perhaps longer. We reportedly won this cruise after listening to a time share pitch. Believe me, this was NOT a free cruise. After upgrading to an ocean view state room, paying the port fees, additional fees, this ‘free cruise’ cost us more than most people pay for cruises. Lessons Learned. Never attend another time share pitch!

Phil and I really needed this cruise. Quality time spent together after a dreadful, frightening summer where Phil had surgery on his left shoulder. Reverse shoulder replacement. Apparently a new procedure. The first surgery was May 31. While recuperating, he awoke one morning and his shoulder popped. We could feel the ball of the shoulder replacement extended out of place. We rushed to ER. After a long visit at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, the shoulder was popped back into place – a mild surgical procedure requiring anesthesia. The following day Phil returned home to recuperate. Recuperation was difficult. He fainted. And fainted…and FAINTED…so many times I’ve lost count. The man I stared at every morning had a face as white as a sheet. He moved in slow motion while he recuperated. The fainting spells continued, along with the visits to ER.

During the month of June, we visited ER seven times. In late June, still fainting at times, he visited the orthopedic surgeon for a post-op check-up. He complained about his left foot hurting. It was swollen. The doctor ordered an x-ray. The results of the x-ray revealed his left foot was fractured in several places. The news wasn’t encouraging for his shoulder either. X-rays revealed the shoulder replacement needed to be repeated – for the third time. On that occasion, we left the VA hospital with Phil’s foot wearing a boot and he was given a wheelchair. Two days later, Phil was admitted to the VA hospital with a surgery scheduled to re-do the reverse shoulder replacement.

To make a long story a bit short, my weakened husband tolerated a horrible experience during his recuperation. Filled with days of fainting and being told ‘he’s dehydrated.’ On the last occasion of his recurring fainting spells, I looked at the nurse and said: “If you tell me he is dehydrated again, I think I will scream. He’s drinking bottles and bottles of water!” She nodded at me. “He’s dehydrated; however, the doctors want to run some tests to see what is causing his dehydration.”

Because I nag Phil to drink water and I give him bottles of water to drink, he should not be dehydrated. A battery of tests was performed on him. All with good results. No heart issues. No brain issues. Apparently all of the medications he consumed [prescribed meds] were fighting with his body. We met with Pharmacology and other doctors. Suggestions were made to stop taking several medications.

About time!

By now, Phil has been away from work for almost three months. Gone were sick leave and vacation dates. We pinched pennies and tightened the family budget so we could survive financially. I am happy to report, Phil is back to work now and he appears to be getting stronger. Since the cruise was non-refundable, we chose to take the cruise and relax a bit. Neither of us cared to do all of the events a cruise ship offers. We wanted and desired some quality time without doctor’s appointments, visits to ER and other headaches we endured during his recovery.

Carnival Ecstasy Cruise Begins

And so – on September 3 – September 8, 2016, we cruised on the Carnival Ecstasy. This was our fourth cruise. Twice on Carnival including the Carnival Fantasy and now the Ecstasy. We’ve enjoyed Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruises too, but this cruise was different for us. All I wanted to do was see my husband relax and get stronger. When he had his first surgery we were told he lost four units of blood during the procedure. No wonder he is still pale in the face and so exhausted.

Before we departed the Charleston Harbor I kissed Phil, telling him to relax and have a good time. Occasionally, we ordered drinks, although neither of us could be described as lushes or alcoholics. One thing I can share about cruise ships, they do believe in sharing and encouraging people to drink alcohol. In the mornings…afternoons…and evenings…there is a crew ready and waiting to take your drink orders. While I am not criticizing drinking cocktails or alcohol, beer, and wine, and I do occasionally enjoy a nice glass of wine or an occasional cocktail, early morning cocktails and hangovers are not something I wish to participate in. I confess. I’ve had one hangover in my adult life. I prayed to God that I would survive it, and If I did, I would never get that intoxicated again. I’ve kept that rule!

Curiosity About the Cruise

Since we are home now, I’ve had friends and acquaintances ask me about the cruise ship and if I met Rina Patel. They wanted to know if she was drunk. I have no clue. I did see her in the hallways and on the decks, but for me, it doesn’t matter if she was drinking. I am heartbroken that she either lost her balance or jumped. I still believe she lost her balance and fell. She was on the 11th deck. I cannot criticize someone I do not know. Earlier today someone posted a message for me on Facebook, asking for my personal opinion. “Did she fall, or did she jump?”

I deleted the message. What does matter is she is lost at sea. Three days ago, in the darkness of early morning, something happened to Ms. Patel. My heart breaks for the family. Someone wrote she had a husband, and other family members present on the cruise. In my honest opinion, I have no right to make an opinion. After all, I wasn’t present when she disappeared. When I heard the news at 3:08 am, my heart sank for a moment, wondering what happened. May God give her family strength and guidance during this dreadful time of the unknown.

People ask me what happened. All I know is this, I was sleeping when I heard the broadcast expressing something like this:

At 3:08am, Wednesday, September 7, 2016 – the intercom announced:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve had a report of a passenger going overboard.”

Additional information was shared, but no mention of the identification of the passenger overboard. Hearing this sad news, I threw the covers back and stood by the ocean view window. I prayed for the passenger and the family. I did not know if the passenger was male or female, and I prayed the passenger would be rescued. While looking out into the ocean, I felt the ocean waters churning in reverse. The ship was backing up. I’ve never felt or noticed a ship going in reverse. Truly an experience I never want to feel again. The waters rolled in a backward motion while Carnival Ecstasy shook almost brutally.

Standing at the window, I saw search lights lighting up the dark of night. Another announcement was broadcast: “Rina Patel please contact Guest Services.” I was curious why guest services would make such an announcement while many of the passengers were sleeping. Maybe Rina Patel is the passenger overboard. At 3:27 am, a lifeboat was lowered. Four crew members were in the boat. Another announcement repeated the message again. “Rina Patel please contact Guest Services.”

Just WHO is Rina Patel and why must she contact Guest Services at 3:27 in the early morning.

I can still see the rescue boat in the waters, moving around and around the area near our ocean view window. The ship appears to be anchored now. We are not moving, only shaking. This ship is trembling from the reality of a passenger overboard. Dear God, please let them find the passenger.

Search lights continue lighting the ocean waters. Ocean waters bubble in reverse, reminding me of boiling water in a pot. White foam dances around the ship as the ship continues shaking. I hear a telephone ringing, realizing it is the room next to us. I hear someone whispering into the phone, obviously, upset and I wonder – is the family of the missing passenger next door to us?

At 4:06am, Guest Services request Rina Patel to please contact guest services. The wheels of my brain are curious now. Obviously, this Rina Patel is not responding to Guest Services. But – Who is Rina Patel, and why isn’t she contacting guest services?

Although I want to dress and rush upstairs to where the search is ongoing, I chose to remain in our room. Phil is sleeping soundly throughout this ordeal. I did not want him to awaken and discover me gone, only to be frightened that I might be the missing person. I could leave him a note, but what if he doesn’t find it?

Exhausted, I fall back to sleep in bed, praying for the missing passenger and the family, including Rina Patel. Something tells me she is the missing passenger.

At 9:00, Phil and I go poolside to get breakfast. Walking along the deck, I see a Coast Guard helicopter. Looking nearby at a window, Carnival Ecstasy is moving forward now. An announcement is made that the Coast Guard has released the ship to travel to Charleston. We are one hour behind arrival time now. “Further details about our arrival will be announced later.”

I pause while standing in line for food, praying a silent prayer for the passenger and the family. The mood appears somber and gloomy while standing in line. No party…party…PARTY or fun times this morning.

May God be with the family today and the additional days until the passenger is found. Arriving home at 9:07 am, I turn the TV on. I send a text to two friends to let them know I will not make our Weight Watchers meeting today. I share the news about the passenger overboard. One friend says she heard the news about the passenger this morning. My response was: “Did they share the name of the person overboard?”

“Yes.” She responds. “Rina Patel, 32-years-old.”

Rina Patel? We heard her name mentioned over the intercom so much. Something told me she was the passenger who fell overboard. Someone mentioned she was arguing with her mother, and then – she disappeared overboard. What a horrible tragedy.

Now two days after coming home, the news reports say the Coast Guard has ended the search. My thoughts and prayers are with the family during this unexpected time of grief. On Facebook, people post remarks saying “she was married and had beautiful children.”

As for my thoughts, it really doesn’t matter what I think. Did Rina Patel fall? Was she pushed? Did she jump? I do not know. I wasn’t a witness. At 2:45 in the morning, I was sleeping, until the intercom interrupted my sleep. My first reaction was something to the effect of: Oh my God. There must be an emergency. I struggled to remember where we would go IF the ship was in danger. I could not remember. After all, I was still half asleep.

Phil and I have been on four cruises. I suppose I could say, three cruises without any drama. One cruise with too much drama.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Rina Patel. What a tragedy.

 

 

 

 

On Mother’s Day


On Mother’s Day, I hear so many precious stories about ‘mothers.’ How I wish I could share those precious words written with such love. I never knew ‘unconditional love’ from my mother. She placed price tags or poisonous words on all of her actions. I remember her saying, and I quote, “Actions speak louder than words.” As a young girl, I remember cleaning her house, just to remove my father’s initials, “W W P” scribbled in his penmanship. I suppose he did those ‘actions’ to tell us girls we needed to dust. Once, I wrote it tiny penmanship by W = Why = W – Won’t you P=polish the furniture to remove the dust? Quickly, I sprayed Pledge on his initials, just before he caught me. “Wooo.” I said to myself. “He almost caught me!”
 
On Mother’s Day, I always craved a hug from my mother. I recall holding my arms out to her, just so she and I could embrace with a Mother’s Day hug. She turned away. One Mother’s Day after I started babysitting to earn money, I rushed to a store with $5.00 in my wallet, so ready to find something for Mother’s Day for my mother.
 
Just what could I buy my mother on her special day? Glancing on shelves in a five and dime store, I saw a beautiful  shades of pink bowl with golden edges and four fluted legs. Perfect! The bowl was $4.99. I had just enough money to buy it. I couldn’t wait to wrap it up and give it to my mother for Mother’s Day. I imagined this beautiful bowl would be the perfect bowl to hold her potato salad or banana pudding. While I paid for the bowl, I didn’t have enough money. The cashier looked at me. “5.25,” she said.
“I’ve only got $5.00.”
Reaching inside her pocket, she smiled at me. “I found a quarter this morning, so you’ve got enough. I bet this is for Mother’s Day.”
I nodded, smiling my biggest smile.
Rushing home carefully, so I wouldn’t break the bowl, I rushed to my room to wrap it.
Later that afternoon, I gave the package to my mother. She placed the package on the table.
“Aren’t you gonna open it?” I asked, my voice quivering.
“Nope. Not now.”
“But…It’s Mother’s Day. You can use it for your potato salad.”
“I ain’t making no potato salad today. Maybe I’ll never make it again.”
I stared at the beautiful bowl. Tears danced in my eyes. I turned away. I did not want my mother to see me crying again.
On our next special occasion at home, I looked for the bowl to be placed on the dinner table. I was confident the bowl would be holding mama’s potato salad. I never saw the bowl again.
My mother died under questionable circumstances on September 11, 2002.
After her death, I wanted to have something to remember her. I gave her diamond earrings when I was 16. I asked my sister if I could have the earrings as a token, to remember her.
“You ain’t getting nothing…” She spat at me.
Two years ago, I entered an antique shop near my home. I moved from booth to booth. “Just looking,” I said. I stopped at a booth with depression glass. Since I collect depression glass I walked slowly, glancing at stemware, bowls, plates of all colors.
Resting in the center of a display, my eyes stared at a bowl. Fluted legs. The bowl was oval in shape. Beautiful. I picked it up. The bowl was heavy. Could it be?
Tracing the shape of the bowl with my fingertips, tears danced in my eyes. This was the same bowl. A bowl similar to the bowl I gave my mother so many years ago.
The price tag was $29.95. I carried the bowl to the desk. The manager of the store remembered me.
Retired now, he found his happiness in his antique shop. His hair was silver. His face embraced lines. He smelled a bit like cigarette smoke. No smoking signs were inside the building.
“How much will you take for this bowl?”
He reached for it. “Well, it’s been here a while. One of the legs isn’t even so the bowl wobbles a bit. “How about $15.00.”
I smiled. Paid for the bowl and left. Arriving home, I washed the bowl noticing the wobbling legs.
“This will be perfect for potato salad or green beans,” I said. Remembering my childhood, tears filled my eyes.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said, lifting my head to see the sunset. Remembering. Thinking Still craving my mother’s embrace. On special occasions, or family dinners, I use that bowl, filling it with sautéed green beans, or potato salad. Each time I use the bowl, I remember Mother’s Day.
Although I never saw my mother using that bowl, today, I have something significant to look at — just to remember her and Mother’s Day.

Chattahoochee Child


PART TWO

The headlines in the newspaper caught my attention. Bibb Manufacturing Company becomes a ghost town. I stared at the caption with a tight bewildered look on my face, reading it again, picturing the desolate hope filled community of Bibb City, Georgia, the destitute textile community of my youth. Bibb City was the small cotton mill town where my footprints were imprinted within the clay riverbeds. Bibb City was the only place I had roots established. Bibb City was Home to me.

The richness of life in a mill town is disappearing now while the little town called Bibb slowly becomes extinct. Bibb Manufacturing Company abandoned the area in 1998, closing the mill, leaving a graveyard of homes, failing businesses, broken families and memories behind. The hunger for better jobs, civil rights, and the race for modern technology prevailed, leaving the Town of Bibb City devastated.

I poured another cup of coffee, reading the article again. The years of working as a reporter filled my mind with curiosities and questions about the dying communities of mill workers. I scribbled notes on a pad. My mind rushed back to my youth, playing a mental continuous loop video of memories from the small town of Bibb City, Georgia.

Why was the little town  called Bibb City distressing me? Years ago, I drove away from the Village without looking back, embarrassed to be associated with people who judged others by the colors of skin, religion, sexual preference, or political choice. Sipping a hot cup of coffee, I realized my perspective about Bibb City was changing.

Reading the article again, my body was shaking. If the mill is no longer in business, what will the residents of this precious mill village do for survival? Bibb Mill provided housing and when the Mill decided to sell those homes to mill workers, many of the hard working employees took their first steps to independence and the American dream — a home — a brick and mortar foundation where roots could remain.  My grandparents became homeowners, buying a tiny brick home on Walnut Street. Grammy  insisted on buying a home so Mom could have a place to live.

After Grammy’s death, Mom had other ideas. She sold the house, wasting away all of the money. What about the historical value of the Bibb Mill? Couldn’t the politicians see the potential for historical recording? Was everything in the corporate world about the potential for a profit? What about the families who lived in the Village?

A whirlpool of mixed emotions churned inside me. As I read the article about the abolishment of the town I knew so well, I discovered childhood feelings resurfacing. I debated my anger for a few moments, realizing I could do nothing to stop the bureaucracy of developers, who had no comprehension of the premise of life in a mill town. The one thing I could do was to write about the rise and fall of Bibb Manufacturing Company. As my grandfather reminded me, “You work for the Mill, you’ll always have a job.” Papa died before the Mill closed.

I called my editor, leaving a voice mail, expressing interest in a story about mill workers. Bibb City would be the focal point. When he returned my call, I pitched the idea.

“We have to do this story,” I said. “It isn’t just about life in a mill town. It’s a story about relationships, civil rights, bigotry, and so much more. It’s a feature, maybe even a series. We’ll start with The Rise and Fall of The Bibb Manufacturing Company.”

I waited for his response.

“Let me think about it.”

“I need a commitment now,” I pushed aggressively. “I’m packing my bags. There’s a story there and I’m going to get it,” I said. “My mother lives there. She’s had a stroke.”

“Sounds like you have some issues,” Garrett groaned.

“A few. If you’re not interested in the story, I’ll find someone else.”

Garrett laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Rebecca. You always push to the limit.”

“I’ll call you later,” Garrett breathed into the phone.

I hung up.

 

 

Have You Ever Had An — ENDOSCOPY???


Dearest Readers:

Today, I would like to share a medical procedure I had just after New Year’s Day. January 19, 2016 – to be exact.

A few years ago, I started having a bit of difficulty when swallowing. Suddenly, my throat would tighten; I could feel a bit of a spasm. I slowed down the eating process, hoping my husband would not notice. He did.

One afternoon while we were eating at a restaurant, the spasm returned. I attempted swallowing a bit. I could not. I got the hiccups – something I never get. I cleared my throat only to realize I needed to rush to the ladies room. I covered my mouth with my hands in hopes nothing regurgitated. I’m pleased to report; I made it to the ladies room. About ten minutes later, I returned to the table, requesting a ‘doggie bag’ for my salad.

My mind drifted to my father. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December 1997. I lost him from that dreadful, debilitating disease on July 6, 1999. I knew the symptoms of this cancer well:

  • Inability to swallow without regurgitating
  • Coughing
  • Hiccups
  • Weight loss, due to the inability to eat food
  • Reflux
  • Pain or burning in the throat
  • Heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • Choking while eating

Of these symptoms, I experienced five. I procrastinated, hoping and praying that I was simply overreacting, or maybe my mind was imagining them because I was still grieving over the loss of my father. I kept telling myself that “this too shall pass,” and I refused to go to the doctor.

Since I’ve increased my exercise routines, power walking and the treadmill, I noticed at times I would get an upset stomach, resulting in a quick rush to the restrooms during my exercise. This was quite embarrassing to me. Later, I would taste a strange bitterness in my mouth and throat. Researching, as I always do, I discovered I was suffering with some ‘GI issues.’ I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, Dr. Jeffrey R. Joyner, http://www.lowcountrygi.com/ since he is such a respected gastroenterologist; I had to wait two months to see him even though he was the doctor performing another procedure a few years ago. When I visited his office, I shared what was happening inside of my body. He made a few suggestions, and I am happy to say, his suggestions worked. I needed to take a daily dosage of Fiber Con, and I needed to make certain I ate something before exercising.

Since I was at the office, I cleared my throat and whispered, “I am having a problem with swallowing sometimes.” I paused. “Let me explain. I lost my dad in 1999 due to esophageal cancer. I think I might have it.”

I really thought I was under control with these grief emotions, especially after 16 years, but I wasn’t. Tears rushed down my face. I apologized. Dr. Joyner handed me a tissue.

“You have no reason to apologize. Grief is a difficult emotion. Incidentally, I do not believe you have esophageal cancer.”

“But – I have the same symptoms.”

“Let’s not worry about that now. I am almost positive you do not have esophageal cancer, but I would like to schedule an endoscopy.” He asked me additional questions.

My response to each was a soft, emotional “No.”

I wiped tears, cleared my throat and attempted to smile.

The endoscopy was scheduled. I was sad that it couldn’t be done before the holidays and then I remembered the holidays of 1997 – early July 1999. Maybe I didn’t want to go through the holidays knowing something was wrong.

Arriving home, I researched endoscopy again. According to the Mayo Clinic, “upper endoscopy is a procedure used to visually examine your upper digestive system with a tiny camera on the end of a long, flexible tube. A specialist in diseases of the digestive system (gastroenterologist) uses an endoscopy to diagnose and, sometimes, treat conditions that affect the esophagus, stomach and beginning of the small intestine (duodenum). http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/endoscopy/basics/definition/PRC-20020363

 

So, during the Christmas holidays of 2015, I kept myself busy. My sister and other family members were coming for Thanksgiving this year. I was certain I could manage a smile while knowing and appreciating the little things in life. I didn’t mention how frightened I was. I did not want sympathy or pity from anyone.

Nevertheless, when I was alone, I found myself worrying. While eating tilapia and yellow rice, I choked and then I remembered, almost every time I ate rice, I would choke. No more rice for me!

Thanksgiving and Christmas slowly passed by. I counted the days until my endoscopy and I prayed. And prayed…AND PRAYED. “Please God. Please don’t let me have esophageal cancer.”

The morning of Tuesday, January 19 arrived. My procedure was scheduled for 8 am. We arrived at 7:20.

By 7:30 I was in the procedure room, ready to get this procedure over. I slid on the bed, curious and anxious to get this morning going. I said another prayer while speculating if God ever got tired from hearing my prayers. Maybe I needed to pray in a different manner. Dr. Joyner came to see me, telling me everything would be fine and for me not to worry. Easier said than done.

Just what would I do IF I did have esophageal cancer? What would I say to my husband? Who would take care of me?

I admit it. I never had these discussions with Phil. I was hopeful he would be my rock – again.

The anesthesiologist welcomed me, telling me I needed to lie on the left side of my body. She told me I would be given the drugs so I could be asleep during the procedure. In a few minutes, she returned. She smiled. “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. This takes maybe 20 seconds. You’ll be asleep soon.”

I remember counting. One…two…three… I don’t remember four!

I was out, almost as quickly as turning a light off.

When I awoke, I heard music. The nurse welcomed me.

“I heard music. Did the song – for the life of me I cannot recall the title – play?”

“You heard it?” The nurse said.

“Yes. I am a music person and a singer.”

“What would you like to drink? Dr. Joyner will be here in a few minutes.”

And that is when I looked at her, asking her the dreaded question “Do I have esophageal cancer?”

“No.” She said. “You are fine.”

Dr. Joyner entered the room. “I understand you were a bit worried,” he said.

“Do I have esophageal cancer?” I repeated. Tears filled my eyes.

“No. You have a hiatal hernia. Nothing more. No cancer and no pre cancer cells. I did a biopsy just to be sure.”

I sighed, wiping my tears.

I looked up at the ceiling. Thank you, God.

Before I had the endoscopy, I knew what to expect from it. I was prepared, or as prepared as one can be, for the dreaded six letter word – cancer.

My husband entered the room. I reached for his hand. “No cancer,” I said.

“Thank God,” he said, kissing my hand. “When you’re dressed we can go home.”

“Good,” I said. “My fresh pot of coffee awaits and you can go to work.”

“Only if you promise to rest the rest of the day.”

I crossed my hands over my chest. “Scouts Honor,” I said.

“Yeah, and you were not a girl scout.”

“I was a den mother for the Cub Scouts. That should count.”

Phil tossed his head back and forth, rolling his eyes at me. His body language says so much! The nurse arrived with a wheelchair.

“Ah..I don’t need that. I can walk.”

“Not today,” she smiled. I hopped into the wheelchair and slid in the car. It was 8:15 am. “In and out surgery, just like drive thru windows for fast food,” I said. The nurse laughed and wished me a good day.

I return to the doctor in March. Since the procedure I haven’t had any symptoms, or difficulty swallowing. I think I have God, my family and friends and the doctor to thank. Looks like 2016 will be a good year.

 

A Toast To The Little Things In Life…


Dearest Readers:

I suppose today is a day to reminisce, in hopes I might convince myself it is time to break away from social media, interruptions, along with the intense doubts I have about the ability to write. Below is another award-winning story I wrote a few months after losing my father. Hope you enjoy!

Arriving in Greensboro, I met Joan at Friendly Shopping Center. I parked the car in the first available spot and headed towards Hecht’s Department Store. I rushed across the congested parking lot waving to Joan standing by the door. The after Thanksgiving sale crowd was anxious for the doors to open, pushing, and shoving to get closer to the entrance. Joan and I moved aside to let an elderly woman in a wheel chair take our spot in line. This year, holiday sales and life in general meant nothing to me. I’d experienced the worst year in my life, watching my father melting away from the toxic poisons of esophageal cancer and chemo-radiation therapy.

“Crowds bother me,” I said. “I hate the rudeness of women when they’re searching for a bargain.” Joan nodded. I turned my back to the street, noticing the trees decorated with bright lights. With exception of today, I’d forgotten Christmas was less than a month away.

“How are you doing now,” Joan asked.

“Okay,” I said, a little too quickly. “The trees are beautiful this year.”

I blinked several times, my eyes glaring at the spruce trees, melting snow on the ground.

“Just okay, huh,” Joan said. “It’s been six months since he died. If you need to talk, I’m here.”

Tears danced in my eyes. I looked away from her stare.

When the doors opened, I looked over my shoulder. Something caught my eye. Perhaps the uniqueness of the moment, the after effects of stress, combined with my desire to disconnect from life, forced me to see things in a different perspective. Something was lying in the road. Someone probably dropped a jacket, I thought, ignoring my discovery.

“Joan,” I said. “I’ll meet you in ladies wear.”

Curiosity of the image in the road captivated me, so I stepped aside.

An inner voice whispered to me. ‘Go check to see what’s in the road.’

I didn’t hear Joan answer me. By now, there were hundreds of shoppers pushing and shoving into Hecht’s.

While shoppers rushed for the early morning bargains, my eyes refused to leave the road. As I moved closer, I recognized the item by the curb wasn’t a jacket, but an elderly gentleman.

“He must be drunk,” I mumbled, moving closer to him. What if he’s dead? I can’t do this. Not again. I dialed 9-1-1 on my cell phone.

My mind rewound, stopping at the memories and heartache of July, 1999. That Tuesday evening in July I was late arriving at Sandpiper Convalescent Center. When I placed my hand on the door of my father’s room, a nurse intercepted me. Nurses were rushing around Dad’s bed.

“Can you get a pulse?” I heard someone say.

“His daughter is here. What should we do?”

Nurse Angie joined me at the doorway. Her eyes locked into mine.

“No, I screamed. No! Please God, No!”

Nurse Angie sat me down. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. I knew the day had arrived, and although oncologist specialists told me in 1997 that I needed to prepare myself, I wasn’t ready to let Dad go. I still needed him in my life. He couldn’t leave me now. Not now.

Just how does one prepare for death? When I spoke with medical professionals, asking that question, no one could give me a defiant answer. Financial, I was prepared. Arrangements were made, but emotionally – I would never be prepared to lose my father.

Nurse Angie whispered. “He’s a DNR. Do you want us to do anything?”

I knew the definition of DNR, and I did not want to disobey my Dad’s orders of do not resuscitate. “I- uh – I can’t override his decision. Not even if it means—.” I couldn’t finish the words. Since childhood, Dad was my lifeline. Always ready to cheer me up. Always ready to teach me things. He and my grandmother taught me about God and prayer. Dad was the provider who taught me to stand up for myself and to speak my mind – but gently. Dad was the one who beamed with a golden halo when I sang in the choir. Dad was the one who encouraged me to reach for the stars. Now, my shining star was getting brighter, only at the cost of losing my helping hand. My lifeline.

“Dear God, give me strength,” I prayed. “Take care of my dad. Use his talents. Let him know I love him.”

A screaming horn brought me back to reality. I stared into the eyes of a driver. “Get the hell out of the way,” the burgundy haired woman shrieked. “I need to turn.”

I walked over to her. She had body piercings in her eyebrow and nose. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” I said. “There’s a gentleman unconscious in the road. I’m not moving him until EMS gets here.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she mouthed. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Aren’t we all?”

I kneeled down, touching the elderly gentleman’s forehead, feeling beads of cold sweat. His hair was thin, salt and pepper gray. His face was weathered, hands wrinkled but firm. “Dear God please. Don’t let him die. Not today.” My face lifted to the skyline.

His hands felt like ice. His body was thin. A gray beard covered his face. He wore a gold wedding band. By now, curious shoppers were moving closer to us. Removing my coat, I covered him. Although it was freezing cold outside, I could not allow this man to freeze under my watch. A young man with spiked hair removed his leather coat, bundled it into a ball, lifting the gentleman’s head.

“Does he have a pulse?” He asked.

“I didn’t check.”

“It’s okay. I’m a medical student.” He checked for a pulse, nodding yes to me.

The gentleman coughed.

“Sir, what happened?”

“I fell. I’m sick. My wife wanted to be here early for the sale.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“I don’t know. I drove her here. I let her out by the door. I parked the car. I had chemo this week.”

I warmed his freezing hands with mine. “Chemo,” I muttered, understanding his weakness.

Joan stood next to me, touching my shoulder. “You okay?”

I nodded.

“Cancer,” I said. “You go shopping. I’ll stay with him.”

“Sirens,” someone said. “They’re coming.”

The man squeezed my hand. “Don’t leave me,” he said.

“Your wife. Where’s your wife?”

“She wanted to shop. She’s buying me some fishing tackle.”

“You must like to fish,” I said, hoping he’d remain alert. “Is there someone else we can call?”

“My grandson. His number’s in my wallet.”

The medical student found his wallet, dialed the number.

When EMS arrived, the man grabbed my hand. “Bless you for helping me,” he said. Moments later, EMS rushed away. I lifted my head to look at the gray skyline. “Please God, don’t let him die. Not today. Touch him. Keep him safe.”

At lunch, I found myself able to talk. A sudden burst of adrenalin had me chatting non-stop about Dad’s terminal illness, forgiveness and death.

“When I was little, I was hit by a car. My Grammy said I was spared for a reason,” I said to Joan, sipping a steaming cup of coffee. “Until today, I never understood what she meant.”

“You really have a way with old people,” she said.

I laughed. “Not until Dad’s illness. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. When they divorced, I was angry. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”

I looked around the crowded restaurant. “Life is so short. So unfair. I guess I never took life and death seriously until Dad died. Now, I try to make the most of each day. I’ve started praying every night. That’s something I didn’t do for many years. I was living in a spinning wheel headed nowhere, until Dad’s illness.”

Biting my lip, I continued. “I suppose I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. Those special moments. Laughter – something I haven’t done in a long time. Smiles. Reading to a child. Listening to music. Watching a classic movie, and reading good books. Funny. Now, I cherish those moments.”

Joan smiled, nodding her head. “When I met you, I thought you were so special and I knew I wanted us to be friends.”

“I remember. You encouraged me while I pulled away. All of my life I’ve had friends I couldn’t trust and I realized I needed a good friend. I’m so thankful we are friends.”

Joan sighed. “I don’t mean this to be critical. You were amazing with that man today. You put your needs aside while you held his hand. You wouldn’t leave him. I watched you.”

“Life is so short,” I said, biting my lip. “I didn’t do anything you wouldn’t do.”

“Yes, you did. People were rushing by you. You stood your ground, holding that frail man’s hand. You probably saved his life today.”

“No. I did what I had to do.”

“Maybe it’s time you did something for you! Losing your dad changed you. You must move on while remembering your dad and those special moments you shared. He wouldn’t want you to be so depressed, or to shut yourself and your life away. We’re all worried about you.”

Still in denial, I nodded, attempting a smile.

“Do you know Dad came to me one night in a vision? You do know I’ve had visions all of my life, but this one was different. I was tossing and turning in bed. I saw a ghostly white figure at the foot of the bed, and then I heard his voice. He pinched my toe and told me, and I quote, “You need to move on with your life. I’m fine. Stop worrying about me and grieving me. I’m all right!”

I glanced out the window. “As quickly as the vision came, it left, and I knew Dad was telling me I needed to move on. People think I’m crazy when I tell them I have visions, but I do. It’s a gift my grandmother gave to me when she died. I know Dad is all right. It’s just hard to let him go.”

“You have to continue living your life. You were there for him every day of his illness. You were the perfect daughter to him.”

I laughed. “Perfect? Hardly. But when the time came, I was there, and I know I have to live again. I have to make each day a good day while enjoying the sunshine and all of the little things. I think I finally understand. Perhaps this year, my Christmas tree will have a theme of ‘Little Things.”

Joan smiled. “Here’s to the little things in life, and the friendship we cherish.”

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at Joan. “Maybe we should order two glasses of wine – just to celebrate the little things, Christmas and new beginnings.”

 

 

 

 

NOT MY PAPA


Dearest Readers:

Below is an award-winning short story written many years ago. Hope you enjoy!

 

NOT MY PAPA

by

Barbie Perkins-Cooper

The screaming telephone jolted me out of bed. “Hello,” I groaned rubbing my sleep-filled eyes.

“Were you asleep?” My mother’s crude voice whined.

Rolling my eyes to the ceiling, I whimpered, “Not anymore.”

“Your papa is ill. “ He’s lost his mind, cussing like a drunken sailor, and saying the Lord’s name in vain. The doctors say its old timer’s disease…”

“Alzheimer’s,”‘ I corrected my mother, yawning again. I turned on a light. Rising from the bed, I stretched, while my mother chatters away. I could not visualize Papa swearing. Not my Papa … He’s a member of the Church of God and a deacon. He and Gramma never allowed their grandkids to swear. Once, as a rebellious teenager I said the Lord’s name in vain. Papa rushed me to the bathroom of the tiny mill house we lived in, to wash my mouth out with a bar of Ivory soap.

Listening to my mother, I pictured Papa ‑‑ frail and aging into a skeletal frame I no longer recognized.

Strolling into the kitchen, I sighed, as I poured fresh coffee beans into the grinder.

Three days later, I head towards Columbus, Georgia, thinking about Papa.

As a child, Papa amazed me with his stories, and I picture him tall and slim, chewing Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and smoking long cigars. He wears overalls covered with cotton lint fibers and old raggedy flannel shirts. A baseball cap protects his thinning hair.

Working at the textile mill of Bibb City, Papa speaks to everyone in the village. He tells me stories ‑‑ like how it was to live during the Great Depression; and how, as a young boy, he grew up on a farm picking cotton and cropping tobacco in the fields.

I love listening to Papa. His eyes always twinkle when he speaks of my grandmother, Miss Winnie. At the age of sixteen, he saw a pretty blue-eyed blond sitting in the church pew and when she smiled at him, Papa fell for her. Fifty two years later, he still speaks of her with a passion I envy. I know Papa misses her, and so do I. Now, she sits up high in the Heavens, watching over us; but to Papa, she is still beside him, holding his hand, smiling.

When I was a small child, Papa took me fishing at the boat club. We got up before dawn to watch the sunrise on the dancing waters of the Chattahoochee River. I remember Papa catching catfish, while I caught eels and turtles.

I tugged at Papa’s overalls and ask, “When will I catch a catfish, Papa?”

Papa smiled at me, patting my head. “Shucks, you gotta be an antique to catch a catfish,” he laughed. “Yes Ma’am,” he chuckled, “An antique like me to catch a catfish. He reached inside his overall pockets, handing me a piece of Juicy Fruit Gum.

“What’s an ann-tique?” I asked.

He laughed, baited my hook, and threw out the fishing line. “Don’t you be fretting…? You’ll be one before you can say scat.”

“Scat,” I said, reaching for the cane pole, hoping to catch my first catfish.

Entering Columbus, Georgia, I make a right turn, heading to Bibb City. I parked my car on Walnut Street, noticing a mixture of colors. Black. White. Mexican. So different from the colors of skin I recognized as a child. The Bibb Mill is closed now, no longer the dictator or Godfather of the village. My mother hobbles outside. I open my arms wide, hoping she will hug me. Her arms are crossed. Still, as a grown woman I am hungering for a mother’s embrace. “It’s about time you came home. The hospital just called. They’re moving him to a nursing home,” she cries. “I can’t take care of him. It’s hard enough taking care of me. Daddy’s old now – an antique. He’s at the nursing home where Mama was, when she died…”

Home is where the heart is, I mutter to myself.

“It’s okay, Mom,” I said, “We’ll work something out.”

My mother seems concerned now, gentle, and caring, so unlike the mother I knew as a child.

A few hours later, at the nursing home my mother wipes her eyes, biter her lips. “He looks so old and weak. You better prepare yourself.”

“I know,” I whisper, “Papa’s an antique. He hasn’t been the same since Gramma died.”

“None of us have,” my mother speaks, the bitterness returning to her voice. “It’s just not the same.”

“Life is filled with change Mom,” I comfort her, giving her a slight hug. She pulls away.

The scent of medicine and stale air hits me in the face. I smelled the same familiar scent that cold October morning when Gramma died. My mother looks at me, never saying a word, but I can tell how hopeless she feels. It’s written all over her face. My lips struggle a smile. An apple shaped nurse with slump-backed shoulders nods.

“Excuse me,” I interrupt, “we’re here to see Mr. Hunter.”

She turns to me, her arms crossed, her face tight with tension. “Room 318 Medicaid Wing.” She snaps to attention, pointing down the hall.

“Thank you,” I smile, “Have a nice day…”

My mother opens the door to Papa’s room. She looks at me again, and for the first time, I notice salt and pepper gray in her hair, lines of age blending into her face. I touch her shoulder. She pulls away from me. Her body stiff. “Mom, it’s okay.”

When I slip into Papa’s room, I’m not prepared for what I see. An ancient, crippled man is strapped into a wheelchair, facing the window. His face is hollow, skin the color of mustard and blotchy, with brown spots. His hair is slightly gray. His eyes are sunken. No twinkles do I see. His head bops up and down, reminding me of a newborn infant. He drools.

“Papa,” I whisper, choking back a tear.

His head lifts for a moment. I see a vacant stare in his eyes as he watches a swallow fly away. “Mama,” he whispers. “Is it you? I wish I could fly away.” Papa kicks his feet angrily, wishing to be set free. “God-damn it … get me out of here.”

I touch his icy cold fingers, noticing the clamminess of weathered skin. “Papa,” I said. “It’s me … Barbara Jean.”

I laugh to myself, surprised I’ve addressed myself as Barbara Jean. As a child, I refused to answer to the name, “Barbara Jean.” I held big dreams. I remember telling Papa I would become a movie star or a singer and see my name in bright lights, not the name “Barbara Jean.”

I touch Papa’s hand, hoping for a response, but he sits in a daydream, without a mind, only a skeleton in life. Again, I whisper, “Papa, it’s me … B-B Barbara Jean…”

“God-damn it,” he speaks, his voice shouting. I look at him again, realizing this frail, crippled person is not the gentle, and kind Papa I remember. Pulling up a wooden chair, I sit down, reaching inside my clutch, I remove a lace hanky. I wipe the drool from his mouth.  Papa’s eyes are a vacant stare.

If  Gramma were alive, she would scold him, reminding him the Lord was her keeper, her shepherd, and her best friend. Then, she would hand him a bar of Ivory Soap to eat, to wash the filthy words away.

“God-damn it,” he mutters again.

I look at him, choking back tears. I can’t let Papa see me this way. I walk over to the window. If only Papa would say hello, Barbara Jean.

I walk over to him once more, kissing his head. He smells different, without the scent of 0ld Spice and Juicy Fruit Gum. I touch his bony shoulders. He doesn’t respond.

“God-damn it,” he says again.

“Papa,” I speak aloud. For a moment, he looks at me, squinting his eyes. “It’s me, Barbara Jean. I caught a catfish last year.”

Papa moans.

“It’s funny,” I say to my mother. “The only word he knows is a word Gramma hated.”

“He’s got no brain,” she shrieks.

“I know,” I cry, tears rushing down my face. I glance over at Papa, looking at the broken man strapped so tightly within. If only he could see who I am. And then I wonder ‑‑ would he be proud of me…Barbara Jean …the grandchild with starry eyes?

Later, I speak to the doctor, listening to every word. I suggest bringing Papa home so he’ll be around familiar surroundings. The doctor shakes his head. “You don’t understand his condition,” he reports. “Your grandfather needs skilled medical care. He gets violent when he doesn’t get his way.”

“Yes,” I know, the vegetable you have strapped to that wheelchair doesn’t exist. My papa was lots of fun! He took me fishing. He told me funny stories, and he Never took the Lord’s name in vain. Gramma would be furious.”

My mother interrupts. “Don’t you see, “she says. “ Jesse isn’t asking to go home to us. He wants to ‑ go home.” She points her finger towards the sky.

A few days later, my mother and I sit on the porch sipping sweet iced tea with lemon, remembering Papa, my childhood and the struggles of life in a mill town. We reminisce, reaching a new understanding.

It seems my mother was envious of me when I was a young girl. She said I was intense, stubborn as a mule and bull headed too, with a persistent independent streak. I had something she wanted but failed to find. Funny, I never knew she saw the real me.

In my eyes, I was a child, starving for attention. Now as we sit, looking at old family albums, it’s easier to dig into the shells of our souls, discovering who we are, and most of all, what we are. Still, I wish to bring back those times to repair the damage. My mother shakes her head no. She doesn’t want to go back. She bites her lip. If only she knew how difficult my life as an artist has been! I touch her hand.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “I’m grown now.”

“I don’t want to remember how cruel I was. Can you forgive me?”

Nodding my head, I whisper, “Already done.” I wish to hug her, but I hold back knowing she will not return the affection.

The phone rings. “Hello,” I say.

My mother stares at me, listening to a one‑sided conversation.

“It’s Papa. We have to hurry.”

Not a word is spoken as we drive in rush hour traffic, frightened we won’t make it. My mother tightens her seat belt, taps her foot on the floor mat. “Hurry,” she says.

The door to room 318 is closed. I knock while pushing the door. I see an empty wheelchair. The bed is covered with a white sheet. I look at my mother, tears spilling onto her cheeks. “We’re too late,” she cries.

The door to Papa’s room opens again. The apple shaped nurse enters. “He’s gone,” she states coldly. “Mr. Hunter died twenty minutes ago.”

I slump into the wheelchair, screaming from the pain of my grandfather’s death.

“He died peacefully,” the nurse comforts. “He was singing a religious song, mumbling and talking about catfish, and asking for Barbara Jean.”

“Barbara Jean,” I whisper.

The nurse looks my way, “He called me Winnie. He said he was waiting for Barbara Jean. A few minutes later, he started singing about coming home again.”

My mother and I nod, knowing Papa has found peace. We don’t say a word, as tears stream down our faces. Then, she opens her arms to comfort me.

 

THE END

 

In Memory of My Papa, Jesse V. Hunter