Hospitals and Hotels

There are specks all over the table.
Unopened mail spilling all over.
My fingers hesitate typing all over.
My fingers, so used to the feel of a keyboard,
now feel like little hammers, breaking through
eggshells, breaking baby bird bones.

There were tubes going into and coming out of him.
My father… tied up in a Colorado hospital.
He couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t speak.
And all he wanted to do was to eat.
But we could only feed him ice,
of which a few I spilled on his chin.

I spill everything.

There was a view of the mountains from the window.
He loved living near the mountains, though he barely went.
He broke his hip in the mountains, but not from skiing,
or anything like that, just from coming out of a bathroom.
That’s how quickly the end can begin: with one missed step.

Our last meal together
was chicken curry sandwiches.
For dessert some sorbet.
We walked slowly back to his room,
because of his hip. When he walked me out,
to fly back home, he walked slower than before,
because…

Two weeks later he was in the ICU,
never to walk out of there.

A routine gallbladder surgery gone bad,
then more hospital mistakes in
the aftermath. Nothing is routine
at 81 years-old, I guess.

There is a picture on my wall.
It’s a little crooked, but I can’t tell
if it’s to the right, or to the left.
As I stare at it, I realize it’s been
three months since he died,
and here I’m trying to straighten out
a stupid picture. I snatch it off the wall
and heave it through the fucking window.

His hands were strong, able to control
Pit Bulls and Dobermans, but gentle
enough to caress a Siamese or hold a
baby bird without breaking its bones.
After school I would play in the kennel
while waiting for him to finish work.
When it was time to go, he’d come find me
locked up in a cage. “What the heck are you
doing in there?”

“Just playing,” I’d say.

His whiskers were rough.
I watched the nurse shave him.
Afterward I counted the hairs she missed.
For some reason, this mattered.

I took a break from watching him die to buy clothes and a razor
since I didn’t pack for an extended stay. My life has to go on,
I told myself, hating myself for it, not even knowing what that means.
To go on? Go on where?

We stayed in the basement of a cheap hotel. I could see the feet of
people walking to their cars in the morning. Lying on a cot. Thinking.
Wishing I was a better son. Wishing there was a time machine to go back,
make the calls I thought about making, and then not, thinking I was too busy.
This thinking piled up and became too much, then I just wanted a drink.

I kept calling the hospital a hotel and the hotel a hospital.
We went back and forth so much it felt like they were the same place.
I felt sick whichever one I was in.

I watched the other ER rooms fill up and empty, wondering what happened
to the folks in those beds. Not really wanting to know. The rooms without visitors made me stumble in place. I was helpless to the emotions.

I met a lady whose son tried to kill himself with a shotgun. Over a girl.
She was angry at the girl. “You can leave somebody without destroying them!”

I would take walks around the hospital. I would stop and stare at birds in trees,
then not even the birds, just the trees, then I wasn’t sure what I was staring at.

The day came, the doctors said there was no more that could be done.
We would have to tell him that tonight was the last night of his life.
Try forming those words on your tongue. Try watching your father receive
them in his ear. Try coming back from them.

Flying home over mountains that looked like crumpled papier-mache,
the flight attendants passed out drinks. People watched their headrests.
I tried to read but the words ran wild like stampeding tiny buffalo.
I took one of those drinks.

It’s been three months of pictures shifting on walls and stampeding buffalo.
Try coming back from that.

Last night three kittens showed up at my neighbor’s place. They were mewling
in the dark. I was at the end of a bender, trying to walk a tightrope that I could no longer see. My neighbor asked if I wanted one…

He had big blue eyes and a soft purr. I thought about my dad, with his white gloves and steady hands, coming to get me. Suddenly I felt like that little boy again, having locked myself in a cage.

I told her  yes.

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