Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another installment: This one is brutal, so you know

Some of you lived through this night and the following days with me. I've written a lot around it, just not these particular details. And I'm OK - not falling in a hole or dwelling. I'm just writing, working on the writing.

April 19, 2007

By the time I get within a block of the motel I can see the flashing lights of the police cars, the fire trucks, the ambulance. The motel parking lot is a circus of red and white. I get out of my car and almost immediately bump into a police officer who tells me that I need to stay back.

“But it’s my dad!” I say, lip quivering. I wave in the direction of the motel. “It’s my dad! Is he still alive?”

The officer asks me if I have ID with me and I realize I’ve forgotten my purse. Crap. It’s illegal to drive without a license, isn’t it? Fuck. I am a first-born rule follower.

“I forgot my purse!” I wail. “I was hurrying! Am I going to get in trouble?”

No, he assures me, I am not going to get in trouble. He very gently takes me across the parking lot and up a set of outdoor stairs. It’s the kind of motel that is like a strip mall – all the buildings in a line, and you have to go outside to get to any of the rooms. There are an extraordinary number of police and emergency medical personnel. There are probably a lot of onlookers as well, but I do not notice them.

We get to the second floor and the officer says to a couple other policemen who are standing at the end of the hall, “She’s the daughter.”

“Is he alive?” I ask the nearest one. I hold my breath. I’m so scared the answer will be no.

One of them turns to face me and says, “Yes. We can talk in a minute. They’re about to bring him out. You don’t want to watch.”

I watch. I always watch. I cover my eyes at violence and gore in movies, and I hate life-or-death moments in stories, but I always watch when it’s my dad. He’s my dad, you know? What if I look away and miss something important?

They wheel him down the hall, and the officer says, “He wasn’t breathing when we got here. But the EMTs resuscitated him pretty quickly.”

“So he’s OK?” I want someone to tell me he’s OK. That everything will be OK.

“We don’t know how long he was without oxygen. They put in a trach tube. They’re taking him to INOVA Fairfax, if you want to follow the ambulance.”

“I have to get my mom,” I say. I feel like a small child. I need my mom. I need my dad, but, well, you know.

Both officers pull out their cards and give them to me. The one I've been speaking with points out the number of the station, which I can always call. They are very kind.

I start to shiver, even though it’s not particularly cold, even though I’m wearing that periwinkle fleece. I always get cold when I get upset, even if it’s the middle of summer. I read once that when your body is in crisis, all your blood goes to your organs. I imagine the heart needs it most, so it doesn’t break apart in a million pieces. I pull my arms in tight, trying to stop shaking.

I don’t want to ask, but I have to. “What did he…How did…Where was he when you found him?”

He hesitates. I look directly into his eyes.


“He hung himself.”

I nod. I keep nodding. I can't seem to stop nodding.

I will not think about the grammar until much later, when I am saying it aloud. He hanged himself. Hanged, not hung. But in this moment, I do not think grammar. I think about my dad.

My throat is thick, and I struggle for breath. I whisper, “OK. OK, thank you. Thank you for saving my dad.”


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Laura! Giant hugs back! I am OK, not melancholy, not dwelling! I'm just working my writing muscles.

  2. This is good. A very clear, concise picture. You're relating things a bit emotionlessly and it works because it comes across like shock.

  3. I've always wondered how Betty dealt with all of this. Were they still married? As a wife and mom now myself, I can't imagine dealing with something like this while also trying to parent.

    Also, this "I read once that when your body is in crisis, all your blood goes to your organs. I imagine the heart needs it most, so it doesn’t break apart in a million pieces." gave me chills. Fantastic writing!

  4. This story, as brutal as it is, bears repeating. You know how much I love your writing and you.


Tell me about it.