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How A Father’s Death Changed My Writing Life

Today I was musing about how I used to write in my diary every day growing up, then in the journal my college English professor had me keep, which she read with great interest. My father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the end of my 8th grade year and had surgery sometime in my freshman year.

I still can’t bring myself to read my diary from those years. I became an angry withdrawn teenager, into writing for the school newspaper, ballet, ice-skating and male hockey players. I hated my brother, was angry at my mother and more so at my father for having the nerve to get sick.

One afternoon, I was in my father’s truck soliciting ads for the high school newspaper, and probably flirting with boys, and returned home late to pick my father up for his first chemotherapy appointment. My parents (and brother) kept much from me about the seriousness of my father’s cancer, trying to give me a normal high school experience.

Trust me, there is nothing normal about living in a house where no one talks about the dying man in the room. It is like the elephant on the living room couch that everyone pretends isn’t there.

My father was waiting for me in front of the house, with that angry disappointed look in his face. I pulled up and he got into the truck and an argument exploded between us. I was the typical pain in the ass selfish teenager, until this strong bellowing man doubled over in pain and began to dry heave.

“Please Cath I beg you, just get me to the doctor.” I stared at him in shock and disbelief. He was so sick, in so much pain and I hadn’t seen it. When did this happen, when did he get so sick?

I don’t remember the drive from Rohnert Park to Santa Rosa. I know he spent most of it doubled over, and I just couldn’t seem to get to the doctor fast enough. It plays in my mind like one of those dreams where you are running and not leaving from where you are.

I remember sitting in the waiting room hating myself for being late and being so mean. I don’t remember how long he was in therapy. I was also angry, angry that he was so sick and no one in my family told me. From that moment I decided that I would never be like that to him again, and would go out of my way to see to it that he was comfortable when we were home together.

I was saddened by everything, like an over whelming cloud of fog that reigned down about me. There was the injustice of his dying, the pain of my mother who had changed profoundly since his surgery. There was my brother, and although we rarely fought anymore, we never spoke to eachother, like strange caged animals at the zoo.

It all closed in on me sitting in that doctors office as tears slowly rolled down my face onto my blouse. The waiting room nurse brought me a box of Kleenex and said nothing.

No one talked about cancer back then.

When my father came out into the waiting room, I stood up and went to help him. He suddenly seemed  old- so frail. My John Wayne father was withering before my eyes. There was nothing I could do. In the truck I told him I was sorry, something I would say to him in the heavens for many years after he died.

He tells me that he loves me. It wasn’t until I had Brian that I understood why. Thus began the ever-shortening days until my father’s death. I would never be the same.

I excelled at writing during those years before his death. I put everything on paper, hoping that the words would somehow cure my dad and return my family to the normal, fun, dysfunctional family we once were. No amount of writing saved his life and in the summer of 1978 he slipped away from me as I watched without the power to keep him alive.

By then I didn’t want him to stay. He was in so much pain and suffereing that I didn’t think I could bear one more day of watching him endure excruciating pain just to try and stay with us. I hated God, and thought he was a selfish bastard for taking such a wonderful loving man from us. I felt cheated and bitter that other kids had their parents and were clueless as to how lucky I thought they were.

I was suppose to go to England and Ireland that summer as a graduation gift, but when it looked like he was slipping away, we cancelled the trip. I didn’t want to leave, and in the fall, began classes at the local junior college. I was lucky enough to land Ms. Korb, a terrific english professor who took a real interest in me and the obvious pain and suffering reflected in the dullness of my eyes.

She made everyone keep a journal, which we weekly turned over to her to read. I loved her comments. She would often write that she was “transfixed.” I wrote about death, cancer, anger, bitterness, confusion, self medicating, pain, suffering, and joy.  Yes sometimes in all the fog, there were brief moments of joy.

I wrote everything in that jouranl, my thoughts about almost losing my virginity, but deciding not to. The drugs I tried to use to bury the pain. I was a lost ship in the fog and Ms Korb and her class seemed to be the only thing preventing me from drifting away.

Then it happened. I came home to my mother sitting on my bed reading my journal, her face white. I stood there in shock, in disbelief that she was reading my journal without asking. I kept it under my matress, and this meant she had gone there to find it. The only thing she could focus on was the fact that I was becomming sexual and the idea of drug use. Looking back I know she sensed she was loosing me, hell I was loosing me, but the idea of her pouring through my journal made me sick and angered me beyond control.

We had one of the worst fights ever, and I moved out that day. I moved into my boyfriend’s house in his brother’s old room. His mother was a raging alcoholic and welcomed anyone as dysfunctional and screwed up as she was into her world. Stacy, the boyfriend, was the kind of guy who could see a girl in trouble and wanted to keep her that way so she would never leave him. However, they seriously underestimated me in my state of fog, and I managed to save enough money to get myself a small studio apartment and remove myself from living around the alcoholic rages of his mother.

I began writing less and less in my journal and slipped further and further away from Ms Korb. I would go to work, then to school, come home and put on my pajamas, crawl into my bed, while it was daylight and stare at the wall.

Eventually, I would curl up in a fetal position and cry myself to sleep. Stacy worked construction, and would come by after work, get me up from bed and make me eat, The unhappiness I felt was like a wet cloth over my face, preventing me from really breathing, from living. I wondered what in the hell he was doing with me.

Funny, how when you hate God with a passion,he still manages to rescue you in spite of yourself. One late Spring day, I was on my way to school in my pinto (yes, I had a pinto), crossing a busy intersection, when a drunk guy in a big truck runs the light and smashes me, pinning me in the car.

At this same time, my ex hockey playing boyfiriend Steve (the one who never showed up at my Dad’s funeral) and his friends are helping someone move. They are coming off the freeway as the accident happens. They  jump from their vehicles to my rescue.

They rush to my window to ask if I am OK. The others take off after the guy that hit me (who was attempting to flee the scene). Steve was somewhere in the mist, but kept his distance, afraid what I might say to him. He later told me that watching me die my slow painful death of dispair killed him too.  He confessed he was forever changed by my father’s death too.

The guys were wonderful keeping me calm and working on getting me out of my Pinto while waiting for the cops to arrive.  Steve had the other driver pinned to the ground. Suddenly I remember the good parts of high school and why I adored these guy friends so much.

I asked them to call my brother at work. I haven’t spoken with my brother in over 6 months. They call my brother, as the police remove me out of my car, which is now obviously totaled. My brother is at the scene in minutes with a tow truck from work. He was the senior parts man for a local car dealership, and had my car towed to his work.

As the tow truck drove away, my brother turned to me, put his hands on my shoulders and asked me to quit being such a pain in the ass and to please come home. He went on to say that he couldn’t take seeing mom cry herself to sleep every night about me anymore.  I had to come home and work it out with her. If not for me or mom, then for him.

He never asked me to do something for him before.  I moved home that day. I felt selfish for my actions, and wanted to roll back time.

My mother was touring Europe.  This gave me time to give notice on my apartment and put my belongings back in place in my bedroom. God how I missed my bedroom. I worried that my mom wouldn’t want me there.  My brother looked at me like I was nuts.

I will never forget when she returned from her trip and walked through the front door. I was standing at the end of the entry way, my heart racing. “Hi mom, welcome home,” I said. She put down her bags and began to cry and rushed up to hug me. “Can I come home mom?” I asked, fearful she would say no (even though like a typical kid I had moved all my stuffback already). She kept crying as she said, “I was hoping you were already back”.

That was the beginning of the end of the dark days of my father’s death.

For some reason I didn’t feel like writing anymore, and turned my attention toward fashion and marketing. I wanted to be surrounded by beauty; to wash myself of all the ugliness I had witnessed. I broke up with Stacy, who tried to intimidate me into staying with him. But by this time I was back safe in the arms of my home and my family and began to focus on rebuilding my life. His threats fell on deaf ears and he eventually gave up. I  stopped self-medicating and took interest in long distance bicycling, along with marathon aerobic dancing and running.

I became a heath nut.  Exercise and healthy eating saved me.

I never did pick up journal writing again to the same degree as those school years, until I began this one here. It was the Internet that brought me back to writing. In 1995, while out on maturnity leave, a friend gave me my first home computer and came to my home to set it up in my kitchen.

“You’d be good at this,” he said. Little did he know just how prophetic that statement would become. I remember sitting in my living room when I received my first instant message on AOL. It scared the crap out of me and a new facinating world of writing online was opened up to me. A writer’s paradise, especially in the early years of the Internet.

I chose to imbrace the new: Internet bloggingby creating my own online journal. I have returned to that from which I came. This time, if my mom wants to, she can just click a button and read what she already knows.

I guess once a writer, always a writer.

Until next time-

C

http://www.aweekinthelifeofaredhead.com

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About Catherine, the redhead mom blogger

Catherine’s hopes to make this blog a safe place for thyroid sufferers to come laugh and share the funnier side of thyroid disease while raising awareness around the world. She is a published author, known for her humorous speeches on finding your dream life and blogging for fun and profit. Catherine writes about her dream life at, 8 Women Dream and several online marketing publications. She would also like to be invited to speak at TED about her observations. Catherine posts on M/W/F. Join me on Google+ rapieress@aol.com

One Response to How A Father’s Death Changed My Writing Life

  1. Catherine, the redhead mom blogger December 2, 2009 at 11:32 pm #

    When I migrated this blog over from AOL journals to the WordPress CMS the comments were lost. Feel free to add a recent comment.

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