My 25th birthday is three days away. Today, I push my Dad in a wheelchair and we meet with a gastrointestinal surgeon; he steps on a scale. He has lost 20 pounds in 20 days. We go into the office together. I sit on the table, Jim in his wheelchair, and Ab in the office chair. There is a mirror on the back of the door, and I can’t help but wonder how odd we all look in this tiny room. The doctor walks in. We talk to him about the benefits of a feeding tube. On the way out, we meet with a scheduler to set up the surgery. She gets flustered and tells us she can’t schedule an appointment. She hadn’t even said hello to us. I stare at her blankly wondering if she’ll ever make eye contact. She says she’ll call us with an appointment at some point. He can’t wait; I see my Mom’s eyes, but wonder if she’ll say anything. Before she even gets the chance, the words have already left my mouth, “we are not leaving without an appointment.” Jim just wants to go home.
It’s the strangest feeling to grow up, to slowly realize that home isn’t a place, but the people you love. I think about simpler times. I sit in doctor’s offices and I think about two day long car rides in the backseat with my brother. I think about Jim’s road rage as we drove to Nova Scotia to visit my Nanny and my Grampie, years ago. I think about us giggling in the backseat while my Dad yells out the window at a family in matching L.L. Bean co-ords. I think about my Mom’s flushed face and her embarrassment as she can’t help but giggle too. I think about all of us laughing, and it felt like home.
I remember that summer we drove up to Bar Harbor to catch the ferry to Canada. I remember we stopped for lunch and Mom was in charge of getting us back on the highway. I remember that these were the days before smart phones, and we had printed directions off the internet. Ab directed Jim back onto the highway, only for us to get stuck in a massive traffic jam…going in the wrong direction. I remember Jim grabbing the directions and turning red in the face, he threw them in frustration and a page flew into the backseat and gave me a paper cut. We all laughed. I remember that when we got to Nova Scotia, my grandfather set off his car alarm everywhere we went. I remember we were in a Tim Horton’s and he was drinking frozen cappuccinos and eating triple chocolate brownies, and Jim said, “Bill is that your car alarm?” It was. I remember being inside the French restaurant on the French shore, and asking “is that the car alarm?” I remember being in Home Depot and hearing a familiar beep. Then one night, when we all settled in for the night and were in our temporary homes, guest rooms and half deflated air mattresses, we all started laughing. I could hear him laughing through the walls – it was the car alarm. We were so far from home, but it felt like home.
Today is my 25th birthday. I bought a rainbow cake and invited Darren to come over. Tomorrow is the surgery. Jim is nervous and doesn’t smile all day, and I know he’s trying to because it’s my birthday and it might be our last one together, but he doesn’t do a good job at hiding anything from me. Darren and I sit on the couch and watch TV, Ab and Jim hold hands on the couch next to us, and this feels like home. Jim gets up, and Darren and I are giggling, when suddenly we hear a crash in the bathroom. Before I know it I’m outside the bathroom door screaming, “are you okay?”
I remember that summer I wanted to learn to bake. I made coconut cupcakes that were like cement. Jim told me he loved them. We fixed the roof that summer, Andy, Dad, and I. I remember the wooden ladder against the house and passing up buckets and taking empty ones down. I remember telling Jim to let one go and being mad when it slipped down my nose. I don’t know why I said I was ready when my arms weren’t up yet. For weeks I had a scrape down my nose and Jim would tease me at the breakfast table every morning. We went to Gettysburg that summer and I had my first Big Mac, and when we drove home I remember looking up to the night sky as Andy slept beside me and Jim and Ab talked quietly thinking we were both asleep and it felt like home.
I remember when we first moved here we had a carpenter who basically lived in his broken down baby blue truck parked in our driveway. He would tell me I couldn’t measure because I was a girl, and he measured once and cut a million times, and I remember Jim teaching me how to measure twice and cut once, and how to sand and how to use a chop saw. I mostly remember Jim hating anyone who wasn’t nice to me. I remember he said he liked spicy food, and he was always around, and Ab made ramen noodles for lunch, and Andy, Jim, and I giggled when Jim put spicy hot pepper flakes in his noodles and kept asking him if it was hot enough. Sweat dripped down his face, and Andy couldn’t find a poker face. Sitting at that table, laughing, it felt like home.
Yesterday was my 25th birthday. Today I sit in the hospital and wait beside my Mom for my Dad to come out of surgery. Today is the day we begin a new normal. He is having the tube installed and has chosen us. He has chosen to live. Strangers know more about my personal life than my closest friends. Nurses I’ve never met hug me and I smell like their perfume. People tell me that God will reward my selflessness, as I care for my father. I don’t tell them I don’t believe in God anymore. A woman comes into the waiting room and says our name, and the rest is a blur, until I’m holding his hand again. He asks me to get him some juice and they wheel him to his room. I push an empty wheelchair behind him, and Ab holds my hand, and in a way it feels like home.