Time Travel

Today’s Bloganuary prompt:

If you could, what year would you time travel to and why?

I’d travel back to December 2018, right when Dad was diagnosed with amyloidosis, and we were told he’d likely have 18 months to live (he passed four months later). I’d spend every day with him, talking. We could talk about anything and we’d be happy. In reality, we did talk a lot. Jokes that we had heard, him trying out for a AAA baseball team (and how he never realized his arm could hurt so much after just pitching one day), his journalism career, building the cabin, spirituality, favorite books. But I would do so knowing we only had four months (not 18) and pack as much love as possible into each day.

Confident we were beating the odds

Or, I’d travel back to July 2015. When I met Mom and Dad in Italy for vacation. And we had so much fun exploring markets, eating gelato, visiting museums, and exploring cathedrals. We watched glass blowers in Murano. And bought antique jewelry. And rode gondolas in Venice. That was the summer we recognized the first signs of Alzheimer’s in Mom.

In a gondola in Venice

Maybe I’d travel back to December 2009. I had joined Mom and Dad in Vienna, Austria, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Each day we walked from Christmas Market to Christmas Market, snow falling gently on us, arm in arm, laughing constantly. There was music everywhere, beautiful string quartets. We ate great food and drank delightful wine. Then we spent Christmas in France with dear friends. It was one of our best vacations together. We were all healthy; we were all happy.

In Paris, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary

Or maybe I’d travel back to June 1973. We had just moved into our new house in Rural Hall, NC. Dad drove to downtown Winston-Salem each day for work in an old, tattered, dark green Volkswagen Beetle. When it was time for him to return home, I’d walk, often barefoot, through the woods, along the quarter-mile gravel driveway, to wait and watch for him. I’d see the dark green Beetle Bug turn the corner at the end of the street and shimmy towards our driveway. I’d jump up and down, my scrawny arms waving, yelling, “Welcome home!” and he’d stop so that I could get in and ride back down the driveway with him.

And we’d still have a lifetime together.

Faith in the Garden

“See, right here where the plant forms a “V”? See this little leaf poking out? That’s a sucker. Just pinch it off.” He held my fingers and showed me how remove the suckers without damaging the tomato plant. 

I might have been six or seven. We had moved to a rural part of the county a couple of years earlier, and Dad had planted a majestic garden. For decades, we grew almost all of our own fruits and vegetables, only venturing to the store for dairy and dry goods. Dad loved to garden. He loved tilling the ground, planting the seeds, tending to the plants, and harvesting. And I loved being near him.

All the years I lived in San Francisco I longed for a garden. I longed to grow tomatoes, beans, okra, eggplant. I longed for my own Rural Hall garden.

The first year I was in Asheville, I traveled so much for work. I was rarely home, and when I was, I was battling the weeds that had overtaken the yard. The second year I gave up the notion of “I can do this by myself”  and hired someone to help landscape the yard (weeds be gone! mulch, welcome!) and build a raised bed. That was in November 2018. I was so excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for the spring. Dad and I talked about what I could plant, where to buy seeds. 

And then he fell ill in December. And I moved back to Winston-Salem to help care for him and for Mom. And spring came. And Dad died. And I moved Mom to Asheville since she couldn’t live on her own anymore. Well into the summer I planted tomato plants. And still traveled for work. And was so busy. And grieving. And the squirrels came. And the bears. And I found half-eaten tomatoes throughout my yard and on my doorstep. And I cried. And cried some more.

And then came the pandemic. I turned the soil, planted the tomato plants, and caged them. I’m not traveling for work anymore, so every morning after my morning tea I walk outside and tend to the tomatoes. I pinch the suckers carefully, just like Dad taught me so many years ago.  The smell of tomato plants is very particular. I love having that smell on my hands when I go back inside to start my day. 

During one of Dad’s last stays in the hospital, we were alone in the  ICU. I held his hand and we talked about what was happening. We knew he was dying, we just didn’t know when. We thought we had months and in reality it was only days. 

As we sat there, I asked him how he was thinking about what would come next. Of what happens once he dies. The afterlife. His soul. He responded, “We die, and that’s it. There’s nothing more.” I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. Dad was such a spiritual and religious person. What was he saying? I asked some more questions, and he was so matter of fact. Death is death. Was this what he needed to believe to let go and leave this life? I wanted to scream, “NO! There has to be more. You can’t leave me. We have to continue to have a connection even when you’re not physically here. A part of me will die with you if that’s not true.” 

But I didn’t say that. I fought back tears and listened.

I held his hand and we talked about his former baseball career, about family, about friends, about dreams and hopes, and about books we were reading. We told each other we loved each other and held each other tight. 

And today, when I was in the garden, tending to the tomatoes, I thought to myself, “There is something more. You’re still here, Dad.”

Jazz and Taxes

I have been known to procrastinate. One of my first jobs was as a writer for the local newspaper and there was a thrill of turning something great in, right at the deadline. There is one major exception to my habit of procrastination. Taxes. I relish filing my taxes as soon as possible. I sat down this weekend, determined to have all the requisite paperwork to the accountants by Monday. This year, however, I had two sets of taxes to prepare. Mine, and my parents’. I probably should have done mine first. But for some reason, I didn’t.

As I worked through the organizer my Dad’s accountant sent me, questions stabbed me.

“Change in marital status?” Yes, J deceased in April 2019; S widowed in April 2019.

“Sale of residence?” Yes, after my Mom could no longer live on her own.

“Medical receipts?” So. Many. Medical. Receipts. As I organized them by month, the painful memory of each individual receipt overwhelmed me. Trips to the Emergency Department. Prescriptions in the hospital pharmacy. Waiting at the cancer center pharmacy. Trip after trip after trip to the local CVS, filling prescriptions for drugs that didn’t work.

I couldn’t breathe. I was back in 2019, back hoping that each proposed treatment would allow Dad to continue to live the life he wanted to. Not aware that he would leave us so soon. Gullible and believing him when he said that he would get better. And then I was sad. So incredibly sad that he wasn’t able to live the life he wanted to for as long as he wanted to. That he’s no longer here.

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A friend invited me to join her for a special Fat Tuesday dinner tonight. The restaurant was serving special New Orleans cuisine and a jazz band played throughout dinner. Gold, green, and purple beads hung from the fixtures. She talked about going to New Orleans with her brother, and how he went to bed so early and they didn’t get to experience the late night jazz New Orleans is famous for. And just like that, I was overwhelmed with memories of my first trip to New Orleans.

I had just graduated from college and Dad said we should take a trip, just the two of us. I suggested New Orleans, and he booked everything. We saw all the historical sites during the day, and at night we ate great food and listened to so. much. music. I’d suggest going to one more bar to hear one more band, and he was always up for it. Our agreement was we could stay out as late as I wanted, but we had to be up at 8 am (ouch) the next morning to tackle the historical sites.

As I listened to the band tonight, I know that I’m forgetting parts of the trip. I so desperately want to remember every detail. When I returned home, I pulled out a box of pictures from that time (back when we still printed pictures from a roll of film at the local drug store) and looked for a picture of us from that trip. I couldn’t find any of us together. There were pictures he took of me, and pictures I took of him, but we hadn’t had the foresight to ask someone to take one of us together. And then I was sad again.