Holding My Breath


I quickly inhale before those two glass doors slide open. It happens every time; I am stampeded with the smell of the sick and elderly. Even though I’m here every week it’s the same awful sensation, as I’m smothered with the smell. I keep to myself trying not to speak until the `smell loosens its grip on me because I know if I do the smell will quickly fill my mouth.

I slowly walk towards the only pass coded doors in the building all the way across the room. My eyes dart around picking up the faces of everyone I pass. I see things that no 14 year old should see. I didn’t think it was possible to see one being so frail, so impuissant, but that was only the beginning of a soon to be nightmare.

I wonder where my dad will be as I slowly reach for the numbers 9 0 5 2, waiting for that red light to turn green. Right away I know most of the people on this side of the room are worse than the others. Some are slouched over in wheelchairs, others are being fed by Hospice or other care people. In a way this room is paralyzing. The patients, they’re forever captured by their weakness with nowhere to go but downhill. They wait, and wait, until the pain subsides.

With each visit it seems like there is another empty room. Each visit is a surprise. I know dad got worse but I don’t know what function it is yet. Is it his mobility? Will he even be able to speak anymore? Can he still control his bladder? Will he choke on something he’s not supposed to eat? Each question constantly gnaws at your skin consuming your every thought.

Sometimes I think about life when this is all over. When I no longer have to make these harrowing visits. I wonder if things will then be at least a little bit normal, or will there always be a piece missing. In some ways it seems better. There will be no more anxiety as the unknown drags on. Better yet, maybe; just maybe, there will be no more worries. There was a time when I never had to worry. It seems like just the other day he was taking me to the Bengals game and staying up with me the nights I got sick. The memories aren’t strong but they leave an impact.

There is never much talking amongst each other while we’re all in here. When we do talk it’s not real. It’s never in a normal tone; something is always off when words do come out. You couldn’t even call it conversation, it’s too forced and has a hint of sadness in the tone that everyone tries to hide. We speak to my father in that loud slow voice – the way one would speak to a toddler. None of us like looking at the reality of the situation that lays there just before our eyes. We just keep it all to ourselves.

We quickly scatter to his cramped dull room. When I look down at the almost unrecognizable man from the dad I once knew.  He shows a look of curiosity on his ghostly pale face. It makes me wonder if he still recognizes me. The raw touch on his hands startles me. Only to find out he’s been rubbing them beneath his pillow. As I reach out to touch him I only get the feel of frail bones and skin. An electrifying shiver runs down my spine.

He hardly gets out of bed anymore. If he does he’s most likely being wheeled around. It makes me think of the times we would shoot hoops in the driveway. And the times he would drive me to and from baseball practice. It makes you more fortunate for life’s small moments. Every time I go in his room I always turn on a game for him. Any game, something that he can listen to. Even though he probably has no clue of what’s to it, I still turn it on. It keeps me sane holding on to the idea that he remembers our love for the game. I quietly slump on his bed beside his feet and just watch the game, but always with one eye on him. I like to think he’s listening to it and celebrating each score. That’s one thing we will always, a love for sports.

While we sit there, I can only hear the sound of his choked breaths. I feel the need to end the silence. I quietly remark “You know the Bengals are actually doing pretty well this year. I think in 3-5 years they really have a chance at a title.”

I look over at him and see that same look of confusion on his face. “Ha-ha okay” I laugh to myself, “I forgot you can’t speak.” He sees me smiling and a small grin softly stretches across his face. “What are you smiling about?” I ask.  I look down to see a blank face. I lean back against the wall and smile.

“Dad, let’s go for a walk.” I mutter, forgetting how hard it is to get him in his wheelchair. My hand grasps around his frail waste while me and my brother help him into his wheelchair. My eyes pick up every cadaverous person as soon as we leave his room. I quickly push him out big glass doors to the fenced in back garden. The wind gently whistles by and we just sit there listening to the music of the wind. I can easily lose track of time back here. It’s the only place I can escape the the sights and fears of death in this place. All it does is constantly remind me that there’s not much time. Back in this garden time stops. I feel I can just stay here forever with him just listening to the sounds nature gives us. A cadaverous body is wheeled out the door and that dream of eternity is once again swallowed up by darkness.

I quickly wheeled him back into his room. “Well dad, I think it’s about time for me to get going, I’ll see you soon.” Silence fills the room. “I love you Dad.” My own words echo back to me. I quietly leave the room letting those four words just ring back and forth in my head. I go through the big heavy doors and hear them click behind me. I step back into my own world. I know in the future my worries will return in place of my big dreams, but in this moment- surprisingly, for once I feel no worries. I quietly exhale letting out a deep breath I didn’t even know I was holding.