Authors: Richard Paul Evans
“No,” he said, failing to hide the anger that Marcus's name still provoked. “He was a five-star loser. I saw that train wreck a mile off.”
I shook my head slowly. “Why didn't I?”
He looked at me for a long time, then said, “Maybe when you figure that out, you won't be lonely.”
I frowned. “Maybe.” We both went back to eating. After a few minutes I said, “Well, at least I have you.”
My father stopped eating, then looked at me thoughtfully. “That brings up something,” he said slowly. His forehead furrowed. “You know when we were on the phone and you said I was going to live forever?” I just looked at him. He looked uncomfortable. “Three weeks ago I had a colonoscopy. They, uhÂ .Â .Â .” He hesitated, looking into my fearful eyes. “They found a tumor.”
I set down my fork. “But it's benignÂ .Â .Â .Â ?”
He let out a nearly inaudible groan. “I have colon cancer.”
I couldn't speak.
“Unfortunately, we didn't catch it early, so it's regionalized. It's what they call stage 3A.”
Tears began to well up in my eyes. “I can't believe this.”
“Now hold on, it's not as bad as it sounds. I know, stage three sounds like I've already got a foot in the grave, but I don't. There's an almost seventy percent survival rate. I'll take those odds any day of the week. Heck, just taking my Harley out on the road I have worse odds.”
“Where are you getting care?”
“At the VA.”
“The veterans hospital? You might as well just hang yourself.”
“You're being dramatic. It's not that way.”
I broke down crying. He took my hand. When I could speak, I said, “Can we go home now?”
He leaned over the table and kissed my forehead, then said, “Whatever you want, sweetheart. Whatever you want.”
How different life would be if we knew just how little of it we actually possessed.
Kimberly Rossi's Diary
My father's house was simple but beautifulâa typical Las Vegas rambler with a rock-and-white-stucco exterior surrounded by palm trees. It wasn't a large home, and everything was on one floorâthree bedrooms, two bathsâbut there was plenty of room for the two of us.
In spite of my aching heart, or perhaps because of it, I was especially glad to be back. After all this time it still felt like home.
My father gave me his keys to the house, then grabbed my suitcase and followed me in. In the foyer was a large new saltwater fish aquarium filled with beautiful exotic fish, his newest hobby.
“How are your fish?” I asked.
“The fish,” he said, sounding a little exasperated. “I had an incident last week. I purchased one of those triggerfish. It started eating the other fish, including my hundred-dollar pygmy angelfish.”
“Expensive hobby,” I said.
“Too expensive for my budget,” he said. “Never should have done it.”
He carried my bag to my old bedroom and set it down next to the bed. “I washed the sheets and everything.”
“Thanks, Dad.” There was an uneasy awkwardness between us, as if he wasn't sure if he should leave me alone or not. Finally I asked, “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Just about. I baked the pies this morning.”
“It's something new I'm trying,” he said. “I got the recipes off the Internet. And I had a little help. That woman I told you about from the VA hospital. She came over and helped me cook.”
“You mean Alice?” I said.
He grinned. “Alice. As in, Alice's Restaurant.”
“Whatever that is,” I said.
“So I made a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. The pecan pie was a little tricky, but it turned out all right.”
“I'm glad that she came over,” I said. “I don't like you being alone all the time.”
“I'm not alone. I've got fish.”
“If they don't all eat each other.”
I suspect that he guessed I was just making small talk to avoid the cancerous elephant in the room, because he sat down on my bed next to me and put his arm around me. “Let me tell you something. When I was in Nam, there was this guy I served with named Gordie Ewell. He was regular infantry, served four years in combat. That man was indestructible. He was in some of the most intense battles of the war: Hamburger Hill, Khe Sanh, and Cu Chi. He survived
a crash in a downed helicopter, had a jeep blown up beneath him from a land mine, was hit by grenade shrapnel in a trench, got bit by a viper and shot twice. But nothing stopped him. The men nicknamed him Boomerang because he always came back.
“When he was finally released, he was awarded three Purple Hearts. He went home to Brooklyn in June of seventy-three, around the time the war started winding down.
“About a month later he went in to get a wisdom tooth pulled. He was given too much anesthetic and died in the dentist chair.”
I just looked at my father. “Exactly what part of that was supposed to make me feel better?”
“I'm just saying that when it's your time, it's your time. I know that might sound foreboding, but I take hope in it.” He put his hands on my cheeks. “I don't believe it's my time, girl. We've still got plenty of good years ahead of us, you and I.” He kissed me on the forehead, then stood. “Now go to bed. We've got a lot to do tomorrow.”
“Good night, Dad.”
“Good night, sweetheart.” He walked to the door, then looked back. “Our best years are still to come. Don't forget that.”
“I hope you're right,” I said.
“I know I'm right,” he said, thumping his fist against his heart. “I know it.” He walked out, shutting the door behind him.
I undressed, turned out the light, then crawled under the covers. I cried myself to sleep.
Sometimes the most whole people are those who come from the most broken circumstances.
Kimberly Rossi's Diary
Not surprisingly, I didn't sleep well. Thoughts of my father's cancer played through my mind like a bad song you can't get rid of. I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night after dreaming that I was at his funeral.
In spite of my lack of sleep, I got up early enough to go outside and watch the sun rise over the River Mountains. It was cool outside, probably in the low sixties, but practically sweltering compared to the freeze I'd left back in Denver.
I put on my walking shoes, sweatpants, and a Denver Broncos sweatshirt and walked about six miles, trying to clear my head a little before going back to the house. I was hoping that the walk would make me feel better, but it only made my mind focus more on my father's cancer. I started crying twice, once when I was almost home, so I just kept walking for another mile. I didn't want my dad to see me cryingânot that I could have hidden it anymore, as my eyes were already red and puffy. When I walked into the house my father was in the kitchen making breakfast.
“I made you some oatmeal.” My father said nothing about my puffy eyes, which I was grateful for. He hugged me, then
handed me a bowl. “I made it just the way you like it, with cream, walnuts, raisins, and a lot of brown sugar. Too much brown sugar.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I sat down to eat.
“How was your walk?”
“It was okay,” I said.
My father poured cream over his oatmeal, then sat down across from me. “How did you sleep?”
“It's just good to be back home,” I said, ignoring his question.
“It's always good when you're home,” he replied. “You don't have to live in Colorado.”
“I know,” I said.
After we finished eating, my father, as tradition dictated, put on the Carpenters' Christmas album and Karen's rich voice filled our home.
We had a lot of cooking to do, which I was glad for. I needed something to occupy my mind. My tasks were pecan-crusted sweet potato casserole and corn bread stuffing.
I noticed that my father set the table with two extra settings.
“Are we having guests?”
“I invited a couple of men from the hospital. Chuck and Joel. They don't have any family around. Is that all right?”
“Of course. What about Alice?”
“She's in Utah with her children. Her son owns an Internet company up there.”
Neither of us spoke for a while. The emotion returned
and I purposely kept turned away from my father, occasionally dabbing my cheeks with a napkin or dish towel. I was chopping pecans for the casserole when he walked up beside me. “What's wrong?”
I kept chopping, avoiding eye contact. “You mean, besides you dying?”
He put his hand on mine to stop me. “I told you I'm not dying.”
“Relying on care from the veterans hospital is not exactly filling me with confidence. Las Vegas has one of the best cancer facilities in America. Why don't you go there?”
“Why should I get any better treatment than anyone else?”
“What you should get is the best treatment available.”
“I am. The VA is what's available. I can't afford any fancy cancer center.”
“But your insuranceÂ .Â .Â .”
“My Medicare covers the VA.”
I shook my head. “There's got to be another way to pay for it.”
He didn't say anything.
After a moment I said, “Do you know what makes this even worse, if that were possible? It's that this is happening on Thanksgiving. Now I've lost another holiday since Mom obliterated Christmas and Marcus destroyed Valentine's Day. Now I just need some tragedy on Halloween and Easter.”
“I'm sorry,” he said. “I shouldn't have told you.”
“Of course you should have told me.”
“Then you have to believe me that everything is going to be all right.”
“What does that even mean?
. Like, dying is
He was quiet a moment, then said, “If it comes to that.”
“If it comes to that? Why do you have to be so okay about your death?”
“Why do you have to be so
okay about it? Everyone dies.”
I looked at him, fighting back tears. “Not you.”
“Why not me?”
“Because you're all I have.” I broke down crying. “You're all I've ever had.”
He put his arms around me and held me close, rubbing his fingers through my hair. Then he said, “You're right. That's not fair of me, is it? You're all I have too.”
I sobbed in his arms for several minutes. After I quieted he said, “I meant it when I said I don't think it's my time. But if, God forbid, it is, remember that death is the punctuation at the end of the sentence. It's up to us to decide what kind of punctuation it will beâa period or an exclamation point.”
“Or a question mark.”
“Sometimes that too,” he said. “But if this is the end, and I don't think it is, do we want to leave our sentence unfinished? Or do we make it the best ending possible?” I didn't answer and he leaned forward. “What should we do?”
“We make it the best ending possible.”
He smiled. “Good girl. Now have a little faith that things will work out all right. Besides, we have a lot to be thankful for.”
At the moment I couldn't think of a single thing. “Like what?”
“Like this moment,” he said. “Right now.”
As I wiped the tears from my eyes the timer on the oven went off.
“There's the rolls,” he said. “And I know you're grateful for those.” He donned oven mitts, then opened the oven door. “Just about there.” My father made the best Parker House rolls on the planet. He brushed butter on top of the rolls, then shut the oven again.
“How's everything coming on your end?” he asked.
“It's getting there.”
“Good. Our friends will be here in a half hour.”