My mother drives like a Bond Girl.
Fast, reckless, and with an accent.
“Püppchen, you’re the only one. Change his channels. Practice your French. Don’t leave him alone. Every second counts. There are so few left.”
She drops me at St. Francis Hospital and speeds off to her seamstress job, the sole income for our family at the moment.
I drag my feet down the antiseptic corridors having the first of a lifetime of existential crisis.
Pourquoi, does my German mother wants me to learn French ?
Pourquoi, do I have to spend the summer of in a hospital room?
Est plus important que tout ça, Pourquoi, is my father dying ?
The TV hangs above his bed. Saturday afternoon sports.
He’s mumbling, in his sleep, deep in a morphine haze.
I kiss him on the cheek because that’s what I’m supposed to do but I don’t really want to kiss him anymore.
He wakes up and I feel weird to be the prince to his Sleeping Beauty.
Squinting his eyes, he looks at me as if I’m far off in the distance.
He reaches for this plastic bottle hanging from the side of his bed, unsnaps the top, pushes down his sheet.
I can see his dick. He says to me,
“I never peed in front of girl before."
The last time my father was my father was the night of my 8th grade graduation.
We matched. His red hair had fallen out and come back in ivory white, I
wore this ivory dress a friend of my mother’s had given to me.
Both of us brand new.
We bolted after the ceremony to go home and
catch The Searchers on TV, our favorite John Wayne western.
My father always wanted to be a cowboy.
In reality he was more of a couch potato cowboy, our lives planned around the TV guide and the power of the remote.
We’d sit together eating plates of lukewarm pork and bean, watching John Wayne stand in the doorframe of a house full of his family, but instead of going inside he turns, walking into the desert landscape as a voice on the soundtrack sings, “Ride away.”
“Hey, Mo,” that’s my dad’s nickname for me. “If I make it through the summer I promise we’ll go west. Just you and me,” he’d say over the end credits.
Mais je suis encore là ! Instead of going west I’m freezing in a hospital room.
“I can’t go in front of a girl.” he says.
My mother told me not to leave him
I turn my back to him and say, “Pretend you’re standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Cowboys pee into the Grand Canyon all the time.”
The nurse comes in wearing Scooby-Doo scrubs and asks us, “What we talking about in here?”
“John Wayne never pissed in the Grand Canyon!” my dad yells.
The Nurse takes control, holds up his sheet to barricade him from seeing me.
She lets out the most pleasant sigh I’ve ever heard.
His stream hits the plastic.
“Well if you’re in the Grand Canyon and you gotta go, you gotta go. It’s not like there’s a bathroom ever 10 feet. Personally, I don’t go out in the middle nowhere. I like to keep my bathrooms close.”
She hits the button on the morphine pump that is pushed up against his bed. She takes the bottle away and puts the control in his hand. “Mr. Nichols, remember you got this morphine pump here, you just hit the button whenever you feel any pain. Any pain at all. No need to wait.”
My father drifts off.
Ceci n’est pas un lit d’hôpital….
Ceci n’est plus une vie…
I curl up in the vinyl chair with my t-shirt pulled over my legs trying not to freeze to death.
“Did I make it?” My dad rustles awake again mumbling.
“Make what, dad?
“8 seconds. Did I make it 8 seconds?!”
“Where’s my hat?”
“You don’t have a hat.”
“I need my hat to wave to the crowd. Cowboy up!”
There’s a rodeo competition playing on TV.
I swear to god he’s always wanted to live inside the TV rather than be with me.
With any of us.
I’ll make him come back.
“No, Dad, You’re not. There are no horses here.”
“Son of bitch bull!”
“You’re at Saint Francis Hospital.”
He stops, looks at me, squinting at me again, scared.
“You didn’t see me?”
His voice sounds younger than mine.
I don’t want that voice to know where he really is.
“Yes, I did. I saw you. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“I wasn’t on a bull.”
“Nobody’s cheering for me.”
“Yes, they are. Your hat flew off during the ride. I’ll send a rodeo clown in to get it back for you.”
The buzzer sounds on TV. The cowboy has made it 8 seconds before being thrown off the bull. I repeat the sportscasters.
“Did you hear? You made the 8 seconds, dad.”
“I made 8 seconds?”