Dad 1, God Zero

Jehovah's Witness Knocking

For most of my elementary school years, I had to take the music class taught by Mrs. O’Neil. In a class with the same teacher year-after-year, I’m not quite sure how the semesters were supposed to be distinct — all I can remember about the classes were Yamaha recorders, way too much “Frère Jacques” being sung, and the following story.

Each one of us has a God-given talent, I’m sure. My talent is being entertaining, especially to a bunch of immature boys. One day in fourth-grade music class, I was entertaining my peers with a boisterous round of fake farts. Take wet palms pressed against the mouth and combine them with forceful and steady breaths, and soon the hills were alive with the sound of flatulence.

The only Jehovah’s Witness I ever knew was a chubby, red-headed kid named Andreas. I remember him as the first obnoxious person I ever met. As he was about to display, Andreas’s God-given talent was tattling. After the first chorus of my “symphony,” he raised his hand for attention. When called upon, Andreas said, “Mrs. O’Neil! Matt keeps farting!”

It took far longer than usual for the hoots and howls of our fellow students to die down before Mrs. O’Neil gave the best comeback I’ve heard in my life. “Andreas,” she said, “farting is an uncontrollable action. I can’t control it, and neither can you.”

And so I sat back smiling, secure in knowing that I had won this round. But by the end of the afternoon, I was to encounter the wrath of Jehovah. Or better yet, the wrath of the Jehovah’s Witness.

After school, I was walking home with my usual gang. Suddenly, I was smacked upside the back of my head. Streaking past me was Andreas on his bicycle — he had surprised me with a sneak attack. He was cussing up a storm, apparently angry at being humiliated.

Andreas circled around for another sortie and soon was blazing towards me. My friends had scattered, not only to get out of the way but to assume prime viewing spots. I was alone, a target out in the open. My looked left…right…. “Wait!” I thought, “That’s it!” Nearby was a broken tree branch.

I quickly grasped it, and immediately was face-to-face with Andreas. He swung at me from his mount — I used my illegal ninja moves from the government to duck. Then with a swift jab, I jammed the stick between the spokes of his front wheel. Within an instant, his bike came to a complete stop. The same cannot be said for Andreas, for over the handlebars he went.

At this point, excited applause filled the air.

Andreas got to his feet, growled, and lunged at me. Soon enough, we were wrestling around on the ground, and two 9-year-olds were flailing and rolling across the ground.

Suddenly, the sound of screeching car brakes could be heard. Immediately, Andreas was torn away from his position over me. I looked to see my father. He apparently had driven by and seen me in a fight. He had firm grasp of Andreas’s shirt collar, and he barked, “Don’t you ever touch my son again!” Dad then let go, and Andreas proceeded to retreat full-speed on foot instead of on his bicycle. He continued to run until disappearing around a distant corner.

My father turned to check on me. “You OK?” he asked. I choked back some tears and nodded. I was only a block away from home at this time. So my dad finished driving and I completed the walk, taking with me Andreas’s bicycle.

I kept that thing for about a year before my parents, who were the sole purchasing authority in our household, finally realized that their child had a bike that they hadn’t purchased for him. I had to give the thing back to him, but after that length of time Andreas had already gotten a new bike, whose frame better supported his own bulky one. I don’t know what he told his parents about the old bike, but I am sure that Jehovah was a witness to that one as well.

Photo credit: The Stillman

I Love My Mother

Stethoscope

Last night, I got a phone call I had been dreading for quite some time.

My father called to tell me that my mother was in the hospital.

Earlier in the day, she was visiting her primary care physician to get (of all things) a referral to the ophthalmologist. During the visit, they performed the routine blood-pressure test and found out that my mother’s was anything but — 270 over 140, dangerously high for a person of any age. The doctor exclaimed that he’d never seen blood pressure that high. And I’ll never roll my eyes at my doctor testing my blood pressure and taking my pulse ever again.

An EKG confirmed that her heart muscle had hardened, another symptom that something was amiss. She was told to drive herself to the hospital and check in immediately. This had happened earlier in the day, but my father did not have the opportunity to call me until around dinnertime.

For a number of years, ever since my parents approached the age of 58 (they are both 60 now); my heart has jumped each and every time they call unexpectedly. You see, a majority of the people in my family died before or at the age of 58, many of them from heart disease. My father is wise enough to do something about this, getting a physical each year and monitoring his own high blood pressure. My mother, on the other hand, has not been to the doctor in years. The last time she went was because she cut off her thumb in a kitchen accident awhile ago. Before that, who knows…? When she was admitted, they asked her all sorts of routine questions:

“When was your last physical?”

“I don’t know.”

“When did you last have a pap smear?”

“I don’t know.”

“When was your last mammogram?”

“I don’t know.”

And so forth.

The two of them rarely call me; it’s usually me that is contacting them, as I can be so introverted and wrapped up in my own business. And for my dad to call me at 5:00pm on a Friday…I expected the worst. And nearly got it. Dad told me that although mom was in the ICU, it was likely that a shortage of rooms elsewhere in the hospital put her there. If all goes well, both of them were told to expect her discharge by this evening.

After I hung up, you cannot believe how hard I cried.

I drove out to their town of Southlake immediately, wove through traffic as thick as fog, and had time to blow before visitation hours began at 8:30pm. I needed to eat; I needed to collect my thoughts. Schlotzsky’s, the restaurant of a thousand memories, came to mind.

I needed something different from my regular routine, so I quizzed the teenagers working there about the quality of their pizzas. One of them encouraged me to try the chicken pesto pizza — good enough, I thought. “Gimme that, a small drink, and a cookie.” What cookie, they asked. I waffled — chocolate chip, I said. No, wait…macadamia nut, I quickly corrected. The teenager grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and I surrendered, “OK, I guess it’s chocolate chip.” He then followed it by grabbing the macadamia nut one. “Oh, I’m sorry, I only wanted one cookie.” He gave me both, said, “Don’t worry about it, sir,” and I let him know that he just made my night. I’m buying Schlotzsky’s stock come Monday morning.

I spent part of the evening at home with my father who taught me everything he knows about high blood pressure, a condition he’s had all of his adult life (thanks to his steady diet of cigarettes and alcohol, dual tastes my mother also shares). Medical care and medicine are sciences that escape me — I have a chronic thyroid condition that I may not be able to tell you the first thing about despite how it affects my everyday life. The good news was that they had detected this before something like a stroke or heart attack had occurred. My father then asked about my brother Michael — I’d talked to him earlier in the evening, and he had seemed a bit freaked out. I was freaked out myself, seconds away from crying again the whole night. The prospect of my mother being in the hospital scares me so much.

Around 8:30pm, we left for the hospital, and I was able to see my mother. She seemed relaxed and slight groggy. She was having trouble sleeping, she told me. All sorts of monitors and tubes snaked around, the sheer quantity of which unnerved me. But she felt fine, was less scared than curious about what all of the testing was showing, and wished that the nurses would quit waking her up just to ask if she’d like a sleeping pill.

That was yesterday; today it’s Saturday, and I’m currently idling away while Kilgore gets her oil changed at the local Wal-Mart. Earlier in the day, I attempted my weekly long run, only to have it aborted by searing ankle pain, the kind I have not experienced for a year now. I returned home to take the longest shower in history, as I spent most of it pinned against the wall crying again. I just came from seeing my mother in the hospital again, and both my father and godmother Kathleen were there. The mood was somber — my mother’s heart rate and blood pressure had just surged before I walked in. Visiting hours soon ended, and we were all kicked out before we could get an answer from the doctor. It’s two more hours until the next set of visiting hours. I have the feeling that she’s not going home tonight. And if not tonight, when?

Time passes, the next set of visiting hours comes about, and I visit my mother. She’s awake again and feeling fine. She looks good for a 98-pound weakling of a 60-year-old, and appears quite eager to get the hell out of Dodge–Hospital, that is. Kathleen was there again, along with her husband Bob; my father showed up soon afterwards. The magic hour was 8 o’clock, when my mother would have to show marked improvement in her blood pressure before being discharged. When the time came and the automatic cuff released itself from her arm, the results were pleasing enough: 149 over 62. She’s going to be on medication now, to reduce her blood pressure and lower her LcL cholesterol. In addition, she’s on The Patch — so it looks like my lifelong hope of my mother quitting smoking may happen now.

I spent most of the next hour at Outback Steakhouse, getting a takeout order for my parents while dad took care of getting mom settled in back at home. It’s worth noting that the same bartenders have worked there ever since the place opened, and my father and other Southlake/Grapevine cronies all hang out there each Thursday. Dad wanted the Outback Special, medium-rare with a side of fettuccini alfredo — I asked the bartender if it was possible to get this combination, and she said, “Oh, you must be Nick and Mikie’s son?” Soon enough, she was kind enough to draw me a huge pint of Fat Tire for the happy hour price.

And honestly for the first time in my life, I said to myself, “Damn, I really need a drink tonight.”

Image credit: Jasleen_Kaur on Flickr