Hi Darling. Sorry I left you hanging from a banana tree. Everything went sideways and the grief of it all comes at me in strange waves.
It all started two weeks or so ago and it’s wilder than fiction. You can’t make this stuff up if you wanted to, even if you had the most creative God-gift of a brain.
I was anchored out by the surf breaks. There I was lost in the sapphire of the day, my arms like an electric eel, my face covered in a diamond-dusted smile. Bliss. I get a text from my sister, Mary, “Can you talk?” She never needs to talk. I’m the one that needs to talk, I’m the one always crying wolf when there isn’t even a wolf or a creature that resembles a wolf. Something must be wrong. I call. She starts with, “Everyone is ok, but…”
But? But! But my mom and dad were driving to the lake in my mom’s Lexus RX 350. My dad is at the wheel. My mom is a passenger and she rides and she rides. They stop at a Kream Kastle for an ice cream cone and some French fries, like they always do. My dad goes inside. My mom stays in the car and notices that my dad accidentally left the car in neutral. She reaches over and tries to put it in park, but kicks it into reverse instead. The car is heading fast for the freeway. She jumps out of the car, the passenger door knocks her to the ground, the 6000 lb. car runs her over. HER OWN CAR RUNS HER OVER! Some nice stranger hops into the driver’s seat and stops it from becoming a total wrecking ball.
My dad comes out from the Kream Kastle, fries and cone in hand. My mom is on the ground, bleeding like a stuck pig and he doesn’t know what on earth happened. She gets helicoptered to a trauma center in Little Rock. In the helicopter they cut the clothes off her body and she is naked as a jay bird and mortified. My dad gets thrown in the back of a cop car and they take him to a police station and interrogate him for an hour, I’m sure he’s mortified too. Anybody that has some Jesus in them could take one look at my dad’s face and know he didn’t run my mom over, but these backwoods bumpkin cops think that he did.
My mom gets sent home a day later. I FaceTime her. She’s laid up on the couch. My dads there. My sister is there. My cousin is there. My mom’s best friend is there. I say, “Should I come home?” She says, “No, it’s not like I’m dying.” Then she proceeds to tell me, “I’m like a turtle on my back. My right shoulder came out of it’s socket and I can’t move it. My left foot has three fractures on it. I’ve got a fractured rib. I look like I’ve been through a meat grinder on my belly and there’s something the size of an eggplant sticking out of it. I think my tail bone is broken too, it hurts like hell. But at least the car didn’t get my head, it would’ve popped my head off like a watermelon.”
I decide not to go home because she tells me not to and because there are lots of people taking care of her and besides I’m a bad nurse. I feel all the pain of the injured and it’s so unbearable inside my body that it debilitates me from doing anything helpful.
I decide instead that I will sail offshore to this island I’ve tried to visit three times. It’s called Vatulele. It’s about 50 NM away and will be a good test sail for my new rig. So off I go. The pass is a rambunctious chaos of water. Big waves. One so big that it knocks Juniper all the way on her side. And I’m just praying and praying and praying and it feels like it takes me an eternity to get out into the great wide ocean.
I’m out there and the wind is wishy-washy and there is a coal black storm heading my way. It hits me with total darkness and 35 knots of ferocious and feral wind. Bone rattling, I tell you. I’m praying some more as I sneak into a harbor on the south side of the mainland. I can’t see the reef. I can’t see my mind. I can’t see yesterday. Lightning streaks. I make it past the reef and into the harbor. The sky is ablaze. I drop the hook. I wait for the rugged wicked to pass. I cook. I read. I sleep.
I wake up at sunrise and there are rainbows fragmenting the sky. I weigh anchor and keep heading towards Vatulele. I text my parents to see how they are doing and tell them I’m going offshore. No response. No news is good news, I guess? The wind is blowing 15 knots off my stern quarter and I’ve got full sails flying and the rainbows just keep on flowing.
I’m 15 NM out and about to loose phone reception when my sister calls. She is crying. “What’s wrong?” She says, “Dad is about to have an emergency surgery. He needs to tell you that he loves you.” I am crying now, hyperventilating rather. I FaceTime. I tell him I love him. I show him the ocean. I sob. I can’t say anything more. I just stare at him in his hospital gown and cry and he says, “I love you. It’s going to be ok. I have to do the surgery. We don’t have any other choice.”
I call my mom and I’m hysterical. My mom is saying all sorts of funny things like she always does and she’s still a turtle on her back. She tells me that my dad fell out of bed the night she got home from the hospital- which was only two days ago mind you- and he was screaming that his stomach hurt and that he needed an ambulance. She says that I’m not to worry because my dad has had plenty of surgeries and he’ll be alright. Then I call my best friend who works at the hospital where my dad is. I say, “How serious is this?” She says, “Get home right now. It’s serious. He has a perforated bowel. He is a double lung transplant recipient and immunosuppressant and he’s not a spring chicken.” We hang up. Another friend calls and says, “I booked you a flight leaving Fiji tomorrow night. Get your boat to port.”
I turn the boat around. I motor 10 hours straight into an unforgiving wind and my stomach is kinked up in knots. I want to throw up. I’m not seasick, I’m homesick. I’m sick, sick. I toss my boat on a mooring in Musket Cove. I give away all the food in my fridge. I pack. I stow my dinghy. I tell one person what is happening and soon the whole anchorage knows. A neighbor comes over and gives me a joint and the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F****.
The sun rises again. I call home. The surgery is over, but they couldn’t finish what they started. My dad’s stomach is still open and he’s in a drug-induced comma on full life support. I can’t think straight! All sorts of bells are breaking loose inside of my body and I could start a garden from scratch with all the eye water coming out of me.
I take a ferry to the mainland. I take an 10 hour flight to LA. The customs line is long and I’m gonna miss my connecting flight. I tell the officials what’s going on with my dad. They take me to the front of the line. I get stamped. I run. I run. I run. I make it just in time for my a flight from LA to Dallas, but there is a storm over Dallas and the plane doesn’t go to Dallas it goes to Tulsa instead and we sit there on the runway and wait for the storm to dissolve over Dallas. The man next to me works at a casino. He wears a cowboy hat and a polyester smile. He knows I have one more flight to catch and says, “I hope you miss your connecting flight.” A tidal waves of outlaws crawl out of my mouth as I scream, “F*** you, my dad is dying!” The cowboy feels real bad. We make it to Dallas and I do miss my connecting flight to Little Rock.
It’s 1 AM. The next flight is not until 8 AM. The cowboy whose name to me is “Hey You” pays for me to take a taxi to a 7/11. I want a beer or something to numb my mind, but they don’t sell beer after midnight! I wish I could eat something and just fade away from my head like Alice in Wonderalnd. I go back to the airport. I spend all night there with the cowboy and two Nigerian woman.
I crawl onto the morning flight in need of sleep and warmth. I land. I go straight to the hospital and up to the ICU. My sister and mom are there and my mom’s in a wheelchair! The hospital lights are bright. I feel like I’m in a grow room, but not a damn thing is growing.
I’m standing in front of my dad’s room, among the shadow of the bone. Wyatt is written on the door. There are machines beeping and tubes coming out of those machines and into my dad, and big screens showing his vitals, and IVs dripping juice, and I’m scared to walk fully into the door of that room. I don’t want to see him like that. My mom says I need to go see him. I take a deep breath. I go in. My little sister dressed my dad up in sunglasses like Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” She wanted to make it less intense for me. It’s intense and heartbreaking even with the Elvis music playing and Bernie sunglasses on my dad’s face and that face that I see, is not his face, at least it’s not the way I want to remember his face.
I hold my dad’s hand. It’s delicate. So delicate. Soft. So soft. I’m afraid to hold it too tight. I say, “Hi dad, it’s Olivia. I’m here. I love you.” He squeezes my hand. The nurse comes in and explains that he is comfortable because she has him snowed on fentanyl and that my dad’s just on a cloud right now and out there hanging with the wind. I wonder if the nurse could put me on a liquid cloud too?
The doctor comes in and gets to the ugliness of stuff. He tells us that my dad’s artificially alive, without the machines he’d be gone. He tells us he has kidney failure, heart failure, and respiratory failure and that there is only so much a human body can handle. Tell me about it. My human body can not handle hearing all of this! I would really like that nurse to get me snowed now. Nurse! Where is the damn nurse?!
I ask the doc if the risk they took with surgery was absolutely necessary. He says, “Without the surgery your dad would have died from sepsis.” My dad was damned if he didn’t and damned if he did.
My mom calls the church. Christ Episcopal, in case you were wondering. All of my ancestors went there. The stained glass window that hangs in the front was paid for by my great great grandfather after the original church burned down. Anyway, my mom tells church that we need a priest to come to the hospital pronto. We sing my dad golden oldies while we wait.
The priest comes to the hospital to read the Last Rites. His name is Raegan and he’s a young gun. The prayer is a call and response type thing and I volunteer to be the response. My mom and siblings laugh. The priest hands me a prayer book. He puts his hand on my dad and starts the prayer. My dad’s eyes open. The priest is praying and I’m responding loud enough for heaven to hear me. My dad, who opened his eyes occasionally, who squeezed our hands sometimes, who moved his legs once in a blue moon, is now fully animated. He’s squeezing my mom’s hand hard. His eyes are still open. Tears are rolling down his face. His legs are twitching. We keep praying, my dad keeps moving, and I’ve never felt the presence of God in such a potent way!
The prayer is over. I shut the prayer book. My dad closes his eyes, his body stops moving, he’s ready to go home to God.
All of us, except my older sister, stay in the room while they shut the machines down. I don’t watch them do all of that, I don’t want to see it, I just want to be there. I’ve only been present while one other thing was dying. It was my cat, Nelly. It took a long time for her to go. Maybe an hour. My dad went fast. Too fast. A machine beeped. The nurse came in. That was that. I was shocked. I say, “Dad went so much faster than Nelly did.”
The grief hits me as soon as we leave his hospital room. Nausea. I announce that I need to throw up. Then I start gagging and dry heaving and choking and I vomit up a waterfall of tears all the way through the hospital, and inside the elevator with a scared orderly who stares at his shoes while I wail, and on the way out of the hospital door, and in the parking lot, and the entire car ride home. I think the rest of the family is embarrassed by me, but once the emotion started escaping I couldn’t control it. No amount of monkey-shoulder’s or liquid snow could have stuffed it back inside of me.
My mom’s house is a jungle of flowers. The doorbell rings twice an hour with deliveries of food or bouquets or baskets of bath bombs. None of these things are addressed to me. They are addressed to my mom or my little sister. However, one tiny package arrives for me. It’s a box of psychedelic mushroom chocolates, called “chocolate chuckles.” I want to eat the whole bar until I lose my head in some fluttering springtime where I am a dragonfly emerging from a lotus flower, but I don’t. My life already feels like one long strange trip, and besides, I must sit with my emotions, if I try to escape them they will grow into crocodiles and hide out in the swamp of my heart. There they will lurk, until one day, when I least expect it, they devour me.
In my sadness I pick up the phone. I call a medium-psychic so I can speak to my dad. My mom says I’m just wasting my money on charlatans, but I don’t care because it makes me feel better to “talk to my dad.” The medium says that he says that his mind is free now and that he’s happy. He wants the family to release guilt. There’s nothing we could have done to prevent it. And he tells the charlatan to tell me that I’m so courageous and so loving and he doesn’t want me to ever loose my heart. He wants me only to do things that bring me joy and only stay in situations that bring me joy.
People say I have my dad’s smile and I know that I have his blue eyes. I don’t know where my openness to psychics or my love of the sea comes from, definitely not my mom or my dad, must be some magic in between them.
Anyway, I miss my dad and the fact that he’s gone hits me at oddest times, like when I look up at the moon or see a cardinal fly by or am alone in bed at 3 AM with a stomach full of Milky Way. I wrote and read the eulogy for his funeral. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. You can read it below if your eyeballs aren’t aching…..
Hi. I’m Olivia Wyatt, and Dick was my dad. He was a sweet-hearted man with a sun-blazing smile. A legend in his own right. He was a wizard when it came to computers and numbers and he was always on the cutting edge of technology. As the son of a cotton farmer he knew the value of hard work, but he was also a quick-witted clown who could make you laugh til you cried. He could ski down mountains like a snow leopard, do a crossword puzzle faster than a robot, chow down popcorn like a champ, play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis, and drink Miller lite even if it was hot. He loved Elvis and roses and hummingbirds and chocolate kisses. He could fly planes and moonwalk and turn a blade of grass into an instrument. He loved a good musical, and became a founding member of the repertory theater and he was always tapping his toes or singing a song and he sang so gold that even the birds danced. My dad was like a walking jukebox, flower garden, jack-in-the-box, and candy store all rolled into one. And he was smart as a whip too, he had a brain like a calculator combined with a set of encyclopedias, I could ask him anything about anything and he’d know the answer.
I learned a lot about living life by watching my dad live his.
He embodied the very essence of optimism, refusing to let his circumstances defeat him. When I was in Jr. High my dad got diagnosed with a lung disease. He went from running every morning to walking around with an oxygen tank. His lungs got so bad that he was robbed of his ability to sing. It was a real heartbreaking thing to witness. But despite this adversity, my dad refused to let his spirit sink. I never once heard him complain or cry or question his faith. He’d go to parties with his oxygen tank on his back and crack jokes about it. He’d walk around, pretending to be an exterminator and say “Don’t mind me I’m just here checking for bugs.” His positive attitude was infectious. My dad became the 499th recipient of a lung transplant. His life expectancy after the transplant was 5 years, but he lived 23 1/2 years more. He defied the odds, he defied the laws of medicine, he defied the forces of nature. That is the power of positive thinking, the power of perseverance, the power of the human spirit.
I’ve got one more story about my dad’s unshakable spirit. One time, during college, I was visiting home. It was a hot summer and we were in his car, stopped at a red light with the air conditioning blasting. My dad reached into his glovebox and pulled out a red clown nose. He wore it like it was nothing, and I asked what he was doing. “Just act normal,” he said with mischief flashing in his eyes. We sat there waiting at the light, my dad in his clown nose, and me mystified. It wasn’t long before a group of high school kids in a nearby car spotted us and cracked into laughter. When the light turned green, my dad smiled and put the clown nose away, revealing a secret stash of costumes in the glovebox; wigs, hats, glasses. I felt like I was discovering a secret side of my dad. How had I lived this long and never known that he turned his Toyota into a theater at stoplights? I loved bearing witness to this playful side of him so much that i bought my dad a “Fat Bastard” hat from Ireland with red hair hanging beneath it, to add to his glovebox collection. My dad could really turn a dull day bright, and he refused to let life get him down.
On the table next to where he ate breakfast every morning sits a quote that he admired by Groucho Marx it reads “Growing old is something you do if you’re lucky.” My dad was lucky, for living so many years beyond his double lung transplant, I’m lucky that he was my dad because he was a fantastic dad, and heaven is lucky to have my dad now. I hope he’s up there shaking his hips, singing songs with Elvis and making all the angles laugh. Rest In Peace dad. I love you.