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Tiaras and Trucks

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wrapped in an Afghan

I was in fifth grade. 

Being called into my parents’ room, all four of us curled onto the king size bed seemed like the introduction to some sort of festive game.  After all, their room was a safe haven, the door always open during storms but closed during summer, window air conditioner blasting away, our sleeping bags on the floor, board games jumbled onto the bed.
The air was different that night.  Unmoving.  Heavy.  Serious.
Still, I clung to my childish optimism that home was a safe place, blissfully unaware that not all homes held hugs and smiles and hope within their walls.
I intentionally avoided eyes, attempting to form a smile through the tension.
I might have asked if we were finally going to Disney World, not expecting an affirmation of that hope but expecting a laugh, an indulgent smile.  There was no smile.
No.  We were not going to Disney World.
Instead, our family would be going on a different journey.  One with words like Hodgkin’s and cancer and lymph nodes and chemotherapy.  Words I didn’t comprehend and words I didn’t know and only one real question.
“Are you going to die?”
Ten years later, I would have asked the question differently, tripping over my words to cushion their blow.  Ten years later, I would have thought before speaking, gauged faces to discern an answer without asking.  Ten years later, the weight of that question might have smothered my voice.
“Are you going to die?”
No.  The answer was no.  My father was not going to die.
Relieved and buoyed by the answer, I relaxed, slightly confused about the utterly serious looks on my parents’ faces.
He was going to be fine, I thought. Why were they so sad?
Later, I saw glimpses of the ravages of cancer.
A naturally thin frame growing thinner.
Missed days and weeks and months of work.
Dry heaves and vomiting.
My energetic dad, sitting exhausted in his brown recliner, wrapped in the brown afghan my mother had made, no matter the temperature.
An artificial suntan from the radiation, affecting only his neck. 
Snapshots of a disease that allowed us to glance at his pain, not realizing the enormity of the horrific possibilities. 
My brother and I were sheltered from the worst of it.  We never set foot in a hospital or doctor’s office.  Used to his second and third shift schedule, we actually saw him more now that he was sick.
Our teachers knew; my teacher, in a brief period of remission from her own struggle with cancer, was particularly sympathetic and attentive.
Later, she succumbed to her second bout with cancer, beloved by so many students, wept for in classrooms and a memorial service.  My tears joined others in her memory, but they were tinged with guilt, and a slight, selfish joy.
My dad was going to be fine.
the prompt, paraphrased:
write about your worst memory
let it go
This isn't my WORST memory, but it’s not a good one.
I apologize, but some things just can’t be shared in a place I’m creating for Abbey and Dylan to look back on one day.
Though the prompt has led me to think about a lot of things the past few days, and for that, I appreciate it more than Cheryl, Katie, & Nichole can know.

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46 Comments:

  • At August 23, 2011 at 8:11 AM , Anonymous jessica said...

    Oh Angie I can only imagine what this was like to go through as a child. Anything that shakes your vision of indestructible parents is earth-shattering when you are young. As beautifully written as it is tragic. So sorry you have this story to tell.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 8:35 AM , Anonymous kisatrtle said...

    Thank you for being brave enough to share this

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 9:45 AM , Anonymous Evonne said...

    How 1 person is spared, but not another is something I will never understand.

    I also watched my dad battle cancer.  While the result of his battle was not the same as your dad, I can relate to watching a change in him yet being sheltered.  Hugs.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 10:45 AM , Anonymous frelle said...

    thank you for your bravery in sharing this perspective through your fifth grade eyes. It must have been so painful and so hard to understand., and you must have had to do a lot of maturing as a result. Im glad your father got to stay. *HUG*

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 10:49 AM , Anonymous Mama Wants This said...

    Thank you for sharing this, what must be so difficult to write about. Cancer just sucks. 

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM , Anonymous Megan (Best of Fates) said...

    This is perfectly, beautifully written.

    I'm so sorry for the pain you went through to be able to write it.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 11:27 AM , Anonymous Cheryl said...

    I cannot imagine how confusing a time this must've been. And the end, about feeling guilty - so honest. I am so glad your father is okay.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 11:28 AM , Anonymous Amy said...

    Cancer is such a horrible horrible disease, and so hard for kids to understand. Sometimes that is a good thing though. 

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 11:45 AM , Anonymous Debbie said...

    Such a difficult thing for a child to go through. I'm sure it has made you a stronger person. Thank you for sharing.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:02 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I don't know about stronger :)  I do think I have a healthy sense of appreciation and some lingering feelings of guilt!

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:03 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Yes, sometimes it's better for kids to not see the awful things, although that can be scary, too, because they sense the tension in the air :(

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:03 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Oh me, too.  I can't imagine how different our lives would be.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:04 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Oh thank you!  It's been so long that the pain has faded; had the result been different, I don't think that would be the case.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:04 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Amen sister.  Cancer bites the big one.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:05 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    The good thing is that the fifth grader didn't have to understand.  I think in a way that is so, so much easier.  My fear would be much greater now.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Hugs to you, too.  It's hard to watch the struggle, and I'm sorry that your father's battle didn't end well :(

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:06 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Well, and thank YOU for reading :)

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 12:07 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I think that is the hardest part, seeing a parent as mortal for the first time.  I am lucky & blessed that it turned out the way it did :)

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 1:13 PM , Anonymous sweetbutterbliss said...

    I'm glad your father was fine, I was so worried your story would end differently.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 1:18 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I'm so very glad, too :)  Thank you.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 1:47 PM , Anonymous Karen @ Time Crafted said...

    I agree, this prompt was quite powerful and though I don't think I'm writing along with it, it has certainly made me think a lot.

    Your thinking turned and spilled into wonderful wording for something completely unwonderful.  I can only imagine the heavy weight in a room that was safe and joyous for you.  I'm glad your dad is okay now, though it sounds like he went through a lot for that status.

    I really liked when you wrote how you might have answered or thought if you were older and how a simple object, like the afgan, can hold so much meaning and memory.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 4:56 PM , Anonymous Jennifer said...

    Oh, Angela, I loved the pace of this, I loved the honesty of your confusion, guilt, and love. I loved that it read as a younger you.

    This line really stood out for me, "An artificial suntan from the radiation, affecting only his neck. " and I too am so, so glad that your father survived.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 5:14 PM , Anonymous jentos23 said...

    Aw, that's so hard for a child to see their father go through. This was beautifully written.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 5:52 PM , Anonymous Robin @ Farewell, Stranger said...

    Oh Angela, this made my chest tight. I'm so glad he was okay. How hard that must have been to see your teacher lose her battle.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 6:08 PM , Anonymous Working Mommy said...

    How sad. It was nice that you never had to see a hospital - and others suffering - at such a young age.

    WM

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 8:08 PM , Anonymous Renee said...

    You told beautifully of a frightening time.
    I'm glad your father didn't die. Cancer is a scary under the bed kind of monster. It must have been very hard for your parents to have to explain this to young children.

     
  • At August 23, 2011 at 9:34 PM , Anonymous What She Said said...

    Oh, Angie. This was so beautifully told. I can't even imagine having to go through something like that as a child. I'm glad your dad was OK, and you should NEVER feel guilty for the happy tears you shed. 

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 7:44 AM , Anonymous Kpiccini said...

    My heart just hurt over and over as I read this. To read about the hope of Disney and then the news that would change your world forever. So brave to share this and bring that image of. The afghan in...so that every time I see one now my memories of them will mix with yours. This has affected me and told me more about you and I'm so lucky to "know" you.

    I am so glad your dad is ok and here and among us...and that you got the chance to know and be grateful for that. Xoxo

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:32 AM , Anonymous My Pajama Days said...

    I don't know what to say, but wow. Obviously I am so relieved that your dad is okay and gets to see your amazing life. It was such a childlike response to be both sad and relieved when your teacher died. I think even as adults we struggle with that balance of guilt and sympathy. This was wonderfully written - I especially loved how you drew us in to your parents' bedroom first, a place most of us think of as the safest spot in our home. Big hugs to you and your family.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 10:40 AM , Anonymous Kim said...

    I floated between Mother and Kid as I read this.  You did that well.  The innocence of a kid in a blanket finding out daddy's sick.  What that really means.  
    My family has a very bad record with cancer, and one of my biggest fears is that scene.  Telling my kids I am sick.  I can't imagine how it felt to do that, and hope I never do.  

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM , Anonymous Krista said...

    Very gorgeous writing.  I'm so sorry you had to experience this at such a young age when you didn't quite understand it all.  My father also had Hodgkins with Lymphoma and went through radiation and Chemo treatments.  You've very beautifully captured the emotions of a very difficult memory.  Thank you.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 11:47 AM , Anonymous Anne said...

    Oh, this is heartbreaking. So hard for a child to face her parents mortality. The feelings about your teacher are so understandable. I'm sorry for her loss, but am so relieved to hear your father is okay now. Very well written.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 4:09 PM , Anonymous Amanda said...

    Such a hard memory to remember and focus on. I am glad that he is ok. I am sad that others with this horrible disease are not okay. It is hard to understand and to grasp. It is severe. It is joyous when cancer is defeated. 

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:14 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Karen, Thanks for such a thoughtful response.  I think my reaction would be so different now, but my parents were so amazing with how they handled it, truly.

    My mom still has that afghan, too :)

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:17 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Oh thank you.  It's funny; if he grows a beard now, there are little patches where the hair doesn't grow, from that radiation.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:17 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Thank you; it was definitely hard.  I don't think I had ever seen him sick before that.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:18 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    She was amazing, too, really a wonderful person.  It was tough :(

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:19 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I was really lucky.  I don't know if I realized it then, aside from being so, so thankful that he was ok, but now I know how much my parents protected us from the truly awful parts of his treatments.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:19 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I was confused, and my brother was even younger.  Such a scary thing :(

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:21 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Oh thank you so much.  That mixture of happiness and sadness and guilt is so twisted together sometimes, and that can be a tough feeling!

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:22 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I think of it sometimes when I see him with my kids.  His father died before I was born, and I am so glad that my dad is able to be a grandfather.  He loves it so much :) xoxo

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:23 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Yes, it was a very powerful memory, I think in part because of where it happened.  Before that, I don't think anything negative had ever happened for me in their room; it was a safety net.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:25 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    It's very scary to think of getting sick like that as a parent.  Cancer is so awful and so many people suffer from it or watch someone they love suffer :(

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:26 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    I hope that your father is ok as well.  It's strange the details I remember, like him having dye in his feet for some treatment.  And thank you for the compliment about the writing :)

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:27 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Thank you!  I think that is the hardest part, thinking about a parent not being there.  I am so lucky, really.

     
  • At August 24, 2011 at 9:28 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

    Absolutely.  Cancer is so scary and invasive and just seems to be everywhere.  There are so many treatments now, and that is wonderful, but there aren't guarantees, and that is awful :(

     

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