Don’t hold your breath.

12 Oct

My father emerges from a dusky purple car after 5 months or so, all smoke and ash and grime, and I find myself startled. He is gaunt, he is, smaller, almost dainty. The voluminous man I grew up with, all substance and solidity, he’s hidden away in a back pocket and instead this husk stands before me and I freeze, terrified. No one loses weight, this kind of weight, no one except for the dead.

I feverishly text my brother later. “He’s not sick, is he? You’d tell me, right?” and he laughs off my worry, reminds me Dad has worked his ass off on the front yard of his house all summer, and since he’s never been a big eater, the weight just dropped off.

I haven’t been this thin since I got married! he crows and I’m caught short, stuck between a latent whimper of remembrance, my mother’s grey shell on a bed, hollow and weightless, and the thought that maybe, for once, he’s actually getting some exercise and eating right.

I also know my father. Terrified of doctors and needles both, since 8 years old. He’ll eat glass to avoid a doctor, and would never, ever tell either of us if something was seriously wrong.

It would be like him to just, float away into the ether, back to the arms, somewhere, of his devoted and loved wife.


I’m 32. Why does all of this reduce me to feeling like I’m 12 again? I stretch my arms out for family only to find there is none, and that the spaces between grow larger each day.


I see it now. I have to face it, I have to hold reality in my hand and think someday, soon, I will be picking a casket, watching the open ground swallow my parent, allowing him to rest beside his beloved, taken far too soon. I will be handling the small pile of what’s it’s left over from a life-paperwork that proves you existed, paintings, drawing, scribbles. Cuff links and cigarette lighters. My mother’s wedding ring. Handwritten cards from when I was 14.

Meaningless really. A wisp of metal, too little to be worth much. Paper that will crumble and rot into nothing, given enough time. A life that can be erased, easily, with little pain.

This is the life most of us hold. A box of trinkets, and a wrinkled heart.


The girls don’t notice that he’s half of who they’ve known all their lives. He’s still bouncy and allows them to wrestle, giggles and screams reverberating through the house. I’m warmed by the sound, and suddenly, sharply realize that I’ll someday have to tell them their wonderful, beloved Poppi is gone. And my heart dissolves into pieces, slithering off it’s shelf wondering if I’ll be strong enough then, adult enough to tell them he’s gone.

That my father, the one last constant, the very human man, is no longer alive.

I hear the giggles and tuck the thought away. Time for eulogies and sad songs later. Let’s live his life now, so we’ve something to say at the wake.


He laughs and it’s pure happy, a soul healed by time and small versions of me.


Sick or just skinny, it’s just right. I let out the breath I’ve been holding all day, and let the noise wash me.


11 Responses to “Don’t hold your breath.”

  1. flutter October 12, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    How do you do this with your words?

  2. Emma October 12, 2009 at 3:34 am #

    Oh, wow. I’m struggling to think of something meaningful to say about this other than “deep” or “poignant”, which sounds desperately corny. It is though! And it’s also very lovely – a kind of observation I think everyone can relate to, one our whole mind can revolve around without really understanding, but that you’ve managed to put into words.

  3. Jennifer October 12, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    Oh man. Stubborn men and their fear of doctors and mortality. Being in denial won’t make it go away.

    My dad is much the same. I found out several months after the fact that he was having heart pains, and had all these tests and shit. Man was I pissed.

  4. Marcy October 12, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    I hope it is that he’s healthier than ever, and not otherwise.

    On another note, its! its! its! NOT it’s!

    • thordora October 12, 2009 at 11:51 am #


      The one instance I’m seeing right off is correct- It’s just right/it is just right. Unless I’m missing another one? Unless you mean the what’s it’s, which probably should have been whazzits anyway? It was 2 am on 4 hours sleep so….confused. 😛

      • Marcy October 13, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

        slithering off it’s shelf

        You’re right, that’s the only one — sorry. I must have been in a particularly grammatically grumpy mood when I was reading.

  5. Missy October 12, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    Maybe he’s using Jillian Michaels “30 Day Shred”?


    Don’t worry about it…

  6. thordora October 12, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

    Me not worry. The earth might fall of its axis if I did that. 😛

  7. Kelly October 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    I think I feel the way about my father as you do about yours. So, this post really hit me so hard. It was so beautiful.

  8. Not Afraid To Use It October 14, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    It’s amazing how thinking about/dealing with parents dissolves our adult psyche to reveal the child within. At such times when we need to keep our emotion in check, feeling like that teenager again makes everything so much harder.

  9. Titanium October 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    Some part of me will always be that little girl- waiting anxiously for my Dad to come home from work, then growing into a ‘helper’… underfoot…

    Watching a parent fight their own battles is almost worse than watching our kids struggle. Kids seem like they’re easier to protect, somehow, because they’re little-er.

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