The third day was a bright and cheerful Sunday. That meant football on the tube–American football, with all the helmets and pads and rules. Dad liked it because it was so different than any sport he played on the streets as a kid in Liverpool. To think a game could progress one play at a time…how fascinating, and agonizing, for a lad who grew up thinking sport was about constant action and fun.
Despite the differences, and his constant harping on the negatives, Sunday morning football was something Dad never missed–as long as it was the Rams playing. And though he couldn’t stand for sitting through three hours of watching “fat men stand around and do nothing,” he would at least watch the first half. The Rams rarely ever won a game, so it wasn’t really important to see the last part, anyway. He’d go about his business, pottering around in the garden or working in the garage–and if they were close, he’d check in every now and then, only to return to his work, dejected and fuming. The Rams were always one stupid play away from winning–even if the score was 35-0. To Dad, it was clear as day. Either they kept playing that bum (write in the name here) or they didn’t give the ball to (write in name here) enough.
Anyone should be able to see that.
Fact is, win or lose, (the home teams often lost) it didn’t really matter: Dad was a hopeless homer. In 1986, when the Angels dropped a hand-delivered World Series invitation, his loyalty did not flinch. When the Rams were bombed in the Super Bowl, he never switched allegiances. Rams, Angels, even when we had, for a brief time, a local pro soccer team named the Surf , they were his teams for better or for worse–because they were his town’s teams. I had a suspicion that the only reason for his interest in American sports was to see how the local clubs did. After all, back where he grew up, everyone in Liverpool rooted for Liverpool teams–there were no exceptions. With California such a haven for people from other places, that outlook was not shared by many, including myself. It sparked a healthy feud between he and I, over which teams to root for–winners or losers, out-of-town dynasties or local yokels. Dad was forever taking me to task for not supporting the home team, and I was forever mocking the pathetic play of his snakebit teams. Of course, he always had the last word, and somehow, whenever we watched a game together, the home team almost always seemed to win for the first time in months.
Today was a perfect opportunity for a little payback.
I could prattle on and on–dispensing my logic and dispelling his–and all he could do was lie there and listen. This would be heaven.. It would be good for him; humility was always a good thing. It would also do wonders for his progressing speech–surely, Dad would not let me go on and on without making every effort to make his point and shut me up.
He, unfortunately, had other ideas. Instead of football, I found myself watching Spanish soap operas. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the pretty senorita or the soothing sounds of Spanish chatter.
Whatever the reason, all I know is that he insists on watching the Spanish channel–and loud, much to the dismay of nurses and patients throughout the CCU. Though I can’t understand a word of it, the transparent plot is so obvious that I can piece together what’s going on. Up to now, the beautiful princess is running away from the family mansion and all the trappings of wealth for a simple life in the city. But there’s danger lurking close behind in the form of a dark rogue, trying desperately to catch the princess and hold her for ransom. Judging from the large, intimidating looks of the senorita and the frail, weasel-like appearance of the rogue, if he catches her he’ll have a rough time keeping her. It might be better if he lets her get away. In what appears to be the main scene, she hops into an old jalopy and drives around and around a circular driveway, hanging out the side of the car and screaming while the nasty little fella tries to jump on the back.
Even a Rams game is better than this. But every time I switch the game on, he turns it back, glares at me and turns the sound up a notch, until pretty soon the entire CCU is once again serenaded. At least it makes sitting in a hospital room a little amusing. It’s a release valve for all the pressure of these past three days, a little bit of levity that makes things seem a little less dreary.
The unfortunate thing is that for the first time in three days, he’s really speaking–to the point where we can carry on a limited, but intelligent, conversation. This is what we have all been waiting for. The entire family in on pins and needles since the moment he began to speak. Rau told us that speech means that the fever has gone down, the infection is in remission and he has a fighting chance. The bottom line is this: Rau can’t start chemotherapy treatments until the infection is gone. Talking is the first step toward that goal. From our perspective, that makes each word uttered a step closer to getting him out of this nightmare. But instead of talking to us, he would rather sit like a lump and listen to a language he doesn’t understand. The drone of a poorly made Spanish soap opera drowns out every other squeak and rattle in the little semi-private room–no chance to talk over it, and you can’t really talk about it, because no one understands it.
Maybe he’s trying to tell us something.
Like shut up.
It must be irritating, to hear the same questions a million times a day.
It must be bloody awful not to be able to do anything about it.
“Good morning, Dad, how are you feeling today?”
I’m in the hospital with a tube up my nose. How the hell do you think I’m feeling?
“Can I get you anything?”
Yeah, you can get me out of here. And if you can’t do that you can get me some peace and quiet.
“Do you want to sleep?”
I’ve been sleeping all day, for three days, stuck in this bed. Considering that I cannot move, I guess that means there’s not a lot to do but sleep.
“Do you need a nurse? What do you need?”
I need you to leave me alone.
If looks could talk, that’s what Dad would be screaming–leave me alone, stop picking and poking at me–let me breathe! He has always had the special ability to communicate without the benefit of words. Sometimes, in fact, the look was a heck of a lot more clear and understandable than words.
The Leukemia didn’t change that–not even a little bit.
All he wants was rest, quiet, and Spanish soap operas. Not much to ask for. Maybe it made him mad–Dad never really liked Hispanics very much. It grated on him, because he and Mom worked so hard, and were so proud, to become U.S. citizens. He hated to see people take advantage of something that meant so much to him.
Perhaps if nothing more that a reminder of a good memory–the times we would watch English football on the Spanish channel. Regular American television didn’t carry English football–so we’d turn the sound down and watch the action via Espanol–turning it up only when a goal was scored, so we could hear the marvelous Mexican announcers make the call–GAAAAAOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!
It is among my favorite moments. Not only did we get to watch a good football game, but we got to have a good laugh at the same time. Mom would be in the kitchen, fixing lunch or starting dinner. Dad and I would be sitting in the TV room with ice cold beers and chips, watching and talking. He would provide the commentary and I would listen and learn.
“Do you see Brian, see how they pass the ball back and forth, forming a constant triangle down the field? Now that’s soccer–always look for the open man and make an intelligent pass. Always advance the ball. Don’t wait for the last minute, plan your steps and build your attack.”
All of a sudden I’m ten years old again, just a kid trying to learn how to play the game, listening to his father teach the game he loved. The memories are so clear, I can almost smell the freshly cut grass, the chalk on the field and the taste of orange slices at half-time, standing in a circle around Dad, listening to the strategy plan for the rest of the game.
There are some things in this life you never forget–playing soccer is one of mine.
Unlike baseball and scouts, soccer was a father-son event for us. As a result, I spent the better part of my childhood running up and down fields chasing a ball, and loving every minute of it. When I got too old to play, we refereed together–always together, always a team. We even walked out together when it stopped being fun.
That was Dad–not afraid to let go of something at the proper time. He was great at making a stand against something he did not like. He would sooner walk out than compromise his vision of what he believed, no matter how simple or basic. The vision of a ten-year old kid running up and down soccer fields was the ideal that mattered to Dad. It was that simple. The winning was nice, but he’d rather lose and have fun than win and be miserable. I was never about who scored how many goals or made the most saves. To Dad, winning as the be-all-and-end-all was for the pros–not kids trying to learn the game. As a result, not many of his teams came in first–but you’d never catch him yelling at a kid or see him fret over a lost scoring opportunity. What you would see is every single kid playing, and every single kid having a great time.
When the game forgot about the kids, Dad and I walked away.
To Dad, life was as simple as what you made it. That’s what he taught me, and it’s a lesson I’m trying hard to hang onto. Simplicity. The right decisions are always the most simple, clear and concise choices. Nothing good is complicated. As a young man, I would present him with all sorts of complicated problems–dilemmas of such magnitude that I would rack my brains trying to think of a way out, a solution–something, and would inevitably come up empty and desperate. At that point I’d go and get the simple solution. I wonder what he’d say about things so complicated that they become simple.
Things like Leukemia.
Perhaps his simple solution is to watch Spanish soap operas, and tune out the world. I’ve given up on the game and am now trying to help him get to sleep. When I see his head drop, I turn the television off–only to have him wake up with a start, glare at me, turn it back on and up. So we sit and watch. And watch. At this point, I can’t help it–my eyes are heavy, and I’d love nothing better than to take a nap. But I know that he is still watching–and I’ve got to get the damn thing off as soon as possible.
Besides, he might say something.
Finally, after an hour had passed, I waited for the snores to turn deep and loud, turned the t.v. off and began to leave. I got to the nurse’s station when I heard it again, this time at full throttle. People were complaining three beds down. Nurses were glaring, but afraid to put the hammer down on a Leukemia patient. So I came back in and waited. Sure enough, it took only minutes before he fell asleep. I waited longer, and when I was sure he was deeply asleep, I slowly began turning the volume down. One notch every ten seconds, slowly, slowly turning it down so as not to wake him up. Little by little, until the volume was all the way down. Then I turned it off and slid back out the room.
And he turned it right back on, and turned it up before I got through the doorway.
So I came back and waited, and, just like twice previously, he fell sound asleep.
This time I turned it off and walked out.
Of course, when I returned later in the afternoon, I found him sleeping peacefully to the sound of Spanish soap operas, blaring throughout the CCU. I had to laugh–his delirium was revealing his personality. It was always that way with him. His way or no way, and his way was always the right way. We weren’t smart enough to challenge it. Even though we wanted to many, many times, he had been around too long not to know what was going on, and it was both a fortunate and unfortunate thing for us that he shared it unselfishly.
Even when we didn’t want to learn what he had to share, even when he did not know he was teaching us a hard and bitter lesson.
Those Spanish soap operas were a lesson about how terrible a faceless disease could be, and how survival meant doing what you wanted to do, no matter how other people saw it. He was teaching me how to start over again. As I walked down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and a smoke, I thought about his chances. I thought about what the doctors said, how the nurses spoke in hushed tones outside his room and how they gave us so much leeway in our visiting hours. I thought about all the negatives, all the blood counts and temperature readings and pulse checkers. Then I thought about Susan and her hand on Dad’s forehead in the dead of night. And I thought about the shiny bald eminence of Dr. Rau. I thought about that senorita and her lousy car.
And I liked his chances very much indeed.