September 14, 2011
Dad, in Reverse

inspired by Stephen Dixon’s “Wife in Reverse,” available here:

It is a Tuesday. He walks into the hospital for a procedure that is routine but not inconsequential. He is alone, having insisted it be as such. He lives this way: not alone, truly, but with a certain degree of reclusiveness. His wife is at work. His daughter is at the house waiting for his son to get home from school. This is not something his daughter has done before. She arrives on Sunday from college and it is a surprise, but not the exciting kind. “I want to come,” his daughter says. “Don’t you need my help?”

There are no more possibilities. They need to know, for sure. The doctors are at a dead end. It is very small, but of course paraplegia is a risk. Common complications can range from small losses of sensation to a spinal headache, which is in fact very common and is something like the pain of a migraine times a thousand and often lasts, accompanied by extreme nausea, for over forty-eight hours. His daughter controls the strange desire to quote a line from an old movie and laugh, even, and asks instead, “What are the risks?” He tells her that he is, finally, having a lumbar puncture.

He doesn’t call his daughter much. There is nothing she can do. She shouldn’t worry about him. She is busy, and far away.    This much is clear: he is sick. The sickness comes in waves. The severity of the symptoms ebbs and flows. The nausea is new. The nausea is crippling. He is dizzy. Each room he enters spins and rocks. A thousand bees buzz in his right ear. He cannot hear. He embellishes: “The stroganoff?” he guesses, smiling lines cracking in the corners of his bright, tired eyes. His wife asks how to turn to the stove off. His family makes fun of him for his poor hearing. “I’m an old man,” he kids. He cannot see well. He squints a lot. He pours over manuscript pages. He stares at a computer screen. He is a writer.

He buys a road bike. The doctors do not tell him outright that his running days are over. The doctors drain the cyst. It will be his sixth knee surgery, although the doctors concede that the first ACL repair is unrelated to all these. The cyst in his knee has come back. The doctors are confused. The cyst in his knee disappears. His knee is swollen and it turns out it is a cyst. He is gaunt. He is a runner. He and his brother run together. He is better than his brother (he weighs less, and this helps), although they are both still very talented runners. His daughter is a very talented runner. He teaches his daughter how to train. He teaches his daughter how to run.

He and his little girl are very close. His daughter wants to be a writer, like him. He meets his daughter at the bus stop every afternoon. He puts his daughter on the bus every morning. He works from home, now. He decides to go freelance. He is a very talented writer. He takes his daughter to work, where she sits at his computer and types nonsense in neon green letters onto gray-black backgrounds. He is the sports editor. He works at a newspaper.

His parents are alcoholics. He grows up in the middle-of-nowhere. His mother was once a nurse and his father is a judge. He runs. He plays basketball. Alone he goes out fishing for hours on end. He watches patiently for tugs on the line. He sits shirtless getting sunburned in his small motorboat, imagining stories.

  1. onepagefiction posted this
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