The Darkest Month


2456613184_7165eb4bb3_oIn that single moment, my life changed forever. How could you do this to me? To yourself? You promised to take care of yourself while I was gone. Now, five days after Christmas and here I am, standing in the cold with a bunch of people I have never met while you just lay there with your hands fold across your chest.

December is supposed to be a month to cheer, not mourn or grieve. Now, each time I hear a cheerful Christmas song, it would be a reminder of the darkest month of my life. As the pastor spoke, I felt my hands inching toward Aunt Jade on my left and Aunt Liz on my right, both whom, like me stand here for the same reason, to mourn a love one.

I could have never thought that less than a month ago, I was counting down the days until the end of finals and the beginning of winter break when I would go skiing with my friends. I called you right before finals week and told you my plans for winter break. I thought you’d be disappointed that I wasn’t coming home for Christmas but you sounded glad. You told me that it was time for me to go have fun and act my age for once. I was so relieved to hear that.

Five minutes after our call, my phone rang. I thought you had forgotten to tell me something but it was Aunt Liz. Her voice sounded panicky and slightly distraught. “It’s Henry, they just took him to the hospital.”

“The hospital? W-what happened?” I quickly asked. I could feel my hand shaking.

It sounded like Liz’s lips were quivering. That’s not like her. She was usually the one that was held together no matter what. Slowly and steadily, Liz breathed and said. “Can you come to the hospital as soon as you can?” I didn’t say anything. I was about an hour away but even if I did make it, what good would that do for Uncle Henry? Sensing my hesitation, Liz went on. “I mean, you know I’ve always assumed the worst. I just need someone to keep me company. If you can’t come, that’s okay.”

I wanted to object and say I have finals but my aunt sounded so distraught and terrified. I couldn’t say no. “No, no, I’ll be right here. See you in a little bit.”

A few hours later, I pulled my Ford into the upper level of the hospital’s parking garage. I then rode the elevator up to the fourth floor where Liz was waiting anxiously for me. She almost let out a sigh of relief when she saw me. She opened her arms, “Come here,” and I went into them automatically. “Thank you so much for coming.”

I smiled, “It’s not a problem. How is Uncle Henry?”

She stepped back and we began walking down the first hallway. “He’s been complaining about his back hurts for the past few days. This morning, I went grocery shopping and when I came back, I found him face-down unconscious on the floor. It scared the daylight out of me.”

“I’m sorry.” I said quietly as we walked into a room. Uncle Henry rested on the remote adjustable bed, an IV tube stuck out of his arm while another plastic tube up his nose. The corners of his mouth tilted in a tiny smile as he saw us walk in.

“Hey, honey, how are you feeling?” Liz asked.

“Like shit.” Uncle Henry replied. His voice was dull and coarse unlike his normal clear chirpy voice. “The doctor told me I’m too late for chemo.”

Liz later explained that Henry has late stages of liver cancer and the doctor has determined that it was inoperable. Even chemotherapy wouldn’t save him. “How can he not know he had cancer?” I asked after we were out of the room. For as long as I’ve known Henry, he was a completely healthy man. Unlike you, he doesn’t drink alcohol, other than an occasional smoke and he ate a strictly healthy diet.

Liz was as shock as me. “I know. The last time he went to the doctor was a month ago and the doctor told him everything was fine.”

Later that week, in the midst of finals, I decided to drive home to pay you a visit. I rang the doorbell to avoid digging through my purse for the keys. You didn’t answer. I rang again, wondered where you were in the middle of the day. You had no job and money and with your car had been repossessed more than six months ago, you were trapped in the house. I sighed and searched for the key at the bottom of my bag. A few minutes later, I stuck the key into the keyhole and turned.

It was like a punch in the face. The overwhelming scent of cigarettes and alcohol wafted through the closed interior of the house. My chest tightened slightly with anger and irritation. You’ve been drinking and smoking again, haven’t you?

I dropped the key back in my purse and passed the foyer into the living room. “Dad? Are you here?” No answer.

I went into your bedroom. Everything was a mess, the sheets were on the floor and it looked as if it hasn’t been cleaned in weeks. I almost gagged at the smell of cigarettes and alcohol. I walked into the family room. Ashes were all over the wooden floor and it was like someone spilled alcohol everywhere. Is this what I get for going off to college? You were doing so well when I left.

I walked into the kitchen and immediately froze. There you were, lying face-down on the floor, a half-drunk beer bottle rested in your open palm. I clapped my hand over my mouth. “Oh my god,” it took me a few minutes to overcome the shock. I reached into my coat pocket for my phone and dialed 911.

When the paramedics arrived a few minutes later, I was so relieved to learn that you were still breathing because as long as you were breathing, there’s hope. The ride to the hospital was both nerve-wrecking and uncomfortable. I sat on the thin bench while you laid on that gurney. The paramedic plagued me with questions about your health history.  It felt like I was being interrogated by the police. My chest pounded crazily because I had no idea about your health during the past four months. How many packs of cigarettes have you gone through? How often did you drink?

We arrived at the hospital twenty minutes later and the paramedic urgently rolled you into the ER while I slowly climbed out of the back of the ambulance. I shoved my shaking hands in my coat pockets and rode the elevator to the fourth floor.

Liz was sitting in my uncle’s room. They held hands and appeared deep in conversation. I knocked and stepped in. She seemed quite surprised to see me. “H-hey, what are you doing here? I thought you were going home.”

I nodded. “Can I talk to you a minute outside, Aunt Liz?” I tilted my head to indicate the direction. Then I turned and stepped back into the hallway. I crossed her arms and began pacing back and forth trying to subdue my panic heart.

A few moments later, Liz stepped into the hall. “What is it?”

“Dad’s drinking again, isn’t he? And smoking?” I inquired. Liz grimaced and then nodded slightly. “I found him collapsed on the kitchen floor. He’s down in the ER right now.”

I rubbed my forehead. If I’d known you would get back to your old habits again, I would have never gone off to live in the dorms. I would have rather commuted every day. This was all my fault and I know it. If mom couldn’t your drinking and smoking, what chance do I have? Why do I even try? Of course, mom eventually chose the easy way out, running away while I was stuck with you, cleaning up your mess.

Liz placed a hand on my shoulder, her eyes softened as if she knew what I was thinking. “It’s not your fault, okay?” Her forehead wrinkled. “It’s not your responsibility to take care of your father.” I glanced at Liz and slowly nodded.

That night, after you were transferred to the fifth floor, I rode the elevator to one floor above. Just as I grabbed the door handle to enter the room, a gray-haired man in lab coat exited the room. “Oh, are you,” he glanced down at the papers in his hand, “Genevieve Bailey?” I nodded. “May I have a word with you about your father?”

My chest tightened. “How is he?” I peeked at his coat, “Doctor Evans.”

He glanced left and then right as if he feared people might overhear us. Then he guided me across the corridor and slowly shook his head. “His liver and lungs are in failing condition.” He flipped through your chart. “You told the paramedic he drank and smoke. How often would you describe this behavior?”

I ran my hand through my hair. A year ago, right after you and mom got divorced, I was left all alone with you. Those first few months, I thought I was living a nightmare and wished I would wake up soon. You were drinking and smoking non-stop. Every morning when I woke up, I would find cigarette buds and beer bottles on the couch, on the floor, everywhere and you would be crashed in an awkward position on your bed. My mind kept debating on the thought of moving out but in the end, I pushed it away because if I did, who would be there to take care of you?

Then one day, as if you finally understood how I felt, you stopped. The house was all of the sudden clean for once, no beer and wine bottles, no cigarette buds anywhere. I asked you what’s going on. You told me, “I know you’ve been unhappy with my drinking and smoking and I know how much you want to go to college.” I looked away. “I saw the brochures. I want you to go.”

“Really?” You smiled and nodded. A part of me feared what would happen if I was gone. Would you go back to your old ways? I called almost every week to check on you. I was happy and relieved that you sounded sober on the phone, no indications of drinking and smoking. In truth, I should have had someone to check on you to make sure.

“I don’t really know.” I answered Doctor Evans. “He quit a few months before I went off to college and since then…” Doctor Evans pulled out a pen and scribbled on the chart. “Will he recover?” I blurted out the single question on my mind.

He glanced across the hallway at your room, “To tell you the truth and I am being as honest as I can, his liver and lungs are on the verge of failure. There’s no fix for what he had done to himself. We’ve tried our best to help but,” he shook his head, “I think the chance for his recovery is very slim. I am sorry.” He gave me a small smile before proceeding down the hallway.

I curled my fists and slumped against the wall onto the floor. A swarm of emotions overcame me as I stared straight ahead. I did not know what I was waiting for, tears? Was it too early or too late to cry? Doctor Evans’ words echoed over and over in my head as if someone had put it on repeat. I think the chance for his recovery is very slim.

Finally, I stood up and crossed the hallway into your room. One look at you makes me want to run out the room and never come back. How could you do this to yourself? To me? Did you think about the consequences when you take that first swig? That first drag? Was it the loneliness? Angry that mom left you? What was it?

I shuffled my tired feet across the room and pulled a chair next to your bed. I plopped down, exhausted, and gazed at you. Tubes poked out of odd places, connected you to the machine that gave the indication that you were still alive. “Why did you have to start doing that stuff again, dad?” I asked out loud.

I lowered my head and closed my eyes. Is it too late to ask for mercy? I wondered. “Please let him recover. Please help him recover.” I repeated those words both in her head and out loud, hoping god would hear my prayer and grant me this one miracle.

Two days later, as I made her way up to see you, Doctor Evans pulled me aside. “I have some bad news.” Bad news? “Early this morning, your father fell into a coma.”

I said nothing. My eyes just widened as I stared at him. Then I sort of blurted out as he slowly retreated. “How long does he have?”

Doctor Evans sighed, “I wish I could tell you.”

I nodded and thanked him. Then I made my way down the hallway to your room. I stood there and gazed at you for a few minutes like an artist studying their muse. You looked peaceful like someone taking a long deep sleep. I sat down, held your hand and stared up at the machine. You heart continued to beat slowly but steadily. A thought crossed my mind. Maybe you were waiting on something or someone to wake you. A soft knock on the door interrupted that thought. “How is he?” Liz stepped in.

“He’s in a coma. The doctor told me.”

“Can I talk to you, outside? Just for a minute?”

I looked at Liz, “Do I have to?” I didn’t want to leave your side. I wanted to spend whatever moment’s left by your side but Liz had that look on her face that pleaded my attention. Reluctantly, I walked out the room. “Is there something wrong with Uncle Henry?” I asked.

“Ronny, he’s dead.” Liz blurted out.

I blinked. “Aunt Jade’s boyfriend Ronny?” She nodded. How can this happen? He was well on his way to recovery a few months ago after the discovery of his stomach cancer. “What happened?” What changed?

“He’s gotten weak lately and I guess he didn’t recover. The furnace broke and the house got a little cold.” She couldn’t go on. “Jade is distraught. They’ve been together for 20 years.”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say. Exactly what happened to this family in the last four months? In less than two weeks, I have lost one family member while on the verge of losing two more. Is this because I left for a few short months to pursue the thing I wanted?

I gasped as the thorn of a red rose dug into my palm, bringing me back to the present. Liz peeked at me behind her black veil. Aunt Jade, Liz, and I were standing in front of three beautifully crafted caskets. I looked down at your casket, willing your last words to her mind. “I’m ready.” You had shouted crazily before every indicator on the machine turned red and beeped wildly. A group of nurses rushed in and tried to resuscitate you, pushing me toward the door. In the end, they failed.

On both sides of me, Liz and Jade gently placed a dark red rose on Henry and Ronny’s caskets. Uncle Henry had gone shortly after you. He went peacefully, holding onto Liz’s hand until the very last second. I sighed and gently placed my rose on your casket and watched you sink into the ground. After all this time, I was still waiting for tears or maybe I was waiting for something else. I may never know. All I know is my life will never be the same again.

Image: Google

11 thoughts on “The Darkest Month

  1. Ergh posted the comment by mistake without finishing typing it. Feel free to delete the first one if you like. I meant to say very nicely written. I am sure others can relate to that, we’ve all heard of a family member who doesn’t like to say the truth when it comes to their health. I enjoyed reading this. 🙂

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    1. Thanks. I wanted to write this for quite some time but ugh, school and work. This story was partially based on what my family and I went through during the past 5 years. I’m sure many others can relate to this situation.

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      1. I’m sorry to hear. I understand quite well, my grandmother passed away on Christmas I think over a decade ago and I never really enjoyed it ever since…

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    1. Thanks for the comment but the “you” in the story does not signify the readers. The whole story was written in a sort of a conversation between the main character and her dearly departed alcoholic father.

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  2. Hey, Y.Zheng! Do you like to receive constructive criticism on your writing here in this blog, and if so, do you prefer to only receive critique on content and style as opposed to typos and sentence structure? Or are you okay with both? I think you have a big heart bursting with stories to tell about yourself and life, and I also seem to recall that English is a second language for you, if I am correct?
    For me I really want people to read my stories deeply enough so that they can criticize my work. I want to hear the negatives as well as positives, but not everyone wants that at various stages of their writing journey. Sometimes they just want to feel that they can begin without being shredded. I get that too.
    All to say I like this story but I think there are ways to polish it and make it more accessible.
    Let me know if you would like some specifics either within this blog or personal message.

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    1. I think both is okay. I’m always looking for ways to improve my storytelling as well as writing since English is not my first language and I haven’t been writing for very long. However, I’m not looking to get roasted either if you know what I mean. So constructive but not roasting. Thanks! 🙂

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