Three. It’s a magic number.

People say that everyone has at least one story from their life that could be made into a movie. I’d like to tell you mine.

I’ve always had this theory that everyone has the same amount of pain to endure in their lifetime. For some, it drags on for 80 years. For others, they get it all out of the way in one moment. Me, I worked¬ mine out in three months.

It all¬ started off with my dad getting sick. After being woefully misdiagnosed by hack doctors who failed to give him the proper tests, he suffered unnecessary, irrepairable¬ brain damage — the kind that keeps you in bed,¬ wearing diapers, unable to eat. The saddest part was that every now and then, he’d have a day of clarity, where he realized he was in¬ laying in his own shit. And to me, that was the hardest part.

I’ve told you what untitledmother is like. untitledfather — well, he was much like me, only a little kookier. No one should ever have to go out like he did. He was the kind of man that would snow blow his neighbor’s driveway just for the hell of it. He was a staunch Democrat in a town of Republicans. He’d volunteer at the caucus, but wouldn’t dream of putting a campaign sign in his yard, lest it start an argument with a friend. When I was in college, he took his last $500 (he was laid off at the time) and bought me a car, so I wouldn’t have to walk to work late at night. Every Christmas, he tried so hard to buy untitledmother a gift she’d like. One year it was new bathroom towels. The next year it was cheesey jewelry. He tried so hard, but she was never pleased.

During this time, untitledhusband and I were having some pretty serious issues. He had decided all of a sudden that he did not want to have kids. He had recently experienced a depression, and had begun taking Prozac. It worked well — almost too well. It put him in a state where he was so in love with life, that he¬ thought he was¬ 19 years old again, going out drinking with friends, not doing bills, etc. I didn’t know who he was anymore, and I didn’t quite know what to do with him.

It was about this time when untitledhusband broke the news to me — he didn’t want to have kids. Ever. This¬ contradicted everything we had talked about for the past 10 years. I wanted a child with all my being. In fact, we had been trying to get pregnant for the past six months. Everything I knew was no longer so. We went through a period of separation, where we lived in the same house, yet miles apart from each other. He moved into the guest room, which ironically, ended up being untitledson’s nursery.

Somewhere in the middle of this, 9-11 hit.¬ I remember IMing untitledhusband at work, scared shitless that the world was coming to end. I asked him if he was safe, if he planned on going home early. I suggested we fill our cars up with gas, and buy some bottled water. He asked why, and I said I didn’t know. It just sounded like something we should do. Child or no child, I could not imagine¬ myself without him. We made a deal to try to work things out. And maybe, some day, we could continue the conversation about kids. Maybe.

So there we were, going through our shit, and then my dad died.¬ During his last year, he could not eat, walk or even carry on a normal conversation, due to the brain damage. The last time I saw him alive, near the end, I sat with him in the hospital, and we watched the “Beverly Hillbillies” together. It had always been one of his favorite shows. There were moments, sitting next to him, where I forgot we were in a hospital room. He laughed at all the things he would normally laugh at. I was happy he was smiling, yet sad, because it meant he had some idea of his situation.¬ He had always said,¬ “If I’m ever in diapers, pull the plug.” Goddamn, I wish there would’ve been a plug to pull.

I got a phone call at work about one month later from untitledmother. She said dad had died. My first words were, “Are you sure?” I don’t know why I said that. He’d actually been gone for some time. Now, he could move on. That’s how I saw it. Writing his obituary, that¬ was¬ hard.¬ As I typed the words, I felt like everything he had done in his life, every day of work, every hope, every sadness, was¬ there in my fingertips, trying to tell the story of his life in a few lousy paragraphs.¬ I’m sure I fell short, but I like to think he would’ve been quite pleased that I squeezed in a little something about his famous chili and¬ the¬ love he harbored for¬ his beleagured¬ Minnesota Vikings.

All this sorrow, yet the trifecta was not yet complete. One month after we buried my dad in the same suit he’d worn to my Catholic confirmation, high school graduation, and his mother’s funeral,¬ I was laid off from my job. It was my dream job, no less. Marital problems, dead dad, and then unemployment. I’ve heard that these three things are the biggest stressers a person can endure, and I experienced all of them in the course of three months. I learned that my capacity for sorrow was like a drinking glass. After my dad’s death, it was plum full. When the layoff came about, I simply could not feel pain anymore. Thank god for small mercies, I guess.

It’s funny how life works, though. As quickly as things can go bad, they can go good again. A few months later, I was hired by the Evil Empire. I remember stumbling through those first few weeks, my life was such a mess. That’s the thing about working in corporate America — you can slide by at half-power and no one notices. I was there for three months when I found out I was pregnant with untitledson. By this time, untitledhusband had come out of his Prozac-enduced fog. No one was happier about the pregnancy than him. Well, maybe I was, but that kind of thing is hard to measure. Many times, he has said to me, “For the rest of your life, I will make this up to you.” And he has, people. He has. There are still¬ moments when that time in my life will reach forward and clutch my heart. It¬ reminds me that regardless of the fact that¬ the button on my favorite¬ khakis has popped, or that untitledson has pooped his new Buzz Lightyear underwear,¬ today¬ was a good day. ¬ ¬ ¬

14 thoughts on “Three. It’s a magic number.”

  1. My dad had a stroke and eventually dementia and couldn’t communicate well for 10 years. Going to visit or staying with him while Mom was out was the hardest thing. Luckily his nursing home stay was only the last 5 months or so of his life. I remember his big smile when I walked into the dining room to visit. Seeing him in a wheelchair with a bib was heartbreaking, even though he was happy to see me. One day when leaving I said, “Well I’m going to leave now” and with the clearest speech he replied, “And you’re not taking me with you, are you.” It ripped my heart out. It’s been 1 year and 7 months, but your post and typing this comment still makes me cry.

  2. (do periods make it sound more serious? here’s to hoping they do…) Your writing and love for your family turn an otherwise dull day into an I wept at my computer screen again kinda day.

  3. Wow, very powerful life experiences indeed. It seems to me that you feel about your Dad as I do about mine. He passed this year on Feb. 1st and I miss him dearly. Nothing is the same in my life. Somedays it seems to have lost it’s luster.

    I trudge ahead as they say, b/c I know “this too shall pass”… Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a powerful message that will be helpful to many.

  4. My parents took parallel tracks through health care hell. Dad had a stroke, mom was diagnosed with cancer. Long pause. Then both are in a horrible car accident, followed by 18 months where it seemed one or the other of them was always in a medical crisis. And they weren’t getting along with each other. The stress was unbelievable. They lived in a very rural area, far from health care providers. There were financial issues. We had to put my dad in a nursing home. Trying to find home health care/hospice care for my mom. One died July 4th weekend, the other Labor Day weekend–1992.

    The only comfort was that it was OVER. Their suffering was over. Their marriage was over. The pain of watching their lives unravel was over. It made me more compassionate. It made me more appreciative. It made me hope I die in my sleep after eating a slice of chocolate cake on my 80th birthday.

  5. My father, who is also gone now, once told me “You have no right to ask anything more of your life until you can see what you alreadsy have.” Your writing shows that you DO know what you have, a lesson some people never learn. Your father will always live in your heart, true immortality…

  6. I so emphathize with you – within 9 months, my mother died (ALS), my marriage died (asshole), and my father died (single car accident). I went through the motions of living for a few years, lost the job of a lifetime en route, never thought I’d get back to Europe, but here I am – married again (to someone born on the same day as my first hubbo – but 19 years younger), job where I make beaucoup bux for a 35 hour week, and we get to Italy once a year. Never know what is coming around the corner of life.

  7. None of those things have happened to me in my short life span yet (I mean, my parents got divorced and stuff but nothing really big) but my eyes welled up when I read that post. I loved this blog because it was funny and clever but now I love it because it’s funny and clever and sweet and deep. Sniff sniff and pats on the back, madam untitled =)

  8. untitled,
    Even though I have never set foot in the state of Minnesota in my life (though I hope to someday), I am a die-hard Vikings fan myself. I’ll cheer extra loud now in your dad’s absence.

    Three months after my aunt’s surprise 80th birthday party, she died in her sleep (she got your wish), and five months after my dad’s 80th birthday party, he died. I told my mother she doesn’t get an 80th birthday party, but she gets one for her 81st, and any other one after that. She just turned 79, so here’s hoping.


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