In 1994 Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda starred in It Could Happen to You. It was a romantic comedy. The comedy was supplied by Rosie Perez because Fonda and Cage wouldn’t know how to be funny if their lives depended on it.
Short and sweet synopsis: Cop (Cage) buys a lottery ticket, the cop has a life he isn’t thrilled with and his wife (Perez) drives him up a wall, cop eats at a diner and can’t tip downtrodden waitress (Fonda) so he promises her a split of the lottery if he wins. He wins. Comedy supposedly ensues. Cop and waitress wind up together in the end. Happily ever after.
Winning the lottery has about a 1 in 300,000,000 chance. You ain’t winning the lottery, and, even if your best friend in the world does, you are probably not getting half, or even half of half once his/her spouse sues them for trying. Did I leave that part out of the short and sweet synopsis? Sorry.
What happens for most of us is life kicks our ass at some point. The duration and impact of the ass kicking depends on many factors: geography, family ties, support systems, money, and more. Some people around the world know of nothing but struggle and heartache. Some know little of struggle and heartache. The struggle and heartache also has a trickle out effect. What is one individual’s pain, becomes the pain of many.
This is such a story:
My mother was single and had 2 young kids. My dad lived in the apartment above hers with his buddies from the Army. He was cute my mom said. She had to meet him. She did the most logical thing in the world. She invented a spider, went up the stairs to ask the good looking guy to come kill the spider for her, and there was instant chemistry. They married and a couple of years later my dad adopted my younger sister and I. Then they had 2 kids together. A girl and then a boy.
My dad was a simple man. He was also extremely intelligent, tall, handsome, and, to me, the strongest guy in the world. When we were growing up we had a travel trailer. We started out with a tiny one that was mostly for the convenience of hauling stuff and so mom and dad could sleep inside. The kids slept in tents. Eventually, after trade ins and all, we had one that was roomier. The kids still slept in tents outside. When we went camping, we always chose destinations with a place to swim. Our favorite place to go was called Twin Lakes. It actually had a river nearby, a canal, and three lakes, so I think they named it based on a catchy title and not on facts.
My dad could swim, underwater, from one side of the swimming lake all the way to the middle, come up for air, and then swim just about to the other side underwater. I thought that was an amazing feat as a kid. I never even came close to doing it myself.
He was also a powerful figure in many ways. I would observe the adults in the room and notice that people deferred to him a lot. Not always in ways that are obvious, but more subtle than that. He had a presence that people cleared a path for. He was by no means scary or even threatening in any way, he just…commanded a quiet respect.
He was also fearless. My sister and I shared a bedroom at the end of our house. During a months-long period, we kept seeing a peeping Tom out of our window. My father did everything he could to catch that pervert. He never did. I was always a little thankful the guy got away. My father would have at the very least hurt him tremendously, and, in my heart, I really believe he would have killed him. There was no ranting or raving on my father’s part, but there was something in his face that told me that was so.
If you have been reading my blog, you know by now that when I was a teenager my mother kicked me out of the house. I am not sure I have told much detail of that (I will at some point) but I came home from school one day and she announced that I had a choice: I could either go to a military school or go live with my Nanny. I don’t know about you, but the choice seemed obvious. I went to live with my Nanny in the early summer of 1984 when I was 14.
When I left, the rest of my family, mom, dad, two younger sisters, and my brother still lived in Ayden. A few months after I left, I was told they were selling the house in Ayden and moving to Twin Lakes. They were living in a travel trailer. Yes, all five of them.
I was beyond thrilled that I was not subjected to those close quarters on a daily basis with all of that chaos. I am a low chaos person.
All of them were very excited about the move. My siblings looked forward to new schools and getting away from Ayden. Obviously, it wasn’t too bad to live at a campground with constant activities and young people around to hang out with. My mom and dad were happy to get out from under the mortgage, I am sure.
A few months into this new life, my father spent a day working outside on the car, took a shower, and went to bed. He woke my mother up in the middle of the night and told her to call an ambulance. My father had a massive heart attack. He was 36 years old.
The heart attack completely ‘blew away the lower left quadrant’ of his heart. A detail relayed to me by my mother. The cardiologist said his heart muscle was oatmeal and didn’t give him a prognosis with any measure of hope for survival past 6 months to a year.
36 years old with four kids and a wife to take care of.
Where do you go from there? For starters, you panic.
There was a lot of panic to come.
Next, you talk to more doctors. Some say there is nothing they can do, some say they have ideas. One said he knew a specialist that could help. The specialist had a fancy new surgery wherein he would wrap my dad’s heart in Teflon. Yes, the Teflon that is on your cheap non-stick frying pans. The surgery was filmed and used to teach others how to do it. The surgery bought my dad 16 years of life.
That life came with a heavy price. First, he was determined he was going back to work. He worked in a factory for the Vermont American tool company in Greenville, NC. I am fuzzy on the details, but I do know he worked on a kind of hydraulic press that made drill bits. I know this because a few years earlier he decided he was faster than that press, and could reach in to correct something, and get out before it came down again. He was wrong. He got his thumb caught. The press pressed for 10 seconds and then raised up, revealing a very smashed and split open thumb. There was some removal of crushed bone and mending of the split. It healed, he went back to work.
After his heart attack, even the healing wouldn’t return him back to employment. He decided he could still work. The company gave him a new job which allowed him to sit on a stool doing some type of assembly or something. He was happy to get back at it. He went to work, sat on his stool, and passed out at some point. The company said that wouldn’t do. Liability was an issue.
His doctors hadn’t wanted him to try in the first place. He had to file for disability. I am fuzzy on these details, but because he was a Vietnam Veteran, his disability was supposed to come from one government channel but somehow got mixed up and he found himself having to go to court to secure that pitifully low paycheck so he could feed his family.
A Vietnam Veteran with a quarter of his heart in an oatmeal-like state had to go to court to secure food for his family. I still burn with rage every time I think about that. My dad had a strange habit that I always noticed when I was growing up. He would get out his pocket knife and scrape the blade across his skin. Sometimes his hands and sometimes it was his legs. I asked him once what he was doing, he said he was digging out tiny pieces of shrapnel that were stuck under the surface but would come to the top every once in a while. Shrapnel. From Vietnam. He was digging out that shrapnel his entire adult life and he had to go to court to get a pitifully low disability check to feed his kids.
Over the years, he would try to work little odd jobs here and there. The boredom from being home all the time was driving him mad. The constant upheaval and worry were driving them all mad.
He also had more heart attacks and “cardiac events”. He was rushed to the hospital by both ambulance and helicopter. I watched as my 36-year-old father went from strong, tanned, and tough to under weight and gray. I can’t speak for certain, but I do believe he felt a lack of purpose no matter how we tried to tell him his purpose was being with us.
My mother was in a constant state of anger and sorrow. She was bi-polar and had spent the majority of their marriage as a homemaker, and, once it was apparent he could no longer work, she had to go to work. This was difficult for her. I know it was. She didn’t function well as it was and adding the burden of having to work made those matters much worse.
I know she loved my dad but there was also a never ending undercurrent of profound misery and disappointment. I know my dad felt it, too.
The pain spreads.
My siblings did without most of the time. We were by no means well-off even when he was a full-time worker, but once he was not working the situation grew dire. My Nanny had been promised a little money each month to help take care of me, but once their situation got so bad, that went out the window, so I did with less. Don’t worry, I know I got the better end of this entire ordeal. My Nanny was not only the most wonderful person in the world to me, she was also resourceful and the two of us made it work.
He had surgeries and heart attacks and developed other issues like constant anxiety that required the strongest man in the world to take medication to get some relief. They moved several times and tried new ways of doing things but none of them were great and most were not even good.
He had a surgery to implant a pacemaker/defibrillator because he kept passing out. The last time he was in a Walmart when he fell completely out on the floor. His heart had stopped. It was giving up the fight. My dad was tired. He told us we were not to ever try to resuscitate him again and he also signed a DNR, do not resuscitate, order with the hospital. When he got the news he was going to have the surgery, I went home to try to be of some help. He stayed in the hospital about a week and I went to pick him up to take him home. Home at this point was another travel trailer parked in my cousin’s yard. When I got to the hospital he was more than ready to get the hell out of there. He loathed being there. On this day, he said all he wanted in the world was a double quarter pound with cheese. Never tell a dying man he can’t have what he wants. We went through the drive-through. He didn’t eat much of his burger. We talked a lot on the ride home. He started telling me that the funniest thing he ever saw was when my oldest was about 3 years old and in love with bacon so he fixed him some eggs and bacon one morning for breakfast. He sat him down at the coffee table so he could eat and watch cartoons. My mom’s poodle jumped up and snagged the bacon, but Christopher was not having it and snatched that bacon from the dog’s mouth. Daddy laughed at that. We talked a little more about some things I might share another time.
It was a good ride home.
When I got him home, he went into his room and changed into one of his favorite t-shirts that I am sure we all picked on endlessly. I actually think it was his Sun Drop t-shirt or maybe my mind is just filling in that detail now. He came out and sat down in his recliner. I was sitting across from him at the little table in the trailer. Things were fine and then a nightmare erupted that I can never forget. My father, dad, daddy was suddenly lifted out of his recliner and slammed back down. He was like a rag doll. Lifted up, slammed down, lifted up, slammed down. His heart had stopped and his brand new defibrillator was kicking his ass. The last ass kicking he would ever have to endure.
I stopped hearing anything at all. I could see my mother going toward him. I saw my brother run out the door. My cousin was a trained paramedic and he was going to get her. Daddy said don’t do that, but at that moment, all I wanted in the world was for her to get there. Resuscitate him dammit! Resuscitate the strongest man in the world. Resuscitate the man who will look for an imaginary spider, marry a woman with 2 kids and adopt them. Resuscitate the man who could swim across an ocean underwater. Resuscitate him! This is an emergency!
My cousin came. She was upset later because she knew his wishes but also felt compelled by us to do something. I cannot remember now what happened next, but I do know that an ambulance also came and by the time we all got to the hospital, my dad was awake and able to talk. First, my mom went in. After a little while, she came out and got me and said my dad wanted to talk to me.
It was the longest walk from that waiting room to his bedside. I was exhausted and my legs felt like they wouldn’t get me there. He reached out to me and took my hand. My dad was kind, but I can count on one hand the number of times in my life he acted in such a way. He asked me if I was okay. I couldn’t believe he was asking if I was okay given his current situation. He said that I shouldn’t have asked for him to be “brought back” he told me he knew I couldn’t help it. He also said the only thing he heard the entire time was me screaming my head off. I never knew I was screaming my head off. Like I said, I couldn’t hear a thing.
He was transferred to a hospital about 3 hours away the next morning. We went to see him off and followed the ambulance there. He got checked in and told us not to stay. He wanted to rest and as soon as the doctors told him the course of action, he would call us. So, we made the trip home and waited. When we got the call about what the doctors said needed to happen next, we immediately got in the car to go right back to the hospital.
My dad died February 13, 2000. We were about 45 minutes into the trip when the phone rang. I had to pull off the road.
The pain spreads.
If anyone on this planet thinks that life is a plan, they are a fool. There is no plan for this. Sh** does happen. Mountains of it for some of us. We muddle through. We hope for the best. We do the best we can. No one is happy to be on disability. No one wants to be sick and frail. It isn’t a cake walk. It isn’t avoiding responsibility. It isn’t a drain on society or a get out of work free card. It is misery and sadness and lost potential.
The people in this world working double time to blame the sick and poor for their own plights are hateful. They lack any ability to see beyond their own reach and their own desires. They cannot see that we are all connected and the ignored needs of the many will one day pile up at their door.
Those are the people who, at their own peril, will one day come to a reckoning. One day they, too, will face the uphill battle of struggle and heartache.
One day they will be the ones telling you the story of how it could happen to you.