I find people to be…fascinating. They are endlessly amusing creatures who like to think that the things that they do are based upon logic and reason, yet they aren’t. They rarely do anything that isn’t arbitrary in nature. We don’t like to admit these things. We don’t like stare at our own foibles or accept our own mortality.
It is late afternoon and I am seated on an American Airlines airplane waiting to fly back to Los Angeles. The seat belt sign is on and the flight attendants are preparing for takeoff.
My toe is tapping and my knuckles are turning white from gripping the seat. For a moment I wonder if I can crush the armrest with nothing but my fingertips. I am trying hard to think about anything and everything other than my father.
He lies unconscious in a hospital bed some 30 miles away from the airport. He is being kept alive by machines and medication. The flight home will take almost six hours and it is possible that he will die while I am in the air.
A short time earlier I sat next to his bed and spoke softly to him. In the midst of the beeps, clicks, clacks and whirling noises made by the machines that keep him alive I told him about his grandson and reminded him that his daughter-in-law is pregnant
Asked him to wake up for me, begged him to open his eyes and acknowledge me. Asked him not to die because I needed him. Told him that I want him to celebrate my 35th birthday with me and squeezed his hand, but he didn’t squeeze it back.
The captain makes a few announcements but I can barely focus. I don’t know what to do. I am not panicking because dad wouldn’t panic and so I won’t. But he is unconscious and I can’t do anything to help save his life- not from 3,000 miles away.
I close my eyes and think of my son. He is almost 3.5 and I can’t believe that there is a chance that my father will die before they really get to know each other. I can’t believe that he might not get to meet the baby who is yet to come.
Dad is a huge presence in my life and always has been. I feel guilty leaving him. I feel guilty leaving mom there. I hadn’t realized until this moment that he was/is human.
But I can’t stay. I am a father and I learned from my dad that I have to take care of my family. My grandparents don’t know how serious this is. I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t sure if he would survive long enough for me to fly out and now I have to do it all over again.
I remember telling dad and grandpa about my uncle dying. I remember the pain in my father’s eyes and how I made grandpa cry. I told him that his youngest son was dead. Am I going to be forced to tell him about his oldest too.
The plane pulls away from the gate and begins to taxi towards the runway. For a moment I consider jumping out of my seat and demanding that they let me go. I am sitting close to and emergency exit. I calculate the distance between the door and my seat, figure that I can get there fast enough to open it and jump.
It is crazy and I know it. But my father might die. There is a voice telling me that I am betraying him by not being by his side.
He wouldn’t have left me. That is not how our family works. I am the only son. I know him differently than my sisters. My grandfather wouldn’t leave me either. I can see him crying, can hear grandma say no. The moment haunts me. It is one of a few that stick with me.
The engines roar and as the plane gains speed I am pressed back into my seat. Now all I can do is wait and make silent promises to the future.