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When This is Over
By Karen Rizzo

"Jim, tell me something comforting." I say to my husband, as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

"Okay." He puts down his book. "We don't really exist."

Not quite what I had in mind.

I fall off to sleep and dream of my father being chased by a police car. The siren on the car interrupts my sleep, then morphs into a muffled, wailing cry. Is it Drake, my five-year-old, in the midst of a nightmare? A feral parrot with its acute imitation of a child in distress? The baby's monitor? My father's monitor? It's 3 a.m. and it's the baby, August. Jim is either sleeping or feigning sleep or has left his body on a sojourn to another dimension. Two hours ago we gave Dad his morphine for the night.

I whisper to Jim, "If…you put the baby back to sleep, I'll…owe you a blow job."

He opens one eye in brief consideration, then passes out. I propel myself out of bed.

My father wanders into the kitchen as August sits in her highchair, painting her face with yogurt. "Is everything all right?" He asks.

"Everything's fine, Dad."

"It's the craziest thing." He turns to August. "Hello, beautiful baby, you're amazing aren't you? What was I saying? There's something…it's crazy…what was it…my…you know…choppers. Goddamn, I have no idea where they are."

I pull his gleaming white teeth out of the blue cleaning solution beside the sink.

"Son of a gun," he says, shoving them in his mouth and sitting beside August.

She shrieks in delight and yells, "Poopy, gogama!"

He laughs and says some combination of the same back at her. They moo and giggle at each other as I prepare my father's toast and jam, which he will pretend to eat but actually fold and cover with a napkin then slide into the garbage when I'm not looking. He's not eating and we're not making him. We're doing hospice for him because the cancer in his gut is going to kill him much sooner than the Alzheimer's. So here he is, with us -- gliding in and out of rooms like an apparition as I give the kids their meals and baths -- losing the fat and flesh anchoring him to the planet, standing in the middle of the living room waiting for the impulse to move or sit or speak or for me to tell him which to do.

"Dad, sit down. I'm making you a milkshake."

"I've had those before, right?"

"Every day."

"GRACO," he reads aloud off the high chair as he does every morning. "Grrraco! GRAH-COH." He stares out the window, then says, "Look outside. It looks like Shakespeare. You see what I mean? Just like Shakespeare."

"Is Poppa gonna die?" Drake asks.

"I don't know. But we're going to help him."



"No, Momma, I think this is the die kind of sick. I think we have to say goodbye to Poppa."

We don't say goodbye, not yet. What we do is move Dad into our tiny Los Angeles home where my husband and I live with our two small kids. In the beginning, when Dad is lucid, we talk to him about his choices… tubes for food, tubes for breath, resuscitation? He grunts disgustedly at the notion of being kept alive by artificial means. No, no, no. But Dad soon forgets his diagnosis, his emphatic wishes for his end of life care, and plans to move to Arizona when he gets better. A house in the mountains or in Lake Havasu, you know, where the London Bridge is. "We can all move there and Jim can commute." He asks why he's feeling so lousy and we remind him that he's very sick. "How sick?" he asks.

"Sick like when Mom was sick," I say.

He falls quiet. "But, how did this happen?" he asks, incredulous. "I've never been sick before."

That's how I want to go, is what I want to say. Healthy eighty years and then, boom, I've got six months. "I don't know, Dad."

"I can't say my feelings. Is my mind going bad or is my body really sick?"

What's the right combination of truth and kindness and hope? "I don't know," I mumble.

"Well, we've got to find a doctor and find out. I have to find out why I can't think. We're in…the sunny land…west?"


"I am so… unknowledge…of…the whole thing. How…is…Jim's father?" he says to show me that he remembers Jim, remembers Jim's dad, remembers.

"He's fine."

"How old is he?"

"He's 61."

My father's aghast. "Is that possible?"

"Maybe he had Jim when he was thirteen," I say.

"Are you playing with me?" he asks, looking pained.

"Oh, no, no, I'm just kidding." Then we both stare at the floor.

My father is sweeping, this last man on the planet who would ever want sympathy, ask for help, or admit to growing old. He sweeps everything in his path, then spends the rest of his day on a lounge chair in our backyard, wrapped in fleece jackets and blankets in the seventy-degree sun. I watch from a window as Drake approaches Dad, who is sleeping with his mouth hanging open. Drake stares at him, then runs back to me. "I think Poppa's dead, Mom."

"I don't think so, Honey. Let's go out together and see." And he's not, yet.

Jim comes into the living room dressed in pressed chinos, blue oxford and white sneakers. He's an actor; the TV guest psycho/bad cop/abusive husband/pyromaniac and the man who sits with my father nightly, he with a Heineken, my father with his morphine cocktail. "There. How do I look?"

"What are you?"

"Social worker, but he's the killer. Killer, but he's a social worker."

"It's so clean. Maybe a darker shirt."

Drake comes in. "What's your audition, Dad?"

"I'm a social worker."

"Nah, that's all wrong. You're supposed to wear a black shirt and black tie and black shoes. Like Cobra Bubbles. In Lilo and Stitch? He's a social worker and that's what he wears, Dad."

August runs in, then stops short, eyeing Jim suspiciously. "No like, Daddy."

My father enters and gestures to Jim. "Hey…young man. Have you…got…one of those things where you do that thing…you do?"

"An audition."

"Right. Knock 'em dead," Dad says, throwing shadowboxes, nearly knocking himself out. "Give 'em hell. Who are you…supposed to…be?"

"I don't know anymore, Tony. Maybe you should tell me."

Dad squints. "Is this a trick question?"


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