By Lori Ada Jaroslow
was at Ralphs in North Hollywood when my cell phone rang, piercing the silence
in the meat and dairy aisle. I rummaged frantically through my knapsack and picked
up before the last ring. It was my sister, Risa. "We got the news about Dad,
Lor, and it's not good. It's pancreatic cancer." I slumped over the porkchop
case. "He has weeks to months to live." I dropped the Armenian feta
cheese I was holding, and ran out of the store. Somehow, I got home and called
Brookes, a caregiver originally from St. Marten, now living with Dad in his Manhattan
apartment, answered the phone. She has a dark, rich voice that sounds like it's
coated with molasses. It has a lilt, like gentle waves washing ashore.
don't understand these doctors, Lor, the liver is the next door neighbor to the
kidney. They are like a brownstone, close together. You know how many times they
lookin' at that kidney? I took him to all his doctor visits, I never missed a
one." She was crying. I assured her that there was nothing she could have
done differently, then I asked her how much time she thought Dad had.
doctor say when he start to jaundice, it would be fast, maybe days. And, Lor,
he already lookin' yellow. You come home now and stay with us. We got space on
the floor in the livin' room. I'll put him on. JERRY," she hollered, "it's
aaaare ya?" My father elongated vowels for dramatic punch.
I'm coming to New York. I want to hang out with you."
what's the occasion? Anything special?"
want to see you. I miss you. I love you, Dad."
too, Lorzhabee, see you soon."
the prospect of losing one parent, I dialed the other. "Hi, Mom, have you
heard? Are you okay?"
come on," she growled, "we haven't been together for twenty-eight years.
I'm fine. Why're you crying?" I didn't answer.
will you see Daddy before he dies?"
he ask to see me?" My mother's going to need an e-vite to my father's funeral.
Shirley Bilsky's father lived for a year and a half after he was diagnosed with
pancreatic cancer. I think they're jumping the gun here."
the doctor said that when he jaundiced it would be very fast, maybe a matter of
days. And Alma said he's already yellow."
really?" rebutted Mom, "What does Alma know from yellow? Since when
is ALMA an expert on YELLOW?"
was in Dad's apartment on 96th and Columbus in 48 hours. He lay in a hospital
Poppy. How are you?" I smoothed his matted hair.
good, Lorsch." He looked awful.
"I'm so happy to see you, Daddy."
I stifled tears. "Get some rest, I have a big voice over job for you tomorrow."
My father was an actor. I thought this might perk him up.
it pay well?" He asked.
plus ten. I want you to teach me that Russian lullaby you used to sing to us.
Hey, Dad... can I get in bed with you?"
with him and with as much energy as he could muster, he stroked my back."
Two minutes later, he picked up his head. "Could you give me a lift to the
Daddy." He shuffled slowly and daintily. I walked alongside him for safety.
When we were halfway there he stopped abruptly. He attempted a soft-shoe with
the walker, and sang to the tune of Tea for Two, "Da, duh duh, duh dudududu
da duh." I roared with laughter.
he said, "you're laughing, and I'm dying heeere." Our bathroom jaunt
took forty minutes
Sunday, we had a few guests. I got bagels and lox; Alma made Caribbean chicken
and pig's feet. A winning combination. I didn't touch the pig's feet
many Weight Watchers' points. Our family totaled twenty including my sister Abby,
her husband David, their kids Leah and Daniel and my sister Risa, her husband
also named David and their two kids Mara and Sam. Alma's brood totaled forty including
a range of folks--her best friend Lena, her daughter, Rachel, Rachel's very pregnant
ex-lover, Sophia, and her daughter Cinnamon. This gathering allayed my fear that
Dad was spending too much time alone. Apparently he had a bevy of broads from
the Bronx caring for him, and, in fact, it seemed as though his apartment had
become somewhat of a community center. He sat in his chair that Sunday smiling
and drinking from his sippy cup. Though he barely spoke, I sensed that he delighted
in the festivities. The next day he was exhausted and couldn't get out of bed.
my mother. "Hi Mom, I was going to come see you for Mother's day but Dad's
not doing well so I need to stay here. Will you see him?" I asked.
doesn't want to see me." Alma yanked the phone out of my hand.
listen to me, Sylvia. In the middle of the night Jerry say to me, 'When is Sylvia
coming home? Will she be here for dinner?' You can not hate your husband more
than I hated mines. He was a dog, but if that man were dying I would go see him
in a second for my kids, because THEY loves him. I would do that for them."
Alma handed back the phone.
does she charge, fifty an hour?" asked Mom. "Should I come tomorrow?"
day arrived for my mother to visit my father.
shot into the apartment like a pistol, "Jesus, it's hot in here, can you
open a window?" her request out before the door was closed. She scanned the
he must have gotten a decorator."
hugged Mom warmly. "Sylvia how you doin'? You look like a hippity-hop teenager.
You cannot be 81 years old. Did you drive your fancy Toyota Camry into the city?"
I took the bus, I'm an old lady," she replied.
parents were separated the day after I graduated high school. Nearly three decades
and three cancer bouts later, my mother said, "I don't want to be buried
next to that shmuck," and she filed for divorce--after a twenty-seven-year
separation. They were separated longer than they were married. And I don't know
why I can't let go of things.
turned to Dad. He sat in his wheelchair in the living room, his head hanging down
from weakness. "How are ya, Jer?" Mom stared at him detached and sad
simultaneously. Alma and I scattered. As I left the living room, I turned back
to look at my parents. I felt as though I was watching a slow motion silent movie
behind a gauze scrim; grief muting my senses. They spoke for maybe a half-hour,
and then Alma and I reappeared.
Jerry," Alma teased, "You're eyebrow's are up, you look excited."
he's excited because I'm here," Mom said sarcastically.
not kidding you, Sylvia, that was the most Jerry has talked in a while."
well he's making up for the thirty years he didn't say a fuckin' word to me."
laughed. "It's good to see you, Syl. When you coming back?"
yah, I'll be back next week," she lied. And I knew it was the last time they
would ever see each other.
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