The Kindness of Strangers


And those not so strange.

Perhaps I should just entitle this blog, “The Kindness.”

It has been a strange run of hours, surreal, be-spattered with rain and heavy tears.

Sorrow and grief and shock and then sleep and more tears and more rain.

My father is in the ICU at a hospital in Anchorage, Alaska.

A hospital I am on the way to.

I’m writing this blog from 10,000 plus feet on my connecting flight from Seattle to Anchorage. A flight, the kindness of strangers, that I should not be on.

“Stop, you don’t need to say more,” Rebecca at Alaska Airlines said to me, as I struggled to get out the words.

I had gotten off the plane from San Francisco and used the bathroom in the Seattle airport and figured I would find a snack or some dinner in the airport before connecting to my Anchorage flight.

However, the flight I was supposed to be on was showing a delayed boarding of more than two hours, add that to the two-hour layover and I was suddenly stranded in Seattle for four hours.

I’m only going to be in Alaska through Sunday night, I thought to myself and I walked in circles with my mom on the phone nattering about this and that and trying in her way to be supportive of me and my actions.

It’s not everyday a girl packs up her suitcase to see her father who she hasn’t seen in twelve years.

I finally saw a free agent at the airline and asked him for suggestions, he told me to head to gate 16, tell them that I needed to fly standby and see what they could do.

“My maiden name, Martines,” the woman at the airline counter said, followed by, “I just lost my father last month.”

We both teared up.

I had nothing in common with this woman, yet I had everything in common.

“I’ll get you on.” Rebecca said, “Go stand over there.”

And she did.

In effect saving me not only the two-hour delay on my flight, but gaining me an additional two hours to be in Alaska.

It’s not as dire as my blog sounds.

And it is.

I received a message from my uncle, as I was, irony? Heading into General Hospital, the locked down psych ward, with my boyfriend who does service there once a month.

I was going to assist and be sharing that evening.

As I reached for my phone as we headed into the doors, I heard a little ping.

Normal behavior?

Ignore it, turn off the phone, I have things to do, places to be, experience to share.

But as the doors locked behind us and we headed to the secured elevator, something prompted me to check the message.

“Emergency, call now.”

Followed by two numbers.

I called my uncle.

My father was in surgery, it didn’t look good.

Fact is.

My father hasn’t looked good in a while.

“Where’s my sister?” I asked him as he stood leaned against her apartment door building the winter of 2002, I had come back to surprise my friends and family in Madison from a recent move to San Francisco.

“I’m babysitting for her, she’s out,” my father said, sheepish in the light coming from behind him. My heels crunched in the snow, I felt the slip of ice under my feet, I had already lost my “snow legs” after just a few months in California, the ground wasn’t holding firm.

He smelt.

Beer.

Sweat.

Cigarettes.

Pot.

Fear.

And under the rank and file odor, he smelled like home, like my papa, like my dad, but I hadn’t called him either of those monikers in a long time.

He was Michael and he became that to me at an age when most kids are fostering a relationship with their fathers, not wondering where their dad was.

I have since grown up a lot.

However.

I have not sustained a relationship with my father.

He has been too active in his disease, that of alcoholism, and whatever else that has served to numb out the pain of existence.

I stopped engaging a long time ago.

I cut him out.

I cut him out with a machete.

I dropped a wall.

I said, I don’t ever want to see you again or speak to you unless you are sober.

He has not ever gotten sober.

But I did.

And in those moments of clarity when I look back I can see I was protecting myself, but maybe, just a little too fiercely.

Maybe just a little too hard.

“He thinks the world of you,” my sister said last night, sobbing when I told her the news that I was going.

Insert the kindness of those not so strange.

My employers.

They gifted me their frequent flyer miles.

I did not pay for this airplane ride.

I am still in shock at the largess of the gift.

“What! You have to take it,” she said to me over the phone as I sat numbed out (but warm—oh the loveliness of a car seat warmer) in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car.

“They want you to have it, they really do.” She continued.

And I realized, right then, right there, she was right.

And I wanted, no, I needed, to go.

I also decided, at that moment to grow up.

I called my grandmother, I got the name of the hospital, I called the hospital, I talked to the nursing staff, and I got the news.

The doctor was smiling, but the news wasn’t good.

He was alive.

But they don’t know, they wouldn’t know the extent of the brain damage for a few more days, he suffered blunt head trauma, they had removed a large clot and stopped several other bleeders, but “your dad’s a very sick man, he has a very sick brain,” the nurse said.

I think he may have been referring to more than just the trauma he had suffered.

I don’t know how the injury happened.

I have some suspicions.

Suffice to say, that’s not important now.

My dad came out of the surgery alive, with the brain swelling alleviated, they took off part of his skull to let the pressure go down, he was in a coma that from what I understand was medically induced to help with pain (but folks, I may be wrong about the details, the fog of grief makes distortions, it does).

He can track with his eyes; he can squeeze the doctor’s fingers.

I don’t know what to expect.

My heart aches.

I have hope.

One small sliver of hope.

He’ll recognize me and know I forgave him a long, long time ago.

That I love him.

Always have.

Always will.

And maybe

Just maybe.

He’ll squeeze my hand too.

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