Friday Flash Fiction

Jennifer Pendergast

Jennifer Pendergast

I grew up hearing my dad’s colorful expressions. I realized as I got older that he’d modified them to make them kid friendly. He tried to spare our tender ears – at least, until he didn’t.

Word count: 101

Up a Creek

“You’re gonna be up Shit Creek without a paddle, my friend.” Dad slammed the phone down and took a handful of seed, throwing it in the wind. “If that rat-bastard thinks he can sell me a bagful of crap and get away with it, why I…”

Looking up, he noticed me standing there, mouth agape. “Sorry, son. You know, I never have shown you where Schitt Creek is, have I? We’ll plan that trip real soon.”

And with a sheepish smile on his face, he turned on his heel, the lousy bag of seed on his shoulder, heading purposefully to town.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.
© Erin Leary

Flash Friday Fiction

Image

Picture courtesy of Randy Mazie

So many angles, so little time.  Here’s one I’m sure others may try…..

Word Count: 98

Once a Goat

– I miss you

– You miss me taking care of you

– No, really – I know I did you wrong, but baby, you were always it for me

– Now’s a great time to tell me all this.  Once a goat, always a goat.  That’s what my mama taught me.

– I should have been true to you.  I know I deserved it.

– I should have done worse.

– But, honey, now that you’re gone – do you think you’d consider changing me back?

– I don’t reckon I will.  No, sir.  I don’t reckon I will.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary

Bad Carma, or My Daughter’s Short Career as a Car Thief

My son, Trey, was admitted to the ER a few years ago following a doctor’s appointment.  He was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg and needed to be treated immediately.  I went to the hospital to pick him up and we left his car there.  The plan was to go back the next day to retrieve it.  My daughter, Laurel, volunteered to help me, so I left work early to get home and pick her up, then return to the clinic to get the car.  Because I’d left early, I still had work to do.  I was on a conference call (hands free!) at the time we drove to the hospital.  Our plan was to get to the parking lot where he’d left it, drop Laurel off by the car, and have her follow me home.  She had been driving for about a year and half by then and was very capable. 

We made it to the clinic parking lot about 3:30, and I was talking on my call at that time.  We drove around the lot a couple of times to find the car, and when we did, I thought that it must have been a busy day at the clinic because Trey’s car was parked pretty far out on the edge.  We nodded at each other, and she got out.  In my distraction while on the call, I waited long enough to see her get in to the driver’s seat, but didn’t wait for her to back out and follow me.  I knew she’d be fine.  I figured I’d see her at home.  Not my best mother moment.

When I got home, Trey said Laurel had called him and she was freaking out because she thought she was in the wrong car.  No way, I said – I saw the car – it was yours!  She’s crazy.  He said she was convinced it wasn’t his, but she wasn’t going to try to take it back, that she said she was coming home.  We both watched from the upstairs window to see what would show up when she arrived.  As she pulled up in front of the house, I looked at Trey and said that’s not your car.  I was stunned.  It was the same model, same color, it even had the roof rack like his, but it was not his car.  Oh no.  His key was able to open and start someone else’s car.  How strange is that?

Laurel came into the house and burst into tears.  She had driven most of the way home gradually coming to the realization that she was driving someone else’s car.  It was cleaner than Trey’s.  The radio station was on AM.  The skull and crossbones air freshener wasn’t hanging from the rear view mirror.  Finally, she realized that the seat covers Trey had on his seats were not there.  She was convinced the police would be on her tail, helicopters would come swooping in and she’d be in big trouble.  She really was freaking out.  I told her I would take care of it.  I took the key, grabbed my purse and headed back to the hospital.  I understood how Laurel must have felt – it was very unnerving to be driving a car without the owner’s permission. 

I decided to try to reach the owners to let them know what had happened.  I found their registration in the glove box and called directory assistance only to find out they were unlisted.  I then called their insurance company.  I gave the service person the name and account number and she asked what she could do to help.  I responded “Well, this may be the strangest call you get all day…”, and explained the situation.

Once she had the crazy story clear, she said to wait a minute.  When she came back on the line, she had the owner’s wife with her.  I assured her that both her husband and the car were fine (in that order) and then explained the tale of mistaken car identity.  I explained that I didn’t want her husband to come out of the clinic and think his car had been stolen.  She said he was at work on the medical campus and wouldn’t be off until after 5 p.m.  He wouldn’t even notice it was gone.  I felt relieved by that and told her that I would re-park it as close to where we found it as I could.  She said it would make a funny story to tell him over dinner that evening.  We all got a good laugh out of it and I drove the rest of the way without worry.

I kept imagining him coming out to his car that evening and thinking, “I could have sworn I was parked one space over….It feels like the seat has been moved…the radio is off – I left it on…the mirror is wrong, too…” Very Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I suppose I could have left him a note, but that would have taken all the fun out of his wife’s story that evening. 

I called my daughter to let her know that the car had been safely returned and her career as a car thief was over.  As I was talking to her, I walked toward a blue Subaru wagon and was about to put the key in the door, certain I had found Trey’s car at last.  I looked in, just to be sure, and once again, it was someone else’s car.  I guess it’s an easy mistake to make.

Dropping Like Flies

Three years ago, if someone asked me if there was any cancer in my family history, I would have said no.  Now we find out we are riddled with it.  Sure, there were a couple of cases in my extended family, but in my immediate family, we’d been lucky.  Only Jan’s brush with melanoma 25 years ago was noted.  We felt pretty fortunate about how healthy we’d been.

Today, three out of the seven of my immediate family members are gone, all to cancer – two to pancreatic cancer and one to neuroendocrine cancer, unknown in origin.  And that boggles my mind.  How did we get to this point?

It seems as though this all tracks back to Aunt Betty’s decline in 2007.  That feels like the beginning of it all.  We’d lost Uncle Keith the year before and that was sad, but I could see Betty was in trouble at her last Labor Day event.  She was frail and low energy, two things she normally was not, even at 90.  I spent the fall driving down on Saturdays to see her and watched her fade away.  She passed away in November and losing her was hard for me.  She was such a big part of my life and I felt lost at the idea of a world without her. Now, in hindsight, going to her funeral feels like a warm up for what was to come. 

Jan was diagnosed less than a year later with pancreatic cancer.  It was a death sentence and we all knew it.  The big question was “how long?”  I felt it deep in my bones and ached at the idea of losing Jan, too.  I resolved to do my best to be there for her and we spent some wonderful hours together.  Through it all, we became closer than ever. 

Dad was diagnosed almost a year to the day after Jan.  He had been praying to take her cancer away – he volunteered himself to go in her place, so to have this now be a shared disease was almost too much to take.  I felt as though he was going to be OK – that his tumor was operable and he would be able to get through it.  What I didn’t factor in to my thinking was his age.  At 82, he was not really able to tolerate the treatments as well as Jan did.  His first round of treatment was meant to shrink the tumor so they could remove it.  He handled that fairly well, at least right up to the end.  He landed in the hospital with kidney failure in December.  Processing the chemo toxins through his kidneys, which were scarred, was too much for them to handle.  Putting him on a second round of chemo seemed foolhardy, but it provided the needed hope that a cure could be achieved.  He struggled through this round and seemed to diminish before our eyes.  His death in May seemed sudden, considering the goals of his treatment.

Mom’s diagnosis came out of the blue.  She had slowed down a lot in the last few years, but we attributed it to age and the fact that dad had done so much for her.  When she had to become his caregiver, it was rough on her.  She found herself hurting a lot – her hip was troubling her and getting up and down from her chair was hard. She was convinced she had bursitis and it would have to wait – she was busy caring for dad.  At times, mom lost her patience with him and then felt guilty about it.  She told me that it was hard to not feel upset at having to do so much – especially when it hurt her to do it.  Dad felt bad about needing so much help and at times, I felt like a mediator between them.  After dad died, I talked often with mom on the phone and she had a lot of remorse over her impatience with him.  I let her talk and assured her that he understood.  I knew, though, that she felt she’d let him down.  Then, in December, her bursitis was suddenly diagnosed as a tumor on her spine and she quickly changed from a woman with the aches and pains of aging to a cancer victim herself.  She had been struggling with her own internal agonies throughout dad’s illness – no wonder things had been hard for her.  In one of our conversations, I pointed this out and it then hit her – she had been taking care of dad when she was suffering herself.  It helped ease her guilt and she forgave herself for not being able to do more for him.

She immediately rejected all treatments except palliative radiation for the pain.  She did not want what dad had gone through and since her cancer was terminal, she saw no reason to prolong things.  Pragmatic to the end, she felt this was exactly what she needed – she was ready to be with dad and saw this as her path out.  I respected her decision and hoped it was not going to be too hard on her – and the rest of us.  Suddenly, instead of mapping out the last years of her life, we were dealing with what to do once she was gone.  It was a whirlwind six weeks that seemed to go by in a flash and yet take forever.  Each visit, each phone call, I wondered if it would be the last.  I was torn between wanting her to be there for me and wanting her to be where I knew she wanted to be – with dad.  It was difficult, but since it was what she wanted, it had to be OK.

On New Year’s Eve, I missed a call from my cousin.  I assumed she was calling to check on mom.  She called again the next day and told me her father, Paul, my dad’s brother had died.  His death was completely out of the blue – he’d been outside in the yard doing something and collapsed. At that point, I felt like a sponge that was already so full of water that it couldn’t take in more.  I could barely process what had happened and how to deal with it.  Mom was devastated and asked me to write a note forher to Aunt Sally expressing her sympathy.  When I talked to mom in early January, she said to me “we’re dropping like flies, aren’t we?”  And I had to agree, we were. 

Jan, my dear, sweet Jan – she was the one we all hoped would beat the odds.  She lived through so much the past three years and kept her attitude up all the while.  I only once saw her break down – and that was early in her treatment when her white cell count was too low for her to have chemo.  She felt she’d failed a test and let people down.  She sobbed in my arms then, and I had to tell myself not to break down, too.  I wanted to be strong for her, but I was dying inside.  I got to my car and fell apart, able then to let out my own fears and frustration.  Even through her intense protocol in her second year, she was positive.  She was staying with me then, and after her interferon treatments, she would shake with fever and moan in her room.  I hovered near the door, feeling inadequate and impotent to help her.  I would bring her a heating pad and rub her back, making sure she was as comfortable as possible.  It was a glimpse in to what George and mom went through and made me better able to understand the strain. 

Mom and dad seemed to have made a pact with God to go before Jan.  Part of me hoped that the deal they’d struck was that they would go in her place – to be the sacrifice they hoped they could be and save Jan. It seemed that surely the universe must see that as a fair deal.  But it wasn’t to be – Jan went from doing pretty well this summer to being unable to keep food down in a few short weeks.  That signaled the beginning of the end.  I was able to spend the last four days of her life with her, which will forever be a gift.  I had the conversations with her that she wanted to have, I massaged her with lotion, lifted her slight weight in to bed and helped her feel as good as possible.  I got good at rubbing her back where it ached and tried to do what she needed most – whatever that was.  I was a witness to the true love she shared with George and saw how deeply entwined their souls were. It was beautiful to behold.  I kept my promise to mom that I would be there for Jan and take care of her.  I kept my promise to Jan that I would be with her at the end.  I felt grateful that she allowed me that.

Now the worst has happened.  Now what?  After three years of cancer, how does my life go on?  In the space of four years, I’ve lost five amazing people from my life – Betty, Dad, Paul, Mom and Jan.  I am bereft.  I am running on empty.  What takes the place in my life where the worry and care has been?  How do I get back to me – and figure out what the new normal is? I am tired of sympathy – the cards, calls, flowers, and pity – sick to death of death.  And yet, I feel like screaming at people “Do you have any idea what I’ve been through? How hard this has been to stay on track and keep things together? Do you have a clue??” Because the answer would be no, they don’t.  No one but I know what it’s like to live in my skin.  And only a handful of people really know how hard it’s been. 

I keep reminding myself that this didn’t just happen to me – it happened to our whole family and we are all affected.  But it feels so personal – and I feel so much pain at times it is overwhelming.  And then, I pick myself up, as a true stoic Norwegian would, kick myself in the butt and carry on.  It’s how I was raised and it’s what I know.  I have to figure out how to operate in a world where I’ve lost my center and my lifelines.  I have to figure out how to be my own center and be a lifeline to others when needed.  I want to fill the voids in my life with people who understand and can support me when I am hurting. 

It is going to take a lot of time before I can look back on all this and feel like I’ve survived.  After a series of body blows like this, getting up off the mat and standing upright feels risky.  There’s always another one coming along and it could be worse.  I feel shell-shocked and need to be protected somehow.  The idea of crawling into a cave and keeping my back to the wall sounds good – except that I’m claustrophobic, so I guess that won’t work.  For now, I count each day a success when I get up and do what I am supposed to do and don’t wallow.  I feel good when I acknowledge the pain but don’t let it overtake me.  I feel better when I reach out to connect for some compassion and comfort from people who care rather than keeping it to myself.  The twist is that I used to call mom, dad, and Jan for that – they were my top three go-to people and now I have to reach out to others. 

It is a process, they say. The Grief Process.  The challenge is, I never got through an entire process of one loss before starting the next one.  My processes are all mixed together and it makes it hard to know what I’m feeling for whom.  I guess I’ll have to treat it like a river, with different channels that move at different rates.  Sometimes I’ll be in one and then move to another.  I’ll let the current carry me for awhile before I decide to swim.  For now, I have to let things be, put down my load, and focus on getting through the day well.

Four years ago, I hadn’t experienced significant loss.  Today, I have my black belt in care giving, caretaking, and grief.  I have cleaned out more closets than I care to think about. I have held the hands of my dearest loved ones and said goodbye.  I have done what needed to be done and loved without fear.  I have seen death and felt at peace.  I took the body blows, I have kept my head, and I have felt the pain.  I will keep getting back up because I have no other choice.  That is who I am.

What I Want

What I Want

My needs are pretty simple, really.

 

 

 

  • I want people to be nice to each other – treat other humans decently and with respect.
  • I want my kids to feel safe in their world and know that they belong there.
  • I want to create connections with others, not focus on the differences – find those areas of commonality that help create community.
  • I want to be free of fear from sources outside my control.
  • I want to be able to think for myself, act for myself, and be OK with the consequences.
  • I want to NOT be told how things are by media sources whose primary goal is not to report facts but to generate profits.
  • I want to be surrounded by love, not hate.
  • I want to be able to be myself with those I love – and even those I know but don’t love yet.
  • I want to feel OK being human – stop pretending to be perfect and allow myself the freedom to be imperfect.
  • I want to live in a world where making connections is more important than political correctness.
  • I want to roll back time to a simpler era when things were clearer, less information was thrust at you and you could think freely.
  • I want to pass along tolerance and respect to my kids and hope that they learn to come to their own conclusions as well.
  • I want to solve big problems like cancer, war, and addiction – but know that I can’t do it on my own.
  • I want us all to be able to be queen (king) for a day to know what the immense responsibility of being in charge really means.
  • I want to not be referred to as a group of anything – women, whites, political bias, whatever –but to be seen as an individual who may or may not conform to demographic norms.
  • I want to love when I feel love and support those people I love to the utmost. 
  • I want to live forever and be surrounded by the wonderful family and friends that have populated my life.  OK, I know this one’s not really possible, but it’s what I want, so I listed it. 

What do you want?

Seth!’s Seizure Saga

 

I’m going to try to summarize the past 36 hours in this one email to get everyone up to date. I’m pretty worn out – running on about 2 hours of sleep last night and a long day today, so this is the easiest way to share the news.

First of all, Seth! is much better. He is still groggy and gets things confused, but that’s the anti-seizure meds at work, and he’ll feel better with time.   I wanted to try to put together the sequence of events and what happened – as much to have a record of it as to share it. Seth! remembers almost nothing of what happened to him, so getting this all down may be of use to him later on.

Lucian and Seth! left for Montana at 6:30 PT on Monday morning. They anticipated a long drive to Bozeman as the truck really doesn’t get much above 55 MPH, and the various mountain passes made it likely their average speed would be much slower.  They stopped for lunch in eastern Idaho, near the border. While in line to order his burger, fries and Hi-C drink, Seth! had what he described to Lucian as a “deja vu” moment – he felt like he was out of place and out of sync.  They ate lunch and left.  They stopped for gas about 45 minutes later at the $50,000 Truck Stop in Haugan, MT.  While there, Seth! described the previous deja vu experience as like ‘being in someone else’s bad dream’ and said it was really bugging him.  Lucian said that before they left the station, Seth! went blank for about 20 – 30 seconds. He called his name and he didn’t respond.  Then he came back and said he was fine and was ready to go.

They got back on I-90 east and headed toward Superior.  Just outside of St. Regis, Seth! began to veer off the road toward the guard rail. Lucian saw that he was blacked out, convulsing and turning blue. He grabbed the wheel, straightened it out and reached down with his hand to push the brake in. He got the truck to a stop right alongside the guard rail, but there was no shoulder, so he had to get Seth! out of the truck.  He crawled out his passenger window since the door was blocked by the railing, and went over the truck to drag Seth! out to the side of the road in case someone hit the truck from behind.  He flagged down a passing car, asking them to call 911 as he thought Seth! was having a heart attack.  Seth! was still convulsing and blue.  Lucian did mouth to mouth and Seth! came around a little, but didn’t know where he was, who Lucian was or what was happening to him. Paramedics arrived about 45 minutes after all this started (they were in the middle of nowhere….) and started checking Seth! out. He still didn’t know Lucian, but knew my name, his kids names and  his own name by then.  He was nauseous and vomiting, and his memory of things ends about there.  The ambulance came to take him away, and he had 3 more seizures on the way to the hospital in Superior. (Ironically, on our return trip from Montana this summer, Adrian and Seth! did a geocache at the old hospital building in Superior – it was a 2 room affair off main street)  Lucian, in my mind, saved his life. The stretch of I90 where this happened is really narrow, no shoulder and being able to stop the truck safely and get him out was critical.  One of the key factors in this working out was that they were heading uphill, not down hill.  I feel very fortunate that it worked out that way. I can’t thank Lucian enough.  He said that while doing CPR on him, Seth! said something to the effect that if he lived, the BMW was Lucian’s in thanks.  We’re still getting that confirmed.  🙂

The people in Superior realized they didn’t have the equipment to deal with this. They controlled his seizures with Atavan and Dilantin, along with a powerful sedative. It was so strong that Seth! wasn’t able to breathe on his own.  They intubated him and sent him by helicopter to Missoula’s St. Patrick’s Hospital.  Lucian followed in the truck.  Seth! was seen by the ICU doctors and the sedation was continued while they monitored him for further seizures.  When Trey and I arrived at 2:30am MT time we went straight to Seth’s room. He looked OK – pale, but he’d been through a lot by then. His nurse said they planned to do an EEG in the morning to get more information. They did a CT scan earlier in the evening and it didn’t show anything wrong in his brain, so that was also good news.  We found a place to stay for the night and got to bed about 4 a.m. 

Back at the hospital at 8 a.m., the earliest they let you in to the ICU.  I talked to the nurse on duty and the ICU doctor and they were looking to the EEG for more information. I was anxious to get his breathing tube out. The ICU doc agreed that it wasn’t needed any longer and had the sedation stopped. Seth! woke up in about 10 minutes, very disoriented and distraught about the tube in his throat, which is a typical reaction. He saw me and was confused – the whole ordeal was not making sense to him.  They got him extubated and it was a while before he could speak.  His first words to me were “So it wasn’t all a dream?”  I said that it wasn’t.  He said “F…”  I knew he was himself. 

From there, they did the EEG and the neurologist came to evaluate him.  This was done through a series of questions and physical checks.  The funniest part was when Dr. Johnson asked Seth! which hand he threw a baseball with.  Seth! thought about it and said his left.  He said I throw left, but I write with my right.  Dr. Johnson said ‘so you’re ambidextrous?’ and Seth! said no, he was bi-dextrous. He couldn’t write with his left nor throw with his right. The doc then asked what Seth! did for a living.  He said he autographed baseballs.  I about fell off my chair. The timing was perfect.  Again, a good sign that he was all there.

So after all that fun, they started removing all the other tubes, including his catheter and IVs in preparation for moving him out of ICU. This was also great progress.  While all this is happening, I’m filling him in on things he’s missed during the past 20 hours and when I told him he’d been airlifted to Missoula he was furious. Not because of being moved, but because he got to ride on a helicopter and he doesn’t even remember it. I told him it still counted on the bucket list, but still…. He’s been griping about that all day. The ICU nurse said she let the helicopter crew know that he wanted to find out about his trip, so they may stop by when they’re in the hospital. 

Lucian and Trey left for Bozeman at about 1 p.m. deal with the exhibit. Lucian had called the staff to let them know of the delay and all was well.  Seth! is beside himself at not being able to go.  He is worried they won’t know how to get the exhibit into the crates as well as he does, but I keep assuring him it will all work out. Being stuck in the hospital is probably the worst torture for him. I know the guys will do just fine, and Seth! can focus on getting better. He still thinks I’m going to take him to Bozeman when this is all over, but he has another think coming.  Not on my watch.

He was moved to the regular patient floor this afternoon.  They took him for an MRI and we still don’t have the results from that.  The nurse said that if Dr. Johnson saw anything of concern, he’d come by and talk to us.  I stayed until 7 p.m. and he hadn’t come by. When he comes tomorrow morning, he’ll let us know what he saw (or didn’t see) and he’s also scheduled another EEG to compare to the one they did today.  I’m hoping we get some news on what they are thinking about further tests or releasing him.  I’m not sure what else they might want to try – sometimes you just don’t get to know what caused the seizure.

Seth! had something to eat this evening and felt OK.  He talked about ordering the seizure salad, but decided against it.  He’s still really loopy. It’s like being around someone who’s had a little too much to drink. He asks the same questions but by the 3rd time, I point out that we’ve already done this one and he says ‘oh – right…’ then proceeds to ask the follow up question that we’ve covered before as well.  The good news is he’s got a good sense of humor about it all, and short of a few painful moments (IV pain, catheter pain, and headache) he’s been holding up well.  I know he’ll feel better when they reduce the anti-seizure meds and he’s not so drifty. Tomorrow, he’ll only have one dose and that should help him a bunch.

There were many funny and comical moments to the day, but overall, it was a huge sense of relief to see him come back bit by bit to himself. I know he’s still very frustrated at losing such a big chunk of his time (figuratively and literally) and at letting people down by having this happen.  I think it’s just a good reminder that we all need to slow down a little, take life one day at a time and value each moment.  I am seriously considering adoption proceedings for Lucian. He was a life saver and truly did an amazing job in a very trying circumstance.

By the way, the Sisters of Providence run a darn good hospital.  I’ve been very impressed so far with the treatment and the approach. I hear a helicopter over at the hospital right now.  Maybe the crew will stop by to visit Seth! and tell him all about his big trip. Thanks for your support and good thoughts – I’m looking forward to getting home soon. But first, off to bed…..