The start of all the unraveling began at church. A Sunday morning in the fall of Ohio.
Our church wasn’t anything fancy – we met in the gym of an old school that had closed down a few years prior. Every service ended with a familiar refrain of folding the rows of chairs and piling them into stacks. It was in this midst of this commotion of congregational cooperation that my dad approached me. He was holding his grandson, my nephew. He was holding him with one arm. He looked at me. His eyes were wide. Wider even than his usual big brown eyes, a trait distinctive of his mother’s side of the family. The eyes we all inherited from him. I saw his eyes and I saw something I had never seen before. But I didn’t understand what it was.
His voice told me he needed me to take Titus from him. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand his urgency. I didn’t understand.
He was holding Titus with one arm. The other was limp at his side. Limp. Clearly limp. But also clearly moving. I didn’t understand how. I didn’t understand.
As quickly as I reached for Titus’s small toddler body, I passed him into arms filling my periphery. I was still looking at my dad. Back at his wide eyes. He was agitated. He was moving to get out of the crowd of churchgoers. I followed him. There were bleachers in the back of the gym. I told him to sit down. I asked him if he had any chest pain. He told me he didn’t have any. His arm was still moving. I wanted to ask him more questions. But he was agitated. He kept moving. I followed him out into the foyer and then through the front doors to the Ohio fall air. We were standing in the grass.
His arm still moving.
But movement totally outside of the movement we intentionally make. Movement both rhythmic and erratic, and in its entirety totally involuntary. I stood next to him not knowing what to do. But then I saw it move. It moved up the length of his arm, through, his shoulder, and into his back. When he doubled over, I reached for my phone. My brother was there. Someone was going to get my mom. I was trying to focus. Trying to interpret the instructions of the operator ‘s voice reaching to me through the speaker pressed against my ear. They could send an ambulance if I thought we needed it.
But I didn’t know what we needed. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t understand.
And then my mom was standing next to me in the green grass outside the building in the warm Ohio air. We walked through the grass, across the pavement. Opened and closed car doors. My mom driving, my dad in the seat next to her. I watched the tension in the outlines of their bodies from the backseat. Voices. Which emergency department? I don’t know how to get to the one in Dayton. We just need to get to one. Fast. Mom, you need to run this light. We can’t sit here any longer. Dad, it’s okay. We’re almost there.
And then we were. My dad fumbled with his seatbelt, the car door. I helped him with both. I was washed in a foreign sensation – he had never needed my help before. The triage nurse wanted cards from his wallet – driver’s license, insurance. Again I watched him fumble. I helped him. I could see he didn’t want me to. Not that he didn’t want me to help, he didn’t want to need help.
It was strange though. As soon as we were in the doors, those double doors underneath that huge red sign with the white letters… it all stopped. His hand, his arm, his shoulder – all still. Well that’s not truth in its wholeness. Because his eyes – they were still big and brown and wide.
The fear hadn’t left. Because we didn’t understand. We didn’t understand what was happening.
I drove home before they had finished running the tests. They wanted the blood work to result before letting him go. But they didn’t do any imaging. I remember saying – if they don’t find anything we need to get him to a neurologist. They didn’t find anything. But we didn’t get a referral. The symptoms were gone. What would a neurologist do without any symptoms, without any clues? We didn’t have a clue either.
I was standing by the kitchen sink. Mom and dad had come back with no news, only confusion. A fabric settling around us, a thick wondering if we had made a crisis out of nothing. I started to cry. I didn’t know why. I didn’t understand why I was crying. Everything was okay. No one was hurt.
No one was dying.
Lauren wrapped her arms around me. She is almost four inches shorter than me but towers over me in her hugs. Her words close to my ears. Her voice saying – that was scary Linds, it’s hard to see your dad needing your help. I nodded. I swallowed and felt a stiffness in my throat I hadn’t realized had formed. A few more tears squeezed out.
Of course the story continues. So many more details. Even more emotions dangling from each detail. I’ve pieced some of them out before. Others I have let alone. Some I know I will go back to and capture in words, sharp and bright, so I won’t forget. Others will probably fade to black and white and grey. That doesn’t change that they are all extant. They all happened. They can never un-happen. It is done. None of it can be undone. The lived experience was lived. Written down. Documented. Turned into history. A thing of the past.
But I can’t leave the past alone. I can’t understand who I have become without it. What has it done to me? I don’t understand. I don’t understand what has happened. This unraveling. I’m a heap of threads on the floor. The colors? They are still there. The substance? It hasn’t changed. But now you can’t see what I used to be. And now I’m not sure what I am supposed to be.