Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Impact of One Second

Sometimes the tiniest decisions can become the most monumental and pivotal moments of our lives. Without question, we will fail to recognize it at the time. Instead, we spend years lamenting a simple choice that was made.

Every one of us has had at least one such moment. This is the tale of the split second where I made a decision I am doomed to regret for the remainder of my days.

My relationship with my father could easily be labeled as strained. From my earliest memories forward I always felt as if I stood in the shadow of greatness I could never achieve.

Jim was larger than life, outgoing, and possessed of a mind so razor sharp that nothing could possibly elude him. You name a topic, he was an expert in it.

A woodworker, a carpenter, a mechanic, speaker of multiple languages, an electrical engineer, a salesman, and an expert in history and literature. This was not a man you could try to bullshit and expect to get away with it.

And there was I, who as a lad stood in stark contrast. Reserved, contemplative, shy, and lacking interest in the majority of his pursuits. This is not to say that I was a dullard or lacking in ability, it's just that my own desires ran perpendicular to his.

My interests from an early age lay in the dawning of the computer age. Engines and mechanisms were anathemas to me. I desired naught but cold and impersonal calculation.

Computers served as a good companion for a lad with poor social skills and natural insomnia that forced me onto a schedule that was inherently my own.

At the time he frowned at my obsession, even stating in one of his few moments of improper prediction that "There would never be any money in computers."

Were that the only barrier to mutual understanding, I suspect that we would do just fine.

But it was compounded by my clumsy nature, my lack of any shred of ability in the realm of sports, and my burgeoning interest with the morbid and dark.

More than anything, my dalliances with the realm of darkness and death seemed to strain our relationship. He was outgoing and well spoken, and here is his son, a mealy little introvert with a mind forever wandering towards things that did not appeal to him.

It never occurred to me in my younger years that my leanings were the burgeoning of my artistic bent, the beginnings of my desire to speak loudly and freely, only in a medium I found more personal. The irony that my father ran a book business and ultimately had a son who would later desire to write books is not lost on me.

As I moved into my teenage years and the horrific throes of pubescent hormones overtook my mind, I found myself drifting further and further away.

Frustration would linger on the edge of my mind almost daily, as I recognized that he and I saw the world through the same eyes, we just filtered the input differently. As I aged I was able to more fully construct my thoughts and better explain how I saw things. He was a realist, and this is a characteristic that is as deeply seated a trait as my macabre sense of humor.

As I further progressed, I was able to find common ground, a perspective of the world shared by us both. Though our moments of synergy were infrequent, they were tangible and each meant more to me than I am capable of imparting.

The mutual ground may have been found, but a neutral and stable meeting ground was never established. We would share our occasional moments, but time wore on and I found myself face to face with him less and less.

This distance could have been mitigated by communication, but alas, I am poor at social relationships. I may be able to prattle on for hours and hours when I write my little passages but engage me in an actual conversation or email thread and you will generally find me terse and to the point.

Of course, I spoke to him shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. It was melanoma, first noticed by a growth on his back that had begun bleeding. He had it removed and ultimately had surgery to remove some of his lymph nodes. The cancer was gone and all returned to normal.

About a year later, problems arose once more. He again had surgery to remove some items. It was just a week or two later when I got the call.

He had lapsed into a coma brought on by extreme calcium levels. He had been brought back out of the coma and was resting in the hospital. I was at my home with a friend of mine who happened to be a nurse, and we researched and discussed what the underlying cause of this could be. I was nauseously kicked in the gut when I saw that a common cause of this is bone cancer. This was made all the more troubling by the fact that none of the other causatives seemed relevant to his condition.

I went and visited him that evening and spoke to him and my mother. He seemed optimistic and not overly worried about the situation. I left that night nervous but hopeful. I spoke with Terry that evening and we decided to head down there the next day to pay him another visit.

We arrived at the room shortly after 7, and Terry and I sat and spoke with both my mom and my dad for a while. After an hour or so my mom decided to go home and get some rest. Terry and I opted to stay behind and spend some quality time with my father.

We spoke of the impending war in Iraq, my father's dislike of President Bush, and shared reminiscences of Terry and mine's younger days. He asked for clarification on a number of incidents that we were complicit in. (For further information on these truths, see this and this.)

We spoke for what felt like hours, even going so far as to help him hack his bedside computer so that he could bypass the hospital filters and see the full internet. Finally, the time came to say our goodbye for the evening.

Like I said, dad and I always had a troubled past, but there was never a lack of caring, just an inability to express it properly. And so, as I neared his bed, I made the beginnings of a motion to hug him and tell him I loved him, and instead opted to put my hand on his shoulder and say, "Hang in there, old man." He smiled as we walked away from the bed and made our way home.

It was the last time I would ever see him conscious.

Four days later he lapsed into another coma, once again brought on by calcium, and he languished in that state for another twenty-something days before finally succumbing to cancer that had eaten away at his bones.

I was in that room with him every single day of that coma. I would stop by whenever time would permit. Sometimes alone, sometimes with Terry, sometimes with the rest of my family.

I watched as he slowly slipped away from me, and every single day my thoughts would haunt me over the words I had been too afraid to say to him. I choked on that regret every single day, the foul and bitter taste of letdown burning my tongue with a coppery tinge.

I spoke the words to his coma riddled body more times than I can recall. I did my best to let him know of my regrets. My moments alone or with just Terry and I were spent howling my regrets until my throat was hoarse.

When at last he was taken, I found myself in a bleak world. Anyone who has lost a parent knows the emptiness that comes with it. And for years I bore the pain and internalized anger of my moment's inability.

It's been some years now and I have ultimately made my peace with my decision. Right or wrong, it was the choice I made. I can lament it for the rest of my days, or I can just accept that deep down he knew how I felt. But I'll never hear the words returned, and that's a pain that will haunt my days forever.

Let this be a reminder to anyone. Not just about imparting your feelings or making your peace with others. No, just let this be a reminder that every decision we make, no matter how minute it may seem, has the potential to alter our lives, and we should be ever mindful of each and every one of them.


GeologyJoe said...

powerfull story and good advice E.
sadly i think it may take losing someone close to learn what it means.

E said...

Life's best lessons are learned in hindsight.

It's a shame we can't know that beforehand. :)