On Friday the 13th of September, my father had a stroke and I knew that losing him had begun in earnest. But as these things go, he was eventually sent off to the hospital rehab to learn how to walk through life dragging a leg and an arm. On the fourth weekend, when my father had been in the hospital a month, he got a pass to go out for dinner. He had not been in the world since that morning he slipped from his chair to the floor. This is the memory that rises up: It’s his first time out in the world in a wheelchair. But he’s dressed up in his camel blazer, brown wool pants, oxfords, blue shirt and tie. It’s all new to us, pushing a wheelchair. It’s all new to him, too, the view from the chair. But then we’re seated around a lovely table that looks out over the river shimmering in the late afternoon sun. All that sunlight, that brilliance spread for us. The sun sinks lower until it reaches the windows of the office buildings across the river and shatters into a mosaic of light. The office building is a cathedral now, casting its light across the river in wavery patterns of radiance. I can’t speak. A holy moment, because here we are, all together, crossed over to safety at last. “Dad, look!” I say. What I mean is, the world is still a beautiful place. You still have your life. I’m feeling expansive, blessed in some way. I take this as a sign that everything will be all right. My father looks around astonished. Life as it had been before.
It’s dark now, and little white lights have come on all over the restaurant. Such enchantment for an October night. The restaurant lights flicker across the water. If I were my father, I would never want to leave. I would never want to go back to that hospital. But he does. He’s had enough of everything. His back is getting tired and he looks a little frightened. He wants his hospital bed, the pillows and covers just as he likes them, the TV bolted to the corner of the wall, the TV remote by his steady left hand, the nurses to pat him and take his temperature and blood pressure and listen to his heart, and tell him that all is well.
Ann Putnam holds a Ph.D in English from the University of Washington. She teaches creative writing and gender studies at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She has published short fiction, personal essays, literary criticism and book reviews in various anthologies such as Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, and in journals including the Hemingway Review, Western American Literature and the South Dakota Review. Be sure to check out her website at www.annputnam.com.