It’s Saturday night, and I haven’t submitted a story to Medium for a long time. I’m typing this one in my phone. I’m sitting at the bus stop on Piedmont Avenue with the tiniest, prettiest, most jovial dwarf I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but she’s decked out in a spectacular velvet Santa’s elf suit complete with tasseled, jingled hat and fetching sparkles glinting at her collarbones and hip.
I’d heard a heavy, red-faced man kvetching to what I thought was a child. She responded in such a conciliatory, care-taking, and mature way. Curious, I glanced over, and realized this was not a child, but a very cool, very pretty, and very tiny person, adorned as described. She assuaged the upset man, explaining to him why several buses had passed them by. She seemed to have all the answers.
I’m sitting on a bus stop bench on a Saturday night in Oakland not because I’m going anywhere and need said transport, but because I’m sad, confused, alone, hurt, and hungry. And I don’t know what to do.
I’ve made something of a plan now. I beckoned a friend that I feel ashamed to beckon because I don’t want to mislead. I thought, no, I’ll take myself on an artist’s date a la “The Artists Way.” (That is, a date with myself, essential — according to Julia Cameron’s book — to building my creative muscle.) But then, I felt desperate. Alone. I didn’t have the guts to navigate the next hour or two without company.
I’d just come from visiting my dad at the skilled nursing facility at Piedmont Gardens, where he normally lives at The Grove, the memory-assisted unit, in another part of the building. He’s instead on the second floor in skilled nursing because he broke his hip in a fall last Sunday. I visited him at the hospital after surgery. I entered the building with great trepidation and even stalled a moment in the lobby, to brace myself. I was afraid of what I would find.
When I went upstairs, he was… amazing. All smiles. Totally alert. Enjoying the attention. Chuckling. He spoke clearly (though made little sense, but that was nothing new. At least his words were articulate.) When I asked him which hip was broken, he pointed to the left. I later learned it was the right.
The next few days, as I launched into my first week at my new job, I wasn’t able to visit. My sister went a couple of times. I was head-down.
I got the call he’d been moved from the hospital to skilled nursing.
I went there today. This afternoon. He was in a shared room with an old, gaunt black man sitting up in a chair beside his bed. He wore dark sunglasses like an old blues man. His wife/significant other was stationed by the TV. She wore all white and a rawhide cowboy hat.
I made my way through the partitioning curtain to my dad. The sight shocked me. He looked 100. His head was turned to the side, his mouth open in an awkward circle. Before I even tried to speak to him, I knew he was heavily drugged. He was conked out, and it wasn’t sleep.
I flew to his side. I watched him for a moment, fear and pain vying for position in my chest. I spoke to him. After a moment, he mumbled a response. It was unintelligible, but from the cadences I could kind of make out what he was saying. Dinner was served. It didn’t appear to me he’d be able to eat anything at all in his condition, but I gamely spooned a bit of soup into his mouth.
Although he was unable or unwilling to open his eyes, he gobbled up the soup and obediently opened his mouth for more, like a baby bird. With his other hand, he made to serve himself with an invisible utensil. We polished off the soup and half the spare ribs that way, me using his gesturing right arm and hand to know when to place the food in his mouth. It worked rather well, his puppeteering of me in this fashion.
On the TV in the other half of the room, the tragic ghost ship warehouse fire story unfolded. This is the horrific fire that consumed the artists’ collective not far from my home in Oakland last night. Nine counted dead so far, roughly 25 missing.
My battery is dying, and my friend is almost here, which means I have to tie this story together. But how? These are the pieces of our lives, the threads that form a tapestry. A fire erupts, and many people’s children are dead. My father declines, but he still has a voracious appetite. I feel lonely and sad and scared, and I call a man who’s been a faithful friend to me, someone I can easily talk with, but whom I’ve rejected as a partner for what may or may not be spurious and inane reasons.
In the meantime, the Christmas season grinds into gear, with pretty lights shining through the red leaves in the tree, tinsel waving in the soft breeze in this burger joint, and a fetching, real-life elf-ette assisting a red-faced, hulking man at the bus stop. In other words, it’s the normal humor and heartbreak of daily life. And word on the street is that we are to be grateful for it. All of it.