There’s a file at the bottom of my desk drawer. It’s plain, unlabeled. It looks unthreatening, nondescript.
When my fingers graze its cover, instead of smooth paper I feel skeletal fingers grasping mine with a frail strength. Terror and relief blend together until my chest tightens like a fist gripping a balloon string in a hurricane.
I had to hide it because it was just too hard to see, to know what it held and what was missing. I couldn’t throw it away because it was all I had left. It’s been a decade since I’ve read its contents.
His journal sits on my shelf, dust coating it in a thick blanket. Undisturbed. Few words grace the pages but they were the last he wrote so I keep them, an homage to a missing man.
I still can’t handle the words. I can’t watch Whose Line is it Anyway. The book I was reading when he took his last breath still sits on my shelf, bookmark waiting in the same place. Back when words like TPN infusion and adenocarcinoma were a part of my daily life. When I knew how to pronounce cisplatin and fluorouracil, knew their side effects–witnessed them first-hand. I fell asleep every night to the scent of disinfectants and the rhythmic beating of monitors. A morphine pump rested near my head and I woke with each whoosh as it was dispensed.
The word malignant fell from the doctor’s stiff lips, his flat, overworked gaze staring at the blank white wall as we sat squeezed into a tiny box of a room at the end a long corridor, miles from the waiting room where our hope lingered.
It was too short but too long as his face twisted in pain and the medications robbed him of his memory.
Medical details, drug information, notes frantically scribbled on sheets of lined notebook paper as we struggled to keep track of doctors, treatments, medications, side-effects, and slowly learned a language that was as terrifying as it was technical.
The hospice nurse woke me with a gentle hand on my shoulder. “It won’t be long.”
I sat on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, alone, staring at the ceiling as the words circled in my head over and over – my dad will die today. The mixture of sadness and relief warred within me, chased by guilt.
He was with me that last day, knew who I was. Squeezed my toes as I sat on the couch, feet propped up next to him as the low rumble of thunder followed the bright flash of lightning.
“Remember?” I asked. The rain beat on the window.
His words had been stolen days before, taken by some thief in the night. He blinked his eyes and tightened his hold on my toes, our silent communication in a room bustling with subdued action as calls were made.
His last breath was quiet, a relief, a sigh. An exhale that created a file that sits, undisturbed, at the bottom of my drawer.