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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

17 Days: Day 4

There was a lot of driving for me to do,
with Mom in the car, between Arch Rock and Lebanon,
and of course we got lost the first time,
Mom’s directional accuracy not even close to being a broken compass,
just off off off, in the spaces where I’d have to
interrupt her Buddha sermon and ask her,
foolishly, LEFT?, RIGHT?, STRAIGHT? MOM?
ending up having to go backward to the first point
where we got lost—and let me tell you,
all red and brown barns look the same, so
thank goodness I remembered the one that had
“Jesus Saves” painted on the roof,
near the McDonald’s with free wifi so I could
Google-maps-screen-cap the rest of our way to where Dad was.

There seems to be no end in sight when you’re driving
through trees like that, and your mother is barrelling at you
with her reasons as to why your father has cancer,
like how he was shovelling snow a couple months ago
and hurt his shoulder, which was the same time he had
a big fight with your sister and her husband about what
was supposed to have happened at Christmas
or around it but did not—
all that combined was why your Dad has cancer.

It was then when I said, “That’s not how cancer works, Mom,”
that I missed the left Google Maps told me to make in 0.2 miles.
As if I knew better how cancer works.

The last five miles of the drive are the longest
because you are almost there, and the road is so wide
but the speed limit is a snaily 15 miles per hour
for no other reason than to honour the sacred drive
through the sacrifice of many young people
who probably barely understood how they were being used
before they couldn’t be used anymore.
As if you know better how war works.

Finally, we pulled into the handicapped parking space
I eventually stopped feeling guilty about parking in
because Mom said we were just as injured as anyone else anyway,
and we got there first, or at the right time,
so park there, take the spot, hang up the tag,
we won’t be here for long
before we have to drive back again.

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17 Days: Day 3

This might be the day he comes home.
We don’t know yet, but we wait.
Coming home again.
First time, from the war.
Second time, from the country where the war was,
with a new wife and someone else’s kid.
Third, fourth, twelfth, thirteenth times from rehab
of different kinds,
when I pictured it like my dad going to summer camp,
making crafts and participating in trust falls
to get rid of everything that threatened to tear us apart.

This time coming home, not to live again but to die,
to live a very dying life
with all the gear that goes with that.

Dr. Rachael fixing for him to come home meant
getting him out of bed to shuffle down the hall,
but first get him out of bed.
On his own two feet and everything else he had previously taken for granted—
we have to get him to stand on that, one oedematous leg at a time.

Getting permission to go home is the golden ticket, we think.
At the first hint of its possible issuance,
I make phone calls to men who drive trucks made for moving
cross-country, but instead carry oxygen tanks,
modified toilet seats, and anything else with wheels and brakes.

Where we live, you can’t keep an illness like that a secret.
It’s everybody’s business, and everyone has an opinion.
They’ll see the trucks and the nameless men
in uniforms delivering all the things needed
to make dying less horrible.
They’ll part their flimsy floral curtains
and look out their windows and mutter prayers
under their breath, spittle hitting their chins,
but they won’t notice cuz they’ll be too busy praising Jesus
that it wasn’t their driveway those trucks were pulling up in.

I think these thoughts as I’m on hold with
the medical equipment company receptionist,
as the nurse helps Dad bring one leg out,
as Mom hovers over the nurse because she knows her husband
better than this American woman does.
Dad’s done all this before.
All of this, to come home.

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My whole body hurt. The pain thundered in my head.
Writhing, pulling pillows over my eyes, trying to lay
softness over the inner beating I was taking
like a mother trying to soothe a child with hushes
and hugs when the child’s knee is torn open,
bloody and full of pebbles,
my head—my bloody fucking head crowded with
so much pain, I had to give it an 8.

Back to the Pain Scale. How familiar I am
with this “universal” scale of measurement, yet
how perplexing it is, still. The Pain Scale.

“How much pain are you in, on a scale of 1-10?”
I’m in pain, and I’m supposed to give you a computation/
quantification of this pain. “I feel a 7.”
What’s a 7 anyway?

Three babies, one cancer diagnosis, ten surgeries,
and I’m-not-going-to-count-how-many friends I’ve watched dying—
none of that made me understand The Pain Scale until Day 2.

Were we truly on the cusp of spring, or still courting it to fight
past the stubborn frigidity of mid-March? I know it was that
fickle overcast in-between weather that Mom and I walked out of
and into the hallway of the first floor,
a first floor unlike normal hospitals that are new, sterile,
adorned with plaques announcing the names of the big donors
who made possible their disaster-ready modernization.
This hallway: a grey cement vein through a building
that hadn’t been touched since the 70s.
After all, it was, it is, one of those hospitals of the forgotten
in a country that always claims to never forget.

Around the dimly lit corner, Mom and I took the elevator up
to Camp Courage, to Dad’s room where he lay against all wishes,
shackled by tubes and tanks.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your pain?” Dr. Rachael asked.
And there it was, the gesture I myself have made so many times:
the shoulder-shrugging, wrinkled-nose expression made during
an exercise of best-guess approximation, like we’re suppose to
rate Miss America on her talent portion, that is to say,
beauty (and how she walks) is in the eye of the beholder.
Isn’t pain as well?

Then she showed us a picture.
Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 8.59.35 AM

“Forget numbers,” she said. “Which face is you?”

Dad reached out his shaky finger to the sad face next to the teary one.

“So about an 8,” she said, ordering meds accordingly.

I scribbled on the back of Dad’s breakfast menu:
FullSizeRender (1)

Dad nodded and smiled. “Nice try, Dad,” I said.
Dr. Rachael said Dad could go home when his pain was a 6. Just 2 points less.

But 2 points. This wasn’t basketball. This was cancer. And there was the faulty nature
of numbers and pain.

Still, Dad was shooting for a 6. Or the less orangey-yellowy, less frowning face.

We’d start to understand The Pain Scale between us, when I would ask
and he would answer, until he couldn’t say numbers anymore,
when for all of us, it became a pain without faces, without numbers.

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I assume we all have our own rituals
beginning today, even though today is March 9, and back then it was March 10—
it was a Monday, and that matters more.

I picture Mother kneeling, kowtowing to his picture and all the Buddhas,
goddesses, and all-seeing eyes at her altar, wooden prayer beads
around her neck falling forward as she does, supplicating
my father’s still nascent soul into someplace good,
so her soul will go someplace good someday too.

I picture Sister going about her day as usual,
nothing remarkable or special to note
except for the sadness that’s always there is deeper today,
and she tries to not know why.

I woke up today almost not knowing how today already has changed me
from yesterday, when I lay in convalescence from a malaise I’ll always have.

One year ago, I was on my way to where Father lay—
or I had pictured him lying, scared and confused,
or more likely resigned. On a plane, in the clouds,
I wondered why teleportation had not yet been invented,
why five hours is sometimes too long, sometimes not long enough.

Today I bring the heavy blue ceramic urn from the altar in my bedroom
to the kitchen table. I select small smooth pebbles and tiny seashells
to fill the candle holder. I can’t find my candles in the dark
where my husband sleeps.

I turn on the burner on the electric stove to 8 and wait
for the tip of my lavender incense to glow red.
Incense in the urn. Ashes to ashes.
(Oh god, Daddy, my heart!)

I make a pot of chamomile tea, three pinches of dried flowers
from the container to the pot, hot water hitting the flowers,
steam rising to meet my muffled sobs. I want to WAIL WAIL
CRY SHAKE at this utter bullshit,
but I know better than to wake my family like that.

So it will be. For the next 17 days, I will remember
each of those last 17 Days, now knowing how they were numbered
on Fate’s calendar,
each morning lighting incense on the stove,
my tears sizzling when they hit the burner,
upon contact, water and fire, brief pop,
just like his last breath,
the final laboured one after 17 days-worth.

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It’s my birthday! Happy 39th to me! One way I’ve decided to celebrate is by making the Kindle version of my book free for a limited time. So tell all your friends, and if you haven’t already gotten a copy, go get yours now before the promotion period ends.

When I started the publishing journey with this book over two years ago, I was so excited to have numerous agents thrilled to represent my work. Even though I had all the skills and networks to have moderate success with publishing my own memoir, I decided to go the traditional route and have it sent out to publishers in the hopes of getting a decent contract. My agent has been incredible in guiding me through this process, and my book has landed in the laps of several reputable editors. However, as much as they loved the book, they could not get it past the true gatekeepers of the publishing industry–the marketing people. I was told that though my voice was fresh and raw and my story was compelling, the market already had too many “cancer memoirs.” My book was boiled down to those two words, and anything else that makes it unique, timely, and nuanced was made invisible, erased. Also, what these responses say to me is that the “cancer memoir” is done and over, nothing more to be said about it, we’ve heard these stories too much already, unless you’re a celebrity–which I find completely ridiculous. So I made the leap and decided to move forward with publishing the book through my publishing company, Rabbit Fool Press.

The one regret that I have with spending time going the traditional publishing route and not trusting my gut initially with self-publishing is that my father passed away before seeing the book in print. He was excited for me to write this and tell our family’s stories, but he died the day my agent told me that the book was ready to be sent out to the publishers. He did manage to read the first few chapters after he was diagnosed–and he laughed appreciatively. That was awesome. I’m glad he was at least able to do that.

So on my birthday, and in honour of my dad who passed away from cancer which was thought to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange, we are making the Kindle version available free for a limited time. If you agree that this story is worth being heard–that other cancer stories are worth being heard–then share this status with everyone you can, download the book, consider buying the paperback, ask your public library to purchase the book, teach the book, and come out to see me when I do a book tour in Spring 2015. This book’s success depends on grassroots efforts of the communities with which I am aligned–communities that I know all care about making silenced and untold stories known and heard.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Doesnt-Kill-Brandy-Worrall-ebook/dp/B00PIWYKCO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-2&qid=1416674638

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