Letting the Membership Lapse
On the carnival ride in earnest, or at the very least in the car a lot, Dad’s radiation treatments had begun and every night I whisked him away to OHSU Waterfront. Then he got on the Sky Tram, had a beautiful view for five minutes, and stepped into radiation to get zapped. I waited for him below, not quite knowing what to do with myself. The iPhone stood in for what was once the ancient stack of magazines lying in lobbies of medical centers the world over. It was a better waste of time, but still a waste. Then Dad took the tram back down, and into the car we went.
Dad had treatment #3 that evening. There was little to it; after the radiologists dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, it was a matter of making their blast of radiation line up. Dad said, “They’re smart bombing the bastard.” Or at least we hoped; it would suck if they were strafing.
Lars accommodated our ever-changing schedule, even if it factored into clients breathing down his neck. And Lars was even learning to cook. My absence in the kitchen had become pronounced enough that he branched out from the breakfast ghetto toward the intimidating but ultimately simple “dinner menu.” I’d always told him his palate was such that he should be the chef in the family; maybe it would come to pass, another truth of unintended consequences.
Milo and I bonded over a video game, which was another complete waste of time, but one in which there were few emotional demands on me. The video game that Milo and I bonded over was a beautiful one; Okami is rooted in Japanese folk tales, and the style, rather than the harsh 3-D world so many games embrace, was rendered to look like sumi-e ink paintings. And while the goal of the game was obvious enough (we fought evil), it was more pleasurable when evil took the form of mythological Japanese characters, including chimeras with the bodies of teapots, weapons that included Taiko drums and kites, and devilish monkey imps who insultingly smacked their butts at us.
Perhaps the most therapeutic part of the game (other than knowing that evil and good were easily identified and any ambivalence would quickly be resolved) was that you are a god—a white wolf named Amaterasu—resurrected to bring Nippon back to life, after demons and evil spirits had laid waste. And in a stroke of genius, much of it partook in this meditative action: the player wanders the length of Japan bringing trees back to life, digging up dry springs to water the land and crops once again, dusting off shrines, feeding birds and beasts. So much of the game was made up of these benevolent gestures that Milo avoided all the conflicts with the demons and instead wandered around feeding birds and reviving plants.
Milo relied upon me to slay the imps, which was symbolic of something, I’m sure.
Dad was playing a difficult game balancing his need for pain relief and the desire to keep a clear head. If he went light on the oxycodone, the pain poked through and he struggled with certain movements. But after the Great Easter Pageant played out with all the dramedy of Chekov, he wanted to keep his wits about him a little bit more.
There was the issue of his guts, too. Not to put a fine point on it, but “opiates” equalled “constipation.” He hadn’t said it overtly, but Dad’s greatest struggle seemed to be intestinal. Prune juice was purchased after radiation one night, and he mentioned “voiding” the following morning, an unusually quaint metaphor for him to employ. I realized Dad embraced the quaintness for me, not him, which was touching, but also illustrated how personal things had become between us.
After radiation one evening, as Dad and I walked to the car, he said, “If there’s anything you want to know, anything at all, now is the time to ask it.”
I wasn’t sure what kind of “anything” he was referring to and said as much. “Anything,” Dad said. “About your childhood, about my childhood, about our family history. Anything. You should ask now before I won’t be able to answer.”
I suppose I should have, but I didn’t know what to ask, which was depressing.
“I let my membership for MoMA lapse,” he mused, gazing out the car window at another turbulent April sky. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve certainly supported them loyally.’ But I’m probably not going to be making it back to New York.”
This from a man who, no matter his finances, no matter when he was going back to New York City, always supported his favorite museums through thick and thin; that Dad had let his membership lapse was akin to a man removing a pinky because he just wasn’t using it much anymore. It indicated, as he described it, his horizons diminishing.
“I just want to stay close to family now, putter in my studio. Sit on my porch in the sun. I don’t think I’ll be making too many trips from here on out. And that’s okay. I’ve seen New York, I’ve done it.”
This was the greatest blow I’d taken in while. Being steeped in the realities of his medical condition by merit of constant visits to doctors’ offices was not enough to make me accept the realities of finality. But it was impossible to avoid if the person looking toward the finish line was summing it up by letting go of the possibilities of a different future. Dad might not have made any more trips after this point, but he hadn’t voiced it. Now it was out there, and I had to face the finish line as well. The MoMA was not in it, nor the Metropolitan, nor the Guggenheim.
They were a part of his past now, not his future.
As we pulled up to Dad’s house, I observed that he seemed to be feeling the constraints of time much more. Dad admitted that he was. He was mentally winding things up, nesting a bit, fluffing the pillows and making arrangements for smaller events: organizing that pile of art in the studio, going through his books, sifting through the archives of his life for any stories his kids should know before those archives were lost forever.
I didn’t mention any of this when I got home, but I had a ripping headache, so I went to bed early.
“You want to talk about it?” Lars asked.
“We can talk about it in the daytime,” I said, “which makes it less depressing, somehow.” Lars agreed; since I’m prone to insomnia anyway, we didn’t want to encourage it by inviting the imps in before the lights went out.
The imps came anyway, and that night I was too weak to fend them off.