Columbus Day, Thanksgiving

Posted by jdg | Monday, October 08, 2007

Before dawn Saturday morning, the phone rang. When you don't have any friends or family in other hemispheres, no one is calling at that hour of the morning to ask about your chicken-pot pie recipe or to tell you about how their date went last night. There is nothing quite like the sound of a telephone in those early hours to jolt you from the deepest dream, to pump you so full of adrenaline you're awake enough to work through long division before you even check the Caller ID and press "talk."

It was Wood's father. He and his wife had been planning to leave Pittsburgh that morning to visit us. He spoke so intensely and clearly I heard every word. His stepson had tried to break into his house in the middle of the night, high on crack. He wanted money. Wood's dad went outside to tell him to go away, and the kid started shoving him. "I punched him," he said. "I probably shouldn't have punched him. I got in a few good pops before he started kicking my ass. He got me down on the ground. I was protecting myself pretty good, but they had to drag him off me. I'm not hurt too bad." He hadn't slept at all, he was so wired from the confrontation. Needless to say, they weren't coming.

"That's okay Dad," said my wife, accustomed to stories like the one about the party where her dad's large Mexican friend had to pull out a handgun when some coked-up guys started hassling him for being white, and more recent stories like the time some dudes threw something at his car so he backed up and started chasing them until suddenly he was surrounded by guys hitting his car with bricks and baseball bats. "Just rest and take care of yourself," she told him.

"I'm not hurt too bad," he said again.

When she hung up the phone, she buried the bridge of her nose in my shoulder. Her body trembled. "He's too old to be fighting," she sobbed. That spot where my neck ends and the shoulder begins grew wet. "That kid is more than twenty years younger than him."

"You heard him though," I said. "Thank God he's okay." And he was. Grandpa Woody arrived Sunday afternoon, no worse for wear, much to Juniper's delight. Wood was looking forward to spending time with her family on this Columbus Day, as she didn't have to go to work.

Then, this morning, the phone rang at 4:30 a.m. This time it was her mother. Her step dad, who has been battling acute myelogeneous leukemia since last January, was dying. "I need to see you," her mother said. I stood out in our driveway with her in the darkness a few minutes later, watching her get into our car to start the three-hour drive to where her mother sat by a hospital bed. Juniper woke three hours later. I spent the time trying to figure out how to explain all this to her, to articulate the proper sense of respect and finality without terrifying her with the great mystery of death. That is so hard to do when you're not sure you understand any of it yourself.