It's 2:30 in the afternoon. I was sleeping until a minute ago, when my phone started to ring. I'm grumpy as hell because I haven't slept that well lately, but how can you blame me with Daddy in hospice and barely hanging on? I answer the call without even looking at who it is, and I'm surprised to hear my grandma's voice on the other end.
"You need to get over here. Di is on her way to get you now."
That's all she says.
I stare at the phone in my hand, throat tight and dry, my heart pounding viciously. Is this it? I guess it must be, or she wouldn't have sounded so upset. Shaking, I throw on some clothes- I don't even notice if they're clean or not. I nearly fall down the stairs, and remember that Zach is here with me. He hugs me, already knowing why I'm upset and running around this way.
Di shows up not ten minutes later, and then we're flying across town to the hospital where Daddy's staying- no, where he's dying. The elevator ride seems to take forever, like time has slowed down just for now to make me feel worse and worry even more. When we finally get to Daddy's room, there's a lot of people standing around. Momma's there, and Steve and Grandma. Allison is standing back in the corner, and there's a nurse just outside the door. Di hangs back with Zach and the nurse while I go in, shaking even more now.
My heart nearly stops when I see him laying there. He's gasping for breath like a fish out of water, and I can barely see his bony chest moving even though he seems to be taking huge breaths. His eyes are empty, he isn't seeing the room or me or Momma sitting by his side and holding his hand. Steve gets up from his seat on the opposite side of the bed from Momma and lets me take his place. I nearly fall over because my legs are so weak now.
My dad is dying. Right here in front of me, he's dying. And I can't do a fucking thing about it.
No response at all. Not even a blink or twitch to let me know he heard me.
Slowly, terrified, I take his hand. It's soft and dry, limp and not responding to my touch. I remember how great-grandma Hawthorne's hands felt when I touched them at her funeral, before they closed the casket on her and I lost it. Daddy's hand feels the same way. Like he's already dead. I can see his face more clearly now, but I don't think I want to. He looks almost like a skeleton already- thin and pale, eyes starting to roll back in his head from the effort of breathing.
Steve lays a hand on my shoulder, squeezes once, and steps away. I look over at Momma, who looks almost as bad as I feel. She's crying, but the tears fall unchecked. She won't let go of Daddy's hand, not even to wipe the snot from her nose. I bite my lip, trying to keep my own tears inside. I have to be strong for her. She needs me to keep it together. I have to stay calm, if not for myself, then for her.
"You should tell him, honey," she says, voice breaking with a fresh flow of tears.
"Tell him what?" I whisper, looking back to Daddy's pale, sweating face.
"That... it's okay... We'll be okay..."
I bite down even harder on my lip, pretty sure I've drawn blood on the inside. I can't cry. I can't.
"Say it, honey... He needs to hear it from both of us..."
I squeeze his hand gently, scared that I might break him now that he's so weak. I have to swallow a few times before I can even make a sound, and when sound does finally come out of my throat, it's just a squeak. A pitiful, terrified squeak.
"D-Daddy, I'm here..."
The words are choking me. It's like being strangled by my own voice, my own fear.
"Daddy, please... Y-You don't have to hang on anymore... It's okay to let go..."
A single tear trickles down my cheek, but I don't notice it. I'm too focused on the rise and fall of his chest, watching as each one takes more and more effort.
"I promise, Daddy... We'll be okay... I love you so much... I love you..."
I lose it now, unable to keep the tears back, and break down completely, laying my head on top of my hand on top of his hand. I'm shaking violently with the force of it, and Steve and Allison have to pull me away from the bed. They hand me off to Di and Zach, who take me to a small waiting room next door. I curl up in the closest chair and sob even more as Zach holds me close.
"You guys should take her to go eat something. It's almost 7 already," I hear Allison say softly.
I flinch. Almost 7? But I just got here a few minutes ago. Then I realize that time had actually stopped for me. As I told my father that it was okay to let go, to die, time had slowed down and a few hours had seemed like mere minutes.
Di pulls me to my feet and hands me a tissue, then she and Zach take me out of the hospital and to Bellacino's to get dinner before I starve, even though I don't feel hunger at all. As we're sitting at the table waiting for the pizza, Di's phone rings.
She answers it, frowns a little, and whispers "oh lord."
I stare at her across the green formica, already knowing what the call was for.
"He's gone, isn't he?" I ask quietly.
She nods, and then I lose it again, sobbing into my hands, uncaring that everyone in the place is staring at me. Zach pulls me close and leads me outside, where I continue sobbing into the fabric of his shirt. Di goes back in to get our pizza and explain to the confused server what was going on.
I don't give a damn.
My father is dead. Dead. Gone.
He's dead, killed by a god-awful disease that seemed at times to be sentient, to know what the doctors were trying and evading them at every chance. By a disease that had literally eaten away at his body for four years, devouring him from the inside out.
He's dead, and there's a part of me deep inside that knows it's my fault for wishing this on him. Part of why I'm crying so hard is because I know that I made this happen. If I had kept my mouth shut, if I had been more mature, he wouldn't be dead. He would never have gotten sick.
This is all my fault.