I wear this statement of insistence as a badge of honor, proudly adorning my crinkled button-up shirt. My laptop computer perched atop the adjustable rolling table, precariously set among the previous evening’s clutter of paper cups, juice boxes and half-cans of soda that have been procured under the assumption that I was just raiding the patient fridge for him. Not that the combination of orange juice and lemon-lime soda, with a few creamers and artificial sweetener stirred with bendy straw was actually a delicacy I enjoyed for myself behind the closed door and dim lighting of our spacious hospital room, in the west wing, on the seventh floor – Oncology.
The hollow sound of cable news leaks over my left shoulder as I sit in the overstuffed vinyl covered recliner that has become a home of sorts, for me, and for my son Joel, who is folded into my side – content and asleep.
I am a good father.
I move to reposition the computer so that I can type, but the machine protests; the line is occluded; the one that tethers Joel to the Mothership through the small plastic tubing that will feed Joel saline and medicine, and neon poison to kill the beast that lives inside of his head, platelets and red blood cells, and finally when the time comes that he is no longer able to breathe on his own, oxygen to his lungs.
And it will come, but not yet.
All things alien in this hospital ship have become commonplace. Its creatures traverse the dim quarters, speaking of my son and the thirty other children on this floor in detached, hushed clinical tones that belive the seriousness of his condition for those who speak the language. A language that I am learning by immersion.
The clinical ones feed substance into his veins, attach leads to his heart, drill holes in his head and look inside at my authorization with their space-age technology. I sign the forms that warn of complication, sickness and even death. And that is ok, because they will save his life.
They will save his life and I am a good father.
I did not make him sick. I checked. There’s nothing we could have done to prevent this, I am told. My mind swirls in the sea of carcinogens, which seem float as a film on the surface of existence. What about the cheap toy we let him put in his mouth? Our cell phones? The fast food? The sun? The sin and corruption I see in my own heart? Certainly I had something to do with this, and so I can fix it with my love. I have him here by my side and I don’t leave him unless I must, and I only browse the internet and watch movies on the computer, but I don’t play video games, because I am a good father.
Tonight, as I sit here at my kitchen table writing this column, awash in the memories of Joel and the last four years that blend together, indistinguishable in their time, and blurring in their space. I feel them drawn away from me in a current that travels one way. So I have made it my job to gather them, hurriedly reassembling them in poetry and prose, reanimating them in code and sculpture and reliving them in the one form I refused to let myself escape into – a video game we are constructing by the name, That Dragon, Cancer. Come to think of it, maybe I should add some aliens.
Photo Credit: Ryan Green