The last time I saw my dad was September 28th, 2011. No, he's not dead. He lives in California; I live in DC. And during my last visit home, I was briefly convinced that I killed him. With this photo and a tweet.
I'm not exactly sure WHAT I wrote. The tweet has since been deleted at the request of my poor mother. It was probably something snarky about this room, supposedly for guests, now filled with junk and more junk.
At this point, the specifics don't really matter. What does, at least to me, is that when my dad saw this photo on the internet, he stormed downstairs as I sat on the couch watching TV. He proceeded to scream at me in a way that was frightening yet not unexpected. We circled the couch, him yelling, me yelling back. Holding back tears and failing.
He demanded I delete the tweet. I refused citing principle (yes, it's true), while my mom pleaded with us both to calm down. Could I just delete the damn picture? Could I just make it go away? She was mad at me for causing this, too. As I write this now, the stupidity of this incident does not escape me. Yelling and screaming. OVER A TWEET.
Still, when I posted it in the first place, I had hoped it would have some effect -- if not this exact one. I knew that this photo, as small as it was, would get to him because I would expose his room full of crap to the world at large, or at least my modest number of Twitter followers. It was a very ugly truth, I thought, and I knew he'd be embarrassed. Perhaps embarrassed enough to get a jump start on minimizing the junk, making a life a life change even? I know now that this was an ill-conceived strategy.
I've written before about my parents' hulking California home. How it's too big for them. How it's a matter of years before it becomes some kind of version of Grey Gardens. My siblings and I have tried most everything besides buckets of cash to get them to leave. But the force of inertia is too great. 100 percent of their families live on the East coast. I live the "closest" at just under 3000 miles away. Yet, no movement whatsoever to downsize, to move toward the family who can take care of them as they age.
Now, back to how I almost killed my dad.
Following our argument (this is a more civil term for it than it deserves), I declared I'd never visit home again (I haven't). I contemplated catching an earlier flight back to DC, but decided it wasn't worth a couple hundred dollars. I also thought about calling a high school friend and seeing if I could stay with her parents. That option, while attractive for its resolve, was too cruel to my mom, I thought. So, I stayed at home.
The next morning, my mom knocked on my bedroom door. "Jess, I need you to wake up."
I get up.
"If EMTs come to the door, I need you to let them in."
Umm. Ok. Adrenaline starts to kick in. I ask my mom what the fuck she's talking about.
"Your father is having chest pains and can't get up."
It probably took seconds for the conclusions to start forming in my head. I made my dad angry. He is having a heart attack. He is having a heart attack because I made him angry.
As I wait for the ambulance to come, I peek into my parents room. I hear my dad groaning. I see his feet, but I don't want to see more. I start trying to come to terms with the fact that, if he dies, I am the one who killed him.
The EMTs come. They put him in this tarp-like thing to carry him down the stairs. As they walk him down, I tell him I love him. He says nothing.
My mom rides to the hospital behind the ambulance. I am left alone at home to contemplate my thoughts as a now-murderer.
And several hours later, my mom and dad come home. No heart attack, she says. Maybe vertigo?