He remained in intensive care for more than three months and yet I only recall one visit.
I see the grey concrete playground rush beneath my feet as hand in hand with my mother I run towards the exit of the school. I don't recall that day as being the one on which he passed away but I do remember the urgency we felt. The need to get there and be by his side. Maybe we had been told that it was almost time, and so we ran.
When we arrived we were led into a small room with bright florescent lights and handed clothes made of paper. Paper robes which were hard and rough to touch, elasticated plastic bags for shoes and hats that resembled shower caps. Any other time we would have laughed. We would have mercilessly teased each other at how silly we looked but this time the room was too quiet, the nurses who surrounded us too serious, the atmosphere too sterile. So sterile that it took your breath away. The grazes on my little hands, caused by tripping over whilst playing hop scotch with my friends, stung from the sterile soap we were forced to use. Those little hands reached for the door.
When it opened my eyes became mesmerised by the dozens of wires, all different colours, intertwined, leading to the man I knew as my father.
Weeks later I was talking to a boy the same age as me and told him my father had died. “I'm sorry” he said “what happened” “He should have lived” I replied “he was strong enough to, but a nurse tripped on the wires and pulled them out, by the time they put them all back he was gone. He could have survived, he was strong enough” I don't know why I lied, why I needed a reason, why I couldn't let go and accept that he held on for three months and that in itself was exceptional. I can only speculate that like most children perceive their fathers I had only ever known my father as an invincible hero.
He was a lean builder, who even in his fifties could carry multiple bags of cement over his shoulder and had a six pack that would put most twenty year olds to shame. I imagine I didn't understand why he couldn't fight back. I don't think I even believed the man I saw that day was really my father.
The man in the bed attached to all those wires was pale, his face haggard and old. The small tube which seemed to enter his nose scared me the most as it was so small and insignificant, yet it looked so painful. A ventilator pumped up and down, spewing air from a tube near his mouth. He resembled Frankenstein's monster, not my lean, strong, tanned father. He tried to talk but only managed to make harsh rasping sounds, so little air in his lungs and not enough in the room.
He looked at me with desperation in his wide deep brown eyes, dying to tell me something. Literally dying to tell me. His trembling hands reached for big marker pens, handed to him by the nurse, and a pad of paper. He tried to write, with his skeletal hands, hindered by the drip, held back by the wires, trembling. Eventually he held the pad up for us to see, merely for a few seconds, any longer would have been too much. His pleading eyes found mine again, stabbing at my soul like nothing else ever had. I stepped back and gripped my mothers hand. Sensing my distress she stepped forward, wrapped her arm around me and told my father “we know, darling we know you love us.” My eyes searched the scratchy lines on the paper trying to see what she could but all I could see were wavy lines, lines which in his drug induced eyes made sense, lines which were supposed to have meaning. But to me they were just lines drawn by a stranger.
He sat back in the bed and seemed to relax. I walked towards him knowing I should do something but not entirely sure what. So I lent forward and kissed his arm. I could feel the tears as they filled the wells of my eyes but I wasn't crying for the man in the bed. I didn't know this stranger. I was crying because I knew my father was no longer with us, that he was already gone, and that I would never be held again by the strong loving father figure that I knew.
Now when I think of my father I always try and remember him standing on the roof of a house he was repairing, my neck craned all the way back as I try and look up to see him. When I do all I see is a shadowy figure standing there with the sun shinning behind him. Strong, happy, healthy, looking down on me, with sticky tape holding the bridge of his big old glasses together. Proud that I didn't run away from the scary man in the chair and that I remembered who he really was.