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TO THE HEIGHTS, AND DEPTHS AND BREATH

J.P.’s father had given up the ghost. Or at least his body did. His heart carried on the struggle.

John Panella, Sr. had battled liver cancer for the last four months, relinquishing fourteen of the months he had been allotted. But he had lapsed in and out of consciousness, flirting with coma for the past three days.

Here lay a man who had been the pinnacle of who J.P. wanted to be. He wondered how a man of such lofty stature could fall so far, so quickly. Sedated now, morphine became his extreme solution in heavy doses.

“To make him comfortable” the nurse offered.

“To render him unreachable” John Jr. thought.

As so he sat at his father’s right side; his sister on the left. They took turns talking to the man who had given them every bit of life he could.

“I love you, Daddy!” his sister Louise whispered to her un-hearing father.

John smiled at the sentiment. But the reality hit him sharply. He couldn’t remember the last time he and his father had exchanged such words. It just wasn’t the way the men in his family handled things, he thought. He surely knows, J.P. thought.

Hours spent clamped to their father’s bony hands, black with necrosis and faintly gripping back. Breathing was a chore he had no energy to undertake, but it kept insinuating itself into his routine. The elder John gagged and gurgled. His children thought it was his last gasp. They held their own breath as well. But his chest fell and rose again. Still erratic, but still expelled.

John Panella, Sr.’s face was ashen and his eyes occupied deep depressions in his skull. His lips were turning blue and his hands were cold and still. His eyes flashed momentarily and a slight smile graced his face. His chest rose one last time ending in a long drawn-out exhalation. His last breath.

J.P. noticed that death felt the same as life did mere moments ago. His father’s battle was over. He needed not fight any longer. Now John Jr. and his sister could breathe easier.

The young man leaned close to his father’s right ear to whisper what had always remained unsaid.

 

Copyright © Walter J. Wojtanik – 2012

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NO MORE FIGHT LEFT

“J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves.”

John Dunn Sylvester sat in his window seat staring out at the tarmac and watching the loaders complete their chore. The Flight Attendant came down the aisle offering assistance and instruction. She stopped by J.D.’s seat.

“Sir, can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Huh? Oh, no thanks, I… no, thank you, I’m fine” came his distracted reply. Her smile offered little in the way of comfort or assurance. It would take more than that, he was afraid.

John remembered passing through the terminal thinking how appropriately the word irritated him after his journey. The doctors at the clinic were all in agreement. They labeled his condition with the same hopeless word. Terminal.
His cancer had metastasized. 18 months was the sentence proclaimed. He got nothing off for good behavior.

“Get your affairs in order, John!” the words ringing hollow in his head.

Sylvester was coming home to do just that. For a moment he thought it was a blessing that he and Beth couldn’t have children. But guilt washed over him, knowing that now his wife would be all alone. Her tears had been plentiful during their ordeal, but the determination as a last “second” opinion would surely open the floodgates.

J.D. sipped his drink. He thought it would give him “courage” and settle his nerves. But all that the Sweet Soco Manhattan did was excite the butterflies in his gut.

It is amazing how when your mind seems a million miles away, you don’t notice the obvious happenings around you. Announcements and recommendations filtered across the intercom.

“Approaching runway 19…”

“Tray tables in the upright…”

“Keep seat belts fastened until…”

The screech of the wheels as they contacted the runway, pierced him with a final thrust. As the plane taxied to the terminus, he tried to compose himself. How could he face Beth knowing he had refused all further treatment? He didn’t want to fight anymore. He just wanted to spend every minute he could loving the love of his life in his last months.

The line of passengers spilled into the waiting area, heading for the baggage claim. John had followed the others like cattle; mindlessly plodding along.

And there she was. Near the carousel. He saw Beth’s tears glisten down her cheek as she tried to retain some semblance of calm. As they embraced, he felt her shudder against his chest in muted sobs.

Pressing his cheek against hers he whispered “Beth, I love you so much!”

She gave a squeeze. Beth sniffed in her last tear.

“Let’s go home!” she whispered, never veering from his side.