I used to believe that Santa Claus was real. One night out of every year I’d lay in bed, struggling to stay awake, waiting with bated breath to hear those hooves on my roof. I must have fallen asleep too early, I’d reason the next morning.
I used to believe in the Tooth Fairy. I imagined her looking like the Guardian Angel in a picture hanging on my bedroom wall – bathed in a soft glow which turned her blonde hair nearly white, robes billowing softly around her as she moved noiselessly toward my sleeping form. No matter that her hands were clumsy and probably belonged to my Mom. I was fully committed to this image.
I used to believe there was a bad guy under my bed, a monster in the closet and that dead people would break out of their graves at night. Yeah. I was only slightly disturbed.
And I believed that my parents were invincible. All-wise, all-knowing and in possession of super powers. Don’t we all believe that to some extent when we’re children?
Of course I grew up and a lot of those old beliefs were outgrown, like so many pairs of sneakers. Some were easy to let go, some struck a death-blow to my innocence.
But it’s taken the longest to let go of the one about my parents. No matter that I know they were younger when I was born than I am today (I was such an idiot when I was 22!), I need to believe that they had it all together and were truly as wise as I perceived them. I want to believe that they’ll always be here for me, though in my grown-up heart I know all too well the truth of their mortality.
Lately I’ve had that reality driven home for me. I stood there last night in my Dad’s hospital room as his nurses tended to him. A coughing fit left him nearly choking and he needed the tube that went down his throat suctioned, along with the inside of his mouth.
It must have hurt. Tears spilled onto his sunken, unshaved cheeks. I turned away so he wouldn’t see the tears on my own face. I knew that seeing his pain reflected there wouldn’t help him.
My gaze fell on a series of photos on the wall. There’s one of him sitting in his uniform with other cops and administrative personnel from his office. He looks so healthy there, robust, with that mile-wide smile that runs in his family.
This man who served in the Naval Reserve for 31 years and was retired a Master Chief. Who served in the Middle East post-9/11. Who fulfilled his dream of becoming a cop at the age of 36 and still ran circles around men little more than half his age during physical tests. He beat them all.
Then there was the man whose reflection I could see in the glass covering that picture. The man being adjusted in bed by nurses, tears now gone, staring straight ahead. So thin, with a pallor to his skin that 8 weeks in a hospital will give a person.
I would say I wish I knew what he was thinking, but I already know.
And it kills me inside.
And I can’t help him.
The man who comes running to my side at the slightest hint of trouble. With whom a phone conversation can’t go by without him asking if I’m okay and if I need anything.
I know that if I were in that position, his presence would comfort me because I’d still have that childish belief in the deepest corner of my heart that he’d make things better.
Just like I know that once he’s extubated and can speak again, one of his first questions for me will be about my writing.
And I will tell him that yes, I’ve been writing. Though whether I’ll tell him he’s the subject is still up for debate.
What’s not up for debate is that he’ll pull through this illness, will battle his way through rehab faster than anyone ever has, and will go right back to living.
I have to believe that. Even though I no longer believe he’s invincible, I have to believe that.