birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Today is the Day

When I was 15, my brother Tim, 13 years older than me, and his wife Marie came up from Texas to Wyoming to live with me, my youngest brother, and my parents for the entire summer.

I loved all of my 8 older siblings with all my heart. I wasn’t particularly religious, but each night I said a prayer for every one of them, for each of their spouses, and their children—just in case God, Jesus, or anyone like that was listening. I also included my parents, my mother’s parents, and even my father’s parents who had died when I was 3, even though I couldn’t remember ever meeting them them. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

I had known Marie since I was 4 years old, so it seemed perfectly natural to me when my mother asked her to be the one to accompany me to the doctor because she was going with my dad to a doctor’s appointment over in the next town I had a mole on my lower back that looked suspicious, and my mother thought I should have it removed. Marie was calm and reassuring when the doctor took a look and said, “Yep, that one’s gotta go,”
and left the room to go get a nurse to help him prep for the minor surgery.

“You’ll be fine,” Marie said, “they are just doing this as a precaution. You’re young, and these kinds of moles don’t usually turn out to be bad unless you’re old.” Tuning in to the word “usually,” I quickly began to obsess over whether my case would be “usual” or not as Marie left the room momentarily to use the bathroom.

As I sat waiting in my paper gown, opened to the back and ready for the scalpel, I wondered if this was it for me. “What if I hear news today that changes my life forever?” I thought. I thought hard about what would change. I was only 15, but somehow I had already become a world-class hypochondriac and I excelled at catastrophizing.

The doctor and nurse came in, Marie came back, and the mole on my back became history. The doctor told me he’d send it to a lab to rule out anything serious and call me with the result.

When we returned home, my mother was just arriving as well. I stood at the doorway waiting to tell her my news. She slowly walked up the garage stairs. I noticed she was crying, then realized she was crying very, very hard. “It’s bad,” she said, trying to contain her sobs. “He got some results back. It’s cancer.”

That word. That was a big word, one of the biggest words of them all, and it was too much for me. I began to scream and cry simultaneously. My mother said, “he’ll be here any minute, don’t cry,” crying uncontrollably herself. I ran downstairs to my room. Marie followed.

She tried to hug me. She had lost both parents—her father passed away when she was 2 and her mother had died a decade earlier when Marie was only 16. I screamed, “I don’t want my daddy to die!” over & over, hoping, I guess, that God was really listening and that he would intervene. “It’s going to be alright,” Marie said as she hugged me, shaking and crying herself.

As she hugged, my fear and pain took me into kind of a momentary fugue, and I saw a vision.
The vision was of my dad, lying in a hospital bed, taking his final breaths. Our family was crowded around him, and I was saying goodbye. He looked much older in the vision. I returned to reality from dissociative state, and heard my mother calling me to come upstairs.

My father was told that summer he had metastatic melanoma and about a year to live. He didn’t care for that prognosis, however, and he lived for 7 more years. He had surgery and chemotherapy, recovered, and lived an amazingly active life until he passed away at 64 years old.

During those years, he didn’t look anywhere near as old as he did in my vision, and that gave me great comfort. About 6 months before he died, he suddenly looked older, and 4 months before he died, days before Christmas, I got the phone call from my mother that the time was near. I hung up the phone and waited to feel the pain, but I couldn’t feel anything at all. Just numb. It was all too big to comprehend.

Two weeks before he died, he went into the hospital. I remembered my vision, but the hospital bed was on the wrong side of the room. The morning he died, he was moved into a different room, and now the bed was in the right place, and so was the family, and we gathered around and cried as he opened his eyes wide, looked at each of us, took his last breath, and left the planet.

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