I Ran over My iPad, My Mother Died, Then the Shit Got Real:
An illustrated autobiographical tragicomic novella in 10 chapters
by Steve Eilenberg
Part 9: Your Father is Dying
Karen and I spoke a few times in the months after Mary’s death. She let me know that things weren’t going well with D or 928. Concerned that bills were going unpaid, I contacted our financial adviser for help. Through public records, she found that the property taxes were delinquent. Taking this as a bad sign, I wrote Karen and D to commiserate and to ask if I could do anything, financial or otherwise, to help them out. I offered money, guidance with social services and cleaning services. These offers were met with resounding silence from D, who told Karen something like: “He doesn’t care about us! He only cares about the monnnayyyh!” I’m not sure how he came to this conclusion, but he was 92 years old and grieving. Perhaps he thought I coveted his porcelain bird collection.
On several occasions, my iPhone pocket dialed David’s. Upon hearing the ring-tone, or seeing the message “Calling David Eilenberg’s iPhone”, I would stab cancel repeatedly, trying to take it back. I knew full well that my name would appear on his ‘recent’ call list. These accidental calls were never returned, leading me to I delete him and Mary from my ‘contacts’ list. Was Siri trying to reconcile us? I knew that was crazy talk, but soon after, my iPhone started pocket dialing Karen, leading me to delete her from my contacts.
Five months after Mary’s death, on Friday, June 28, 2013, Sarah and Aaron were en route to Kennedy Airport, on their way to the South of France, where the four of us would meet up in a 400 year old hilltop village for a much needed vacation. Susan was driving them and would dogsit Chopstick in Staten Island. Karen caught them in the car by phone with the bombshell that David was dying. She “just learned” of his terminal diagnosis earlier that week, but “wasn’t allowed” to call them or us until then. David was in a private room at Morristown Medical Center, on the palliative care floor. He was presently being massaged and the therapy golden retriever was queued up in the hallway for a visit. By second hand report, a CAT scan revealed “a belly full of cancer” and he didn’t have long to live.
The contrast with Mary’s hospitalization was stark. We asked Karen when she learned all this and received a characteristically evasive answer.
She said: “Steven, this is your father. You need to be here. He’s dying.”
She was bedside.
Reportedly, my father asked once: “Where is everyone?”.
Susan dropped Sarah and Aaron off at the airport and headed to New jersey. She was in the room with D, when I called Karen.
Me to Karen: “Can I talk to Dad?”
David shook his head “No’.
Karen to me: “No”.
Me to Karen: “Can I talk with his doctors?”
Karen to David: “Steven wants to talk to your doctors.”
David shakes his head
Karen to me: “He says no”.
Me to Karen: “Can I look at his CAT scan?”
Karen to David: “Steven wants to know if he can see your CAT scan.”
David shook his head.
Karen to me: “No”.
Me: long pause….
Marie and I were heading the following day to meet Sarah and Aaron in France. As selfish as it sounds, I found myself transported back to 1997, when Sarah threatened to move from San Diego, if I sold our home to David. Sarah had taken a pounding at his hands. She was heroic with Mary and a victim of David’s rage and frustration.…we were all headed for a reparative sojourn in sunny southern France, where we had arranged a home exchange. This was Sarah and Aaron’s first trip to continental Europe. But this was my father! What should I do?
I thought: “He was just diagnosed; nobody dies in two weeks!” I told Karen we would change our return and reroute ourselves back through New York towards the end of our trip. I momentarily wondered if he wasn’t really ill, and if this was just Karen’s invention to reunite us. As far fetched as this sounds, they were both notoriously manipulative.
In reality, his desire to have me bedside was almost certainly his wish to snub me on his deathbed. His soft sallow hands with long dirty fingernails slipping slowly away from mine. He turned away, eyes closed, with a pained groan. Was Karen a party to this, or did she truly think there could be a reconciliation? I was aware that this scenario hadn’t actually happened, but it felt so real and so likely.
I know my father, as I know myself. David would make a brave show of gratitude and affection to anyone else in the room, who was not a member of the M camp. This would include transporters, nursing aides, nurses, doctors, and the therapy dog. All except the dog would be snubbed as soon as I left. I thought to myself: “Don’t be a fucking baby.
Why not give this dying man his final wish. It will cost me nothing. Perhaps I’m unjust. Maybe I’m wrong about him. Does pettiness die at the precipice of death? I was willing to risk it. On our return from France, he would have this last gift from me, whatever the outcome”.
Marie and I landed in Nice on Sunday, June 30, 2013, rented a small diesel Renault and met up with Sarah and Aaron the next day in Marseille. We toured by day and dined well in the evening. Aaron procured warm croissants in the morning from the next door boulangerie and we set up the iPad on Skype for nightly reports from Susan each evening.
Susan recounted her deathbed visit with D. She took his sallow hand. With eyes closed and a low groan, he pulled away with a pained look on his face. Soon after, he made a show of warmly greeting his niece Ann, his home health care nurse (Margaret) and anyone else in range. Was this a rehearsal snub, or the real thing? My prophecy was followed to the letter. I wasn’t there to experience it, but Susan did.
He died either July 3rd or 4th. I’m not clear as we were in different time zones. The e-mail was waiting when we awoke on July 4 and I never did the math. We heard D died quietly and peacefully. We all felt an immediate lightness and relief, for ourselves and for him. The irony of learning of David’s death on Independence Day was not lost on any of us. We spent part of that day in a very contemplative place, the Rhone American cemetery in Draguignan, near where we were staying.
We returned to New York on Thursday July 10th, 2013. The change fee would have paid for another trip to Europe, but what choice does one have under these circumstances? We planned to drive out the next day with Susan to see Karen. We would pick up lunch at perennial favorite A&A Deli en route.
Karen, notoriously disorganized and scatterbrained, the same person who once tried to pogostick over a mile to school, suggested instead a meeting at 1:30pm precisely. Really? I thought. 1:30? Not thinking too much more about it, we arrived, food in hand, to find a black 15 year old 3 series BMW in the driveway. I’m thinking: “That’s strange! Did Karen already come into some money? But really, from pogostick to a BMW? Karen, a holocaust scholar? She would never even buy a German car!
Karen answered the door and ushered us in. At the kitchen table was the BMW’s owner, David’s soft, black dyed-hair, recently acquired, attorney. I’m thinking “What a coincidence he would be here, at this particular time, on this particular Friday”. Jet lag had buried my cynicism and small talk ensued. I inquired if the finances to keep the household going were in order? Who will be paying utilities and taxes until things were settled? The attorney assured me that he’s been “around this block many times” and “not to fret”. “Things are taken care of”. I asked if there was a slush fund or petty cash for Karen to maintain the household. He again told me that this is what he does and no need to worry. I brought up the tragic end of our mother (who he had never met) and the last months with David and postulated: “Michael, I assume I’ve been left nothing, but if not, can I put my share back into the pot?” He said that would be “a nice thing to do” and told me with a wry smile that (we) “will be very surprised to hear what David planned for us”. Did I misjudge David? Did he have secret assets beyond the birds and money under the bed? Would he use fairness and kindness as a blunt weapon? In the end, had he respected Mary’s wishes? Was the attorney there out of friendship or respect for Karen? To David? We hugged Karen goodbye and the attorney told us we would be hearing from him soon.
Coming soon! The final installment! Part 10: “The Cancer Victim or… NO WAY! You’re making this shit up!”