One month ago today I was wheeled out of the Georgia Aquarium by two very nice people.
One was a woman named Halle. And although she didn’t do any of the actual “wheeling” she was sympathetic about the symptoms that landed me in the wheelchair. She was also very consumed with the fact that I had only seen two out of the dozen or so exhibitions before my visit was cut short. She was so horrified, in fact, that she insisted on offering me an entrance voucher that I could use for a future visit.
Between winces, I let her know that I had no plans to return. Ever. And she nodded her head and smiled even though I was being unreasonable.
The other was a man named Met – as in I “met” you today, the day your back spasmed so intensely that it numbed your leg and rendered you paraplegic. I was flat on my back when Met arrived at the scene of my demise. I watched him as he opened and set the locks on the portable wheelchair he brought with him and in doing so, I became hyper-aware of his slim figure. The difference between him and that chair was at most 100 pounds, quite possibly the same difference between us.
When he helped me into the chair it was as graceful as accommodating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a baby seat, but he didn’t once complain or, worse, call back up. And it would’ve been less embarrassing if he would’ve taken a running start to push me, instead of having to incline his body so steeply that he could’ve been a back-up dancer for the Smooth Criminal video, but nonetheless he got me rolling.
He was soft spoken and reassuring. He even tried to make small talk about CSI: Miami when he discovered where I was from. And when I reduced his favorite TV show to an hour-long waste of time, he found it in his heart to forgive my rudeness.
I meant to send them thank you cards. I even meant to send a letter to the Georgia Aquarium commending them on their quick response to my collapse while attempting to crawl through the tube inside the penguin exhibit (because looking at them through the wall-to-wall glass was simply not good enough). I never got to writing those letters. Not because I changed my mind on their merit. And it wasn’t due to a lack of time, as I was confined to a bed for 48 hours after the incident. It was because of the calendar date it happened. It’s the time of year I always want to move on from as soon as possible.
One month ago today was Christmas Day.
To the world I roll my eyes at their Secret Santa’s and scoff at their candy canes, but at home I listen to holiday music ad nauseam and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because I secretly love that stupid holiday. And right as the big day nears, I skip town on my yearly Christmas vacation. From London to New Orleans to Montreal to this year’s southern militia tour, these adventures bring me joy, not only because I love to travel, but also because I am not home to remember that my father is missing.
Well, he’s not missing exactly. I know where his remains are. They’ve been interred in Woodlawn Cemetery for a decade now. He passed a few days before Christmas ten years ago, which is exactly the amount of time I’ve been running from his memory.
Only this Christmas, the son of a bitch found me in Atlanta. Haunting me with this terrible back spasm – the same kind that would attack him and leave him paralyzed for days. The same kind of pain that would force him to find comfort in all sorts of mentholated ointments and pain pills – the same scents and brands that were now spread throughout my hotel room.
In a moment of weakness, while my loving partner was on her third run to the local Walgreens, I spoke to him.
“Sorry I made fun of your Craftmatic Adjustable Bed,” I said loudly and across the room where I imagined his ghost would be sitting. “I get it now. Back pain is the worst.”
I didn’t get a response. The television didn’t turn on. The lights didn’t flicker. The toilet didn’t flush. Although, I think if any of those things would’ve happened, I would’ve busted out of that room screaming despite the back pain.
The only special thing that did happened was that I finally allowed myself to miss him. And, in a very strange way, I was able to spend Christmas with him one more time.