In January of 2005, I stood in the main terminal of Reagan National Airport and said goodbye to my family. I had done it. I was officially a resident of the District of Columbia. A big city girl. Small town left behind, lifelong dream achieved.
As my Father hugged me for the last time, he whispered, “Now remember, you are expressly forbidden to die.”
This was my Father’s unique way of saying, “I love you. Please don’t get run over by a taxi, shot in a drive by or stabbed by a mugger on the Metro.”
For 22 years, I lived in a protective bubble that my Father guarded with a furious militancy and a Benelli shotgun. Curfews were obeyed. Speed limits were respected. Boyfriends and friends were vetted like Supreme Court nominees. Privacy was an illusion. And punishments for violating any of the rules—of which there were hundreds—were doled out with stunning rapidity.
No harm would come to my Father’s family on his watch.
Now, I was living in the Big City, which according to network television shows and CNN was an urban battlefield populated by crack addicts and lecherous politicians. Busses ran stop lights. The Capitol was a terrorist target. Homeless men slept on street corners. I was living in a chaotic, dangerous environment and I wasn’t even permitted to own a gun for my own defense…this was my Father’s worst nightmare.
Sixteen days later, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. We were living a different nightmare.
For half-a-decade, my Father underwent dozens of treatments and therapies to beat back the cancer. He was lucky; he had the ‘good kind.’ We’d dodged the bullet. Until February, when we stepped on a landmine.
The newest tumor wasn’t ‘the good kind,’ which had never seemed that good until now, when compared to the bad, small cell kind that can actually kill you. Chemotherapy treatments began. Hair fell out in chunks. Tempers shortened. Naps lengthened. And in 19 days, a surgeon in Seattle will remove two of my Father’s major organs and every nerve, vein and piece of tissue attached to them. And then, maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky, and God is feeling generous with Jonah that day, we’ll have killed it.
My Father’s bogeymen were always tangible. The 3:00AM burglar. The disgruntled client. The drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. That’s why we were always armed to the teeth.
Now, the only foe we really care about is impervious to pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Even our cannon is powerless. A new foe launched a sneak attack through the ventilation system, while we were busy guarding the doors and windows. And we’re totally terrified, which is new for us.
My family is nicknamed the Fearsome Foursome, and we’re not looking to downgrade to a trio. Like a team of Delta Operators, we’re better than average separately and unstoppable when working as a unit. But while I’m worried, I’m not apoplectic. Because, remember, my Father is expressly forbidden to die.