There are two days this week that retain great significance to me. February 13th 2006 was the day I took my father to a new doctor for a second opinion on his deteriorating condition. His skin was pretty yellow by this time, and I pushed him in a wheelchair, so his ability to get around easily was also diminishing. I remember the doctor did not say the situation was hopeless, though I knew it was. I was thankful that she didn’t. I had that ball of dread sitting in my stomach, waiting to hear her say “there’s nothing else we can do.” He’d heard those words once already and refused to accept them. Instead she gave him treatment options and made life sound possible again. We left there optimistic (even me), feeling like there was still time.
On the way home, he asked me to stop at Walmart to buy a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend. They’d been together over 10 years, and she was his primary caregiver. He waited in the truck as I went in and perused the pink, purple, and white flowers, the endless rows of chocolate candies and stuffed animals. I chose a bouquet and a stuffed animal and returned to the truck. I’d used my debit card, so when I returned, he insisted on writing me a check for the amount I spent (I still have that un-cashed check–his signature a shaky replica of what I remember from my youth, when he’d signed permission slips or letters excusing my absence from school). As he was writing the check he said, “I should have told you to get yourself something, kid.”
We arrived home and went inside, leaving the gifts in the truck; we wanted to surprise her, so we didn’t want to carry the stuff in with us. His girlfriend helped him settle back in the house. He sat on the couch, reading the paper, and we waited for a moment when she was out of the room. When the moment was right, I ran to the truck, grabbed the presents, and rushed them to dad’s side. She eventually came back to the room (I think she was cleaning the house) and paused to look over at my dad. That’s when she saw the flowers and stuffed animal. She burst into tears, which made dad laugh. She mused over how he would think to buy her a Valentine’s gift with all that he was dealing with. It was one of the funniest, most endearing moments during that time. He would die 6 days later. February 19th, obviously, is the second significant day.
What I’m surprised by is how clearly the 13th stands out in my memory. Perhaps it’s because I have a holiday with which to connect it to, but when the 13th rolled around this year, I immediately thought of dad and his gift giving that day. Such emotional bookends for one week.