We spotted a beautiful, Texas sunrise on the early morning of December 3rd...it was the only beautiful thing any of us recall regarding our drive through Texas enroute to Arizona.
Exactly one week after I was making Aunt Donna's cheesy pototoes, while fielding calls from my mother, I found myself in the exact same spot in the kitchen. Only difference was a week later I was making potato salad and sub sandwiches for the pending long drive out west while talking to #3...oldest brother from the western Burbs, on the telephone.
#3 was relaying an earlier conversation with #5. Like most stories #3 tells, it was a doozy~and certainly, most definitely, quote-worthy. We'd decided earlier in the week to drive out to Phoenix--#3 and #6 and I, #2, were all local...#4 was driving in from Iowa the night before we were to leave. Our plan was to drive straight through. We clearly were not thinking.
#5's earlier phone call had #3 spinning. Word from PHX was Dad was rallying on Tuesday and Wednesday...talk was of getting him to a point he could head home with daily nurse/hospice visits. When #1 got wind of our plan to drive, shit hit the fan. The "main office" was only too delighted to share this info...we were clearly doing it wrong. #1 googled flights and found us one set to leave Friday morning.
We should fly now...she reasoned, then, plan to drive out later at some point in time for the inevitable funeral. #5 thought it a good idea for us to get on a plane (for some reason no one was communicating, it was imperative we arrive by the weekend)--and, so, #3 painted the bigger picture for him as only he can...and I quote...
..."so, I asked him, are you kidding me? You want us to fly? So, I tell him, okay, imagine this scenerio and then pass it along to #1 so she can get it through her thick skull~the four of us show up at the airport Friday morning and plunk down a fist-full of cash on the counter and procede to ask to purchase four-one-ways on the next non-stop to Phoenix--then, we'll shrug as they ask us if we care check any luggage--and respond, 'No,Sir, where we're headed extra clothes are not necessary--we don't plan any sightseeing on this trip'...I'm telling you right now don't plan on picking us up at Sky Harbor when said flight is due to arrive...'cause we won't be on it...where will we be, you wonder, I'll tell you where we'll be, we'll be answering some tough questions back at O'Hare". At this point, his childhood stutter returned (as it often did during stressful times). "You-you-you You want us t-t-t-to fly out Fr-fr-f-r-Friday ... if we stick with our original plan, we'll arrive at the exact same God-damned time--only difference is you won't have to pick us up at the airport."
After "Mrs. Fullcharge" (#1) and her dutiful assistant, Mr. Sensible (#5) listened to reason and accepted the inevitable, we took to the highway carpool lane and began our seventeen-hundred-thirty-four mile trip out west. Imagine Cheech and Chong meet Thelma and Louise. That describes the next thirty some hours of my trip along with #3, #4, and #6 (Cheech, Louise, and Chong) in a nutshell. We left Thursday morning at five. With the exception of some icy roads through central Illinois, the ride in Cheech's soft-topped Jeep was not bad. We arrived in Clinton, Oklahoma late that night and checked into The Hampton Inn for a quick nap. Our plan was to be back on the road Friday morning by five.
We took to the highway Friday morning as planned. As Chong entered our destination in the TomTom, he mentioned to Cheech we should probably pull into town around nine o'clock that night. I have often wondered what it would be like to travel cross country--I've heard many a person interviewed that claims it is something that must be done.
The beauty, the awe, the wonder of the good old U.S.A. Now, I'm not sure what route any of these clowns took, but I'd bet it wasn't the path of road we found ourselves traveling on in early December. The first nine hundred miles didn't provide much majesty--just a bunch of ho-hum if you ask me. Trust me, though, by mid-afternoon, I longed for the boredom the Oklahoma Turnpike provided as I braced myself in the backseat of the soft-top as the Jeep battled with the New Mexico cross-winds for control.
About an hour outside of the Arizona border, we stopped to get something to eat for the first time since we left Chicago. We'd snacked on the sandwiches and potato salad I'd packed, but we'd finished what was left of that late last night. With our complimentary continental breakfast courtesty of Hampton Inn long since digested, we all agreed on a pit stop. After eating sandwiches for the last twenty-four hours, the natural place to stop this beautiful afternoon seemed to be Subway. We ate inside, and took our time. It's almost as if we were all avoiding what was about to happen.
We'd fielded text messages from Mrs. Fullcharge and Mr. Sensible throughout the entire trip. Until early Friday evening, they were the same: "no change"...As we headed down Highway 17--a long, winding road, from Flagstaff toward Phoenix...we got a different text--it read simply, LOCATION??. Louise responded Flagstaff. Cheech asked her to ask Fullcharge for the Hospice's address. Louise did.
As luck would have it, Fullcharge responded with a phone call. In typical Fullcharge fashion (ask her a phone number, she'll recite you the phonebook) she took to the airwaves to recite directions. Nothing about it was easy--she didn't give typical directions--such as head west, turn right. Nope, she described the terrain you'd drive on, the points of interest along the way, where you'd want to turn and where you actually should turn. Cheech had had just about enough. He screamed at Louise to get the "frickin address and enter it into our trusty pal TomTom...and then hang up the goddamn phone". The thirty hours spent in the soft-topped Jeep had clearly taken their toll. Louise wiped tears from her cheek as she completed the directions and finally scored a street address.
Cheech apologized as he typed the address into TomTom. He'd just finished a seven-hour-white-knuckle drive across New Mexico he reasoned. And, that last text...LOCATION...had him worried. Now it was time for Chong to be heard from...he merely lifted his hand as if to say, enough. "Stop--all of you. Why do you sit and wonder about what you don't know? None of us are going to know anything until we get there, so why don't you all relax until there is a need to worry"...Chong resumed driving the final leg of our journey. Cheech for some reason was holding onto to bar on the glove box as if he were about to head down a roller coaster incline. Louise tossed the directions out the window (I still don't understand why she wrote them e-x-a-c-t-l-y as they were dictated. I'd have faked it--Fullcharge would have never known). I noticed the .5 sign with a vehicle pictured on an incline...along with the posted speed limit on this curvy highway 75 MPH...a FedEx double trailer zoomed past us-- I closed my eyes for the rest of the ride.
Cheech kept asking Chong if he was okay. Chong might have said yes, but his eyes screamed no. With raised eyebrows, he whispered to Cheech it was hard to keep the Jeep on the road--the incline wasn't helping any more than "all the extra weight in the back" was. "Hey" Louise replied, we barely brought any luggage--just like you said". Cheech looked back and responded, "He's not talking about the luggage". We headed down to the Valley in silence.
The next text came about a half-hour outside of Phoenix. It read hurry. At about 7:30 on a Friday night, traffic ahead came to a stop. All we saw were brake lights...and then the mars lights of ambulances and fire trucks. A car to our right had crashed into a guard rail. As we slowly crawled down the rest of the mountain among the sea of cars we came across the culprit of the guy in the guard rail. The Fed-Ex double trailer barrelling down the mountain about ten miles ago was jack-knifed across I 17. Awesome.
Once we got through traffic and to Scottsdale, we found the Hospice. As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed three cars; my sister's SUV, my brother and sister-in-law's cars. We took a deep breath and walked in. We took the elevator upstairs and looked for room 239. The place was empty. We finally came upon Dad's room. My sister-in-law was at his bedside. The sweet sound of Christmas carols filled the dark room. And on the bed lay a man that was supposed to be my father.
Daisy stood up, wiped her tears, and hugged each one of us and explained Fullcharge had left for the night and Mr. Sensible walked her out--he should be right back. After hugging our sister-in-law, we all stood in line to say hello to this man laying in our father's hospital bed. He was a shell of his former self. This was not my father. My father weighs more than a buck-fifty soaking wet...my dad shouldn't have to gasp for air...I just talked to him less than a week ago...shit, I'd been cracking jokes with him two days before Thanksgiving. I took his hand when it was my turn, regardless, and said "Hi, Dad--it's me, Jennifer". He looked at me as if I were a stranger--I could have been the man on the moon for all he knew. Although he still was breathing, the Dad I knew had checked out long before I arrived at that hospital on that December 3rd evening.
#6 --the calm, cool and collected, Chong spoke for all of us as he fought back tears, clenched his fists, and avoided his turn...instead, he gasped, and then bellowed, "oh, no...are you fucking kidding me?".
Tommorrow ~ Part lll