The thoughts still flood in sometimes, of that time when everything changed. I remember it like it was yesterday, as I got off the bus to the babysitters, knowing my dad was getting me that day and we were going to clean his house. I was 8 years old and what 8 year old gets excited about cleaning a house? It wasn’t about cleaning the house, but about spending time with my dad. My childhood was spent living with my other, leaving every Wednesday and every other weekend with my dad.
That day though, as excitement was bursting from within, I got off the bus and went inside the sitter’s house to prepare for a day with my dad. Oddly, the sitter was solemn. She told me that my mother was coming to pick me up and that she will be there soon. The sitter said that we were using her car as well.
My 8 year old mind was racing with thoughts of every scenario I could think of that would warrant a change… maybe my dad had golf, maybe something happened and my mom needs me, maybe there’s a special trip planned- how fun! But nothing prepared me for what came. My mom arrived and we buckled up ready to hit the road, going where? Who knows.
As we took off down the road, my mom began in the softest voice I had ever heard her speak in. She explained that there had been an accident. She said that my dad was working and he had fallen, that he was at the hospital an hour away and we were on our way there.
My father worked in construction with my uncle, where they built and remodeled houses. From what I knew and understood then, my father had fallen through a hole leading to the basement where the stairs should have been. Falling through the hole, he landed on the concrete flooring and snapping his spinal cord. What I was told was that he was found a little while later (although some of these details have changed over the years).
My mom explained that my father had been life-flighted. What did that even mean? I remember sitting in the back seat with my head against the window, crying. I remember crying out of fear of the unknown. Was he okay? Is he really hurt? Will he die? I didn’t understand what was happening and I don’t think anyone really understood.
When we arrived to the hospital, my entire family was there in the waiting room. We all sat together, sniffing, wiping away tears and trying to tell funny stories or crack jokes to feel better. Hope was hanging by a thread. We waited for what seemed like hours as he came out of surgery. Thankfully, I understood that you had to wait after surgery while they recovered. Just wait a little while longer, you got this, I told myself. But then, when it was time to see him, he said no. At 25 I can understand it now, my father in his most vulnerable state, hurt severely. A state he didn’t want his younger daughter to see him in. At 8, I was crushed.
With this news, we said good bye to my family and I dragged my feet out of the hospital, hoping that at any second he would change his mind and call my name. We drove the hour back to our home where I was supposed to return to normal. I remember showering and laying in bed, trying not to sob through the night so that I could be okay for school the next day.
I remember the smell of my art t-shirt, the one that had the name of the construction company on it, the one that was 10 times too big. I had it tied behind my pack in a tail with a scrunchy. I distinctly remember standing at the back of the line the following day, with the neck of my art shirt wrapped around my nose, taking it all in while holding back tears. It was not cool to cry in third grade.
Multiple times a week, my mom drove me the hour to the hospital to see my father. We’d sit in his room, chat with the nurses (he was a flirt) and take walks down the halls or outside. A saying sticks from that time from a nurse named Tabby… “Not too shabby, Tabby”.
I’d sit on his bed and listen as the doctors talked, “Right now, you’re paralyzed from the waist down. There’s no telling if you will regain feeling in your legs, but if you do, we usually see this happen within the first year.” We’d all poke his toes and legs, “Can you feel that?” He had one sensation on the tip of his toe and it was just enough to give us a glimmer of hope that he would regain feeling and would walk again.
We had his birthday there in that hospital, everyone gathered around singing happy birthday and showering him with gifts. My father refused to carry a cell phone, but that year he got his first one. I remember the feel of the card I made him, one with a blue foam sheet, cut with waves along the edges. I used pens to write him a note and glitter glue, red and blue to decorate. I drew a picture of us jumping on a trampoline and wrote how I could not wait for him to walk again so we could jump on the trampoline together. Little did I know that would never happen.
Within the first year, he never regained feeling. He went through physical therapy, we moved in with my uncle and he had supports with learning how to live his life differently, with a wheel chair. We learned together, how he transferred from his chair to the bed, how he got dressed and how to get into buildings that were not wheel chair accessible. We learned together, how to play despite the wheel chair with chair races in the drive way (I never won), shooting pool, golfing and playing tennis.
My father’s life changed that day and so did mine, but something I will forever be thankful for is the time it allowed me with my father. As I grew older, I was able to go every other week with my father, rather than sometimes once a week only. With my father not working, every summer was a true vacation with endless sleepovers at my dads and tons of outside play. We switched from jumping on the trampoline together to playing basketball and horse.
The hope transferred from my father regaining an ability to walk to hope that we would find new ways to engage in our favorite activities and our relationship would grow even stronger. There was hope that although my father was in a wheel chair, he would still and forever be my father, the most generous, kind hearted man I had ever met.
I remember my hope persisting over the years as my dad continued to gain strength and new skills for getting around daily on his own. I felt my hope shift into reality as my father yelled at me for breaking garage doors, for making fun of me when I said something silly and for continuing to hug and comfort me after feeling discouraged about making friends in middle school or fighting with my mom through my high school years. It became reality as my father came to every soccer game to cheer me on, drove every week to college to take me to lunch and to this day, answers every. single. time I call him.
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We all have hope for things to come to fruition and at 8 years old, I wanted nothing more than my father to walk and my life to return to the normal I knew before. But as I’ve grown older, my hope shifted to the new life my father and I were growing into. Now, I wouldn’t want it any other way. He has been there for me through it all, and no matter what, he has remained my father.