Nick invited us to stay for dinner so while He, Aunty Celeste and Dad cooked tacos and talked about Dad’s diagnosis and what it meant for his future, I wandered upstairs in search of Bridget and Sam.
Sam’s bedroom door was closed but I could hear their muffled conversation as I was coming up the stairs but it stopped once I was outside the door. I tapped lightly on the door before swinging it open. Bridget was sitting on Sam’s bed, her face was puffy from crying, her eyes bloodshot. She looked completely worn down. Sam was leaning against his desk, he too looked like he had shed tears.
As I step into the room, Sam moves towards me, engulfing me in the comfort of his arms, he kisses the top of my head while stoking my back.
“How are you feeling baby?” He asks me
“Like I’ve been hit by a truck” a truck I knew was coming but still it doesn’t get any easier, if anything it’s worse because I know how bad Dad is going to get as it spreads throughout his lungs, making it even harder for him to breathe. I come sit beside Bridget and she lays her head in my lap as she sobs quietly.
“If Dad dies will I have to go live with Mum?” She asks me, she’s so scared, everything in her life is changing and it’s overwhelming her.
“If anything happens to Dad I promise you that you would stay with me or Aunty Celeste” I’d never allow her back in my Mother’s house ever again, not after the trauma she’s been put through.
“I don’t want my Daddy to die” She wails, her whole body convulsing as she weeps. I remember this pain all too well, it cut me to my core. Losing a parent, at any age, is like losing a giant part of yourself and feeling like you never had enough time with them and that first year without him was the hardest year of our lives, his birthday, ours, Christmas, there was always that empty seat and his larger than life presence missing. This is a fucking nightmare, to be dragged through all of this again.
Sam comes to kneel in front of us, stroking Bridget’s hair to sooth her with one hand while intwining his other with mine. I love that we have him as support today.
“Would you like me to explain to you what Dad has? Just so you have a better understanding of what’s going to happen?” I ask her and she nods her head and lets out a small whimper.
“Long before we were born Dad worked on building sites building what they refer to as fibro houses, which relates to the material used, it contained a toxic substance known as asbestos. When breathed in the fibres stick to the walls of the lungs, damaging them and causes tutors to eventually grow”
“But why now, if he breathed it in so long ago?”
“The fibres damaged his lungs over time from sitting on the lining and that’s how the tumours developed, from the damage”
“Why did he breathe it in if it was so bad and he knew it would hurt him” She’s angry, she thinks Dad ignored the safety warnings.
“Back when he was your age and he was just starting his apprenticeship they didn’t have the regulations like they do now. They didn’t know it was so dangerous, so he wouldn’t have worn a mask or any protective gear and he was probably exposed to it everyday without knowing the risks.”
This is in no way my Dad’s fault and I need to make that very clear to Bridget.
“It’s not fair” She cries.
“it’s not, it’s cruel”
“So what will happen now?” She asks, sitting up to look me dead in the eyes, she’s searching for the truth and doesn’t want it watered down just because she’s considered a kid.
“Well hopefully they’ve caught it early enough and he can have treatment such as chemo and surgery to prolong his life a bit.” He was only in the early stages when it was caught the first time around so I know it wouldn’t have progressed too much yet and he can have treatment, it won’t save his life though, it will only buy us time with him.
“Is he in pain?”
“Yes and it will get worse, as the tumours grow he will find it harder to breathe and won’t be able to move around much” I answer her honestly.
“That’s a horrible way to die, I wish I could take his pain away” She says softly, looking down at her trembling hands that now lay together in her lap, I sweep her hair behind her ears, my sweet, innocent little sister, she doesn’t deserve any of the horrors that life has thrown at her.
“I wish I could too”
The vibe around the Lions’ dinner table that night was very somber, Aunty Celeste made small talk, asking Bridget, Sam and I how school was going, taking an interest in our up coming exams, Dad and Nick discussed the rugby and how our local team was performing this year and Sam playfully argued that soccer, or football as he called it, was more entertaining to watch than rugby, Dad laughed and said Sam should join him on Friday night to watch the game at the stadium, an invitation Sam happily accepted.
Bridget took a few tiny bites of a taco before she gave up on eating and pushed it away, she excused herself from the table, saying she wanted to take a walk by herself. I wanted to go with her, I wanted to show her that she wasn’t going through this alone, that I was going to be by her side the whole way but I knew she needed this time to wrap her head around everything that had been thrown at her today.
“I think you should quit work” Aunty Celeste suggested to Dad.
“Unfortunately money doesn’t grow on trees ’Lest and my bills won’t just stop coming in just because I’m unwell” Dad grumbles, never one to just take a day off let alone think about not working all together.
“Ed that place could be making you worse, God only knows what you’re breathing in and now should be the time you spend with family, you’ve given enough of yourself to that company and get very little in return” She argues.
“I could get a job, help out with the bills.” I pipe up, hoping Dad will see it as a solution and maybe step back a bit from his own work.
“No way, you’re in year 12, you don’t have time to be taking on any more commitments, I’ll sort it out pumpkin, I don’t want you or your sister to be burdened by this”
One of my Father’s few flaws is that he can never accept help, even when he really needs it.
“Celeste is right Ed, you need to step back, you’ll work yourself to death if you keep going and right now is time you need to be spending with your girls.” Nick chimes in, joining Celeste’s argument.“Veronica could come work at the clinic, we’re looking for a receptionist to work Saturdays, only a few hours in the morning and she could use her time there to do her homework” Nick suggests.
“Are you sure you want to do this Veronica? I don’t want you to feel that you have to honey” Dad asks me and for the first time tonight I smile, not because I’m happy but because he’s finally doing something that benefits himself, after years of putting myself and Bridget first and allowing me to help.
“Yes Dad, I’m happy to do this for you, for us”
“Alright, I’ll step back at work, I’m not quitting just yet though, I don’t want the girls to feel that we have to struggle because of me” Stubborn as ever.
“Oh Ed, you know I’ll help you out with whatever you need” Aunty Celeste swats his arm and shakes her head.
“That goes for us too” Nick offers, and Sam nods his head in agreement.
“I don’t know what to say” Dad’s eyes are welling up, he takes hold of Aunty Celeste’s hand and gives it a squeeze, “Thank you, all of you, I appreciate it so much”
“It’s what you do for family” Sam says, taking my hand in his.