This probably won’t be my most popular post. Typically, I want to entertain you and make you laugh—or at least get a smile out of you. Today I can’t do that. Sometimes you get a string of unwelcome news you just can’t ignore and what’s on my mind is no laughing matter.
Sunday I was in a local watering hole called Hannover’s on Main Street in the small town of Pflugerville just outside of Austin. Before you ask, yes; that’s the actual name of the street. It’s called that because at one time it was the actual main street through town. I suppose they should change the name to Side Street, but they don’t really cotton to change in Pflugerville.
For those of you who have never been, it’s a dog-friendly place. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s a very popular live music venue, but on Sunday afternoons it’s a low-key, local pub and it’s common to see folks from the neighborhood sitting at tables with their dogs unwinding before the new work week begins. I’m usually there at 5:00 p.m. every Sunday with my dog Gretl, a beautiful flatcoated retriever who is also very afraid of other dogs and tends to respond to them unpleasantly.
To be clear, she has never been aggressive toward a single person since I adopted her from Town Lake Animal Shelter—but, for her, dogs are a different matter. It’s for that reason I’m always very cautious when I step into Hannover’s. This Sunday was no different and as I crossed the threshold and stepped up to the bar, I saw a group of four people and a dog scatter to the back room. Apparently Gretl’s reputation precedes her.
I immediately recognized one of those folks as a very sweet girl named Tawn who is a big fan of Gretl and always makes it a point to visit with her for a few minutes every time we make an appearance. About 15 minutes into my stay, Tawn appeared from around the corner and immediately began to lavish Gretl with affection.
“How are you?” I asked. “Actually, not good.” she replied refusing to look in my direction.
“Nothing.” She responded. I watched as she scratched my beloved pooch behind the ears as Gretl smiled contentedly as only retriever breeds do. After a moment of awkward silence, Tawn continued. “I just returned from Houston—visiting my mom. She was diagnosed with cancer last week. It’s her third bout.” I replied sympathetically: “I’m so sorry. That’s very hard news.”
After a moment, she stood up and without saying anything she just turned to me, silent, as she held a bottle of Mich Ultra in her left hand. As she looked at me the abject terror in her eyes became suddenly palpable.
She began to talk about how her mom is her best friend. About how frightened she was of the future. About her mother’s prospects for recovery and how she was told to go for a screening because of the genetic implications. As she spoke I listened quietly and watched her expression turn from fear, to despair, to abysmal grief.
It’s funny; I hardly know Tawn—but there I was in a bar talking to her, a virtual stranger, about something deeply personal as a range of emotions overtook us both. I guess that’s what being human is all about. There was a moment when the conversation reached a lull and then wiping her eyes, she leaned in for a hug; I found it impossible to maintain my composure, and then I watched as she turned and walked away to rejoin her party. I finished my beer and left with Gretl.
The next afternoon I checked my e-mail, which contained a Facebook message from a former co-worker. It was short and to the point: “Not sure if you knew him, I think you did, Nick Angionne passed away Sunday.”
Nick was a former teammate of mine who also happened to be a friend of my wife, Heidi, before I met her.
I thought of Tawn.
On the heels of replying to the news and passing it on to my wife, I poured a glass of scotch and sat at my bar. It was from the bottle I received as a going away present from my last job, and, as I sipped it, I thought of all the people I’ve worked with over the years, especially Nick, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.
Moments later, my phone rang. It was my sister Suzan, who never calls just to visit. I stared at the display for a moment and then took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and offered a trepid “Hello?”
“I’m at the ER with mom and dad. Dad has some bleeding that is pooling on his brain. We don’t know anything else and he’s going to undergo a battery of tests to determine the problem and how to treat it.” Silence.
After a few seconds I began “So there’s no prognosis whatsoever?” “None.” came the reply.
“How’s mom?” “She’s doing well.” We talked for a few more minutes and then silence ensued once again. The sterile nature of the conversation overwhelmed me—a symptom of an emotionally distant family.
“Thanks for calling Suzan, and thanks for being there for mom and dad.” She replied “I have to call Mark and Rob. I love you.” I listened as she hung up and then I slowly closed the clam shell of my antique cell phone.
I thought of Tawn.
I downed the remainder of my scotch and set the glass down as the icy fear gripped me. After a few minutes I thought of the phone calls I needed to make. My two daughters; my older half-brother who has been largely forgotten by my other siblings; my friends. I thought about what I would say to them if the news was ultimately bad—all of this while knowing absolutely nothing other than something very scary was out there.
I thought of Tawn.
I heard a statistic once that 90% of the things that concern us never materialize—but, assuming that’s true, that bit of information doesn’t eliminate the worry. I guess this particular incident is part of the majority because, in the end, there was no boogey man. Nothing bad happened. Dad made it through a common procedure of irrigation and draining the next day without incident. All’s well that ends well right?
A long time ago a talented composer named John Denver wrote a poignant song called Some Days are Diamonds; Some Days Are Stones. Sunday and Monday were stones. Yesterday was a diamond and I’m thinking about my dad.