Spring, 1972 I ditched my math class, heading straight for the high school parking lot through the tall dry grass in back of the science wing. Funny how our community cared so much about the manicured lawn and flowerbeds and left the hidden stuff uncared for. I slumped over onto the front seat of my ugly little car and waited to see if anybody had seen me.
There were no footsteps or shouts telling me to get back to class. I slipped onto the road, unnoticed. I had to see Dad. Glancing out the window as I drove along the old country road, I felt the land quiet my fears. The rolling hills were a green backdrop for acre upon acre of apricot blossoms lifting in the breeze, like party dresses. I wanted to be out there, to walk in the miracle of the land. But I had a job to do.
I accelerated through the beauty and connected with the freeway that took me into San Jose, speeding the last ten miles to the hospital, trying to keep pace with my careening thoughts. I hadn’t seen Dad in months. Would he even want to see me? This thought was the rotting morsel I had chewed on all morning, ever since I had decided I needed to visit him in the detox unit at Valley Med. I finally brought my car to rest in the hospital’s pockmarked parking lot.
I tried to imagine what lay inside the forbidding building that slumped in front of me like an aging beast. What did they do in all those rooms? Having been raised a Christian Scientist, I had never been to a doctor, let alone a hospital, except one time when I almost bled to death in my mother’s lap when I was three days old. Mom betrayed her religious beliefs to bring me to the emergency room, her prayers floating above me like a halo.
Though I no longer accompanied Mom to church, the teachings remained in my head like a dark stain. There was nothing I could do to remove it. Seeking medical help was an act of treason. My older sister Margery had called in a panic the day before, urging me to go see Dad after he had been rushed to the hospital. She sounded breathless. “You really have to go—this may be it.” I exhaled with the impact of her words. I hated it when she prodded me to do things, but realizing this might be the last time I’d ever see him, I called the hospital, and a nurse informed me of his status.
“He’s pretty incoherent, dear.” I knew there was more she wasn’t saying. It was the way she paused before she said, “I’m afraid he can’t come to the phone.” I wanted to slap myself for being happy, but I was. I couldn’t imagine having to speak to Dad. Not after all that had happened.
Now I was here. I sucked in my breath and pulled the keys from the ignition, looking down at what I was wearing. Was there a dress code for visiting your dad in detox? Oh, hell. My anti-war T-shirt and frayed bell-bottoms would have to do. I grabbed my macramé bag and got out. I threaded my way between the cars, the pitted asphalt heating up my sandals. I searched for the hospital entrance, my hair flowing out behind me like a wave from the force of my gait.