Friday, October 10, 2014

The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World (Possible chapter 1 from my book)
by Lori Qian

The drive to Aurora had never taken so long.  The car seemed to have a mind of its own, perhaps wanting me to think things through before making any rash decisions.  I was done thinking, though.  I knew what I wanted.  Sort of.  I wanted to go to China, but I needed to talk to Dad first.

I wanted to sit down with him and explain this uncharacteristic-for-our-family opportunity that had been presented to me, as if on a silver platter.  I wanted him to understand how important it would be for me to go, to accept this job, do something for myself, to finally carve out a new life.  I wanted him to be happy for me, to wish me well in this adventure. But I knew this would not happen.  Let's be real. 

Last time I had visited---Sunday dinner just 6 days ago---he had  thought I was the neighbor's daughter.  Not he and Mom's current neighbor, mind you, but Sue Frocks, our neighbor from 15 years ago when we lived in the small white house on the outskirts of Wisconsin Rapids. Anyway, he had no idea who I was then and a coherent daddy daughter talk today seemed as likely as a quick trip to the moon.

This idea to go to China seems perfectly normal when I pretend that I am, well, normal.  When I have parents who are not old, or poor, or sick.  Who have enough money to support themselves and don't rely on me to close the gap between their rent and their social security allowance.  When I pretend that my Dad is the strong man he once was, playing his guitar, solving logic puzzles, reading 800-page books, rather than the fragile man whose Alzheimer's has taken over all of our lives.

I hoped when I pulled up to their apartment I wouldn't find him wandering outside as I had two weeks earlier.  He had been walking around looking for their apartment.  Worse than that, he had forgotten to put his pants on before embarking on this little stroll. 

“I was trying to find Sparks.  It was always here on this corner,”  He says slowly lifting his finger and his gaze while pointing at nothing really.

“I know, Dad.” I said as I took him by the arm.  “Let's go inside.”

Sparks was a grocery store in Starbucks, Washington, his childhood home.  My childhood is filled with stories relating back to this town and I'm reminded that I really need to visit there someday.  I'm also reminded that I need to arrange full-time care for him, or Mom needs to quit her job so she can stay with him.  Well, I tell myself, accepting this job in China will enable to me to help her do just that.  If we can just make it through until then. 

As I open the door to the apartment I'm relieved to find him sitting at the kitchen table, eating toast.  He's wearing clean blue sweat pants and a black cable-knit sweater that was a hand-me-down from me.  He'd lost weight and I'd passed along all those once fashionable oversized men's sweaters I'd bought years ago.  He looks small to me, now, like a little child sitting on a big kitchen chair, carefully using two hands to bring the buttered toast to his mouth.. 

“Hi Daddy”, I said, closing the door behind me.

“Hiiii” he said, dragging out the word.  He's done this ever since his first stroke.  I'd become used to it now.  When he'd first had his stroke, all the changes in his speech were hard to deal with, but I didn't mind it so much lately.  His new mode of speech made every word sound more sincere, like it was trying to stay in the air a little longer.

“How are you, Dad?” I asked, kissing the top of his bald head and then settling my arm around his shoulder.

He looked up with a slow smile that began in his glossy eyes.  “Oh, fine”.

We chatted for a few minutes and I realized that I'd caught him on a good day.  I moved around the kitchen, putting things away, listening to him, testing to see how coherent he really was.  I had already told him I wanted to go to China when I called from the conference several days before.  He'd said that was nice and then passed the phone to Mom.  I knew it had not really hit him, and I was sure he had no memory of the conversation.  I had become familiar enough lately with how his mind seemed to work, or not work.  I hoped that maybe, just maybe, if I sat down and told him in person, that it might sink in.  I prepared myself for two possibilities---either a blank stare, indicating he really had not understood, or, extreme sadness, indicating that he had.

As I played out these possibilities in my mind, he shuffled into his bedroom.  He's probably going to lie down, I guessed, and that's a good thing.  I could help with the laundry while he slept and maybe I could come up with a fantastic way to tell him without hurting him, or me.  Just then I heard his voice behind me.

“Lori, come and show me where you're going”, he said.

I spun around, almost dropping the plate in my hand.  I caught it just in time and was shocked to see him holding the globe.  This was what he had brought from his bedroom.  Tears came to my eyes as I realized I could not remember the last time I'd heard such a clear sentence some out of his mouth.  And to ask me this question meant that he remembered me calling from the conference.  That was days ago.  How could he possibly remember?

I knelt down beside him and spun the globe.  Wiping a tear away, I pointed to Guangzhou. 

“It's right here Dad.  That's the place I want to go.”

As he looks intently at the globe he doesn't speak.  He touches Guangzhou and slides his finger all the way up to the top of the globe, and then down the other side.  He stops right on Chicago.

“The other side of the world,” he said.  His grin was thoughtful.

I stared at my father.  He knows exactly who I am and exactly what I need from him.  He is doing just what he has always done as a father.  When I was younger and would ask him for help with a decision, he would always consider the situation carefully and then give his opinion quietly, leaving the choice to me.  That was exactly what he was doing now.

“I think you should go to China.” he said.

“You do, Dad?” , I ask, catching my breath.  “You really do?”  I was hoping I had heard him correctly.  He raised his eyes from the globe to my face.

“I really do”.

I could feel the tears streaming down my face, and then falling from my chin.  These were tears of gratitude for my dad's brief moment of clarity when I needed it most.  I had no idea what my future held, but with my Dad's blessing, one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to China. 



We had such a fantastic time on our recent trip to Utah.  Our kids have grown up in sub-tropical Guangzhou, so the concept of autumn w...