(photo by Dan Kibke)
It's cold and windy - the sort of wind that howls in trees and corridors, knocks a few things over here and there. I'm at my parents' apartment in Maple Ridge, the no-neck suburb where I grew up. In a few hours, I wake to go on a trip that I'm very apprehensive about; my mother's twice-monthly casino visits, postponed for the Christmas holiday, resume tomorrow. The plan was that she would go alone, and father and I would spend some "quality time" together, while I helped out around the place - did some grocery shopping or maybe a bit of vacuuming; but then the manager of the senior's building that my parents are live-in caretakers for returned from vacation, allowing my father, who has been filling in for him, to go with her. Of course, they want me along too.
All of this is a bit of an issue, you see, because my father is seriously ill - he has cancer, and has been undergoing chemotherapy, with one slight break, for over a year now. He's lost a lot of weight and looking very ill, but it's impossible to tell at this point what's caused by chemo and what by cancer; the two seem more to be working together than to be battling each other. He's finally starting to admit that he can't do the job like he used to, and has been resting more, and accepting my help more, which comes as a relief to me - but he's still proud and willful and stubborn; and he insists on accompanying my mother tomorrow, wanting me to go with them. Of course, the roads are awful, black ice everywhere, and - I haven't mentioned this part - the casino isn't merely River Rock or someplace close; it's on an Indian reserve in the States - Nooksack - with a bus that comes to our door and picks us (and various other seniors) up and drives us there. Great! So if something goes wrong, we're in the States - and no one goes about issuing insurance on cancer patients, so we have no medical coverage there whatsoever. If there's an emergency, his fantasy plan is to take a taxi to the border and then to a Canadian hospital, to avoid paying hospital bills. This, of course, reflects no serious thinking; it's based more in some sort of sense of his own immortality than anything else, the same sort of logic that has seen him set out in the snow to buy groceries on several occasions these last couple of weeks, even though he's been losing his balance and falling over (he almost lost his glasses in the snow the other day, not realizing they were missing until he made it to Extra Foods, did his shopping, and turned back; he found them on a snowbank in the corner). My father has always been a stubborn man - he settles on a plan and won't budge, like his insistence, when we sit down to Scrabble, that we play at least three games - but it's gotten absurd. I can sympathize with his desire to be with his wife and to not let his illness stop him - but there are just so many variables in taking this show on the road that terrify me. What if the bus breaks down and we're stuck overnight? There are certain medical supplies my father needs - I don't want to go into detail, but things could get very unpleasant if we were stranded. More probably, what if there were an accident at the casino - if my father falls over, or loses consciousness, and the casino has some sort of insurance-dictated policy of calling an ambulance? What if he simply gets very sick and weak, and wants to be home in bed (but the bus isn't scheduled to leave for hours...?). I'll have my panicky mother, my ill father (who is getting a bit foggy-of-mind), and whatever new variables the casino managers (or police or ambulance attendants, possibly) impose upon the situation, and we'll be a two hour drive from home without a car. I'd protest and refuse to join them on this folly, but the situation is slightly less dangerous for my being there - for one, I can help my father in the Men's Room, if required, whereas my mother would have a harder time of it. And I'd be more likely, I think, to successfully insist on one course of action over the other than my mother, who - dependent on my father all her life and un-used to making crisis decisions - tends to get very flustered and make bad choices when things get scary.
Maybe one last trip won't be so bad, I tell myself. It won't be the first we've taken since my Dad got sick (indeed, it was his sickness that prompted him to start going regularly with her, and me to join them). Plus I've actually won a fair bit of money at the slots, which has come in handy indeed. A little voice says I should just go along with it - it could be a perfectly nice family trip, at a time when it's important for us to be together - and besides, the chances of dissuading my father at the last minute are next-to-none. I'm terrified of locking horns with him, too - if I push too hard, he could lose his temper, and I have my own temper to keep in check. I still cringe with guilt at the thought of the last couple of ugly episodes between us, which I feel all the worse about since he's gotten ill. I don't really feel like I can win this battle, but if I go along, it might just give me the ammunition I need to win the next one. I suspect he'll come to agree with me at some point tomorrow that the whole thing was one hell of a mistake.
As much as there's part of me that is starting to think it's time for me to move back to Maple Ridge to help out all the time, part of me just wants to escape from this town and get back to my life in Vancouver and hide in whatever obsessive distractions I can lose myself in - writing, film, music, sex, drugs, or a combination of all the above. I want to seize my father's stubborn refusals to take what I say seriously and use them as an excuse to absolve myself of trying to further influence him: "screw this!" I gave up trying to educate myself about alternative cancer treatments months ago, since he'll have none of it. My only "success" thus far with him has been that he occasionally dilutes his beer with cheap de-alcoholised stuff. (In fact, I was suggesting drinking de-alcoholized beer instead of the real stuff, to give his liver a break, since that's where the cancer mostly is based, and since liver cancer + chemotherapy + drinking every day does not seem to equal "a picture of health," to me; but not even his oncologist will back me up on that. Everyone just wants him to be "comfortable" - no one wants to fight a stubborn old man, or deprive a sick man of his few comforts - however you want to spin it). He's very proud to report to guests
2009 is going to be a very unusual year for me, I expect. Perhaps quite a difficult one.
Anyhow, I won't post for a couple of days, most likely, so - Happy New Year.
EDIT! NEW MATERIAL BELOW...
...So I got cranky with my parents this morning. I voiced my strong disapproval of the trip and begged them to see reason. It did no good - it got heated, though not ugly. My mother pouted that I was trying to "jinx" or "ruin" the day, and my father told me that if I didn't shut up I couldn't come. In the end, I could do nothing but relent and go with them, keeping further worries to myself.
It turns out the roads were fine once we got across the border - there's barely any snow left in Washington State; it ain't like here. My father was much better than he was over Christmas, too - it's been awhile since his last treatment and he's nowhere near as rough as he was when last I was here on the 26th. He could walk without stumbling, didn't vomit up his lunch, seemed pretty energetic by comparison to last week. Feeling a little less worried, I sat down to play slots...
...and won $550 US on the first machine I sat down at (Double Dolphins - a favourite of mine, because of its colourful and generous bonus round; plus I'm partial to dolphins; during the free spins, dolphin "wild cards" dive about on the wheel, chattering happily as the points mount up). I tucked that away to cover expenses and my parents' cut - I was going to end up ahead, no matter what - and continued to gamble with slot tickets I'd already purchased. I then won another $550 US on the same machine. (Actually I won a bit more, but I pushed my luck and whittled it back down to $550). Now the trip was paid for and I had enough money to tide me over until my next paycheque, maybe even buy an LP or two. This was all before sitting down to the free buffet lunch (including steamed catfish! Yum!). I resolved to have fun with the remaining tickets, following my general philosophy of betting the utmost on penny machines that have decent bonus rounds - strategically raising and lowering the bet depending on whether I thought a payout was on the way; I sat next to my Mom at an American Originals slot, and, in one spin, won over $1000 US on it. Again, I gave some of that back to them, trying to make Even More, but after giving my parents a cut, at the end of the day, I was up $1100 Canadian. I often win at slots - my approach to them works pretty well, though its not foolproof - but $1100 is a record thus far.
At one point, when the mood had changed - me happy with my winnings, and my parents having had a chance to think over what I'd said - my father admitted to me that everything I said about the risks was reasonable and that he understood my concern. He reassured me that he would stop coming when he couldn't, anymore. Attempts to talk him into going to Canadian casinos instead didn't cut it - he doesn't like how blackjack is played up here, apparently - but at least he heard me; at least I know he's taking it seriously. I still don't think it's a good idea for us to be gambling in the 'States, given his health - we're gambling with a lot more than money -
...but with payouts like I received today, I have a hard time feeling that bad that we went. We gambled and won.
It won't always be like that, though.