This is always a difficult time of year for me. I don’t know if it has always been like this or if it just began in 2009 when my dad was diagnosed with leukemia. But this stretch of time, March through May, always seems to hang over me like a dark cloud. There are moments when the sun peeks through the clouds—my children are born in April—but by and large, I have to work extra hard on myself to stave off sadness during this time. It’s why I’ve abstained from social media except for two days over the past month and a half. I need more time to contemplate and reflect. I need to be alone with my thoughts and process them as they come without distraction.
March 2009—One evening as I was driving home from work, my phone rang. It was my dad.
March 2017—Last week, I was en route to Richmond for work and it was as if I had taken a time machine back to that day eight years ago in 2009. As I approached the end of Proffit Road, a bitter cold feeling came over me and the hair on my arms stood up.
“How are you doing?” my dad asked.
“I’m well,” I replied.
“Any news on the job?”
“I’m going to put in for it once it’s posted.”
Something only my family and a handful of my co-workers knew at the time was that my job was being terminated at my company. Less than two months before I had proposed to my girlfriend Allison and we were in full planning mode for the wedding. Less than two weeks later, my dad would be diagnosed with leukemia.
My current position, as RFP proposal analyst for a health care company, I had just started in November after looking for steady work for over six months which resulted in little more than odd jobs such as freelance writing gigs, sports photography for a contractor at the University of Virginia, and working at Bodo’s Bagels in town. I even called my old boss Austin on the phone, returned home to Charlotte County, Virginia, two hours away, and worked a couple of weeks in construction. I don’t know if Austin really needed the help, but it was nice of him to help me in a time of need. It was a bit humiliating to call him to ask for help considering that I’d left construction to return to college all those years ago.
It was the end of 2008 and the housing bubble had burst under Bush and the economy was tanking and people were losing their jobs and homes left and right. No one was hiring. Quite the opposite.
I went for an interview at an entry level landscaping position one evening.
“Why are you really applying?” the man asked. We had met in person on a job site on Pantops in Charlottesville. It was his first words after hello as he sat there with my resume in his hand.
“If I give you this job, and you have the qualifications in your work history, I’ll give you that… but why are you really applying?”
“Is it because you really want this job or because you need a job,” he continued. “Because I don’t want to be posting for this job again in two months when you find something you really want. You have a degree from U.Va. Why are you here?”
“I need the job,” I replied. “I can’t promise you I won’t eventually look for something else, but I can promise you that you won’t need to post for this position in two months. I’ll stay at least six months and I’ll give you plenty of notice. I need this job.”
My girlfriend Allison had just moved from Richmond to Charlottesville and we were now living together and I was already having difficulty making rent.
“I’ll call you and let you know when you can start.”
He never called me back.
I’d put in over eighty applications. The RFP proposal analyst job I had landed that was now being terminated I had accidentally applied for twice. It was actually the first application I had submitted on my job hunt. Six months later, still looking for work to pay the rent on time, I had inadvertently applied again.
“You must really want this job,” my soon-to-be manager would say at my interview. “You applied twice.”
“What can I say? I’m persistent,” I laughed.
I had a relative leave snarky comments on my Facebook wall when my dad was sick. There were a handful all together and they all implied the same thing.
“How come you’re not at the hospital, Jeff?”
My relative’s comment likely stemmed from the Care Pages my mom kept while my dad was at U.Va hospital early on. My mom would provide updates daily and document who had visited on a particular day. My mom had worded some things oddly that made it appear I never visited or that it was rare, which wasn’t the case. She even wrote something like, “Wayne told Jeff not to come today.” I never corrected my mom’s writing of the Care Pages. The last thing she needed was a critic telling her how to word her posts about her husband who was in the fight of his life with leukemia.
What my relative didn’t know is that my dad asked me not to come certain days because I had applied for a new position and I was driving to and from Richmond for training during this time. My dad knew how much I had struggled to find work before landing my job that was now being terminated.
“I can come to the hospital after I get back from Richmond,” I said to my dad. “It’ll be a little late, but not too late… around 7 p.m.”
“They have to do another round of treatments and tests around that time. You can come another day. I’m not going anywhere,” he said, laughing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad wanted to make sure all my ducks were in a row should he pass into the afterlife. I didn’t know he could die, then. At least I hadn’t accepted the possibility. But I think he did. I think he knew. When I got the new job, he called me on the phone crying, “I knew you would,” he said. “I’m so proud of you. I knew you would.”
I’d never heard my dad cry before.
“How come you’re not at the hospital, Jeff?” my relative had said. The notification disappeared.
She’d left a comment on a journal entry I had written about my dad on Facebook. I wanted people to know who my dad was. This was how I did that—by writing.
“??” comment on another journal entry a few minutes later.
“Surprised you have time to write…”
Then a status update on her page a few minutes after which said, “Some people just make everything about themselves even in terrible situations. Selfish people in the world.”
I wanted to reply and curse her out, tell her that I was losing my job, I’m supposed to get married in three and a half months, and my dad may or may not be dying and that if he so much as bumps his head or gets a stomach bug he could die.
I wanted to scream in all caps EVERYTHING IS COMING UNRAVELED! MY ENTIRE WORLD AND EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER KNOWN IS BEING DESTROYED AND I AM A HELPLESS BYSTANDER WATCHING IT ALL HAPPEN BEFORE MY VERY EYES.
But I didn’t. I bit my lip until I could taste the blood.
When I write, it’s not about me. It’s coming from my perspective, of course. I can’t write from any other perspective. But it’s not about me. It’s about something far greater.
One thing I learned about my dad being sick is to mind your own business, always. You don’t know what someone is going through. You may think you do, but you don’t.
“Something doesn’t feel right,” my dad said that day in 2009 as I came to the end of Proffit Road in Charlottesville.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Something doesn’t feel right… I don’t feel right. My body. I feel like I’m filled with cancer.”
His voice lacked confidence. I’d never heard him sound so scared.
“You know your body better than anyone,” I said. “You need to go to the doctor and tell them. You were right the last time. I’m sure it’s nothing, but if you feel strange, you need to let a doctor know.”
“Call the doctor as soon as we hang up. If you’re not feeling right, don’t wait.”
“I will. Your mom is driving me crazy about this wedding by the way.”
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