The Rowboat

I want to welcome Evie McAdoo to my blog. Evie recently came to one of my writing workshops with an idea of what she wanted to write despite my instructions to come with open minds. She found soon enough why I said that because before she knew it, the muse had taken her someplace she couldn’t image she would go. Evie was born in New Jersey, moved to California, and for the last five years she’s lived in western Pennsylvania, “married to the most wonderful and unique Kenny McAdoo.” She works as an Integration Consultant  from home. And she writes.

It’s fitting that I publish her essay on her father today because this essay is a tribute to her father. Those of us who have lost a parent know how difficult it is, but with time we come to forget the death and remember the life lived. It is with pleasure I present Evie’s experience with both. Patricia – @PCZick

The Rowboat

By Evie M. McAdoo

I sat at his bedside. His body gaunt, thin, no weight to him it seemed. His eyes were closed, his skin yellowish. The salt and pepper hair was still salt and pepper, and I knew if I looked at the top of his head that same bald spot would be there – the one that hadn’t changed in shape or size for as long as I could remember.

He smelled not like Daddy. He had a dry arid smell about him like old yellowed paper. So I leaned over and put a drop of Brut on his wrist. Brut was the smell of Daddy. He was in a coma, but I knew he knew I was there with him. My love blanketed him and covered him with the love only a daughter can feel for her father, her daddy.

I grabbed the small visitor’s chair and moved it closer to his bedside, the bars on the side of the bed clanking against it. And I settled back in the gray plastic and metal chair in his hospital room. I can still see the murky white-tiled floor streaked with manufactured brownish and grayish streaks – the kind of floor that looks dirty even when it’s spotless. I took his hand in mine and started talking to him about the summerhouse, the lake, and the rowboat. I asked him to squeeze my hand if he knew I was there. Me, always needing reassurance, always needing to know I was present and mattering to someone. And he squeezed ever so slightly. Screw mom for telling me it was just my imagination. Screw her for trying to tell me it didn’t happen.

Ah, but the boat. That glorious ten-foot piece of aluminum with three seats! It was in that rowboat we made our escape from the world and all troubles that plagued us. Nothing existed but Daddy and me gliding across the brown cedar lake waters on a summer day. The thick sweet odor of cedar melting into my nose replaced the smell of death in the hospital room as I began to speak with Daddy of times many years before.

We are transported to the summerhouse on Sommers Lane in Country Lakes. It seemed so big, but it was always the focus of happy times in a childhood awash with dysfunction and pain for me. It was always a place full of joy and play and freedom. It didn’t carry bad thoughts or harbor any demons. It was just “The Lake House.” And the lake house was laughter, warmth, love, and the rowboat.

As I sat in the hospital room, I spoke to Daddy of the times he’d tie the blue blowup raft behind the boat for me to lie on. I reminded him of me sailing through the waters on my belly tied behind the boat with Daddy in his bathing suit rowing away. Being carefree was an attitude rarely associated with my daddy, except with me. I wanted nothing from him but his love. And love was a rowboat on a lake on a summer’s day. Cool waves lapped at my toes. A giggling redheaded girl, pulled along on a raft, listening to the occasional gull interrupting my father as he sang, “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad she was awful.” Yes, that was me, to a tee. Daddy’s girl with schizophrenic behavior patterns alternating between the very, very good and the very, very bad.

Daddy rowed the boat singing softly on a brown lake with blue skies and a yellow sun. Nothing was ever better. No one can tell me any differently. And as I talked to Daddy in that hospital room, in his coma, I knew we were both on that lake again.

“I’ve told him he should go to G_d. I don’t know what he’s waiting for,” said a nurse who popped her head inside the door.

“He was waiting for me,” I said. “He was waiting for me to come from California and be with him. He knew I would come. “

I was as sure of that as I was that he would leave me that night. So I held his hand tighter and rubbed my cheek against it and pictured his soft brown eyes gazing at me as I lay on the raft behind the boat, with my homegrown chopped up pixie haircut, thanks to my mom, fiery red against the blue of the raft and brown of the lake. We passed Treasure Island, and Daddy was lost in his strokes. The dip of the oars made ripples on the lake surface that danced past my raft. I often wondered what he was thinking about during those times. Perhaps he just was enjoying the moment. Taking in every microsecond’s worth of peace and beauty on that lake and just living it.

He smiled as the ducks swam past us. I called out to them: “beep beep beep.” Their shiny green heads perked up and looked at my father and me. We are the perfect twosome with no wings or webbed feet but navigating and swimming swiftly through the lake as well as they. They began to swim toward us in responses to my call until they realized they’d been duped, and we had no bread to give them. They tossed their heads, put their aloof airs back on, and swam away from us. We circled the lake for what seemed like hours to my eight-year-old child’s brain.

I stopped my storytelling and asked my comatose father, “Did I ever tell you about the Boy Scout jamboree raid?” The corner of his mouth twitched, and I took that for a no.

I began to tell the tale. One of the times my friend Ruthie was staying over at the lake house, we took the rowboat out with plans to go to the big island for an afternoon of exploring. As we approached, we noticed figures on the island, many of them…and tents! What were people doing on our island, I wondered? When we got closer, I could see Boy Scout uniforms. We went into stealth mode and tried to row to the side of the island covered in thick pine trees. Cold water started to splash up around us.

Abruptly, I was yanked off the lake by a male voice and found myself back in the hospital room once again. Two doctors entered the room. I let go of my father’s cool hand as I stood and turned to face them. They were wearing the uniform of their kind, white coats with stethoscopes hung around their necks. The one told me he was Dr. So-and-So. I don’t remember his name or his face. I do remember the dry feel of his hand as he shook mine. I could only imagine the gallons of instant sanitizer that he must have poured over his hands to give them that sort of texture. He told me I might want to leave the room as he was going to examine Daddy. I couldn’t imagine why I should have to leave, and I told the doctor I was staying. He pulled back the covers from the foot of the bed exposing my father’s legs to the knee. The odor hit me before the vision, the stench of rotting flesh. Bolting from the room, I saw the black color of his feet leading to the greenish yellow of his shins – gangrene. Untreated diabetes ravaged his legs. I went to the hospital chapel and decided to have a talk with G_d.

“Daddy’s coming to you. Be kind to him, he’s had a rough life. He only ever wanted the best for us. He may not have known how to show us all the time but he loves us. So dear G_d, please take him in your arms and have his spirit sit with you.”

At this point, I burst out laughing and quickly had to cover my mouth with my hands. I pictured my father sitting with G_d arguing with him over the way things on earth should be run. Eyes were staring at me from the two other sad people in the chapel, so still giggling to myself, I lit a candle and left.

I went to the cafeteria and drank some lousy hospital coffee. I figured Dr. Dry Hands and Dr. Nervous should be done in my dad’s room by then so I took the elevator two floors up and walked the long walk to his room. Yep, they were gone. I took my seat back at his bedside and told him the hospital coffee tasted like shit. “Hasn’t Starbucks come to New Jersey yet?” I asked him.

My oldest brother walked into the room just then and told me my other brother was waiting outside to take me home. Looking out the window, I discovered night had come while I sat talking with Daddy. I didn’t want to leave my father. I wanted to stay the night with him. I wanted to curl up in bed with him and lay my head on his chest as I did as a little girl. I wanted to be with him when he passed. But I wasn’t woman enough to stand firm for what I wanted, and I let my brother push me into going home to my parent’s house. I leaned over and kissed my father’s razor stubbly cheek, then kissed forehead. I told him how much I loved him and felt him squeeze my hand once again. I rubbed his hand against my cheek, and then gently put it down on the bed. Without glancing back, I turned and left his hospital room.

That night I slept with my mother in the queen-size bed my parents shared, dreaming of lakes and rowboats and my father when I woke with a start. We were on the lake when my father stood up in the boat and told me he had to go now. I cried hysterically, and I screamed, “Don’t leave me!”

He said “I’ll never leave you; I just have to go right now.” As I was reaching for him from the back of the boat, I woke up with wet eyes.

I went downstairs to get a drink of cold water. I looked around and realized the orange Formica countered ‘70’s style kitchen just didn’t feel like home to me anymore. I was sitting at the table for about ten minutes when the phone rang. I knew who it was, and I knew what the message would be. I picked up the phone to my brother’s voice telling me Daddy died about ten minutes ago, about five minutes after midnight. Strangely, I felt calm and at peace.

It’s been many years and a husband ago since my father passed on. True to his word, he never left me. We have met many times in the realm of dreams. One time when I was in turmoil over my divorce, we walked hand in hand through the pine barrens of New Jersey. He told me not to despair; much better things were coming for me. And when I had a tough decision to make about leaving my job and venturing out to start my own business, we sat on the green paisley couch in the lake house piano room as he sternly lectured me about my strengths and need to believe in my abilities and myself. Sometimes he joins me in this realm of reality, standing silently behind me on my left, beaming and smiling proudly as he did when I married the greatest joy and love of my life, my husband Kenny.

And sometimes we meet on the lake, in that ten-foot aluminum rowboat, for no reason at all. Me sitting back trailing a lazy hand in the cool brown waters; Daddy rowing the boat in his plaid swimsuit eternally in his fifties. Both of us soaking up the sun, laughing, talking, and enjoying each other. We celebrate a connection, a love that is, and always will be, alive.

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