Tilting: A Memoir

August 8, 2019 - Comment

We only learned about our father’s girlfriend after he became deathly ill and lay in a coma 120 miles from our home. Overhearing the nurse tell Linda–since I was nine I had called my mom by her first name–about the girlfriend who came in almost every day to visit him when we weren’t there confirmed

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We only learned about our father’s girlfriend after he became deathly ill and lay in a coma 120 miles from our home.

Overhearing the nurse tell Linda–since I was nine I had called my mom by her first name–about the girlfriend who came in almost every day to visit him when we weren’t there confirmed that the last moment of normal had passed us by without our realizing it. Up to then our family had unhappily coexisted with Dad flying jumbo jets to Asia while we lived in Montana. We finally came together to see Dad through his illness, but he was once again absent from a major family event–unable to join us from his comatose state. This is the moment when our normal existence tilted.

Dad recovered, but the marriage ailed, as did Linda, with cancer. Our family began to move down an entirely different path with silver linings we wouldn’t see for many years.
“In this candid and compassionate memoir Nicole Harkin describes with an Impressionist’s fine eye the evolution of a family that is quirky, independent, uniquely supportive, peculiarly loving and, most of all, marvelously human.” Malena Watrous, Author                                                                                              
Chapter 1 (Copyright 2018, Nicole Harkin)Dad piloted one of the last planes into the downtown Hong Kong airport before the airport relocated. This had him flying a jumbo jet between high-rises right through the city. People in the apartments could see the pilots and wave. Autopilot wasn’t an option. To land safely the pilot needed to manually steer the aircraft during landing and the approach challenged even the most seasoned pilot, but Dad liked flying into Hong Kong.Dad came home from this, his first trip of the year, on a Tuesday. He told Linda he didn’t feel well. Uncharacteristically, he headed to the doctor who told him he had a virus and needed to take some antibiotics. He would feel better after he rested. I’d just returned to college after Christmas break. I called home that day and demanded to talk to Dad because the tires on the Suburban were almost bald.”He’s sick in bed. Can it wait?” asked Linda, my mom. The snow was piled up high in Indiana where I went to college.”Sick? In bed? Put him on the phone. It can’t be that bad.””He’s very sick.””Come on, Linda.”I didn’t believe her. He just didn’t want to give me any money. Money remained a constant struggle between us. My parents were always telling me they didn’t have any money even though my father worked as an international airline pilot.”Dad, hello? Are you there? Can you hear me?” I asked.”What do ya need?” His Boston accent came out because he was annoyed that I had insisted on talking to him.”The Suburban needs new tires.””I don’t feel well.””Dad, it’s icy here, and I’m sliding all over the place.””Fine, get some new tires.” He had drilled into me that I could only use the credit card for real emergencies. And, even if there were an emergency, I needed to call first. This time, however, he sounded so sick that I felt a little guilty when I hung up the phone. I hadn’t had to lobby hard for the tires. I didn’t know it then, but this was the end of before–the last few moments of normal.”How’s Dad?” I asked when I called on Thursday, two days later.”I’m making him go to the hospital. He isn’t making sense. He’s been lying in bed acting weird and mumbling,” Linda said.”What do you mean?” “His voice is strange. He keeps saying incoherent things. I felt his head and he doesn’t have a fever. I don’t know. I’ve got to go.”Gram, Linda’s mother, called me that night to update me. I asked if I should come home, but she said no.The next morning Gram called again, “Your Dad’s very sick and you need to come home today.””I thought he was OK.””Get to Chicago. The airline has made space available on the flights,” she said.

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