We're walking to radiology together, my Dad and I. He's really doing the walking for the both of us, wheeling me along these empty corridors.
I don't ask my parents too many questions. It probably doesn't even dawn on me that I should ask them how they're feeling. We're in survival mode. We don't think. We just do. We are this action-oriented family, taking me to my various appointments, or holding my hand while I sleep, or bringing packets of cards and letters that were sent to the house instead of the hospital. There's not much to discuss, I guess, when we all know that as bad as it gets, it's all part of the price. Daily trips to radiology -- as exhausting as they can be -- are required.
So I keep my thoughts to myself on this trip. Wondering what my action family would do if it was me in Susan's room. What if I was in a coma? Would I even be aware of it? Would I be in some kind of constant dream state, or would the screen be like snow after midnight, when the local channels have gone off the air?
Would my parents need to make a decision for me? Would they need to decide together?
They've been separated almost my entire life and had always done a good job of remaining civil towards one another, even during a particularly difficult stretch of custody-wrangling when I was eleven. I don't remember that period of my life very well. My sister does. She has a very good memory, and she'll probably disagree with my assessment.
I know that she'll tell both of our parents, later, that they need to stop worrying about not being in the same room together when they visit me, to not make the important part of the hospital visit the fact that one has to suddenly leave as soon as the other arrives.
But how do you set apart twenty years of being set apart? How do you simply come together in a snap of your fingers like that?
What if I was in a coma? I'd be alive, right, but not really. My hands wouldn't even twitch when Mom held them in hers. My face is a blank, unmoving slate. You hope, of course, that everything you do or say registers somewhere underneath the surface, but how long does that last? Weeks? Months? Could it be years? How long do you continue to watch your child do nothing, say nothing, respond to nothing? How do you even imagine a point where you need to consider the possibility that you maybe need to make this very important decision for your child?
She's in her mid-thirties, Susan. She's not a child, but she's still their child, and she's completely, totally, dependent on the decisions made by her parents.
Does she even know it's her birthday?
Does she even know about the balloons and the streamers and the presents?