by Michael Ryerson
We’ve had house guests for a few days, in town for the festivities. Spencer graduated Thursday evening. About ten days ago, my wife’s administrative assistant, a lovely, young (28yrs) Indonesian woman of immense patience and intelligence, complained of a persistent pain in her back and a recent inability to hold down food. She’s been in the country for a few years but still wasn’t sure how to go about having it looked at. No relatives to speak of, the owner of the company (surrepticiously) arranged for her to have a check-up and two or three subsequent ultrasounds. The results weren’t good. Without insurance she was faced with the county hospital emergency room. We (my wife and I, together and alternately) sat with her and her mother (who had flown in from Indonesia) for forty eight hours in the waiting room until someone could see her. They took her vitals every two hours (as they did with everyone on the waiting list). Finally they put her in a room and started a series of their own tests. We returned to our graduation preparations. On Tuesday, our car was totaled. My wife was rearended on the freeway. She’s a little stiff but thankfully no apparent serious damage. The car was not so lucky. It was a 1989 Volvo wagon which we had babied into its dotage. It had nearly 400,000 miles on it, still looked new and frequently drew comments from complete strangers. We shall miss it. Relatives began arriving, we met them in rental cars and snuck up to the hospital a couple of times a day to sit with Lisye and help her mother with the language and to ask the hard questions. We had a family day at the training facility and our son participated in the drills and demonstrations and we beamed along with the other parents. I had cuffs put in my new dark blue suit pants, picked up a white starched shirt from the dry cleaners and took the call announcing it was stomach cancer. The world turns quickly, the house was full of familiar voices, some laughter, some tears, stories all around. And Thursday evening I was privileged to pin a newly minted firefighter’s badge on my son’s blue uniform. His mother watched, blinking back tears, and held his arm, too tightly I thought. We had our picture taken. The Chief mumbled a congratulations, I didn’t hear a word he said. And a grand circle was closed. A reception followed, a blur of young faces, picture-taking in every possible combination and uncomfortable shoes. We stopped at the hospital on our way home. She had refused a move to another room where her heart could be more closely monitored (don’t ask me, I don’t know) and was on a pretty constant morphine feed. She was not fully awake, her face a serene mask of perseverance, only the tiniest lines at the corners of her mouth gave her away. She was working hard. Her father had arrived, a sister in Australia was on the way. She would be late. I woke up Friday morning with that sandy feeling under my eyelids. During breakfast, my wife stepped outside to take the phone call. Lisye had passed in the early morning darkness. We spent the day with our family, did some sightseeing, received several new firefighters in our home, cautioned our son to drive carefully and call if a designated driver was needed and helped with funeral arrangements. By Saturday afternoon, the house was empty again. I went looking at new cars. The funeral is this afternoon at four.