Pre-Op, a Short Story

I have no reason to be afraid; I have the best doctors in the state and this is a simple procedure. It’s not even the most complicated or important one I’ve had- I had a small pre-cancerous mass removed from my esophagus about 12 years ago, which was much scarier. No, this is just really an elective thing. I’d like to have more mobility and I know that getting this hip fixed is the right move. 

But of course any surgery gives you a little anxiety. 

I’ve dealt with anxiety before- I know the routine. It’s just the body giving me a stress response. I can talk myself down, usually. It’s a fight-or-flight response. I’m agitated, irritable, I can’t concentrate. I have taken a benzodiazepine for periods of high anxiety before- after the divorce, and when Carrie was in the hospital. But this is short term and I’ll be on the other side of it soon. 

It’s just, tonight. 

I keep thinking about my mother- she used to have hip problems, too. Never had one replaced, but she probably should have. I remember that swinging-waddle she used to have towards the end, when she didn’t get around much, even before she had those feet problems. I feel bad now for how impatient I was with her, now that I’ve had this pain. I can’t imagine how she lived so long with it. 

It’s not like she didn’t complain, and her weight was definitely a factor that aggravated her pain even more. I cringe now thinking of how often I used to encourage her- even chastise her- for not walking more. I thought that if she’d get more exercise, her weight would go down, and she’d have less pain. Of course, I know now that with osteoarthritis, there’s not really any road to repair once the joint is worn out. 

I wish I had been gentler. 

The worst thing is- that I can only picture her smiling. Leaning heavy on the table as she would stand up, even wincing a little, but always smiling, even when she told me how it hurt. 

She was always smiling. 

She was always smiling, although her life was just shit, I don’t know why she was always smiling, I guess that was her generation’s way, at least, the women’s way. Pretend like it’s all okay, pretend like God’s in control and everything’s good. 

I don’t know what good it did. 

My mother lived in a crappy trailer, a one bedroom fire hazard that was stifling in summer and freezing in winter. She lived there with my dad from the time that I went away to college. Before that, we had lived in town in a little house they rented. Me, my mom and dad, and my two brothers. They both got jobs and moved further north towards the cities, but when I went to college, my dad’s mom needed a little more care, so my dad bought that old used trailer and parked it out at the farm, and that’s where they lived the rest of their lives. 

It was such a dumb choice. I say this with all kindness, but it was a dumb choice. My grandmother had this huge, beautiful farmhouse with multiple bedrooms, but she had six children, and none of them were comfortable with my parents living in the house, I guess because they didn’t want my parents to have “ownership” of it or something. My dad had been running the farm with my grandpa until he died, driving out every day, so once I was out of school and gone away, my dad bought that trailer for cheap, and moved my mom out there. Then he ran the farm alone and she did all the housekeeping for grandma, made all the meals, everything, and just… lived in that metal box on the side of the property. 

It was because Grandma and Grandpa didn’t want to have favorites, they said. So much so that Grandma owned the farm that Dad ran, and when she died, my parents had to pay rent to the farm for living there for about ten years, until my mom died, and they had to lease the farm itself from the estate. By then the siblings wanted to cash out, because they each owned a sixth of the farm and none of them wanted to come back to it or farm or anything, but dad couldn’t afford to buy them all out, so he stalled them a few years until he couldn’t pay lawyers anymore, and by then he had cancer and he died, too. 

It was a shit situation. My uncle Joe ended up coming down and living in Grandma’s house while he “fixed it up to sell” for about five years, and he hauled away the trailer, and then the insurance company recommended tearing down the barn. He ended up selling the house to Amish, I think, but I haven’t been back by there for years. There’s no family left there anyway. 

Anyway, like I say, I don’t know what she had to smile about. She never had a dryer or a dishwasher. She cooked and cleaned for my grandma and never got paid. My grandma was stingy as anything and would check every receipt from the grocery shopping my mom did for her. But mom just kept doing it. 

Even after grandma died, and mom and dad were so broke they couldn’t rub two pennies together, my mom just kept waddling along through life. One time I went out to visit around Easter, when everything was still frosty and cold, and found out that over the winter, her washing machine had broken. So she had hitched up the old red wagon to a sled and was dragging their clothes baskets across the lawn to the big house, where she was using Grandma’s old Speed Queen. She was turning the water on and off to the house before using it every time, too, so that the cold weather wouldn’t freeze the water pipes when the washer was stopped. And you know what she worried about? That if that washer broke down, she’d have to pay to replace it for “the estate.” 

So messed up. 

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been real angry at my dad about this for a long time. When I was younger, I always took my dad’s side. He was so gentle, so kind and (I thought) so reasonable. My mom was always so dramatic. Even though she was smiley and talkative, she was also pushy and needy and never really happy. My dad was even-keeled and hard working. I liked being with him out in the barn, working with the animals, or driving tractor, or going for a part run in his old pickup. I always felt like a Daddy’s girl. 

But as I’ve gotten older, I started to see it more Mama’s way. I mean, she lived in that metal trailer her whole life, hobbling up and down those rickety metal stairs with her bad hips, making him three hot meals a day, doing all Grandma’s cooking and cleaning. She never had her own car, she never had an extra dime to her name. And the more I think about it, the more frustrated I am with Daddy. 

Why didn’t he stick up for her to his own siblings? Why did he keep Grandma’s house all nice and tidy and cozy, chopping wood for her furnace and planting her spring flowers and building her that ramp when she had a walker- jumping at the first mention of anything Grandma wanted done all the time, but he never did that for Mama. Mama always had to make do. 

And even- standing up for her with his siblings. Like when Grandma was getting towards the end, and she gave that jewelry box to Aunt Donna, and forgot about it, and then she told Aunt Sal that it was lost, and that probably Mama had taken it. That was awful! Mama cried on the phone to me about it ten times while they were figuring that all out- but did Daddy stick up for her to any of his siblings? Mama said he just asked her, “Did you move it, Jeannie? Did it break or something?” 

No, I see more and more that Mama was just a saint. 

I mean, okay, she wasn’t a saint. She wasn’t easy to be around all the time. She asked a lot of nosy questions and had some real passive-aggressive ways to needle her way into telling you what to do. 

That’s why the boys left home so quick, I think, besides not wanting to farm. 

Jake and Joey both moved up to the cities as soon as they were 18. I knew it was coming, I was only 15, but I knew it because I heard them talking about it sometime that spring before their birthday. They’re twins, the boys. Jake still lives up there in the suburbs but Joey moved out west when he got remarried to Linda. I don’t see much of Jake but Linda keeps in touch with me through the facebook and email and things. 

Mama was real hurt that they snuck away the way they did but I don’t know how else they could have gone. I guess they wanted to save themselves the sight of seeing her crying, but it didn’t save me from watching it. All summer, and then when it started to get cold, and then Christmas when they couldn’t come home because of that snow storm, and it wasn’t until the next spring that Joey came home on a motorcycle with a girlfriend and showed her around the barn and the cows and things, and then later that summer both the boys came to help Dad for a little while when he broke his leg. But then Jake joined the army and Joey went back to the cities, and after that it was pretty rare to see either of them in town at all. And by then I was off and I didn’t care much about it. Boys will be boys, I guess.

I don’t know why I’m getting into all of this. My life has been pretty nice, really. I got my degree at the State U and then worked through Grad school. I’ve worked a few different positions at schools around the state, but when I met Aaron, we liked living up here near the lake, and I found work at St. Peter’s. We had Carrie, the joy of my life, and she lives with her two boys not ten minutes from me, which is perfect. So all in all, I’ve got things pretty good. 

Except this hip, of course. 

And the divorce. 

I don’t know why when you’re feeling low, all the old sad memories come back up. 

When I first met Aaron Paul, he was amazing. We were together for two happy years, living in different cities but seeing each other as often as possible and staying together during school holidays and summers. Getting married was such a natural progression, and he even moved to where I was so I could keep my job. 

But after we got married, everything seemed to change. I felt that I could never do right. His family never liked me, and I could always tell when he had talked to one of them. They were Waspy, very educated and had old money attitudes though there was no money left in the family. They never liked their sons’ wife who was a poor farmer’s daughter from Iowa. 

He was increasingly controlling, borderline abusive. When I had Carolyn, I was never good enough for her. She was the pride of her grandparents and they made it clear that I was never doing right by her. I started to believe it- I wasn’t a good wife or mother, I wasn’t giving her what she deserved. She was in tennis and violin, math club and debate team. We put her in a magnet school for the arts and she was- well, she was amazing. I was always so proud of my Carrie-bug. 

But Aaron and I were just worse and worse all the time. By the time Carrie was in high school, and she was accepted as an exchange student, I knew we wouldn’t survive the school year if she was gone to Germany. 

And we didn’t. He was gone not two weeks from the day we said goodbye to her at the airport, and I was served divorce papers a few months later. 

I remember feeling a strange mix of peace and loneliness that first year, wandering around our big house with the pool with Aaron and Carrie both gone. But it took seeing Aaron’s new girlfriend seven months pregnant to know that I had to make a change. 

I left my job, sold the house, and started over in a tenth floor apartment outside of Chicago, where I managed to get a small job in the English department at Northwestern. It didn’t pay a lot, but I didn’t have a lot of expenses. Carrie was disappointed, of course, when she came home. She had to finish her senior year living with Aaron so that she could stay at her high school. She is still frustrated with me about that on some level, I think. 

Actually, she seems like she’s frustrated with me a lot. 

I don’t actually know why I bother Carrie so much. She always seems to be upset at something I’m saying or doing, and she’s very strict with rules about when I come or when the boys come to my place. Much of it is about Aaron and Nancy, of course, she doesn’t like the tension when we’re together, but I don’t think it’s me. Aaron is extremely bull headed and Nancy has no reason to be kind to me at all from all the things she’s heard about me over the years. But I don’t think I’ve really ever been unreasonable. 

I expected it at first, of course, Carolyn living with them for not just her Senior year but then for the first two years of college. I invited her to come live with me, but she wanted to go to a junior college for the first two years to cut costs. I think she blames me for our not having a huge college fund for her. But I never had a great paying job- I didn’t get tenure when I was younger, and as an adjunct I never had benefits until long after she was out of college. I think she blames me for that, because of the divorce. Aaron always made it as If I abandoned our home and forced his hand, and as if he would have come back when she came back, but I know that wasn’t the case. Carrie never believed that, though, even when he and Nancy married and had their daughter Alexis. Somehow they get off scott-free, though Aaron always made much better money than I did, and Nancy is a real estate agent. They’re not hurting, anway, but I don’t know that they ever did anything to help her through college besides letting her live there. I paid her tuition for her two years at Notre Dame, though. Which no one ever seems to remember. 

But she’s getting older, and things are getting better. Those two boys of her are just wonderful. Micah and Jonah, two years apart from each other. Their dad is Ryan Colepatrick, and they’ve been together almost ten years now, but they say they “don’t believe in marriage.” I don’t know as I blame them, but it is a little funny her still having her Dad’s name and the boys having Ryan’s. He’s an okay guy. Nothing special. He works installing cable and doesn’t make much, but they’ve got a boat and the kids have every toy you could ever think of. Carrie has been working at hair for a few years, though she got her degree in art history. I knew there wasn’t much money in it unless she went on to graduate work, but she got pregnant with Micah and never did anything else with it. I guess she does like the salon, though. She has a partnership with another lady and they do all right. 

But they’re busy, you know. They work for themselves so they don’t take many vacations or anything. It’s alright, It’s alright. I told her it was fine, I didn’t want her to miss any work. The doctors will call when It’s all over and I’ll be under anyway for most of the day. She doesn’t need to miss work for that. She can come see me once I’m woken up and alert anyway. 

That’s what we did for mama, at least. Back then they didn’t let us into the recovery room for quite awhile. It was just Daddy and me and Grandma, sitting in that waiting room for hours and hours before they finally let us go back to see her. Of course, that was different. Mama’s surgery was iffy at best, she had only had the slightest little chance of surviving anyway. The cancer had eaten up her whole inside and if she had lived she would have never lived a normal life anyway, with no stomach or half her intestines. But they tried. 

She did talk to us before she passed though, she woke up out of that anesthesia long enough to talk to all three of us- not the boys, of course. They didn’t make it in time. 

I remember Mama smiling- even though she was dying. Always smiling. She talked about seeing angels and things, but I always figured that was all the drugs she was on. But she held on to Daddy’s hand and smiled at him, mostly. So funny, now that I think about it. I’ve been so angry thinking about how Daddy was to Mama all this time, but she didn’t seem to think of it at all at the end. Just looked at him like he was her Prince Charming, like she used to say. 

I suppose Mama knew something about forgiveness. I suppose she knew she wasn’t always easy to live with, either. I guess I could do better to be a little more like Mama. I could have made life a little easier for Aaron back when we were married. I know I can be stubborn and he used to tell me I was awful cutting with my words. Lord knows I don’t have many friends who have stuck around, and I know I can be a little prickly. When I get through this surgery, I’m gonna make a real effort to change that, I think. I don’t want my grandsons growing up with an Ice Queen for a Grandma, the way I did. 

I guess if I really think about it, I should give Daddy a little more grace. He did what he could most of his life. Grandma was hard, but I’ve heard stories about Grandpa that were much worse- but I never saw Daddy hit nor yell at anyone, even when things got hard in the barn. I think even the boys would say that if they were asked. I guess he was just doing a little better than he was taught, like we all try to do. 

I don’t know, I’m not feeling too poorly now about this surgery. I think it’ll be okay. When I get out maybe I’ll even see if I can’t sit down with Carrie and make things a little right, while there’s still time. 

Thanks for reading! If you liked this story, you can read other short fiction by clicking here.

I also have some books available on amazon.

I would really be thankful if you shared this with other people!

Thanks, Brianna

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