ROAD WORK AHEAD – excerpt from Breakdown Lane, Traveled

ROAD WORK AHEAD



 “I’ll bring you with me to South Boston,” Joe said to me over the phone.  “There’s construction, but the ride will help you get your mind off your dad.”
 I had been on the phone all morning with family members, discussing funeral plans.  A trip on the Mass Pike and the Expressway would be welcome.
 Joe asked, “How’s your mom taking it?”
 “It’s weird,” I replied.  “After she found out, she stayed up all night doing her taxes.”
 My father’s death had come after a long struggle with bladder cancer.  He had fought chronic pain for years.  A few weeks before he passed away, he crossed the invisible line that meant he was dying. 
 Then one day he perked up, joked around with the grandchildren, and almost fooled one of my brothers into thinking the doctors were wrong; Dad would live.  When I heard my brother’s reaction, I was livid, for some reason.  “He’s going to die,” I replied, sounding more forceful than I had intended.
 Perhaps my viewpoint had something to do with the fact that I’d endured 18 years of devastating mental illness; I’d seen more than most.  My dad’s death came at a point during the years my illness was at its worst. A medical student, a stranger, took me aside, saying, “You have had the best teatment we could give.  You’ve had this problem most of your life —  what makes you think it will disappear?  You must accept that the illness won’t go away, not entirely, anyway.”
 I bowed my head, his words streaming in my mind like tears.
 “I know this is upsetting for you,” the student said.
 But I was relieved.  “I don’t have to fight it anymore.”
 One day, my dad had said to me, ” I know what it’s like to have something that just won’t go away.”
 I didn’t know it then, but the illness would run its course in a year, and would dissipate like a spring dew.
 But I did know, as I do now, what both were talking about.  And I was grateful for their words.
 As Joe drove around the Ted Williams Tunnel, I was amazed at the detours posted.  The gravelly road under us full of potholes that had emerged since the April thaw.  “So the funeral’s tomorrow, right?” Joe asked.
 “Get this:  My mother said she was glad Dad didn’t die last week, because the relatives wouldn’t be able to come up for the funeral on account of the snow storm.”
 The road flattened, but only momentarily.  A huge orange sign ahead of us read, ROAD WORK AHEAD, and then EXPECT DELAYS.  I thought for a long time about what this meant.
 The image would stick in my mind for a long time.
 Joe swore under his breath as a cop stopped the flow of traffic to let some trucks pass.  “See that?” he said.  “He should have let me go.”
 But I knew we had no choice but to wait.

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