Luck

We all have fathers and we all lose them.  Either we die or they die, but we are eventually and forever lost to each other.  Fathers can be good or bad, but always they are part of our blood; answering questions before we speak because they know better than us.  They can turn the pages of a book without hands or fingers and they give breath to our sixth sense.  A Navy corpsman killed my father one night in a hospital room.  He overdosed him on morphine.  Earlier in the afternoon the corpsman had called me and said that my father would not make it through the night.  I had received other calls like that one over the years and always my father had not died, but this time was different.  My father was a Marine and this Navy corpsman decided that he was going to put my father out of his misery.  My father had been in pain for fifty years and his machine gun wounds never healed and he was paralyzed.   So the corpsman told me in measured words that he was going to help his brother and I should come quickly.  It was a six-hour drive to the hospital.  My father had been dying for a long time and I decided not to go.  I had buried my father a thousand times in my mind.  Anyway, I woke up that night at exactly 4:00 am: the iridescence of the clock  combined my past and future.  I lay awake until the phone rang at 4:20.  It was my mother and her voice was like a rock cracking, “Your father is dead.  He died at 4:00 this morning.  Come home.”  I got out of bed and took a shower and drove to the hospital.  They had moved my father and the corpsman had finished his shift.  I decided not to call the corpsman or come back to speak with him.  A doctor was there and he said the cause of death was my father’s heart had stopped beating.  I asked to see my father’s file.  There was a notation from two nights earlier that his tracheal tube plug had fallen through the incision in his throat.  Maybe this had been the moment when the corpsman decided to kill my father.  I imagined my father choking as the tube lodged halfway down his throat.  I wondered how long my father gagged on it before someone noticed and removed it.  At the funeral I stood before the open coffin.  I moved my hand along my father’s neck and found the incision.  I thought about the corpsman and his deed and at that precise moment a hand touched my arm.  The corpsman was standing beside me and he extended his hand to the forehead of my father.   He muttered, “semper fi,” and turned away from me and walked out of the room and in that instant my father was on a sandy beach, in a line of dead Marines, as a naval corpsman checked him to make sure he was dead, but my father was alive, and the corpsman yelled, “This man’s not dead!”  I was born six years later, the only son, of an only son, of an only son.  I am lucky to be alive and so is my only son. “Luck,” my father used to say, “is not only for the living.”  The two corpsmen who saved my father surely must understand this sentiment.  I know that I do.

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9 thoughts on “Luck

  1. If there are words to describe how powerful this essay is, I don’t have them. I felt like I was standing on Omaha beach and seeing one life dead, reborn and lived again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, so the navy corp save the life, and the navy corp taketh the life, and all in the right time, if you want to call the last time the right time. Perhaps it was. Live by the corp, die by the corp. Perhaps that last corpsman knew more compassion than we realize. Maybe he was braver. Maybe the father and he had an understanding, a knowing most of us will never know.

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