1. dirty and untidy; slovenly.
  2. ill-smelling; musty

Patty bit her nails, embarrassed by her frowzy emotional landscape. Now was not the time to panic or feel helpless. Of all the moments in her life, now was the one time she needed to be brave and pulled together.

Instead she felt like a wreck.

What was worse was that she looked every part of what she was feeling. Her hair was askew, her clothes wrinkled, she hadn’t put on her makeup and couldn’t quite remember if she’d brushed her teeth. She looked completely disheveled.

Patty looked at her father, resting somewhere far from her present reality.

Guilt threatened to overwhelm her as she chastised herself for being so self absorbed.  Her father was the one in danger and yet she was mainly thinking about her appearance. The temptation to be grateful that her father wasn’t awake to see her in this state was an invitation she was having trouble refusing. She had almost convinced herself that it was better that he not see her in this state, that he not be embarrassed by her lack of propriety.

Patty forced herself to focus on their surroundings, in hopes of creating a distraction. The room was immaculate, everything in order–a stark contrast to Patty who struggled to stay seated, instead fidgeting like a 4-year-old child every few seconds. But that level of decor and order was to be expected when you were paying five figures a month. The serene environment made dying look stylish somehow. Fresh waves of guilt lapped against Patty’s soul as thoughts flew across her mind. She bobbed her crossed leg, her eyes falling on the man who no longer knew her.

“Daddy…” she whispered.

She wanted to have a conversation with him once more. These days he was too sedated to say much. But the times he opened his eyes and looked at her were joyous occasions. His eyes would light up, not from recognition, but from the sheer fact that there was company. He never knew her and no longer asked who she was, but simply talked to her about little things in life, such as nature and human nature.

It was horrible, seeing her father in this state, losing his memory, becoming someone she actually wanted to be around and talk with on a regular basis. He was no longer the hard, imposing figure who raged at his family’s imperfections. Now Donovan Hartlen was just a man, content to just be and find the joy in small conversations, now that he was at the end of his life.

Fresh tears drew familiar pathways of grief along Patty’s face. As someone who had repeatedly wished her father would die–or at least get what he deserved for all the times he beat Patty’s mother or berated her sister–the actual experience was lacking in catharsis. She sat across from his bed, knowing she had gotten just what she’d asked for all those decades ago. But the strangest thing was that as each piece of her father fell away, obscured and erased, he became a man she respected, cherished, and adored. He became the father she had always longed for.

Instead of holding all of his faults and sins against him, Patty released them. As he became less and less himself, and somehow, simultaneously more himself, Patty found herself letting the heaviness of anger, rage, unforgiveness and retribution go. Like stones, she flung each one, wanting to see if they could span an increasingly greater distance.

The last stone she held was guilt, weighing her down, pointing to all the time wasted, all the missed opportunities. Guilt chided her for all that she had missed and all she would never have. Too little too late, that was guilt’s message.

With her arms wrapped around herself, Patty lost the fight for composure, shaking uncontrollably with her sobs. She was the caregiver, even though she felt like she was the one in need of care.

“I love you, Daddy…” Patty whispered, doubled over in remorse.

“I love you, Patty.”

Patty’s head jerked up. She frantically wiped tears away, wanting to look into her father’s eyes once more. But he lay still, his face ashen. Gone.

His lips were upturned slightly, as if there was a joke he might like to tell, but it was clear she was looking at a shell of what used to be.

And the last stone dropped, no longer needing to be held or thrown. And instead Patty allowed herself to be submerged beneath the cool tranquility of what was, with all of her emotions, thoughts, and desires. She floated lower into that place of acceptance in which she could just be a little girl who missed her father.


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