The image of learning to ride a two-wheeler presents itself, while I am at my father's side in Intensive Care at the UCLA Medical Center. This is after a nine-hour surgery to repair four abdominal aneurisms. Dad is 74.
I feel wobbly as I stand by his bed. With a cup of ice water in one hand and a small wand with a tiny sponge in the other, I slowly and gently swab his mouth, attempting to douse his thirst. I am unprepared. The training wheels are long gone. The course is uneven. How to steer? I have no idea.
Air rushes over my skin in clear, freeing waves as I attempt to ride my kelly green Schwinn without training wheels. Fully aware of the hard landing that awaits me, I continue rolling over sagging redbrick sidewalks on the two-wheeler that I share with my older brother and sister.
A loud shrill accompanies my momentary loss of balance, which steals my breath, like a tickling garden hose spraying icy bands of water across my back.
Somehow, I stay upright. Each push of the pedal extends the thrill and terror of my first ride without Dad guiding the rear bumper, without him reaching across the handlebars to harness my weaving.
For a few fragile moments, my bicycle and I are in sync. Like a butterfly, seconds beyond chrysalis, I flutter in and out of the sidewalk's perimeter, not knowing how to steer or stop the unwieldy force that carries me.
In these speechless hours with my father, I find myself in a hard place, where suddenly without preparation or permission, I am the "parent," checking Dad's forehead and holding his hand.
Suddenly, without warning or warranty, I watch over him and worry. Suddenly without ability or absolutes, I strain to understand medical jargon and struggle to pray. Suddenly, without training or testing, I ward off gloom and want a miracle.
In this hard place, where my Dad, now 85, is in his last days, each push forward extends the reality of his mortality. I do not know how to steer or stop this unwieldy force that carries me.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright � 2007 Paula Damon