Heart Attacks and Apostates
when my phone ran, it was nearly lunchtime. I was still in my dressing gown and eating cold cereal. I was drinking the cold dregs of my instant coffee and drinking chocolate concoction. When I saw who was calling I hesitated. Oh, Mum. I thought. Can I speak to you right now without collapsing into whiny bitchiness? The phone continued to ring. She was not giving up. I need to go to the toilet. I thought. The famiiar swelling of my bladder was a good indication of this. I could let it ring out and call back in a day. Really psych myself up to be nice. Why am I always so impatient with someone who loves me so unconditionally? I accepted the call. The phone was being charged so i was crouched on the carpet beside the bed. Feet bare. Hair unbrushed.
”Hello, mum.” I say trying not to sound like i have been awake for ages and making the most of this day. But my voice comes out croaky with sleep and it is obviouse these are the first words I have said out loud today. It is a saturday.
”Hello.” She says. My heart quickens already. ”Are you by yourself?”
”Yes.” I say.
”Now, dont get too worried.”
I get worried.
”Your father has had a heart attack. He is ok. He got flown in a helicopter and should be arriving in Melbourne in one hour or so, if you want to visit.”
This was not mum being passive aggressive, she just didn’t want to assume i was not doing anything better. ”I called Jordan first by mistake.”
”You fucking idiot.” I say finally. I am furious and nuance free. How dare she call Jordan first. Just because he is more grown up and has his own full time job and helps people and goes to church. ”He is a J name like you. ” My mum says. ”He is on holiday on Mount Uluru.”
Oh god, i think. He actually climbed Uluru? Gross.
”I was explaining to him what had happened.”
”You know, i asked the doctor about heart attacks.” My mother says. ”I asked. So they just come and then they go away.”
I roll my eyes and bite my lip very hard. It does not work and and an annoyed grown escapes. ”MUM!” I take a deep breath. ”They fucking kill you. Heart attacks kill you. They kill you even if you simply sitting or chatting happily.”
My mother laughs and continues.
”The doctor got very serious and said that heart attacks come and if you are not taken care off, they happen until you die.”
”Yep, thank you doctor. It’s ok, Mum.” I say. ‘Do you know what hospital he will be flown to?”
She tells me how excited he was to be in a helicopter. ”One of his childhood dreams.” My Mum tells me. She does not reprimand me for swearing at her. She does not reprimand me for calling her such a horrible set of words. ”I will call Adam,now.” She tells me. ”You were the first.”
The call ends and I stay crouched on the floor and holding my phone. There is the sound of a child screaming, from across the street. Not a scared scream. A scream to illustrate being alive and under duress of parental consequences. It is a scream that happens at the right moment for me. The child screams and it rings out and floats upwards towards the blue midday sun. It is a warm day. I make a cup of tea and walk around the bedroom. I text my partner and ask if they could be so kind as to drive me to the hospital to see my Dad.
I have a shower and wash my hair.
When I was little. I used to have a recurring dream that haunts me. I was while living at the share farm that was owned by an incredibley over privilidged man who had no idea how to run the farm. My Dad did everything and at the same time worked towards getting his own farm. In this dream, it would be the middle of the night and deathly quiet. There would not even be the sound of cows mooing or wind rustling through trees. In the dream I would wake up and tip toe down the hall way, past the door that led outside to the toilet at the end of a brocken brick path. I would tip toe past my parents bedroom and past the bedroom my baby sisters had. I would slowly slide the sliding door across and enter the living room with the poo brown carpet and wood fire. The glowing embers of a fire and the moon light would be the only things illuminating the small living room. It is not clear in the dream why I am up and walking about. I usually hate being awake when everyone is asleep. It always creeped me out and made me convinced I was the only person on the planet.
Which may have inspired the dream to evolve the way it always did. With me turning on the living room light and see my parents in their usual positions: My Mum on the couch and my Dad in the chair by the fire. The lounge furniture was black faux leather. The patent leather covering the couch and arm chairs had warped in the sudden changes in weather. There were great big long slashes of chipped and broken faux leather. Oh, dream Jess thinks, my parents must have fallen asleep watching telly. The telly is not even on, though. This is all very strange, dream Jess thinks. It is not until I shake my parents and try to revive them, that it all becomes horribly clear: You cannot wake up people who are dead. In the dream, they stay slumped and lifeless and the dread climbs up and freezes all my insides. When I wake I am clammy and my heart is racing.
Having to face the mortality of my parents is not something that is unusual. The Knight family has had a few near misses: my mother’s brain surgery when I was 18. My father’s motorbike accident. The time my father put his head into a metal ceiling fan at the dairy.The time my father got that horrible deathly infection that you get when a cow pisses on you and you have a scratch or an open wound. And then there are all the times they have had to face the possability of outliving thier kids: my brother’s cancer, The time my sisters Romy and Libby or was it Romy and Hannah? They managed to encircle themselves with wild flames that had got out of control.
I could go on.
This particular time, it was different and the thoughts kept on tumbling around.
If Dad had died, who would look after Mum? The thought made me nearly start to cry. I had not cried while on the phone to her and I could not cry now. I simply sat on the queen sized be, with the covers pulled back and an art magazine in front of me. My mug of still too hot to drink tea, sitting on top. It was an important question. The option did not include me and this caused panic and guilt. I was the oldest of five siblings. I lived in a share house and did not have the facilities or the financial security to look after her. Would her sister and sister’s husband let her live in the granny flat in thier yard? She might be happy there. With my cousin’s kids and my sister so close after years of being hours and hours away. But, then, Mum would not be anywhere near her own grandchildren, My sister, Romy lives with her family near the border of NSW. Would Romy have her? Mum and Dad have lived with them before. It did not even cross my mind to consider my two youngest sisters. They lived in South Australia and were in their early 20’s. It was not their responsibility.
It was mine. It was mine and I was in no position to do it. Still I did not start crying. If mum had moved to Melbourne to live with her sister and her sister’s husband, I would be able to take her to art galleries and out to lunch. I imagin the huge job that Romy, Adam and I would have. The job of cleaning out the farm and convincing Mum that she really did not need so much stuff. The giant tubs would have to be cleaned out and gotten rid of. This would all have to be done on the farm. That vast space that my Father manages to always fill with dreams and plans and motives for making it all better than when he first arrived.
This is ridiculous. I think and try to calm and slow the free flow of worst case scenario thinking.. He is not dead. Dad is OK. He will just need some tinkering with his ticker. Oh. What about his absent kidney? The one he gave up? To give to me. It has been almost exactly a year since he did that. What if he really needed that to cushion the after affects of his heart attack?
Leong walks into the bedroom as I am still sipping tea from my little miss sunshine mug. He throws a fresh ans shiny copy of National Geographic on the bed. On the cover the question ARE WE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE? is posed. He walks over and kisses my head. He asks if im ok and i nod and smile. Picking up the magazine, I ask, ”Did you get this for my Dad?’
‘Yes. There was one with a different cover. but. I thought he would like this one better.”
‘You would be right.’ I say. ‘Thank you.’ I hope he is not too sick to enjoy it, i think. I am still concerned as to how i will find him. The hospital is not Epworth. He gets moved there the next day. The hospital takes a while to find. I look out the window and watch the day turn t night. The sun sinks behind houses on quiet streets and when we do finally find the hospital, it takes us another 10 minutes to find the way in.
I leave Leong in a seat at the entrance of the short stay ward. Dad is lying on a bed, under a pink hospital blanket. His hospital gown is sitting a bit low so his little heart monitor stickers and tubes can stay connected. My brother is standing on the left side of the bed. My Dad is laughing at something my brother said and I approach with such relief in my hear that i start to cry as i rub his arm and stroke his crew cut head and for head. He smells terrible, like sweat and medicine and the effects of having a heart attack halfway through a hard days work in the heat of northern Victoria.
‘I was fine until i saw your stupid face.” I say and he laughs.
I hand him the Magazine. He is thrilled. ”Oh, this is wonderful.” He exclaims, ”Thanks Leong. Where is he?”
‘Outside in the waiting room.’
My Dad is explaining his adventure with much enthusiasm and excitement. ”Its a rough ride. I can tell you.” He says referring to the helicopter ride.
”I was feeling a bit funny, my whole body ached and my jaw locked and i felt all dizzy. So I called Russel and he came and picked me up in his truck. ”
”What would have happenned if you had had the heart attack and bingled one of Rusel’s trucks?” My brother asks with a laugh.
”Oh i told him his first call would have been to have the truck sorted out.”
A nurse enters and starts fiddling with the machine connected to Dad. She speaks in a french accent and Dad’s face lights up when he talks to her. Not sleazy just openly and sincerely in awe of her accent. ”We will be moving you to the cariav ward soon.” She tells him. You will have your own room and be able to have a better rest than here.”Another nurse arrives and they go about packing up the machines and heart monitors that are still connected to Dad. They wrap them up and place them on the bed so they can move everything when the time comes.
”Thank you for looking after my Dad.” I say as the nurses eave. The one with the french accent nods and says. ‘No need for thanks.”
My dad is explaining what the next few steps in taking care of his heart buisness maybe. They think it may be a clogged artery so a stent may need to be put in to help blood flow properly. ”Just don’t die.” My brother says half joking. ”I had enough problems at work when Jess was dying.”
”Sorry about that.” I say with a smile. My brother’s phone rings. ”Its Ness.” He says and leaves me with our Dad, to take the call in a waiting area. My Dad and I are alone and quiet for a moment. Then my dad speaks, in that voice of his that makes me want to cry. The voice that is not angry or loud. The voice of a very patient and loving Dad, who is simply trying to make things between people he loves heaps, be better.
”You really upset your Mum, the other day.” He says quietly and my insides cringe in shame. I know exactly what he is talking about without him needing to explain the context.
A week before i had spent the weekend with them on the farm. There was more than one tense moment as my aunt and uncle were on the farm as well as my brother and his amazing girlfriend. They had all come up to help Dad fix up the kitchen. The hole that had once been a wall and chimmney, had been open since christmas. Mum was driving me to Barham, to stay with my sister and her family for one night before getting a train back to Melbourne. I wanted to witness one of my three year old niece’s ballet classes.
It is about 3 in the afternoon and the sun is hot. The interior of my mother’s small car is dusty and bits of screwed up paper and various bits of rubbish: soft drink cans and plastic bags. The air conditioning is on and doing a splendid job of cooling my feet and legs. The landscape we drive past is dry and brown and practically endless. Blue with no clouds and paddocks that need water so bad my throat aches in sympathy. The radio is on and it is NPR. There is a panel of women speaking in turn about the great need for more women to be given the much needed encouragement and funding when it comes to thier participation in the sciences. I am transfixed and enthralled by these articulat and educated women. They speak with passion and quiet confidence. Each one different in thier experiences and struggles. I wonder if my mother is listening and if so why cant she see the need and importance of feminism? Does she listen to these things and then just disregard them? I am confused.
I turn the radio down after the program ends. My mother is deaf in one ear and you cannot expect her to hear you over the radio. ”Mum, how can you listen to these amazing women speak so brilliantly about the struggles for wor women in science and not be a feminist? I mean my surgeons were wmen. Do you know how much that meant to me?”
My mother is quiet for a bit and says. ”You know what I loved? That surgeon, Amanda. She had a husband and children.”
I sigh in dissapointed rage, that she has once again completely missunderstood my point.
‘You are missing the point.” I say. ”Would you have been as impressed had she not had a husband and kids? Why does her private life have any bearing on how you see her as a medical professional? You never say that stuff about my male surgeons.”
‘It bothers me that you care so much about marriege and babies.” I say trying to hold back but failing. ”You have a daughter who cannot have kids. Remember? Me. And when we found out i was only 17 and nobody told me it was not a big deal. You did not assure me that my life would be ok without kids.”
It is too late to take it back now. I have gone to far.
My mother is quiet and then after what seems like hours she speaks.
”It just made me sad.”
”Well, it did not have to be sad.” I say almost crying. ”It did not need to be framed as a tragedy.”
We drive the rest of the way in silence. I cannot believe I was so harsh. It is not mums fault that she has been raised in such a way as to value the thigns she does. I dont hate her. I hate patriachy. I resent that my mother cannot see how great she is and that it is the fact that she is not perfect that has had the biggest and best influence on me and shaped me as the very happy feminist i am today. That she was the one who taught me the importance of books. A woman who reads is truly a dangerous thing. My mother planted the inchoate seed whether she meant to or not. We arrive in the tiny town of Kerang and meet my sister and her kids at the country Target store. Mum mentions wanting to get curly fries from the cafe and then changes her mind. She kisses her grandkids and i hug her goodbye. I want to say sorry. I really do. I wish i could still see my parents the way I did when i was five. That was good times.
Standing by my Dad’s bedside, I feel the shame full force. He says softly. ”She was upset for quite a few days afterwards. You know we did the best we could.” He explains. ”Its just that… we got pregnant so easily. All we had to do was sneeze.”
”Ew, Dad.” I smile.
When I return to the waiting room i find my aunt Becca and uncle Wes, my brother and his girlfriend Ness and my uncle Phil and his son Sam. My uncle phil and cousin Sam look more like brothers than father and son. I figure it must be a lifetime of going to church and living the ‘Word Of Wisdom’ without any lapses in judgement. The word of wisdom is a mormon thing where you are taught that your body is a temple and should be kept clean of any substances such as alcohol, smoking, drugs, tea, coffee and cola. I have been pretty pised at my uncle Phil ever since my sister told me that he refused to speak to her when she got pregnant with Caleb. It was because my sister got herself pregnant before getting married. My sister was thrilled to be having a baby and her and Steve were in a stable and loving adult relationship. This kind of religion based judgemental behaviour infuraites me and i have hated him quite happily in honour of my sister, ever since. Oh and if your wondering if my Uncle ever did start talking to my ‘fallen woman’ sister again, he did. It was after her baby was born and it looked like he was going to die. The first few weeks of baby Caleb’s life were very intense.
My cousin Sam comes up to me and hugs me uninvited. I have not seen him since he was a kid. He is big now and his hug sort of crushes me and makes me uncomfortable. Im in no mood to be hugged by a virtual stranger. In fact it annoys me that he feels he can just come up and crush me with his man strength. God, what entitlement, I think . ”Jess, what have you been up too?” He asks.
”Being awesome and not dying.” I reply. I remember Leong and figure i should introduce them out of politeness not because i think Leong needs to know him. ”This is Leong.” I say and they shake hands. ”Leong this is one of my many cousins: Sam.”
”How did you guys meet?” Sam asks. Sam is… i think 19? 20?
”At a friend’s birthday party/ jam party. Quite drunk.” I reply. It may sound horrible but I get a real thrill from saying the words ”quite drunk.” to somebody who was raised like me, to believe that your soul will melt to snot and slime and hell bound if you drink alcohol EVER. ”But he first saw me at a mutual friend’s gig and did not talk to me.”
”He ignored you.” Sam says.
”No. He was too shy to talk to me. I was not even aware he was there that night.” I explain. Ignore me? I think. As if. Nobody can really ignore me.
I wonder why he even came to the hospital. He is not all that close with my Dad. But, my dad is pretty awesome and no doubt a favourite uncle to some of my cousins at least. As my Dad is moved to his new hospital room, we wait in the waiting room and chat. I talk to Ness about how she coped with the news. We both decided that tea had helped greatly. ”I was already drinking one at home when Adam called me.” Ness says. ” I practically gulped the rest after we hung up.” My aunt Becca tells me. ”I got a bit upset when Wes told me.” She says. ”I simply cried a sad when will it stop?” I hugged her.
Once Dad is settled into his new room we all come in and stand around admiring the privacy. He will be moved to a much nicer private hospital the next day. This is when I understand why my cousin is here. It is because he holds the priesthood and when giving a blessing to someone unwell, you need three men who hold the mormon priesthood. Not women. Women dont get to hold something as ‘cool’ as the healing powers of the priesthood. We get to go to relief sociey and learn about being a good mother and nurturing a household. We learn that what we do in the shadow of all the big important man work that the mormon men do, is important and valued.
My brother is a man but he does not hold the priesthood. He did maybe back before he was 15 or 16. I forget what age young men are when they are given all that responsability.
You are 12. I looked it up and here is a little explanation of the ironic priesthood? No, thats not right. Is it the Archaic priesthood? *googles it. Oh! Its the Aaronic Priesthood! Hre is a little excerpt from Handbook 2 Administering The Church.
The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It is conferred upon worthy male members of the Church. Those who hold priesthood keys direct the administration of the ordinances of the gospel, the preaching of the gospel, and the government of the kingdom of God on the earth.
My brother and I are what can be referred to as ‘Apostates’ people who are raised mormon and then defect or ow out of the running for eternal glory. My brother does not hold any resentment towards the church and I envy that. I wish i was the same. It is just that being a girl growing up in the church, is not the same. It is restrictive and heavy with gendered complexities in different ways to being raised a man in the church. I think it is harder to be a female Apostate than a male one.
While all this is happenning my mother is on a train bound for southern cross station. I imagin her alone and worried about my Dad, while on a loud and crowded train that began in Swan Hill. My Uncle Wes and Aunt Becca assure me they will be picking her up from the station, even waiting for her on the platform. ”we told her to stay on the platform if we are not there when she arrives and to not move.” My aunt tells me. ”What did she say?” I say.
”She said she is not 17 anymore.”
My father is asking Sam about what he is up too these days. ”Any girls?” My father asks.
”No.” Sam says. He is a soft looking boy. The way mormon men can seem when young and not doing what other guys that age are doing: getting blind drunk and trying to get a girl to have unsatisfying sex with them.
Ness is sitting i the one chair in the room, she asks if my aunt wants it and my aunt declines. Ness is one of those women who always stuns me with how great her skin is, it practically glows. I am in faded black jegging and purple haviannas, my fav red coat worn over a t shirt. ‘What are you guys doing tommorrow.” Ness asks me.
I roll my eyes and say. ”Going to my first wedding with Leong. One of his cousins. There will be free wine.”
”What are you going to wear? Your Gorman dress? I love that.”
I smile with pleasure at the compliment. ”No, thats more of a casual afternoon thing, dress. This is a proper fancy shin dig that requires heels and fishnets.”
There is the hushing sound of my uncles and cousin gathering aound my father and placing thier habds on his head. My aunt asks me softly. ”Are you alright?”
I shrug. ”He could use all the help he can get.”
Thats why sam and my uncle Phil were called. My uncle phil can judge a young woman for making her own choices and he can also be given heavenly powers that heal the sick. I am not ok about this. I am not ok about this at all. It is my brother who has helped my father in the most useful and prevalent ways. the ways that make life on this earth and in this reality go better. My brother who works alongside my dad and helps with farm stuff and renovation stuff. Do you want to know what is said during a laying on of hands blessing? I should be able to tell you. I have heard them enough times whilst growing up. I was given them enough times as a sick child. They never really made me feel better. What made me feel better was knowing the blessings made my parents feel better. Quelled a small part of the anxiety that comes from having a kid who keeps defying medical understanding.
I was not paying attention to what was being said by my uncle as I was concentrating very hard on not groaning out loud in angry exasperation. Men men men men. Big white men get all the power and and… I even got given a fucking Patriarchal blessing at 17 years old. I mean, it actually had the word that i know the true meaning of now.. I don’t care how fatherly the mormon church dresses it up. In the mormon church Patriarchy is king.
Once the blessing is over the men shake hands and it is another job well done for the great man upstairs. As much as i want to stay to be with me dad I have had my fill of mormon based patriarchy for a great span of time. My Dad does not need me at this point he has lots of people here. I will come back, i think, on Monday when less chuckle heads are around.
I take note of what my heart and stomach are doing. My heart is pounding as if im in great danger at the mercy of a large and powerful animal. I feel caught in a trap when im around this stuff for too long.
I kiss my dad’s sweaty for head. ”See you on Monday.” I say. I do not say goodbye to my Uncle phil. I don’t go to church anymore. I don’t have to pretend to be nice if i don’t feel like it. I hug Ness and my brother and my aunt, before walking out the hospital room with Leong following behind after saying his goodbyes.
We go to his sisters apartment to eat left oers and I drink a couple of much needed glasses of red wine. As I sit and sip the wine a thought occurs to me. ”Oh my god.” I say. ”I am totally frazzled just by this. How did you cope with me doing the in and out of ICU dance for so long?”
He smiles. ”I drank a lot.”