ADRIAN LEON LEBLANC (DAD), ADRIAN NICOLE LEBLANC (ADRIAN), EVE/MOM (E)
DAD: Showtime… Showtime.
ADRIAN: I love your voice.
D: Can you understand it?
D: Alright, let me hear it.
A: Say something.
D: How are you this evening?
A: Can you hear yourself?
A: Adrian Leon LeBlanc, my dad and my namesake. His keen joy in observing people and the world is the reason I became a journalist.
D: I’m laying here while the reporter is establishing contact with the patient.
A: My father was born on June 28, 1917. He was a traveler, a knight of the open road as he called it, hopping trains during the Depression, shipping off to Italy during WWII, and, for most of my childhood, canvassing factories as a union organizer. Cancer was a journey that blindsided him.
D: I’m not sure what trip we’re on.
A: So what trip are we on?
D: I dunno. We’re on a trip of exploration into the feelings of a, I don’t know what you’d call me, I’m in my eighties and it’s an exploration of my physical condition, which is very serious about which we have no definitive answer and I think only time will resolve it.
A: My father’s propped up in a hospital bed in the living room of the house he built with his own hands. He’s tucked in beneath a comforter, his body so slight he barely makes a lump under the down.
D: I wonder what the hell I weigh.
A: I’d say you’re pretty skinny.
D: Yeah, I would say. A hundred pounds, maybe.
A: Now, what was your average weight?
D: My average weight was around 160.
A: Yup. You want to close your eyes a little?
D: A little, yeah. But I won’t go anywhere; I’ll stay right—right here, okay?
A: Lemme take your glasses.
A: I love you very much.
D: I love you very much.
A: And just bang the spoon if you need me.
D: I sure will.
D: Hi, sweetie.
A: G’mornin, Mom.
EVE: Morning, Adrian.
D: Morning, Hon.
E: Good Morning.
A: My mom Eve and my dad have been married for 50 years. He made her coffee every morning until he was too weak to stand.
E: I love you.
D: Love you. Have a good sleep, huh?
E: I did.
D: Why don’t you make yourself a coffee or something?
E: I will. Quite a morning.
A: It’s February.
My father’s been bedridden in the living room for a month now. It’s always been his favorite place in the house. Before he got sick, he’d sit here in his armchair everyday. He liked to read the newspaper or stare out the picture window. He’d wave us over to share whatever he was seeing—blue jays, squirrels, the color of the maple leaves.
Now his hospital bed is positioned where his armchair once sat.
A: You looked a little squished up to me.
D: I’ve moved around this morning a little.
A: Do you want to try and get your butt up a little, or are you okay?
D: This is good.
A: My father is the center of our attention.
My mom puts all of her energy into his creature comforts—ironing his sheets and pajamas, finding food that he can eat. In the spaces between, they visit.
E: I was looking at all those pictures last night and I thought our children had a pretty nice childhood.
A: —a lot of happy pictures—
E: A lot of happy times.
D: We did have a lot of happy times.
E: We had busy times too.
A: The house feels a lot like it did in my childhood, though now it’s my father we’re feeding, bathing, tucking in.
But he’s still my dad in every way he can be. He agrees to do leg exercises he knows are useless, because I can’t accept that he’ll never walk again.
A: Then, ready.
A: One, two, good, and let it down.
D: Want to do one more.
D: Okay? One.
A: And bend it up.
A: Great, great.
A: One of my dad’s few remaining pleasures is having his hair washed.
D: Don’t be afraid to use your famous scrub.
A: We rig a makeshift drain and use buckets of water to shampoo it in his bed.
D: Is the water running into the buckets or whatever it is?
A: Yup, it’s running where it’s supposed to.
D: Oh. Okay. What is that noise?
A:—that’s the water draining—
A: —safely away from your bed.
A: Okay. Close your eyes, Daddy, ’cause this one’s going to spill in your eyes a little bit. There.
A: So, what I’m gonna do, Daddy, now, is I just want to put your shirt on so you don’t get a chill.
A: I need to be near my father constantly. There are moments that caring for him feels spiritual. He’s wasting away, but I experience an almost religious reverence at the sight of his flesh. For the first time ever, I want to have a child—a desire that I’m sure comes from wanting, literally, to hold on to the life in him.
D: Here we go again talking — and I’m being recorded, I think, I hope I am, by my daughter.
D: Oh, I’ve got my teeth out and everything. Talk about miscombulated, or whatever the goddamn word…
D: Discombobulated. How’s that?
A: Can you spell it? That’s what you’d make me do as a child.
A: My father delighted in language. His only rule with us as kids was if we didn’t know the meaning of a word, we had to look it up.
D: I wonder what it is that I, I’m so intrigued with words. Oh well.
A: You’ve always loved words.
A: My dad taught me that language was a powerful tool. He wished he’d gone to college because he felt it would have made him a better communicator and able to do more good in the world.
He was a gentle man but he could be fierce whenever he saw anyone mistreated. Certain things always stirred his anger: shopping malls open on Sundays when laborers needed rest; the memory of his mother, who was a tailor, sewing at their kitchen table late into the night.
Workers were his people, and he devoted his life to making their lives better.
A: I hope, I hope when I’m an old woman, if I’m lucky enough to get to be a old woman—
A: I hope I will have brought joy to people’s lives like you did.
D: Oh, you already have.
A: But I mean, like, you also fought for people, Daddy.
D: I was one of many.
A: I know. But you’re the one I love the most.
D: I’m the one that you knew the most, yeah. (Both laugh.)
A: You’re the one I knew the most and you’re the one I love the most.
D: You love the most and knew the most.
A: Yeah. Love the most first.
A: (laughs) You’re so funny.
D: You’re so funny.
A: Sweet dreams. I love you.
D: (Kiss sound) Love you too.
A: Signing off.
A: Any chance I got, I spoke about my father. My pending loss gave rise to new friendships as some of the older ones gave way. Grief scares people and my pain was so raw I think it was difficult for some of my friends to tolerate. I connected best to others who were wounded—many of them strangers.
Serious loss brings you into one of the world’s silent fraternities.
D: How long have I been sleeping?
A: You’ve been sleeping about 8 hours. You woke up a few times.
A: It’s March now. My father’s sleeping more. He needs more morphine. My mother’s attempts to get him to eat subside.
The house feels heavy. We slow down.
D: Is your mother sleeping?
A: She’s dead to the world. She’s very sad today.
A: I think she’s gonna miss you.
A: Must be scary, I would think. All those years you get so used to being with someone.
D: Or calling somebody for something. Or sharing.
A: Cuddling with someone.
A: It’s becoming harder to record, but my father encourages me. Our voices are the ground we’ve lived on, so we keep talking, even about his leaving me.
A: Daddy, is your chest hurting where I’m hugging you?
D: No, no.
A: I feel so sad.
A: I feel like so many changes are happening.
D: Um hum. Yeah.
A: They’re just changing and I can’t change it from changing.
D: Some things you can’t change. Yeah.
A: I’m going to be fine though. You know that.
A: I’m very, very strong.
D: I know you are, honey.
A: I just feel like you’re my um, you’re like my soul mate. You know?
D: Mm-hmm. We just love each other.
A: Some comfort I am. Clinging to a sick man in a hospital bed crying on his skinny chest (laughing).
D: My silly, my silly. And you’re recording it all besides. (laughs)
A: Illness transforms the things you most fear into the things you crave and would hold onto if you could, like my father moving to the living room. No one in my family wanted to replace his armchair with the hospital bed, and now no one wants the hospital bed to go.
A: You can go to sleep, I’ll watch you go to sleep.
D: I’m just going to close my eyes.
A: You do that, go ahead. I’m just going to sit with you quietly.
D: You don’t have to be quiet.
A: A week passes. He only has the strength to speak in whispers. I absorb every word.
D: (whispering) If you can open my leg.
A: You wanna move your legs?
D: Yeah. I’ve been moving my legs.
A: You’ve always been moving your legs, Daddy. You’ve walked a lot of miles.
A: You walked miles—remember, you hopped trains?
A: Oh, from when you were a young man.
A: You wanna see your legs?
A: Okay, they’re very skinny.
A: Look. Can you see them?
D: OK. Where’s my teeth?
A: Your teeth are in the bathroom. Your legs are attached to your hobblety hips. Where are you?
D: (whispered) Front room.
A: Front room. That’s right.
D: You are kind.
A: It’s easy to be kind to you.
D: You are gentle.
D: Gentle looking.
A: You look so beautiful, Daddy.
D: You are gentle.
A: In his last days, I sit for hours on the rug by his bed and listen to him breathe. My mother sits on a chair by his side and we try to do, what, for me, will never be complete. We say goodbye to my dad.
A: Daddy. It’s Adrian Nicole.
E: It’s a pretty name, Adrian Nicole, isn’t it? And I insisted it be spelled the way your name is spelled: A-D-R-I-A-N. Because I loved you.
E: Are you in pain?
A: Daddy it’s getting—the sun is setting and the trees look so beautiful in the back yard. The little red house that you helped build me that I used to play in. Yup.
D: I love you.
A: I love you.
E: I’ll take a kiss. (kiss sound) I’m holding your hand. Okay?
A: You’re such a good man, Daddy, such a good man.
E: You can let go.
A: You did your work. All done.
A: My father, Adrian Leon LeBlanc, died in his living room on March 21, 2003.