There were pieces missing in what I was watching in Florida—mysteries from an earlier time. The only observable friction I witnessed played out over an air conditioner. When Chum had built the place, he designed it so that the house angled to the southeast in order to catch the cross breezes blowing in from the Atlantic through jalousie windows. In other words, there was no central air-conditioning, just the little window swamp coolers in three rooms: the living room, Chad’s bedroom and Helen’s old room. The old man didn’t like to run these air conditioners because it cost money to pay the higher Florida Power and Light bills. The insufferable heat and humidity didn’t seem to have an effect on him at all. Every morning he donned his long green “old man” pants and a long-sleeved khaki shirt, sweating like mad, yet appeared quite comfortable. What Chum considered frugal was, in Chad’s dictionary, “cheap.”
After our marriage, my husband wanted to remain with me in Idaho. I think it was mostly because he loved me and the West, but part of me believed it probably had something to do with his mixed feelings for his father. I had a good teaching job, and my kids were established in school. Plus, I owned the house we lived in. Back in Florida, Chad had earlier lost his apartment on the 79th Street Causeway to Hurricane Andrew, and then moved home to nurse his mother through her final struggle with emphysema. Chum was there too, with his room in the basement. The two men—Chad and his father—had cared for Helen together, jockeying around her oxygen tanks and tubes, keeping her fed and clean.
My husband had wanted out of Florida for a long time, only waiting for his mother to get better, and his son to graduate from high school. It had long been his dream to live in the mountains and to visit old University of Florida friends now residing in Boise. Eventually his frail mother died, one thing led to another, and we ended up, as I already explained, meeting, and soon married.
Fifteen years later, unconscious, Chad’s life hung in the balance. His back looked arched, his swollen chest protruded upward on a raised, levered hospital bed. Monitoring over his still body, I recognized this was the spot where he would either live or die. I heard no platitudes, no assurances, saw no smiles, or affirming nods from any of the medical staff. There simply was nothing to say.
His father had all ready been gone for a few years, dying on the same kind of medical bed, but in an assisted living facility. Hospice had then kindly ministered to Chum through his last illness, and assured passing. Looking down on my husband’s ravaged body, that first trip to Miami strangely returned to my thoughts, evoking the complex bond between this father and son, who now shared a haunting resemblance.
What had drawn us to that little room with the beeps and lights was the culmination of one distressing appointment after another to a cancer treatment center in Boise. These visits invariably involved copious amounts of prescribed toxic chemicals pumped into his body on a daily basis, and razor-sharp radiation that scorched his throat. Health providers were literally killing Chad to cure him. At least that’s the way it felt.