When my father's cancer spread from his stomach to his liver, he declined further treatment and decided to die at home. Somehow, my parents had neglected to tell me this. (When I found out, years later, it reminded me of the time I came home from college and discovered the family cat missing. I got out of the car and called to her in the garage, expecting her to come bounding out as usual. After I noticed my parents furtively whispering to each other in the doorway, they confessed that they had simply forgotten to tell me she had been put to sleep several months before.) Flying back to Santa Cruz, I was on a mission to heal my dad. I was prepared to smooth the sheets and stroke his brow and cook the soup and make him well.
The house had been familiar, unchanged, but as I stood in the empty dining room beneath the canted ceiling, the iridescent throat of a hummingbird suspended above the bottlebrush just outside the window suddenly caught my eye, glinting in the silver sunlight, and I remembered that my father was languishing in the back bedroom. For years, my mother had quietly battled the debilitating effects of a benign tumor on her cervical spine, and now the strength and agility of her arms and legs were rapidly deteriorating. She hadn't asked me to abandon my life, to quit my job, to leave my roommates stranded and my lover's bed empty. But it made sense to me that I, the youngest and least encumbered, should be the one to return to our parents' home. I knew she needed me.
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I don't remember who picked my boyfriend up from the airport after my father died. My sisters must have arrived from either end of the state by that point, so the house was already bustling with the kind of inevitable activity that swarms around death. It was right before Easter, conveniently coinciding with the academic spring break, and my boyfriend's trip west had been planned for some time.
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My first glimpse of him was a tonic. Three months in Santa Cruz meant I'd seen more than enough surfers, hippies, and Hare Krishnas. With his black ponytail and Delancey Street motorcycle boots, he was New York incarnate, and planning to go to medical school. After nearly two years together, he felt like home, my home, the home I'd abandoned for this one that had now ceased to resemble anything I ever knew.