My spunky friend Julia and her sweet fella Lucas cajoled us into joining them that night for a drink (well, for me, a “drink”) at The Tap in Rogers Park. The lived down the street from it and we liked it better than any of the frat-heavy hangouts in our neighborhood.
It was a small, busy north side Chicago bar, with requisite “W” flags, a juke box that no one ever used, and a beloved replica of the leg lamp from “A Christmas Story” behind the dusty bar.
It could not be more perfect.
We sat at a high top near a sweetly cool open window, nursing our drinks. Rafael was telling the bee-hive-in-the-ceiling story.
Really, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
“I do not lie!” Rafa said solemnly.
“No way!” Julia laughed loudly, wide-eyed. She was tiny, but with a big personality.
“The beekeeper bats on the ceiling,” Rafael mimicking the action, “and it breaks and WHOOSH! A million bees fly out along with a waterfall of honey.”
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Lucas.
“Seriously,” I chimed in. “His uncle was like, ‘If only I could bottle this honey, I’d be rich!”
We chuckled and sipped as Rafael continued.
“And then the bees, again WHOOSH! They fly out the door and down the street in a…what is the English word for a group of bees? A…” He paused to grasp the word. “SWARM! In a swarm!”
“That’s some Biblical shit, man,” Lucas laughed.
“Good Lord,” Julia began. “Can you imagine just chilling on your front step and you randomly see a swarm of bees fly down the street?”
“Only in Brazil, my friend,” chuckled Rafael as Lucas got up from the table for another round. Julia tapped her glass and gave him a nod as her way of asking for another.
It was right then that my cell phone buzzed. I looked at the name and couldn’t imagine why Georgia would be texting me on a Friday night. When was the last time I’d spoken to her?
And all it said was, “Call me asap.”
Something grumbled in my stomach and it had nothing to do with the baby. I waved a cursory “no thanks” to Lucas as I got up to move to the dark hallway by the bathrooms to hear better.
I could hear Lucas ask, “Rafa, another beer?” He gave Lucas a distracted nod but he knew something was up. I held up a finger to him and continued toward the hallway and dialed Georgia’s number.
“Hey there,” I said when she picked up. “It’s Nora. What…”
I stopped to listen but this dumb college girl stumbled past me and was all, “OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY.” I swatted at her like the fly she was and plugged my free ear.
Georgia was saying something about my dad. Something about the hospital.
“What? I can’t hear…is he ok? Is he…”
Georgia unfurled things I could hardly remember.
Heart attack. Serious. Observation. He’s awake.
“You need to come soon, Nore.”
“Ok, yeah. Ok,” I mumbled. I hung up the phone, numb. I looked up to see Rafa standing in front of me, looking worried.
“My dad. He had a heart attack. He’s ok, but…he’s not. He…”
I couldn’t remember everything she’d told me. Why couldn’t I remember? I needed to. I needed to remember everything she’d told me because then I could wrap my brain around it and untangle it.
Rafael wrapped his arms around me, holding me gently. He kissed the top of my head.
“Everything will be fine, amor.”
He kept consoling me, but I didn’t hear.
I needed my dad to be ok.
I hadn’t had a mother since my mom died when I was 16, from cancer. I had no siblings. No cousins. One set of grandparents had passed and the other set was in an East Coast nursing home. My father – my only family – had been so steadfast, so secure in my half-life since then, I thought him immutable.
Or the Grand Canyon.
He couldn’t possibly be going anywhere.
Of course, on a cognitive level, I knew there would come a time when he wouldn’t be on the earth any longer.
But I didn’t think that would be a reality for decades more. He was only 58. He was a doctor – an obstetrician. He exercised, didn’t smoke, loved vegetables and low-fat chicken breasts. He went to church, did yoga, meditated.
Surely, things weren’t that bad.
I would go home to dad – to Emerald, just across the Mississippi in Iowa – alone, and make sure he was ok. If he wasn’t, I’d get him transferred to Northwestern. I was sure it wouldn’t take longer than a couple of days – I wouldn’t even have to take off work.
But nothing I’d anticipated about that trip home was correct.