I’ve never consciously ran away from anything in life, but I’ve found myself faraway from the things that could break me. I had been gone before I held my Pop’s hand when he passed. There’s little space between influence and choice even though I made the decision. But there was no choice that could carry me faraway when my daughter was diagnosed. I sat so still for that verdict my fingertips buzzed as they lay flat on my knees. I did not flinch, or twitch, or grip my jeans because I had that if-or-when grip on the situation. My wife said that night as we pulled up to our house, our baby daughter asleep in the backseat, these things break families. Come what may, I’ll never run from this, we will pursue our daughter’s health together. Because I know what it feels like to be ran from. And I know what it felt like to not rise for my brother once and then to run off to the city when my Pop was ill. In that moment, when the diagnosis was handed down, hearing the neurologist, and exploring, the 3-D rendition of our daughter’s brain, my wife intently focused on the neurologist’s words seeing those facts, what I knew that I wasn’t telling my wife, or anyone, was that I had these lumps: one in my arm and one in my back. And when we got a grip on our new-born daughter’s health, I knew I had to go to the hospital. I dreaded that because it was the hospital Pop had all his treatments at (the same hospital where I was born). I’d waited all year for the healthcare marketplace window to open, rather than be bankrupt, and got a PCP and so much blood drawn, then ultrasounds, such a familiar job to me, but I had never felt the warm gel or the remote slipping all over me and following my veins to see metastasizing. Headaches, black-spotted vision, just punch my ticket already. I’ve had life insurance all year—that’s what Daddy can do. Results: my PCP scheduled me an office visit to explain and my mantra through everything: if my daughter can be so strong, I can too. My wife knew as I walked out that the doctor told me all the things. My symptoms were not Cancer but growths, anxiety about those growths, and thalassemia. All that time playing roulette with my life because I could not go back to the place where I lost my Pop. My two month-old daughter smiling at all the physicians, because it’s new for her having to give so much blood, having every bit of her examined, intubating and MRI—she showed me how to endure. I was lost on my way to have that ultrasound and happened upon where my brother, my Gram, and I had stood next to Pop—and we all had a quiet moment noticing a playground carved out a square in the city—I looked at the playground and the city and bounced between thoughts that I’d be OK, or, that this is where I began searching for holes in chain links. I bet myself that I stood here as a child and wished my mom would come get my brother and I and take us to that park. I believe this spot is where I began plotting my get away, and while there’s no proof (because talent absolves) I was searching for an opening from my Pop. One wife, eleven years, two babies: I’ve found myself faraway from the things that could break me, like a little chunk of time when I was 12 years old, but here I am now, like I was then, (only I’m running from myself) learning how to make it right. I have to stand and deliver like a young bride’s optimism in her first born—like the love of a “first time father who knows the hurt of never knowing their own father”. There’s no coward here. There’s only stillness and heart. Stillness until the fingers buzz and tell me it’s getting time to share the weight of a story with my family.
Michael Hammerle teaches college creative writing and composition. He is the founder of Middle House Review. His work has been published in The Best Small Fictions, Split Lip Magazine, Tendon at Johns Hopkins, Michigan State University Short Edition, Foothill Poetry Journal, New World Writing, Louisiana Literature, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in Gainesville, Florida. www.middlehousereviews.com/michael-hammerle