I went back to work today, once again mingling among the tall filing cabinets and wide windows and people who were wonderfully normal and oddly foreign to me.
I answered the first call and excused myself for a moment to close my door and turn my chair away from the transparent walls before dabbing at tears and listening to gentle recommendations.
"My dad was sick when I was beginning my career," she said. "And I'd go home for weekends and work all week - calling every day to hear my parents say they were fine. And I wish I'd spent more time there - knowing I was putting them first, that I helped and loved and supported them."
"But I was going to work this week," I protested weakly.
"Go back home," she advised and I blinked back more tears. I'm so lost and confused and afraid. And while faith strengthens me - and it truly does - I sometimes tremble under the weight of the difficulty.
My dad - he who fixes and advises and points out every single flaw - is dying. And I want to delete that line - erase its existence - and make him all better.
"We'll only call if we need you," Mom said. "So make sure you answer, OK?"
"I promise," I replied. I kept it - shooing people from my desk and muting my desk phone for the cell summons.
"My surgery consult got moved up," Mom told me. "It may conflict with your dad's chemotherapy - they said it'd take a few hours on Thursday - so I just wanted to let you know."
"I'll be back," I immediately replied and she said it wasn't necessary. They were fine. It wasn't my job to take care of them - it was my job to be at the office and answer emails and do presentations. "Let's see how it plays out," I concluded - what I had, what times appointments were confirmed.
And then I got bad professional news. A very unpleasant review that - though it should not have been - shocked and appalled me.
I moved back to my office from that meeting, fighting tears of ridiculous self-pity and indignation, and someone asked about my parents.
And I shook my head, moving more quickly past and away from her well-meaning inquiry. Collapsing into my chair, I stared at the screen before me and out the windows behind me and breathed through the urge to flee.
While I do have to travel tomorrow, there really isn't anywhere to run. So I'll do my (professional) job and give presentations and fly on planes and dress up. Then I'll drag my long-suffering canine back in the car and drive south to join my parents for their Thursday appointments.
Much as I worry that I haven't the resources or fortitude or faith to battle this, fight I will.
God help me.