Step 1, I decided, was to pack and clean. And so I carefully selected wrinkle-proof dresses and miscellaneous underthings, rolling them into the Vera Bradley overnight bag I received for Christmas. I brought the same one on my last European trip - that happy time in February where I flitted across France and Italy and the UK. My plans this time are less grand. Meetings at the local office in France. A quick stop in Amsterdam before heading home.
My life, this time, is much worse. Step 2, you see, was going home. Carting unhappy canine and feline and forgotten items from my family's last trip to see me, I arrived on Wednesday, taking advantage of the holiday weekend to steal a bit more time with my family.
Step 3 was getting here - to this hotel in this suburb of Paris - and each time I wanted to wince at my plane-related discomfort or swear viciously at people who were thwarting my attempts to move through various lines, I would think, 'Is this worse than watching Dad die?' So I would shake my head and pray with all my spiritual might, meager as that may be.
He was grotesquely swollen when I arrived - pitting edema, Friend says - and his legs would barely bend. I had to place my hand beneath his flip flop and lift as he struggled into the car on the way to the oncologist on Thursday. The next morning found us at the hospital to have some of the fluid drained. They took 12.3 Liters before returning him to us.
Can you picture 12.3+ liters of orange fluid on your belly? Trapping you in chairs because you're too heavy to rise? Unable to lie down because of the pressure and pain? And so I sat, staring at him, as he slumped in his recliner or on the nest of cushions Mom made on the couch. His head bowed, dozing at times, skin hanging from his face because he's lost so much weight but belly and legs distended from all the fluid. Though I remained quiet, my brain was screaming - calling out in pain and fear.
As I flew over the Atlantic, moving back to step 3, I wished - just for a second or two - that I would tumble into the ocean. Disintegrate on impact so that this body - this place - can't deteriorate or attack itself or be abandoned by those I love. But while I am profoundly sad, I am not suicidal. I did not attack anyone in the sweaty passport-control line in the bowels of CDG. I climbed on the train and not in front of it for my trip to the suburbs. I continued to walk even when laden with luggage and miserably lost from 60 minutes of searching.
The man at reception found a room for me when I arrived, shaken and damp with sweat from the sunny morning. He brought me a bottle of water before sending me up the stairs to get a cool shower and nice nap - I nearly kissed him. I showered, rinsing the travel and misery from my skin, and climbed into bed to let my mind and body relax into sleep.
When I awakened, I sent email to let my parents and brother know I'd arrived, pulled on now-dry clothing (I packed light - there's no help for it) and went for a walk, map in hand this time. I tried to enjoy the pleasant afternoon - the shafts of sunlight amidst shimmers of sprinkling rain, all against the backdrop of French architecture, of whim I'm inordinately fond. And I did coo at the flowers and pause to take photos, stopping to say prayers at the churches, begging help for my family as fervently as I did yesterday while holding my parents' hands.
"I ate a banana!" I scolded my calf when it cramped yet again after I rested on the bed I'm renting for two nights. "Stop. Relax. I'm doing all I can."
And after I walked away the pain of spasming muscles, I decided to take my own advice. Stop. Relax. Do what I can. So I ate pizza (I know, but there were calf brains and snails on the menu of the French place!) and wandered back and think I'm sleep some more before going to the office tomorrow.
We'll call that Step 4.