by Anita Brienza
As the sole single sister in a family of four daughters, without a live-in partner or children and with a flexible consulting practice, I became the caretaker kid for both parents at different times. My mother passed first, after which my father, a cancer survivor, needed dialysis when his kidney failed. I’d drive him to dialysis a few times a week, go back home to work, pick him up, have lunch with him, work a few more hours at his house, make dinner, go back to my house. As he grew weaker, I spent even more time caretaking. The stress and resentment with my diminishing world and happiness rose with each fragment of the life I gave up.
I joined a writing group to explore what was happening to both of us: how I felt, what my father said and did, and how this arrangement benefited or frustrated each of us. Though there’s a school of thought that believes writing isn’t therapy, I disagree. It was healing and instructional.
I didn’t know my father well when I was younger, but during those rides to dialysis, the visits to McDonald’s where he stocked up on “free” napkins and straws when I wasn’t looking, the nights watching Family Feud and Seinfeld reruns, I was running on two tracks – one as a daughter and one as a writer. I kept meticulous notes to capture a moment, like when he held my hands one night before I left and said, “Be careful. You’re my link to the outside world, you know.” I asked question after question and was rewarded with his remarkable childhood memories. I took videos for posterity, so the daughter could remember her father and the writer could remember the details that would make it into a story. My heart filled and broke and filled again.
For years, I’ve been keeping notes, quotations, emails, photos, videos, etc. on anything I might want to write about in a digital folder I named “Book Vignettes.” (Don’t judge – I am a self-professed nincompoop with titles.) When I want inspiration, I scroll through this eclectic collection, and invariably something sparks an idea, a memory, a feeling.
But back to this featured piece that has been so graciously included in One Wild Ride…
I frequently saw how heroic, how practical and planful my father was amid loss and loneliness and illness. In “Nearly New Rockports,” I wanted to capture these qualities and try my hand at a researched essay. It gave me a chance to write about my father alongside some poignant historical events; to show how he moved in the world as a careful, generous individual. (One of my best lessons: experiment with as many forms of writing as possible.)
A friend suggested sending this piece to The Deadlands, a litmag with a focus on death as a journey, which was then just accepting their very first submissions. It was a perfect marriage of material and magazine, and I’m so grateful to them for giving this tribute to my dad a wonderful home.
Anita Brienza is a Maryland-based communications consultant/coach and business writer. Her creative work has appeared in such publications as the Leschenault Press anthology Forgiveness is the Hardest Thing, Tiny House magazine, Washington Family Magazine, The Deadlands, and Red Fez, where she was nominated for a Pushcart for fiction.