For my birthday, my Dad gave me a hug

On my 25th birthday, as I was getting ready to head out for the day, my Dad knocked on my door.

When I gave him permission to enter, he slowly opened the door with a cheeky grin and said, “Happy Birthday!”

He wrapped both of his arms around me and gave me a hug. I hugged him back and closed my eyes and held onto the moment.

For my 25th birthday, my Dad gave me a hug and it was the best present ever.

Because a little over three years ago, my Dad had a stroke.

It happened during the Winter of my Senior year of college. Kate and I were studying for finals and went to get food. I didn’t hear my phone ring and my Mom left a message saying that my Dad was in the hospital and to call her back.

I remember calling and getting her voice-mail (later I found out that was because she was calling my grandparents to tell them what had happened).

She called me back almost immediately and told me what had happened.

It was like a movie.

Or something else entirely.

I remember everything slowing down. The sound around me faded away and I could only hear her voice. And my heartbeat. My heartbeat was so loud and fast. My stomach was twisting and I felt so sick.

I remember making eye contact with Kate across the room. I had my food already and she was waiting for hers; we were going to take it back to our rooms and watch an episode of Supernatural for a study break. Something must have shown on my face or maybe it’s because we knew each other so well but she rushed over.

I remember bringing my hand up to my mouth to stifle a sob and I vaguely felt my legs semi-buckle. And Kate was there. She was there with her arms around my shoulders, grabbing my food and ushering me out and away back towards our rooms, because I couldn’t think about anything except what my Mom was telling me.

It was Winter in Massachusetts and I remember my tears freezing on my face. My Mom wanted me to catch the soonest flight I could (“It doesn’t matter how much it costs. You just need to get here.”) and I choked out a response about my finals, I have my finals what do I do.

She was so calm. “They’ll understand,” she said. “You just need to get here.”

And then Kate was driving me to the airport and back to campus because the next flight out was in the morning at 7 am. I couldn’t be in my room so Kate and I met up with our friends for our evening Milk and Cookies that my college provided. I couldn’t focus until I had heard from my mother again.

She called me again when the doctors were taking my Dad into surgery. She explained what they were going to do, how they were going to stop the bleeding in his brain and how they were going to take a piece of his skull out to allow the brain to swell and place the flap into the fold of skin in the stomach area to keep it alive.

“Like they did on Grey’s Anatomy,” I told her, remember an episode where they had done that same procedure. For some reason, remembering that calmed me down.

She called me again when the surgery was over. She told me to get some rest.

I remember not being able to sleep very well, flying back to California and my friend Shelby picking up from LAX and taking me straight to the hospital.

I remember a ton of people still in the waiting room. I remember my Mom pulling me aside and telling me what to expect when I saw my Dad in the ICU.

I remember sitting by his bed, by myself. I watched the monitors, followed the tubes that were helping him breathe, listened to the endless beep-beep-beep. His eyes opened briefly to look at me and then they closed again.

That Christmas was the worst one of my life. My Dad has begun his journey to recovery and honestly, these last few years have gone by quickly like the most screwed-up roller-coaster that I want to get off of but can’t.

My Dad has gone from his hospital bed to a wheelchair to being able to walk again, slowly but surely. He is starting to gain more movement in his right arm and hand and is more willing to do things around the house. He has aphasia, which is a speech disorder where your brain knows what you want to say but it’s hard to get the right words out; it’s like playing 20 Questions a lot of the time.

So whenever my Dad hugs me (which has been a very very very very recent development), I take it and I hold him close.

I’m sure he didn’t intend for that hug on my birthday to be a gift to me but I take everything that he gives me as something new to appreciate and I look forward to seeing him make a full recovery.

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