Maybe I'm A Bad Father For Feeding Her Junk Food, But The Doctor Told Me To Do It
It's 3 AM, and I slide the cake across the table to Erica. Tiramisu, her favorite from better days. Though the espresso-soaked lady fingers won't do her sleep any favors.
Last week, Dr. Myers had pointed to the plummeting curves on her growth chart. Warned of muscle wasting, and a drop in cardiac volume. My teenage daughter's heart, shrinking.
She gets a free pass on creamy, sugary goods. Hence the trips to Sheng Kee Bakery, and the late night cake vigils.
She takes a forkful of the cake, her gaunt cheeks stretching as she chews, beneath long strands of wispy black hair. The side of the cake where she swiped at looks like a mudslide on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway. She stares past my shoulder at the darkness outside.
I'll stay up as long as it takes. I point to the cake, then raise an imaginary fork to my open mouth.
"There's no room," she says.
She pushes the fully loaded plate back to me. A single bite of cake, maybe 20 calories, will have to sustain all of her metabolic functions for the night.
While typing her psychiatry referral into the computer, Dr. Myers had warned that Erica could be hospitalized for "failure to thrive." I didn't want to ask what they'd do to her in the hospital. Put a tube in her stomach to feed her? Zap her adolescent brain with electricity?
"When did you last shower?" I ask.
"Three days ago."
I sigh. If she takes a shower right now, she won't eat. If she stays up to finish the cake, she won't sleep.
Who am I kidding? She's not going to eat anymore.
"Go shower," I say.
I remember holding onto toddler Erica's tiny waist as we climbed up the vertical moon bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden. She was so brave, in her floral puff sleeve dress that I spent a day's salary on. She was already outgrowing it. She said she could climb the moon bridge by herself, so I let go and watched her pull herself to the top. And when she scampered back down the other side, and her feet touched dirt safely, she just laughed and laughed.
We sat on a wooden bench next to the koi pond. We sipped sencha, and held sticky rice cakes between our fingers. She asked if the koi were happy and I said they were quite content.
I felt like the luckiest father on Earth.
We're out for an afternoon drive on busy El Camino. Erica looks over her shoulder, guides the car across the lanes. I'm in the passenger seat, holding her paper learning permit.
"Pull into here," I say, pointing to the McDonald's sign. "Might as well learn how to do drive-thrus." I ask her what she wants. Of course she says she's not hungry.
I think of her upcoming weigh-in at Dr. Myers' office, and tell her to order a big mac and milkshake. She lowers her window and recites the order.
She parks. I unfurl the bag. She waves off the big mac, but accepts the milkshake. Takes one sip, before banishing it to the driver's side cupholder. Perhaps 15 more calories for the road.
"Do you ever wish you weren't born?" she asks. "Because it never seems to end. Having to study. Eat. Drive. It's always something."
I want to tell her it gets better, but I know it doesn't always. I want her to realize just how much she's loved, though that may not help her, either. This illness, these chemical imbalances. I'm afraid there's nothing I can say or do.
"Honey, you know that I love you more than I thought I could possibly love anyone, anything, ever," I say.
She rolls her eyes.
She's driving us on the Pacific Coast Highway. She said she wanted to see the ocean.
She started her meds 4 weeks ago, and I wonder if wanting to see the ocean is one of the side effects.
The road has lots of curves, but she's handling it well.
We take the Pacifica exit. There's a Taco Bell in Pacifica that sits right on the beach. It was voted the fast food restaurant with the best view in America.
She orders the chicken chalupa supreme combo. We take the food outside, nestle onto a patch of sand, watch the blue, blue waves and the surfers in their wet suits bobbing in the water.
"How do you like Susan?" I ask. She's had a couple of sessions with her so far.
I want to know what they talk about, but Susan says it's protected health information.
"What do you guys talk about?" I ask.
"Stuff," she says.
She's holding the bag on her lap. She reaches inside, pulls out two chalupas, gives one to me, unwraps the other and starts eating.
"I love Taco Bell," she says.
With each bite she takes, I wonder if her heart is starting to grow again.
The breeze kicks up, sifts through her fragile hair. This moment with her feels fleeting and delicate, like pink Sakura petals drifting down, like soft rice cakes between my fingers.
We watch the surfers. How fast they paddle when a wave is coming. How they rise up on their boards and glide along the surface for the briefest moment, before they fall into the ocean again.
lives in California. His work appears or is forthcoming in CRAFT, Trampset, Vestal Review, Smokelong Quarterly, The Margins
and elsewhere. He's on twitter @EliotLi2