My Jesus Year

Originally published by Tin House.

A week after I turned thirty-three, I was listening to cello music on internet radio, contemplating that this was my Jesus year, when my roommate called to say she’d found this dog wandering alone, tagless, no collar, by the Hudson River. She’s sweet and friendly my roommate said. What should I do?

Don’t bring her home, I said. Take her right to the shelter. But my roommate had logistical reasons for coming home: no purse, no cash, needing to change her shoes. So, that day, I got a fuzzy little mutt with one crooked ear.

Later in my Jesus year, Mom called to say Dad had pain in his legs. They weren’t married anymore. Dad lived in Los Angeles and she lived in Alexandria, Virginia. But he treated my mom like she was his mom, and handed her the difficult vulnerable parts of his life that his friends wouldn’t hold for him. Mom claimed she didn’t love him anymore. But who would do that for someone they didn’t love?

The pain turned out to be blood clots.

Phlebitis, no biggie, they’ll put him on blood thinners, Mom said. She phoned me twice a week because she worried I’d get murdered living in Newark.

Aren’t blood thinners basically rat poison? I said.

Really, Theresa, she said. I do not need the negativity.

Mom, I got a dog, I said. Her name is Lily. She’s so snuggly. She’ll lie on her back on my lap and let me scratch her belly.

How are you going to look after a dog? she said. Dogs cost money.

Now who’s being negative? I said.

But it was true I’d been experiencing mercury in retrograde or some other planetary disruption. This arrangement with my roommate should have been temporary but I couldn’t move in with my boyfriend because he refused to stay on his meds.

I was lightheaded and dizzy and needed to walk barefoot in cool grass and absorb the earth’s energy and photosynthesize the sun. Since there was no grass near me, I purchased an earthing-grounding mat on the internet. It cost a hundred dollars and never arrived. I argued with someone on the phone who claimed the package had been signed for, which meant it was stolen off my porch.

Instead of an earthing mat, Lily came into my life. At night she crawled under the covers with me. Sometimes, in the morning, she suffered seizures. I pressed my palms on her quivering body, laying on of my hands to relieve the afflictions of this dog, who was not the baby I’d probably never have.

I never anticipated that in my Jesus year I’d be massaging human bodies at a movement salon in Manhattan. The commute from New Jersey was long. Sometimes I massaged eight clenched people in a day and by evening, my left shoulder hurt so bad the pain radiated into my neck and jaw, and numbed my face.

The phlebitis didn’t recede. Blood clots formed in Dad’s arms. Like beads on a rosary, he said. Mom told me I should visit him so I used the money I’d been saving for my spiritual trek to Nepal.

He was diagnosed with a rare cancer caused by a tumor that had originated somewhere else in his body and spread to his blood. They didn’t know where the tumor originated so they called it an occult tumor. So much for rosary beads, I said. It’s the occult. The situation had a name: Trousseau’s syndrome. Nothing to do with my mental baggage, he said. I think he means emotional baggage, Mom told me when I mentioned it. Either way, I read about the syndrome on the internet. There was no hope.

So, there she is, Dad smirked when the taxi dropped me off from LAX. He couldn’t bear to display true happiness because it would make him vulnerable. He was living at his friend’s house in Sherman Oaks. I’d never met his friends. I had never visited him before because he was too busy for guests. I can’t entertain you, he used to say, and I took the hint.

His friend had an extra bedroom with flowered wallpaper that used to be her daughter’s before her daughter got married, so I stayed there. Dad’s room was off the kitchen pantry in the back, adjoining a small bathroom. He slept in a rented hospital bed. His friend worked as a personal assistant to a movie star whose name I was not supposed to mention, and at 4:30 every afternoon she came home from work and started drinking gin-and-tonics. Lord have mercy, she would say after the first one. Other friends came over to play poker in the evenings but Dad didn’t play poker anymore. He went to bed early so I retired to my room where I watched the flowers on the wallpaper unfurl their petals. The house was huge, with several bathrooms. I tried to use each of them in turn.

Dad was dying. I suggested acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy, reiki, and any modality that might release his negative energy and let the healing in. He said I was in denial. People die, Theresa, and there’s nothing you can do about it. He was undergoing chemotherapy even though it made him sick. Pot brownies were the only food he could stomach, so I baked batch after batch and we ate them together. In the afternoon, we’d sit on the sofa and stare wonderingly at our hands, those veins, those fingers, the miracle of opposing thumbs. I was staring at my hands the day Lily was run over by a car. I saw a golden shimmer like an aura around my fingers when the phone rang and it was my roommate, hysterical.

Then Lily barked her timid polite little bark outside the window and I said, Dad, Lily’s here, see? She wanted to meet you. But Dad had stopped breathing.