My mother arrived at the dorms a little after midnight. She banged on the front door, nearly arousing the campus police. (At least I assume so. We had older students in charge of that kind of thing.)
“Elena, I think your mom is at the door,” said a very tired Jamie.
I muttered a few choice expletives as I rolled over in bed.
“Where’s your dad?” Jamie asked. My boyfriend was kind enough to not turn on the lights. “Your mom said he turned off his phone.”
I sat up since all of the commotions should have prompted a response from my dad if he was in the room.
Alice barged through the door. “Where is your father?”
Judging by her shopping bags and new clothes, my mom had spent the day downtown. “Hello, Mom.”
“Your grandmother will be arriving later in the week to watch you compete in the finals. You can save your sweetness for her. I’m just here to give your father a ride back to the hotel, so where is he?”
“I don’t know, maybe in the kitchen?”
“I hope you’re correct,” my mother said as she made a turn, to the nearest student kitchen.
Jamie and I quickly followed. My father was slumped over as if he had fallen asleep. “Dad?” my voice was nothing more than a whisper or rather a prayer. Even in the darkness, I knew something was very wrong.
My mother groaned as she turned on the lights. “Are you freaking serious?” She stomped over, with no response. “Remy!” my mother shouted, as she shook him by the arm. “You can’t spend the night here. Wake the hell up, you lazy piece of…” My mother was a fucking idiot; he wasn’t asleep, he was unconscious.
I screamed as my father’s head hit the floor. The world froze. No, my body froze. All I could feel was pain, even as I heard more students running to the scene.
“Kyle, get your phone! Call an ambulance!” Giovanna screamed as she rushed to check my father’s vitals. “He’s not breathing.”
“We’re you in Kyle’s room?” I had no idea why I said that. Gi was my friend. I was not about to rat on her for having a boy in her room.
“Is that really what you want to be focusing on?” Gi started chest compressions. “He has a pulse. If I can give him air until the paramedics arrived he might have a chance at recovery or at least survival.”
I nodded. Her aggression was warranted. “Have you done this before?” She glared at me. I took that as a sign to take a step back.
Since Kyle was on the line with emergency services I took out my phone and called Prayikina. I could have just gone to her room (and if she didn’t answer I would have) but she picked up on the first ring. “Hey, Kiki, could you call your mom? I-” I started to cry. No words were coming, only sobs.
“Look behind you,” Prayikina said from the nearby hallway. “I came down as soon as I heard. She hugged me, rocking me in her arms. “You don’t need to talk. I’m going to call my parents, they’ll know what to do.”
I nodded, desperately trying to breathe.
The paramedics arrived shortly and my father was put on oxygen.
I asked if I could ride with him to the hospital, but the paramedic said no due to the fact that (despite Gi’s best efforts) my father was nowhere near stable. “We won’t know for sure until he’s admitted but from his current condition I believe your father has likely suffered a stroke.”
“A stroke?” I lost it for the third time.
Jamie caught me before I fell on my ass in front of medical professionals. “We’re going to ride to the hospital with Gi and her Dad.”
“He was staying on campus, so he was able to get here just after the paramedics. I’m going to stay with you for as long as it takes.”
I forced a nod. “Ok.” I wiped my tears and raised my face to look Jamie in the eyes. “Thank you.”
We rode to the hospital in silence. Apparently, Gi had told her dad everything that had happened, including her efforts to perform CPR, before he arrived. Gi held herself together, calm almost to the point of seeming robotic until we settled into the waiting room.
At the hospital Giovanna broke down, crying onto her father’s shoulder.
Kyle was sitting with his mother who looked equally distraught. “Mom, how well did you know Elena’s dad?”
“I knew him well enough. Here at the Academy, everyone goes through the fire together and the ones that make it out we’re like family. But I still think Alicia Nakiri is a real b—h.”
“Mom,” Kyle said with a chuckle. “She’s right outside.”
“Not like she can hear me from all the way over here. I can’t believe she sent Sam to get an update. What kind of wife does that?”
My mother had been outside chain-smoking while Principal Sam and his wife took the lead in asking about my father’s condition and care.
Kiki arrived with her parents. They also lived on campus but much further from the actual hospital. Aunt Erica rushed straight at me, arms out for a hug. “I’m so sorry sweetheart.” She held me close, trying to maintain her composure through tears. “You should know, the chef you are, you father would be so proud.”
“Thank you, Auntie.”
“Screw you, Erica!” my mother cried, suddenly stomping in with a still-lit cigarette in her hand.
Before an all-out brawl could ensue. Principal Sam emerged from the double doors, covering his face with his hand as if he had been crying. “It is with deep sorrow and a heavy heart,” he paused, making sure to lock eyes with my mother.
Megan stood at her husband’s side. “At least we’re all here together.”
Principal Sam nodded. “Remy Moceanu has passed away. The cause of death was heart failure.” While still appearing to be crying Sam walked up to Aunt Erica, “You and Akira follow me, this way now.”
Aunt Erica and Uncle Akira quickly followed. Since Principal Sam didn’t specifically mention me (or Prayikina)we stayed behind in the waiting room.
“I wonder who you’ll be competing against in the finals,” I asked Prayikina.
“You, of course,” she said patting my shoulder.
“No, I can’t not without my Dad.”
“This is what we’ve been dreaming of since the day we both got accepted to the academy.” Prayikina turned to the double doors, to a side room labeled, ‘Critical Care.’ “Where did Principal Sam take my parents?”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention.” All I’d really heard was that my father was dead.
Prayikina was laser-focused on the door. “I think we need to follow them.”
Beyond the door, was a hallway with a series of beds separated by curtains. I stayed close to my much braver cousin. “Do you see them?” I asked in a whisper.
Prayikina nodded, “I see my mom’s shoes.” she pressed her finger to her lips as we made our way closer.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my father. He was in a bed, with a trach in his throat attached to a ventilator. But he was very clearly still alive.
He turned to whoever was as his left, speaking in a scratchy whisper, “I wanted to say goodbye.”
“But not to your daughter?” Asked a male voice. I recognized it as Uncle Akira.
“I don’t want Ali here. I only want the people I care about.”
“What about Elena?” Akira said with a sigh. “I know all about Alicia. We all do. How such a psychopathic cunt gave birth to such an angel is beyond me. I can go get the girls, if you like. I will protect Elena, same as I would my own daughter.”
Prayikina took this opportunity to show herself. Without words, she seemed to mirror her father’s confidence. The two met in a loving embrace. It was only when she was close to her own father, did Prayikina actually allow tears to flow.
Principal Sam patted my shoulder, moving me to my father’s side. I wanted to reach for his hand, but the weight of my broken heart was holding me in place. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I can’t.”
I could tell by his trembling hands, Principal Sam’s heart was breaking just as badly, but he knew he had to be strong. “Elena, three years ago your father was diagnosed with extremely aggressive cancer. When you and your mother found him unconscious, he had suffered a stroke.” He guided my hand to my father’s.
I nodded, gripping his hand so hard I could feel my dad’s bones creak. “Thank you, Principal Sam.”
Sam patted my shoulder like the supportive father figure he’d always been. “It seemed like only yesterday we were all your age, Elena, just walking around the academy with stars in our eyes.”
I crawled into bed at my father’s side. All I knew was I wanted to be close to him for as long as I could. “This can’t be happening. I want to cook for you. I want you to be there when I open my restaurant. I want you at my wedding!” My tears fell on father’s chest, next to the heart monitor stickers. “Dad, you’re my best friend. I wanted to take care of you.” ‘I can’t picture a future without you.’ I made sure to not say the last thought out loud. The last thing I wanted was to upset my extended family.
My father turned his head to kiss my cheek. “Remember what I said about scars, Ellie?”
“Yeah, Dad, we wear them with pride.” I forced myself to take a breath.
“And why is that?”
“To show the world how hard we can fight.”
My father nodded, moving his hand to my arm. “You have to believe me, Elena, I fought as hard as I could.”
“I know you did. You always did. That’s what I’ll always love about you.” I stroked his cheek, wiping a single tear from his otherwise dry skin. “You don’t have to fight anymore.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I could hear Prayikina was crying so hard she could barely breathe. Then suddenly she started to giggle. I had a feeling she was thinking about a certain inside joke.
My dad was even laughing. “You can say it.”
“Uncle Remy, when you die can I keep your balls?” she was, of course, referring to the stress balls toy he often held in his hand. It was some sort of cultural artifact that my mother gifted to him back when they were kids. To me, it was just a fidget toy but for whatever reason Prayikina always had a fascination with ‘Uncle Remy’s balls.’ As kids we (Kiki and I) never understood why her desire to see or touch them resulted in laughter. Once we figured it out, it became an inside joke to make all four of our parents red in the face (for a variety of reasons.)
My father motioned to the chair in the corner of the room. “They’re in my coat.”
Prayikina giggled with glee. “I’m surprised you still travel with them, after all these years.”
“Alicia gifted me a pair of balls, to replace the ones she cut off to keep in a jar above her bed. I never leave home without them.”
Prayikina rolled the two balls in her hand the way he always did, circling them around each other like an infinity symbol “Do you like how I handle your balls, Uncle Remy”
“You are so precious, Prayikina.” He motioned for her to come closer. “At the memorial make sure to put one in your mom’s mouth and the other in my wife’s, so other people can actually speak.”
“I’ll try my best, but I still need both hands in order to cook in the finals.” Prayikina softly kissed his cheek. “I love you, Uncle Remy.”
Sam and Megan had been keeping quiet but clearly there was more to say. I watched as Megan stepped forward. “Elena, there’s something you need to understand.”
Sam grabbed her arm, pulling her back. “We don’t have to do this right now.”
“You have to tell her, she needs to understand,” there were tears in Megan’s doll-like eyes.
“What is it?” I asked, still resting in my father’s arms. I could feel his heart.
“Elena your daddy can’t breathe on his own, and he’s in a lot of pain.”
Aunt Erica looked on in shock. “Is this true, Sam?”
I started to cry again. I could not, in any way shape or form sign away my father’s life. Was that even what she was saying?
My father raised his chin. “Hey, Sam. Please give Elena my notebook.”
Sam did as he asked, handing me the book. I wad just about to open it when my mother burst through the door. “Akira, you conniving deceitful towel head!”
Uncle Akira gave a confused look. “What the fuck?”
I could only assume my mother’s thought process was: Akira was standing with Prayikina, so therefore he must have been the one who snuck in both teenage girls.
“Real mature Ali,” Akira said with a laugh. “And you wonder why no one invited you.”
My mother slapped him in the face. “You shut your mouth, you,” there was a noticeable pause as she struggled to find an appropriate insult, “low-class camel jockey!”
I buried my face in my hands to keep from laughing.
“You know I’m Indian, right? Idiotic white rabbit.” Oddly there was no pause accompanying Uncle Akria’s insult, as if he had that thought on the ready for quite a while.
“Did you call me a rabbit?”
“Yeah white skin, red eyes, you look more like a rabbit than I do an Arab. Maybe I should get you some playboy bunny ears, to round out the vibe.”
Now I was laughing. I looked up just in time to see Aunt Erica getting between my mother and Uncle Akira.
But Erica was not there to deescalate. “…Racist cunt!” She punched my mother, who in turn slapped aunt Erica. Soon, the cousins were in a full-on brawl. With how loudly they were screaming profanity I was sure that hospital security was on their way.
Principal Sam attempted to get in between the women, taking a hit to the face. “Akira, give me a hand?”
Akira was doubled-over with laughter, just out of my view.
“Akira!” Sam shouted again. “One of these is yours!”
“Fine, man, I’m sorry,” Akira took a moment to catch his breath before grabbing hold of his wife. “Erica, come on, babe. It’s fine, your cousin is just an ignorant bitch.”
I had a feeling Uncle Akria meant to say, ‘It’s not worth it,’ as in ‘murdering your cousin is not worth the arrest record and jail time.’ But his words seemed to fan her flames of hatred.
“It’s not fine!” Erica shouted at my mother. “Remy didn’t want you here! If you actually loved him you would have-” Her words were cut short by an audible beep.
The beep was followed by the typical flat-line sound. I was still resting in my father’s arms, his body was warm. “Dad?”
I along with everyone else in the room turned to look at my father’s vitals. He had flat-lined.
I stroked his face while Prayikina rushed over to hold his left hand. ‘Where was his right hand?’
In his right hand, my father held the ventilator tube. He had ripped it out of his own neck. I wanted to scream. But before I could even draw breath,
I couldn’t help but notice a hint of a smile. This was his one last win over my mother; he was finally at peace.
Sam and Akira grabbed my mother by both arms as she lunged at my father’s body.
“How did you even get in here?” Sam asked.
“I am his wife, I have rights!” she shrieked, “The moment I saw all of you bastards disappear I knew something was up! How dare you! How dare all of you! This is my family, my life!”
I took a breath. “Get out,” the words flowed like water, truth.
“Elena Rose, I am your mother!”
Her anger was laughable. She was the only one who had no right to be there. “You’re not my mother. I may share your blood but the people in this room are my real family. I’m not going back to Denmark. I’ll stay at the school and cook with Prayikina. I’ll live on campus with Aunt Erica and Uncle Akira.” I sat up, full of determination. I wanted to hurt my mother, to tear her heart out. “From Uncle Akira, I’ll learn about flavor, exotic cultures, and how to be a strong decent person. He may have grown up on the streets of India, but he’ll always have more class then you could ever dream of.” I meant every word. “If Principal Sam stays on into the new semester, he’ll teach me about technique about true friendship and what it means to truly love food.”
I stood up, prepared to deliver the fatal blow. “Aunt Erica will tell me when I fail but she won’t make me feel like a complete failure.”
My mother stood quiet, lips pursed. I could tell she was ready with a retort. “You won’t survive a second without your grandparent’s money, your legacy.”
“You have nothing to offer me, that I can’t get on my own,” I said, standing next to Prayikina. “That’s what I learned from Dad,” my voice was choking, unable to hold back emotion. “Now get the fuck out.”
She threw up her hands and walked away, just as hospital security finally arrived.
Erica patted my shoulder. “Thank God that bullshit drama is done with.”
“Yeah,” I said with a nod. I knew, in my heart, the bullshit drama had just begun.
next: Run it! ch9: memorial