My Hero

by Julianna Mariani


                              For Dad


the phone rang
one         two
hallo? grandma’s accent cracked her greeting
maria?                                                       lisa? come here
i watched my aunt move from the couch to the kitchen
the two of them hurried down the hall
hushed whispers behind closed doors
i stood silently behind the counter
watching, waiting expectantly
jules?                                                         your daddy had a stroke

he’s going to be okay
i didn’t understand the tears behind their eyes
he’s okay, he has to be okay
i saw him yesterday
he took ant and i to the lego store
we built houses and watched trains go by

nana told me i needed to be strong for my mom
that it was a good thing mom had called 911 so quickly
that we were lucky
that he was lucky
that God had performed a miracle
was she crying? i couldn’t tell through the phone

it’s good jules is in new york they said
it’s good she wasn’t at home when it happened they said
he was over-stressed
there was a hole
a birth defect
sophia’s difficult, jules’ ocd is insufferable
ant’s an angel
they’ll take care of each other

i squeezed dad too tight when i saw him in the hospital
gentle jules they said
he’s fragile they said
no he’s not i retorted
my dad’s not fragile
he’s the strongest person i know

uncle mark slept in the hospital chair at night
took turns with mom
everyone in town brought us meals
mom can you start making tacos the way mrs. daly does?
mom can you start making broccoli the way mrs. dube does?

jules, take care of your brother and sister
take care of them
like you took care of sophia when ant was born
when you learned to pour milk into cereal
like when they were at the hospital for a new baby
instead of for dad

he walked the whole length of the hallway today
this is good news kids
dad could always do that though?
dad can swim the whole length of bantam lake and back
dad can build campfires and hike every mountain in western mass
dad can drive all night long so mom can sleep
bruce springsteen and john denver through the radio
songs spilling softly over the hum of the red van
he doesn’t need his hearing aids to feel their heat

he grew a beard
mom teased that she liked it
that it made him look like a burly lumberjack
i wanted it gone
the scruff made my face itch when he hugged us from the wheelchair
it was the first thing he did when he finally came home
shave the beard

i watched him from the porch
slowly, steadily, walking towards me
towards soph, ant and i
toward the yellow house with the red doors
my eyes were hot with tears
i couldn’t understand why i was crying
gentle jules


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