The Procedure, published in Zig Zag Lit Mag Spring 2023 (Flash Fiction)

Mar 22, 2022 by Mike Magluilo
Thirty years ago, I left home. The vinegar in my veins has aged but not mellowed because a relationship needs to grow, or it gets cloudy. I lost my parents when they hid the truth from me. If asked about the most important lesson they taught me, I’d say it was to trust my eyes and shield my heart. 

Your father’s having a procedure.
   What’s wrong with him?
Nothing’s wrong. The doctor just wants to run some tests.
   Because he’s fat?
He’s not fat. He’s heavyset.
   Is this because he doesn’t exercise?
Your father has a bad heart and high blood pressure and diabetes.
   If nothing’s wrong, why is he having tests?
Stop worrying. Your father will be fine.

The last time I saw my father was at his funeral ten days later. 

Anger at two parents stunted my grief over the death of one. Instead of processing the pain of losing my father and getting to know my mother as a woman, a friend, and a widow, I chose to remain a child. Blind to the reasons to stay close to home after school, I fled—mistaking distrust in others for confidence in myself. 

I have my own kids now, and Grandma is that older woman who sends cards and care packages. We see her once a year, and she spends most of the visit adjusting to the chaos. My conversations with her remain as shallow as they were when I was a teenager, neither of us willing to wade into the heavier water life inhabits.

When my hiccups became a problem, I found the local gastroenterologist who found the lumps in my upper digestive tract. The last two weeks have been spent preparing for surgery. 

The cycle of life spins as I discuss how to explain the situation to our sons. Exposing them to the unreasonableness of life has been a point of pride and one of many ways I parent in opposition to the example set for me. But the boys are still in elementary school. They are at a delicate stage, just starting to form real friendships and discovering what they are passionate about. How can I expect them to grasp the situation? I don’t want them worrying about me. I don’t want to break what’s already fragile.

My surgery will have to wait as I rush to the airport. For so long, I shielded my heart from the emotions that come with unconditional love. But as I pass through security, the greatest lesson I learned from my parents becomes clear: it’s not about me.

I know redemption is possible because when Mom called, she spoke without restraint—no longer afraid of the limits placed on our relationship over the years. I realized she’s always done her best with good intentions, and I responded with apology and forgiveness—to myself as much as to her. I didn’t demand details when she cried as she told me she was going in for a procedure. Instead, my first thought was, when is the next flight home?