I picked up my scales today. I’ll start the reboot tomorrow. Pumped!
A proposed A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons merged reading order, with explanation (and Dorne Reveal variant) [UPDATED x8]
NB: This post is intended for people who have already read both books, as are its recommendations for the combined order. SPOILERS AHEAD. For a new-reader-friendly version, click here.The order:
- Prologue (Varamyr): ADWD 1
- Prologue (Pate): AFFC 1
- The Prophet (Aeron I): AFFC 2
- The Captain of Guards (Areo I): AFFC 3
- Cersei I: AFFC 4
- Tyrion I: ADWD 2
- Daenerys I: ADWD 3
- Brienne I: AFFC 5
- Jon I: ADWD 4
- Bran I: ADWD 5
- Tyrion II: ADWD 6
- The Merchant’s Man (Quentyn I): ADWD 7 ^
- Samwell I: AFFC 6
- Jon II: ADWD 8
- Arya I: AFFC 7
- Cersei II: AFFC 8
- Jaime I: AFFC 9
- Brienne II: AFFC 10
- Sansa I: AFFC 11
- The Kraken’s Daughter (Asha I): AFFC 12
- Tyrion III: ADWD 9
- Davos I: ADWD 10
- Jon III: ADWD 11
- Daenerys II: ADWD 12
- Reek I (Theon I): ADWD 13
- Cersei III: AFFC 13
- The Soiled Knight (Arys): AFFC 14
- Bran II: ADWD 14
- Tyrion IV: ADWD 15
- Davos II: ADWD 16
- Brienne III: AFFC 15
- Samwell II: AFFC 16
- Daenerys III: ADWD 17
- Jon IV: ADWD 18
- Jaime II: AFFC 17
- Tyrion V: ADWD 19
- Cersei IV: AFFC 18
- Davos III: ADWD 20
- The Iron Captain (Victarion I): AFFC 19
- The Drowned Man (Aeron II): AFFC 20
- Brienne IV: AFFC 21
- The Queenmaker (Arianne I): AFFC 22
- Arya II: AFFC 23
- Alayne I (Sansa II): AFFC 24
- Cersei V: AFFC 25
- Reek II (Theon II): ADWD 21
- Jon V: ADWD 22
- Tyrion VI: ADWD 23
- Daenerys IV: ADWD 24
- The Lost Lord (Jon Connington I): ADWD 25
- The Windblown (Quentyn II): ADWD 26
- The Wayward Bride (Asha II): ADWD 27
- Brienne V: AFFC 26
- Samwell III: AFFC 27
- Jaime III: AFFC 28
- Tyrion VII: ADWD 28
- Jon VI: ADWD 29
- Davos IV: ADWD 30
- Cersei VI: AFFC 29
- The Reaver (Victarion II): AFFC 30
- Daenerys V: ADWD 31
- Melisandre I: ADWD 32
- Jaime IV: AFFC 31
- Brienne VI: AFFC 32
- Reek III (Theon III): ADWD 33
- Tyrion VIII: ADWD 34
- Cersei VII: AFFC 33
- Jaime V: AFFC 34
- Cat of the Canals (Arya III): AFFC 35
- Samwell IV: AFFC 36
- Cersei VIII: AFFC 37
- Brienne VII: AFFC 38
- Jaime VI: AFFC 39
- Cersei IX: AFFC 40
- The Princess in the Tower (Arianne II): AFFC 41 ^
- Bran III: ADWD 35
- Jon VII: ADWD 36
- Daenerys VI: ADWD 37
- The Prince of Winterfell (Theon IV): ADWD 38
- The Watcher (Areo II): ADWD 39
- Jon VIII: ADWD 40
- Tyrion IX: ADWD 41
- The Turncloak (Theon V): ADWD 42
- The King’s Prize (Asha III): ADWD 43
- Daenerys VII: ADWD 44
- Alayne II (Sansa III): AFFC 42
- Jon IX: ADWD 45
- Brienne VIII: AFFC 43
- Cersei X: AFFC 44
- Jaime VII: AFFC 45
- Samwell V: AFFC 46
- The Blind Girl (Arya IV): ADWD 46
- A Ghost in Winterfell (Theon VI): ADWD 47
- Tyrion X: ADWD 48
- Jaime VIII: ADWD 49
- Jon X: ADWD 50
- Daenerys VIII: ADWD 51
- Theon VII: ADWD 52
- Daenerys IX: ADWD 53
- Jon XI: ADWD 54
- Cersei XI: ADWD 55
- The Queensguard (Barristan I): ADWD 56
- The Iron Suitor (Victarion III): ADWD 57
- Tyrion XI: ADWD 58
- Jon XII: ADWD 59
- The Discarded Knight (Barristan II): ADWD 60
- The Spurned Suitor (Quentyn III): ADWD 61
- The Griffin Reborn (Jon Connington II): ADWD 62
- The Sacrifice (Asha IV): ADWD 63
- Victarion IV: ADWD 64
- The Ugly Little Girl (Arya V): ADWD 65
- Cersei XII: ADWD 66
- Tyrion XII: ADWD 67
- The Kingbreaker (Barristan III): ADWD 68
- The Dragontamer (Quentyn IV): ADWD 69
- Jon XIII: ADWD 70
- The Queen’s Hand (Barristan IV): ADWD 71
- Daenerys X: ADWD 72
- Epilogue (Kevan): ADWD 73^ The Dorne Reveal Variant: To preserve the revelation that Quentyn Martell’s on a mission to Daenerys until after Prince Doran reveals it to Princess Arianne rather than allowing it to proceed chronologically, simply take The Princess in the Tower/Arianne II (#75) and The Merchant’s Man/Quentyn I (#12) and put them after Alayne I/Sansa II (#44): Alayne I/The Princess in the Tower/The Merchant’s Man.
I’m rereading the series and just finished A Storm of Swords. At a certain point along the way I got to thinking about how to approach A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Now that both books exist, there are options available to us that never were before.
Martin infamously took years to finish Feast after Storm, and even more years to finish Dance after Feast. As we know, this came down to several problems. First, he’d intended to have a five-year jump in the narrative following the conclusion of Storm, but after about a year of writing he realized it wasn’t working and had to start over. Then, once he’d started over, he discovered that while the five-year jump didn’t work for most of the storylines, it worked really well for a few, and it was hard to get them right without it. Then he realized that he had way too many characters and way too much story to fit in one volume as planned, and he needed to decide how to split one volume into two – should he tell half the story for all the characters, or (nearly) all the story for half the characters? (He chose the latter solution.) Finally, he struggled with “The Meereenese Knot”: How to get everyone on the hunt for Daenerys to Meereen, and in what order, and whether to try to have them all arrive by the end of Dance, and what to do with them once they got there, and what to do with Daenerys and company in the interim.
So fans who read Storm when it came out had to wait a decade to find out how the stories of Jon, Daenerys, and Tyrion continued, despite the fact that in story time Jon and Tyrion’s tales in particular pick up almost immediately after we left them. Even someone like me, who was late to the party and first read the series about a year, year and a half before Dance ended up coming out, had a delay. In my case it was a delay long enough to read the entire series, then read it over again, then have a month or two to wait before Dance came out.
I know I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know, but what I want to convey more than the details of the production or reception of the novels is how distant the various real-world reasons for the delay between the end of Storm and the beginning of Dance made the events of those books feel in story time. Rereading Storm just now, some of this hit me like a lightning bolt. Like “Holy shit, Jon is a 17-year-old during his stint as Lord Commander, not a guy in his mid-20s who’s years older than when the story started.” It felt that way to me because of the delay, but it’s not true of the story at all. It just feels like it’s been years.
Ditto Tyrion: It can be jarring to see what an alcoholic mess he is at the beginning of Dance, but only because the immediate impact of the events that befall him at the end of Storm—betrayed by his wife (at least that’s what he believes), betrayed by his girlfriend, abandoned by his father and uncle, wrongfully convicted of kinslaying and kingslaying, freed by his beloved brother only to discover that Jaime had lied about the young wife in whose gang-rape Tyrion was forced by his father to participate, lying to Jaime about killing Joffrey, murdering his girlfriend, murdering his father, and beginning a life on the run—has been diluted by the amount of time that passed between reading all of that and reading about him in his full drunken “where do whores go” glory.
Here’s where it changes.
Right now, for the first time, the only real-world delay necessary to endure between reading, say, Jon’s last chapter in Storm and his first in Dance is the amount of time it takes you to read the entirety of Feast and get to the beginning of Dance after you’ve finished Storm, since Martin split the characters up between the two books.
But since we now have access to both books at once, what’s to stop us from folding the stories back together, re-reading Feastand Dance simultaneously? They cover the same timespan – Feast starts a little earlier, with the Iron Islands material, andDance goes a little later, with everything in the final third or so of the book, but they mostly overlap.
Moreover, as my colleague Stefan Sasse has persuasively argued, the two books are thematically as well as temporally congruent. Cersei’s attempt to rule in Feast is echoed by Jon’s and Dany’s in Dance, from their very similar opening scenes on down. Brienne’s quest in Feast is echoed by the quests of Quentyn, Tyrion, and Bran in Dance, too. In other words it’s quite possible, and profitable, to consider them as one giant book. Why not make it so?
Figuring that ASoIaF fandom has covered every possible base – not just first, second, third, and home, but bases I don’t even know exist, like fifth, nineteenth, and quarmty-secondth – I asked around and discovered that several proposed A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons merged reading orders are out there:
This one by Orionis at the SFFChronicles message board (seemingly propsed to him by some unnamed source) and this Google Doc by redditor Juicyjames were the most frequently suggested options. There’s also this very in-depth exploration of the idea by Miranche (aka Stinky Steward from Westeros) at Whittling, another SFFChronicles message-board proposal by TDK, this proposal by alayne25 on the Westeros forum, and another, more in-depth Westeros-forum proposal by Atanvarno. None of them appear to be considered definitive by the fandom. (To wit, I asked Elio Garcia of Westeros, whom I trust implicitly on such matters, if he knew of a good way to go about merging the books, and he told me he hasn’t seen one he really likes as yet, though he may attempt one himself in the future.)
In trying to pick one over the others, I had a few criteria in mind.
- I want to read something that’s in rough chronological order, rather than following half the characters to (nearly) the end of the story, then going back to the starting line with the other half of the characters. That’s the whole point, obviously.
- But I don’t want to read something that’s in strict chonological order, to the point where people are radically re-ordering the chapters even within the context of a single book. I want something that preserves Martin’s original flow as much as possible given the caveat that once the decision was made to split the books he wrote them with that in mind, not something that puts the 9th chapter of Feast featuring Character X after the 20th chapter of Feast featuring Character Y because that’s when it technically takes place. If Martin had wanted to roll out the chapters in strict chronological order he’d have done so, up to and including putting the first few chapters of both books somewhere inside Storm.
- Yet I also don’t want to read something that hews so closely to Martin’s original intent that it works overtime not to spoil reveals in the storyline of Character A late during Feast because they’re discussed by Character B early on in Dance. The best example there is how Quentyn’s first chapter from Dance would fall near the beginning of a mergedFeast/Dance megabook, thus “spoiling” Prince Doran’s revelation of his secret plan for vengeance from the end of Feastand now near the late-middle of the merged Feast/Dance. I’ve already read both books and know what’s coming, so I have no problem with blown reveals, not if it would require radically reordering chapters to preserve them.
- This isn’t a narrative concern but a logistical one: I want a guide that’s easy to follow and easy to fiddle with if I feel like fiddling with it. Clearly labeling each chapter with the book, character, chapter number for that character specifically, and chapter number for the book overall will make it easiest to do that.
- On some level it’d be nice to understand why this particular order was assembled and suggested – the methodology behind it, any problems the compiler feels they solved or failed to solve, and so on. Not necessary, but nice.
None of the proposals quite fit the bill. The Orionis/SFFChronicles was the clearest to read and featured Orionis’s own endorsement of the proposed order as a reader, but some chapters were still reordered, and there wasn’t much by way of explanation. The Google Doc was radically reordering the chapters. The Whittling list was based mainly on the idea of making longer versions of either Feast or Dance, so combining them was an afterthought; I’m also just personally skeptical of anyone who suggests Quentyn is a waste of time. TDK’s SFFChronicles list actually enlightened me on Orionis’s methodology in contrast to its own, though the list itself was in a hard-to-follow format. Alayne25 seemed to be proceeding fairly straightforwardly but there’s no real way to judge the ordering based on the information given. Atanyarno made the intriguing suggestion of pulling out the Ironborn/kingsmoot and Arianne/Areo/Dorne stuff entirely and reading it as a novella before doing the merged read, which I think would work well with the Ironborn stuff in particular but which would defeat the purpose of picking up with all the Dance characters as soon after finishing Storm as possible; and again, if Martin had wanted the Ironborn stuff to all be read before the rest of the story, since that’s when it technically takes place, he’d have done so.
So I ended up making my own version instead. It’s basically just Orionis’s list, with chapters reordered so that you bounce back and forth between the two books but never read chapters from within one book or the other out of order. (I also added the real names and character-chapter numbers to many of Dance‘s shifting-name chapters, which Orionis hadn’t done.) This seemed to fit my five criteria better than any of the other options:
- It has rough chronology, so you pick up with most every character across the board at roughly the same time afterStorm left off and keep going with all of them until they each run out of chapters.
- It doesn’t have strict chronology, so you’re not radically re-ordering the chapters despite what Martin felt was the best reading order when assembling the books originally.
- It keeps the chapters in order rather than monkeying around to preserve reveals I’m already aware of.
- It’s clearly labeled and very easy to read, understand, and even alter, if you want.
- I’ve explained my methodology to an almost embarrassingly comprehensive degree, so you can understand what the heck I did here.
To be clear, I have no especial expertise in the events of each chapter, or whether the order I just assembled will present events in an intelligible, pleasing way. It seems like it ought to, though. And I’m happy to crowdsource the refinement of it – if you look this over and think a change would make it better, please let me know.
I start tonight. Looking forward to it!
UPDATE 01: Per commenter Charles R, my original version had “The Watcher,” which takes place after “The Princess in the Tower,” come before it in the reading order. I’ve therefore moved “Cersei IX” and “The Princess in the Tower” in between “Jaime VI” and “The Prince of Winterfell,” preserving both chronology and chapter order. Thanks, Charles!
UPDATE 02: Upon further reflection and an edit by Charles R to his proposed solution, I moved “Bran III,” “Jon VII,” and “Daenerys VI” to fit in between “The Princess in the Tower” and “The Prince of Winterfell,” to give “Princess” and “The Watcher” a little more distance between them.
UPDATE 03.1: I’ve moved Davos III to after Cersei IV, since that’s the Cersei chapter in which she calls for the execution that Lord Manderly orders in that Davos chapter. This is the one bonafide “fix” I’ve made in this update, and it comes courtesy of Atanvarno, who’s created a revised reading order of his own (reading order; explanation) that you should check out, especially if you’d like to preserve the Quentyn/Dorne reveal, which he’s attempted to do with the absolute minimum of damage to chapter chronology. He’s made many other helpful suggestions, most of them tweaks for effect, some of which I’ve incorporated as detailed below.
UPDATE 03.2: Atanvarno pointed out that starting Tyrion’s storyline immediately after Cersei’s provides a fun contrast: Cersei’s paranoid that Tyrion will leap out of the walls of the Red Keep and kill someone else any moment when in fact he’s busy drinking his way across the Narrow Sea. So I moved Tyrion I to directly after Cersei I.
UPDATE 03.3: But this got me to thinking about the identical openings for the Cersei, Daenerys, and Jon storylines — rulers awoken from dreams. I can’t put them all in a row since I wouldn’t want to either put Tyrion I before Cersei I or run the first few chapters of Dance out of order. But I can alternate “ruler” chapters with “quester” chapters, so that’s what I’ve done: Cersei I/Tyrion I/Daenerys I/Brienne I/Jon I/Bran I. I think that’s a nice rhythm, and it enhances our sense that Feast and Dance really are two halves of the same giant story, with lots of intriguing and rewarding parallels, which was basically the whole point of this exercise. (It’d be nice if Brienne & Dany’s stories were related the way Tyrion & Cersei and Jon & Bran are, but what can you do.)
UPDATE 03.4: Commenter Nora pointed out that my original list had Victarion I and Reek II in jarringly close proximity; a lot takes place among the Ironborn between those two chapters, and it’d be nice to give them more room to breathe. So I moved Alayne I (Sansa II) and Cersei V directly after Arya II to pad out that distance. This has a secondary beneficial effect: keeping Alayne and Arya’s chapters together reinforces the narrative parallel as they begin their “training” under assumed identities. (Atanvarno suggested this move independently for that reason.)
UPDATE 03.5: Finally, Atanvarno pointed out that I had only one chapter, Samwell V, between Jaime VII and Jaime VIII. I moved The Blind Girl (Arya IV), A Ghost in Winterfell (Theon VI):, and Tyrion X after Samwell V to spread the two Jaimes out a bit.
UPDATE 04: In further correspondence with Atanvarno, he noted that while his suggested reading order bounces back and forth from Feast to Dance and back on close to a chapter by chapter basis, mine tends to alternate between big multi-chapter chunks of each book. Was there a rationale behind this, he wondered? Not really. As I said up top, I basically just took Orionis’s list and smoothed out the out-of-order chapters with minimal effort, then incorporated all the other tweaks I’ve listed. Those tweaks aside, that technique, not some sort of reasoned approach to the material, led to the chapter arrangement you see above. That said, I’m now kinda fond of the way I did it. In my second criterion, I said “I want something that preserves Martin’s original flow as much as possible,” and that’s a lot easier to do when you’re running a bunch of chapters from each book in a row rather than constantly switching between them. Both approaches have aspects to recommend them, mind you — I think alternating the way Atanvarno suggests will keep readers from getting “stuck” in Feast material they’re more familiar with and therefore might find a bit stale compared to the newer Dance material, for example — but now that it’s been pointed out to me, I stand by the way I (accidentally) did it.
UPDATE 05: I’ve started seeing readers steer friends who’ve never read Feast or Dance before to this post, and I started feeling bad that I didn’t have an option to preserve the Dorne reveal available to them. So I whipped one up, based once again on Atanvarno’s suggestion for how to rearrange the Dorne chapters to keep Quentyn’s secret until Doran reveals it to Arianne. The full variant reading order chapter list is here along with an explanation tailored to noobs, but the long and short of it is that you take The Princess in the Tower/Arianne II (#75) and The Merchant’s Man/Quentyn I (#12) and put them after Alayne I/Sansa II (#44): Alayne I/The Princess in the Tower/The Merchant’s Man. Everything else should be able to stay as-is. Obviously you don’t have to be a newbie to use this version; veterans who simply want to maintain that feeling of surprise in order to be true to Martin’s intent or for their own enjoyment, this one’s for you too.
UPDATE 06: I actually feel kinda bad messing with this at this point, now that it’s been so widely reblogged and linked to and jpg-ified and all that, but I’ve recently come across a couple of minor changes that I think might well lead to an improved reading experience.
The first comes from reader Pedro Miranda, who suggests putting Jon II prior to Samwell I in order to preserve the Gilly/baby reveal, or more accurately to delay the spoiler somewhat. (It takes Sam another chapter to find out.) It did bother me a bit, while re-reading, that that reveal was spoiled, but since the truth of the matter is established so quickly within Sam’s storyline (and since it’s not a huge deal compared to the Dorne situation) I just kind of let it slide. But unless anyone has a reason why the two chapters can’t be swapped so that you at least spend a full chapter with Sam and Gilly under the pretense that she has her own baby, I might as well do it.
UPDATE 07: Meanwhile, frequent commenter AHorwitt suggest putting Jaime II before Tyrion V, so that Jaime’s relative non sequitur about Criston Cole, the “Kingmaker” who initiated the Dance of the Dragons, can segue directly into the chapter in which Tyrion reveals he’s learned the secret identity of Aegon, setting up a potential Kingmaker role of his own. Again, unless anyone can come up with a reason not to do this, I’m all for making this minor switch in order to enhance the flow. Heck, it even sets up a transition directly from Tyrion still being quite alive to Cersei receiving the latest shipment of severed dwarf heads, so it’s doubly useful.
UPDATE 08: Because I’m an idiot and wasn’t paying attention to what was going on in the actual chapters involved, I misread the suggestion that inspired Update 06, which actually called for the Gilly reveal to be MORE spoiled, not LESS. I don’t like that idea, so I’ve undone the swap and restored the original reading order of those two Jon and Sam chapters.
there are 7,000,000,000 people on the planet and if they all farted at the same time it would literally cause an earthquake, there is no way to disprove this
Tumblr user dickdickdickdickdickdickdickdick tells it like it is.
Haha. Geology and physics disproves this.
My father, Dave Robert Shepard Sr., died on either December 30th or December 31st, depending on what time zone you were in. I received the call on the 30th at 11:30PM in Los Angeles, but the caller, positioned in Detroit, was two hours deep into the 31st. He was dead at 62 years old. Small cell carcinoma was to blame. It originated in the lungs and then travelled with great speed to all corners of his body.
I had been back to Detroit just six days before and was disappointed I couldn’t be with him at the actual finish line. We were partners. We had taken on this cancer project together. He chose me to deal with all the doctors and creditors and landlords. It was the only project we ever teamed up on. We never built a tree house or a soap box derby car together, but you would have never known it by watching us tear through chemo decisions and radiation plans. We were two great minds with one single thought: get into the end zone gracefully.
He had noticed a lump in his neck in August. A biopsy was taken and some chest x-rays. “A mass” was detected on the lungs. Those were his words to me, “a mass,” which sounded much more like the words of a doctor than the retired car salesman that he was. He was much more prone to use the word “fuck,” and I wondered while he was telling me this news if he realized how serious that word was. Test results from the “lump,” which turned out to be a swollen lymph node, came back positive for cancer. It was the phone call you see on TV and in movies. It was happening to me now, and I found the timing to be exceedingly inconvenient. In movies, news of this kind seems to always coincide with a huge hole in the lead character’s schedule. He or she is able to spend vast amounts of time at the bedside of the loved one, or at a diner having coffee and pie with estranged family members. This flexible schedule allows for some high quality catharsis to take place.
I was acting full time on a TV show based in LA when I got the call. He was in Detroit. On my days off from the TV show I was traveling around the country promoting a movie I had directed. During the month of August I went to Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, Nashville, Memphis and New York. Compounding all of this was the recent and incredibly fortuitous news that my wife and I were pregnant with our first baby. Whoever was writing my life couldn’t figure out which storyline they wanted to tell, and decided to tell them all at once.
As tends to happen in real life, despite it being inconvenient, it all worked out. Pockets of time opened up here and there and I was able to go back to Detroit often. My initial response was to get him to do chemo in LA. Surely the weather would be better. He wasn’t having it. I then made a strong push for him to go to Oregon to be with my brother. Nope. He was staying in Detroit. He had a huge support system of friends there, and in the end, it was the right decision.
His friends. This is relevant. One of the few upsides of my father being dead is that I can now break his anonymity and state plainly that he was a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous for over 25 years. During that quarter-of-a-century span, he accumulated the most colorful, caring, fucked-up group of friends you’d ever want to see. It was a rag-tag band of misfits bound together only by their shared desire to not get loaded anymore. What a group. It was truly his greatest accomplishment. They all loved him in a way that even my brother and I had a hard time doing. He hadn’t missed any of their birthdays or soccer games, and they saw only the man who had helped so many struggling folks get sober. They were by his side, uninterrupted, from diagnosis to death. Often annoying, but always a blessing, they gave him the greatest gift possible: their time. He was never alone. Not for one second.
When I visited we would break up the chemo routine with trips to the cineplex or restaurants of his choosing. He loved to eat. Holy shit could he eat. Of all of his addictions, and there were many (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, cars, houses, shiny things), eating was his number one. He never did get a handle on that vice. He could hunker down in front of the TV for hours, nibbling with comma-inducing ferocity the entire time. Nothing in the pantry was safe. He would come up with the most counter-intuitive combinations of food. Like a true alchemist, he’d put salsa on oatmeal, or smother frozen waffles with a can of black beans. He was like a perpetually stoned, pregnant woman. No permutation of ingredients was out of the question; anything was possible. It was a sight to behold.
We had a lot of fun together during those four months. We took long car rides through the back roads of rural Michigan. We spent a weekend visiting every single house and apartment the two of us had ever lived in. There were 28 between the two of us. Together we had only shared three of those places: a single-wide mobile home from 0-1 years-old, a small, brick ranch on a few acres in the middle of nowhere from 1-3 years-old, and a modern, middle-class home in a McMansion-ee neighborhood from 15-16 years-old. It was that gap between 3 and 15 years-old that caused most of our issues. He was a selfish asshole, and I lived to hold a grudge, so it was a thoroughly symbiotic pairing. The car rides proved to be shockingly therapeutic. One of the hidden benefits of cancer is that it can erode grudges the way WD-40 dissolves rust. It just finds it’s way into all the nooks and crannies and starts loosening. Before long, the once formidable chip on my shoulder had melded into something the size of a nicotine patch. Apologies were exchanged. Tears were had. Hugs were frequent and lingering. I spent the majority of our time together running my hand lightly over the tiny little hairs peaking out from the back of his soft, bald head. He let me do that for hours. Without any awareness of it at the time, the trips home turned into a proper Alexander Payne Movie. It became one of the more beautiful experiences of my life.
Things got worse, as they do. Car rides gave way to hospitals and senior care facilities. His last two months were spent dealing with cancer, heart disease and gout. He had an increasingly difficult time walking and spent most of his time in bed. On my last trip home, just before Christmas, I took him on his final jailbreak. I threw him in a wheelchair and rolled him through 20 degree weather to his favorite restaurant, where I watched him pick at his waffles and bacon. He couldn’t have had more than four bites over the course of an hour. It was a very clear signal to me that the end was near. I took him, for the last time, to his house. I gave him his percocet and sat him in front of the TV. He held the remote in his right hand like a six-shooter, splitting his attention between the TV, the view of the lake through the sliding glass door, and me. It was wonderful. We sat that way for over three hours.
I took him back to the hospital right around dinner time. They brought him a full meal, complete with dessert. He didn’t even touch the dessert. I never thought I’d see that. I had always imagined he would be chewing WHILE he died. When the nurse came to get the tray, my father thanked her and then went straight into his normal schpeel about taking her to the movies and maybe dancing. These invitations were always laden with less-than-subtle, yet just-charming-enough, sexual innuendoes. I had seen this fearless maneuver millions of times since I was a boy. My brother and I were routinely embarrassed by him at Big Boy’s, where he would tell female servers they had “nice assets.” We would hide our faces in shame as he flashed his warm, sincere smile. Shockingly, these gals often blushed or said something flirty in return. Now, I don’t think that is a testament to my father’s sex appeal as much as it is an indictment of Big Boy’s monotonous work environment, but regardless, he did manage to get away with murder, and that deserves some recognition. And as hard as it is for my brother and I to accept, he did have a “way with woman.” He did date, and sometimes even marry, women vastly outside of his pay grade (said the pot to the kettle).
The next day I showed up to the hospital to find that he had taken a very sharp turn for the worse. It is not what I was expecting. I had let myself believe that the fun we had the day before was some kind of magic antidote. I half expected to see him eating a full breakfast when I walked in, but instead he was dazed and motionless. He could no longer sit up on his own, and talking was proving to be too much for him. So we sat quietly. I climbed in the bed with him and rubbed the little hairs on the back of his neck. I squeezed him. I’d never seen him so cute and little. He was a 250 pound baby. We spent most of the day that way.
At one point, and unbeknownst to both of us, my wife walked into the room. She had flown in from LA without any warning. It was a surprise. It was an amazing, incredible, perfectly timed surprise. She lifted her shirt up and he put his hand on her swollen stomach. He left it there for the better part of an hour. He was smiling from ear to ear, sitting contently, unable to put together a sentence, but still capable of connecting to the new family member we were creating. He wasn’t going to make it to the birth, but that didn’t get in the way of him meeting the new baby. It was an emotional and triumphant moment. One I will never forget. If I live to be a thousand, I will still be in debt to my wife for giving him that one last thrill.
But there was still another thrill left to be had. One that is equally memorable. Just as day was turning into evening, the nurse came in to assist him with his pee jug. She was manipulating his penis into the mouth of the jug when he mustered up the strength and focus to say something pervy into her ear. It was too quiet for me to make out the whole sentence. I heard snippets of words and then, “…when I get out of here…” and then more snippets followed by her laughing and giving him a playful nudge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He could barely muster a “hello” when I came in, and here he was waxing poetically to this 20-something stranger. As she walked away, he was smiling like a teenager behind the wheel of his first car. My normal reaction would have been to defend the poor nurse’s right to work in a harassment-free environment, but on this day, I was just too shocked by the eleventh hour show of virility. Here was a man, a bona-fide food addict, who had lost his will to eat. He couldn’t walk, and up until then, had stopped talking. He was wearing a diaper for Pete’s sake. But here he was, horny as hell and ready to party. It was his only vital sign still thriving. It was indomitable; impervious to the suite of diseases ravaging his body.
Witnessing the sheer power of that drive was eye opening. It put a few historical things into perspective for me. If this force was stronger than my Dad’s will to walk, talk, use a toilet or EAT, surely it was strong enough to lead Kennedy, King, Haggard and Clinton into the weeds. This was some powerful shit we were dealing with here. Putting the moral implications to the side, the strength in and of itself was astonishing. It almost deserved a round of applause.
I left the following day. I got updates from my uncle on Christmas and the four days that followed. Each was progressively worse. The light was getting dimmer and dimmer. He was slowly transitioning to whatever is next. Through all of those updates, there were no reports of pain, seizures, or bed sores. Only accounts of gently drifting away. And so it was, that on December 30th or 31st, we made it pain-free and with grace into the end zone; a feat that, as I write this, overwhelms me with gratitude. Our first project together was a total success. My only regret is that we didn’t take on more together.
fuck silver linings playbook, seriously fuck that movie(via loveyourchaos)
I think if you feel that Pat and Tiffany are “okay” after finding each other, then you seriously missed the point. And you should also read the book :)