Sullivan was in traffic. Pittsburgh traffic. Oakland traffic. Dad had an appointment at the Survivorship Clinic. What the f*** is a Survivorship Clinic? It is an over funded, over thought, obnoxious office that harbors ear, nose, throat, teeth, swallow disorder therapy, and huge egos. It’s a place for cancer patients to make four hour long appointments in the middle of Oakland. It is presented as a convenient, specialty office that provides top notch medical care in four or five different areas.
The Survivorship Clinic is bullshit. It is located in the worst area of town for travel and traffic. It traps cancer patients in stuffy waiting rooms with long wait times and longer appointments. It provides hours of pokes, prods, criticisms framed as encouragements, and machine gun, repeat questions. The repeat questions are Sulli’s favorite. She answers with her broad smile and flat fervor. An hour long appointment is difficult for someone enduring cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, doctors, and immuno-therapy. The Survivorship Clinic has the nerve to advertise four hour long appointments as desirable. However, the insurance insisted that Dad wasn’t moving forward in healing because he hadn’t made his appointment at the all knowing, all healing Survivorship Clinic. We had to drop the in home care he was receiving and sit in traffic. Oakland traffic, no less.
As Sulli sat for forty minutes waiting for someone to move their car on Lothrop Street she started to think about all the times she second guessed the medical teams that took care of her loved ones. The steroids they provided for her mother, the obnoxious amount of pills they provided for her sister, the way her cousin slipped through the cracks of the mental health system.
Like a whirlwind Sulli was taken back to 2004 again. She wasn’t sitting in traffic. She was on the incline, going to work. She hadn’t transferred to Verdetto’s yet. She was still working down at 7th Street Grille. She hadn’t thought about what happened to her cousin in years. She knew he was one of the ones she lost, but the pain was locked away tight and had just been jarred open while sitting on Lothrop Street.
2004 was the year Sulli learned the most about loss and the pain that came with it. It’s unspeakable agony people usually avoid talking about. The exceptions are late nights with a close friend or family member, after too much whiskey. People go about their days pretending torture doesn’t exist, doesn’t actually happen. Kind of like childbirth. Only in small, tight circles do women actually talk about the physical suffering of childbirth. They lock it away until the memory fades. They forget about it, eventually having another child. The flip side, eventually another death, more misery, more faded memories. Another cabinet stuffed in the back of the brain. It’s forgotten about until one day your sitting in Oakland traffic, or listening to music, or smelling a familiar scent, and you’re right back in that moment. It makes the hair stand up on your arms, the back of your neck. Just like that, Sulli was twenty two again.
Sullivan stared out over the city. She loved watching the boats and barges go up and down the rivers. Under each bridge, past Station Square, down to The Point, past the stadiums. At this time Station Square was one of her favorite places. It reminded her of being a little girl with her parents. Both of them still alive. They would come for dinner and sit at the benches over looking the Allegheny River. The nightclubs were still alive too Boisterous and bustling until 2AM. Across the river, the busy body city, with it’s beautiful lights and tall buildings. Just above them, up the mountain, was their home. She loved her city. She watched out the window, silently. The tourists above her on the incline were shouting and laughing, ‘ooing’ and ‘awwing’ at the view of the city. Sulli continued watching the people in the city moving about, like worker ants. She’d eventually be one of those ants, going to work at the 7th Street Grille for her shift today.
She hopped off the incline and ran for the next trolley going into town. On a spring day she would walk the bridge and enjoy looking out over the river, down to the fountain and the football stadium. Today was a nasty, slosh filled, wintry day. She had to put her work shoes in her book bag and wear her winter boots. It was December, two weeks before Christmas. Some nights, after work, she’d walk up to Macy’s and go shopping. After that she’d walk by and window watch, like she did as a little girl with her Mom. They had all their windows decorated with moving elves and miniature Santa Claus’. She loved working downtown, across the river, over the bridge, like that silly rhyme, going to Grandma’s house.
Sulli put in her time behind the bar that night. They had a ladder behind the slim bar, on rails, sliding back and forth. Their top shelf liquor, literally on the top shelf. After running up and down all night, she switched to her winter boots and trudged up the hill to her local bar.
Sulli didn’t remember coming home from the hole in the wall bar most nights. Half her tips gone on Jager bombs and trying to forget her sister. This night was different. She still sneaked into the house that night, knew each creak and loose board on each step, tip-toed around them. She did not want to wake Dad.
‘Sullivan!’, he called out into the darkness.
‘Yeah?’ she tried not to sound drunk.
‘I gotta talk to you.’ Her Dad called from his room. She quietly opened the door and sat on the edge of his bed. She would do this for years to come when there was a serious conversation between them. Talking about life, death, all the difficulties they would face over and over again. They would be whispered about between the two as she sat on the edge of his bed in the middle of the night.
‘Your cousin Tim. We can’t find him. No one can. He had a separation from his girlfriend. They got into an argument. He left. His wallet, his clothes, his car, everything is at his home. No one can find him.’ Sulli’s Dad spoke into the darkness. She could only see his profile sitting up in bed. She didn’t understand. No one did.
Tim was her older cousin by two years. He was the brother she wished she had. He was goofy and hilarious, quick witted and charming. He had the too broad smile that ran in the family and he was always laughing. As we became adults, his tattoos grew in numbers, and Tim became a chef. It fulfilled his creativity and also the unwritten rules for a chef. Handsome, likeable, outgoing, and mysterious. He was as cool as Dawn Marie, different, rebellious, but soft at heart. Tim was a bit of a rock star, listened to unique music, knew a ton about Eastern Philosophy. The type of guy you’d want to get to know and hang out with all the time. The friend you could talk to about anything. The cousin you could count on to keep your brother from picking on you.
Sulli just sat in the dark, took in the news he brought to her in the middle of the night. She said good night and went to bed. The next morning she wasn’t sure if she was that drunk or if the news her father gave her really happened.
Oh but it did. Christmas came and went. No Tim. New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. No Tim. His girlfriend hadn’t seen him at the apartment. She moved out leaving the remnants of Tim behind and moved in with another guy. Sulli felt like she was on an episode of Dateline. She walked into the gas station by her house and noticed a sign in the window, ‘MISSING: Since December’, it was picture of her cousin Tim. She could hear Keith Morrison narrating the months that passed, ‘Still no Tim’.
Sulli was riding on the incline again, just a few months before she transferred to Verdetto’s. It was St. Patrick’s Day. She had to go into work extra early because of the parade. It was what bartender’s referred to as an ‘Amateur’s Holiday’. When all the people who never drink, go out to eat, or leave their house ever, come out to celebrate. There were three ‘Amateur’s Holiday’s’ in all. St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and the night before Thanksgiving. It’s when bartender’s and server’s work three times as hard for the same amount of money they would make on a Saturday night in July. Sullivan looked up from staring out the window and paused her earphones to listen to a Leprechaun offer her swig of whiskey out of his flask.
‘No, not today. Thanks.’ She replied.
Life moved forward as it does, with or without the ones we love. One day, shortly after St. Patty’s Day, they found Tim. She got a phone call later from a River Rescue guy she knew from Community College and around Mt. Washington.
‘Sulli, was that a relative of your we pulled out of the river today?’
Yes. Yes it was.
‘Oh. Oh yea. Sorry.’
‘No, I’m sorry.’
‘It’s not your fault.’ said Sulli, and hung up the phone.
Tim. Happy, smiling, loving Tim. How did this happen? Suicide. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first Sullivan would meet this demon. Suicide. And it was just that. A demon. Sullivan went through the motions again, viewing, funeral, wake. At the funeral she read a beautiful poem her Aunt, Tim’s mother, had written for him. She got through it without shedding a tear. She wasn’t dead but wasn’t alive either. She was surviving. Tina Lifford was right, survival is what you do when experiences rule your world. Some experiences just never leave you Tina.
After this Sulli faced her back to city while riding the incline. She was glad when she didn’t have to circle the river or walk the bridge to work anymore. She didn’t enjoy looking at the rivers for years after that.
‘Sulli!!!! It’s our turn! Go, GO!’ her Dad chimed in on Lothrop Street. Traffic was finally moving. They were one step closer to the all knowing, all healing Survivorship Clinic. Once in the office, they found no check in at the computerized check in window. Sullivan went over to the real live human at the desk. Turns out they were two days early for the appointment.
After a mini meltdown and a stressed out over apologetic Sullivan got her Dad back in the car, she busted out laughing.
It was raining, they had just sat in traffic for an hour, in the middle of Oakland, in the middle of rush hour, on a rainy Wednesday. Tim would’ve had such a ball laughing at this situation with her and her Dad. So she did. Laughed all the way home, like a crazy person, with crazy memories floating back to her at the oddest times.
Note from the Author: Suicide is not something that can be predicted. Even the happiest people may be battling an internal war. Please always think of others, ask them how they are doing. Be sweet, kind, loving. Remember ‘Everyone is climbing uphill with a rock in their shoe’. Thank you