I am a night owl.
So when my alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., I let out a groan. I should’ve gone to bed before midnight.
I look at the clock on the cable box hoping there’s a mistake.
The bright red lights glare right back at me in the darkness. My eyes are heavy but I know I can’t push the boundaries of sleep with a couple hits of the snooze button. It’s time to wake up to perform the “morning routine.”
I slowly crawl out of the comfortable bed. It’s a major upgrade from the old, lumpy futon I used to sleep on. Other than that, my childhood bedroom hasn’t seen much change since I moved out six years ago. It’s the guest bedroom now, or so my mom claims, although I still refer to it as my room. There are even some of my old dress shirts and coats still hanging in the closet. I never taped posters on the walls, but above the door frame a navy blue ND flag with gold trim still remains. I nailed it there the summer before freshman year.
I drag my feet to the kitchen, avoiding eye contact with the charcoal grey creature that’s staring directly at me from his crate. I open the fridge to grab the shot of insulin I prepared the night before. The syringe is filled to 20 units.
On my way to my father’s bedroom, I grab a black case containing four related items: a lancet, testing strips, a monitor and alcohol wipes. The lancet releases a sharp needle once you hit its button. While the testing strip is inserted into the monitor, only a small amount of blood needs to be held up against it for the monitor to determine his blood glucose. This process is performed twice daily to keep my dad’s Type 2 diabetes in check.
“Dad,” I whisper once I’m in his bedroom.
I turn the lamp on as he wakes from under his cover. Eyes slightly open, he immediately holds out a finger for me.
“Give me a good one,” I say.
He smiles. The stroke that hit him nine years ago wiped out his speech and part of his mobility. His sense of humor, however, remains intact.
After a recent failure of mine to procure blood from his index finger, he decides on his pinky this morning. I insert the testing strip into the monitor, apply an alcohol wipe to his finger and hold the lancet up to it. This part always makes me nervous. My dad has a tendency to make an exaggerated facial expression of pain even before I press the button of the lancet. When I finally prick his finger for real, he winces only a little. Thankfully, enough drops of blood come out. I quickly place the testing strip next to the blood and await the results on the monitor.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . .
I get a reading. His levels are over 100, which means I must administer the insulin. I apply another alcohol wipe, this time to his upper arm, and pinch the skin there.
Over the years, I’ve tried to master the art of giving shots like my mom. The key secret, I’ve learned, is distraction. I converse with my dad and ask him how the Mets played the night before, even though I already know the details. He doesn’t quite realize I inserted the needle.
“They won, right?” I ask. He nods in the affirmative.
His understanding of language, both his native Italian and English, is there. Even his memory is still sharp. But the stroke really did wipe out his ability to talk. Communication with him is reduced to a series of hand gestures, gibberish sounds and facial expressions.
I pull his sleeve down and tell him our nurse Grace will be here soon. I turn off the light and right before I can exit, he makes a noise.
He harkens me back and I notice he’s rustling his feet. One of his socks is halfway off. I fix it gently and when I do, he immediately sighs relief, rolls to his side and falls back to sleep.
I dispose of the needle in a special bin outside his room and head back to the kitchen.
- 7th Annual Young Alumni Essay Contest
- Schaal Prize: “Camping in Ontario with Neil Young," Mary-Kate Burns '16
- 2nd Place: “The river expands," Megan Valley '18
- 2nd Place: “Wildling," Rebecca Krzmarzick '11
- 2nd Place: “We glamp," Gretel Kauffman '16
- Honorable Mention: “What I Didn’t Know,” Rachel Plassmeyer Bené ’10
- Honorable Mention: “Travel Books,” Gregory Greif ’18
- Honorable Mention: “Tongue Tied,” Reggie Henke ’12
- Honorable Mention: “Morning Routine,” Anthony Fiorino ’10
- Honorable Mention: “Sharing Food and Faith,” Ginny Varraveto ’11
- Honorable Mention: “Good Friday at the Rijksmuseum,” Edward Jacobson ’13
Nestled in one corner of his crate is our six-month-old Pomeranian. We named him Rocky after our favorite fictional boxer. He saw me earlier but knew I had business to tend to first. After sensing my work with my father is complete, he starts pecking at the door. He knows it’s his turn now.
He gallops out of the crate with exuberance. He then stretches his arms and legs, striking his best “downward dog” yoga pose.
I lean down to receive what feels like a hundred kisses on my cheek. The moment I say the words “outside” and “backyard,” his bear-like ears perk up.
As soon as I open the back door, he rushes across the multi-colored slate tiles of our patio, down the steps and straight to his special spot in the yard. I follow him and while he’s preoccupied, I head for the side of the house to turn on the hose. I walk back to pick up the spray nozzle from the spot where I left it during yesterday’s morning routine.
I start with the two rows of tomato plants that have grown nearly as tall as me. I spray the adjacent herbs and get the vines of cucumbers and zucchinis that are interwoven along our metal fence. I make my way to the patio to water the petunias in the baskets along the railing and the daisies and begonias in the vases on the slate floor. Then, I fill a watering can and walk to the front of the house to sprinkle the pots of marigolds that line each step leading up to the main door. It takes two trips to sprinkle all of them with water.
I return to the backyard to check on Rocky. He’s barking at one of the bushes along the fence. To distract him, I splash water in his direction. He goes wild and starts chasing it around. We play a game of tag and run around in circles for a bit. I’m already out of breath but fully awake now. I decide to head back up to the patio. Within moments, he follows me back inside.
The pup gets excited as I open the closet door to where his bag of food is stored. I grab a scoopful, pour it into his bowl and give him fresh water. As he’s distracted by breakfast, I quickly put the gate up to quarantine him in the kitchen.
I brush my teeth and hop in the shower. With the water running, I can faintly hear the dog barking and know it must mean Grace is here. She has her own key. I dry myself off, shave my face and toss on the clothes I had on before.
The nurse is fluffing the pillows on the couch when I greet her good morning. I rush to my — err — the guest bedroom.
In the corner of the room, I pick up the polo shirt and khakis I ironed the night before and put them on. My dress shoes are already untied, ready for me to slip on. I try not to waste seconds, especially when there is a puppy on the gate yearning for my attention. I pat his head for a few seconds and head back into the bathroom to fix my hair.
Before I say goodbye to my dad’s nurse, I sneak a quick hug to the puppy. Then, I shake my dad’s hand in his bedroom and kiss his cheek. As I walk down our front steps, I throw one last glance at my mom’s freshly watered plants.
“They’re still alive,” I think to myself. “All of them. Phew.”
On my way to the bus, I recall my last conversation with my mom on video chat.
“Did you give dad his insulin shot?”
“Did you water my plants?”
“Did you let the dog out and feed him?”
“Yes.” I assured her. “Don’t worry about it.”
She’s halfway around the world visiting family in the Philippines for four weeks. My sister, my brother and I send her there every summer. We coordinate our schedules in order to ensure the household is running smoothly in her absence. It’s my turn in the lineup these next few days.
Soon I’ll catch the bus that’ll bring me to the subway. If all runs smoothly, it’ll get me right on time for work. My day will have only just begun by then. But that’s OK, because that’s what we do for the ones we love. It’ll only be a matter of hours before I return to my parent’s home, ready to tackle the “evening routine.”
Anthony Fiorino’s essay received an honorable mention in this magazine’s 2019 Young Alumni Essay Contest. He works as an architect in New York City and currently resides in Brooklyn. On weekends, he visits his parents and their new puppy, who were the inspiration behind his essay.