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Over the course of his lifetime, Pete Gavin has relied on his parents for things big and small. Now, they struggle to take care of themselves and he is left adrift.

I am 4. My mom drives me to a pool in north Berkeley. The water is cold, and goosebumps creep up my back. I smell chlorine and wet cement. After the lesson, my teacher rewards me with vanilla wafers, my favorite.

I am 8. My father and I are at Yosemite with his high school friend, and his son. My backpack is heavy, and I can smell the sweet pine. At Merced Lake we find a nice spot by the water where we cook fresh trout over the open fire.

I am 10. My mother and I sit outside The Station Cafe by the Claremont Hotel. I have just finished my first afterschool speech class at Raskob Institute, a place for kids with learning differences. She is worried about my verbal skills, and the burger in front of me is my payoff. But I cannot eat, livid about this stupid class. An epic fight ensues.

I am 26, teaching at a small school in Eureka. My mother and father are up to look at the house I am in contract to buy. My father crawls under the house with a flashlight, inspecting the foundation. He shimmies out, dusts himself off and shakes his head. I back out of the deal, losing my $500 deposit, but avoiding a world of trouble.


Now I am retired. My parents are 88, living in the Mendocino house we built 35 years ago. My mother is losing her memory and searches for the right words to express her thoughts. My father, her caretaker, has troubles of his own. His hearing is going, and he suffers from neuropathy. We worry about them in their remote and beautiful sanctuary. But they won’t budge, resolute about the life they have created.

They have accepted their fate. But me, I am not ready to say goodbye. I am lost, rudderless in these new waters.

With a perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin is a retired English teacher.