My Father

My father -- my once brilliant (literally genius brilliant), quick-witted, engaging, funny, bright, father - has all but disappeared.  I know what's in store for him in the months to come.  Thank god he doesn't.  Words cannot express how much I dread what I'm about to see -  and from witnessing Mom's demise, I have the distinct displeasure of knowing exactly what I'm about to see.

It's not his death I find so abhorrent; it's the goddamn misery in the dying.  If he'd been just an average Joe or some middle-of-the-road schmuck who muddled through an unremarkable life in an unremarkable way, it wouldn't be so hard to watch.  The disparity wouldn't be so great.  But he was not just an average Joe; he was quite remarkable, and the disparity between what he was and what he has become is enormous.  I know it and so does he.  That's the hell of it.  He know it too.

It will be better for him when he no longer remembers all that he has lost.

I've witnessed Dad's frustration over the last 5 years as the FORGETTING encompassed every aspect of his life.  He suddenly couldn't button buttons.  He couldn't zip zippers.  He couldn't tie shoelaces.  I foolishly tried to show him how - as if I could teach him what to do.  As a parent, I'd taught the same things to my son, and I was under the misguided impression my father could still learn (or at least re-learn) to do what he'd done every day of his life for the past 80 years.  I was wrong. There was a lot I didn't know about Alzheimer's disease.

It never occurred to me he would forget how to open a refrigerator.  I had no idea he would stand in front of the sink in the bathroom, unable to remember how to turn on the water.  I didn't know he would forget how to read and write; how to turn on the television; how to use the telephone; how to go to the bathroom; how to use silverware; how to blow his nose; or how to pull the covers up at night to stay warm.

Everything the rest of us do automatically from the moment we wake up until we go to bed...  all those things have been wiped from his memory.  He struggles every minute of his life.  I wonder what that feels like - waking up one morning and not remembering how to get dressed.   I wonder what it feels like to discover you can't remember how to make a phone call, or write your name, or read the paper.  It is unimaginable.  

What do you suppose is the worst part?  Is it the beginning: the horror of being acutely aware you're losing your mind?  Is it the middle: the terror of knowing something is dreadfully wrong, but not understanding what's happening to you?  Or is it the end: when you can no longer communicate and are forced to languish for years until you finally waste away and die?

Since I'm asking questions, how about this one: where is God?

I sat with my father in church today, listening to a sermon he cannot hear, holding a hymnal he cannot read, reciting prayers he cannot say, begging for mercy which never comes.  Talk about an exercise in futility!  The absurdity of it all nearly made me laugh out loud.  If I hadn't been fighting back tears, I would have.


Startling Revelation

You know how there are some people who know a lot about a little, and others who know a little about a lot?

I'm neither.


Valentine's Day

When I was a little girl, I loved Valentine's Day for one reason and one reason only: CANDY.  It was a very special occasion because we only had candy in our house three times a year: Valentine's Day, Easter and Halloween.  (Which, now that I think about it, left quite a dearth from April through October.  It's a miracle I survived it.  But I digress.)

On February 14th, I couldn't wait for my dad to get home from work.  I knew when he walked through the door he would have his briefcase in one hand and 4 boxes of candy in the other - 3 little red heart-shaped boxes for the three daughters, and 1 great big huge double-layer box for Mom.  (If ever there was an incentive to become a mother, that was mine.)

Our Valentine boxes were always filled with assorted chocolates; I always polished mine off by bedtime, and I always felt sick afterwards.  My sisters managed to save a few pieces for the following day, but I'm convinced the only reason they did this was so they could rub my nose in it when I wanted more and didn't have any left.

The problem with assorted chocolates was... well... the assortment.  I'd labor over which piece to take; trying to guess what might be inside.  It was a very important decision because once it was made, there was no turning back.  This was because of Mom's Candy-Eating Rule Number One: You Touch It, You Take It.

Finally, after much deliberation, I'd choose a piece and hesitantly take a bite. What luck!  Pink stuff!  Yum!  I summoned the courage to try another piece.  Yuk! Coconut.  I wanted to spit it out, but this was not permitted due to Mom's Candy-Eating Rule Number Two: You Bite It, You Eat It.  I hoped I'd have better luck with the third piece...  Sadly, no.  I'm not sure what that weird red stuff was, but it tasted suspiciously like cough syrup.  What was Fanny Farmer thinking?!

Because the four of us were all in search of the pieces we loved the most, we were constantly negotiating trades.  "I'll give you this one for that one."  My mother, infuriatingly, always managed to select the caramels from my box - my most prized possessions.  (Unfortunately for me, she shared my passion.)  It was maddening.

"Mom, how come you always pick the good ones and I always pick the bad ones? It's not fair!  How do you do it?"  Clearly she was the only person in the world who knew this secret and, with my hands on my hips, I demanded to know what it was. This proved to be a tactical error.

"Stop your whining.  You're lucky you have any candy at all."  She was right, of course, and I felt properly admonished (and more than a little alarmed I was about to have my candy taken away).  Then she softened a bit and added, "Honey, you just have to take a bite to find out what's inside.  It's always a surprise and that's the fun of it!  It's like a present.  You never know what you're going to get."
Wow!  Mom may have had a few too many rules, but I had to admit, she was brilliant.  (So brilliant, in fact, that Forrest Gump later stole this line and made six hundred million dollars.)

As I was mulling over my mother's words of wisdom, my big sister - my infinitely wiser, infinitely older, big sister (she was, after all, 13 - a teenager) pulled me aside and said, "You dope.  I'll show you how to tell what's inside if you give me two pieces of candy."

My first thought was, "AHA!  I knew it!  I knew there was a way!"  My second thought was, "Two pieces?  You want TWO pieces?  Are you insane?"   I thought long and hard, and decided this singular event would shape all my Valentine's Days to come - so I reluctantly agreed.

Kris ceremoniously brought me to stand before Mom's candy box and I was trembling with excitement - I was about to be let in on the most important secret of my life EVER.

I took a piece of chocolate from my mother's box and looked at it quizzically.  I still couldn't see the magic.  Kris let out an impatient sigh, "Look at the bottom."  I examined one piece, then another, then another...  How could this be?  There appeared to be a dent in the bottom of each piece, exposing a little bit of the filling inside.  Why, it was almost as though someone had intentionally...   Hey...  wait a minute!!!  I whirled around to confront Mom.  All she did was smile a sheepish little smile and shrug her shoulders.

Initially I was shocked, of course, but my shock quickly turned to admiration.  I couldn't help but be impressed by my mother's obvious genius.  I ran to my own box of chocolates and dumped them out onto the counter so I could immediately begin the indentation process, when I suddenly stopped short.  I was stunned to see my chocolates had already been defiled.

Now, some children might have been mad, and I'll admit at first I was a little upset, but it was pretty hard to stay that way.  I mean, let's be realistic - we were dealing with candy, here.  CANDY.  Where's the downside?

After I plopped a caramel into my mouth, I got to thinking.  Wasn't this practice in direct violation of Mom's Candy-Eating Rule Number One?  After all, you were definitely touching it and then putting it back.  I was about to pose this question to my mom, but instinctively thought better of it.  I came to the conclusion if it's done for the express purpose of discerning the contents of the candy and, more importantly, if no one catches you doing it, then it's okay.  Besides, if my mother did it, it must be alright.  Hence, the birth of Mom's Candy-Eating First Amendment. 

As I was pondering this life-altering newfound knowledge (much, I suspect, in the same way Newton did when he discovered gravity) my other sister came into the room.  I was about to start gleefully chanting, "I know something you don't know," in that annoying, taunting, sing-song voice every little sister uses whenever humanly possible, but it suddenly dawned on me this was the perfect opportunity for a parlor trick.  Ooh!  This was going to be good!

"Look, Karen!  I'm going to guess this piece of chocolate is filled with marshmallow." I took a bite and (undoubtedly, very convincingly) feigned surprise as I showed her the inside.  "Oh my gosh!  I was right!  See?!"  I stole a sideways glance at my mother and smiled - we shared a knowing look.

I sat back expectantly, waiting for the accolades Karen was sure to heap upon me after witnessing my astonishing display of psychic ability.  Instead, she looked at me with pity and disdain, and started to walk away; casually calling back over her shoulder, "Duh.  All you have to do is squish the bottom first and you can see what's in there."

She knew.

Disillusioned, I realized this well-guarded secret was neither well-guarded nor secret - and I was the last to know.  I was always the last to know everything.  I may have only been five, but I was old enough to recognize a gross miscarriage of justice when I saw one.  So, after dinner, I sneaked back into the kitchen and transferred everyone's caramels to my Valentine box.  Sweet revenge!


Another Friday

Dad's word-finding was particularly bad today.  Sometimes I'm able to figure out what he's trying to say, and other times I just nod in agreement or say something inane like, "I know," or "You're right," or "Really?"  Usually this works and he is placated - I formulate a reply based on the expression on his face, or the tone of his voice.  But sometimes he looks at me suspiciously and I know I've missed the mark - clearly my response was entirely inappropriate.  I'm not sure he realizes I can't understand what the hell he's saying, or if he just thinks I'm an idiot.  I hope it's the latter.  My job is to make him believe he is the same man he always was; if he recognizes he is not, then I've failed.

There are still times when Dad is fairly lucid, and I used to live for those moments - when I'd see flashes of my father as he used to be.  But it's a double-edged sword. After two hours of being unable to communicate today, he suddenly started speaking in full sentences and the things he said were at once inexplicable and astute.  When his building came into view he said, clear as day, "That's my home." Then he turned to me and asked, "When will I graduate?"
"Graduate?  What do you mean, Dad?"
"When will I graduate from here?  When will I get a car?"
"I don't know, Dad.  We'll just have to wait and see."
"I hope it's soon."
"Me too, Dad.  Me too."

As we pulled into the parking lot he quietly announced, "I used to have it."
"Have what, Dad?"
"All of it."

He's right about that - and the fact that he knows it breaks my heart.


One Year Ago

Mom died a year ago today.  It seems like a lifetime ago.

I guess there is one distinct advantage to watching someone succumb to the ravages of dementia - with that prolonged goodbye, you become accustomed to thinking of them as being gone long before they draw their last breath.  When the end finally comes, it's anticlimactic.  There is no sudden crushing sense of loss; you lost them years ago.  There is no overwhelming feeling of sadness and despair; there is only relief.


We're Even

When I was three years old my family moved to a new house, and within the first two days of living there I fell into the creek twice - both times under the supposedly watchful eye of my older sister.  She insists she wasn't trying to kill me, but I have my doubts.

Fast-forward 15 years.  My sister and I were in our dad's car heading down the highway on a Sunday dinner food run, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate my driving prowess by executing a "Hill Lane Change."  This maneuver was made famous by my best friend in high school - though she'd be the first to admit it's conception was entirely unintentional - more a result of lack of experience than anything else.  Later, however, it became her signature move - in no small part due to the screams and peals of laughter emitted by her passengers whenever she performed it.  In fact, it was so wildly popular, it was adopted by most of the teenage boys in our crowd - that infamous sector of the driving population most likely to die while proving their immortality.

The Hill Lane Change was really nothing more than a quick, unexpected jerk of the steering wheel.  The car would pitch and lurch, then eventually settle, and invariably there was some honking involved by those unfortunates who happened to be nearby at the time.  And so it came to be on that Sunday afternoon, traveling at 60 miles per hour on the freeway with my sister sitting beside me, I executed a Hill Lane Change - not before first gleefully boasting, "Watch this!"

We were instantly out of control.  We zigzagged across all three lanes of traffic - twice - before we started to spin.  I don't know how many times the car spun around.  As I was looking out the windshield in front of me, all I saw were intermittent blurs of cars, cement, cars, cement, cars, cement...  well, you get the idea.

Miraculously, the car came to a stop on the shoulder next to the center median wall, and even more miraculously, we did not touch the wall or another car during our gyrations.  Impossible as it sounds, we were completely unscathed.  We did, however, come to a stop facing the wrong way.  It's hard to describe the feeling one has when one finds oneself staring into three lanes of oncoming traffic - suffice to say, it is most unsettling.  After taking a moment to gather my composure, I waited for a break in the traffic and simply turned the car around and pulled back onto the highway.

My sister later informed me she had considered grabbing the wheel, but fought the urge because, she reasoned, I was younger and my reactions would be quicker than hers.  Good god.  Her faith in me implied she thought I knew what I was doing, which I most certainly did not - the fact that we were spinning out of control in the middle of the freeway as I was correcting, then over-correcting, then over-correcting my over-correction, was evidence of that.  (Not to mention the fact it had never dawned on me the Hill Lane Change at 60mph would yield different results than one implemented on neighborhood streets at speeds less than 30.)  Little did she know, as my sister was thinking, "She's got quick reflexes, we're going to make it," I was thinking, "I have no idea what I'm doing, we're going to die."

But we didn't.  So you see, my sister and I are now even.  Granted, I was much less likely to die standing in a foot of muddy water in the creek than she was doing 360s on the freeway, but I like to tell myself we're even.  It's one of those self-delusional things people try to convince themselves of so they can live with themselves despite what they've done - and I am nothing if not self-delusional.  Yep, we're even.


The Personal Ad

DWF, 52, seeking brilliant, funny, kind, quick-witted, straight, single, employed male; 52-67. (15 years is the acceptable cutoff, isn't it?)  No one younger than me, though.  I'd really like to avoid the whole mid-life crisis debacle.

-Hair is optional; being habitually late is not.

-Dark, obsessive, brooding types will not be considered. (Some minor brooding is acceptable.)

-You do know if you're picking your nose while you're driving, everyone can see you, right?

-No criminals, no stalkers, no spouses of missing or mysteriously-deceased wives, no sidewalk-spitters, no addicts, no iniquitous businessmen, no quiet loners who pretty much keep to themselves and seem perfectly harmless, no slow-talkers, no knuckle-crackers, no gun nuts, no serial philanderers, no toothpick-chewers, no chronic interrupters.

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