How's Your Father?

Occasionally some long lost acquaintance of dad's will come out of the woodwork and ask, "How's your father?"  The politically correct response is, "As well as can be expected, I guess.  He's hanging in there."  This banal reply will usually suffice.  I'm always poised for further inquiry, but no one wants to know more - to be perfectly honest they don't really even want to know that much, but they have to ask.  It's only polite.

How's my father?  He's miserable.  He struggles to do the simplest things.  He can barely form a sentence.  He doesn't know who anyone is and he doesn't remember his past.  He is only truly at ease sitting in his chair in his room, for that is the one space left that he still understands.  There are no surprises there, no perplexing unfamiliar faces, no unusual disorienting surroundings, no mind-taxing stressors. His world is so small.  I could easily make the mistake of thinking I should try to broaden his horizons if I didn't recognize this is the only place he feels safe.  The joy he used to feel on an outing has been replaced by anxiety.

How's my father?  When I tell him I'm his daughter he looks surprised.  When I tell him he has three daughters he looks distressed.  The conversations that used to bring him pleasure now torment him because he knows he should know. Recounting tales of our family's antics once served to jog his memory and make him smile - now those same stories upset him.  I'm not sure he even believes what I'm telling him.  I suppose if I had no memory of an event and someone insisted I was there, I wouldn't believe it either.  He is alternately suspicious, sad and distraught. It's hard to comfort him; I can no longer rely on snippets of history to make him happy.

So, I have adapted.  Instead of spending time trying to coax him back into reality, I now concern myself with cleaning his fingernails and his ears; dismantling and washing his electric shaver; restocking his diaper and toilet paper supply.  When that's done, my mission is no longer to try to engage, it is to placate.  We (meaning I) talk about the weather.  His "outing" consists of being pushed in his wheelchair through the hallways of the building.  It is the same level of interaction I would have if I visited a nursing home and took a complete stranger on a walk.  I am nothing to him.  Therein lies the problem - because he is everything to me.  I'd give anything for just one day - one hour - with him as he used to be: full of life and humor and wit.  Just one hour when I could talk to him and he would know who I am and remember that he once loved me.

Maybe next time I see him I'll get lucky and he'll be better - it comes and goes. Mostly it goes.  I know the time is fast approaching when his mind will be completely gone.  Once he reaches that point, I wonder how much longer his body will continue to function.  Months?  Years?

How's my father?  Languishing.  Has been, is now, and will be until the day he mercifully dies.  Thanks for asking.


Not Forward or Back

If I allow myself to think of her
nothing is bright
What used to be
what could have been
none of it fulfilled

She spent her life trying not to fall
off the edge
Fighting to balance
not forward or back

Too long in that place
Colors faded to grey
Maybes stopped
Somedays stopped

Everything lost
trying not to fall



I had the best dream last night!  I was walking down a marble staircase into a ballroom filled with hundreds of tables.  Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and a full orchestra was playing in the balcony.  Men were dressed in tuxedos; women in beautiful long gowns.  I was walking towards the center of the room when it suddenly occurred to me I wasn't supposed to be there.  This must be some sort of mistake.  Why would I be invited to such a lavish affair?  I felt like an idiot and started to leave; hoping to escape unnoticed before I was forcibly removed like the party-crashing Salahi I obviously was.  At that precise moment, Prince Charles put his hands firmly on my shoulders, turned me around and started guiding me back to the tables.  He was trying to find the place card with my name on it, and we kept walking and walking and walking.  We passed tables filled with entertainers, actors and actresses (both living and dead).  I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what I was doing there.  Had I written a screenplay or something?  No.  I was sure I would have remembered if I'd done anything noteworthy.

I was about to explain to Prince Charles that I had happened upon this fete quite by accident, when much to my amazement, he found my name.  Sitting at my table was Cher, Madonna and Lady Gaga.  Good god.  Why on earth was I here?  Would I be able to bluff my way through the evening?  I started to sit down when I noticed the occupants of the next table: Ricky Gervais, Conan O'Brien, Larry David, Martin Short, David Letterman, and Steve Martin.  There was one empty spot at their table with a place card belonging to someone whose name I didn't recognize.  I quickly swapped that card with my own, and took a seat.  (Not that sitting with Cher, Madonna and Lady Gaga wouldn't have been entertaining, but given my druthers...)  As I sat down I was waiting for these six men to tell me I didn't belong, but for some inexplicable reason they didn't seem to find it the least bit peculiar that I was there.

The night began when the master of ceremonies took the stage.  It was John Boehner - Weeper of the House.  He started to speak and immediately began crying.  It got so bad he had to be removed from the podium, and in his place stepped Johnny Carson.  Johnny Carson!!!   Between Johnny and the men at my table, I was laughing all night long.  I can't ever remember feeling so...  light. (What's really weird is that even though it has been hours since my dream, I can still recall that feeling.  It's hard to put into words.  It was as though everything else just melted away and I had a temporary pass to pure happiness.)  As we were talking and laughing in this grand ballroom, I kept thinking the only thing missing was my dad - my dad from 20 years ago.  (I wish I could have summoned him from my subconscious and put him at the table with us.  He would have been in his glory.)

My newfound friends and I made plans to meet the next day; they were going to help me find a place to live.  (I'm assuming it was Los Angeles.)  I couldn't wait to move someplace warm and make a fresh start; I had something wonderful to look forward to!  We sat there talking until it was time to go; though mostly I was just listening to the conversation and laughing.

I think I woke myself up by laughing out loud.  Seriously!  I don't know if such a thing is actually possible, but I do know I've woken up crying before, so it stands to reason one could wake up laughing.  As I slowly regained my senses, I realized it had all been a dream.  My happiness evaporated as I was thrust unceremoniously back into reality; what a terrible disappointment.  It was only 3:30am so I tried desperately to fall back to sleep in the hope I could continue the dream and recapture the joy I felt - as if that could ever happen.  (I'm here to report it cannot.)

I'm not sure what this dream meant - if in fact dreams are supposed to mean anything at all.  I only know that for those few hours I had the best time!  (I wonder what that translates to in real time - a few minutes?)  I suspect it's probably not a good sign that a fantasy world provides one's happiest moments, but it's better than not having those moments at all, isn't it?  (Well, isn't it?)

P.S.  Where was Camilla?

P.P.S.  I can't explain why I was privy to such a remarkable, joyful, vivid dream. I've been taking a lot of guaifenesin and sudafed lately; maybe that had something to do with it.

P.P.P.S.   I never saw myself.  I wonder what my dress looked like...



Two scoops of raisins my ass.


Blow by Blow

  • 5:20am - Check email for interview offers.  None.
  • 5:25am - Let dogs out. Little one doesn't want to go because it's cold.  Have to push him out the door with the toe of my fuzzy slipper.
  • 5:40am - Can't find my reading glasses anywhere.  I just had them; it's driving me crazy.
  • 5:44am - Find reading glasses on my head.
  • 6:00am - Drop shampoo bottle on my foot in the shower.  Bend down to pick it up and the conditioner bottle falls on my back.  (Note to self: keep bottles on bottom shelf in future.)
  • 6:40am - Take son to school for baseball meeting.  Pick up his friend on the way, which is odd because he has his own car.  When I ask why he's not driving I learn he got a speeding ticket for going 27 mph over the limit.  (Note to self: time to prepare a lengthy diatribe about the privilege and perils of driving - which my son will promptly ignore.)
  • 7:10am - Go to McDonald's drivethru for a large coffee with 2 creams.  In the time it takes to drive from the cashier to the order pickup, I suddenly can't remember how to lower my window.  I keep pushing a switch and it keeps locking and unlocking the car door.  Decide I'll just have to open the door to get my coffee.  Can't get door open - it's locked.  Press switch to unlock car door - we've established at least I know where that mechanism is located.  Get coffee.  (Note to self: should I get tested for the Alzheimer's gene?)
  • 7:15am - A few blocks from home I see an enormous bald eagle swoop down 30 feet away from me and grab a rabbit.  Wingspan appears to be 8 feet across. Stunning, awesome, amazing.  (Note to self: must go outside with dogs from now on and stand next to them while they pee - possibly armed with a broom.)
  • 7:30am - Go online and search 7 employment websites.  Tailor resumes to fit positions and send out 13 applications.  Get automated response from each one: "Thank you.  Because we receive hundreds of replies we don't have time to contact you.  Don't call us, we'll call you."  Not holding my breath.
  • 11:47am - Off to doctor.  Waiting room is packed with people who are undoubtedly carrying a variety of deadly infectious diseases.  Get in line to sign in and watch man in front of me sneeze, blow his nose, then pick up pen.  Dig through purse for my own writing implement.  (Note to self: would it be too Howard Hughesian to wear latex gloves next time I have to go to the doctor?)
  • 11:51am - Finally take a seat.  Simple woman sitting beside me strikes up conversation about kleenex.  I try to appear to be immersed in a 4 month old Sports Illustrated magazine.  It doesn't work - conversation progresses from kleenex to mucous.
  • 1:56pm -  Drop off prescription at Walgreens.  Old man in line in front of me doesn't understand why he can't get his medication.  Turns out he forgot he picked it up yesterday.  He laughs, shakes his head and walks away.  Twenty minutes later while I'm waiting for them to call my name, the old man shows up again and tries to get his prescription.  I wait to see if pharmacist does anything. She doesn't.  I ask the old man if he's with anyone.  No.  He drove himself.  His memory isn't what it used to be.  (No shit.)  I ask if he needs any help.  He looks at me like I might be a serial killer and leaves.  I could follow him to see if he gets home alright (no doubt confirming his serial killer fears); instead I hang out by the door and watch until his car pulls away. Did I wait because I wanted to see if he could drive or did I wait so he'd be long gone before I hit the road?  (Note to self: initiate legislation requiring annual driver's test starting at age 80.)
  • 2:48pm - Son home from school.  He's not wearing his coat, hat, or gloves.  Want to comment on it, but bite my tongue.  No sense starting World War III.  I wonder at what age he'll be smart enough to dress for the weather.  
  • 2:49pm - Ask son if he has much homework.  He grunts and rolls his eyes - his patent response.  Then, my fatal mistake: I ask a second question.  I ask if all the kids from last year's baseball team were at the meeting this morning.  He goes ballistic and screams, "I'm sick of you asking questions!  I'm not going to sit here and go through all the names of the kids at the meeting!!  So don't ask me!!!  It's none of your damn business!!!!  Why the hell do you care??!!!!!"  I know it's a rhetorical question, and I fight the temptation to answer.  Yikes.  I don't know why that set him off.  Seems like everything sets him off these days.  As long as we don't speak to each other everything is just dandy - shades of his father.  It's hard to balance my parental responsibility to demand that he behave like a decent human being against the desire to walk away and avoid escalating the conflict.  What's worse - letting it go, or inciting a riot?  Probably letting it go.  The problem is that somewhere along the way I lost all authority.  I wish he was still a little boy; I could simply pick him up and put him in his room.  He's bigger than I am now, and it is clearly evident that civility and respect are inversely proportionate to height.  If he grows another foot he'll be shooting a high power rifle from a bell tower somewhere.  On the bright side, he's the model of decorum in public, and people regularly comment on what a great kid he is.  Apparently temper tantrums are reserved strictly for mothers.  Come to think of it, I was horrible to my own mother when I was a teenager - in a snotty yet decidedly less volatile way.  Can't help but think she'd be relishing this comeuppance.
  • 3:45pm - Appointment for son's sports physical.  As we walk into the medical building a man and woman are coming out.  The woman is crying.  I imagine all sorts of scenarios.
  • 4:00pm - Spy a Highlights magazine at the doctor's office.  Didn't know it was still around.  Excitedly turn to hidden pictures page.  All the hidden objects have already been circled in red crayon.  Some things never change.  I'm just as pissed about it now as I was when I was seven.
  • 5:43pm - Make dinner.  Dogs are standing under the cutting board hoping something will hit the floor.  It'll never happen; I refuse to let them have people food.  Turn to scrape contents of cutting board into pan, hit the side of the stove with the edge of the board and promptly dump red peppers, onions and garlic on the floor.  Dogs move in for unexpected feast.  I yell.  Dogs back away, albeit momentarily, then creep in for more.  I yell again, dogs scramble and run downstairs.  Don't have anymore peppers.  Used the last of the onion.  Go to freezer and pull out two frozen dinners.
  • 6:30pm - Son reports one of the dogs stinks.  Upon inspection, I find several pieces of garlic embedded in the hair on dog's back.  Put dog in sink for bath. During washing phase she makes a break for it, jumps out of the sink, slides across the countertop and leaps to the floor.  She leaves a trail of water and soap in every room of the house and on every piece of furniture before I catch her.
  • 6:56pm - While in the bathroom using hairdryer on dog, I knock a bottle of makeup onto floor.  Glass shatters everywhere.  Why on earth don't they use plastic bottles?  How absurd.  (Note to self: send scathing letter to all cosmetics manufacturers.)
  • 6:57pm - Gingerly set dog outside bathroom and close door so I can clean up the mess.
  • 7:00pm - Son shouts upstairs to report dog is still wet.  Yes, I know.
  • 7:05pm - Son lets dogs outside.  I start to yell downstairs to explain the eagle situation, but it's too late.  Have visions of dogs being carried away like Toto and the flying monkeys.
  • 7:08pm - Son reports wet dog came inside covered in ice crystals.  You don't say.
  • 7:23pm - Bathroom floor is spotless.
  • 7:30pm - I want to watch the Fran Lebowitz documentary.  Son wants to watch string of mind-numbing "reality" shows ranging from car repossessions, to pet exterminations, to swamp people, to bounty hunters.  We compromise and watch a basketball game and hockey game simultaneously.  It occurs to me I have never seen my son watch a single show without changing the channel.  Is this ADD?  ADHD?  Perfectly normal?
  • 8:00pm - Son suddenly remembers he has homework.  Yeah, right.  I turn off the tv and pandemonium ensues.  What should be nothing more than a minor skirmish becomes a major hullabaloo.  (Note to self: might be a good time to take up drinking heavily every evening from now until son leaves for college.)
  • 9:38pm - Son reports he needs plastic folder for paper due tomorrow.
  • 9:45pm - Leave for Walgreens.  Half expect to run into confused old man trying to pick up the prescription he already picked up.  Don't see his car; probably just missed him.  I arrive 5 minutes before the store closes and when I walk in the door the cashier shoots daggers at me.  Part of me wants to be kind and simply get in and get out; part of me feels the urge to linger and start asking inane questions about various brands of moisturizer.
  • 10:10pm - Deliver folder to son.  Let dogs out.  (Note to self: google "Do eagles hunt at night?")
  • 10:36pm - Start harassing son to get to bed.  Wonder at what age he'll be smart enough to go to sleep when he's tired.
  • 11:31pm - Son is in bed.  Remembers his favorite red shorts are dirty and wants to wear them at basketball practice tomorrow.  Would I mind doing a load of laundry now?  Yes, I'd mind.  "Thanks for nothing."  You're welcome.
  • 11:33pm - Check email for interview offers.  None.
  • 11:38pm - Wash face, brush teeth, and suddenly feel pain in foot.  Stepped squarely on 3" long shard of glass.  As usual, appropriate sized bandage does not exist.  (Note to self: send scathing letter to all bandage manufacturers.)
  • 11:49pm - Clean bathroom floor.  Again.
  • 12:06am - In bed.  Dog jumps up and lies next to me.  Smells like garlic.


In Retrospect

Act I
I'm not sure we really loved each other.  To be perfectly honest, I can't remember. It was simply the natural progression of things - you date, you live together, you marry.  It was expected.  You get used to it - like an old shoe.

He wasn't an intellectual, but he was tall, dark and handsome and occasionally funny.  He liked the things my father liked - hunting and fishing - which for some reason mattered to me back then.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me.  And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

At the time I must have figured it was going to be my only shot... or maybe I just didn't give it enough thought.  The idea that I could ever have expected it to be a long-term self-sustaining relationship boggles my mind when I think of it now.  I spent more time feeling embarrassed than anything else.  It was dull and ordinary and stifling and lonely.  Who to talk to?  Who to share things with?

I offer no excuse for my decision to marry; I expect no sympathy; I knew better. Yet, oddly, when it ended, I wanted to die.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered heartache was an actual physical feeling.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered I couldn't sleep or eat for weeks on end. I'd always thought that stuff was a bunch of crap written in novels to drive home a point. I didn't know I would lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?

Act II
No more boredom.  No more thinking, "Is this all there is?"  No more feeling like I was destined to spend a lifetime alternately correcting grammar and biting my tongue.  Now it was time for  FUN, FUN, FUN!!!  Laughter, conversation, drugs, debauchery, bars, loud music, parties.  He was bright.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me. And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

He was a drunk and I was going to save him.  I wish I could say I was successful.  I wish I could say my dedication, loyalty and perseverance made a difference.  I wish I had been smart enough to know better.  I distinctly remember my shock when I discovered women really do stay with men who mistreat them.  I'd always thought that stuff was a bunch of crap in made-for-tv movies to show stupid damsels in distress.  I didn't know I would lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?

The antithesis of the tsunami that preceded it.  CALM, CALM, CALM.  Dead calm. Not a tranquil, serene calm; more like a dispassionate, detached, taciturn calm.

But he was bright.  More importantly, he liked me.  Most importantly, he needed me.  And who knows when you're ever going to find that again...

I'm not sure if I disappeared because of postpartum depression or because I lived with a ghost.  Probably a combination of both.  I didn't know I'd lose years of my life to it.  Who knew?  But I got my son out of the deal, so it was worth it.

Act IV
What I've learned:
  1. If you find you dread walking into your own home, it's time to get out.
  2. You can be infinitely happier alone than with someone.
  3. I'm an idiot when it comes to affairs of the heart.  I'm not convinced I've ever even had an affair of the heart.  I suspect it is a storybook myth.
  4. Marriage is entirely unnecessary.
  5. People who need you are a dime a dozen, and being liked and needed is not the basis for a relationship.  Yes, it feels good to be needed, but it is not a measure of love.  If your self-worth is tied up in it you will end up losing who you are and what you want.
  6. Love cannot cure addiction.
  7. The passive part of a passive-aggressive person can be even more devastating than the aggressive part.  Either way it sucks the life right out of you.
  8. The old adage "turn the other cheek" is not always the wisest course.  Once you've been hurt - once hateful words have been spoken and the line has been crossed - the relationship is forever changed.  Whether it's your husband, your boyfriend or your next door neighbor, when someone loses control and you get a momentary glimpse of their true colors it is not an aberration, it is a warning.  I now realize tolerance doesn't necessarily make you a good person (in fact it can make you a chump) and it is wise never to forget.  Not in a bitter take-it-to-your-grave sort of way, but in a sad now-I-know-better-than-to-love-and-trust-you sort of way. 
Is this wisdom or pessimism?  Good question.  I'm going to go with wisdom.

Act V
I'll let you know.

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