His back to the brick wall of the convenience store. It was 8:00 a.m., and already the Texas sun promised more heat than anyone ought to have to endure.
He was impossibly thin, and perhaps younger than he looked. It was hard to tell. A life on the streets ages a person inside and out.
His right wrist still bore the unmistakable badge of one who’s recently been in close contact with people in lab coats, carrying charts, mumbling things about “medication” and “disorders”.
I’d seen that badge before, on my own father some five years earlier when he was convinced we were all on a ship bound for Germany to fight the Nazis with swords.
We were in an emergency room at the local veteran’s hospital, and Daddy was talking to the resident psychologist.
I stared at the mans’ wrist as he waved his arms about. His words, nonsensical to most, floated across the heated air to me.
“..and then he says he’ll be right back..well, he never came back…”
Other commuters, hurrying along to work, to school, to their lives, got out of their cars and some stared at him. Some ignored him, and some walked around him, giving him a wide berth as they did so.
He is homeless, outcast, somehow frightening to them.
I was like them, until Daddy’s descent into Alzheimer’s taught me that minds are trapped in myriad ways for those who seem to live out of phase with the rest of the world, and we cannot know the why just by looking.
I smiled, not at him, but for him. He grinned, toothless, in return. His bright blue eyes so reminiscent of my Daddy’s. I felt the tears and hurried along inside the store.
When I came back out, he was still there. He was still carrying on a conversation with the invisible denizens of his little world.
As I passed, he called out to me..”Miss? Oh miss?”
I stopped, inadvertently stiffening for the moment, and turned to face him.
“You have yourself a blessed day now, you hear?” He said, as lucid in that moment as he was uncomprehending in the next when I said, “Thank you, sir, and you as well.” and he looked at me as if seeing me for the first time.
I got back to my car, and slid inside the cool air-conditioned space.
The tears flowed, hot and freely, down my cheeks again.
I miss you, Daddy.
Previously on awesomesauciness….
My devoted reader was subjected to my whining over my mother’s verbal abuse. Yay for mother-fecking-hood, amiright?
That’s where our story resumes…
The next day Mom called and after trying to claim she didn’t remember even talking to me the night before, and me calling shenanigans on her, she apologized.
So, we’re good there. For now.
My stepfather is now home from the hospital and on hospice care for dementia and congestive heart failure. I tried to warn my mother that it would be near-impossible for her (no spring chicken herself) to attend to his physical needs at home and much as I detest nursing homes, well sometimes that’s what you have to do.
Less than 24 hours after he got home, Mom called 9-1-1 again. This time it was because Dad had gotten out of bed in the middle of the night and proceeded to wander about the house before curling up on the floor in the fetal position refusing to move. Mom got the paramedics to get him up and into bed.
One day home, one night with little sleep for Mom.
Guess who she called the next evening? Me. To tell me how “hard this is”, and how “tiring it all is” even though she refuses to allow nurses or attendants at the house in the evening.
Guess why. No, just guess.
Okay, you’ll never guess because you don’t know her.
But I do.
She starts hittin’ the bottle about 4:00 p.m., and no nurse, aide, or attendant will stand for that kind of behavior.
I just don’t have anything to offer her at this point. He’s dying, but in the meantime he’s living and he needs way more care than she can provide.
And, my give-a-damn, while not busted, is seriously bent.
No, no it wasn’t.
You know how sometimes you accidentally pause while channel-surfing on one of those “reality” shoes, based in the Deep South, where everyone is mad at everyone and the women get into shouting/shoving matches and they’re so angry you can’t make out the words even though you’re pretty sure “bitch” is used a lot?
Take that, and imagine it in your ear.
And imagine the person in your ear is your mother.
Further imagine this is a one-sided argument, and you spend most of your time trying to figure out what she’s talking about.
Add in the fact that your stepfather is currently in a locked psych unit, the real reason for your mother’s tirade is her fears and frustrations at what might happen to her husband of nearly fifty years.
And then remember that the screaming in your ear is still going on and you’re a fully-fecking-grown woman and dammit you will NOT be treated this way.
Then imagine the tirade abruptly ends before you get a chance to tell your mother that as she slams the phone down in your ear.
I didn’t get much sleep last night.
Last week I had to go give ALL THE BLOOD…that may be an exaggeration, but as the phlebotomist filled vial after vial it didn’t feel like an exaggeration.
Let’s start in the waiting room of the lab where the BIG SIGN said that appointments took precedence over walk-ins, something the online module had told me when I made my appointment.
There was only one other person in the room at the time, so I figured I would only be there a few minutes, since you know I made an appointment and all.
Why do I always think the world is orderly and things will go according to The Plan? Because, it almost never does and you know by now I should have figured that out.
Some people never learn, and by ‘some people’ I mean me.
The door to The Back opened, and out came two guys dressed in a uniform just like the one guy still waiting.
“Did it take long?” Guy waiting asked.
“Nah, not too long.” One of guys leaving said.
A few minutes later, another two guys from the same place came out.
This is where I began to catch on. Some company sent over ALL THE EMPLOYEES for some kind of testing that day.
So much for having an appointment.
And then, this happened…
A pixie-ish elderly lady, with a bright smile and twinkling eyes, came in on the arm of a man about her age whom I assumed was her husband. They signed in and sat down to wait.
“Why are we here?” asked Pixie
“You’re having blood tests.” Husband answered.
A few minutes went by, in which time every person coming and going from the lab got a cheerful “Good Morning” from Pixie, followed by an equally-cheerful, “How are you?” to anyone who hesitated in front of her.
“Whose house is this?” asked Pixie after a while
“No one’s house, you’re giving some blood.” sighed Husband.
Pixie looked at the television for a few minutes.
“Why are we here?”
“Because. You. Are. Having. Blood. Tests.” Husband said through gritted teeth.
Pixie went back to greeting people as they came in the door.
By this time, I was trying hard not to giggle at Husband’s plight. I have been there, and done that, and I know it was not so funny when I was living it. But damned if it wasn’t funny from the outside in.
About then the door to The Back opened, and two more guys came out along with a tech who called Pixie’s name.
Pixie bounced up, and said…”Oh I’m Pixie, but I think there’s been a mistake.” and pointing to her Husband she continued, “He’s the one giving blood today.”
I don’t suffer from depression.
At least, not on a regular basis.
And, there’s always a catalyst for my blue episodes. I don’t just wake up one morning and have no desire for…anything.
This week has been difficult, and the difficult is getting more difficult.
A year ago, tomorrow, my daddy died.
He didn’t die pretty, he didn’t die peaceful.
It was a death that followed two solid weeks of pain and sickness.
Of 104 fevers, of organ failure, fluid build-up, pain so intense that they couldn’t give him enough morphine to completely block it, and finally he drowned in his own fluids as he lay in a completely clean and dry hospital bed.
And I watched, helpless.
It was an emotionally agonizing time for me, and I really thought I was better…then the past week happened, and it’s as if the year before the past week never happened.
I’m right back there, holding Daddy’s hand and whispering to him that he could let go, that we’d be fine and that his father, mother, sister, and brothers waited for him on the other side.
I wasn’t there when he took his last breath, and for that I’m grateful. I had borne enough pain and I couldn’t watch any more.
In fact, I think Daddy waited until he was alone to finally go home. The chaplain called me at 2:00 AM, and my first words upon hearing the news were “Thank God, he’s free at last.”
I don’t know how many more anniversaries will be hard on me, but I think this one is the hardest.
I’m taking a few days off, and letting go.
Y’all mind the store while I’m gone, okay? Thanks.
All kinds of words.
Big, flowery, no-one-knows-what-they-mean-anymore words.
Small, succinct, take-your-breath-away words.
I love them.
I take them with me everywhere I go – to the park, to the store, in my car as I drive around this massive Metroplex.
Some words taste good, others are bitter, and some make me physically ill.
But, good, bad, big, small, sweet or bitter I love them all.
I don’t have a favorite, that wouldn’t be right. I do, however, have some I detest. I find it particularly satisfying when I can substitute a word I don’t like for something less offensive. It makes me feel as though I’ve expanded the word universe – albeit in a very small way.
I’m currently trying to take my big basket of words and form them into sentences, paragraphs, chapters to explain the last few years I spent with Daddy.
Most of these words are so powerful they prevent my getting past them. Often, this impedes progress, but these words will not be ignored.
They will not be glossed over. They will be dealt with. They will be reckoned with.
And they will not be happy until I have paid them their due.
It is a painful, heartbreaking, process.
I’m just glad that the words, sometimes my friends, sometimes my enemies, are always my companions.
Dad took the pencil in his hand and stared blankly at the paper.
“Daddy, draw a clock face.”
“Mr. XXXXX, do you know how to draw a clock face?”
“I don’t never draw nothin’.” Dad said, shoving the paper back at the doctor.
“Okay, I’ll start it for you.” The doctor said, as he drew a circle on the paper, and slid the paper and pencil back across the table to Dad.
“You can do this, XXX.” XXXX said and I gave her a look that would wilt flowers. She stopped before saying anything else.
I put my hand on Dad’s arm, and gently said, “Daddy, it’s okay. This isn’t a pass/fail kind of test.”
I’m finding that as I begin to write the memories and feelings come flooding in and overwhelm me. I’ve decided that instead of my usual write-as-you-go style, I’m going to start writing down notes and points to plot on the timeline. For some reason, it’s important to me that I get things as they happened in order…..I mean exactly, and I’m working mostly from memory here. Dad’s girlfriend is nowhere to be found, but my sister is helping fill in some fo the gaps. I think she’s as excited about this project as I am.
Okay, this is what I have so far….
Daddy’s death was a shock. Not in the fact that he died, but rather in the manner in which he died.
It wasn’t all rainbow-pooping unicorns where the dying patient simply slows their breathing and then stops altogether all the while looking like they just stepped off a magazine cover.
It was brutal, raw, loud, excruciating to watch and is now forever emblazoned on my heart and my brain.
In some ways, the heartbreak of watching him die was a lot like the heartbreak of watching him leave me when I was six years old.
The difference being that even at six I knew he was just a phone call away.
Now, his body lays in a grave in a national cemetery. Daddy was a U.S. Army veteran during peacetime, and he served because it was expected of him. He left when his four years were up, and he never looked back.
He did that a lot.
Never looking back.
The one exception was me.
He tried hard not to, from the moment when Mom told him she was pregnant and he responded with “Shit! I don’t want kids”, to the years he avoided being anything remotely resembling a father, he tried very hard.
I think by the time my half-sister came along, Daddy had resigned himself to the fact that sometimes you are a father like it or not.
Not that much effort went into her upbringing either.
Still, we loved him white hot and fierce because..well, because that’s what most little girls do. They worship, adore and love their daddies with complete abandon.
So, it was with us.
And, it made this journey so much harder than either of us thought it would be.
This isn’t a tribute to a doting father. This is a raw, real, sometimes funny, look at what it’s like to deal with an 8-yr. old who shaves.
According to the poll, I’ll sell at least ten copies if I can get this thing written and find a publisher interested in it.
No, I will NOT self-publish.
Yes, I’m a snobbish bitchy-writer who refuses to even consider vanity publishing.
I’ll keep you semi-posted, because I’m finding the task not so much daunting as painful.
I write a line, grab a tissue, wipe the tears and proceed.
I do this over and over.
I’m running out of tissues.
Thank you, really..no, really, thank you for believing I can do this.
I’ll mention all of you on my dedication page. You’ll know I mean you, because it’ll say “To all of You”.
So, here goes nothing and if my posts here are sporadic, remember you only have yourselves to blame….or thank.
In June I lost my Daddy.
It was not totally unexpected…well, yes it was.
What I mean is he was 77, and that’s good, but up until two weeks before he died he was like the Energizer bunny…with Alzheimer’s.
Then, he got pneumonia and he was gone.
The last two years had been a time of complete change for Daddy as he went from living with a girlfriend, to not even remembering who she, he, or most of his family and friends were anymore.
He bounced from mental hospital to nursing home for all but about six months of the time as he was alternately lucid and then combative, docile one minute and aggressive the next.
Anyone who has had to deal with Alzheimer’s knows what I’m talking about.
I was the constant in his life, and right up to the end he held onto that connection. The dull blue of his eyes lighted with a spark of….recognition? Affection? Who knew. All I did know was that he seemed happy to see me when I visited him every week.
I don’t remember when I started taking him a Pepsi and a Snickers bar during these visits, but I don’t remember not taking them so I must have been doing it a while.
He loved chocolate, and he loved Pepsi..not Coke, not Sprite…just Pepsi.
He’d sit and slowly eat the candy bar and sip the soda as I prattled on about people and places he no longer knew during my visit.
We’d wash his face and hands with the wipes I carry when he was done, and then he’d sometimes take hold of my hand and we’d stroll the corridors of the nursing home.
Sometimes he’d speak, but his language skills were gone and the words were either a nonsensical stream or chopped into one or two-word phrases.
Except on the last visit to him when as I was leaving he asked, “Where are you going?”
“Back to work, Daddy.”
“Are you coming back?”
“Of course I am.”
“Soon. I’ll be back soon, Daddy.”
And as I walked away, I turned to wave and he called out, “I’ll wait right here for you then.”
I smiled at the sweetness of the moment. A fleeting glimpse, a reminder of who he still was even if he was lost most of the time.
I cried all the way back to work.
On the night of visitation, I relived this memory as I stood over Daddy’s body and marveled at how good they’d been able to make him look given how brutal his death had been.
I slipped the Snickers bar in his shirt pocket as my husband walked up and put his arm around me.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“A Snickers bar. I always brought one when I visited him, so it seemed appropriate.”
My husband stood there for a moment as I softly sobbed.
“You do know what their slogan is, don’t you?” he finally asked.
“Not going anywhere for a while?”