Sunday, March 27, 2011

The cream in the milk

It's been an interesting week. I have been doing a lot of other writing this week, so I feel like I've been neglecting things around here a little. On the other hand, the other writing I've been doing has been energizing me and making me feel fully alive and present in my life, so I'm going to try to continue it. I feel like, after months of drought, the writing floodgates are opening and I have a window of potentially great productivity right now, so I have to take advantage of it before the next dry spell.

On Tuesday, my dad and I got out for an eye exam and to pick out some glasses. I had been writing a lot that morning, so right before we left, at around 2:20, I was standing in the kitchen eating my lunch-- dipping bread into hummus. My dad looked at me and said, "You eat too much."

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, is that your lunch? I thought you were just eating."

"Yes, it's my lunch. You know every day I'm going downstairs and using the exercise bike and this is the first thing I've eaten today, right?"

He apologized. I was mad for the next two hours, though. We left the house, and I was sitting in the car and my dad was locking up the house. My parents are compuslive about door-locking and closing the shades. My dad and I are having a full on shades war today, as I open them to try to get some sun then find that they are closed again. He's sneaky and quiet, that one. So, my dad comes out and gets into the car, with his portable oxygen tank, and says, "Now, you've got a key to the house, don't you?"


"I asked you if you had a key to the house!"

"Well, I didn't hear you," I said, while thinking, "I obviously didn't answer you." So, there we were, locked out, with one oxygen tank that lasts about two hours. It could have been really dramatic, but my dad remembered that one of his neighbors has the key.

Norton. Norton lives in the condo across the way, and he comes over nearly every day. Norton is an electrician, and apparently nobody finds him very interesting, including his wife. So, he comes over and bores my dad for awhile while Matt or I sneaks off for a nap. I am fond of Norton. Lately, he's been coming a little less often, but he still checks in more than anybody else does. When I am here, he likes to come over and take out the garbage and recycling cans for me. I am learning a lot about letting frail, retired men do things that I can do better and faster, because dignity is important. That's why I don't rush to help my dad out or into the car, or try to treat him too much like an invalid. He is feeling good and he can do a lot for himself, so I am going to let him have this for as long as possible.

We went to the eye doctor, and I started looking at frames almost the second we went in the door. My dad went, with his portable oxygen tank, to sit down. The kid who was at the reception desk told my dad he had to complete a medical history. I was putting frames on and peering in the mirror. I considered running over to get the clipboard and take it to my dad, but he was half-way across the floor, so I just let him do it. "Have fun with that medical history, Dad," I told him.

When we were checking out, the guy asked my dad if he wanted the frames that would last longer, and my dad simply said, "I'm not too worried about that." But, hell, if anything is going to make you feel a little more alive it is deciding to go ahead and get a pair of glasses. I'm so proud of him.

Later that day, I bitched to Matt about the comment my dad made about my eating. He said that my dad had done similar things to him-- and you have to understand: My mother or my ex-husband would have said somethng like that to me routinely. But my father never has, so I was taken aback-- especially because I sort of feel like he should be really nice to me right now. Matt said that the CNA told him it's called, "Tumor Talk," and it can get quite vicious. So, now we have a new friend besides Dementia to ignore.

My dad gets a little blue sometimes, and then he'll go into his room and lie on the bed, arms bent behind his head, looking at his wall of pictures and thinking. The other day I asked him what was on his mind and he said, "I feel like I'm in prison." Yes, I bet he does. I have felt like that at times, but I can drive, I can leave the house without an oxygen tank. I get to walk away from this (probably). I've been trying to keep my own mood light this week because Matt and I have both noticed that this seems to influence his moods. If I remain chipper and cheery, my dad stays kind of cheery too. If I start to retreat into myself and get depressed, he sleeps more and gets more depressed too.

My brother also told me that he finally started refusing to wash my dad's handkerchiefs. "Really?" I said.

"Yeah, they're disgusting. He was looking for them, so I pointed to the pile on the floor and said, 'Dude, I'm not touching those. You have to wash those yourself."

My dad said, "Well, I can't help it. What do you want me to do?"

"Gee, I don't know. There's this new thing they have called KLEENEX."

Since then, my dad actually moves clothes from washer to dryer. He took out the garbage one day (!). I feel bad when he does chores, because I feel like that is my job, but hell, if he can do it and he takes the initiative, then go for it.
On Wednesday, we stayed home and I wrote all day. It was awesome.

On Thursday, I took my mother to her general physician to see about her sore throat. She has been complaining about it for a month, so I thought we should really get that looked at. I left the house at 1 and didn't get back til almost 6. My dad and I both ate cereal for dinner that night. But, let me tell you, I will be a monkey's uncle. Thursday was the first day I've spent in my mother's company in recent memory when I did not want to throttle her. She is so much clearer and capable of having a real, back-and-forth conversation that doesn't include her obsessing about things over and over and over. She still complains plenty. Her memory doesn't really seem better, but she does ask about current events. I see her at the nursing home-- she knows everyone's name and says hello to everyone. She helps her roommate, helps people find their rooms. She is probably the highest functioning person on her floor.

I have mixed feelings about this newfound lucidity. She is much nicer to be around, but she is obviously in physical pain. It's hard to say how much, but Burke, Lori, and I have also noticed little changes in movement. Matt and I sort of feel like, "She's 71. I don't care if she wants to spend her days doped out of her mind." EXCEPT. Obviously, we DO mind.

She knows she is more lucid too, and in some ways, it makes her more aware of her short-comings: She doesn't think she can drive anymore. She still hates the nursing home and the staff, but when we pop in (we went yesterday to visit her too), she seems to be thriving. Her coloring is good, she is still beautiful, and so I don't worry about her so much as feel bad that she is suffering. Yesterday, I felt so bad for her that I went to CostKo during our visit and re-stocked her soap, toothpaste, floss, handsoap, toilet paper, and got her a magnifying glass for reading, a couple of pairs of pants and tops (of course, they don't work, but...), some licorice, some magazines. Three shades of lipstick.

But she is still The Old Woman Who Cries Wolf. She took a fall on Thursday after we got back from the doctor. She says she was dizzy, and missed an afternoon pain pill when we went to the doctor. She has a bruise on her nose and chin, but a massive, black bruise on her upper arm. She says she has more bruising on her back, but I didn't notice it when she was trying on her new clothes. This morning, she called and wanted to have an X-Ray because she thinks she broke her back. Her shoulder, that bone in the back there. I assured her that it wasn't broken. "How do you know?"

"Mom, you fell from standing. You didn't fall from a building."

Hmm, I guess old bones get brittle though, because hips break and then people fall. But she is savvy enough to know that: a) she got hurt, b) something COULD be broken, c) most of us err on the side of caution when it comes to health, d) last time she went to the ER, she got a fentanyl drip and felt great for awhile (she says that in retrospect). So, I interpreted her request this morning, after seeing her move yesterday and try on tops and clothes, as an attempt to get pain meds in the ER. So, I told her she has to give it some time and then if it's still really bad, we'll take her to the doctor.

"Well, if it were broken, would you really want me to have to be like this for a few days?"

"It's not broken."

If it *is* broken, I will feel bad, but honestly, when she went to the ER with chest pains and it turned out to be anxiety that cost $1000 for an ambulance ride less than a mile down the road, I felt like I had been completely duped. It would be nice if she could save these requests for times when doctor offices are actually open.

There are a lot of moments when my dad and I are both here, me in the recliner on my laptop, him at the dining room table with his Mac, and he turns on some music and we write. I love those moments. My dad has been working on his memoirs all week, and sometimes when he is in the middle of it, taking a break, he will tell me stories. He told me a really funny story about my mother that involved a doctor's visit in Dayton, but I have to wait a bit before I can tell that story.

He also told me that when they were first married, in Dayton, that they didn't know anything about sex. They decided to go to a doctor about it (I don't know what the problems were specifically. Thank God). The doctor ended up being a Catholic and just taught them about the rhythm method. "That's how it was in those days," he told me. "Nobody knew anything about sex."

A neighbor came to visit, and he told me that the guy used to live in their neighborhood. His first wife passed away. His second wife died of one of the most horrible things I have ever heard of: She had a rare condition that led to a Prion disease that caused incurable insomnia. He said she didn't know what has going on at the end. I am still horrified. His neighbor remarried again and they have moved to a different part of Provo. I have to say, I'd really wonder about marrying a man with that kind of track record. I know it's not his fault, but still...

Last night, my dad showed me the movie Seven Beauties. My father has always held himself responsible for my foreign film education. I always dread it when he rubs his hands together and tells me he has a movie to show me. On Friday night, he did that and I told him he had to wait until Saturday night so I could watch Fringe. As usual, the movie was excellent. It was about the holocaust, and Italian film. I think the lead actor carried the movie with his eyes. Haunting. At the end of the movie, my dad told me it was a true story. Then, he started talking about some things that happened in the family before he even met any of them. He isn't including them in his memoirs because it's not his family. But he is making sure I know. And it's MY family. And I am a writer. I think he knows this and he is telling me because he doesn't feel like he can tell these stories, but I will tell them. On the other hand, I am given to whimsy.

These are not happy stories. Memories are being stirred up by his work on his memoirs, and also, as cancer patients approach death, they do tend to reminisce more "they" say. These stories are the dark underbelly of a family stories, the Faulkner-esque family tragedies that I had heard whispers and rumors about over the years and tried to piece together witha lot of guesswork. These are stories that he now tells so easily that I marvel that he has gone 42 years without saying a word to me about them. The United States government cannot cover its secrets. But family has suppressed their stories, for more than 50 years, and now, they are rising to the surface, waiting to be skimmed.

1 comment:

  1. you are so lucky to get this time with him.