In Closing

Sitting in my parents’ house, listening to my father sleep.

He’s entered the last stage of his life. After three years of getting back up from various knockdowns that have gradually sapped his strength and mobility and dignity, a stroke has taken from him his memories.

He lives only in moments now. He recognizes everybody, can joke a bit, but being mostly blind, he’s startled every time he opens his eyes and sees me standing there. Once, he asked if I was God.

My parents built this beautiful house together after years of living under the roof of my disapproving grandmother, and later in homes that were never quite what they’d hoped for.

“I’m a failure,” my dad says.

“You just don’t remember your successes,” I tell him.

“What are they?”

I say me. Maybe I’m heady from being mistaken for God earlier. But I quickly add my children, and the good memories everyone has of him, and the good police officer he was. He was policeman of the year in Calumet City, and I remember an abducted child who would only speak to him.

And then he recalls, randomly, with some prompting from mom, his early years as a traffic accident investigator, home and sleeping after double shifts, and failing to answer a dispatch call for him to come out to yet another collision. My mom says she’s to blame, as she told the dispatcher he wasn’t coming out, even when a squad arrived in the driveway with two other investigators to get him.

“He’s not coming out,” my ma said.

“What do you mean he’s not coming out?” said the dispatcher.

“He’s done two shifts. He’s been awake for twenty four hours and there are two guys sitting outside the house that can do it. One was out fishing at four in the morning. You don’t need him,” my ma said. “So that my fault,” she tells him. “I told him to tell them his wife didn’t wake him up, that he didn’t hear the phone,” she tells me.

“It was my watch,” my dad groans.

He was the father my friends admired.  The one who has always made me feel confounded when people – even my own stepson – tell their stories of the terrible father figures they had growing up.

He’s always been my hero. Simple, forthright, upstanding even when everybody around him wasn’t. He led me and my mom across this country, over the battlefields of Gettysburg and through Monument Valley and in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore, down into the Grand Canyon and Mammoth Cave and dozens of other places I probably never appreciated as a kid, but which make me reluctant to leave this country now even when it seems like the right thing to do for my kids. The Land of The Lost my parents called our vacations.

I will never have another Thanksgiving with us all together.

This house used to be full of racing kids and my drunken friends on holidays. It’s so empty. So beautiful and empty, surrounded by snow.  No one comes to see them.

My ma says the house doesn’t mean anything to her anymore, without being able to share it with my dad.

“I don’t want to take care of it. It’s too much. And I’m afraid of snakes.”

When they built it, we buried my eldest daughter’s umbilical chord in the front yard and my mom planted her namesake magnolia tree over it.

I always thought one day we’d live here.

But Nolie’s a California girl through and through, and I don’t see living in rural Indiana as being the best thing for my family anymore. My kids don’t have the relationship I wanted them to have with their grandparents. It’s my fault for being so far away. If I could at least point to some grand accomplishment I’ve achieved in going away. I followed my dreams and they haven’t led anywhere.

If I could lift up this house and carry it on my back with my mom and dad and all its contents somewhere else….

If I could rewind my life and make better decisions, so I could do something other than sit here and watch him sleep while my mom gets groceries….

I can’t help thinking I’m a failure too. Even now, with all my faculties. What will I have left in the end when my dad’s done so much and can’t recall any of it?

I feel as if I’m going down in the whirl and the suck that has a hold of my father.

 

Published in: on November 12, 2019 at 12:49 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I remember when my grandfather had regressed far enough in his past such that I had not yet been born and he no longer knew who I was. I both hope and fear that my father will live long enough that I will experience the same from him. That’s not a good chair to be sitting in and I’m truly sorry that you find yourself in it.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve brought a bit of light to my life through your work in a way that’s rare.

  2. I just want to echo the above comment. I’ve been there with my grandparents and my parents are headed that way. You have touched a lot of us and your accomplishments can be seen on the right side of this page. We all make the decisions that we make and some doors close and others open. It never ends up the way we thought it would. From my impartial seat it looks and sounds like you have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for. I am glad you are able to be there for him and your mom.


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