Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No. 2

I sit in my parents’ living room.  It’s hot and it’s stuffy.  Anyone else in the room is asleep.  My only company left is “Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of The Baskervilles,” a version I first saw, with my father in this same room, just two weeks ago.   When it started playing, just after I showed up at the house, I told my father, “Oh look.  We saw this movie a week or two ago.”  For anybody else, it would have been a subtle hint.  For my father, it was a bone of contention, an argument.  
“No we didn’t.”  
“Sure we did.  Remember?  See look at that guy, remember him?”  
“No.  Who is he?” 
“Well I don’t remember the actor’s name.  But look at him, doesn’t he look familiar?”  
My father turns from looking at me to looking at the television set, already drifting to a negative head shake before he even completes the turn.  
“I remember.” I say.  “Richard E. Grant!  If I’m right, the opening credits will list Richard E. Grant.”  
We stare at the television.  The opening credits begin, peppered liberally with scenes of a murder and the body being found.  Finally, right at the end, the words “and Richard E. Grant” scroll down the screen.
“See?”  I say, turning to look at my father.  
“See what?”
My mother once told me that when her parents died, she felt like she was doing something wrong simply by staying alive.  Or that’s how I interpreted what she said.  What she actually said was that, when her parents died, she felt as if she had stayed in a place, like a room or at a party, after her parents had vocally disapproved of it and left.  I suppose if I had been in an argumentative mood, I could have challenged her.  After all her father died more than 25 years earlier than her mother.  Get your story straight.  They died so far apart, you couldn’t really have been worried about “both” of their approvals.  So who was it?
An excellent argument in debate class, but hardly the answer to give when your mother is confessing something so deeply twisted, it can only be a measurement of how much therapy you may stand to need to pay for in the future.  
No matter, whichever parent, she must be in his/her good graces again.  After her death but before his stroke, my father wore his loss and how much he missed her like a deodorant or a cologne.  It clung to him.  He was never without it.  Now she never comes up.  
Well once.  When I asked him why he watches so much television.  He gave me a look as if I had asked the dumbest question imaginable.  
“Because I can watch whatever I want now.”  
The woman he used to tell me was the love of his life reduced to the woman who hogged the remote.   
On the television screen, Dr. Watson accompanies Lord Baskerville to his family estate.  I look longingly at the remote sitting on the coffee table in front of my sleeping father.  I can’t bring myself to change the channel.  For one thing, I know that the minute I rise from my chair, the sleeping spell that has taken the room will be broken.  For another, I know I am here to visit my father, not watch television.  Somehow, sitting watching something he chose, even if he is sleeping through it, fills that criteria.  Changing the channel to something I might like to see, does not.   
The thermostat, apparently unaware the room is already hot, triggers the heater and as it comes on, my eyes snap open.  I haven’t even been aware they were shut.  I lean forward, my elbows to my knees and focus on the television in an attempt to stay awake.  
After awhile, my father rouses.  
“You know?” He says, catching my attention.  “I think I’ve seen this before.”
I turn and stare at the screen as if all of the possible responses I might give were written there.  
“You know?”  I say, turning back to face him.  “Me too.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

No. 1

There are human experiences that can't be written.  You are sitting next to a huge koi pond with a fountain.  That noise, not quite "babbling," not rain, what do you call it?  Is there a word?  Could it ever really capture all of the nuances of the actual experience?
Every time I try to write about my father, I return to that koi pond, that fountain, that noise.  I know that I am close to something important.  I know I have something to say.  I just don't know what it is yet.
So I sit by the koi pond.  I'm in a pink, stained and faded deck chair on the left.  My dad's on the right, sitting in blue.  
"What happened here?"  He says, brushing his hand against my chin.
Normally, even if I don't betray it outwardly, I shrink away from my father's touch.  It is not a question of abuse, but more the near constant bullying of the largest kid in the room.  Always the largest kid in the room.   But, in this instance, his touch signals something else.  It is the first time he has noticed something about me that didn't directly relate to him in weeks, if not significantly longer.  
"Bug bite," I say and proceed to show and document every bug bite and it's corresponding mark all over my body.  
For more than a year, my dad's consciousness or level of awareness has faded in and out like a target blown by some unknown wind.   Words have shifted in usage as if concrete meanings have yet to be assigned.  Sine-aid, an over the counter sinus medication, has become the "go to" pinch hitter when no other word volunteers.  It doesn't seem to matter much.  I've never claimed to understand my father.  In many ways, it is as he has been shouting "Sine-aid" for years.
I know that for my father, family always comes first.  
"Friends will come and go, but your family is forever."
Back in the days when they still had me snowed by the "if you lie, we will always find out the truth in the long run" this seemed like an unfair curse. I envisioned lifetimes spent with these people.  You couldn't suicide from something like that.  I'd look at other families and long to move in with them, if only in the afterlife.
Now, my actual family diminished to just the two of us, only child to only child,  it promises a certain freedom I've never had before.  The chance to build a family rather than ....  What?  Be enslaved by one?  Trapped by one?  Saddled?  Locked in a hopeless struggle of co-dependence with one?
At least finally now, rather than my being the stupid one in the conversation, rather than my being the cause of all of the problems he is suffering, he has seen me.  In a moment of isolated clear vision, he has seen me.  
Nagging voices tell me to speak of the stroke.  
"You're being unfair to your listener.  When are you going to tell them about his stroke?"
My father had a stroke, at this point a little more than a year ago.   It is the reason for his mixed words.  It is the reason I have been activated, like a sleeper cell, to handle his affairs.  
I dare to hope I am more than a suicide bomber.  I dare to hope for a life after my life's mission has been accomplished.
For now, I sit next to a 9 foot kidney shaped koi pond where I once taught myself to dive and appreciate the beauty of my surroundings at my parents' house as if for the first time.  The light winking at me through oak and pine and fir is golden and beautiful.  That sound without a name caresses my hearing.  My bug bite recitation finished, I smile and my father smiles back.  It is only a moment.  A moment made even briefer by contrast, but it is no wonder I sense there is something to say, that I have witnessed something important.