Wednesday, September 28, 2005
My father fell down in his room last night.
I was working on my computer when I heard this terrible crash and at first I thought it was the people upstairs. They're a pretty noisy bunch and I figured one them tipped over a bureau or some other large piece of furniture.
But I knew in my heart that the sound was a body hitting the floor and hitting hard. I walked out to the living room where I thought my father was watching TV and saw the couch was empty. Then I got frightened. He's 84 years old, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and he can't afford to fall down.
I ran to the back to his room, and, through the darkness, I saw him on the floor. He looked like an infant struggling to get to his feet.
I did my best not to panic. I asked him if he hurt himself and when he said he was okay I helped him to his feet, coaxing him gently all the way. He told me he had been reaching for the bed in the dark and missed.
I think that's been happening to him a lot lately. He reaches for something with either his hand or his mind only to find it's no longer there.
I'm getting good at picking my loved ones up off the floor. A few years back I pulled my mother off the same bedroom floor after she had collapsed because her lungs were failing, a condition that eventually killed her.
My father came into my room early that morning and said he needed a hand, matter of factly, like he was moving the couch. I never understood his behavior that day or other times when he argued with me about calling an ambulance for my mother. He was on a different wavelength.
When I walked into their room and saw my mother on the floor, trembling on her hands and knees, I screamed "Mom!" and got her on to the bed.
She went to the hospital that day, the start of a long, downward spiral that ended at St. Vincent's Hospital in Staten Island on July 16, 2002.
I remember that morning, when I got her on the bed, she was in shock, and she said weakly, "I'm going to die." I told her no, that wouldn't happen. And she held out for a long time--a couple of years, really--but eventually the disease was too much for her.
It's different with my father. I'm so used to him being strong that seeing him helpless on the floor is very frightening. And now we have to think if its time to look for a nursing home for him. I hate the thought of doing that, I'd rather he'd leave this life from his own home, but he can hurt himself if there's no one around to help him.
I got him into bed and later I thought of that terrible fight we had back on Memorial Day--the day set aside to honor fallen soldiers. I was tense and cranky that morning, as opposed to most days when I'm just a ray of sunshine. I wasn't certain if his health care aid was coming over on this holiday or not that morning and for some reason this was making me very angry.
Of course, I was also slightly troubled by being out of work, having no wife or girlfriend and living in my father's house at 48 years old. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln...
I remembered we were next to each other in the kitchen--only two people in this house and yet it seems we're always on top of one another. And he yelled at me, like he has so many times over the years, and I just lost it. I cursed, shoved him hard, and he went sailing back on the floor, like he was made of paper.
I remember watching him get up slowly, like a downed prizefighter, and I backed up into the living as he came staggering toward me. He made a fist and I screamed "I'll fucking kill you!" And he snarled "you couldn't kill anyone, you..."
It was horrible. I saw that deranged look in my father's eyes, something my mother, my siblings and I all lived up with. He wasn't human at that moment and I wasn't either.
I shouted, "fuck you, cunt!" and stormed out of the house. I walked aimlessly until I found myself on Third Avenue, among the various old soldiers--guys like my father--getting together for the Memorial Day parade.
I was disgusted with myself, for attacking my father, an old man, for sinking to his level, though perhaps it's my level, too. I told my sister that I had shoved him down because he was about to hit me, that I was acting in self-defense, but that's not true. I just got sick of him yelling at me and I reacted like he usually did.
I came home a little while later and George, my father's aid, was there. He knew something was up because he said my father had been asking for me. And my father came over to me and said in a low voice "just forget it." But I can't.
I did a terrible thing that morning and if writing this all down amounts to a confession to a crime, so be it. Whenever I replay that image of my father going down to the kitchen floor I certainly feel like a criminal.
My father has never been your typical Fifties dad. He wasn't the pipe-smoking, cardigan wearing intellectual who read books in his study. (His study?) He always seemed to be so angry at something and he'd often turn it on his family. Yes, he loved us and supported us, but there was also a hostile streak there, like he was doing unto us when had been done to him.
I was walking into my office the other day thinking how I can't talk to him anymore. Age and Alzheimer's have put him so far out of reach. That reasonable, intelligent man with whom I could discuss things with is gone. But so is the beast.
I hate using that word, but I'm afraid it applies. And not just to him. I saw it myself on Memorial Day and I've seen it many other times in my life, moments I wish I could erase from the history of my life, moments were I could say "just forget it." But that would be cheating.
I found an old family picture from one of our vacations. My dad is holding me in his arms, while my brother and sister stand on either side of him. In the picture he's tall, young, has a full head of hair and powerful, thick forearms. It looks like he could carry me for the whole day.
Now I pick my father up from the floor after time, age, and illness have ganged up him and knocked him down. And I know one day he won't get up, that he'll stop fighting the inevitable and give in.
And, of course, I can't help thinking about myself at these times, middle-aged, childless, single.
What will happen when--and if--I get to be his age? Will there be anyone to come help me when I fall in the dark, when I reach for something that isn't there?
Or will I lay there in the dark, thinking of the day I turned on my father and became a beast.