Saturday, August 19, 2006
"Children Do Not Realize"
My sister came over to the house the other day and found an Easter card I had given to my parents in 1994.
It's a big ivory number with the words "For Mother and Dad With Love" above an Easter basket. I always liked the larger size holiday cards for my parents.
"Children do not realize," it begins, "how deep is parent love, how wise..."
Reading that card today, I see there's a lot I didn't realize, or maybe things I just didn't want to believe.
I didn't want to believe my mother would die some day, or that my father would be so old and frail that he could barely stand up.
I didn't realize or I didn't believe, either way, that's what's happening now with or without my persmission.
My sister was cleaning up the house to make it more senior-friendly for my dad--getting rid of boxes, cleaning out the hallway to my father's bedroom.
My father's home from his second hospital stay in less than a month, but God only knows how long he'll be here. He came home Tuesday, which would have been my mother's birthday, only she's been gone for four years now.
I heard a noise coming from my father's room now and I had to run like hell to see if had fallen again.
He just dropped his cane this time, but next time it could be much worse. I went through this with my mother, any loud noise, or the sound of your name, and you're running down the hall praying that something terrible hasn't happened.
I only sleep a few hours a night, as I get up whenever he does and I can't leave the house unless I have someone here to watch him. Usually that means hiring someone.
I'm surprised he's still alive, frankly, after the way he looked on Tuesday. He couldn't stand without a walker, his mouth was hanging half-opened and he could barely respond when I spoke to him.
I had to help Mary and George, his healthcare aides, get out the door for a trip to the doctor. I'm amazed they let him leave the VA, seeing how bad he looked.
He was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the car to arrive and he looked so bad, so out of it, I was almost in tears. I kissed him on the head and asked him how he was doing. I think I got a nod in return.
Medal of Honor
There were so many bad times with my father, times when I hated him and wished he was dead. He could be so mean-spirited and violent, it was almost like he had children solely for the purpose of fighting with them.
None of that seems to matter now and realizing that he could very soon be dead frightens me. And there were good times, too.
He once called me while I was living in Pennsylvania, about 1988, I guess, to tell me he had finally gotten his medals he had won during World War II. There was some screw up where he didn't get them or lost them, whatever the case, he had them and said he would give them to me.
"You want me to hold on to them?" I asked, missing the point entirely.
"I'll leave them for you in my will," he responded.
I barely got out a choked "thank you," hung up and started crying my eyes out. I called my mother, who was working at the old Lincoln Savings Bank in Brooklyn to tell her what was going on, but I was weeping so much she didn't understand me.
Finally, I got the story out and she told me I was feeling guilty, given our rather tortured relationship over the years.
"The world wasn't meant for people like us," she said.
It looks like I'll be inheriting those medals pretty soon now. I don't deserve them, and I could put that honor off forever, but once I get them, I'll take good care of them.
I found a picture of me and my father, which I suspect was taken on Easter Sunday sometime back in the 20th Century. He's squatting down with his arm around me and I'm wearing my fancy gray coat with the black collar.
My God, he looks so young and in control in that photo. I want to ask where did the time go, but what I really mean is can I have it back? Can I take those years away, be a child again, and have Mommy and Daddy looking out for me?
Well, we already know the answer to these questions.
The Goodbye Girl
My niece, Kristin, called today to say goodbye. She's heading off for Oneonta, NY to start her freshman year of college.
I still can't believe it, the little girl I bounced on my knee just... last week, it seems... is now a college student. What's the word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah...oy!
That's one thing about change; you lose a lot and you gain. If I could turn the years back, I wouldn't have Kristin, or my other niece, Victoria, and I don't even want to think about that.
She had been planning to come over and say goodbye in person, but her father, alias my brother, couldn't make it because he was going out to his new house in Jersey where he will live with his new wife. And I will say no more on that subject.
It's a shame she won't be able to say goodbye to her grandfather. I just hope he's around the next time she comes to visit.
I told Kristin that I loved her, that I was proud of her, and that I knew she would do great things in college. I told her to enjoy life and to try new things. I didn't go away to college and I think I lost something, remained a child too long.
I was tempted to tell Kristin to avoid winding up like me, an unmarried, nearly-50-year-old man living in his parents' house. But I want to keep things cordial. I just want her to see how fast the time goes, how quickly we become old and that regrets are the most painful thing of all.
It seems like my family's breaking apart. My father is here, but clearly it won't be for long. Kristin is heading off to college, but, as much as that hurts, I know it's going to be great for her. She has to have her own life and I want it to be a happy one.
After wishing her the best, I met up with my neighbor's brother, who expresed an interest in buying my father's old Toyota.
It's been sitting in our garage for years and we want to get rid of the damn thing. The garage is crumbling and we've got to clear it out before we can do the repairs.
My father was driving long after he should have been. He used to go visit my mother at the nursing home every day and after she died, he'd go to the cemetery, both of which are located in Staten Island. Every day I'd call him from work at 4 pm, praying to God he hadn't gotten into an accident.
He'd lose his keys, or forget where parked the car, or lock the keys in the car. It was one fiasaco after another. And always we had to worry about him getting into a wreck.
Finally his doctor told him no more driving and we put the Toyota in the garage for keeps. Both my dad and his car are falling apart now, but I'm not worried about the Toyota. I just want it gone.
But not so fast. First we had to find the title, which, of course, he had lost. We went through months of calls and letters until we finally got the title and today I was ready to sell thing to John's brother.
Only I didn't have the key.
I thought I did. But there was some screw-up where the key that opens the door does not start the ignition. We had numerous copies made as my father kept losing them, but none of them seemed to work. John's brother spoke with his father while I went in and out of the house trying yet another set of keys.
John is Chinese and while I don't speak the language, I'm sure they were saying something along the lines of "get a load of this bonehead" as I scurried back and forth. Well, I'm going to find the keys or call Toyota, or drop a match down the gas tank if I have to. I want this bastard gone.
So we're selling off parts of my father's life. Pretty soon it'll be the house and the thought of giving our family's place is so upsetting. But we really have no use for it, and if nice people move in here, it'll be a good deal.
It'll also be the end of my excuses. I'll have to find another place to live. Maybe make good on all my talk about moving to California...or Washington...or New Zealand...
That Easter card from '94 ends with a line about "the dearest parents anywhere!" I see that I scrawled "how true" beneath it in my awful penmanship. The handwriting is from hunger, but nothing could change those feelings of mine.
Now I've got to find that damn key...