Monday, November 27, 2006
Beyond The Sea
While I was walking back to the subway along the boardwalk on Sunday night, I happened to look out to the ocean.
I had just come from a rather exasperating visit with my father at the nursing home and I couldn’t help think that this day’s frustrations were just a preview of what life will be like when he returns home tomorrow. In short, I was miserable.
The day was beautiful, unseasonably warm, as they say, and coming in, I saw people on the boardwalk and one of the vendors was selling hotdogs and hamburgers, like it was the middle of July. I didn’t want to visit my father.
Coming back at 5 p.m., however, it was quite seasonably dark, reminding everyone in Coney Island that winter was indeed coming. And as I started my march to the Stillwell Avenue subway station, I looked out on the water saw a huge ocean liner, all lit up and sparkling like some fabulous jewel, heading out for the open sea.
I never thought much of cruises. The idea of being stuck with a group of people who turn out to be boneheads never appealed to me and, add to that all those stories of ship-board plagues, accidents, assaults, and other tales of woe and I pretty much scrapped the whole experience off my list.
But Sunday was different. On this night I wanted to be onboard that ocean liner so badly I could taste it. I pictured myself standing on the deck in a tuxedo, sipping a martini, as the Wonder Wheel, the parachute jump, and my life with all its problems, grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared.
Wait for me, I thought at the shrinking vessel, wait for me.
I would create a new identity, give out a fake name, and maybe put on a quasi-European accent, just to keep my fellow passengers guessing.
I would hit the dance floor every night and sleep until noon the next morning. I'd meet lords and ladies, counts and countesses, industrialists, and stock market wizards. I'd fall in love with a beautiful heiress (and she with me, of course), and begin a whole new life as somebody else.
Selfish? Of course. But then I will be the one bearing the brunt of my father’s care once he returns home. Yes, we’re going to hire people to take care of him, but right now it looks like I’m going to be a prisoner, forced to either give up things I enjoy or scramble to find hired help should something come up.
I had a different attitude earlier on Sunday. I went to the nursing home and when I got out on his floor, I saw that he wasn't in the dayroom, his usual spot. Fine, I thought, he must be in his room.
But he wasn't. His bed was empty, there was no sign of him and I felt this pull at my heart. Immediately, Captain Catastrophe thought the worst. Did it finally happen? Had my father suffered another stroke? Had he died? Here I am complaining about taking care of him and now he’s dead.
I asked one of the nurses and she told me my father had gone to mass. I was about to ask if we were talking about the same man, but I didn’t think sarcasm would help. So I went down to the second floor and, looked around, and sure enough, there was my father in his wheelchair, up in the front row.
I hadn’t been to church in a while, but I didn’t feel like leaving, so I found a place in the back and sat down for the duration of the service. I couldn't help but notice that I was one of the few people in the room who wasn't in a wheelchair.
I received communion, but passed on the wine, and after the service I went over to get my dad. It took a little doing getting him out of there, as there was a back-up of wheelchairs, like cars at the Holland Tunnel. But we eventually got out of there and I spent a few hours with him.
We were in the dayroom and I really wanted to leave. They were going to be serving dinner pretty soon and my father was convinced we were in a restaurant. Every time an aide went by--or "waitress" in his view--he tried to flag her down. Finally, he started climbing out of his wheelchair.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"I'm going to complain to the manager," he said.
I got him into his seat, told him I had to leave and reminded him that he was coming home in a few days. I pretended to be happy about it, but let's not kid ourselves. I'm going to miss the freedom I've had around here and I dread having to take care of my father, even if we do have hired help, it'll never be enough.
I've been sleeping in my father's bed, which is bigger than mine, and Mary, his aide, keeps his room quite clean, unlike mine, which is an ungodly mess. My dad's room is kind of like my stateroom, only I haven't sailed anywhere.
I'm not terribly happy at my job, I don't have a wife, a girlfriend, or a child. It just seems that so much of my life is up in the air and I'm at an age when I should be more settled.
I've spent so much time dreaming about being a great writer or filmmaker or whatever that I feel sometimes that my ship has sailed without me.
My siblings and I are going to try taking care of my father at home. However, we're agreed that if it doesn't work out, if we can't take proper care of him, or if he becomes too aggressive or violent, then he's going back into the nursing home.
I'm going to do the right thing for my father and my family and I will not run away, no matter how had it gets around here.
But I'm still working on my accent and keeping an eye out for passing ocean liners. You should always have a way out.