I feel like a ghost in this empty house.
At one time, this place was full of people--my parents, four children, my grandmother, a dog and a cat, a whole tribe living in a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor.
People grew up, moved on, or died and now, with my father in the hospital, I'm like a night watchman at some obscure museum.
I walk the length of this place checking the doors, switching off the lights. I finally got the privacy I so desperately craved, but now it feels unnatural and unhealthy. I feel like I'm under house arrest. Which in a sense, I am.
I wish I could tell you I'm doing the whole Risky Business thing, dancing and lip-synching in my underwear, but that doesn't work so well for a 49-year old man. I do have less chores with my father away, I don't have to make his coffee in the morning, heat up his pancakes, or give him his medicine.
Instead of "Old Time Rock 'n Roll" I'm thinking of an old Fifth Dimension song called "One Less Bell to Answer."
This is what'll be like when he dies, I thought one morning as I got ready for work. My "To Do" list will suddenly be a lot shorter.
The other night I heard a noise someplace and I came walking out into the living room's total darkness. I got spooked all of a sudden, as if the bogey man had returned from my childhood to raise hell with my middle age. Just like the bastard to do something like that.
I turned on the lights in every room as I walked and then turned them off as I walked back to the bedroom (I'm sleeping in my parents' room, now that I'm master of the house.) No trace of the bogey man, I'm happy to report.
My sister used to make a big production of checking to see if the doors were all locked and my brother and I used to tease her, tapping our in a military cadence as she walked by and chanting "Night Patrol" mockingly deep voices.
And my mother was big on locking the place up at night. She'd check the locks, always using the same expression in melodramatic tones.
"We don't want to be murdered in our beds!" she would say.
I'm not sure why being murdered in our beds would be worse than being murdered anywhere else in the house, but I liked how she said. Back when I was in college, my mother and I took turns reading Stephen King's modern vampire take, Salem's Lot.
King is hardly a great writer, but I have to say that was one of the scariest books I've ever read. I remember reading it while I was sitting in the Hunter College cafeteria and I was just about shaking as the undead began doing their thing.
Many of the vampires in the book spent their daylight hours in various basements and when my mother read the book she refused to go into our cellar for a month--even when the sun was out.
The place is a mess, and it's only gotten worse over the years, but I don't think any blood-sucking corpses live down there.
"Mom," I said to her, "do you seriously think there's such a thing as vampires? And they'd be in our cellar?"
But logic couldn't win out over old world superstition, so my mom avoided going down those old cellar steps until her fear eventually faded away.
Who Goes There?
My father comes home tomorrow, a day that promises to be the hottest one on record. The weather experts are talking about temperatures of 100 degrees or better and with this heat index business it's probably going to feel like Ninth Circle of Hell or the far side of Mercury around here.
My tenants keep tripping the circuit breaker, which means I have to keep going down into the basement, vampires or not, and put the lights back on. I did it four times tonight already and if they come to the door one more time, I'm going to climb out the back window.
I'm not an electrician, but the trouble we've been having may be connected to their recent purchase of an industrial sized air conditioner that's probably better suited for a meat locker than a private home. Just a thought.
I feel like things are spinning out of my control. Of course it's a fallacy to think we have much say in our lives, but still, before my father went in, I thought I could go along pretty much as I always did. Now I feel like I'm bound to this place like a condemned spirit.
My sister thinks my father cannot be alone anymore, even for a short amount of time. That means if I want to go out at night, I'll have to find someone to watch him for a couple of hours.
We already have Mary, who is a godsend, and George, my father's aid from the V.A., but they can't be here 24/7. So I'm trying out a woman for the weekend and Mary is asking around to see if she can come up with some people.
In between trips to the basement, I spoke to the woman who's coming over from Flatbush. It took her 10 minutes to get the directions to our house down and I'm still not sure she's got it. And she expects us to pay for a cab to take her back home.
"Fifty-eighth street," she said in her West Indian accent.
"No," I said, "sixty-eighth street..."
I'm worried about being stuck when I want to go out. I'm worried we won't have the money to pay for all this additional help. I'm worried my father will get worse--inevitable, really--and I'll be stuck here even more, feeding him chicken soup while I slowly turn into an old man. I look up and I'll have turned into him.
I've had such selfish thoughts over the last few days. I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the hospital, two gorgeous summer days stuck inside that oppressive building when I really wanted to be on a beach somewhere leering at all the pretty young things in their bikinis.
My father was actually supposed to come home today, but Mary twisted some arms at the hospital and got them to keep my dad there for another day. I don't know how she does it, but Mary's got more nerve in her little finger than I have in my whole body.
I know these are terrible thoughts and it only serves to turn up the heat on my self-loathing. He's your father, I tell myself. He took care of you, the least you could do is return the favor.
But, honestly, I just want to run away, change my name, move to a new city, and start a brand new life. I need a family version of the witness protection program. Am I an evil man for thinking this way or do even the most noble among us have occassional fantasies about flight?
I'm thinking now of a scene from a great old western, The Magnificent Seven, where the heroes have been betrayed by the people they're trying to protect and being driven out of town.
The gunsligners are angry and debate about going back to take out the banditos. One guy, a gambler who only took the job for money, says something like "I don't like running away, but there comes a time when you have to turn mother's picture to the wall and go."
I dream of a life without responsibilities, but I know that's impossbile. If I had gotten married, I would have a wife and possibly a family to take care of. If I meet Miss Right tomorrow, I'll have to give up something of myself to be a good man to her.
So, I'll rest up and pray for strength and cooler weather. I'll try not to despair, or wonder what I could be doing or what I should have done with my life when I was 22. This is the only life I have and I'm going to do the best I can with it.
I won't turn mother's picture to the wall and I'll do my best to fill this empty old house with all the positive energy I can muster. Let's hope it lasts.