Literally, I get to slow down now. It’s Friday Night, the beginning of Shabbat. I should be sitting at the dinner table singing with friends and family till midnight, not sitting out here in the middle of nowhere by myself, writing. Well, this is my Shabbat celebration: to get to slow down enough to pick up my computer and do what I haven’t had time to do for the past eleven days: write. I love to write.
Where to start? I guess I could try to start where I left off: leaving Dad at the nursing home. That was weird. It’s even weirder because it’s actually happening. It’s not, like, he went in there to get all fixed up and then came beaming out the front door, looking years younger, with a spring in his step. No.
I go in there, trying to give everyone I meet on the way to his room a cheerful smile. Smile, and the world smiles with you. I see his room number: 110. I know that’s where he and his sweet-tempered roommate will be. I make the left turn into the room. Lyle, the roommate, smiles and waves. He beams when he sees that I have brought Noga the Lhasa Apso, who has appointed herself official therapy dog at the nursing home.
Dad is in bed, on his side, with his head and one arm hanging over the side. His belly, black and blue spotted with the jabs of insulin needles, puffs out feebly from the gap between his shirt and his pants. I pull his shirt down. He opens one eye, not at all surprised, and says, “Oh, hi, Laurie.” As if I had been expected to be in that spot on the stage, at that very moment. Perhaps I was.
“Hi, Dad. Are you comfortable that way?”
“No, I’m not. Would you please call those box top girls to help me”
“Yes, you know the ones. They’re in the hall and they say they have a button, but I don’t see, at least, haven’t found, whatever it is.”
“He means the aides. I called them, but they haven’t come,” says Lyle.
“I’ll take care of that,” and I do. Instantly two aides are at the bedside, pulling him into a more lifelike position.
“Would you like to sit up in your chair for a while, Norman?”
“Yes, I would.”
They help him stand and walk the six steps beside him, help him turn and sit. This is not my father. This is my father.
Wheel him over to face the chair I’ve parked in, to keep out of the way. We look at each other. Start a conversation about….something…..his eyes droop, head drops to his chest….asleep, in mid-sentence. It happened all the time when he was at home, too. It’s just that….in this stark-real place, it seems so….pathological….when before it had been just normal, for him, at this time.
Where are our special Mondays and Wednesdays, when we get to have six whole hours just for us, for me to make you sardine sandwiches, ugh, on bread lightly toasted, onion sliced thinly layered, tomato, and you used to like one small piece of lettuce on top, but not anymore. And after your sandwich, a piece of fruit. An apple, a tangerine, whatever was good.
Then maybe you’d need a nap, and maybe not–but your eyes kept an eye on your watch–is it four yet? Four o’clock—le’chaims! Scotch, sipped neat out of little cups he made for the purpose years ago.
This Wednesday I took a flask of Scotch and our special cups, and arrived at the nursing home at four o’clock. We would have le’chaims!
Room 110 only had Lyle in it. Lyle told me they had taken him to the Therapy Dining Room for dinner. Dinner? I thought that was at four-thirty. Honest, they give them dinner at four-thirty.
I had not been to the Therapeutic Dining Room before, although I knew they were working with him on eating issues (I never noticed any issues with eating the sardine sandwiches I made him, other than they fell apart usually, but every sardine sandwich will do that at some point). I found my way there, though, and it was nothing more than a couple of card tables pushed together in the middle of the physical therapy room. OK.
Dad was seated with his back toward me. He was trying to have a conversation with the gentleman across the table from him. Neither of them speak normally, but when put together it just sounded like two people having a normal conversation in a slightly foreign language.
I walked up next to Dad and said “Hi, Dad!” He halfway turned to me and said, “I’m busy now. I’m eating dinner.” And turned away.
I was not sure what kind of emotion to have. One part of me was hurt-little-girl, the other part was, OK, he’s creating boundaries, and that’s empowering for him in this disempowering place; and he’s used me for a testing point for his boundary-setting, because he knows me. So I decided to take it that way.
“What time is dinner over?” I asked the Dining Therapist.
“Hour and a half. Too long. Seeya, Dad. Here, let me kiss you on the head.” Smooch.
I also have boundaries. They are reasonable.
The next day is Thursday. I have therapy on Thursdays, an hour and a half away to the nearest city. I use the day to go have coffee, shop at Whole Foods, buy stuff for Shabbat, eat at the good Thai place.
Thursday, my mom calls me, says Dad wants to talk to me. Why didn’t I come today? Because it’s Thursday, and I always go to town on Thursdays, right? Right. But you weren’t, yesterday, right? Were you, did I? Was I mad because you chucked me out of the dining hall? Of course not. Did you hurt my feelings? Excuse me, but I have known you for a long time. You’re my grumpy old man, remember? Laughs.
But are you going to come? Tonight?
I’m sorry, Dad, but I will be getting home too late. It will already be dark.
We’ll have to see, tomorrow. I have to take Mom to the oral surgeon to get her tooth pulled, remember? And it all depends on how that goes, whether I can get back in time to come or not. And then Saturday is Shabbat, so it might be Sunday until I can visit.
I feel horrible. Whose fucking idea was this?