My father averages one shower per fortnight. My mother switched his mattress pad from cotton to plastic to absorb his accidents; he sleeps encircled in urine. I’ve developed a new strategy for goading Daddy to wash up. Every time I visit home on a gift-giving occasion, I pose his showering as Mother’s Valentine’s Day/Birthday/Christmas present. After all, he no longer can shop, let alone remember the date. Below please find a practical application.
“Daddy! Time to take a shower!” I be-bop into his bedroom.
“No,” he yawns.
“But, Daddy! It’s Valentine’s Day! If you take a shower, that’s like giving a Valentine’s Day present to Mother.”
“Oh all right,” he eventually groans.
Any holiday can be used. “But, Daddy! It’s Arbor Day!” –or– “But, Daddy! It’s Bunsen Burner Day!” –or– “But, Daddy! It’s the anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s gripping Bronco race!”
As noted, Daddy doesn’t even leave bed to pee anymore, but rises regularly to consume food and online porn. (Luckily his browser history always contains the keyword “MILF,” and I find comfort in his age-appropriate preferences.)
Mother recently adopted three nanny goats not only to control weed growth in her enormous side yard but also to keep her entertained. (Mother sometimes reflects on Jessica, the pet pygmy goat she adored in the late 1970s prior to having children. The following captions accompany pictures of Jessica in Mother’s leather-bound photo albums: “Jessica in the snow.” “Jessica nibbling a honeysuckle vine.” “Jessica on Easter morning.” One morning Daddy found her in the pasture, brutally ripped apart by wild dogs. Luckily barbed wire reinforces the new goat fence and will prohibit coyote entry.)
Anyway, a third benefit has emerged after the goats’ arrival: Daddy wanders outside twice a day to check on them. He doesn’t remember the goats’ names (Molly, Wallis and Jekyll) or why Mother bought them, but he wakes up cognizant of their existence.
“We have goats,” Daddy recently informed me on the phone.
“I know! I can’t wait to meet them in person.”
“Goats are good to have. They are a great topic of conversation,” he continued.
“Yeah, talk about an ice breaker,” I agreed.
“Some people say they’ve got yer goat.”
“Haha, yeah, what does that mean again?”
“I don’t know, but a goat’s somethin’ you can git.”
I guess Alzheimer’s is a curtain that hangs over my father, growing more and more opaque with time. Luckily a little sunshine still manages to poke through.
The other day when I opened the front door to greet my mother, she held her purse in one hand and an external hard drive in the other.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Daddy’s porn machine,” I answered.
“It’s an external hard drive,” I sighed. “It holds files like music, photos, or in Daddy’s case, porn.”
“It’s okay, Ryan has one, too,” I calmed her. Ryan narrowed his eyes at me from the sofa.
“Really, Bobbin, WHAT IS IT? I found it on the floor unplugged beside the computer, but the computer is working fine, so am I supposed to plug it back in?”
“I told you what it is: an external hard drive. Daddy probably stored music on it when he still listened to his iPod, so no, you don’t need to plug it back in. We can hook it up to my computer and figure out what’s on it.”
“Really? You’re SO SMART!” Mother clapped.
We soon discovered that the hard drive contained Timber’s iTunes library as well as some medical videos she watched as part of her master’s degree. Then, Mother waved a $15 iTunes gift card in my face.
“I won this at the gym!” she announced. “What do you do with an iTunes gift card? Listen to a song?”
“Good God, Mother. You can buy music and listen to it from your iPhone, iPod, or computer.”
“Can you buy individual songs and not entire albums?”
“Yes. Tell me what songs you want, and I’ll do it for you.”
“Yay! I’ve been wanting ‘Desperado’ by Linda Ronstadt.”
I downloaded “Desperado” on Mother’s iPhone.
“How much did that cost?” she asked.
“Wow, so I can buy several songs?!?!”
“Yep. What else do you want?”
We downloaded Carrie Underwood’s “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” and the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” before Mother ran out of ideas. I showed her how to access the music on her phone, but much to her consternation, U2’s Songs of Innocence sullied her library. (Songs of Innocence automatically downloaded to iTunes libraries upon its release last fall. If you care, read more about it here.)
“I don’t want that on here!” Mother carped.
“Okay, then I’ll make you a playlist with just your songs, okay? What should we call it?” I asked while creating the list on her phone. “I know: Lynn’s Vagina,” I slowly enunciated while typing the title. I pressed the screen into her face and guffawed.
“Bobbin, why did you do that?” Mother frowned, searing me with an expression that encapsulated hurt, embarrassment, and disappointment. I suddenly felt like a seventh grade bully but still couldn’t stop laughing.
“Take that off, Bobbin. Now you take that off!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know how!”
“TAKE IT OFF.”
I finally changed the title to “Lynn’s List,” which I admit is more rhythmic and alliterative than “Lynn’s Vagina.”
When Mother left I blew her kisses from the driveway and thought about how she’s loved “Desperado” for as long as I can remember. In the early ’90s, we took day trips to Harry’s Farmers Market in Marietta. Daddy could drive then. Mother would put on a Linda Ronstadt cassette tape and daydream or sometimes fall asleep with her face against the window, a slight grin reflected on the glass.
My last blog post from September includes a vignette about a family game of Catch Phrase as well as my inability to stop myself from ridiculing my mother when she plays. Timber forgot to bring Catch Phrase home for Christmas, so I downloaded Outburst on my iPhone, which is basically a Catch Phrase app. Bursting with holiday spirit, I purchased the $3.99 “All Word Packs” upgrade, which unlocked access to extra categories such as Literature, Super Word Pack #2, Accents & Impressions, 90s!, and Dirty Words. During one of Mother’s turns, she gripped my phone, eyes widening at the word she was tasked to describe. With her enormous cross earrings flapping against her cheeks, she sweetly smiled, batted her lashes, and said, “Oh! She made Bill Clinton feel GOOOOD!”
“Monica Lewsinky!!” Ryan and my Uncle Stanley screamed.
An hour or so later during one of my turns the screen displayed “Bill Clinton.” Juxtaposing Mother’s classiness, I blurted, “Monica Lewinsky sucked his dick.”
“Bill Clinton!!” everyone shouted, even though Timber was my only teammate.
“Bobbin, why do you have to be so nasty?” Mother scowled.
“I gave the perfect hint, didn’t I?” I defended myself.
Hours before my father had retreated to the bedroom. I slipped under the sheets on the other side, which Mother permanently vacated months ago. I lay next to Daddy reading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Revisited and told him about my financial goals — a topic he pontificated on with zeal before becoming an Alzheimer’s zombie. I also mentioned Mr. Money Mustache, a finance blogger who suggests saving and investing half of one’s income in order to achieve pecuniary freedom.
“I wish I could get to a point where I spend only half my income,” I sighed.
“Your mother is really good at that,” Daddy yawned. “She uses both halves.”
For a second Daddy’s old self flickered, but the overpowering stench of his body odor and urine drove me out of the room. His resistance to showering reminds me of my own childhood, when receiving permission to skip a bath was a special treat. In a way Daddy acts like my five-year-old brother.
“Daddy, Mother said to take a shower!” I yelled to him from the living room one morning.
“I don’t want to!” he shouted back.
“She said you have to!”
“I’m not going to!”
“Robert, get in the shower!” Mother intervened.
“Fine, I’ll get in the shower,” he huffed, sulking to the bathroom.
One evening Daddy emerged for a snack and broke a jar of pickles when he opened the pantry. He ignored the mess and stood over me eating a row of Saltines while I picked up the glass and sopped up the sticky juice with a ratty towel, trying to protect him from Mother’s wrath.
“Robert, the very idea!” she bawled.
“It’s okay, Daddy,” I winced while Saltine crumbs floated from his mouth onto the floor. (I concede that if I dealt with Daddy every day, I wouldn’t exercise much sympathy or patience.)
Every year on Christmas Eve our close family and friends gather for lunch and then a gift exchange. Per tradition, the youngest person opens presents first, and we proceed in chronological order. Since Daddy now is unable to interact with most people, we let him go first this year. He disappeared before the teenagers’ turns, but I didn’t even notice. I’m used to the empty chair.
I’ll close with an excerpt from Mary Gauthier’s song “Mercy Now” — a stretch of lyrics that makes me choke anew every time:
My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over; it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father; he could use some mercy now
On a recent Sunday morning Ryan, Mother, Timber, and I sat in Timber’s Augusta apartment playing guessing game Catch Phrase. We took turns holding a red disc that displays words and phrases belonging to a chosen category. Per the rules whichever team screams out the most correct answers before the timer goes off wins the round; we didn’t keep score, though, and all hollered our guesses for the sake of camaraderie and fun. Mother avoided holding the disc and being plagued with describing keywords from categories like Entertainment, Everyday Life, and The World.
“You know I don’t think well,” she protested when I shoved the disc in her face. “All right, all right, I’ll go with the category Everyday Life,” she rolled her eyes. “Oh! Oh!” she clapped, excited about the term displayed on the screen. “It’s something you do a lot, Bobbin.”
“FART!” I screamed.
“Close!” Mother encouraged me, fanning her butt.
“I love that you immediately knew what she was talking about,” Timber guffawed. “‘Something you do a lot’ could apply to a lot of things, like write, ride your bike, sleep…”
“POOT!” I continued.
“Almost!” Mother reassured me, holding her nose.
“CUT THE CHEESE!” Timber shouted.
“Pass gas?” Ryan quietly shrugged.
“MAKE A STINKY!” I screeched in desperation.
Eventually the timer buzzed.
“No, girls. No!” Mother frowned. “It was Break Wind. Geez!”
During another round that Mother was coerced to lead she bounced on the couch cushion while gripping imaginary horse reins.
“The Lone Ranger!” I thundered.
“No!” she grimaced, alternating between the bouncy horse movement and shaking while hugging herself as though she were freezing to death.
“Hypothermia!” I bellowed.
“No!” she gasped, disappointed in my ignorance. “The answer is Just Chillin’.”
We all howled with laughter.
My father snoozed upstairs in the guest bed, his entire body stretched across the queen-sized mattress, Timber’s orange tabby cat curled against one of his feet. Daddy is half alive and sort of involved in my life, and for the most part I’m accustomed to his absence. But the night before at an Augusta GreenJackets minor league baseball game, I achieved a SweetWater IPA buzz and vocally wished he were there wolfing down a hot dog and leaning back on the bleacher behind us sipping beer. “I want him back,” I slurred at Mother.
“Well it’s not going to happen. Sorry,” she answered, eyes stuck in center field.
Then I realized I want my mother back, too. Alzheimer’s steals its victims and also sucks the life out of overworked caregivers. The other day my mother saw her dermatologist in Atlanta, just a few exits away from my house. When I invited her to stop by for a visit she declined per the anxiety the city’s traffic causes her. I blew up, citing her willingness to drive four hours to Timber’s house in Augusta and spend a week with her at a time, juxtaposed with the infrequency of her making day trips to see me, refusal to travel 30 extra minutes after a doctor’s appointment to say hello, and hesitance to attend just one of the many literary readings I participate in on a regular basis around town. To be fair, the readings occur late at night, a time that strikes particular fear in my mother on the road. But that evening, while I screamed at my mother on the phone, I wouldn’t accept any of her excuses: that she hates driving after dark, that she has to stay home with my father, that taking my father with her to Timber’s house provides some relief from feeling alone.
“You can’t always use Daddy as a cop-out!” I yelled. “I still need a mother!”
With which she punched me in the gut: “Okay, I’ll pull myself together and come to one of your events late at night and get killed in a car accident. That will take care of my problem with you and take care of my problem at home!”
I shouted she’s full of shit well after she hung up on me, and eventually calmed down enough to call her back.
“You just don’t understand what it’s like,” she said. “You and your sister are moving on with your lives, and I’m stuck.”
She’s right: I don’t understand. I envision my mother sitting at the dinner table with my father but in reality eating in solitude; drinking her morning coffee on the couch while petting her main companion, the dog; weeping in her garden on her knees over a bed of black-eyed Susans as though her face were a watering can. After a while I always stop myself from thinking about it too hard.
This post contains information regarding Breaking Bad seasons three and four.
My husband and I binge-watched the entire Breaking Bad series over the fall. I initially disliked the Marie Schrader role. But after her husband Hank’s near-paralysis during a shoot-out in a shopping center parking lot, I grew to empathize with Marie on behalf of my mother. During his recovery, Hank becomes ornery and unloving, and as a coping mechanism Marie’s chronic kleptomania problem reemerges. She poses as a potential home buyer at open houses, pilfering the property owners’ possessions and claiming to be married to men with careers that have nothing to do with Hank’s position at the DEA. I understood Marie’s search for an escape.
I wonder how my mother mentally liberates herself from a marriage to the man she was supposed to grow old with but isn’t the person she wed in 1971. Time indeed begets change, but Alzheimer’s strips its victims of their selfhood.
When I visited home this weekend Mother beckoned me to the computer room. She had pulled up the Google Chrome homepage, which displayed a grid with the browser’s most frequently visited sites: instanthandjob.com, getlaidtonight.com, and milfsex.com.
“All your daddy does is eat, poop, and watch porn,” Mother half-chuckled.
“Isn’t that what all men do?” I answered.
In response to a recent spike in her stress levels, Mother purchased a couple pairs of cowboy boots: one to pack away for Christmas and another to wear in the summer.
“You’re never too old to wear cowboy boots,” Mother said. “You should see the adorable pair I’m getting in the mail any day now. The base is brown, and the shaft is pink.”
“Wow!” I widely smiled, wondering if Mother realized that when taken out of context, her description of the boots also could apply to a two-toned penis.
I sanction whatever is necessary for my mother to get by. At least she paid for the boots, unlike Marie Schrader.
On Easter this year my family and close friends chipped in a couple dishes each so my mother wouldn’t have to do everything. Before lunch everybody gathered in the kitchen — except my father, who sought respite in his recliner. My trophy husband Ryan followed him into the living room and focused on one of two topics my father gets excited about: giving my mother grief for her financial “prowess.”
“And let me tell you,” I overheard Daddy say, “Those Wages women are expensive. You can tell them a lot but you can’t tell them much.”
I grimaced, knowing I’d get shit for that later.
Ryan claims the feast consisted of “hillbilly fatty foods,” such as pineapple au gratin (pineapple chunks baked with butter, crushed-up Ritz crackers, and shredded cheddar), canned black-eyed peas swimming in various oils, and cheesy collard greens. To be clear, Ryan inhaled a heaping plate-full.
Immediately upon finishing his meal at around 1:30 p.m., Daddy retired to bed. While our guests continued picking at leftovers, I slinked down the hall and spread out next to him as the Military Channel blared.
“Daddy, what are you doing?”
“I’m checkin’ my eyelids fer holes. I’m on the left eye right now.”
“Have you found any?”
“Cool, I guess I’ll see you later.”
I could have been patient like Ryan and posed the same questions I always ask about Vietnam or silently lain there, but instead I hustled back to the dining room where the conversation easily flowed. After dessert long had ended and we remained at the table sipping coffee in a stuffed stupor, my father silently traipsed past us. I followed him into the kitchen to find him snacking on slabs of ham.
“Mmm, this is good,” he smacked. “Bye.”
He skulked back down the hall licking his hammy fingers without acknowledging anyone — like I did as a 14-year-old, disinterested in my parents’ dinner chatter with their friends.
Before leaving I wandered around the yard admiring the mini botanical garden Mother has labored over for decades. The Coreopsis bloomed bright orange; deep pink blossoms dangled from the Bleeding Heart; I ogled the thick Solomon Seal, a section of which she dug up for me to plant in my own flowerbed. How ironic that the exterior of my childhood home bursts with color and hearty green stalks and leaves, but it’s always winter indoors.
Ordering an appropriately dressed hamburger is impossible for my father. On my Birthday at Farm Burger he requested a sole slice of cheese, which is no fun compared to the restaurant’s vast topping combination possibilities.
“No, you don’t want that,” I corrected Daddy, snatching the menu from his hand. “You want No. 6.” (No. 6 includes bacon, a fried egg, pepper jack cheese, and salsa verde.)
“Mmm. This is good,” he smacked at the table, validating my knowledge of his hamburger tastes.
My father lost the ability to make big decisions a couple years ago, but now he can’t even select condiments from a list.
When we dined at Augusta restaurant Whiskey Bar a few weeks ago, Daddy again ordered a hamburger accented with a lonely piece of cheese, along with a Yuengling and a side of onion rings.
“I want a cheeseburger,” he notified the waitress.
“He wants a Yuengling, too,” Timber added.
“And a side of onion rings,” I told her.
The waitress laughed as though we were cunts who control our father’s every move — but really, we scan the menu with him and remember what he points out because he’ll forget seconds later.
The other morning I lay on Timber’s living room floor performing physical therapy exercises to rebuild my atrophied muscle post knee surgery. While I completed clam shells with a resistance band, Timber read her daily Upper Room Bible lesson aloud so Daddy, on the adjacent sofa, could hear.
She began with Psalm 119:105:
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
All of the Upper Room spirituals are written by readers, and that day’s story involved a mountain climber who hiked a trail without a map. He got lost, so his scouring the overgrown path for trail markers inhibited his scenic enjoyment.
Just like people who don’t study the path of their Christian journey fall to the wayside!!! ! !! ! !
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to be disciplined in our worship, our praying, and our Bible study so that we can keep your guidance fresh in our hearts and minds.
“Daddy,” Timber said once she finished reading.
“Huh?” he half-snorted, awaking from his jaunt through Alzheimer’s La La Land.
“What is the underlying message of today’s lesson?”
“Worship!!” he yelled as if he were a punk from my public high school who never listened but remained attentive enough to provide smart-ass answers.
“No,” Timber scowled.
“Hikers,” Daddy tried.
“Lemme see that,” he huffed, jerking the pocket-sized booklet from her grip. “‘God’s touchstones give us confidence for our faith journey,'” he announced, quoting the sidebar containing the Thought for the Day.
“Good enough,” she sighed.
“Awesome, Daddy!” I panted while isolating my core.
My eyes rolled to the side and fell on his vacant gaze and focused on his unconcerned brow and winced with every empty blink. I ached to look away, but I couldn’t help but stare at the aftermath of the traffic accident inside his brain.