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.
Ironically I mentioned in my previous post that my father avoids leaving the house unless the trip involves seeing Timber and me. However, last weekend on my mother’s Birthday he refused to come to Atlanta, where we all planned to convene and celebrate. While Daddy’s disinterest hurt Mother’s feelings at first, his absence allowed her, Timber, and me to enjoy a leisurely lunch at No. 246 and then traipse around a couple shops without having to worry about his anxiety levels in a strange location.Last year a friend whose father had been ill for several years bemoaned her tendency to think of him in the past tense even before his passing. I fear I have begun to reference Daddy in the same way. For example, at my physical therapy appointment yesterday morning, I discovered that my therapist teaches Sunday School.
“My father used to teach Sunday School,” I responded.
I say “My father used to…” a lot. “My father used to walk every morning before work.” –OR– “My father used to call me every day.”
My father doesn’t do anything anymore.
A couple weeks ago on my 30th Birthday Daddy rode with Mother to take me out to lunch. When we arrived back at my house my friend Jesse was waiting in the driveway. I immediately started giving Mother grief for some of the ridiculous things she said on the drive back from Farm Burger to break a couple stretches of silence.
Mark Wahlberg used to drag around a stuffed monkey as a child. That came out on Wahlburgers.
I didn’t know Donnie Wahlberg was a New Kid on the Block.
“I actually didn’t know that either,” Jesse said after I mocked Mother in front of my house.
Once we walked inside Mother stampeded into my bedroom and ran out holding my tattered 28-year-old teddy bear over her head.
“Jesse, here’s the teddy bear that Bobbin still sleeps with every night!!! ! !” she proclaimed.
“I can’t believe you!” I huffed, mouth agape.
“Bobbin, you dole out so much shit but can’t take any yourself,” Jesse noted.
During the commotion as well as the consumption of ice cream and cake Daddy lay on the couch in the living room staring at the ceiling. I offered to turn on the TV, but he remained content taking a trip through Alzheimer’s La La Land.
Daddy is the wraith in the other room. He is sort of there. My father used to love Birthdays.
My father wore the same outfit for 14 days and showered once during that time span; at the two-week mark my mother demanded that he change clothes. For a couple years she convinced Daddy to shower by offering to take him out to eat or on a day trip to Blue Ridge or Dahlonega — but the excursions remained contingent on his cleaning up first. That tactic now is futile, as Daddy would rather stay in bed than do anything with one exception: visiting Timber or me.
Last weekend we celebrated Daddy’s Birthday in Atlanta, since I still can’t drive post-knee surgery. We went to lunch at Avondale Estates restaurant Pallookaville Fine Foods, which features choose-your-own-batter corn dogs, garbaged French fries (garbage toppings include pimento cheese, onions, malt vinegar, and sea salt), shaketails (alcohol-laced milkshakes), and other miscellaneous trash food that tastes amazing in the moment.
“Your Daddy would have loved that,” Mother said when I suggested we go to Pallookaville for his Birthday on the phone. That’s what my father’s Birthday has become: a memorial of his past self, an attempt to appeal to his former likes, in hopes that the neurons in his brain will correctly fire for a second, and the shell of his body will smile in response.
Daddy scarfed his jalapeño batter-dipped Corndogula, stabbed the pimento cheese-slathered fries with his fork, and sucked his Thin Lizzy shaketail (chocolate ice cream and Guinness) without reservation, which signaled success and served as Alzheimer’s code for “Thank You.”
By this point we offer Daddy gifts more to please ourselves than to make him happy. Mother gave him two pairs of the Nike track pant he already owns and always sports around the house and to bed. Upon Mother’s suggestion, I bought him a pair of lightweight Sanuk shoes: a warm weather alternative to the fleece-lined winter slippers he rarely removes.
“I’m gon’ try these on,” Daddy said, grunting and folding over his belly. He sighed, lay back on the sofa, and lifted his legs in a wordless request for assistance. During the Normal Daddy Days, I never would have touched him like that. Once I dropped a cheese puff on his crotch, and he slapped my hand away before I could get near it. Both crotch and feet comprised prohibited territory.
While I forced off Daddy’s shoes and socks and revealed his frighteningly long toenails, I felt like a nurse, invisible lasers transforming me from daughter to caregiver. Daddy held up his feet and admired his slippers, like I did when I got new shoes as a child.
Mother and I embraced in the kitchen before she and Daddy departed for Calhoun. I felt her crying; she wouldn’t let me go. I knew she didn’t want to go home.
A recent conversation with Atlanta writer Jason Mallory prompted me to reminisce about some of my favorite Sesame Street vignettes. I look with particular fondness upon “Ladybugs’ Picnic,” the animated celebration of the Number 12, because my father often shouted it throughout the house.
“OHHH, it’s the Ladybug Picnic!!!” he screamed, sort of getting the lyrics right.
For your reference, here is the video:
The other day I called Daddy to ask whether he remembered the song that once served as one of our family’s educational staples.
“Daddy, do you remember that song ‘Ladybugs’ Picnic’ you used to go around the house singing all the time?”
“What song?” he asked, requesting additional clarification.
“You know, ‘OHHH, it’s the Ladybug Picnic!!!'” I yelled, emulating his former enthusiasm.
“Yeah I know it. It’s the song you were just sangin’!”
“Right,” I emotionally retreated.
On Sunday Daddy, Mother, and her two brothers visited; while Mother and my uncles wandered around Ryan’s and my new house, Daddy sat on the sofa staring into space. His mental romp through Alzheimer’s La La Land continued at lunch at Grant Park restaurant Six Feet Under.
When the waitress took Mother’s order, Daddy quickly said, “I’ll have that, too.” He always requests the same dish as Mother since menus present overwhelming choices, and Alzheimer’s has annihilated his ability to make decisions, even something as simple as deciding what to eat.
While the rest of us caught up on family gossip, Daddy picked up and studied each condiment bottle over and over – perhaps a manifestation of anxiety over not being able to keep up with the conversation. Usually my attempts to include Daddy result in increased alienation, so I expect nothing more from him than quiet companionship.
Daddy’s and my comfort with total silence proved useful when we herded across the street like a bunch of hillbillies into Oakland Cemetery, an historic final resting place as well as a serene, multi-acre green space. Because I am wearing a leg brace and walking with crutches, I lay in the grass beside Daddy while the rest of my family traipsed through the cemetery’s many sections.
“There’s a lotta dead people in here,” Daddy commented.
“Yep,” I agreed.
At one point Daddy shuffled through a row of graves and froze, considering names and dates. The old Daddy would have had a wad of tobacco tucked into his cheeks.
An Oakland Cemetery volunteer greeted Daddy, and I rolled over in an attempt to eavesdrop and gauge what kind of believable show my father still manages to put on.
“There’s a lotta dead people in here,” I overheard him say.
After a brief exchange Daddy turned away from the man and gazed into nowhere.