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It starts with an “S,” so I figured it was the shampoo.

September 26, 2012

I typically talk to Mother on Tuesdays during my drive home from the therapist. Per my routine, I called her yesterday while crawling down Monroe Drive in congested Midtown Atlanta.

“Hey. What’s uuuup,” I droned.

“Remember, we’re at Santa Rosa Beach this week.”

“Oh yeah, how could I forget?”

“Your daddy is asleep.”

We rarely vacationed as a family because Daddy always worried about money and missing work. Mother and Daddy found respite from parenting once in the late ’80s, leaving Timber and me with my grandparents while they escaped to Florida. When Mother and Daddy did take trips over the years, the excursion involved visiting one of Daddy’s Army friends, much to Mother’s irritation. I was happy to discover that Daddy instigated a vacation for no reason but to walk on the beach with Mother.

Before hitting the sand, Mother made sure to douse herself in high-strength sunblock. However, she couldn’t find it in her suitcase even though she knew she had packed it. After scouring the hotel room, she located the bottle in the shower, dripping with water.

“Robert. Did you wash your hair with the sunblock?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “It started with an ‘S,’ so I figured it was the shampoo.”

Once Mother and Daddy prepared themselves for extended sun exposure, they set up chairs on the sand but quickly became overheated. Mother carried a body-length float into the ocean and lay across it, immediately cooling off.

“It brought back so many memories of being a child,” she sighed. “I tried to convince your daddy to bring his float in the water with me, but he didn’t want to. He finally got in after I encouraged him, and he LOVED it. I worried he would never leave!”

As a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease, Daddy has become increasingly dependent on Mother. While in the ocean, he firmly held onto Mother’s foot or a corner of her float.

“It’s just… different now,” Mother tenderly croaked.

When I found out about Daddy’s diagnosis, I sent him a card describing my first memory of him. We happened to be on vacation with Mother’s parents at Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Probably a two-year-old, I refused to progress in the water after it reached my knees. Daddy threw me in anyway. I splashed for my life, gulping salt, viewing the sky through a rippling unyielding ceiling of blue-green glass. Daddy scooped me up between my legs and swung me to my feet.

The ocean has served as a powerful backdrop to Daddy’s prime and his slow decline. At two years old I believed he would stay dark and strong forever. Last summer he began retreating away from me like a wave without warning.

“Your daddy’s awake!” Mother shouted, handing him the phone.

“Hey Daddy, I heard y’all are having a good time at the beach.”

“It’s just great, let me tell you,” he answered. “Is there anything you’d like us to bring back for you?”

“What I want you to do is go on as many walks as possible with Mother on the beach.”

“That’s what we’re plannin’ on doin’. And I’ll hold her hand while we walk.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Timber permalink
    September 26, 2012 6:08 pm

    For some reason your writing is starting to remind me of Sylvia Plath. Please don’t stick your head in an oven.

  2. September 26, 2012 8:11 pm

    I’m going to take that as a compliment. I love The Bell Jar.

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