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It’s two months, three weeks and two days ’til my Berfday.

January 31, 2013

My dad used to call me every day: always to say he loves me, often to offer unsolicited professional advice, and sometimes to provide a countdown to his Birthday.

“It’s two months, three weeks and two days ’til my Berfday,” he would inform me, his genuine giddiness a product of growing up an only child, eternally in his parents’ spotlight. Immediately after inhaling cake and ice cream with family gathered at the dining room table, he would say, “I’m ready to open presents now.”

“Well hold on Robert, people aren’t done eating,” Mother would roll her eyes but also giggle.

Daddy would count down to Timber’s and my Birthdays as well, beginning about a month beforehand.

“It’s about 12 hours and 10 minutes ’til yer Berfday,” he’d say, referencing the exact minute I entered the world.

Nowadays, Daddy neither calls me nor cares about momentous occasions such as a tornado that smashed the countryside near my childhood home, my wedding and—most shockingly—his Birthday. Daddy’s even-keel apathy isn’t his fault but a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease. And my sister Timber thinks he’s stopped calling us because he no longer understands how to fully operate a phone. Several months ago he asked Timber for instructions on how to place a call in case he needed something while left home alone for a couple hours.

Mother will put Daddy on the phone with me when I ask, and after an average of 30 seconds he anxiously hands it back to her. I recently accepted that Daddy probably never will call me again: a difficult realization, particularly since his past telephone prowess brought me so much joy »

In June 2011 Daddy’s colleagues noticed declines in his job performance, and Mother had picked up on weird behaviors but only would stop to think “Hmph…” Neither party disclosed their observations to each other, or me. At that point I still assumed my parents peacefully would die of natural causes in their sleep in their mid 90s. However, a voicemail Daddy left me on the morning of the first day of summer uplifted me so much that I saved it for months, resaving it every time Verizon threatened to delete it in 14 days. After Daddy’s diagnosis I stored the file on my external hard drive, rejoicing that my gut convinced me to salvage it in the first place. The voicemail perfectly encapsulates Daddy’s defining qualities: high energy, a Southern twang and public speaking grace:

The following Christmas my nuclear family along with Daddy’s coworkers knew something was horribly wrong, but the casual observer claimed he seemed perfectly fine. Despite Daddy’s irrational behavior, such as driving around in the middle of the night, calling his secretary with the same question several times a day, and extreme obsessive compulsiveness overall, he managed to leave me a normal-sounding holiday voicemail:

After that, the voicemails stopped, until Daddy called on my Birthday in March 2012—also the day of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. His vibrancy had vanished; his once rhythmic cadence, an apprehensive stutter; his formerly poetic diction, forlorn and to the point:

While the third message makes my stomach fall, I will keep it forever—an aural scrap of Daddy’s former self, my real father who used to get jacked up about life especially Birthdays.

Here’s that pillow you said looks like a whorehouse.

January 24, 2013

My husband and I enjoy separate winter holidays from work: he, Presidents Day and I, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which occurred this past Monday. I decided to harness the opportunity to visit my parents and drove to their house late Sunday night after a marathon cooking session. (A post bemoaning the time necessary to devise a menu, grocery shop and prepare fresh food would belong on my former even more self-absorbed blog regarding the minutiae of my life, so I won’t digress.) Ryan watched me wheel around in the middle of our street and coast toward I-20 through the sketchy neighborhood near Turner Field. I thought nothing of my decision to take the seedy path and cranked up The Rolling Thunder Revue during the entire ride. Once I finally reached my parents’ house an hour and a half later, I noticed eight missed calls on my phone.

Hungover and paranoid, Ryan decided I got carjacked on my way to the interstate and drove around Capitol Avenue in search of my corpse and/or pilfered vehicle. He even contacted my sister Timber, igniting her worry as well. As I parked my car at the side of my parents’ home, Timber shook her finger at me shouting “Bad. BAD!” through the frost-covered glass screen door.

“If you had gotten disfigured in a horrible car accident, I know you’d be really depressed, so while I was AWAKE worrying whether you were ALIVE, I came up with an idea to help you cope with losing an eye. (Losing an eye is as far as I got.) Anyway,” Timber said, bombarding me with her morbid daydream, “I decided I would make decorative eye patches for you. Like one would have a huge feather sticking out of the top, and another feather would hang off the bottom and drape across your shoulder. Some of them would be extremely dramatic and fashionable, but don’t worry! I would make more neutral, functional eye patches for you, too. You could go jogging in one, do the dishes, you know, a variety of activities.”

I blinked, processing images of Timber’s morose yet tender gesture.

“I’m such a good sister,” she added.

“You are. You know, that’s really sweet. Would you make me a spider one for Halloween?”

“Ooo yeah! I could make you a spider eye patch, and the legs would hang all down your body,” she said, splaying her fingers across her chest.

“Girls, stop!” Mother pleaded, walking in on the conversation.

Mother taught us to appreciate the changing of the seasons and holidays by decorating for everything, hence my request for a spider eye patch. In March, a shamrock pillow sits on the sofa, leprechaun figurines dance around the wine rack, and a magnetized limerick wishes us good luck as we open the refrigerator; in July, a retro Uncle Sam piggy bank collects quarters on the dining room table, flags wave from the bookshelves, and metallic red stars on sticks spray upward from their vases; not to mention one of Mother’s favorites—Halloween—when witches, ghosts, and jack-o-lanterns creep us out from every corner.

As you might imagine, Mother goes all out for Valentine’s Day as well—a heart mobile dangles from a fan; a heart garland hangs from Timber’s bedroom ceiling; red and pink hearts peek from pretty much everywhere.

the heart pillow

“Here’s that pillow you said looks like a whorehouse,” Mother mentioned when I finally settled on the sofa.

“Huh?” I shrugged, glancing at the enormous velvet heart pillow Mother propped on the settee. “I didn’t say that!”

“Yes you did. You said it looks like a whorehouse.”

“No I didn’t! Timber must have said it. You’re CRAZY.”

“If you’re not going to be nice, I’m going to bed. Obi’s sweet to me,” Mother said, stroking her West Highland terrier.

“You’re a psycho!”

I later discovered that Timber didn’t compare the pillow to a whorehouse either. While we both admittedly love making fun of Mother, she sometimes puts taunting phrases in our mouths.

We ate dinner together the next night before I departed for Atlanta. While I excused myself to the restroom, Timber somehow brought up that she thinks Daddy has Tourette’s—which would explain his obsessive throat-clearing even though no phlegm plagues his passageway.

“What?! MOTHER. Do you think Daddy has Tourette’s?” I huffed.

“SOMETHING’S wrong,” she shrugged.

“Yer mother’s bein’ real encouragin’,” Daddy said, chomping into a piece of cornbread.

We laughed and gathered in the living room. Mother asked me to sit with them for a few minutes, as if I still lived there and we all would retire to our respective bedrooms for the night. I sank onto the sofa, savored the aftertaste of pecan pie, and stared at the settee across from me.

“You know, Mother,” I squinted. “Now that you mention it, the settee and pillow do look like something you’d find in the foyer of a vintage brothel.”

My husband with Alzheimer’s is going to prison for porn!

January 17, 2013

Mother called me hysterical late Monday morning.

“Do you have time for me to tell you something terrible?” she shook.

I hate when Mother begins phone conversations like that. My senior year of college she left me a voicemail saying she and Timber would be late for their scheduled visit. “Something really really bad happened,” she explained. “Bye.”

Mother didn’t have a cell phone yet, so I paced around my dorm room sobbing, convinced my childhood cat Lily had died. When she and Timber arrived two hours later, I insisted red-faced, “We WILL give her a proper burial.”

“Who? WHAT?” Mother asked, deepening her delirium.

“Lily. You ran over her, didn’t you?”

“No. Lily’s fine!”

“Then why are you late?!”

“Timber backed down the driveway into Daddy’s truck. Bless her heart.”

Timber seethed in the door jamb, arms crossed. “Nothing happened to Daddy’s truck of course, but my bumper is ruined.”

“Oh that’s great!” I sighed. “Well, great that Lily isn’t dead at least. I’m sorry about your car.”

“Whatever,” Timber muttered.

So within seconds of Mother’s request to tell me something terrible, my mind wheeled with disastrous scenarios regarding my father. Someone had taken Daddy to a movie and dinner, finally giving Mother an afternoon to herself. I immediately assumed that Daddy became anxious and agitated without his wife or that Daddy’s movie companion lost him at the theater or that he committed suicide. My imagination brought me to neurotic tears.

“Suuure,” I answered with apprehension. What happened?”

“It’s HORRIBLE,” Mother sniffed.

“What?!”

“I got this email. Just let me read it to you:

You have been viewing or distributing prohibited pornographic content thus violating article 202 of the Criminal Code of the United States of America. Article 202 of the Criminal Code provides for a deprivation of liberty for four to 12 years.

Pursuant to the Criminal Code of the United States of America of May 28, 2011, this law infringement (if it is not repeated – first time) may be considered conditional in case you pay the fine to the State.

The fine is $500! I know your daddy looks at porn. He’s been looking at porn for YEARS even though I think it’s DISGUSTING. Can you believe this? My husband with Alzheimer’s is going to prison for porn!”

“Mother,” I finally cut her off. “That’s not real. Daddy isn’t going to prison for porn. Come on. Everybody looks at porn.”

“Then how do you explain this email?!”

“Scammers send emails like this all the time. Forward it to me.”

“I don’t have a forward button! I was trying to check my own email and THIS popped up!”

“It popped up? You mean it’s a pop-up?”

“I don’t know what a pop-up is. All I know is this message came up on the screen, and I can’t get it off.”

“Yeah… Mother. It’s a pop-up scam. Just X it off. It’s not real.”

“I can’t X it off. There’s no X!”

“Well then you probably have a virus.”

“We probably DO.”

“HAHAHAHA!”

“It’s not funny, Bobbin. It’s not funny at all.”

For more than a year Mother has served as her husband’s 24/7 caregiver. In many ways the man she married has become her child. On one particularly frustrating day Mother cried to me that she feels trapped. “I wish I could get away,” she pined. “Just for a few hours.”

Sadly yet hilariously, the Porno Prison Scare consumed Mother’s time on a rare day off. I hope she’ll be prepared to ignore computer scams in the future. I wonder if she would believe a pop-up message charging Daddy for distributing copyrighted photographs of Maine Coon cats or herself for excessive online shoe shopping. Those accusations would be a lot more believable.

That’s ’cause you a hot woman.

January 9, 2013

Engaging in mutually enjoyable activities with Daddy has become difficult. Sleeping and eating comprise the majority of his daily agenda. When not given a reason to stay awake, Daddy will nap all afternoon, arise for dinner, return to bed around 7, reappear at various intervals for a snack, and fall asleep for good around 9. If coaxed he will accompany Mother to the gym and on walks with the dogs. He regularly requests only two things: trips to the movie theater and the adoption of a Maine Coon cat.

While Daddy delights in movies in the moment, he usually doesn’t retain the plot or knowledge of watching the film in the first place.

“Have we seen Lincoln?” he asked Mother three times in 30 minutes, playing the trailer on his iPad.

“Yes, Robert.”

“Oh.”

I find Daddy’s memory loss obviously sad but also fascinating: he doesn’t recall viewing Lincoln at the Movies at Berry Square but still inquires as to whether he and Mother already watched it. Plus, Lincoln is the only movie he mentions. I guess Daddy’s artistic taste and recent memory rely on the proper functioning of different areas of his tangled brain.

Daddy holds his copy of Cat Fancy magazine dedicated to Maine Coons.Similarly, Daddy has been obsessed with adopting a Maine Coon cat for months, never mentioning alternative breeds. “I want one of those Maine Coon cats,” he’ll repeat over and over. Lately he has turned the tables on Mother, who refuses to take in another animal: “Your mother keeps begging me to let her get one of those Maine Coon cats. I might give in and let her,” he’ll shrug, met with Mother’s eye rolls.

Considering Daddy’s Maine Coon mania, I have to say I gave him the perfect Christmas gift: a back issue of Cat Fancy magazine dedicated to the majestic feline. Enormous full-color photographs of Maine Coons skulking through tunnels, lounging on sofa arms and tolerating toenail trims populate the pages. Of less interest to Daddy are the articles regarding the breed’s personality, lifestyle requirements and possible health problems. Every time I passed Daddy in the living room on Christmas, I spotted him either flipping through the magazine or staring at pictures of Maine Coon cats on Google Images. Daddy went more berserk over a $10 magazine than the Keurig coffee maker Ryan and I presented to him and Mother as a joint gift.

***

Timber and I didn’t return to work until this past Monday: I at Georgia State University and Timber at a hospital for her cardiology clinical rotation. In order to properly mourn/fully harness the end of our respective holiday breaks, we offered to do whatever Mother wanted on Friday. Ideas included manicures and pedicures, a hike, or watching Mother shop since Timber and I are broke. However, Mother’s idea of a quality family activity involved gathering sticks and pine cones from the front, back and side yards; throwing them into one of three brush piles; and setting them on fire. Luckily, her suggestion also would keep Daddy out of bed.

While Timber and I left to run a quick errand, Mother and Daddy started three burning brush piles. Daddy tended the largest pile with a rake, pushing detritus into the center so the fire wouldn’t spread. I knew he would have trouble augmenting the fire because the pit remained damp from recent rainfall. As I walked toward him, some old newspapers suddenly started scorching.

“Your fire’s going because I’m here now,” I announced.

“That’s ’cause you a hot woman,” Daddy answered.

Timber wandered toward Mother’s brush pile in the back.

Daddy starts a fire.Daddy’s Carhartt overalls, smoke-resistant glasses and canvas gloves reminded me of childhood when Timber and I pretended to contribute to our parents’ brush pile efforts. We threw a couple pine cones into the fire, quickly grew bored, and then scampered around the yard or across the pasture. The four of us would reconvene for dinner, Timber and I smelling like sweat and cow pies, Mother and Daddy reeking of smoldered debris. Instead of disappearing into the woods with my sister on Friday, I found a basket in the shed and stuffed it with all kinds of shit, dumping it on Daddy’s fire when full.

“Yay Bobbin!” he clapped every time I threw a fresh mound on the pile.

“Sticks better watch it!” I roared.

I froze at the foot of the fire and stared at Daddy’s gloves, which he had thrown on the ground: the cracked canvas, ashes mashed into the crevices. I almost turned the gloves into a morose metaphor for Daddy’s deterioration, hurling leaves and acorns and bark into the fire, screaming about the unfairness of Alzheimer’s. But instead of worrying whether Daddy will be able to build a brush pile this time next year, I enjoyed being with him outside in the fresh air. Pretty soon we stopped working.

We eat our S'mores.

The four of us gathered around one of the smaller brush piles and made S’mores. Our spontaneous S’more party reminded me of a quote on my favorite bookmark:

Don’t wait for the storm to pass. Learn to dance in the rain.

Never meet your heroes.

January 2, 2013

My dad was a social genius. He would wait on a bench in the front of a stained glass warehouse in Blue Ridge, Georgia, while Mother and I poked through salvaged window panes, finding a common thread with the owner by the time we phlunked our dusty finds on the check-out counter. Sunlight shone through all the stained glass in the room, shooting purple, green, yellow, red lasers across Daddy’s face.

“All right, Billy, nice to meetchoo,” he’d say while Mother signed the receipt.

“You, too, Robert! I’ll call you next time I’m passin’ through Calhoun,” the proprietor would bellow.

Daddy made friends everywhere: with cadets at North Georgia College, with a lone diner at Waffle House, even with a star player from my high school’s football team.

“What’s your phone number? I need to talk to your dad,” Lamar Cryer once asked me in economics class. I scrawled it across a piece of notebook paper and scooted it across his desk.

“Call me!” I smiled.

“Yeah right,” he snorted.

That evening after Daddy attended my soccer game, I found him and Lamar propped against the fence discussing what appeared to be something deep. I quietly unlocked my car and slunk low behind the steering wheel, admiring Daddy’s conversational grace from afar.

A decade later I’d like to think I’m pretty good with people, too. Either I’ve become more comfortable with my quirkiness or society has decided that weirdness is stylish — or both. My decisions to strike up a chat with random people at concerts, art shows or bars are successful for the most part. Sometimes I still fail big time, though. Last Saturday marks my biggest social flop to date, when after 8 years I finally mustered the courage to talk to Hardy Morris, lead singer and guitarist of Athens-based band Dead Confederate. I avoided confronting Hardy about my respect for his musicianship because of my husband Ryan’s succinct advice: “Never meet your heroes.” After all, if your hero turns out to be an asshole, your romanticization is destroyed: you can’t listen to their music/read their books/keep their painting on your foyer wall anymore, and it would have been best to not talk to them in the first place. For example, poet Kurtis Lamkin refused to take a picture with me at one of Georgia Tech’s reading events in the mid 2000s, and I never read his work again; similarly, Mary Karr talked to me like I was stupid, so I took my copies of Cherry and The Liars’ Club to Goodwill.

Hardy Morris was perfectly nice to me. The problem is that I stumbled up to him and his wife while intoxicated at the Earl.

“There he is,” Ryan tapped me on the shoulder, pointing to Hardy’s table, where he swigged a PBR prior to his show. “Go talk to him. He’s right there.”

“No, bad idea,” I slurred, already having enjoyed some moonshine my MOTHER of all people gave Ryan for Christmas.

“I talked to him,” noted local concertgoer Kenny Crucial.

“Just do it,” Ryan coaxed me.

The conversation went relatively well. I professed to Hardy that I think he’s fucking awesome, discovered that the song “Godfather” from Dead Confederate’s new EP Peyote People is about Neil Young and asked his wife what it’s like to be married to a rock star. I don’t remember her response or the subsequent Dead Confederate show. However, I fuzzily recall carping to Ryan after its conclusion, “Is that all? I wish they would play more.”

Equally drunk, Ryan pushed me toward Hardy at the merchandise table in the back of the room and said, “Go tell him then!”

“What about ‘All the Ang’s’ or ‘Mel’ Mah Mind’?!?! Ang’s! Ang’ssssss!!!” I yelled at Hardy, intending to request “All the Angels” and Neil Young’s “Mellow My Mind.”

Once I grabbed Hardy’s shoulder, he ran away.

I bemoaned my mistake all weekend.

“Dead Confederate just came on my iPod and I had to skip it. It was too awkward!” I sighed to Ryan.

By Monday morning, Ryan told me I wasn’t allowed to talk about it anymore.

Had my pre-Alzheimer’s father attended the show, he probably would have ended up spitting tobacco or sipping Yuenglings with Hardy by the end of the night. In fact, that image brings me a lot of comfort.

I’m dreaming of a purple Christmas.

December 20, 2012

Daddy’s second consultation with a neuropsychiatrist is coming up. In preparation for the appointment, Mother asked me to compile a list of ways in which Daddy has changed, a.k.a. gotten worse. Even since the summer, Daddy’s personality has significantly dissipated. Perhaps the most painful part of his disease progression has been watching his expression transform from pensive to devoid of thought. For as long as I can remember Daddy has left the dinner table well before everyone else finishes eating and talking, relaxing in front of the adjacent room’s TV. However, now Daddy seems to stare past the television, blinking blankly through newscasters, Dirty Harry and lobbing footballs. I lost my appetite on Thanksgiving when I caught a glimpse of his gaze from the table.

“I wonder what he’s thinking,” Timber has ruminated when he makes that face.

Last Sunday, Mother, Daddy and Timber convened at my house to make brunch. When Mother and I stood alone in the kitchen washing dishes after our meal, she quietly cried to me, “Thank you for seating me next to your daddy instead of across from him. It hurts to look at him.”

Daddy also has become disinterested in keeping in touch with his friends. Day trips to Dahlonega always included stopping by North Georgia College to say hello to the Commandant of Cadets as well as Army Ranger friends at Camp Frank D. Merrill. Upon my parents’ visit to Dahlonega last week, Daddy turned down Mother’s offer to make their once-mandatory social rounds.

“Well who do you want to see?” Mother asked.

“Just you and the girls,” he answered. After a stretch of silence he added, “And Ryan.”

In my “Reindeer poo all in the front yard” post, I mention how, with childlike excitement, Daddy insisted that we drive around looking at Christmas lights last year. In an effort to connect, I asked Daddy at brunch on Sunday if he would like to coast past the same tacky electrical display again.

“Not particularly,” he said.

“Okay, Daddy.”

For a while Daddy’s sense of time has been skewed. The first week in December, he inquired about the family’s Thanksgiving plans, unaware the holiday already had passed.

Miraculously, Daddy remembered Mother’s and his 41st wedding anniversary yesterday. Mother contemplated driving to Fish Thyme in Acworth for a classy dinner, but they ended up dining at Cracker Barrel instead.

Last Christmas I knew the holidays never would be the same again. I couldn’t watch the tender father-daughter scene in Prancer Sunday night without sobbing.

“I can’t t-t-t-take it!” I shouted.

“See, I told you. We should have watched Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” Timber said, referencing our debate over which movie channel to surf to. “Wouldn’t you much rather watch people’s bodies being torn apart?” She moved to my sofa and lightly patted my back while I heaved.

“Any movie that doesn’t reference coming of age is best for Bobbin,” Ryan sighed.

“I know. Does Underworld cover topics like parent-child relationships or virginity loss? Just change the damn channel,” I whimpered.

Once I lost it over viewing Sam Elliott console his on-screen daughter, I resolved to have a joyful holiday. The holidays are hard for a lot of people, so I will toast plenty of glasses of Late Harvest Riesling to them over the next couple weeks.

Fuck you, Alzheimer’s. You will NOT ruin the Wages family’s Christmas.

The Best Finger Food Tournament

December 13, 2012

My grief over Daddy’s condition has made me even more hypersensitive. I keep it cool and then bubble over like water boiling noodles in too small of a pot. Example: the White Elephant Gift Exchange that took place yesterday at the office. I’ve always hated that game and typically opt not to play. But this year I went all out. I arose early to prepare succulent pigs in a blanket for the potluck portion of our holiday party, spent $20 on an ugly sequined sweater for the tacky holiday sweater contest, and purchased a mini kitchen knife with a stainless steel blade for the aforementioned gift exchange.

The tacky sweater contest was optional. The bright green piece I selected complete with linebacker-high shoulder pads closely resembled something a few of the ladies in my building would wear in a non-ironic way. I strode down the hall, sequined wings glinting red, green and purple against the water fountain, and immediately received a slew of compliments.

“That ain’t ugly. I’d wear that,” one woman announced outside the elevator.

“It’s a matter of opinion,” I crossed my arms.

Laughing, I compared myself to Julia Sugarbaker, igniting intense reminiscence of the Designing Women television era. Only one other woman participated in the competition. Enormous bells lined the periphery of her hideous over-sized sweatshirt. A puffy snowman and reindeer filled her torso: ornamentation a kindergarten teacher might glue to her classroom window or, more accurately, “artwork” her students would make during Craft Hour.

I breathed heavily and counted to 10, fine with the fact I would inevitably lose. We were forced to leave the room while our colleagues voted. They deliberated for about 2 seconds. While my coworker clutched her prize, a bottle of champagne, I smiled and clapped for her, pleased with my classy sportsmanship.

When I realized almost all of my pigs in a blanket had been eaten, I silently congratulated myself on winning the Best Finger Food Tournament had it existed.

For the White Elephant Gift Exchange, I drew the number 2, instantly placing me at an extreme disadvantage. I strategically selected a wine bottle-shaped gift bag and sure enough pulled out a Seven Sisters white blend. I felt good about throwing away $20 on the Julia Sugarbaker sweater, since I could bring a bottle of wine home. I remained safe throughout the game as my colleagues fought over a Christmas cactus, Crock Pot, and brown and pink scarf.

Then one of the executives strolled in.

“Oh, well he can go last, can’t he? It’s all right,” someone decided.

No fair! I threw a tantrum to myself.

Someone stole our department head’s box of salted caramel chocolates, so he decided to open the executive’s gift instead of re-steal the Crock Pot he originally had claimed or rip away my manager’s martini set. The executive had brought two pieces of organizational schwag he purchased at the campus bookstore: a Georgia State University mug and lapel pin. What a bummer.

The executive’s turn came. He eyed the alcohol selection and snatched a red wine blend with a Cadbury chocolate bar taped to the bottle. The wronged party then grabbed my white wine blend—my consolation prize after my ugly sweater defeat.

“That’s fine,” I narrowed my eyes. “I have an extensive home bar. I’ll take the knife,” I huffed, stomping toward the building manager who couldn’t care less about losing a utensil. People seized chocolate and champagne and Starbucks gift cards—an endless cycle until one lady (supposedly my friend!) dared pilfer my knife.

I could either reclaim my wine or end the game—only one present remained on the table.

Had the executive not upset the natural order of things, none of this would have happened. I squinted at him, shaking.

“You know what, that’s fine! You take that knife. That’s a NICE KNIFE. I’m just going to open this last present and end this. Otherwise this will go on FOREVER. I’ve got a dental appointment anyway.” I lurched toward the present and ripped it open. “Oooo, what’s this? Oooo, an LED BOOK LIGHT!! ! !” I over-smiled, pointing toward it and freezing in case someone wanted to take a picture.

I was the bigger person.

I fisted the wrapping paper into a ball, tossed it into the trashcan, threw my chair back under the table, and ran out of the room ripping off my tacky sweater. Later I bitched to my coworker nearly in tears.

“You clearly are under a lot of stress,” she said. “And this is…the final straw.”

Before leaving for the dentist I re-entered the party room to fetch the platter that cradled my pigs in a blanket. None remained.

I really did win the Best Finger Food Tournament.

Reindeer poo all in the front yard.

December 6, 2012
Fake snow falls on the Oak Ridge Boys.

I figured I somehow should thank my parents for generously financing Ryan’s and my wedding. Naturally, I took them to the Oak Ridge Boys’ Christmas concert in Hiawassee, Georgia, last weekend. Because I logged onto the Georgia Mountain Fair website five minutes before seats went on sale, hitting refresh until I could purchase tickets, I nabbed the middle front pew. Yes. The seating at Anderson Music Hall, the largest venue on the fairgrounds campus, comprises retro green carpeted pews. (The pit contains long rows of uncomfortable metal chairs.)

my parents and me at the Oak Ridge Boys Christmas concert

I grew up listening to the Oak Ridge Boys’ 1982 Christmas album on Mother’s record player, so my decision to support the band’s Christmas Times A-Coming tour was strategic. I worried that the crowd would stress Daddy out, but he sang “Elvira” and “Silent Night” in perfect rhythm and pitch. The fake snow, digital fireplace, and cameo appearance by Santa Claus heightened my nostalgia, forcing me to think about former holidays spent at my grandparents’ house, boinging sideways on my pogo stick until falling down the hill, and riding my new bike down the driveway only to slam into Daddy’s truck and bruise my mons pubis.

a hardcore Oak Ridge Boys fan

After performing their billboard hit “Thank God for Kids,” the Oak Ridge Boys invited all the children to gather at the stage to visit with Santa. The band members also sat in Cracker Barrel rocking chairs in front of the digital fireplace to share holiday stories from childhoood. The night felt like a trippy variety show more than a concert.

During the two-hour drive to Hiawassee, I asked my parents at what age they discovered Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

“Whatchyoo talkin’ about?” Daddy yelled from the back seat. “They IS a Santa Claus! We have to leave the door unlocked so Santa can get in at night.”

“Why?” Mother asked.

“Because the chimney’s blocked. Reindeer poo all in the front yard…”

I cackled while Mother rolled her eyes, focusing her attention on Zell Miller Parkway.

I expect the upcoming holiday to pan out happier than the last. Around this time in 2011, Mother and I refused to believe Daddy could have Alzheimer’s disease, clinging desperately to the original depression diagnosis.

“I’m afraid,” Daddy said — one of the last fully cognizant statements he made before drifting away.

On Christmas Eve last year Daddy insisted that we ride to a nearby neighborhood to check out the hillbilly lights in people’s yards. Timber’s friend Bing from Taiwan joined us, unaware of Daddy’s mental condition. A line of cars already had formed in front of the most popular yard, coasting at less than five miles per hour. A manger scene glowed from the top of the hill looking down upon electrical chaos: Santa and his reindeer blinked on and off in different positions, feigning animation; snowmen made of flimsy cloth flapped unstable in the wind; sparkling dolphins arced over a blow-up ocean — all with Jenny Lewis’ “Sing a Song for Them” blaring from my iPod. While I floated past a waving jumbo Snoopy wearing a festive scarf, I wanted to stay in slow motion; I knew something was seriously wrong with Daddy and would rather spin in place between denial and acceptance.

Poor Bing probably interpreted Christmas as a quiet, somber holiday.

We’ve had a year to digest reality. And I know a thousand other families are coping with their unique shit — a recent loss or the knowledge this is the last holiday they will spend with an ill loved one.

I see nothing wrong with escaping reality this Christmas, or at least not thinking about it. And instead of playing a melancholy Jenny Lewis song as we ride past tacky Christmas lights, we definitely should crank up the Oak Ridge Boys.

What’s eating me? Alzheimer’s jokes.

November 29, 2012

Over the past few years I have gained not only an appreciation of political correctness in certain social settings but also a desire to infuse my life with joy and humor. This presents a problem. Sometimes I would rather evoke a laugh than spare the feelings of an absent marginalized group. We’ve all done it — guffawed at the Family Guy “You Have AIDS” song; called a dying laptop computer Corky in reminiscence of Life Goes On; agreed that Justin Bieber indeed looks like a lesbian.

Ever since my father developed Alzheimer’s disease, I have become more aware of and sensitive to memory loss jokes, particularly the use of the #alzheimers hashtag on Twitter.

#ThatOneKidInClass who always raises his/her hand but ALWAYS forgets what he/she was about to say #alzheimers – @ChrisAteTheSun

Cuddles and hugs are very different. I think I’ve said this before #alzheimers – @RachelGall

@rosspalmerr Did you forget to finish that tweet? #Alzheimers – @caledavies

I guess the above tweets are no different from my nonchalant comment that my friend who lost 90 pounds now looks like a cancer patient or desire that Fuego, my next-door neighbor’s loud obnoxious dog, choke on a jalapeño. No ill will is intended, but caution should be exercised when dispensing such statements.

For example, my big sister Timber and I lived together in college. One afternoon our hallmate brought her mother by our dorm room to meet us. After the momentum of small talk fizzled, I encouraged Timber to break the ice.

“Ooo, Timber, do your impression of Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape for Mrs. Berry.”

Note: Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Arnie, a mentally disabled teenager. In the beginning of the movie, Arnie finds a grasshopper in the front yard and smashes it in the door of the mailbox. In the next shot Arnie’s older brother Gilbert consoles him because he didn’t mean to kill the grasshopper. See the video below.

“Bobbin. No.”

“Please! It’s so funny!”

“Ugh. Fine.”

Timber closed her eyes, clutched her forehead and sighed, fully transitioning into the role.

“Hurrrrr!” she fake sobbed, cupping her hands as if holding the pulverized insect. “HURRRRRR!” she continued, eyes bulging with horror. “HURRRRRRRRRRRR!” she screamed, lifting her hands into Mrs. Berry’s face.

I leaned back in my desk chair, howling and spanking my thighs.

“Yeah. My brother’s mentally handicapped,” Mrs. Berry said.

“Oh,” Timber cringed, unbucking her teeth.

“Well it was nice to meet you,” I offered a handshake.

Similarly, the other day my friend made what he believed to be an innocent statement about how he would prefer to die.

“I can’t tolerate any type of physical pain. I just want to get Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t suffer — everyone around me would suffer instead.”

I forced a chuckle, knowing he wouldn’t want to experience the demoralization of slowly losing his independence and identity, or put his loved ones through the hell of watching him waste away.

I find it impossible to see humor in the above tweets or death preference – but Mrs. Berry probably felt the same way about Timber’s impersonation of Arnie.

Happiness didn’t make me cry.

November 25, 2012

I should have started taking an antidepressant and seeing a counselor at age 10; my mother sometimes laments not putting me on medication and in therapy when I was a child. I clearly have needed psychiatric treatment for multiple reasons, but the catalyst behind my finally seeking help was my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the realization that I can’t cope with his illness alone. Because I feared sobbing while Daddy walked me down the aisle at my wedding, my therapist and I focused on preparing for that dreaded moment—along with the disappointment that my friends and Ryan’s family never will meet my socially ingenius father but a compromised, introverted version instead. Also, when Daddy acts apathetic about my wedding, it wouldn’t be fair for me to take offense; I remind myself that a disease has taken over his brain. For example, when Daddy said he wasn’t interested in looking at my wedding pictures on Thanksgiving, I winced for a second and remembered Alzheimer’s was talking.

I attended my now sister-in-law Jennifer’s wedding in August, and watching her dance at the reception with her father and stepfather as well as listening to their toasts was hard. While her father twirled her and held her hand against his chest, I cried as privately as possible, knowing that Daddy wouldn’t be able to sway with me to a Beatles song or give a speech at my own nuptials. (The latter in particular would cause him too much stress.) My therapist suggested that when visiting Daddy at home, I ask him what he would say if he could speak at my wedding—but not to expect a fulfilling answer.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it,” Daddy said when I approached him in the living room.

Again, Alzheimer’s was talking.

Despite the above anxieties, my wedding weekend was a joyful, inebriated success. I suppose the celebration kicked off on Thursday night at Cabbagetown restaurant Agave with Ryan’s father and Adam, one of Ryan’s groomsmen. A mere two margaritas filled me with surprising bloodthirst. When a homeless man attempted to help us parallel park on Edgewood Avenue for payment, I rolled down the window and told him to go away. Afraid the man would vandalize his vehicle, Ryan moved to a lot across the street. However, the man followed us. Once I exited the car, he screamed at me, “Hey I didn’t realize you were racist!”

“Oooo. Way to pull the race card!” I yelled.

“Why don’t you go take care a yo yeast infection?!” he screamed as we walked toward Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (which Atlantans just call Church).

“What did he say to me?” I stomped to a halt, running back toward the man. Adam ended up carrying me into the bar.

In continuation of the festivities, our rehearsal dinner took place the following night in a private room at Cafe Lily. Without asking permission, Ryan’s stepfather brought his karaoke machine, cranking our noise level up 20 notches.

During groomsman Phil’s raw performance of “Love Shack,” the restaurant manager leaned through the curtain separating us from the main dining area and said, “You guys are going to have to tone down the karaoke.”

“All right, haters!” Phil hollered into the microphone at the song’s completion. “HATERS GONNA HATE!”

While our dinner guests’ renditions of “Mustang Sally,” “Red Rubber Ball” and “Somewhere Out There” jacked most everyone up, the clamor became too much for Daddy to handle. My stomach sank at the sight of him leaving the table and standing at the exit in search of fresh air. Fortunately, my desire to showcase my rapping ability during “Gangsta’s Paradise” overtook my sadness. Plus, the restaurant manager ended up handling our commotion with grace and offered Ryan and me a bottle of Prosecco as a congratulatory gift, noting that we were his most fun private party ever by far.

Daddy and me walking down the aisle at my wedding | photo by Bonnie J. Heath Photography

Daddy and me walking down the aisle at my wedding

photo by Bonnie J. Heath Photography »

I felt nauseated and nervous on the wedding day overall, but the ceremony mismanagement transformed the processional into a humorous shit show. I figured we had paid our day-of coordinator to stay on top of the ceremony logistics, but she forgot to hand me my bouquet and remind me to get Ryan’s wedding band. Plus, the music stopped once my bridesmaids made it to the end of the aisle, so Daddy and I walked in silence. I choose to look at those mishaps as a blessing because I laughed the entire way down.

The reception raced by as anticipated. Also as expected, Daddy left the party early with his childhood best friend Carolyn. She and Mother “traded” responsibilities, since her son with Down Syndrome, Clint, wanted to stay.

The night ended with hammered Ryan hanging all over my mother and repeating to her that she is beautiful and he loves her. He proceeded to mash against Clint in the back seat of my parents’ car until someone guided him back inside the venue.

Perhaps my favorite memory is the last song our DJ (DJ Dookie Platters) played upon my request: “Do You Realize?” by the Flaming Lips. Mother, Timber, Ryan, my closest friends and I put our arms around each other and spun in a circle screaming the following lyrics:

Do You Realize – that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize – we’re floating in space –
Do You Realize – that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize – that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

It’s funny. Daddy and Ryan don’t remember a lot about the wedding but for totally different reasons.