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I’m standin’ in our bedroom lookin’ out the window in the house I paid for.

July 29, 2012

After I pulled my duffle bag out of my car and closed the trunk on Friday night, a white Dodge Stratus turned into my parents’ quarter-mile driveway. I bowed up and squinted at it during its slow trek toward the house, prepared to protect my family from murderers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or children exploiting their cuteness for school fundraisers. As the vehicle approached, I realized a couple was dropping Daddy off after a local prayer meeting.

“Thanks!” Daddy screamed and slammed the back door, clutching a sandwich bag of trail mix.

“Daddy, who brought you home?”

“Beats me! I coulda told you if you hadn’t asked.”

I followed him inside and into my parents’ bedroom, where Mother stood rolling buttercream paint across the wall.

“How was the prayer meeting?” Mother murmured.

“It was good. They sent me with this snack to give you. Can I have it?”

“Sure.”

Daddy and I moved to the living room, where he inhaled the trail mix, feeding stray peanuts to Mother’s dear West Highland terrier Obi.

“Your mother hates it when I do this,” he said, placing a peanut at the edge of the recliner arm so Obi could leap and snatch it with his tongue.

Daddy disappeared into the kitchen and quickly reemerged with a hastily thrown together bologna sandwich, meat flapping from the bread’s edges. Mother had banished him from the bedroom so she could finish painting, so he fell asleep, snoring until allowed entrance into the back of the house again. At one point over the weekend he innocently stood in their bedroom, and Mother asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m standin’ in our bedroom lookin’ out the window in the house I paid for.”

The next morning we took the dogs for a walk at the local recreation center.

“Where are the doo doo bags?” I asked. Even though Calhoun doesn’t post dog poop removal signs like the ones intermittently scattered throughout Atlanta’s parks, I regularly scold my parents for not throwing away Obi and Winston’s mounds of elimination.

“Obi already doo dooed this morning,” Mother huffed at me. “Talk to your Daddy about picking up after WINSTON.”

“I don’t need one. I’m not gon’ doo doo out here,” Daddy projected forward while leading Winston away from me.

Soon Winston squatted in the middle of the sidewalk and deposited human-sized turds onto the cement. Daddy and Winston scurried forward.

“That is SO RUDE!” I yelled.

“Hopefully the rain will wash it away,” Mother shrugged.

“Yer Mother and I are gon’ eat at the Cock-eyed Spaniel this week,” Daddy announced when we caught up to him.

Mother rolled her eyes. “It’s amazing how employing good-looking women with big boobs improves business. Women look better when they don’t have enormous boobs, though.”

“WHO TOLD YOU THAT?!?!” Daddy stomped to a halt.

Before I left for Atlanta, I promised Mother I would take Daddy to town to purchase a new printer.

“I really need to print a World Market coupon. It expires tomorrow,” Mother explained with great urgency.

Before leaving the three of us stood around in the kitchen, and Daddy asked, “What’s our phone number?” I recited it and pursed my lips, disturbed that Daddy forgot a string of numbers he’s been using for more than 30 years. Mother’s and my eyes met for a second of unspoken understanding.

During the ride to Wal-Mart, I interrogated Daddy about his dating life prior to marriage.

“I didn’t really date. I had other stuff to do.”

“What about in college? Did you make out with anyone at least?”

“No,” Daddy answered with conviction. “I just waited for your mother.”

Saturday night was Hot Dog Night.

July 26, 2012

I’ve started asking my parents questions about their lives preceding Timber and me. Young children don’t seem to fathom that their parents’ purpose expands beyond providing breast milk, money, emotional support and shelter. And often they don’t develop a curiosity about their parents’ complete identities until it’s too late. I want to gain a deeper understanding of who Mother and Daddy really are while I still have the chance.

The other night I learned about how Mother and Daddy entertained themselves as children. In a world without computers and constant television programming, they stayed outside year-round. Mother “played pretend” with her younger brother Stanley and cousin Leigh. Mother typically assumed the role of the male protagonist; Leigh, the sidekick or wife; and Stanley, the horse or dog.

Similarly, Timber and I spent the majority of our free time outdoors through elementary and middle schools, dragging our friends into muddy foursomes inventing scenes from MacGyver, Matlock and Murphy Brown. Sometimes we got into trouble, particularly when we dramatized “Vietnam” with two softball teammates. Wisteria vines served as our whips; logs from the fire pile, bombs; rocks from the then unpaved driveway, bullets. When we returned indoors bleeding, Mother placed limits on our imaginative interludes: don’t cause injury to yourselves or guests.

At one point I discovered a rusty old shed in the far back corner of the pasture. One afternoon my friend B and I mentally transformed it into our apartment and even pooped in a corroded canister that served as the restroom. We froze, fascinated, while my dog Daisy ate it.

An only child, Daddy practically lived outside as well, accompanied by neighbors instead of siblings. Co-ed games of sockball regularly took place in an open field, the pitched object clearly a wadded pair of socks instead of a baseball.

“Saturday night was Hot Dog Night,” Daddy recounted. “And I got to stay up late and watch Bonanza.”

“What?!” I shrieked. “You ate hot dogs every Saturday night?”

“Yeah. And I got to stay up late and watch Bonanza.”

“This explains a lot, Daddy. A LOT.”

Maybe if I continue grilling Daddy about his past, I also will uncover the source of his passion for female beehonkuses. Or perhaps Mother’s beehonkus is where that ardor began.

I feel odd.

July 23, 2012

I often wonder how Daddy feels. When I ask, he claims he’s great, but his inordinate napping and lack of overall ambition suggest otherwise. Daddy never will appear vulnerable in front of me as long as he can help it. Only Mother sees his fragile side. Upon realizing Mother really wanted to know how he was doing the other day, Daddy responded, “I feel odd.”

Daddy’s answer bothered me, so I brought it up to my therapist. She thinks Daddy meant he doesn’t feel like himself. “And he’s not going to,” she remarked, a summation she often makes. When I mention missing Daddy’s and my complex conversations, she’ll say, “You will never have them again.” Or if I discuss pining for the Old Daddy, she’ll add, “He’s not coming back.”

Like I don’t already know that.

Daddy served as a deacon at Sonoraville Baptist Church for 30 years. Checking on his assigned families, visiting sick congregation members and teaching an adult Sunday school class comprised a large part of his identity outside of work. In December, he decided he no longer could fulfill those obligations and hasn’t attended a deacon meeting since. But a couple Sundays ago he insisted he hadn’t skipped any meetings and needed Mother to give him a ride. The kerfuffle occurred in the middle of a deceased church member’s funeral visitation, causing Mother to sob.

“I know, I’m gonna miss him, too,” a bystander attempted to console her, misunderstanding the source of her tears.

Because Daddy is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a lot of people don’t detect and can’t comprehend the seriousness of his condition – even though to me, Daddy has become a drastically different person. Amazingly, at the first deacon meeting Daddy showed up to in seven months, someone asked him to substitute teach a Sunday school class. Daddy no longer reads or studies his Bible anymore, so I am wary of how he will handle retaining and preparing a lesson based on the teacher’s outline. Mother plans to take over the lecture in case Daddy gets flustered.

At least teaching a Sunday school class will give Daddy something to work toward and do.

Watching Daddy progress is and will be devastating for my family and me. I am incapable of fathoming what Daddy is going through. The other day my dear friend JJ mentioned how upset a former girlfriend became over her own father’s AD diagnosis and subsequent deterioration.

“And I told her, what difference does it make to HIM? It’s almost a sweet cluelessness,” JJ said.

Similarly, my therapist recently told me, “Your father probably isn’t as unhappy as you think.”

I guess I’m supposed to find comfort in those statements. Maybe I should imagine Daddy’s soul dancing toward a happier, halcyon dimension while he leaves behind his shell.

I want one of those Maine Coon cats.

July 19, 2012

Daddy gets stuck on things and repeats himself without knowing it. For the past few weeks he has obsessed over adopting a Maine Coon cat.

“I want one of those Maine Coon cats,” he says several times during one conversation.

“Those are beautiful cats,” I usually respond.

“Yeah, but your mother won’t let me get one.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause I wouldn’t take keer of it.”

“Well if you did get one, what would you name it?”

“Beehonkus.”

Yesterday on the phone I asked Daddy if he had received the card I sent.

“I don’t remember, let me check. LYNN, DID I GET A CARD FROM BOBBIN TODAY?!?!” he screamed while ruffling through some papers on the counter. “Oh yeah, the one with the horse on it.”

I recently stocked up on cards with inspirational quotes to mail Mother and Daddy, like the aforementioned horse card with a Gandhi quote:

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

“Oh good, I’m glad you got it,” I winced, hoping that Daddy at least derived pleasure from opening the envelope and reading my note before forgetting it.

“I want one of those Maine Coon cats.”

“Those are beautiful cats,” I said as if hearing Daddy’s idea for the first time.

I understand Daddy’s desire to adopt another cat; after all, animals provide stress relief and comfort. Now that Daddy spends so much time at home, he has grown closer to the dogs. Throwing the squeaky toys with them outside seems to be one of the few activities that brings him joy – aside from eating hot dogs and sleeping. I guess everyone in the family, including the pets, is making an extra effort to bond with Daddy before he slips away.

I wanted to have SOME class.

July 15, 2012

As I walked to the parking garage with my new boss the other day, she mentioned her recent visit to the Georgia Aquarium. She seemed particularly enchanted by the petting tank, where stingrays and bonnethead sharks openly float for public stroking. However, because so many children stood in line to canoodle with the animals, she resigned herself to standing back and admiring them from afar.

My boss’ urge to push the children aside reminded me of my family’s trip to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for my Birthday in 2010. Michael Krajewski conducted the ASO’s performance of John Williams’ greatest hits. During the “Flying Theme” from E.T., I nearly cried and couldn’t help but scream “Yeah!!” while the rest of the audience politely clapped.

“Good. Gawd,” Daddy muttered at me.

Despite Daddy’s embarrassment I hollered “I LOVE YOU, MICHAEL!” after the Indiana Jones theme. Daddy leaned over and glared at me with The Look of Terror, which left me cowering, shivering and behaving throughout childhood. Even then at age 26 I shut up when shot with The Look of Terror.

Daddy stands with Darth Vader.

Daddy stands with Darth Vader.

Daddy nearly lost it during the Star Wars suite, though, when people dressed as Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, C-3PO, R2-D2 and Darth Vader waltzed across the stage. Once the program concluded, he scampered outside to the lobby, where the characters waited for families’ photo requests. Disregarding the crowd of kids that already had formed in front of Darth Vader, Daddy busted through them as if they were playing Red Rover.

“Robert!” Mother half-laughed.

“What? I want my picture with Darth Vader.” Still ignoring the line, Daddy rushed to Darth’s side immediately after two young brothers’ photo shoot ended.

In the late ’80s Daddy took us to the Rome Symphony Orchestra every quarter. Today I asked Daddy what compelled him to purchase season tickets.

“Just to enjoy the music,” he shrugged. “I wanted to have SOME class.”

I’m amused by Daddy’s phrasing because it seems that his class does have its limits – beginning with an appreciation of classical music and ending with the patience to wait for a picture with Darth Vader behind a line of kids.

It’s so great to have a future son-in-law who fixed the computer!

July 6, 2012

When I visit home Daddy usually immediately bombards with me a computer “maintenance” request. The solution typically is simple like restoring the system to an earlier checkpoint, requesting a temporary email replacement password or pressing F11 to re-reveal the toolbar. I love solving my parents’ computer problems because they clap and cheer like I’m a genius. As expected, when Ryan and I entered my parents’ house on the Fourth of July, Daddy stormed into the kitchen and asked me to help him get on the Internet. A contractor who ripped the paneling off the wall accidentally kicked the phone jack, dismantling most of the wires. I had no idea how to repair it and promised Daddy I would call AT&T after lunch. While we waited for the okra to finish frying, Daddy said every five or so minutes, “I need your help with the computer.” And I answered, “I’m going to call AT&T after lunch.”

However, Ryan worked in the telecommunications industry in high school and suggested we purchase a new phone jack at The Home Depot. We made the 9-mile trek to town and selected a neutral-colored phone jack that would mesh with the new molding in the computer room. Ryan got to work instantly upon our return. The MacGyver theme song played in my head as he twisted the wires, and I hovered over him with a flashlight whispering, “My dad is going to love you if you fix this. You’ll make his freaking day.” Several minutes later the Google homepage flashed onto the screen.

“RYAN FIXED IT!!!” I screamed toward the living room, where my parents and uncle had crashed after eating Mother’s rich food.

“Yeah!” — “All RIGHT!” — “Hooraaaaaayyyyy!” they applauded. I never had heard so much joy erupt in my household before. Daddy stampeded down the hall like a buffalo laughing and threw himself in the desk chair, attempting to log into his email account using his old password. I was forced to change his password several weeks ago for some stupid reason regarding a Yahoo/AT&T merger; I told the service technician on the phone that my father has Alzheimer’s, and there’s no way he’ll remember anything but the login credentials he’s been using for several years. My request didn’t emotionally sway the cold AT&T drone like I hoped. Once I convinced Daddy that I had changed his password, we accessed his inbox.

“Good. GAWD! I’ve got fo’ hundred ninety-three new emails!!!” he yelled, scrolling through an assortment of messages from Cabela’s, spam and forwards from Army buddies.

“Bravo, Ryan!” Mother trumpeted as she waltzed into the room. “Bobbin, your daddy just KNEW that YOU would be able to fix it.”

I crossed my arms and squinted, flabbergasted that my many years of changing my parents’ horizontally oriented print jobs to a landscape setting now meant nothing because of Ryan’s hour of Internet heroism. “It’s like you’re a saint now,” I huffed at Ryan.

Even after we left, Daddy carried on about Ryan’s computer wizardry.

“It’s so great to have a future son-in-law who fixed the computer!” he repeated throughout the night. The next morning while he and Mother walked the dogs, Daddy continued broadcasting his respect for Ryan. (I guess there are two ways for Timber’s and my significant others to earn Daddy’s love: graduate from Army Ranger school or keep him online.)

Mother took a shower after the walk, and when she got out Daddy started obsessing about the broken phone jack again. “We’ve really gotta call someone about the computer.”

“But Robert, RYAN fixed it yesterday…”

“Oh yeah.”

I don’t know what’s happening in Daddy’s brain that caused Ryan’s technical prowess to permeate his thinking but then disappear. I hope Daddy considers me the family computer whiz again, though, as ill-deserved as that title may be.

She and I both are married, so it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.

July 2, 2012

Daddy’s short-term memory seems better on some days than others. I am intrigued by the stories he recalls and repeats, while other events escape his mind minutes after they occur. For example, Daddy regularly mentions the attractive woman who works at the Cock-eyed Spaniel*, a hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint in Cartersville* where he and Mother often ate on the way home from his memory training at Emory. (They only recently discovered the restaurant, so it’s not stapled to Daddy’s identity like the Varsity.) Ryan and I dined at the Cock-eyed Spaniel on Saturday, and now I understand why images of said woman’s physique would permeate the male brain.

“What are her boobs like?” I once asked Mother.

“They’re really nice. Full and round but not too big.”

“Mother. Guess where I ate lunch today,” I salivated into the phone on Saturday.

“Panera Bread.”

“No.”

“Let me see. Ewww! The Varsity?”

“Ew. NO.”

“You didn’t eat at the Cock-eyed Spaniel, did you?”

“I did. You’re right. Her boobs are nice.”

“Aren’t they?”

I suppose I am fascinated but not surprised that a set of tan breasts spilling from a spaghetti strap tank top would overpower the erosion in Daddy’s frontal lobe, while a monotonous series of memory exercises would dissipate along with most conversations, movie plots and what Mother served for supper.

“I saw that good-looking woman at the Cock-eyed Spaniel today,” I told Daddy when Mother put him on the phone. “She’s hot.”

“Yeah, but she and I both are married, so it wouldn’t make a difference anyway.”

In contrast to Daddy’s vivid recollection of the woman, he barely can tell me anything about his memory training at Emory.

“How was Emory?” I’ve inquired.

“Boring.”

Apparently Daddy took computerized tests that placed furniture in a room, later forcing him to revisit the same room and decide whether the objects had moved. The exams also presented Daddy with a statement, and several questions later another statement appeared on the screen; Daddy had to determine whether the sentence had changed in the interim.

“I believe it would stress a normal person out,” he said.

To be fair, I will say that I’ve been brushing up on my coding skills through some training courses online. I remember the Cock-eyed Spaniel lady’s boobs much more than the lessons I read about CSS 3. Maybe the Emory researchers should arrange good-looking women in rooms instead of furniture, and then require test takers to answer questions based on their placement. Or perhaps Daddy’s new fervor for the Cock-eyed Spaniel means the memory training at Emory had a positive effect after all.

*Name and location have been changed to avoid awkwardness and embarrassment.

Lemme finish my pimmena cheese sandwich!

June 25, 2012

Except for grocery shopping, I spent the entire weekend at home – a luxury I hadn’t experienced since I was broke, single and living in Midtown. (Now I’m broke, betrothed and living in Grant Park.) Ryan and I attempted to watch Natural Born Killers instantly on Netflix but turned it off after acknowledging we both felt like dozing during the film’s first 30 minutes. When Ryan exited our television’s Netflix app, the final half hour of Philadelphia overtook the screen on the  channel where we’d left the TV. I loved Philadelphia even before I watched it. When I was growing up, Daddy often played the soundtrack on cassette tape. I really listened to the lyrics of “Streets of Philadelphia” for the first time while riding up Interstate 75 in Daddy’s maroon Jeep Cherokee. Before I only paid attention to the never-changing drum; dense, simplistic keyboard; and Springsteen’s from-the-street singing voice. But that afternoon I squinted through the tobacco-splattered window, filtering out everything but the lyrics. While Daddy obsessed over various hobbies throughout the years, he never developed a strong affinity for music; that day, though, I realized his limited taste was cool.

Years later in high school I rented Philadelphia from Blockbuster and viewed it alone on a Saturday night. I remained composed until the final scene, when a video montage of Andrew as a child plays in the living room after his funeral. Clips of Andrew swinging, scampering across the beach, playing ball with his siblings and lifting a jack-o-lantern in a cowboy fringe jacket punched my gut until I slid off Daddy’s leather recliner and sauntered toward Mother, minding her business in the dining room.

“Well that was SAD.” I stomped away and shut myself in my bedroom to engage in my near nightly funk.

“Not the video montage. NOT THE VIDEO MONTAGE!” I fretted on Friday night. Upon reflection, I should have changed the channel. Instead, I shook violently on the loveseat, audibly wheezing during the cowboy fringe jacket part. The cowboy fringe jacket seemed like something Daddy would have worn in the early ’50s – an assumption based on the few photographs my granny salvaged. Plus in my mind, the adults in the video represented Daddy’s parents, who are long dead. Naturally, I started to scream and flung my torso over the couch, smacking the rug until I figured I should stop.

“Poor Ryan,” Mother always sighs when I relay my episodes to her via telephone.

Lately I desperately have flailed for conversation topics while talking to Daddy. Even before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he kept our phone time short.

“Well I’ve gotta go. BYE!” he usually cut me off after the first minute. His two hang-up segues now include “Well I’m gon’ finish my nap now” and “I’m gon’ finish my bologna sandwich.”

However, Daddy caught me off guard on Sunday and masticated into the phone, “I’m gon’ finish my pimmena cheese sandwich.”

“But Daddy…” I stuttered, startled by his sudden selection of pimento cheese.

“Lemme finish my pimmena cheese sandwich!”

I brought it up later to Ryan. “I really want to try to talk to him every day, while I still have the chance,” I explained.

“It’s like you’re trying to compensate for some lost connection. I’m sorry, but it’s just not there,” he shrugged.

When taken out of context, Ryan’s answer might sound harsh, but he had endured my melancholy disposition for the entire weekend, preventing me from collapsing on the floor during my post Philadelphia sobfest and sitting with me on the covered half of our deck during the depression-enhancing rainstorm. In the midst of our silence, a wave of comfort engulfed me, reminding me of ticking back and forth on the porch swing and watching the lightning with Daddy, or even baking cookies on an overcast afternoon with Mother. I stared into the wet, gray night and understood that even after Mother and Daddy are gone, I can recreate the safety and spirit they worked so hard to establish for my sister and me. Ryan and I are moving forward and building our own home.

I picked a tick off one of the dogs earlier.

June 19, 2012

The other day Daddy spotted a tick crawling up Mother’s arm, pinched it between his fingers and flung it in the toilet.

“I picked a tick off one of the dogs earlier,” he notified Mother hours later.

“That was me!” she huffed.

“Oh yeah.”

Ticks often attached themselves to my childhood outdoor dog Daisy. I took strange pleasure in plucking the fat gray orbs from Daisy’s eyebrows and ears, and tossing them into a red Solo cup of gasoline. I would rake my fingers through Daisy’s fur for hours, eyes flashing when I found a dime-sized blob beneath her neck or even bigger ones on her underside, poised to burst. At some point we transitioned to flushing ticks down the commode, perhaps when Mother started allowing the dogs inside. Timber went through a phase of cutting their legs off one by one with Mother’s fabric scissors, leaving them appendage-less and idle.

In the summers Timber and I spent most of our free time outside. Upon our return indoors, we stripped in the bathroom and checked for ticks, most often finding them sprawling across our underwear, wriggling down our thighs or burrowing into our hair. I watched with wonder while I flipped up the toilet seat and dropped them to their deaths.

Mother relayed the tick story when I visited home this weekend. At first I brainstormed grandiose ideas to make it the most epic Father’s Day yet – a day trip to Dahlonega; trout fishing on Noontootla Creek; all-expense-paid potty training for Winston, my parents’ bladder-challenged Scottish terrier. But upon reflection I’m glad we spent our time at the house. Daddy and I sat on the front steps and threw the squeaking elephant toy to the dogs; I don’t think we bonded like that since our tick gassing days. Mother paraded me around the yard to show me the latest flowerbed additions. Plus, Mother, Daddy and I ate three meals together at the dining room table.

We would have gone to church, but a nest of yellow jackets attacked Mother around 9:30 on Sunday morning.

I sat on the porch talking to Timber on the phone when I heard Mother screaming.

“Hold on, Timber. Mother’s screaming,” I cut her off. “Just a second.”

I tore around the house hollering “MOTHER!!! MOTHER!!! MOTHER!!!” until I realized the shrieks were reverberating from inside. I found Mother running in place at the kitchen sink, holding her hands under cold running water. Apparently some deer had uprooted one of her hostas, so she bent down to re-plant it, only to agitate the swarm of yellow jackets who had built a nest underground. Per her swollen hands, itchy feet and dizziness, I raced her to the emergency room. We sat in the Gordon Hospital parking lot long enough to ensure she wasn’t going into anaphylactic shock, to excessively Google “yellow jacket stings” and to miss church.

“Thanks for getting attacked by yellow jackets!” I clapped. “I didn’t want to go to church.”

“You’re welcome,” Mother sighed, resting her hands between layers of cold packs.

Daddy eats his first Father's Day hot dog.

Daddy eats his first Father’s Day hot dog.

Hot dogs comprised the main course for Father’s Day lunch, of course.

“You can never have too many hot dawgs,” Daddy noted while taking his first mustard-covered bite.

I started feeling sick when I unpinned the “Happy Father’s Day” banner from the hearth, where we also displayed Daddy’s gifts – an iPad cover from me and from Mother, a couple brightly colored polos.

“Do you remember picking that one out?” Mother asked as he held the blinding aqua and orange stripes against his chest.

“Nuh uh. I’ve got memory problems, you know.”

“Well what about that one?” Mother asked when he pulled a black shirt with rainbow stripes out of its box.

“Nuh uh. I’ve got memory problems.”

I managed to laugh all weekend until I had to leave for Atlanta. Daddy had retreated to bed for his now daily afternoon nap. I threw myself on him and sobbed.

“Oh!! Goodness,” he muttered, hugging me the longest he ever has before gently pushing me away. As I drove down the driveway, coasted past dilapidated barns and sullen pastures, and eased onto Interstate 75, my nausea slowly subsided.

Is Ryan living with Bobbin? Uhh! I don’t approve of that.

June 13, 2012

Yesterday Daddy asked Mother, “Is Ryan living with Bobbin?”

“Yes, Robert.”

“Uhh! I don’t approve of that.”

Apparently Daddy occasionally inquires about whether Ryan and I are cohabitating. As I mentioned in my “Sex is out of the question” post, I assumed the stress surrounding Daddy’s diagnosis prevented him from bemoaning my decision to shack up after engagement yet prior to marriage. Now I wonder if Daddy thought I leased a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on my own, as if my salary could support that.

“Well, y’all are older,” Mother commented with surprising understanding.

Just yesterday my psychotherapist pointed out that many doors to my childhood have closed. Daddy’s devastating diagnosis remains the top robber of any naivete I once possessed regarding loss; after all, until March I confidently estimated that both my parents would live at least through their 80s. Straggling far behind is the recent passing of my elderly cat Lily, who ran away to die in dignity at age 17. I especially recall one Saturday afternoon in the mid ’90s when I whipped back and forth on the backyard swing set while Daddy paced past the log pile and Lily scratched around in the leaves.

“Look Daddy, Lily’s pooping beside the tea olive tree! She’s so cute!” I yelled while pumping the swing to dangerous heights.

“Yup. Phoo!,” he said, spitting tobacco. “That’s a shitty kitty.”

We adopted Lily and her sister Patch when I was 10, and I always felt like they symbolized Timber and me. As my best friend Leslie so eloquently put it, when your childhood animals die, a piece of your history vanishes with them.

Visiting home feels different now. Lily and Patch no longer lounge on chair arms while the family watches TV. Cat hair doesn’t cling to my pants. I creepily observe Daddy while he chews his cornbread and pinto beans. I squeeze his hand when we make car trips to town that once were mundane. When we walk the dogs, I stare at the back of his head – a distinctly shaped physical trait bequeathed to Timber. I try to squeeze meaning from everything.

The other day my parents went to Rome with their friend Peggy, one of the few people in my hometown who has reached out since Daddy’s diagnosis.

“We went to Lavender Mountain. The place with the plants. The whatchyamacallit,” Daddy struggled on the phone.

“The nursery.”

I silently fretted that Daddy’s language capacity was eroding as we spoke. I’ve read that in the early stages of the disease, AD sufferers often replace forgotten words with “whatchyamacallit” and “thingamajig.” I wonder if my resulting nausea was founded. I mean, my vocabulary slips sometimes.

Yesterday Mother, Daddy and Peggy watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and ate lunch at the Cock-eyed Spaniel*, a restaurant Daddy voluntarily chose over the Varsity to my amazement.

“How was it?” I asked Daddy.

“It was great. There’s a good-lookin’ woman workin’ in there.”

“What was so attractive about her?”

“Everythang.”

I guess my biggest challenge is adjusting to the decreased complexity of Daddy’s and my conversations. His once opinionated and combative nature continues to decline. He concurs with whatever movie Mother suggests they see whereas he once refused to go to the theater at all. I used to call the house and ask, “Can I speak with Mother?”

“Can you or may you?” he corrected my courtesy.

“Ugh. May I…”

I guess I’m trained now to always say “may” or possibly get away with uttering “can.”

Perhaps Daddy’s more agreeable attitude explains why I didn’t get a lecture upon moving in with Ryan. Or maybe Daddy realizes I’m not a child anymore. Either way, I miss those lectures.

*Name has been changed.