My father, in case you hadn’t guessed from other clues, has always been oddly old-fashioned about certain things.
I wasn’t allowed to get my license when I turned 16 because, according to him, I didn’t need it; I’d have a boyfriend to drive me anywhere I wanted to go anyway.
He objected to my choice to dye my hair, stating that God himself had chosen for my hair to grow a certain color and I couldn’t possibly know better than the almighty.
While he readily admitted (truly, without prompting) that women were free to wear whatever they liked, and should be comfortable in their clothing, he also expressed a strong preference for women—particularly his daughter—in a dress. Any dress. He wasn’t fussy about length or neckline or anything, just… a dress. Skirts were, in his opinion, a poor substitute; I never did figure out why. I had some damned cute skirts. But he gave them the same side-eye as my shorts, jeans, or anything else. Only a dress (mid-thigh or ankle length—he truly had no preference!) would get a genuine compliment out of him.
Now we come to two facts about me that are immutable yet have somehow gone unsaid on this blog:
- I will never be good enough for my father.
- I will go to my grave trying.
Naturally, given the facts above, I bought a damned dress before flying out this last time. Actually, I bought two. I shouldn’t have had to buy any, but my magic dress that suits any occasion and fits great at any size (got it on sale, too… like I said, magic) seems to have gotten packed away with the Meth Ghosts, who aren’t sharing right now. And every other dress I’ve bought recently was for a wedding or a costume, so… not appropriate.
And then I had to go buy shoes, because I also couldn’t find my cute strappy orange sandals; I suspect something horrible happened to them and I’ve suppressed the memory.
All of this to say I sashayed into my father’s hospital room the day after he called me a godsend, wearing a pretty new dress and skyscraper new heels. It didn’t take me long to realize new shoes for a full day in the hospital were probably a mistake, but who ever said I was clever?
ME: Morning, Daddy!
DAD: (continues to stare at television)
ME: (clenches jaw) Hey. Over here.
DAD: (turns slightly)
ME: Wanted to show you my outfit before I cover it up. It seemed sort of a shame… (does little flourish and twirl)
DAD: (nods, turns back to television)
ME: (slumps, puts on gown and gloves)
ME: What’cha watchin’?
ME: … Dad.
ME: What’cha watchin’?
DAD: (still glued to screen) I dunno.
ME: Ah. (settles in for very long day)
And you know what?
It really was.
I asked if he wanted more water; he didn’t know. I asked if he wanted ice in his water; he didn’t know. The respiratory therapist asked if he was ready for a breathing treatment; he didn’t know. We asked if he’d rather skip the percussive phase; he didn’t know. The CNA asked if he was ready to change position; he didn’t know. I asked if he would prefer pillows or wedges; he didn’t know. Did he want a chocolate shake or a chocolate-banana smoothie with lunch? Was he comfortable? Could he breathe easily with his pillow folded that way?
He. Didn’t. Know.
ME: I’m not second-guessing, okay? That’s not it. But… I’m in there and I’m hearing the questions y’all are asking him, and I’m asking him, and… I’m hearing, “I don’t know” way more than I should.
ME: Now, I know some of it is just honest grief. Just… “I don’t care whether I get a peanut butter or a tuna sandwich—which will make my wife less dead?” And I get that; some things don’t matter in the face of this much grief. But when we’re asking him is this comfortable, can you breathe, do you understand… those are yes or no questions and “I don’t know” isn’t an answer your staff can just walk away from. And I’m getting worried that some of it isn’t just grief, that there’s a neurological component here that we’re missing because we see a man who just lost his wife of 30 years and we’re thinking of course he’s sad and cranky, the poor dear!
DR: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head with your grief explanation; he’s using “I don’t know” as shorthand for, “I don’t know how to care” or “I can’t think about that right now” and that’s a lot of it. But…
ME: See, there’s something else, right?
DR: (winces) A lot of what I think you’re seeing is familiarity breeding contempt.
ME: (blandly) Ouch.
DR: (smiles gently) You’re his daughter. He knows he can be mean to you and you’ll still come back tomorrow. He’s not like that with us.
ME: (tightens jaw)
DR: We’re keeping an eye on it. And I can suggest anxiety meds again if you’re worried about—
ME: We can try, but he’s resistant to anything that will make him more lethargic.
DR: (nods) And that’s the trade-off. But know that we’re observing all of his behaviors, and we’re all sharing our notes.
ME: (nods) Okay, thank you.
DR: (smiles) Hang in there. He’s lucky to have you.
ME: (looks away)
I left the good doctor in the kitchen and took my time finding Dad’s room again, needing the extra moments to compose myself.
What burned at my tear ducts was this: not only could everyone see that my father was treating me poorly—me and only me—but they could all see that I was quite literally running myself ragged for him.
And my father saw neither of these things.
I stayed too late again; first waiting for him to notice me then trying and failing to make him comfortable enough to assuage my guilt for leaving.
ME: (sliding into car) Baby, I need you to do me a huge favor.
HIM: Okay, but can I tell you about what your son did in Ark today?
ME: Can you tell me about it while I drive, after you do me the favor?
HIM: … What is it?
ME: Look up (favorite Thai place) and find out how far it is from the hospital?
HIM: Okay… google says 57 minutes, so less than that with the way you drive.
ME: (wincing, trying to work pedals) Yuh. Now order me something for pickup by the time I get there?
HIM: Sure. What do you want?
ME: I don’t know, and I’m sure they changed the menu since I was there last.
HIM: (starts reading)
HIM: The… first thing I said?
ME: Yup. Sounds good. With brown rice.
HIM: Okay… done.
ME: And I’m (squeals in pain) taking these damned shoes off. I’m goin’ barefoot!
ME: I know it’s dangerous, and I don’t even care.
HIM: It’s less dangerous than driving in unsecure footwear.
ME: I would never drive in flip-flops.
HIM: No, but shoes so painful you don’t have full range of motion are just as bad.
ME: (groans, wiggles toes) Excellent point. Have I mentioned I love you?
I had to put the shoes back on before trekking across the parking lot to pick up my green curry with shrimps (and brown rice!) so I must have been quite the miserable sight by the time I staggered through the doors of our old go-to restaurant.
HOSTESS: (pitying tone) Just one?
ME: (near sobbing in pain and frustration) No! Picking up!
ME: I’m not…
HOSTESS: Oh! Are you the green curry?
ME: … Yes?
HOSTESS: Awww… so sweet! (races off)
ME: What the… (wonders how this place is still in business if they started employing lunatics)
HOSTESS: (returns with bag) Here you go!
ME: (pulls out wallet) How—
HOSTESS: Nope! He took care of everything. So sweet!
ME: (smiles) (leaves)
I checked the order slip once I (finally) got to the car:
Order by: (Husband)
Notes: Pickup order for (Me)
I’m not saying she was wrong, but that hostess is wasted in the restaurant business if she can spin a whole love story out of an online order.
JEN: Hey, I’m home! Sorry I didn’t answer you about din—oh! You look nice!
ME: Thank you. (points chopsticks) That is the correct response to this (gestures at dress)
JEN: (taking microwave pseudo-food out of freezer) It’s a pretty dress. Did someone not like it?
ME: (chugs wine) (grumbles)
JEN: (setting microwave) Tough day with your dad again?
ME: I bought a fuckin’ dress because he likes girls in dresses—
JEN: Oh-ho-ho! He would hate me then—
ME: Join the club.
JEN: —I never wear dresses.
ME: Apparently even this won’t help me.
JEN: … did you mention the PoA?
ME: (pokes at shrimps) … No.
JEN: … wanna go eat on the swing?
ME: (quietly) … yes.
The next day went much the same, minus the dress and with much more comfortable shoes. And when we called him on his crankiness and his I don’t know’s, Dad pled fatigue and asked for a nap with his BiPAP. As I was slipping the mask on him he grabbed my wrist and asked me to wake him before his brothers arrived.
ME: (biting back a snarl) Oh, are they coming today?
DAD: (nodding) They said 1:00, but… you know them.
ME: (looks at clock)
DAD: It’ll probably be closer to 3… or 3:30.
ME: Okay, well… I can wake you up by one if you wan—
DAD: (waves hand) by three is fine. (closes eyes) They’ll be late.
ME: (bitterly) Okay, sure.
DAD: (looks up at me)
ME: Dad? Have you talked to Kenny at all about the… about Marsha’s… the funeral plans?
DAD: No. (shakes head) He’s supposed to get numbers and talk to me this weekend. Why?
ME: It’s just… I talked to my friend and—you know, her parents were military as well—and they were buried at the base. She said it was lovely, and simple—you said you wanted simple… and inexpensive, which I know is a concern for you, though I don’t understand why—
DAD: How much?
ME: Like… five thousand? For the whole thing, total package.
DAD: What base?
ME: Here in Colorado.
DAD: What about Marsha?
ME: Well, that’s the thing. Spouses share a headstone, share a space.
DAD: (wide-eyed) You don’t get any closer than that. (smiles)
ME: Right? Now, I know some people will think it’s disrespectful, like you’re saying the wife is just an extension of the husband or whatever—
ME: But I prefer to think of it as sharing everything, right up to the end.
DAD: (puts hand on mine) That’s how I look at it too.
ME: (tears up) I know it’s not what you’d discussed, but you said you wanted me to get involved; and I know you wanted to stay in (tiny town) but—
DAD: (shakes head) I don’t care about that—I just want to be with her.
ME: Well… it’s a national cemetery; they’re not gonna put you with anyone but your wife.
ME: Do you like the idea?
DAD: I do. Tell Kenny.
ME: … The thing is, I don’t know that he’ll believe me. Because—
DAD: (pats hand) I’ll tell him. Which base again?
ME: (fits mask)
DAD: (closes eyes)
Of course the brothers were late—that part of Dad’s plan was just fine.
If only he hadn’t been impossible to rouse, and hadn’t made a thousand tiny requests of me while we were getting him up and ready for their visit, I might have been able to slip out before THAT FUCKHEAD MARK walked into the room. I saw him glance pointedly at the clock and caught my father’s gaze, making they’re two and a half hours late, how am I the asshole in this situation?! pupils at him. The nurse, coming in to administer meds, took one look at the crowd and passed me his cup of pills and reached around my hip to scan his armband, promising to log them from the hall if I would see that he actually took them. So I had to stand there, being actively hated, while I talked my father through each of the pills (this one is for your prostate, this one is for your blood pressure, this one is for the nausea that the other stuff can cause…) and watched him swallow the cupful.
Then I eased past Mark—who hadn’t moved from his awkward loom over the foot of the bed—without touching him to scrub out and flee for my sanity.
ME: Hey, (grabbing purse from under nurses’ station desk) can you call me when they’ve left and give me an all-clear? I’ll write down my number… (looks ‘round for sticky note and pen)
RN: (pleasantly) Oh, are you leaving?
ME: No, just… hiding.
ME: (locates pen) Got a post-it? Or some paper?
RN: (produces paper) Why…
ME: (smiles helplessly) His brothers are in there.
RN: Ohhhhh… wait, so why…?
ME: They hate me.
RN: (stunned) What?!
OTHER RN: What?! Why?
ME: (shakes head) It doesn’t… look, they won’t visit if I’m there, so I clear out when they want to come ‘round. Just… (passes number) Let me know when I can come back?
RN: (sympathetically) Okay, sure.
RN: I’m sorry they’re so… wow.
ME: (shrugs, walks away)
This time, I successfully avoided them.
EVEN THOUGH THEY WENT TO ONCOLOGY FOR COFFEE, LIKE ASSHOLES.
I mean, Oncology is obviously where people who are hiding from gross family members on Medical are going to hide, right? What was I supposed to do, take the elevator down to Neuro? Their coffee is shit anyway, and they never have the lids that fit their cups so you have to go all the way over to G/I… and nobody wants to overhear any of that. Sure, it’s a better diet plan than Atkins, but… eesh.
Anyway, I’d picked a better spot this time, just in case, and they didn’t see me.
They stayed maybe an hour, then I got my call. When I returned to the room, Dad was once again napping; I pulled up a chair and waited.
DAD: (blinking) Hey, little girl.
ME: Hi, Daddy.
DAD: (reaches for remote)
ME: Actually (puts out hand) could you just… could we talk a moment?
DAD: (eyes me)
ME: There’s something I need to tell you. And I very much don’t want to tell you. I should have told you days ago, but… (looks away) Well, as I say, I really didn’t want to.
DAD: (watches me)
ME: (chews lip) (rethinks everything) You… you said…
DAD: What is it?
ME: (sighs) You said you won’t take the power of attorney away from Mark.
DAD: (opens mouth)
ME: (holds up hand) And that’s fine. I mean, it isn’t it’s… what I… well, him having it is not what I’m trying to talk about right now. Well, it is, but… Look, you said you won’t take it away from him. But you need to understand that as it stands right now he doesn’t actually have it.
DAD: (widens eyes)
ME: No one does.
DAD: (confused) He—
ME: (shakes head) He thinks he inherited it from Marsha, and that’s not how legal documents work. Now, I’ve been turning this over in my mind for days, trying to figure out what to do—what the right thing to do is—because I know what I want and what I think is the right thing but I also heard what you said and what you want. (gnaws lip)
ME: And I’ve already told the nurses that you need to get a social worker and a notary in here first thing when they come back to work next week to get that signed. And yes, I know it won’t be me… but if you don’t do one at all then the next time you’re unconscious or incapacitated they’re going to ask who should be making decisions. And I’m going to argue that I know what you want because I do—we’ve talked about it—and Mark is going to argue that I shouldn’t even be getting phone calls because I don’t live here. Jesus, if I had dollar for every time he’s brought up that I’m there and he’s here I could afford to be here more often.
ME: Anyway. That’s it. That’s what I needed to say. (looks blindly around room)
DAD: (watches me intently)
ME: I should get going.
DAD: I do love you, Chase.
ME: (smiles) I love you too. Lord knows why—you’re a whacking great pain in the ass.
DAD: Well, that’s my job.
ME: Fair enough.
 The fact that I wasn’t actually allowed to date, or that the sight of me talking to a boy in a car sent him into an apoplectic rage made not the tiniest dent in this logic. And the fact that I brought it up again was blamed on my “hormones.”
 The good Lord also saw fit to give me a unibrow and some of the furriest armpits in the animal kingdom, but he never objected to my alteration of that arrangement.
 Seriously, back to therapy. I know. It’s on my to-do list.
 Seriously, she said it like I looked like the sort of person who could never get someone to eat with her.
 Look, it’s not that I begrudge anyone their chronic tardiness—witness my own track record in that department—but there I was, busting my ass day in and day out; showing up every morning with his breakfast, even though it meant skipping mine; staying with him until his dinner order was in or on the way, no matter how late he’d requested it… and these assholes who came by once or twice a week were not only getting a pass on tardiness, but got him rested and sharp?
 It’s not the family silver, it’s legal authority over an incapacitated human, for crying out loud!