I had done the right thing; I had told my father his idiot brother didn’t currently have the PoA he thought he did, even though in doing so I was almost certainly shooting myself in the ass. Or foot. Hell, probably both at the rate I was going.
I stopped for really excellent Mexican and got something with waaay too much cheese.
I went back the next day braced for whatever might come of my confession…
… and was met by his doctor, who was bristling with enthusiasm over “discharge plans.”
Now, if you’ve never been in the hospital for any length of time you’ve likely never heard this phrase or never thought much about it. But for someone who’s been in and out… and in again as much and for as long as my father, everyone gets very excited when the patient remains more or less stable for 72 hours straight and immediately wants to start talking about the discharge plan. They’re not going to actually discharge him, mind—they’re not even sure when they will be ready to do that. But by God, they’re excited to finally talk about it! In Dad’s case, he’d developed a pressure ulcer, which (I had only just learned from Jen) meant they were likely not going to get paid for any part of his stay anyway. So I understood why the hospital was equal parts ready to see the back of him and prepared to continue his care until just the right arrangement could be found.
His doctor offered to bring me a list of recommended rehab facilities in the area.
ME: Not (rehab). He was just there.
DR: Oh, did he not have a good experience?
ME: Well, they had him for almost two whole days and he came to you (gestures) triple infection, septic…
ME: Plus, there was an incident.
ME: They left him. In his room. In a chair. For over an hour, while they ignored his call light. He soiled himself and still they ignored the light. He shouted for help and they ignored him. It wasn’t until I called his room and he was—
DR: Oh my.
ME: Sorry, I get so angry. And the call light thing is a pet peeve of mine—you don’t know why that light is on, you know? You don’t know if he’s just lonely or if he hit his head and is bleeding out or if a visitor in the room is having a heart attack! So it shouldn’t matter if it’s your patient or not, if you’re headed for your break, if you’re trying to finish a report, or if you’re just sick of someone—go check!
DR: I agree, that’s unacceptable. And honestly? Yours is not the first story I’ve heard from that place. It’s… not good. But I’ll get you the list, and I’ll… we’ll talk.
ME: Thank you.
ME: What do you think we should be looking for, Dad? In these places, I mean.
DAD: (grumbles) One’s the same as another.
ME: (bobs head) Hmm… maybe. Or, maybe, we could find one that won’t steal from you? Or abandon you and forget about you?
DAD: (grabs my wrist) That first place tried to kill me!
ME: The… the LTAC?
DAD: No… the first place I went.
ME: The first rehab?
DAD: (nods, terrified)
ME: Well, you see? Clearly there’s a whole scale of facilities! All the way from places like this, where they bring you whatever you want whenever you want and nice guys like Eddie hunt down really pretty nurses to check your catheter—
DAD: (tosses my hand away)
ME: (gestures) Down to the places that, you know… steal from you and try to kill you. Bit of a difference there.
DAD: (holds up hand, thumb and forefinger two centimeters apart) Just a little.
ME: So… what if we find a rehab that’s closer to (gestures at the top end of this scale) than (waves bottom hand)
DAD: That would be fine. (pats hand)
DR: (returns) Okay, got the list. Now, I’m not supposed to do this, but… (scratches off two facilities)
ME: (raises eyebrow)
DR: I wouldn’t even bother looking. I’ve heard stories; they’re old and run down and understaffed.
ME: Got it.
DR: Now these (circles three) would be my picks; all excellent, newer facilities with top-notch equipment and staff that really care.
DR: (marks two more) I haven’t heard anything terrible about these, though I know they’re older…
ME: (takes sheet) I’m a sucker for shiny new toys—I hate having to ask, “why don’t you have a…”
DR: Then those three are your best bet. (nods) Good luck.
ME: Thanks (smiles)
DR: (leaves again)
ME: (sits with Dad) So. I could go look at these today…
DAD: That sounds fine.
ME: Unless… I mean, if you’d rather Mark—
DAD: No, I want you to do it.
ME: Okay. I’ll go scope ‘em out, take pictures and report back to you. We’ll pick one together.
DAD: (smiles) Sounds good.
On my way out, my paranoia and I texted Kenny:
Proving once again that he’s hardwired to do everything exactly wrong and in whatever way annoys me most, Kenny called me back rather than texting.
KENNY: What’s up?
ME: I’m on my way to… run some errands for Dad, actually. What’s going on with you?
KENNY: Oh, nothin’ much.
KENNY: So… I guess Dad wanted you to come to this meeting to help with—
Hold. The. Fucking. Phone.
Look, I don’t generally interrupt a Conversation—footnotes were invented for a reason, after all—but let’s BACK THE FUCK UP AND TALK ABOUT WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK JUST HAPPENED.
Did you see that shit?
This motherfucker just called my father “Dad.”
Now, as far as I and his mama ever knew, the douchecanoe only ever called my daddy by his given name. “Dad” was the name of his own sick fuck of a father, and it’s not my fault that shitweasel died—though I won’t pretend I never wished for it. We all did, except for Kenny.
But all of a sudden his mother dies and he starts calling Lee Dad?
My eyes narrowed. Fuckwit had just used up his very last Orphan Pass.
KENNY: … planning Mom’s funeral, and I think that’s… fine, you know. (clears throat) So, um… Katie and Lucy are gonna be flying in tomorrow morning and I figured we’d all meet around 3:00 at the funeral home—
ME: Oh, at 3? I could have sworn Dad said 2… I must’ve misunderstood.
KENNY: Well, I mean… we’re all meeting here at the house at 2, and then we’re heading up to the funeral home but we’ll be there probably about quarter to three… You can come meet us at the house and we can all take one car, or—
ME: No, that’s fine, I can meet you there.
KENNY: Are you sure?
ME: (through gritted teeth) Positive.
KENNY: Okay, well… like I said, the meeting is set for 3 but we’ll probably be there about 15 minutes early…
ME: Okay, well I’ll do what I can and we’ll see how Dad’s doing that day. Some days it’s easier to get away than others.
KENNY: Oh yeah?
ME: … Yeah. You know, good days and bad; it’s been tough on him.
KENNY: Yeah, it’s tough on all of us.
ME: Yeah. So I did have one thing I wanted to mention—I talked to Dad today about the funeral and we talked a little about where he’d like them to be buried—
KENNY: Oh, we got that all planned out.
ME: Oh-kaaaay… He was under the impression that nothing had been decided. Anyway, I mentioned the base and he really loved the idea, because they would share a space and a headstone and it’s, you know, cheaper. Which I think is a dumb thing for him to be worrying about but you know them—
KENNY: Yeah, he doesn’t want that.
KENNY: I talked to him, and he said he wants to be buried in (tiny town)
ME: Right… I heard you two talking about that the other day. But then just today I mentioned the base and he really went for the idea.
KENNY: Well… we can look into that, maybe. I mean, you have the DD-214, so you’d be the one doing that.
ME: You have it too.
ME: I emailed and texted it to you. And sent—
KENNY: Oh. Well. I don’t know how to do anything with that.
KENNY: Anyway, they really wanted to be in (tiny town)
ME: Uh-huh. Well, look into it.
KENNY: Okay, we’ll talk about it. I’ll see you tomorrow!
Let’s talk about that DD-214, shall we?
When I went back the first time, I asked my father for permission to take certain things from the house: his medals and awards, and the swords I mentioned; his dress blues and his Officer’s sword, which I was told he’d thrown out—he provided no explanation for that and I was too distressed by the news to press for one; and his DD-214.
I needed the DD-214 in order to complete a project I’d been meaning to get around to for years, but never made any progress on: a shadowbox display of his awards. I’d originally meant it as a gift for him (and rather thought I might still gift it to him if he stuck around long enough to enjoy it) but mostly it was for me.
Husband, of course, thought the idea was a sweet and loving tribute to the sacrifices and achievements of my father.
Because he doesn’t get me at all.
His father was home every night.
I wanted to make the shadow box not as a memorial, but a tribute—though not to my father. No, when I conceived of the idea he was still firmly on my feces roster and deserving of no such consideration as a tribute. But the Corps was his first love, the mistress that kept him away from his family… and in the grand tradition of military brats, I had mastered the art of malicious compliance. I would honor his first love—keep her memory so fresh and bright we could almost hear the bugle call.
And I would keep my hate and resentment fresh as well, sealed in decorative hanging Tupperware.
At any rate, I segued neatly into my request for the DD-214 when my father mentioned that some of his medals were missing; I assured him the DD-214 was all I needed to replace them.
DAD: Oh, that thing is all wrong.
ME: it’s… wrong?
DAD: They’ve got me as medically retired, and… it’s full of mistakes.
ME: Well… that’s not right, then. We should fix that.
DAD: I don’t care about that.
ME: It’s not about whether you care or not, Daddy… it’s about right and wrong. And that should be right before… (chokes up)
DAD: (pats hand) You do whatever you want with it, honey.
And that should have been that. The form was right where he told me it was, coffee stains and all. And it really was just as bizarre and full of errors as described, but anything can be fixed by a sufficiently determined ginger.
There was only one problem:
An equally determined ginger.
ME: And we got the swords and the DD-214, Dad. Right where you said they’d be. (smiles)
KENNY: (leans over) We’ll need that for insurance stuff, and probably to get him into the veterans home if we can convince—
ME: Yeah, but I need to take the original back to St Louis with me—
MARSHA: What are you whispering about over there?
ME: (clams up)
KENNY: … We were just talking about correcting the DD-214.
ME: (quickly) It’s really common for there to be errors—Mark and Ben said they had to deal with the same thing—but fortunately I live in St Louis, where the fixing happens, so—
MARSHA: Well maybe he doesn’t want it fixed!
ME: … (quietly) it’s just things like his discharge. (to Dad) You were right, they screwed that up and other things are—
MARSHA: Well I don’t think (glares at me) that you should be messing around in all that.
ME: (shoots helpless glance at Dad)
ME: Dad and I talked about it, and he said he wanted—
DAD: I want my record purged of all the bullshit! (grumbles) I didn’t earn half of what they gave me—
ME: (nods, blinking back tears)
MARSHA: He doesn’t want you digging in all that! There are things he doesn’t want you to see. (to Dad) That’s what you mean, right?
DAD: (looks around, confused and tired) Just… leave it.
MARSHA: (nods firmly)
ME: (nods sadly)
MARSHA: (sharply) You have to understand—
ME: It’s fine.
MARSHA: (glaring daggers) It’s just that there are things that could come out. Things he didn’t do! But he could still get in trouble—
ME: That’s. Not. A thing.
MARSHA: … Well. (sniffs) It is for him.
MARSHA: (sharp) There are—
ME: (sharper, louder) I said, it’s. Fine. He said I can’t have it. (smiles tightly) So I won’t have it. That’s it. (draws self up to more pointedly look down on her)
And then I went to the hall and cried my eyes out.
I hate crying in front of people, so I never do it—sort of like my policy on vomiting, really—but I couldn’t seem to hold it together just then. At one point a stranger came out and offered comfort, then tissues, and I hated her for it even as I accepted the tissues to save (literally, it was only the careful application of layers of makeup that covered my lack of sleep) face.
Eventually pulled the tears back inside, where they belonged, just in time for Kenny to come in from a smoke break.
KENNY: Hey, how you holding up?
ME: (shakes head)
KENNY: Look, don’t let that upset you, okay? You take whatever you need to from the house.
ME: (shakes head) She doesn’t want me to have it. She doesn’t even care why I want it, she—
KENNY: Well, whatever! It doesn’t matter anyway, she’s not gonna…
KENNY: It’s not like she’ll notice or ask where it is. Just send copies to us so we have it if we need it for insurance or whatever. Or for his funeral.
ME: (miserably) I just wanted to make a little shadowbox…
KENNY: So do it! Fix it, do whatever you need to do.
KENNY: Come on, let’s go back in.
ME: (nods) (follows)
And, as you all know by now, I took the original. We meant to make copies, but I left that afternoon—a spontaneous decision I hadn’t announced to anyone at the time of the Great Reunion. I packed it away carefully with my treasured family photos and the moment I got home I scanned it; I texted copies to Mark and Kenny, then emailed a copy to Kenny since he’d pled ignorance as to the ways of getting a document off his phone; I also printed six paper copies and mailed them to the house.
This will be important later.
 Not just because I make poor food choices when I’m feeling down; I honestly miss being able to get decent Mexican food. Midwestern Mexican is just plain sad.
 A bed sore. And I knew exactly when it happened, because I was there when they argued with him about turning and he tried to send them away (again) and they asked how long he’d been laying just that way. “Five hours,” he said. “Right,” agreed the CNA, “and it only takes two hours for your skin to start to break down.” I bullied him into shifting, but sure enough the next morning he was complaining of a sore spot.
 I still don’t know what happened at that place. He won’t talk about it, other than to say they tried to kill him. But my father is not given to dramatic exaggeration; I don’t think they literally held a pillow over his head or anything, but… whatever happened there, it was very very bad. And I think maybe it’s better for everyone that he doesn’t tell me. Because if I knew what put that kind of fear in the man who volunteered for two extra tours in Vietnam? Let’s just say they wouldn’t be filing unemployment.
 Call me crazy, but I’d been struck by the sudden feeling that maybe Dad hadn’t been told the right time or something. You know, nothing easier than blaming a misunderstanding like that on the sick old man, right?
 Actually, that’s unfair: he might have been avoiding an easily documented conversation. Too bad for him I still record all my fuckin’ calls.
 Why do people do this? YOU CALLED ME, ASSHOLE!
 See, sometimes I can keep my fuckin’ mouth shut.
 The more polite form of “why are you like this?”
 HA! I knew it.
 Which he would know if he was around. Ever.
 Whatever, you only ever called her when you wanted money.
 Yes, we’ve been over the therapy bit. Actually, this activity was therapist approved. I think she expected I’d talk to it or something.
 Okay, who else just heard Lady Catherine de Bourgh shouting that from the rose parlor?
 DAMMIT, KENNY! You useless fucking mama’s boy!
 Sure, he’ll start it, but he hasn’t got the guts to stick around when his mother and I both get going. Chicken shit.
 Yup, my dad was in there dying of COPD and lecturing everyone about the evils of smoking and these assholes couldn’t even pretend to give it up. Their mother had more tumor than lung and they were lighting up all around the house as they prepared it for her deathbed.
 We took turns explaining it to him, but he just… it was like trying to explain