Dad was dad and daughter was daughter. Parents were in charge and children were to follow their lead. Dad knew pretty much everything – whether gutter guards are worth it, what percent to put into my 401k, when the check engine light was serious and what a tire rotation should really cost, when the tractor needed oil, when to plant the tulip bulbs, when to mulch and when to deadhead, which route to take to get to I-70 the quickest through the country past the farmer’s cemeteries, when the red finch were bound to come back each year, what was the rare word for an opera used in crossword puzzles (an aria!), which band sang which song, which year what major historical event happened, and it goes on.
I came to rely on this dynamic. Its steadfastness. The order of it. Every question has an answer. Everything has a place. Everyone has a role.
So when I had realization after realization of what life really is, these notions of order – illusions really, childlike assumptions that the way things were was that the way things would always be – dissolved. Reality moved into the vacancy. Before I could even grasp that there was a significant phase shift, I was in the new phase, catapulted with no time to look back, no time to appreciate, no time to grieve, no time to long for what was.
He would disappear. Maybe it was detaching, disassociating from the world around, the pricks and poison and procedures happening to and on his body. Cave into himself, nestled into the family room chair, tucking away his humor, his engagement, his answers. His eyes closed but awake, listening, enough to make the rest of us act normal. Like our father wasn’t wilting and wasting away day by day. Sometimes he indicated to me, quietly and rarely, he wanted to know what it would be like when he was gone, when there was an empty chair at the table. What would it sound like without his voice.
He would get confused. “Now what’s happening when? And who is going where? Oh, that’s right.”
He would get fixated. “Now, we have to take this route and park in this way for me to get to the radiation appointment on time. And then you get the wheel chair and I have my ID cards in this old plastic baseball card holder in my grocery bag with my glasses and that’s all I need.” Trying to control all the controllables in an out of control situation.
He would forget. His memory no longer reliable, the sharpest in the family, the elephant, the steel trap. He would admit, “I don’t know,” words strung together that were new to him or at least him saying them to me. And he would get frustrated by it when we shared the answer, corrected the story. “Oh, that’s right.” And shake his head so quickly, seemingly trying to make the admittance somehow more bearable or to brush the cobwebs out like that was possible or to forget that this is the new him.
We often wondered – was it the drugs doing this, was it the cancer doing this, was it the drugs and the cancer and the sadness of all of it doing this.
Layers upon layers, now messily stacked.