What happens now is a lull in phone calls. There’s no firm, “Call on Tuesday by 10:00″ schedule between us, but six days will stretch to eight without Mom or Middle calling.
Low dose nervousness ratchets up, so I’ll call, and no one will answer. Those two information points are all I need to know these days – something bad has happened. Bad enough that no one can talk about it yet. Inevitably, when things have stopped sliding down a hill, someone will call me back.
“So there’s no good way to put this, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, and I’ll explain why,” Middle said when I picked up the phone a few weeks ago. She took a deep breath. Then in a flat and factual tone, “Dad left the house in his underwear a few days ago.”
She went on to describe in great detail how Dad and Mom have been bicycling, and that the underpants were those half-boxer-half-briefs that could be mistaken for bicycling pants. But also not, because they are underwear, with a logo around the waistband and a fly held closed by a measly button.
And especially not, because Underwear Outside was apparently the tipping point at which Mom Lost. Her. Shit., terrified that someone would see Dad,
in his half-coherent state,
in a neighborhood full of children,
in his underpants
and authorities would be called, and Mom would lose him.
The one thing that my Dad still does exceptionally well is understand emotional cues. So although he didn’t understand why Mom was so upset, he did get really offended by Mom’s reaction. So he yelled at her, and called her a bitch, which my father would never do in a million years. Except he did.
I’ve been unsure whether to continue telling this story. As time goes on, the person my father was becomes less clear. And I mean that in all ways, but most difficult is the way in which my memories of who he was are faded while the recent memories of who he has become are horridly vivid and painting over my mental image of DAD.
I also worry because the person he has become is incredibly vulnerable. All the Discovery Channel ‘circle of life’ type show I’ve watched come to mind when I think of him — how the weakest in a pack are the ones taken down. My dad seems defenseless, like the stupidest criminal could hurt him. My mother worries that the authorities will take my dad away. I worry Dad will get mugged, or beaten, or worse. In this crazy, superstitious way, it worries me that he might be hurt by the wave of scorn and exposure of internet thoughts, which I bring upon him by telling you.
I’m also afraid I’ll mar… I dunno. His legacy? Maybe I’m only afraid that every time I write down a new demeaning thing that has happened, I take something away from who he was before this.
Several years ago, I apologized to him about my blog. The blog itself was getting bigger, and I was afraid I’d get doxxed and my father would be humiliated.
His reaction was not what I had expected. He was really angry at me – not because of the blog, but because I’d offered to hide my true self.
I was ashamed in that moment. He scorned my flimsy sense of my own voice, furious I would ever consider sacrificing who I was for anyone else’s comfort.
It’s strange now that this is the moment of my father’s parenting I hang on to. It gives me peace to think he’d be OK with this, ugly as it is.
My husband pointed out to me a few days ago that I think of myself as old now. He’s right. I’d chalked it up to 40’s midlife crisis, but I mostly see my body as falling apart. I don’t imagine myself as living past my 60’s, or being healthy enough to go hiking after the kids leave for college. Husband thinks it’s because of what’s happening with my parents. As soon as he said it, I was all, “OH, YEAH, DUH.” But it hadn’t crossed my mind before that.
I’m trying to shake it off, to see myself as healthy and having years ahead of good living. I’m surprised how powerfully my parents’ downslide has affected my own sense of longevity. It’s difficult to let go of the sense that life ends in a slow downward spiral of misery. It scares me terribly that I imagine myself dead by 70. I worry that if I continue to believe that, it will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Even so, I haven’t yet been able to stop.