It’s Dad’s last night in our house. The last one ever. He can’t climb the stairs at our new home so this is it. He’ll move to my brother’s in the San Fernando Valley and then we’ll put him in a dementia care place and then he’ll die. Everybody thinks I should be celebrating. But the truth is, I hate to see him go. I’ve gotten used to the craziness around every corner. I kind of enjoy pointing him in the right direction. It doesn’t even drive me nuts anymore to hear him singing at the top of his lungs, “I don’t know where my shoes are. I wonder where they’ve gone!” Or telling me how he was up for two hours the night before because somebody put his belt on backwards and it took him forever to get it off and figure out how to put it back on the right way.
I’m not sure when the burden of having him here, shifted into a sort of gratitude. But that’s what I feel. I’m grateful to have had him around. Grateful that my kid will always remember this time when Papa Grande lived with us. Grateful to have heard his old stories for the 73rd time. But I don’t tell him that. I can’t tell him those kinds of things. Cuz we’re criers. And if we open that door a whole geyser of stuff is likely to rush up and out and soak all the stuff I worked so hard to keep nice.
Dad woke up yesterday asking if I’d take him along with me to the grocery. That’s all I needed. A dementia trek to Trader Joes. “Really Dad? Cuz I need a lot of things and pushing you in the wheelchair means I can’t use a cart, and…” But he insisted and I figured ‘Fine. I’ll open my heart. Take him to the frigging grocery store.'
“Look on the bottom of those meat packages,” he said once we were standing in front of the meat case. “See if any of ‘em say Cryovac.” Sure enough, some of them did. “Okay, give ‘em to me.” His frail hands, the ones that used to throw me into the air and catch me before I hit the ground, tremble as he struggles to study the packages. “Here. We’ll get this ground meat, and maybe that steak and those lamb… things.”
“Lamb?” I say. “Since when do you like lamb?” He looks at me for a second and then grins as if he just got my joke. “Oh Kershloonk,” he says, “I’m not gonna eat it.” Then he put the meat package into the shopping bag I had placed in his lap. “We’re gonna mail it.”
It was my turn to look like I almost got the joke. But the way his mind worked, I wasn’t ever sure what was what. So I bit. “We’re gonna mail it?” He looked up at me from the wheelchair. “We’re gonna mail meat. What’re you talking about?”
He stared like he’d almost heard how ridiculous this sounded. A sort of clarity came over him. “Or we can send it Fedex, if you think that is better. We gotta get it to LSU. I want McMillan to test it for carbon monoxide. I’m gonna get these bastards.”
Here we go. “Daddy,” I say a little too loudly. “You know, they sell meat in Baton Rouge. Why don’t you just call MacMillan and tell him to go buy it there.” He set his jaw and told me we were going to mail the meat. “Why do we have to mail it? I’m not even sure it’s LEGAL to mail meat!” His glasses were cockeyed on his face and the blue eyes that used to twinkle and tease were turned inward searching for thought. I could see the edge of his money clip poking out of his shirt pocket just beyond a glob of dried egg yolk from his breakfast. I realized that the Eagle’s ‘Take it Easy’ was piping through Trader Joe’s. Some hippy dippy woman near the avocado bin, was staring at us like she’d just overheard a terrorist plot. She was humming along pretending to act natural while she memorized our faces for the police lineup. The right side of my body had fully chilled from the refrigerated air wafting out of the meat case and I found myself wishing I were a better person. The kind of person who could just mail meat across the country without question, without argument. The kind of person who could do this for a man who’s trying desperately to hold onto himself. The kind of person who could allow her father the grace and dignity to find purpose in a life that seems inexplicable. Suddenly, in the yellow green light, I see that all he really needs is to feel viable. Valuable. And though I sense that swallowing my real feelings might cause me to get cancer or have a stroke, I suck it up.
“Okay. We'll call McMillan. Tell him to expect a package.”