Monday, June 16, 2008

How To Watch Your Father Sleep

Guest blog entry from Mrs. Rodius...

You really don't want to read this. I've been thinking about my father a lot lately. Fitting, since it was recently Father's Day. But, this started several weeks ago.

As I mentioned in my last guest blog, Thumper's been vocalizing more these days and he often talks about "Bob." He bob, bob, bob, bob, bobs so often that The Man and I have decided Bob must be Thumper's imaginary friend, and he often blames Bob for the things that crash! And, Bob is the reason why Thumper does some of the things that he should not...Bob told him to. My dad was Bob, and I lost him a long time ago now. Some say that imaginary friends aren't imaginary at all...that they are some other force or form or spirit. I don't know...the thought has struck me, though.

It makes me sad that Thumper will never know him and that my father will never have the chance to meet the little guy I'm so proud of. He was far from perfect, but he was that dad running like mad away from the sewer he'd just dropped an M-80 down (on the 4th of July) as all of us neighborhood kids cheered on. Boom! Ha ha ha ha ha!

The Man recently resurrected some old writing we'd stored on floppy disk. Floppy disks...yep! I came across this. One of my writing professors used to have us do free writing exercises to start class. She'd give us a topic and we'd just start writing. It was an exercise in free-flow writing. I believe this day must have been "What if..." Excuse how rough it is. I never went back to flesh it out, though that was the idea behind the free-flow writing.

How To Watch Your Father Sleep

What if when you were nine years old your dog died? She'd have been german shepherd and husky and her name would have been Kelly, and she'd have been the first thing in your life to go and die on you. What would you do? You might cry a bit and think about the time when you were out riding your bicycle (and Kelly was outside too because there wasn't a leash law then) and Mikey Powell came up and stood in front of you and wouldn't let you by. You would remember that you had been too scared to do anything when he pushed you off your bike, but Kelly had rescued you. She'd charged at him barking and barking, and you knew she didn't bite, but Mikey had run away, the piss scared out of him.

And what would you do if you found out years later that all day long your mother thought she heard the dog whining on the back porch where your parents had hidden her the morning they found her cold as stone on the kitchen floor? They would have done this so you wouldn't know until after you had come home from school that day. Parents do that kind of thing. If Kelly had been your goldfish, they would have bought you another and secretly switched it with Kelly thinking you wouldn't know the difference, trying to spare you this pain. But a dog would have been much more difficult to switch, so it was the back porch until they could get rid of her.

"I kept thinking I heard her crying on the porch," your mother will tell you one day when you are older as you sit in the kitchen drinking coffee with her and some of her friends. "I kept going out there to check and I'd say 'Kelly?', but it was just my imagination."

You won't be mad or sad when she says this, having long since gotten over it. You will think it's eerie and let the words pass away with the rest of the small talk. It will come back to you though, this thought.

Because when you were twelve, just a few years after Kelly, you would stumble groggily into the kitchen to find your father as gray as modeling clay sitting at the breakfast table. He'd be sweaty and cold and you'd watch, unable to move, as he turned to your mother and said "I think I better go to the hospital."

What would you do if you heard this from a man who refused to take so much as an aspirin when he had a headache? You won't be able to remember a single day when you shivered more, even though it was June. Your mother would come home from the hospital, alone and crying. She would continue to cry as she called all of your relatives to say that Bob had had a heart attack and they don't know if it means surgery or not but that she needed everyone's support and couldn't some of them take one or two of the kids for a while if she needed them to?

You wouldn't know what to do that night or when two months, one more heart attack and by-pass surgery later, he finally came home from the hospital. Your mother might tell you what you have to do. You musn't upset him and you kids musn't fight in front of him and your father won't be allowed to do heavy lifting anymore, so if you're a boy, you must do it for him. You might do it for him anyway, even if you are a girl.

You would have only gone to visit your father once while he was in the hospital because you had gotten so upset that one time that your mother didn't think it was a good idea for you to go again. You wouldn't have been able to say much or even look at your father with all those wires and tubes attached to him and that machine that beeped in time with his heart. Your father would have noticed you staring out the window and would have called you over to him to explain to you what each tube and wire was for and to tell you that he was going to be okay. And you'd have choked trying not to cry because you were ashamed. Ashamed because you're not supposed to upset someone in I.C.U. and because he was the one in need, not you.

Once your father was home from the hospital, you'd begin to notice that you watched him a lot more than you ever used to. He'd be lying on the couch taking a nap after work and you'd stop suddenly, your face tingling and fear cementing all of your joints and you'd stare. You'd stare, but then you would relax and tell yourself yes, he was breathing. You'd get really good at scaring yourself this way. You'd practice different methods of ignoring other sounds, the television, a car passing on the street. It would be a game almost, a kind of art, shutting out all other noises just to hear his breathing. This is how you watch your father sleep.

And years would pass and your father's health would continue to deteriorate and all new complications would develop, too many sicknesses for one man. You would wonder why he refused to quit smoking and why he couldn't seem to stick to the doctor's diet. You wonder how long a death can be carried out. You would think it's strange as you stood outside his bedroom door listening, that he goes to bed earlier than you now. Yes, he was breathing and it was just your imagination. But no matter how many times you tell yourself this, you can never make it stop. You always find yourself straining, holding your own breath to listen for his.


anne said...

Mrs. Rodius, this is very well-written, even in the rough stage.

Thank you for sharing!

Jennie said...

Dangit! Now I am trying to push the tears back in at the corners. Beautiful post that highlights all the ways that our families drive us crazy but simultaneously make us love them so much we never want to be without them. Six years later, my dad is still grief-stricken, angry, and bewildered that my grampa didn't quit smoking when he had cancer.

anniemcq said...

Hugs to you, Mrs. Rodius. This brought back so many memories of watching my mom in just the same way after she suffered from a blood clot to her lung.

Beautifully written. Don't edit a thing.

Mrs. Rodius said...

Anne - thank you for the feedback.

Jennie - it's hard to understand. But when I think about it, there are things I do that aren't good for me. I do them anyway. Maybe it would be different if the doctor told me I had a bad heart or cancer, but I can't say for certain. I've been overweight for 10 years, riding the diet & exercise roller coaster and not ever getting very far. I'll work very hard and lose 15 - 20 pounds and then just start gaining weight again. I'm at the 23 pound point this time and find myself struggling but not giving up yet. Now I'm just rambling, but I guess I was trying to say that I can understand it to a degree. So aorry about your grandfather.

Anniemcq - thank you. It's very difficult to watch a parent who is sick. I'm sorry for your loss.

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