It Begins

It’s a wonderful thing to have a good friend you can count on, to talk to, reminisce, and just touch base with. It’s even more so when you’re looking at the finish line, I think. For Dad, most of his “friends” are dead. His family–mother, father, brothers–are long since dead. The last man standing for Dad is his friend, Big Jim. Through all of Dad’s shenanigans, Big Jim stuck around. Never judging–not really helping, either, but he never added to Dad’s problems. Big Jim’s been a steady guy. Always had a job. Never sucked off Dad who also always had a job unlike every other “friend” he ever had. Saved for retirement. Cared for his siblings through their health issues. He’s also always been good to my brother and me. That’s why I didn’t mind so much–all right, I minded a little–when Dad told me Big Jim was coming down.

This past week as we awaited Big Jim’s arrival, I could see a change in Dad. His spirit was lighter. He wanted to do things. I noticed his apartment was significantly cleaner. He called to have me take him to the barber. He called to have me take him to the grocery. (Of course, he could have done the barber and the grocery all in one trip since the establishments are directly across from each other–I offered–but he didn’t).  He wanted to know how to make chili so he could have a pot ready for Big Jim when he got in. I printed off a good Betty Crocker version, which was one of the easiest, got Dad some spices and a ring of measuring spoons, and let him go to town.

Each day Big Jim traveled, Dad called me with updates. He’s in Louisville. He’s outside Atlanta. The closer Big Jim came, the more calls I received.  I appreciated Dad’s enthusiasm, but I grew apprehensive the nearer Big Jim came. How were my responsibilities going to grow? Will the boys get into trouble like they had before? How much time will I need to devote to the two of them? How much will my work suffer?

It didn’t take long for me to find out that I would be called upon. Big Jim was lost. He missed his exit and got twisted up. He called Dad for directions. Dad, who hasn’t driven since the ’80s, had never been where Big Jim wound up. Dad called me for directions to relay to Big Jim. Like that was going to work. Dad couldn’t really explain where Big Jim was. Why Big Jim didn’t just call me directly, I don’t know. He had my number. I had him describe where he was, and I thought I knew where he was. Not more than a few miles away if I was correct. I stopped writing, hopped in the car, and headed out. I found Big Jim parked at a McDonald’s about six miles away from Dad’s place (and mine).

Getting Big Jim to Dad’s was torturous. He doesn’t drive more than 25 or 30 miles per hour. If he drove that way all the way from Wisconsin, it’s a wonder someone didn’t ram him out of frustration.

As we pulled in to Dad’s, Dad came barreling out (as best as he could barrel) to greet Big Jim. It had been years, maybe since 2001, since they’d seen each other. We each unpacked the back of the car and made our way inside.  Dad was jabbering. Big Jim was giggling. I just stayed back and watched. We gave Big Jim the nickel tour of Dad’s apartment, and the boys sat down to rest. Within minutes, Dad remembered how to play host and the boys sat down to chili and Diet Cokes.

The next day, mid-morning, I got a call letting me know where all the two had been. The diner, Home Depot. Turns out Big Jim brought down a flat screen so they could really enjoy their t.v. time. Also turns out neither of them knew how to hook it up. I had to turn to Andy to ask if he would mind hooking up the thing for them. It’s a bother. Dad’s been a weight on me since before Andy and I met, and with all the things Dad’s put me through, Andy doesn’t exactly appreciate being tapped to help. But he always helps. With the aid of our own HDMI cord, Andy was able to get the boys set up. Later that day, Dad called to let me know Big Jim and he decided to hire a maid–dad’s old caretaker who’s pushing 90 if she’s a day. I could only roll my eyes. There’s no reason two grown men can’t clean a one bedroom apartment on their own.

The following day, the boys were off to the Batteries Plus store to buy a phone battery for Dad. Forty-two dollars. Big Jim bought it. I’ll have to repay him. Dad isn’t trusted with money anymore, though I believe I may start giving him some so Big Jim doesn’t get stuck paying for everything.

I don’t know. That’s a big step. For me as well as him. There’s a matter of trust that he won’t try to buy everything, which is his mode of operation. I have to preserve his funds. He’s lost everything three times now. I’m trying to rebuild for him. I know it’s his money, but it’s my sanity that gets strained when it comes to Dad’s funds.

We’ll see.

Taking the train to nowhere

Early 2011

What is it that stops you in your tracks?  For the past several weeks – several weeks – I have been trying to think of how to describe what I have been experiencing since I brought my dad back to Florida.  It’s not so much frustration as it is pressure, but not the kind of pressure that breeds anxiety.  I’m not anxious.  I know what needs to be done to move ahead, but that’s just the problem.  I know.  I know, because I’ve done it before, and I know not one piece of what I have to accomplish is going to be easy or appreciated.  It’s that knowledge that has my stymied.

If you can, imagine yourself inside a ball that is filled with that gooey stuff inside a stress ball.  I feel as though I’m inside that ball.  I’m a lump that gets manipulated by a huge hand.  Each finger is a different stressor and I’m desperately trying to press myself back into relative shelter in the palm.

It’s just not working.  The fingers pressing me into contortions all over the inside of that ball.

Every breath I take, from the moment I wake until the moment my head hits the pillow (notice I don’t say “sleep”),  I feel the atmosphere compressing that ball.  Think about it:  the force of everything compressing equally all over that ball.  I’m in the middle, and I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.  I have to heave a sigh just to take in air, otherwise, my breathing is so shallow, I have to think myself into taking a breath.

My mind feels suspended.  There really isn’t another word for it.  Blank doesn’t quite describe it, neither does empty.  I feel too much inside my head, see too much.  The sense of overwhelm is like another layer of skin and it paralyzes me.

Don’t get me wrong, to look at me, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong.  I’d strike you as too quiet, aloof even.  All business with a pleasant face.  My humor is dark, biting, even self-deprecating.  I’d make you laugh, but only so I can get you to go on your way.  I’m the queen of placation.  The problem is that it takes every ounce of energy for me to emit that facade of interaction.  I would receive no energy from you.  I would only be throwing my energy at you to give you whatever you need to get you away from me so I could force myself to check off the dad-tasks as quickly as possible so I can accomplish at least one thing for myself.

It doesn’t always happen, the doing something for myself part.  That’s why I need my notebook.  I need my notebook to remind me what I need to do as much as to show myself what I have done.  Kind of a proof.

I have too much to do.  Dad is a 24-7-365 job.  Even though he’s in his own apartment, he’s living on the other side of my woods.  He and the dogs will pop over at various times throughout the day to visit.  Dad just wants to tell me about his day and show me an ungodly number of pictures he’s taken of virtually nothing, and I can’t stand it.  There’s no phone call before he comes.  There’s no sense of respect that my work cannot be interrupted and restarted, because a train of thought is fleeting, and writing is all about stringing together a train of thought.  I’m paying for his life right now.  His life and mine, and I can’t pay out what I don’t earn, and I can’t earn if I can’t think.

It’s a boundary issue, I know, but I also know that it’s going to take months to get him to relearn boundaries.  The last time I moved him down with me, it took about three years.  I know what I’m doing this time, so I’m praying it’ll only be a matter of months.

Please god, let it be a matter of months, because my nerves won’t stretch out any longer.

 

A Dawning Realization

My dad’s best friend, Jim, is coming for A Friendly Visit in January. He’ll be here for three months.

Earlier today, my dad called me to let me know that Jim will need to have a doctor when he comes down, because he needs, among other things I’m sure, to have his blood drawn every month.

No problem. I can get our doctor’s information to Jim.

Hours pass.

I sit down to prepare my writing plan for this week, and it dawns on me that I am now going to have to take care of–at least in part–Jim’s medical needs, too. It’ll be like having two dads to care for.

I truly don’t mind overseeing these two’s medical care. I’d rather know what’s going on with them than not, so I can make certain they’re not doing anything to harm themselves–which they will. Fifty-three years of experience assures me of that.

It’s just that I also realized that it’s not going to stop at medical oversight. Jim will have a vehicle. The two of them will want to go on road trips. Neither know where to go around here, so it’s going to be up to me to be their human GPS, since neither has a smart phone.

Is it harsh to say I don’t have the time to play travel guide? In truth, I don’t have the time. I have writing and editing and consulting to do. I have my own ailments to deal with.

Neither do I have the inclination. Dad, as you know, was never around when my brother and I were growing up. He wasn’t a part of our lives as we grew into adulthood, because he was busy being a drunk, getting into trouble (read: sitting in jail), and going through wives and girlfriends (sometimes simultaneously). We didn’t want to be around him.

Now, I’m faced with these two. Who, together, will get into trouble. They will act like little boys, as they have done for as long as I can remember. Will giggle when they’re caught.

And I find myself unable to see the humor in everything that’s going to come next.

 

Rough & Rushed

December 12, 2010

Rough and rushed.  That’s how life feels right now.  Since before Thanksgiving, dad has been my focus.  Dad’s safety.  Dad’s health.  Dad’s finances.  Dad’s living conditions.

Since I first heard from Moira, Dad’s probation officer, getting Dad to Florida has been my priority.  At first, I only planned to have him down here long enough to get him evaluated by his doctor and get his social security money out of suspense.  When I arrived in Sanford, North Carolina, I didn’t try to contact dad.  I had too many things to do in too short a time.

Hate to admit it, but he would have just been in the way.  I needed to meet Moira, the detectives I’d worked with when he was missing, and the bankers who first alerted me to his situation.  I wanted to thank them.  I wanted to have us each put a face to the phone and email conversations we had over the past several months.  I have to admit, though, that I had an ulterior motive for wanting to see them all in person.  I wanted them to see me, see that although my dad may look and sound like white trash, he wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  In my mind, if they saw me, heard me, they would understand that Dad always had competent help at hand.  All he ever needed to do was reach out, but he never did.

My fault, that one.  The day he told me he wanted to move to North Carolina, I told him that if he did, “Don’t call me when you get into trouble.”  Other than when Blackie, his dog, was stolen, I rarely heard from him.  When I did, he rambled, and I knew he was drinking.  Many times, I didn’t take his calls.  Just let them go to voicemail.  If he called too often, I wouldn’t listen to my messages.  I couldn’t.  I just didn’t want to hear his overly long messages that told me nothing more than he wasn’t in his right mind when he called.

Should I have cut him off like that, taken away his lifeline?  I think yes.  His neediness and drama had taken a horrible toll on my life, my work, my health.  His very presence stymied my creativity.  I’m a writer.  I’m an editor.  Creativity is what gives me life in every sense of the word.  Though I published, the work was no longer fun.  Only when I hired help for him did I finally find fun in what I do.  When I made the decision to bring him back here, I made the decision to temporarily take the fun out of my life again.  I know the process this time, though.  The downtime will be weeks instead of months.

Day One: Our first stop for him once we arrived in the Sunshine State was to see his doctor, (I’ll call him Dr. Brennan).  Before we went to Social Security, we needed the doctor to sign on a medical form to testify that dad is unable to handle his finances.  It took only moments for Dr. Brennan to say he’d seen enough.  Dad didn’t stop talking the entire time we were in the office.

Then, it was time to go to the credit union to set up his accounts and get the proper paperwork started for the next day’s visit to Social Security.

After that, the grocery store for some staples he could have in his hotel room.

Day Two: The Social Security office visit was like stepping into hell. The place reeked of body odor, even though it was wintertime. People’d brought their children with them. Why would anyone do that? The wait in the SS office is going to be at least three hours if not longer, and there’s not a child on earth who can sit still, let alone be quiet, for that long.  The place itself was bulletproof-glassed and security guarded up just enough to make me feel uneasy stepping inside. What kind of people do they service, anyway?

Once at the counter, the man behind the glass did his level best to make me out to be a child who was going to take advantage of the old man next to me. “Does your dad owe you any money?” He did, about $25,000, but I didn’t say that. “Will you be getting paid for taking care of your dad’s finance or anything else?” Uh, no. The man doesn’t make enough to pay me, let alone pay me back. I just found the little man’s attitude and tone to be offensive. He was, however, quick to get dad set up as we had already been to the credit union and had the account numbers at hand.

Day Three: Clothes shopping. The urine-soaked pants had to go, as did the ill-fitting shoes and women’s sweater and coat dad refused to take off. He did, I must say, find a pair of pants (not his size) laying beside the road that he actually thought I was going to let him wear. I guess that counts for something. The pants were new to him, after all.

Day Four: Forced shower. Threw out old clothes so he had to wear his new ones. Then, off to visit apartment complex after apartment complex after apartment complex. I wanted to try to get find him something he could afford with just his General Motors pension check so we could start saving his Social Security check once it started coming again.

No luck.

With him just getting out of jail, and that jail stay being for passing bad checks, no one–at least on the good side of town–would touch him. In the end, I took him back to where he lived before, the complex right on the other side of my woods. Thankfully, the staff was the same. They all loved dad (who didn’t, right), and they let him come back. I, of course, had to sign for him…

We wound up putting dad in a two bedroom, second-storey (yes, that’s spelled correctly) apartment. Even though he had no furniture, only my air mattress and a couple camping chairs, dad was thrilled to move in immediately.

Now, all I had to do was start furnishing his life. He already said he’d like to get another dog. I could start on that Day Five.

It’s going to be a long rest-of-the-year.

 

A Friendly Visit

My dad’s best friend, Jim, is going to come down from Wisconsin in January to spend the winter months here in Florida. I like Jim. Love the guy. He’s happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, and any other happy hyphenate you want to apply to him. He’s just an all-around good egg.

But.

Jim’s always been a drinker. Even though he assured me that it’s been four years since he’s had a drink, something inside me just doesn’t believe him. He lives with a much younger guy who I know does drink, and I can’t see Jim not joining in.

I have reason to be skeptical. The last time Jim came down for a visit, dad had just been released from the hospital after having a quadruple bypass. Dad had a zipper of staples up and down his chest. He was taking medication that contraindicated alcohol. I told Jim before he came down that there’d be no drinking. Period. The end. If there was drinking, I’d have to ask him to leave–and take dad with him.

Well, the first evening I left the two alone, they called a cab to go out for dinner–and drinks. A lot of drinks.

When I returned from wherever I’d been, I was frantic. I had no idea where the two had gone off to–they left no note, of course. I canvassed the neighborhood to see if anyone knew anything, and no one did. By the time I got back to the house, a cab pulled up and out stumbled my dad. Jim at least kept his feet.

I was furious. I was cool, but I was furious.

As dad stumbled next door to relieve himself in my neighbor’s flowers, I approached Jim and reminded him that he knew the rules. I was sorry, but he’d have to leave. And he was going to have to take dad with him.

He didn’t believe me.

Jim packed and ordered up a rental car. While he did that, I packed a bag for dad. When Jim left, I poured dad into my car and followed. When Jim checked into his hotel room, I left dad at his door.

Jim called and called and tried to convince me to pick up dad, because by that time, dad’s happy drunk self turned dark. I finally convinced Jim that when I laid out the rules, I meant what I said, and Jim took dad up to Wisconsin with him.

In short order, Jim called my brother, who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to see if he would take dad off his hands.

My brother said no. He didn’t want dad around his young children.

Jim called other friends of dad in Michigan and tried to pawn him off, but they didn’t want him. Dad had burned too many bridges.

Finally, I relented and agreed to take dad back, but only because he had to get his staples removed and had follow-up doctor appointments.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get dad flown back to Jacksonville with no ID or wallet (this was pre-9/11). He arrived. Drunk.

Things were never the same between us after that. I moved him out of my house and into an apartment. We barely spoke for a year.

I don’t need to go through that again. I hope Jim’s telling me the truth.

 

 

The Case of the Big Bad Blade

Don’t run with knives. Seems like good advice. I can do you one better, though. Don’t carry knives in vehicles (that you’re not licensed to drive) when you are parked in your neighbor’s driveway (when they don’t want you there). They may call the police on you and you could be arrested on a–get ready for it–weapons charge, among other things.

Years later, when you are trying to find an apartment and the property management company runs a background check on you, that charge, along with all the other charges, like disorderly conduct, drunk and disorderly, god knows what else, will come back to bite you in the butt. You see, no one wants a potential problem living in their community, even when you really pose no more problem and haven’t in years. It’s what’s in the report that counts, not the person standing in front of the rental associate.

This is what I’m facing right now with dad. I believe that if he hadn’t been caught with a machete in the glove compartment of his truck way back when, I’d be able to get him in more affordable housing, but as it is, I think he’s going to be stuck right where he is: in a two-bedroom apartment on the second storey (yes, that’s spelled correctly) of a very nice apartment building. For me to move him into a one-bedroom even in the same complex, he’d have to go through the background check all over again, and he won’t pass, and I won’t sign for him. There are other options, of course, but the options are places where I wouldn’t want to leave my car unattended, and I cannot have him living in those kinds of places. No. I believe I’m going to be forced to keep him right where he is, in a too-expensive place, for at least three more years, which is how long it’ll take before the weapons charge is no longer a factor in finding a place to rent.

The Case of the Mysterious Ice Dancer

Watching the men’s figure skating during the Olympics always brings back a special moment for me. It was a moment that made me see my dad not as “Dad,” but as a person in his own right. Free and happy. Alone, and milking every last second of pleasure out of his time away from his family, work, definitely his ex-wives, and probably even us  kids.

We were at his folks’ house on Duck Lake. It was winter, and as usual, I was out on the ice, pretending to be a long track skater (I liked the leaning-over, one-arm-behind-the-back while purposefully swinging the other arm skating look). The ice on the lake was black as black could be, because that particular winter, we Michiganders experienced record low temperatures that even kept the snow away. Consequently, the entire lake, which is far from small, had a good six feet or so of ice (or so I was told), and not one flake of snow to be found. You could skate clear across if you wanted to, so that’s what I was practicing to do.

As I got braver and braver,  skating closer toward the center of the lake, I saw in the distance some guy. Some man. He looked like someone from the Olympics. He was spinning and spinning so fast, his arms straight up,  he looked like he was trying to drill himself down into the water. Then, his arms would come down and flare out to slow himself. A leg would rise as he leaned himself forward, parallel to the wet, black, floor he seemed to own. The leg would come down to allow a toe-pick to push himself off a couple times, and then I saw him raise up that leg again as she put his arms up and out at his sides like Superman drawing figures on flat ice. He was fast, and the whole scene was cool.

It was a pure moment. Pure, because I realized when the man started actually skating and making figures that the man was my dad. I believe I was about eight at the time. I’d never seen my dad skate, and he hadn’t taught me to skate. I learned on my own.

I never told dad I saw him that day. Even at that young of an age, I knew that time was his.

The moment,  however, was mine.