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.

 

The Case of the Silent Ride

Friday is going to be another very silent day. Right now, it’s Wednesday, and it’s already getting to me, the uncomfortable-ness of having to spend even one second with my dad. I have to take him to the doctor. I’ll probably also take him to the grocery.

I will just hate it.

I used to look forward to the times when he’d come over of a weekend, pick up us kids, and then take us to the lake, which is what we called his folks’ house, or take us to Shaftsburg, which is where he lived with his second wife.

Of course in retrospect, all he really did was pick us up from our mom’s house, drive us to wherever, then drop us off to go party with his friends. We’d never see him again until it was time to go back home.

The rides in the old days would have dad speeding along, 80 or 90 miles an hour, along country roads with barely a stop sign in sight. He’d take hilly roads that, when his latest new Ford truck would nearly bottom out in a gully from sheer speed, we’d feel our stomachs nearly fall out. It felt so funny!

The rides, though, were dangerous, and not just because of the speed. When we were kids at that time, seat belts were not standard, so we never wore them. We also always stood on the bench seat with our hands putting death grip-pressure on the cabin ceilings. Our knees would buckle when the truck hit the lowest point of the road and then our legs would bounce back into place as the truck sped up the next rise.

We giggled. We laughed. We didn’t talk then any more than dad and I talk now, but back then, there was fun.

I miss fun.

The Case of the Tosser who Wouldn’t Go Away

Looking back over the posts I’ve made in this blog, I’m shocked at how long it has taken me to write something. Anything. Surely, over the past couple years there have been incidents in our lives that have been worthy of note. Maybe that’s true. I’m certain it is. I’m equally certain, however, that I had not the words to express what we went through, nor how we resolved to live after each incident. The more tense my relationship with my dad has become, the fewer words I can come up with to express my sadness and disappointment over what used to be a close relationship, but has not become nothing more than custodial.

Let me try to begin, though, by describing “The Visit.” On the way to the grocery store a couple Decembers ago, before my dad’s birthday, dad worked into our conversation that his “buddy,” Mike Kimball was going to come down for a visit on his way down to visit one of his sisters who lives(d) south of where we are. Immediately, I had a sinking feeling. The only reason dad would wait until the last minute to tell me something like this is because he would  have invited his friend to stay for as long as  he liked. After all, Dad did have a two-bedroom, upstairs apartment. They could each have a private balcony and their own bathrooms and then share everything else, since the apartment, which was under my name, was so spacious. 

I have to admit, my first reaction felt like a cold  rod being shoved down my spine. I did, though, find the strength to ask when he was to arrive and how long he planned to stay. A week was the answer. Okay. I decided to have no problem with Kimball staying as long as he understood there would be no drinking or smoking, not drugs, and that Kimball was to pay his own way. Dad was not to buy meal one for this guy, because he and all his family had a long history of taking advantage of our family. 

So, we go to the store. I make sure there are extra goodies for snacks, some steaks and such for special dinners, everything anyone would buy for someone staying a week whom they had had not seen in a couple years. I thought I’d done what I needed to do to make these guys’ visit  a pleasant one.

Well, a couple three weeks go by, and I hear nothing. It just so happens the same day I’m checking on dad, I’m also doing the weekly books, where I find a couple very interesting withdrawals from the student card I got dad so he could have some freedom with his money. Two days in a row, I find $100 withdrawals. What would dad need with $200 bucks when all the food and (non-alcohoic) drinks he could possibly want were right there at hand? 

I felt like an ice rod was shoved down my spin. Something was off. I walked over to dad’s apartment, and as I rounded the corner of his building, I saw who I thought was dad sitting in a lawn chair on the balcony just listening to country music, dog at  his feet. I was  a bit shocked at his appearance, because he was so thin and frail looking with a straggly white beard that hung down to the middle of his chest. Immediately, I thought he’d gone off his meds and was in a deep state of depression again, which I knew would take months to rectify. I know those of you reading this think that should have made me feel sad or compassion toward him, but I have been through so many times where dad has purposely gone off his meds and gotten himself into near catatonic states that I have always had to be the one to coax him out back into the real world. I was not up for one more time .

I entered dad’s apartment, unannounced save for the dogs who ran to greet me. As I reached the top stairs, I saw dad perched on his usual place on the couch. Television on. He had the thousand-mile-stare, not looking anywhere near the television. I stormed passed him, through the living room, through the guest room and out onto the deck to see who exactly it was who was squatting in dad’s apartment. Mike Kimball. I was beyond furious. I barely heard his explanation that he was only going to be there until his Social Security check came and he could afford to get to his sister’s place, which was god-knows-where. He brought with him an extra tee-shirt, and that was it. I told him that after the Christmas fiasco, that he was not welcome in dad’s place, that my name was on the place, and that I had not authorized for him to be there. He needed to get out. Now.

Things got ugly from there. I had to yank him out of the lawn chair he was in and push him through the apartment and the, I’m afraid to say, down the stairs. I didn’t mean to do that last part, but he slipped. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, but he did get the point. Don’t come back. Don’t contact my dad for any reason. 

After that, I set my sites on dad and just let loose. He knew from the last visit that Kimball’s intention was to live with him–for free– and not to visit. He also never intended to pay his own way, which was evident by the two $100 withdrawals in a row from dad’s account that ended up in Kimball’s wallet. I think  he also know how much of his fixed income he let his “friend” waste on case after case of beer and loads of bottles of schnapps and other liquor dad can no longer drink. Paying his bills would again be left to me. I cracked open every last canister of alcohol and dumped it on his front doorstep. I couldn’t  help my self. The lesson had to be learned, and I think it was. As far as I can tell from phone bills, no contact has been made between the two. I can only be thankful for that.

I know that dad is lonely, and I can’t help that fact. I’ve tried to get him involved in things I know he’s good at and would enjoy, like Habitat for Humanity or volunteering for any of the animal rescue associations, but to no avail. He doesn’t want to leave his place. I don’t know what he wants to do. I do know that “friends” (a.k.a. white trash) appear from the past, and he cannot seem to turn them away, because he did used to to a lot with them. Today, though, it seems he likes the fact that he’s remembered fondly, but 

The case of the ball that lost its bounce

What is it that stops you in your tracks?  For the past several weeks – several weeks – I have tried to think of how to describe what I have experienced 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 part of what I have to do is going to be easy or appreciated.  It’s that knowledge that has my stymied.

If you can, imagine yourself inside a ball that’s 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 the relative shelter of the palm.

It’s just not working.  The fingers are rolling 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 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 a too-thick layer of skin and it paralyzes me.

Don’t get me wrong, to look at me, you wouldn’t know anything was going on with me.  I may strike you as too quiet, aloof even.  All business with a pleasant face.  My humor, as always, would be 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 façade of interaction.  I would receive no energy from you.  I would only be throwing my energy at you to get you away from me so I could force myself back to the dad-tasks to get them done 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.  Not my smart-phone, not my laptop, but my plain paper notebook.  Jotting is quicker than booting up and typing.  Flipping is faster than searching.  I need my notebook to quickly show myself what I’ve done as much as to remind me what I need to do.

And that’s just it:  I now 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 – Dad calls every couple of hours to ask me if it’s raining where I am.  (He’s about 300 yards away).  He and the dogs will pop over at various times throughout the day to visit.  Unannounced.  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.  I don’t care that he’s seen the same ducks he’s seen for the past month.  I don’t care that his neighbor has moved in or out.  I don’t care.

I do care that he’s safe and well and that he has enough to eat and that he will always have a place to call his own.  Every day.  I just want that to be enough, but I know it’s not.  I have to dig deeper inside myself, drill out my marrow if I have to, in order to find that last speck of whatever it is – life, I guess – to make me get up tomorrow so I can lead him through another good day in a place that makes him feel secure.

The case of the fork in the road

Do we ever really know what we get ourselves into when we make up our minds to do something?  I mean, really make up our minds?

My first term in college – god, that was so many years ago now – my first term wasn’t even halfway through when my dad went off the deep end.  I don’t really know what prompted that particular fall, but fall he did.  After twenty-eight years of not missing a day, he started missing work.

I remember coming home from class, (I think it was a Tuesday, actually), I came home to the house on Broadway, walked up the stairs, rounded the corner into the kitchen, and my mom handed me the phone.  My dad’s supervisor wanted to know if I knew where my dad was.

Like I would know.  By that time, it had been, what, fourteen or so years since we shared the same house?  How the hell would I know where he was?  I hadn’t heard from him in weeks.  All I knew was that the last few times I’d seen him, he was so drunk that I didn’t want to be anywhere near him.  He tried to French kiss me the last time he said hello.  I avoided him like the plague.  I wanted nothing to do with him.

Child support, which Dad irregularly paid at best due to his penchant for stopping the $15 a week direct payment to the Friend of the Court, stopped the day I turned eighteen.  My mother had forgiven the debt he’d built up, so he really had no reason to check in with me every week.

He’d done nothing, you know, over the years to build a relationship with me.  Our time together was pretty much relegated to the drive to and from his parents’ house on the Albion side of Duck Lake.  When he was married, the time between my house and Shaftsburg where he lived with his second wife was our time.  I might see him over the weekend, of course, but mostly he partied.  My bother and I played in the lake or skated, depending upon the time of year, under Grandma’s watchful eye.  Grandpa was usually half in the bag, so to me, his supervision didn’t really count.

It took only days after my high school graduation for me to realize I had little, if anything, in common with most of my family.  The Faulkners most of all.  I didn’t drink.  I didn’t smoke.  I didn’t hunt.  I didn’t want to “work” for a living, I wanted to “do” something for a living.  Be someone.  Go places.  I didn’t want to have anything to do with Springport, Duck Lake, or the farm.  I loathed every last person from those places who touched my life.  Everyone, save my grandma.  Less so my grandpa, but he severely tried my patience with his drinking.

I hated drunks.  I hated the smell of beer, the smell of chewed up Mail Pouch.  I hated reeking of cigarettes, hearing disgusting conversations I should have never heard from the youngest age.  Hated being hugged and kissed and leaned on by dad’s and Grandpa’s disgusting friends.  Hated listening to my dad screw my friend in the bed next to my bed mere moments after the lights were turned out.  I was going into seventh grade.  She had just graduated high school.

I wanted to be away from them and their kind.  I chose to go to college, and on my dime, I was putting myself through.

So, with all that baggage, I took that phone call.  Reminded the guy that I didn’t live with Dad and had no way of knowing how he spent his time, let alone how to get hold of him.  That’s when he told me Dad was going to lose his job if he didn’t come in the next day.  The fact that he’d never missed a day was irrelevant.  Fisher Body had rules, and as much as the guy loved my dad, (everyone loves my dad), he would have to let him go.  He asked me if there was any way I could track him down.  I said no, and hung up.

Mom, who was standing next to me throughout the conversation, said something to me then that fairly echos in my head today whenever my dad gets himself into trouble.  She told me that I only had one dad.  She told me that if I didn’t help him, I would regret it the rest of my life.  If he lost his job, he’d lose his pension.  He’d lose his benefits.  He’d lose anything he may have built up for my brother and me.  I had to help him.

I kind of tuned out the rest of what she said after that, but I remember her saying something about her dad.  Something about how she would have done anything for him.  Something about wishing she still had him.  Mom adored her dad.  She lost him too young.  Dad, though, was not my Grandpa Joe.

Her words didn’t take long to trigger guilt through my smoldering anger.  I made calls.  I made rounds.  I got him the message that he needed to get his ass back to work.

He came in the next day.

That scene was repeated several times until, finally, Fisher Body’d had enough.  If Dad wanted to keep his job, he had to go through rehab.  Reluctantly, he did.  And then he went again.  And then again.  Fisher only paid for three trips.  Dad’s days were numbered.  When he started messing up again, he made sure he didn’t miss three consecutive days, but because he was missing work each week, he was on his way out – and fast.  Had my brother and step-father not negotiated an early out for him, dad would have lost everything.

So, he was out.  Ready to party.  Problem was, none of his friends, not even his remaining brother, could join him.  They all had crap jobs with few benefits, none of which resembled an early out with pensions and benefits.

Who was available to party?  Well, white trash, of course.  As long as Dad was buying, he had no end of friends.  Young friends.  Friends with no jobs.  Friends who wouldn’t think twice about robbing him, beating him up, even robbing Grandma, who by then was widowed and dependent upon Dad for her care.

Fat lot a protection he gave her.

How long could I let him spiral?

In the years that followed, I graduated from college.  Moved to Chicago.  Moved to Florida.  I lived a life marred by his presence in my mind.

I wasn’t long in Florida when I got a call from Dad.  His voice was weak.  He was out of money.  He was out of jail.  (I had no idea he was even in jail).  Alimony for his third wife, his ex-sister-in-law, was killing him.  He had $247 dollars left to his name.  He asked me for help.

So, there it is.  One more time.  My help.

My only dad.  My only dad.  My only dad.

Even a teller at Dad’s bank started calling me.  People who were giving my dad rides to the bank were leaving with most of his money.  They’d give him a sob story, and he’d hand over cash.  I say “they.”  It was mainly that last ex-wife.

Did I mention the teller was his last ex-wife’s ex-sister-in-law?

My, how life can get complicated.

I had to help him.

I gave dad my conditions:  To straighten out his finances, I needed power-of-attorney.  The fact that he was paying alimony to a wife he’d been with only a short time didn’t set well with me.  I’d have to have a copy of the divorce papers.  Papers that were delivered to him in jail.  That’s how he found out he’d been divorced.  He never even signed the papers.

I had my work cut out for me.

Nearly thirty years later, I’m still working.  He’s still getting into trouble.  And I’m still bailing him out.  With conditions, of course.

My conditions this time, though, are stringent and final.  I’m too old to keep this up.  I may be on the good side of fifty, but I’m on the wrong side of forty-five.  Too much of my life has been wasted on trying to save someone who doesn’t care to accept the help he’s begged to receive.

I wasted.

I’m the one who wasted my life.  I’m the one who made choices that led me away from working on realizing my dreams and living out my passions.  I’m the one who has to look in the mirror every day and see someone I never wanted to become.  Someone who, for an hour a week, plays at doing a microcosm of what I’ve always wanted to do.

Had I only known what I was getting myself into, I may not have made that initial choice that brought me to where I am now.