Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Wreckage of Men

 My sister had warned me.

At 1230 I wake to find living room light spilling in under the bedroom doorway.  I slowly roll out of bed - I fell asleep only three hours earlier and thus the edges of sleep cling to my mind, telling me in the way of a feeling that has very little sense of the world beyond it that this was only a momentary thing and we could return back to bed soon.

The living room and the dining room are ablaze with light, pushing out into the darkness where at this time only the deer and bears roam - as well as my father, going into the computer room looking for something.

"What are you looking for, Dad?"

His wrist was hurting.

I foolishly cheer inwardly; this was a known issue (at least known as of this weekend, when he was diagnosed with SLAC, or Schaphoid lunate advanced collapse, where a ligament has ruptured and is leading to osteoarthritis) and something that I feel competent to resolve, at least in the short term.

I find the cabinet and grab the Tylenol I had given him yesterday that he had not remembered we had.  He took it with a glass of water, then settled back on the couch.  I let him settle in, creating a trail of darkness behind me as the lights went dim, the house becoming one again with the darkness outside.

Suddenly, sound!  He has turned the television back on and it is on, at full volume.  I scramble to get it turned down, only to turn to find my mother in the hallway entrance, looking rumpled and confused.  "It is okay Mom"  I tell her, "it is not time to get up yet.  You can go back to bed."  She takes me at my word - thankfully - and turns, wandering back as I get the volume reduced to zero and then muted for good measure.

The television being on at night is no longer a surprise for me, as it has not been for years, nor is my father sleeping on the couch.  Originally it was "because your mother snores", then it became a habit.  His insomnia created a window for the television and now more nights than not it is on, bathing his face and the couch in its ghostly blue light.

But it is a routine and right now, what we need is routine.

I find a channel with sports and check the guide, as I want to makes sure that there are sports on throughout the night in case he awakens again.  It is lacrosse - given recent events I am unsure of how much he remembers or understands about it, but it is two teams chasing a ball across a field.  It should be enough.  I recheck the volume, then ask him one last time if he is good.

He starts to talk to me.  And I cannot understand a word of it.

Oh,  I understand the words. They are quite clear.  But they are strung together in such a way that they have no definite meaning: indefinite nouns and times, devoid of identifiers to tie them to anything.  They are meant to convey something important but travel by me, rail cars running empty and fast rather than fat and full with meaning.

This has been happening for a bit.  The hospital did a scan - no signs of a stroke.

He continues to talk, sharing something that apparently is of great concern. I wait for a bit, hoping that sense will come or that I will somehow, miraculously, figure out what he is talking about so I can respond - then begin to worry that my very presence may be causing him to continue to keep him engaged and up.  I tell him "Good Night", turn off the last remaining light, and go back to my room.

I lay there, all hope of immediate sleep gone.  I hear noise from the living room.  

My father is still speaking.

He has talked to himself before when I have been here, and I thought little of it - I often talk to myself: it is a standard method of communicating with myself, of hashing out ideas and thoughts. Frequently the genesis for entries in this blog are found walking in the darkness, speaking sotto voce as I piece together words and concepts.  It is a way of communicating with myself, or at least parts of myself, that just thinking will not accomplish.

But my father now seems to be telling stories and events from a past that is as full of holes as a Greek manuscript which is only partially preserved.  I pick out names - mine, my sister's, my brother in law's, the man that keeps the horses at the Ranch.  But it is all, again, without definitive nouns:  This thing was here, this period of time ago, with him or her or them.  He is intent, he is serious, he is determined to say these things.

What these things are, I cannot say.

Is it a conversation?  Is it reminiscing?  I struggle with going in and checking on him, worrying that to engage him will be to either keep him from the sleep he so desperately needs or agitate him because  he cannot remember (this has happened and he enters a cycle of getting down on himself which leads nowhere) and thus perpetuate a monologue only he can seem to understand.

0136:  The rumblings from the living room are gone now, except for the occasional clearing of a throat.  I wait:  do I go in and turn off the television only to have him wake and struggle with it again?  Or do I leave it, hoping it still has sports on and the routine of it will take him back to sleep if he awakens?  What seems like an eternity of me listening, wondering, and waiting occurs as I both listen intently and try not to listen at the same time.

This man, he that relates words in the darkness that have a self contained meaning, was a man that I loved and feared, somethings alternating between the two and sometimes at the same time.  He served his country honorably as a radar technician.  He married his high school sweet heart, mustered out, and then spent the next 34 years working - hard labor - to build a life and make sure that his children had the opportunities he never did.

He claimed he was never "good" at anything but built fences and chicken coops and re-roofed his house, then came here to the Ranch and restored a 90 acre paradise from overgrown pine and oak forests,  He could not "do" anything, yet did everything. He was dedicated to his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and the seemingly endless stream of people he met and befriended.

And now, shrunken and huddled under a quilt, slumped over in sleep, his mind seeming to have abandoned him - hopefully only for a space - or is at least toying with him, taking the specifics and leaving the generalities.

I lay in the darkness, hoping for enlightenment of what to do or an instinctive genetic comprehension of what  is being said beyond my ability to hear.  But the darkness outside the house and inside, it seems, is not only literal but metaphorical.

Outside the deer run, untroubled by memory or a lack thereof.


  1. A very beautiful and touching piece written about your father.

    1. Thank you Ed. I keeping hoping to live up to who he was and is.

  2. All you can do is be there, TB.

    1. Well, be there and be reassuring, anyway. That seems to be a lot more of this than I anticipated.

  3. The illustration of honoring your father and mother.

  4. No better example of honoring your father and mother.

    1. STxAR - I figure the second entry was the Interweb playing foul, but I will take everything at this point. Thank you.

    2. The first was poorly worded. The second more accurately explained my thinking. Sorry about that.

    3. You will never hear me complain about accuracy in language and meaning, friend.

  5. My mom was speaking with her long dead mother the other night. She speaks to her departed brothers and sisters now. The veil grows thin.

    The all night TV blaring, the insomnia, the lack of coherent strings of thought. It saddens me to say it, but the meanness that is torturing her. Three aren't any good answers at this point.

    She has good moments, but they grow fewer and further between. All the memories that mean so much to her, but hold little persuasion for me, trouble her and keep her vexed.

    I wish I could ease her pain, her confusion, her suffering.
    As you said before, it seems sudden, but we know it wasn't or isn't, we've all seen this coming. Conceit claims we are the only animal to know of their own coming demise, I tend to differ, but think we are the only animal that suffers from too much insight.

    1. Just So - My mother and my father are having different experiences. My mother was always "here"; it is just that here compressed to the immediate now and the past. She can remember things from growing up, but not always her children. My father - this is new. I do not know who feels he is speaking to, but they are someone that I cannot see.

      I do not think you are off base. Animals can know of their coming end; they will fake health until they are "suddenly" carried off by something. We can see the oncoming death of others but somehow not apply the lessons to ourselves.

  6. "Outside the deer run, untroubled by memory or a lack thereof."

    The deer run, untroubled by memory or lack thereof, because a deer's idea of "dying of old age," is one of falling to a predator or to illness. This too, was once our lot, but has been largely done away with by "modern medicine."

    There's a specific sadness associated with watching those who were once so strong, but are now so weak. Indeed, your parents gave their strength to you, and you now pass the torch to your children. Such is the way of life. All you can do at this point is be there for your folks, as they make their way into God's Kingdom...

    1. Pete - Is it modern medicine? Or is it the disassociation that we have created between ourselves and death, the modern shunning of the concept of death or being around the dying. Also, modern medicine has perhaps created in us the hubris that we can escape it at some level.

      Perhaps I was farther removed from this from my grandparents, the only other close family members to die (until recently, of course). It is just so jarring - and I suppose, at some level, creates its own concern about my own future (trust me, it is high on my thinking list right now).

  7. PS: "The Walk"


    1. Thank you for this Pete. To be honest, I just read the lyrics without sound the first time. I do not think I have the strength to listen now.

  8. In the end, TB, you can only do what is possible. Some things will be beyond what you can do and control. I wish you well.

    1. Thank NM. I am trying to adopt that attitude. I cannot change what is going on, all I can do is try to manage it for the best benefit of those I love. Maybe that is enough.


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