I’ve been totally unmotivated to blog lately. I just can’t summon the energy. Probably due to stress of the damn kidney stone (more on that later) and my impending bankruptcy from it. And trying to freelance. Anyway, I have been working on my book (I always want to say project because I feel fraudulent saying book if it never sees the light of day). Anyway, I was going to post a massively long chapter and decided I’d stick with something shorter. As always, comments and critiques welcome.
The drive across the valley from work takes forever. It’s about seven-thirty when I get home. I don’t see any lights on in the house as I pull up and park along the street. The stupid front door light does not come on automatically when I walk up, which aggravates me to no end. Motion-activated my ass. Its wonky sensor only seems to operate during the day — unless I’m taking a calculated risk by running out in my boxers late at night to take the trash out, and then it suddenly floods the area with light as if a goddamned prison break is underway. Maybe dad turned it off. He sometimes does that, though I’m not sure why. I don’t think it’s to save energy since he normally has the rest of the place lit up like the Las Vegas Strip. Probably so he can stand in the dark unobserved when he’s out smoking a cigarette so that the overly chatty neighbor who patrols the street won’t spot him and trap him in a conversation. The introvert part of me understands — the part of me that does not have night vision and needs a reasonable amount of light, does not. Why do I have so many goddamned keys? My key ring looks like it belongs to a medieval jailer — I don’t even know what half of them are supposed to unlock. I fumble through the mass of keys, holding them up, squinting, trying to catch the weakest glint of reflected light that might let me find the right one. Frustrated, I finally have to step out of the deep shadow of the portico and crunch across the crushed rocks in the front yard and into the yellow glow of the streetlight to find the correct key.
Swearing to myself under my breath, I open the front door. Odd, there’s nary a light on. It’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta inside. Dad must’ve gone to bed, though it’s kind of early for him, and he usually falls asleep on the couch with the TV blaring. He might be across the street at Lee’s, though that is kind of late for him. Out of habit, I flick the light switch for the foyer, forgetting that the bulb is burned out and that I need to buy a new one. I step into the kitchen, and before I can flick the light switch, I notice a darker shadow on the floor next to the island — it flashes across my mind that dad’s jacket has fallen off the back of his kitchen stool. And then with every hair standing up on my arms and neck, I realize it’s a body and snap the light on.
“Dad! Dad!” I shout in a panic because there, face down on the floor is the old man. And I literally mean face down: he’s on his knees with his backside in the air, arms limply at his side, and his face planted against the tile with a puddle of blood the size of a dinner plate around his head like an offset halo. Apart from the slack arms at his side, he resembles a believer praying towards Mecca, his head touching the floor in obeisance. A million horrible, desperate thoughts flash through my head: Dead? Injured? Stroke? Heart attack? 911? CPR (I don’t know how to perform it!)? Frantically, I stoop down, and there is a groan, and a twitch of an arm and his eyes flicker — he’s alive! I tell him it’s going to be okay and not to move, and I jump up and snatch the cordless phone from the wall, my hands shaking as I fumble to dial 911. My father weakly tries to push himself up, and I grab his bony shoulder and tell him not to move — I’m worried about his neck and head because it looks like he toppled over like a tree and didn’t attempt to break his fall except with his face. As awkwardly as a drunk, he repositions himself and looks up at me, glassy eyes uncomprehending, his mouth agape like a prizefighter who has been dropped with a tap on the chin, gasping for air. He begins coming around, and not one to be told what to do, he sits up, still wobbly. The left side of his face is a crimson mask of blood that has bubbled out from an ugly gash on the bridge of his nose. The 911 operator is running through a checklist of questions, trying to find out what’s happened and how badly injured my dad is. I try to answer them as best I can while attending to him and helping him into a sitting position. Everything is happening so fast the details blur. Dad blinks and mumbles reminding me of someone abruptly awoken from a sound sleep, and I try to stop him from getting up. I catch the heavy, pungent smell of beer, and while I talk to the operator, I see a couple of bottles of pills on the table, and I wonder exactly what chemical interactions are going on inside his body right now — I know the doctor prescribed him an antidepressant and sleep medication — things that don’t pair well with beer. I can’t even count the times I’ve come upon him zonked out on the couch with a half-eaten cookie or cracker dangling comically from his mouth, his chest covered in crumbs. Once, alarmed, I even stumbled upon him perched precariously on his stool at the kitchen table, eyes clamped shut, his head nodding before catching himself, then raising a cookie to his mouth, taking a bite, and chewing in slow-motion in his sleep. Kevin and I have taken to calling him the Cookie Monster. I always thought he was just tired, but I’d been overlooking the obvious.
With a fire station just down the road, it doesn’t take long for the EMTs to arrive. I let them in, a crowd of burly men in navy blue firefighter t-shirts filling the kitchen. They begin treating my father and asking us questions trying to determine what happened. Dad is more alert now as they try to staunch the flow of blood from the bridge of his nose and patch it up. The lead EMT takes me aside and begins asking questions about my dad’s alcohol consumption and whether he’s depressed, and I feel slightly traitorous discussing this in the same room in front of him. But yes, I admit that he has been drinking a lot lately and that yes, he has been depressed since my mom died. Dad refuses transport and the lead EMT fills out his forms and gives me advice that I know the stubborn old hillbilly most definitely will not take. They try to talk dad into going to the emergency room again, but he shuts that down saying he’s fine except for the sore head.
“You whacked it pretty good,” says the paramedic speaking to him loudly in a way that reminds me of a kindergarten teacher speaking to a kid who has had a mishap.
Dad tells him that he tripped coming into the kitchen — why he was walking around in the pitch-black house, he never satisfactorily explains.
After the paramedics leave, I clean up the congealing blood, sopping it up with a fistful of paper towels and then disinfecting the tiles with bleach. Then we both sit in the living room, dad on the couch, and me in the recliner my brother bought him that he never uses.
He scared me — for a split second, I thought I was looking at his dead or dying body. And now I feel relieved, but disquieted.
The lead EMT told me to keep a look out for signs of a possible concussion, and I keep asking dad whether he wants to go to the ER, but he says no though he keeps fingering the teeth on the side of his face that biffed the floor. I keep telling him he needs to go to a dentist and he says, “I’m fine” or “I’ll see tomorrow” — of course, he doesn’t, and it turns out he’s knocked several teeth loose and in fact will lose several of them when the dentist pulls them, including his front teeth. If they were salvageable, he waited too long, and he has to get fitted for expensive, ill-fitting dentures that he rarely wears because he finds them painful. The missing teeth make him look like a real hillbilly.
But for the moment, the two of us just sit here, and I feel a sense of relief, but man, I’m frightened as well because now he seems that much smaller and more fragile than ever. And I think of my earliest fear from early childhood about him dying. The inevitable day isn’t here — we dodged one more bullet. But at least now he’s okay — a little scary looking but okay.
“Sorry I frightened you, son,” says dad. “I guess I just tripped.”
Maybe it’s time for tough love. That’s what my brother specializes in now. But I look at my dad, a man whose dignity at the moment is as battered as his wrinkled face.
“Well, dad, for a moment there, I was thinking I was going to have to plan a funeral for you.”
“Eh, don’t waste the money. I won’t be around to care. Just put me in a pine box and take me out to the desert.”
I look at him quizzically.
“What makes you think you’re getting a pine box?”
He chuckles, which makes him wince, but when I try to broach the subject of his drinking and his medication, he gets testy and says he was tired and tripped, so I back off.
“I’m worried, that’s all,” I tell him. “Mom, wouldn’t be happy if you really hurt yourself.”
After my dad lies down on the couch to rest, I call Kevin and tell him what happened, and he says he’ll be out to see Dad as soon as he can. Kevin is much more direct than I am and as stubborn as the old man, so I can’t wait for the battle between the Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object to commence.
The next day, I call Bridget to let her know about the previous night’s excitement.
“Do I need to come out?”
“No. He’s okay.”
“What am I going to do with you boys?”
It’s an excellent question I have no answer for.