“I think I’ll have a club sandwich,” I said.
My father looked at me over the top of his glasses. “A sandwich? Why would you order a sandwich for dinner?”
“I don’t know – it’s what I want,” I said. “I want a club sandwich.”
“You’re at a restaurant, you asshole – you don’t want a goddamn sandwich for dinner. They got good food here! Jesus Christ, have steak or pork chops or some damn thing, you don’t eat fucking sandwiches for dinner.”
“But – ”
“But nothing! Don’t be an asshole. You know when you eat sandwiches? You eat sandwiches for lunch, wrapped in some goddamned waxed paper. That’s when you eat sandwiches.”
I was twelve years old, at the time. Or ten, or thirteen, or maybe twenty-two. I was all of those ages, because the same conversation took place every time I was stupid enough to order a sandwich for dinner. I would proceed to order the sandwich anyway, because even then I hated to live by someone else’s standards. My dad would continue to harangue me.
“Eddie, SHUT UP already,” my mom would tell him. We were allowed to say “shut up” in our house. We still are, as you shall soon see.
The difference now, of course, is that once a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, you kind of aren’t allowed to tell them to shut up anymore. You aren’t supposed to be annoyed by them, or angry at them, because they are sick and can’t help it. Also because you’re not supposed to feel sorry for yourself when the other person has it so much worse than you.
My dad certainly had it worse than me three years ago, when a severely enlarged prostate blocked his bladder to that point that without intervention, he would have died from urine retention. Sending him home from the ER with a catheter-to-go was the only solution, and one that shook my mother to the core.
“I’m not going to be able to handle this,” she said in the car. “I am not going to be able to handle him.”
“Well, you’ll probably be able to handle it a lot better than he will,” said I. Mrs. Know-It-All.
To my mother, and to all of the caregivers out there: I apologize. Sincerely. For ever making such an uninformed, idiotic statement.
But anyway, back to the catheter. Fast forward three days or so, and we are on our way home from an appointment with my dad’s urologist. My mom has asked if we could stop at the mall so she could “run in” to Sears to buy bed sheets. I offer to go in for her; my mom is 4’10” and has COPD, so her “running in” anywhere can take from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
“That’s okay,” she tells me. “You can wait in the car with Daddy.”
My mom’s only been gone about thirty seconds when my dad shifts in his seat and notices the catheter. Again. Thanks to his malfunctioning memory, he keeps forgetting this new and hideous discomfort, only to be confronted with it anew every single time he moves. As situations go, this one is quite hellish, though of course up till now, I’ve had only limited exposure to it. I might go with him to emergency rooms and take him to urologists and visit when I can (which is not nearly often enough), but I don’t live with him. Nor have I ever been trapped in a car in the Sears parking lot with him.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, glaring quite angrily down at his lap. “Why the fuck do they got this thing in me? It’s hurting my dick! I don’t need this fucking thing . . . they just want to make money. I was fine before they put this in me.”
“That’s not true,” I say, because it isn’t. “You couldn’t pee. It could have killed you.”
“Bullshit, I peed! I had no problems!”
“You did have problems.”
“I did not! I’m in good shape . . . why’d they have to stick this fucking thing in me? They just want to make money.”
“Dad,” I say. “They’re not trying to make money. You really could not pee at all. I was there with you, in the emergency room. I know you don’t remember. But I do.”
“Bullshit. I remember everything. And anyway, where’s Mummy?”
“In Sears.” I nod toward the big sign.
“It’s a store, Dad.”
“A store? Well, what’s taking her so long? Do you think she got kidnapped? What’s she buying?”
“Sheets.” My teeth are clenched. “She’s buying sheets.”
“Sheets? Why’s she buying sheets? We don’t need any sheets, I got sheets on my bed already! And why’d they put this tube in my dick? I don’t need this fucking thing! There was nothing wrong with me until they put this in here . . . they just want to make money!”
And on and on and around and around we go, for five minutes and then ten and then twenty. And then more. He keeps saying the same things, I keep pointlessly trying to reason with him. He keeps saying the same things. I close my eyes and rub my temples. He keeps saying the same things. I consider turning the car on and driving it full speed into a nearby concrete barrier. Out of nowhere, I wonder if patricide is a real word or if I just made it up in my head. I get my phone out to check, but by the time I’ve opened the browser I’ve forgotten what it was I meant to look up, because the person sitting next to me WILL NOT STOP TALKING LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO HAVE A SINGLE COHERENT THOUGHT.
“They better take this thing out,” he says now. “This is bullshit. There’s nothing wrong with me. Are we going back to see that doctor again? I’m gonna tell him. They just want to make money.”
“Dad,” I say. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, where’s Mummy? Do you think she got kidnapped?” He squints out the window.
I look over at him. My father, the man who was once so excited to have a baby daughter that it never occurred to him to want a son. The man who knelt by our beds with us and said prayers every night. The man who loved amusement parks and parades and fireworks, and who gave my sister and me some of the best and funniest memories we will ever, ever have.
“Dad,” I say again.
“Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up. Just shut up, because if you don’t, I swear to God I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU.”
At this, he looks over at me and frowns. “Why?” he asks. His forehead is crinkled in a way that says he’s sort of worried but mostly confused, and his hands are clasped in his lap just like an obedient child. I know he can’t help the way he’s acting; he is not the same man who annoyed us all those years ago over sandwiches. But sitting here next to him, trapped in the car, all I can see is the man who annoyed us all those years ago over sandwiches.
Whoever he is, I don’t answer him. Clearly I have no good answer as to why I’ve just threatened to execute an elderly person with a fatal brain disease. My dad eventually settles himself back into his seat and sighs. “Jesus Christ,” he says. “Where’s Mummy? Do you think she got kidnapped?”
“You know what?” I say. “She probably did. We may never see her again.”
That’s right. This is where I choose to take the conversation. It is straight to hell in a handbasket for me.
My dad has been looking out the window, presumably hoping to catch sight of my mom’s captor. Now he turns back to me.
“Well, how long are we gonna wait for her?” he says. “You better take me back to that goddamned doctor. This is bullshit. I’m gonna tell him.”
He can’t help it, I tell myself. He can’t help it, he can’t help it, he can’t help it.
But, it seems, neither can I.
“We’re not going back to that doctor today,” I tell him. “But, you are welcome to come with me to hell. In my handbasket.”
“Huh,” he says, thoughtfully. “Yeah. But, what’s a handbasket?”
I pat his forearm, this dad that I love. “Nothing,” I tell him. “It’s nothing. Just . . . forget it.”