Shut Up Or I’ll Kill You

“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.

“What’s Sears?”

“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.”

All In My Mind

“You can do whatever you want to do – you simply need to decide you want to.  If you decide you want to, then you can walk through walls.”

These exact sentences (well, sort of exact – close enough) were spoken to me just the other day, in the midst of what I perceived to be a rather ridiculous conversation about my “skill set”, or lack thereof.  It seemed the suggestion was that in order to do anything at all – fly a plane, say – one needed to do nothing more than want it.  Just want it!  I knew the speaker was grossly oversimplifying; I knew he was purposely glossing over all the other time-consuming things one must do in order to, say, fly a plane.  Years of school, for instance.  Flight training.  Eye exams.  And that annoyed me, because I don’t believe in glossing over things just to make yourself seem right.  I also don’t believe that you can make something out of nothing via pure want.

That is, I guess I should say I didn’t believe it.  Because as I grouched around for the rest of the day, dwelling on that stupid conversation, I suddenly remembered the boots I created back in 1985.  Out of thin air.  Using nothing but the power of my own mind.

This is the truth.

Back then I was a freshman in high school, and usually decked out in pink eye shadow, purple lipstick, and way too much Cover Girl pressed powder.  I also had a very pressing boot situation, meaning I needed some, but couldn’t find them anywhere.

I mean, okay, I could find boots.  But not the particular boots I wanted.

Even though I’d never seen them before, I knew exactly what my new boots would look like.  And I didn’t think I was asking too much:  mid-calf in height, winter white in color, not white-white and not gray and not cream.  And certainly not fake leather.  I wanted them to be slouchy but also able to stand up straight when I wanted them to, and I would have liked, but didn’t require, the option to fold them over at the top when I felt like it.  I wanted a pointy toe, not round, and the leather could not be shiny.  This was important.  The fact that it appeared no footwear manufacturer had produced these boots yet made no difference to me whatsoever.

“That’s it, Mis,” my mother told me one day, after yet another apparently pointless search.  Over the past several weeks, we’d been everywhere:  every mall, every Butler’s, and every Baker’s.  We’d been to local stores like Little’s in Squirrel Hill; we may have even hit a Buster Brown or two.  Looking back, I can hardly blame my mom for getting disgusted.  “You need to pick some other boots, or you’re not getting any boots at all.”

“I can’t pick some other boots,” I told her truthfully.  Because as far as I was concerned, there weren’t any other boots.  There was no alternative; or nothing was not an option.  I knew I would get those boots, I just didn’t know how.

And where was my father in all of this, you might be wondering.  Or actually, you’re probably not.  Either way, the answer is obvious:  he was nowhere.  My dad was completely ignorant of the nagging boot situation, and why wouldn’t he be?  We were a house full of girls; my dad’s primary contribution on the fashion front were statements such as “That skirt is too goddamned short,” and “I wouldn’t wear that to the fucking dog show.”  What this last one meant is anyone’s guess; I’ve never been to an actual dog show but it’s my understanding that at least at Westminster, they don’t go dressed in rags.

So imagine my surprise, imagine my total unadulterated bewilderment, when my dad came home from work one day carrying a shopping bag, and within that shopping bag, the exact pair of mid-calf, winter white, slouchy-or-not, pointed-toe, not-shiny leather boots that I had invented in my head.

I'm in the white jacket - wearing THE BOOTS.
I’m in the white jacket – wearing THE BOOTS.

My mother and I were speechless.  Because this could very simply not be happening.

The fact is, my father was not the type of man to listen unobtrusively to the desires of the females in his house, and even less the type of man to then launch a campaign to fulfill those desires.  No.  Negative.  My dad was more the type to come home with heart-shaped boxes of candy on February 15, because they were cheaper.  As a special treat, he might bring one of us a plastic comb/mirror combo from Keystone, his favorite plumbing-supply-slash-hardware-slash-cheap-junk-store.  Furthermore, he knew nothing about clothes; even less about where one might go to purchase them.

What I am saying here is this:

It was not possible, not in any way even remotely possible, for my father to just casually show up after work with these boots.

It was not possible, and yet that’s how it went, and that is how I know I created those boots with the power of my unwaveringly focused mind.  It happened.  Don’t hate.  Just believe.

As for that “skill set” that I seem to be lacking (and by the way, I know “skill set” doesn’t need to be in quotes, but I hate that phrase so I’m quoting it anyway) – well, whether or not I develop it remains to be seen.  I kind of want to save my 3D-printer brainpower for this bookshelf I need, the particular size and design of which don’t seem to be available anywhere.  True, my dad is nearly eighty and so a bookshelf might be a bit tricky for him to deliver.  Also, he has no internet (nor, in fact, even the vaguest notion of what an “internet” might be), so ordering online is out.  Plus, the Alzheimer’s pretty much rules out his driving.  Or makes it illegal and deadly.  However you want to look at it.

Be that as it may, I still believe.  My bookshelf is coming.  Fingers crossed.