Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy as You Want

"Go fuck yourself", he said, stumbling back into his chair, glaring at me through a vodka enhanced haze.

"Maybe later, but right now we're going to get you over to McLean. I already called and they're waiting for us. If you don't want to go with us, I can get some of their guys to come over and take you there."

I was trying to maintain my cool, but I could feel my blood pressure double, my face warming as the capillaries strained to managed the increased blood-flow.

"One thing's for certain, Dad; you can't stay here!"

"Go fuck yourself! This is my house too!"

"No Dad, it's Iris' and my house. You live here with us, but you can't stay if you're going to keep drinking like you've been. It's too dangerous."

It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, 2006.

Dad had been living with us since October. We'd spent most of August at his place sorting, packing, cleaning and getting it ready for sale. His 3000-square-foot condo was packed with furniture, tools, kitchen ware, clothes, books and nick-knacks that he and my mom had piled up over their forty-some-odd years together.

Since mom died in 2001, my dad had had some really good times and some really bad times. In the bad times, he'd developed a new favorite hobby: drive to the liquor store, purchase of liter of vodka, and then consume it on the way home.

The local police had taken a dim view of his new found pursuit. When he lost his license in 2003, it was the best thing ever. Since the cops knew him and his car, he didn't dare to drive (a friend who had borrowed his car for the day was pulled over in town simply because local law enforcement knew the car on sight and were "just checking".) So, dad ended up purchasing a bicycle that he rode everywhere, rain or shine, heat or cold.

He got into great shape.

Later in the year, he met Bridget, a wonderful woman just a year older than me. Although she lived in England and he in New Jersey, they fell in love. The long-distance relationship blossomed and he found new raison d'etre.

At seventy-five, he was in better condition than he'd been at fifty. He became witty, charming, dare I say, "happy?" He'd fly to Manchester to visit Bridget. He'd fly her to New Jersey to visit him. They'd meet in different places, spending time in Paris, then San Francisco, then Helsinki, then Hawaii. It was amazing to see him happy; we were happy for him.

But in his inimitable and indomitable way, my dad slowly managed to sabotage his new-found joy.

First, he decided that he should feel guilty about his love for Bridget, that he was somehow cheating on my mom, that he should be waiting to see her in heaven. I'd tell him, "Dad, what makes you think mom's up there just sitting around waiting for you to show up? You know her. She's probably already started up three new heavenly choirs and won't be able to get time off from the tour to meet you when you arrive."

Nonetheless, my dad has an uncanny ability to find supporters when he's building up a new stockpile of guilt and there were plenty who saw his seeing Bridget as a bad idea.

Second, Dad decided to only experience living when he was with Bridget. All other time became time waiting to be with her. Since they spent less than 20% of their time together, Dad managed to transform more than 80% of his life into a holding pattern, one filled with tedium and boredom. So, 80% tedious, 20% guilty, you do the math.

The drinking started again. Every once in a while, we'd get a call from someone who'd seen my dad driving around town drunk or a friend who'd found him passed out on the floor of his living room. We'd hop into the car and drive from Boston to Jersey to help him out.

Then one morning in the spring of 2006, I got a call from his AA sponsor who told me that Dad was in the hospital. He'd hit a bad run and become so dehydrated that IV'd him to replenish his system. Some additional tests had led them to find cancer in his liver.

He'd asked his friend not to call us because we'd think that he'd been drinking, which he had. So once again, we hopped into the car and drove to Jersey.

I guess the doctor's kid had a college tuition payment coming due or something, because he was all set to go nuclear on the cancer, combining radiation with a surgical strike. Iris called her boss at Harvard (who was an MD) and he put us in touch with a top oncologist at Mass General who agreed to see my dad as soon as he could make it up there.

A few months later we'd sold our house and bought a bigger place to make room for Dad; we'd got rid of all his superflous stuff, loaded up a panel truck with all that remained, and moved him from Jersey to Cambridge. We'd got him lined up with a cancer treatment plan that didn't require surgery, chemo or radiation. We'd got to experience my dad up close and personal, way personal.

Iris decided it was time for her to give it a try. She sat down next to Dad, put her hand on his arm and looked him in the eye. When he finally looked up at her, she sweetly said, "Lee, you know this isn't working. It's got so that we can't leave the house or else we come home and find you conked out on the floor, lying in blood or urin or both. I understand that you don't want to go with us, but if you don't, I'm going to call the police to come take you there."

There's something about someone calmly and sweetly describing her plan to call the cops that is quite compelling.

We spent most of the day getting Dad checked into the rehab center. He'd been drinking so much that they needed to IV him just to avoid physical withdrawal. We left that evening promising to come see him in the morning and to bring some books. We cancelled our Thanksgiving travel plans and on Thursday, along with Eila, checked him out for a couple of hours to share a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings at Frank's Steakhouse on Mass Ave.

Just the few days that he'd spent in rehab had already done him a world of good. Dad was clear and present. I wouldn't go so far as to say, "Happy!", but he was peaceful and contented.

OK, he was happy, in a subdued and quiet sort of way.

For all that had gone into creating it, it was a good Thanksgiving, one that I remember vividly.

Happy Christmas,

1 comment:

  1. Gee Iris/Teffy...thanks for sharing your adventures, and learnings with Dad. Wow...what stimulation and challange. .... and the beat goes on? ... hugs,.... Larry


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