On Friday night, I drove up 93 North with my boyfriend D. and my son D., on my way to see my Dad (whose middle initial is D.), and all I could think was how lucky I was to be able to spend a Friday night with my three favorite guys.
My Dad? I have his brown eyes, his craftsman’s hands, and his pragmatic spirit. He worked hard so we always had what we needed. He made me a wooden bunk bed with a built-in ladder when I went off to college (although he measured once so he had to cut twice, and my mother made fun of him for that). I know I’ll always be his “little angel,” even though he’s been in a nursing home for four years and he doesn’t call me that anymore. I go visit him every weekend, even if just to sit next to him in his tiny room while he sleeps, his back propped against a row of pillows.
My son D.? He’s my baby bear! He’s in the backseat of the car, playing on his iPhone. Sure, he’s almost 15 and five inches taller than me—not so much a baby anymore. But I still wake up in the middle of the night periodically and think, “Where’s D.? Is he in his bed? Is he at his dad’s?” When I figure out where he is, I go back to sleep. I might as well be a mother bear pawing around the cave in the dark for her cub to make sure he’s still there, safe.
And then my boyfriend D.—he runs his own IT business but still finds time to referee hockey, play on two tennis teams, and prune the eight apple trees in our yard. D’s also spending some of this summer doing rehab Algebra with little D., and he knew long before I did that little D. was finding the answer sheets online. Big D. remembers to turn the light on in the living room before we leave the house and finds my favorite protein bars at the grocery store. (And he bought Mountain Dew Throwback for little D. this week; something’s got to give for making him do all that math!) He also washes my car when it’s dirty and reaches for my hand when we are walking down the street. He’s my rock.
So the two Ds and I drove up to see my Dad at the Veteran’s Home—Dad had a second stroke about two months ago. When we arrived, he was sitting at a little round table with three other guys, all staring off into space and opening and closing the newspaper, without reading. Dad had a red-white-and-blue pillow in his lap that said, “America’s Heroes.”
“Hi Dad!” I said. “Where’d you get the pillow?”
He smiled when he saw us, and said, “Uh…I don’t know. It was sitting here.” He put the pillow on the table next to a plastic cup of thick water in front of him. Since his stroke, he’s had some trouble swallowing thin liquids, so they put thickener in everything he drinks. (Don’t tell the nurses this, but I snuck him a bottle of Diet Coke last time I was there and he drank it just fine.)
His left arm was no longer strapped to his armrest. That was good; he must have been making progress in PT. But he was sitting in a different wheelchair—this chair had a built-in leg rest and a tall back. I noticed that his glasses were missing.
“Where are your glasses?” I asked, as I wheeled him into the dining room so we could all sit down and chat.
“Uh…I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have them on.”
“What did you have for dinner?”
“I didn’t have dinner,” he said.
“Really? That seems weird, Dad,” I said. “Weren’t you hungry?”
“Yes, I was hungry…but they never brought me my plate.”
I looked over at big D. We both were thinking the same thing. Dad ate and just doesn’t remember.
“It says on the menu that dinner was either American Chop Suey or a tuna sandwich. Which did you have?”
“I didn’t have either,” Dad said.
“Really? No tuna on wheat?”
Since his stroke, in addition to thickening the water, they’ve been pureeing his food. So he probably had one or the other and just doesn’t know it. I wanted to ask him if he had a smoothie that tasted like tuna, but I didn’t.
“Are you hungry now?”
“No,” he said. “Had a lot of ice cream.” It must have been a Magic Cup—he has one almost every night after dinner. A Magic Cup is a little round carton of fortified nutrition that can be eaten frozen or thawed. The nurses tell me he likes the Wild Berry, but sometimes all they have is vanilla.
We sat in the dining room and talked for about an hour, listening to patriotic songs and to John Denver on the jukebox. We asked him how he was feeling. Little D. played solitaire and big D. and I tried to make conversation. We showed him pictures of the baby fawn we saw at our house. Dad asked how tennis was going, and we told him about the tournament last weekend. We talked about little D. starting football soon.
In the end, we never found his glasses. When I went to his room to look for them, I noticed his recliner was also missing—not that he sits in it anymore, because he is always in his wheelchair or in his bed. But my sister and I took a special trip to a furniture store to pick one out that was narrow enough to fit next to his bed. I wanted to know where it was. It was the first piece of furniture I ever bought him, and probably the last. The nurse promised me that they’d try to find that and his glasses.
Every time we go to the Vet’s Home, it seems as something has changed. Dad’s remote control is not synched to his T.V., the plants in his window are ridiculously thirsty, or someone is now missing.
This time, we found something new, though—a large metal bird cage just outside of the dining room. I asked my dad where it came from, and he told me, “The recreation people.” When I asked him what was in it, he said, “Finches!” He seemed pleased to remember what they were.
There were four tiny black finches inside the cage. Hearing their chirping noises, and seeing them flutter around, made me a tiny bit happy.