Monday, March 16, 2009

Wave Bye-Bye

I'm in the city this weekend for a dreaded dentist visit. I've been counting down the days, drawing little skulls on my calendar until March 16th - this morning - dental doomsday.

But another visit, yesterday, was far scarier. And I know that anything I go through in the chair will seem trivial in comparison.

My father has Alzheimer's and this month he was placed in a locked ward as a test run on situating him permanently in a facility. A locked ward means he's shut in with others in various stages of the illness and they are not able to sneak out and wander. There's a code to the elevator - the freedom train as I saw it. There's Plexiglas on the balconies over looking the hospital courtyard - so no one can climb over the edge.

At first it was wonderful to see Dad - he recognized me and my husband, shaking with joy, and a huge, childlike smile lit his face. He held his arms open wide. My father, the most emotionally reserved man I know - but that was back in the day.

Our visit was pleasant. We saw his room. Took him to the cafeteria for some pop and a snack. I played the piano for him.

But then it came - time to leave.

I now know what it means to break someone's heart. As we approached the elevator, Dad began to shake again, but this time anxiously. He began to whisper,

And then the doors opened.

We got on the freedom train - but Dad didn't.

"Wave bye-bye." A helpful nurse told him.

With tears rolling down his face - he did.

And I waved back.

But I left him there.

I'm writing this to work out my own emotions, my sense of anger and sorrow at losing my father - a man I'm not sure I even knew - and losing him while he's looking right through me.

One of my works in progress, Losing It, features a character in the early stages of Alzheimer's. My main character, Charlie - a teen hell bent on losing her virginity - is suddenly stuck living with her grandfather, Monty. He's cantankerous, he's sarcastic and funny - he's a cute old fart and he's very like my dad.

This book has been a bitch to write. I've stopped and started several times. It's my tribute to Dad and all the families like ours out there. Here's an excerpt where Charlie discovers her grandfather and his dog, out on a walk, and begins to see just what Monty is losing:


Halfway to Monty’s I saw M&M pacing at the corner of Ash and Dermot, their backs to me, their heads covered in a dusting of snow. Monty was decked out in his down filled parka and Mona, poor thing, was wearing a green tartan doggie sweater.

What were they doing? Puzzled, I hung back, watching as Monty travelled the same four feet, back and fourth, over and over again. Mona did too, curling one and then another paw up to her substantial belly, in an it’s-so-cold-I’ll-be-gimped-for-life tri-podish dance beside her master.

This was seriously shocking.

To put it in perspective - Monty’s idea of walking Mona was to take her to the grocery store parking lot on Sunday mornings, boot her out of the car and drive/coast alongside her as she took her constitutional. Mr. Outdoorsy he was not. Neither was Mona, in this weather her sashays around the parking lot consisted of a five second squat to pee and then she was hopping back in the passenger seat.

I wiped my running nose on my coat sleeve, sighed and went to see what was up with the frozen duo.

Fresh snow slid under my boots like I was walking on icing sugar. Mona turned at the sound, wining when she saw me, actually happy to see me for once.

I bent to brush the snow off her sharp beagle snout, but pulled my gloved hand back quickly when she tried to bite. Why did I always fall for those doe eyes? She glared at me for daring to touch her and showed me how a brush off was really done – she gave her small body a tremendous shake free of the white stuff. She panted triumphantly, but the falling flakes were persistent settling on her short fur and tacky sweater even as Monty finally turned to see what had her attention.

“This weather isn’t fit for man nor beast,” Monty said. In the dim streetlight his twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks and unshaven face gave him a Santa vibe. Until he spoke again, “Well, what the hell are you waiting for kid? Let’s get inside.” He gestured for me to take the lead.

And then I had a thought. A scary thought.

I acted on instinct. I twisted to face north.

So did Monty.

I faced South.

Monty did as well, clearing his throat in annoyance. “Take your time why don’t you. It’s not like we're freezing to death or anything.”

“You know what?” I put a finger to my lip, pretend thinking. “I forgot something back at Ace’s. You go on without me,” I spoke over Monty’s grumbled protest, “I’ll catch up with you guys.” I started back down the hill. After a few steps I spun to face Monty again. He and Mona were still standing at the corner. Monty’s shoulders were hunched, he looked defeated.

In long strides I returned to them.

His face said it all. Chin trembling, skin chalky.

“Oh my fucking God, you’re lost.” I said.

And that’s when I noticed why Monty’s eyes had seemed to twinkle so much. The streetlights were reflecting off his eyelashes - clumped together with frozen tears. Monty in tears. It was unbelievable. It was devastating.

After that it was easy to catch Monty’s off moments. And there were many of them – once I was looking.

The Old Spice shaving cream cup in the fridge – still frothy from Monty’s morning shave. The slow loops around the neighbourhood before picking the right alley to drive down so he could park the car in his heated, detached garage. The stumbling over certain words, and sudden changes of topic. The feeding Mona a dozen times a day, often as soon as she emptied her bowl. And most glaring, the real reason Monty’s cooking was life-threatening - he didn't know what the hell he was doing anymore.

Monty was losing his mind and the sad thing was – sometimes he knew it.

I didn’t know what to do. Who to tell. Mom was still in rehab – if I told her what was going on with Monty, she’d want me out of his house. She’d want HIM out of his house.

Since there was no where else for us to go – she’d quit her program. That was something I couldn’t live with. Better that I stay and keep an eye on Monty. I mean, how bad could it get in a few weeks? Right?

Pretty unfuckingbelievably bad.


Tami Klockau said...

WOW! What a post. You made me almost cry at work!!!! Everyone is looking at me as I sniff behind my monitors.

First off, amazing. I love that you shared this highly emotional time with us. :::hug::: And, as you already know, I love Losing It. I can't wait until you finish it and get it sold.

I know how painful it is to have someone in your life wilting before your eyes. My step-grandfather has Parkinson's. So sad and frustrating.

Thanks again, Trace. You're the best.

JC Martin said...

Tracy, it's never a good thing losing a family member; whether it's their mind or their body. Thanks for sharing your though.

Your excerpt was so visual to me. I could see the snow and the frozen tears. I would love to read this story in its entirety.

Tracy Belsher said...

Awww....thanks for the support, guys.

Kitty Keswick said...

A very powerful post!
My thoughts are with you.
Losing It is an amazing story, and I love that you were able to allow the emotional tie to come through in your work. It's when an author writes what they know, when they truly can touch people's lives. Through your struggles and with your words you will strengthen many.
Hang in there,