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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Riding Shotgun

Driving over to visit my Dad, I always get nervous.  I wonder why I feel this way. It's probably just because he's older than I ever imagined he'd be, and I don't want him to be dead when I get there.  As soon as I locate him and establish his aliveness, I immediately feel better.

Frequently, he'll be sitting in the common area with some of the other residents.  I wouldn't say Gene Dall participates enthusiastically in group activities.  He does appear to enjoy himself though, which is very reassuring.

When he sees me, he may uncross his arms to wave.  But otherwise, he doesn't move.  He eyeballs me like a target and waits patiently for me to come over.  He knows I'm there because he's there.  I am his person.  When I think about what that actually means, my heart opens right down the middle.  I don't dwell on this thought often.  It gets in the way of our relationship.

"What's going on, chief?  Anything good?"  I kiss him on top of his head.
"Same crap.  Just taking it easy."  This is his usual claim.
"Come with me.  You need a shave."  This is my usual response.
"Really?"  He rubs at his face, pretending to be shocked.  "I'll do it later," which of course, he will not.
"I don't believe you.  Let's take care of it now.  You look like Rip Van Winkle."
A gentle prompt is all it takes to curb his resistance.

"C'mon," I say.  "I'll keep you company."  I pull at his big webbed hands.  He rocks back and forth to build enough momentum to stand.  If he can't quite manage some lift, I have to let go of his meat fists.  So he can push off the arms of his chair to get up.  He never really gives me any trouble.

Gene Dall's memory is shot, but it's not the end of the world.  There's no reason for him to worry or wonder if he's forgotten anything.  My approach is familiar and all-inclusive.  I try to ask him easy questions.  I do most of the talking, and he listens.  At least, I hope he's listening.  But if he's not, it's no big deal.  I don't judge him.  I try not to scrutinize what he understands.

This afternoon was unseasonably cold, so I'm glad we took our drive yesterday.  I don't like my Dad to be outside when the weather is lousy.  He doesn't mind, but I do.  He is cooperative when it's time to go anywhere.  Like always, I help him with his coat.  He holds onto the long sleeves of his shirt so they don't bunch up when he slides his arms in.  I think that's pretty impressive.  My kids still haven't figured this trick out, and they're convinced they know everything.

We step outside, but he has no idea which vehicle is mine.  It could be any car in this parking lot.  This detail is not important.
"Wait here, champ.  I'll bring it around," I lope across the street and pull the Traverse up to the front door of the Memory Care unit.

"You wanna drive?" I love this question.  It's hilarious.
"Not today," he replies.
"You can if you like," I tease him.  He appreciates that we're just fooling around.
"Why should I?  I taught you everything you know."  He's clever when he wants to be.
"You didn't teach me shit.  I hadda learn how to drive on the streets," I answer freshly.  "From prostitutes.  And not that many own cars," I add.
It's a solid comeback.  My timing is good.
"You don't say," he responds.  He's still with me, which adds to the fun.
"It's true.  Most of them take mass transit."  I'm guessing this could be accurate.
"So, you're a bus driver?" he prompts.
"No, but you're a smartass," I respond.  He chuckles as I reach over his belly to adjust his seatbelt.  I laugh, too.

We talk rough, Gene and I.
I don't want to treat him like a baby.  He's old, but he's still a man.  His reaction to most things suits me just fine.  What's happening right now is all that matters.  I like to communicate this way, simply and without reservation.  Dad is capable of intimacy.  It feels like we are close.

We drive for a little bit, down into Fort Mill.  It's a nice ride on a country road.  We listen to 70's music on the radio.  He sings the entire chorus of You Are The Woman by Firefall.
You are the woman that I've always dreamed of.
I knew it from the start.
I saw your face, and that's the last I've seen of my heart.

We stop at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru, and I order for the both of us.  Gene is pleased with his coffee and donut.  I take a bite of mine and wrap the rest in a napkin.  He's very interested in what I'm doing.
"Are you gonna eat that?" he asks.
"Probably.  You had yours, so back off."  I warn him.

"Who's this singing?" he asks after a while.
"It's John Denver," I tell him.  "You remember what happened to him, right?"
"Not really," he admits.
"He died in a plane crash," I explain.
"No shit," Dad says.  "That's a shame.  He had a great voice."
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I think about John Denver, putting his own plane together in the garage.  Running out of gas and crashing into the mountains.  That must have been fucked up.

I sing Rocky Mountain High a few times, and Dad starts adding the Colorado part. It sounds really nice.  But just when we get it together, the song is over.

"Colorado is beautiful," he mentions thoughtfully, looking out the window.
"How would you know?  We live in North Carolina," I remind him.
"Yeah.  That's what I meant," he says.
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