Exactly 29 hours after the current health crisis began in my parents’ house, I finally found out. Through flukes of timing and activity—yes, there were messages on the phone, but I thought they were birthday messages, I would get to them later, plus I had a guest: he was real, texting is not—I didn’t hear anything about the fear and chaos until it was nearly over.
That was yesterday and today is today. I’m on the phone with my dad. I ask him how he's doing.
“Yesterday, my systems shut down,” my dad rasps to me. He’s in the hospital again, and my mom has put him on the line while she takes care of something else. “I went to places I haven’t been in awhile.”
“What kinds of places?” I ask, shouldering the phone, flapping my hands, wondering if anybody on the other end can hear what my dad is saying.
“Oh, the dark ones,” he says, sadly.
“How are your spirits, Dad?”
“Yeah. You know what I mean.”
“Oh, it’s a beautiful sunny Minnesota afternoon and the sun is rippling across the pond across the field from my room.” My father pauses. “Today I’m back to fulfilling the role.”
I hear some activity in the background, and then my dad says, “Here’s your mother back, honey."
I immediately ask if she has heard this conversation. She hasn’t. This means that I’ve had yet another phantom down-to-earth, gut-level, revealing, heartfelt and sorrowful conversation with my father that nobody will ever know about. He will deny ever saying this, I would bet on that. That’s why we all look like the crazy ones, not him.
My mom gets back on the line; I emphasize the idea of getting Dad’s depression medication upped or changed. She says the doctor in charge of that is out of touch somehow—unreachable.
I feel like I live in a house of tricks, that old confused feeling. Betrayal and denial disappear, but they were right here just a second ago. I’m in the stinkhole again, never to win in a game I can’t even define.
“I can’t take care of him if his legs won’t support him,” my mom says. Of course that is true. A truer thing could not be said.
What does this mean?
My three cats loll around me, on the carpet and in their beds, on this first day of Super-Sexy’s absence. I guess I shouldn’t keep calling him that. His name is Ares, which I think is a beautiful name, and it’s fun to say. My cats are exhausted from having company, as if they were the ones who cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed and did the dishes and made the yard look so nice.
I want to go forward into the week, but am somehow impeded by a statue of my father. I felt his mix of resentment, indignation, resignation, anger, desperation and longing when he said at one point today in his familiar irritated-with-me tone, “Kathryn, hold on a minute,” and tried to get the females in his room to quiet down. But he could not raise his voice high enough to make an impact on the group. I felt him remembering one of his grandest rules: “There will be no raised voices in this house.” He can no longer clear his throat loud enough to enforce that rule, and the idea of his house has to be far removed from what he meant back then. That was a house that we all could touch.
When my dad gave me back to my mom, she asked how the weekend went with Ares.
“It went great,” I said. And it did, in that super-star way people just dream about. Super-star. I wanted to tell my mom that he told me I was untidy, but I knew it was the wrong time. She and I could go to great lengths talking about that, but right now, it’s about my dad.