A series of posts written from October – December 2016. Releasing from Drafts, finally.
Smell My Hair
“The coffee hits the spot,” I said, exhaling contentment after polishing off my omelette.
”Have a rough night?” Dad wheezed over the oxygen hose hanging from his nose. He dropped his fork, lowered a shaking hand to pick it up, but clanked it back to the plate. He furrowed his brow in mock surprise and frustration at fumbling twice. The small cafe’ hopped with the din of discussion and movement of patrons and waitresses. No one even paused.
”Not really. I got enough shut-eye,” I said, picking up his fork, shoveling some scrambled eggs on the end and returned it to his hand. He looked at me and nodded thanks. “Just running low on fuel today, I guess. This sure helps,” I whistled while blowing over the steaming cup to cool it down enough for a sip.
A hand rolled over my right shoulder. I turned to see my wife’s smiling face.
”Hi, Pop pop,” she greeted my dad before bending over and planting a soft kiss on me. She and my daughter arrived late to breakfast this morning after running an errand. I turned around to face her.
”Smell my hair,” I asked her.
”What? You want me to what?”
”Smell my hair,” I reiterated.
”Just smell it.”
My wife bent down close to my forehead, raised up as if she put her face too close to a flame, came back in again and sniffed.
“Okay,” she said, her eyes wide with caution. “What am I supposed to be smelling?”
“Well, when I was getting ready this morning, I put toothpaste in my hair instead of gel.”
Everyone at our table looking at us either chuckled or mumbled disbelief. Done with me for a while, my wife moved to the other end of the table to sit with the girls to chat
”Well, why did you do that, son?” Dad laughed
”Dementia? You can’t fix stupid? I have no idea. I go into the kitchen and forget why I’m there. I forget the names of people I’ve known for years. I catch myself doing crazy things like that more and more often. Early on-set Alzheimer’s, maybe? It’s irrational, I know but sometimes I wonder.”
Smell the Peanut Butter
My father leaned in. “Get some peanut butter and put it on a toothpick or a knife, and from here,’ he put his finger at mid-chest and moved upward toward his nose, “bring up the peanut butter and focus on the first point you smell it.”
“Peanut butter? Why would I do that?”
”It’s a poor man’s test used to diagnose early on-set Alzheimer’s.”
I stared at my dad with the same you-are-one-step-away-from-a-padded-room-and-eating-dinner-with-a-cork-on-your-fork look my wife gave me 30 seconds earlier.
”Really. Really?” I responded.
”Yes. Look it up. If the distance you smell the peanut butter is about the same for each nostril then you are ok. If there’s a gap, you might want to go get looked at,” he said.
I joked earlier but now I was intrigued. My father was no stranger to misremembering or truth-bending, but he was serious.
”Mom, you remember, had it,” he said drawing back in his chair and turning to his side to fidget with the black bag carrying mobile oxygen. His mom, my sweet grandmother, contracted the forgetting disease and died from complications 25 years earlier.
My father loved his mother like all good southern farm boys do. In my remembrance, he shed tears just three times in the entirety of his years and one of them was his sainted mother’s funeral. He never allowed himself the emotional freedom to cry in front of others, especially his two boys, as if it was a sign of weakness, a crack in the armor.
Decades later I remember the swish of my new black dress shoes through the green grass on the sunny, beautiful Georgia summer afternoon we buried her. I turned around to see my dad, still at his mom’s grave, heaving sobs of grief escaping, his back to us. The wind gusted and whipped the trees, hair, and open suit coats right and left. I stared for a second and stopped myself from returning back to him before lowering my head and walking to the car. My father stood alone and unheard. Solitary solemnity was his preference.
The third and last spell abandoned all such preference when it rolled through two weeks later from breakfast that morning. He called me from the ER hospital bed he’d been rushed to after not being find any air in the small hours of the morning.
Icarus, Brace for Impact
“It’s cancer, the doctor said. I have three to six months at most,’ he said, his voice small and weak.
A smoker since his teens, I wasn’t surprised cancer had slithered its tentacles around his life and was behind his slow goodbye over the last five years. Yet, hearing the clock ticks numbering his remaining days, harsh and sober, shocked me and stole my breath.
Lead air hung between us.
“Well,” I groped, “we will make the most of the time we have left together.” I gripped the steering wheel, hearing my matter-of-fact response in third person, the words standing dumb and blind between us.
Inches can be a thousand miles if you’re not reaching for each other.