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Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Horse I Rode In On

My grandmother is in a nursing home and becoming senile. In the past five years she's shrunk from grossly overweight to a skeletal husk. I went to vist her last Thanksgiving and we talked for a while. Sort of. The times she couldn't attain the volume needed to reach my ears, I just nodded. I hope those weren't questions. I hate hospitals and hospital-like places. I hate the defeated sadness of the abondoned elderly and the demeaning, patronizing tone spoken by the nursing staff. I realize that some of the old are childlike and it's necessary, but... It's a kick in the face to feel powerless before the passage of time. Just the way things are.

My father is impatient and short with her. I know he cares, though. It's his mother, after all. I think he's uncomfortable because he's so much closer to that state than I am and he feels just as powerless, but also afraid. Of her death, and of his.

I'm afraid of his death, too. My dad and I used to be bitter enemies, back when I was a teen. Now we're great friends, although I only call him once a month or so, and visit less. I've made sure to say all those things that people regret never saying. Several times. So there's no regret. My problem is this: for all he's done, strived for, methods right and wrong, he's not getting his reward. He raised four children. We all love him, but the other three barely manage to tolerate him sometimes. They have little sympathy for him. To me, he's a hero. I've said so, whenever I think he should hear it.

More background is needed before I continue that thought. After the fourth child in 1983 my mother had a hysterectomy performed. Her sex drive was destroyed by this. I don't know whether permanently or temporarily as it's not something we discuss. It's a moot point anyways. My father turned to bourbon rather quickly for companionship. A fifth a night. This continues to this day.

We four children became critics of our father. We'd laugh at his naked and passed out form, probably as a defense mechanism. We joked about his drunkeness to friends to show we didn't mind or care. I remember one night my older sister and I put salami slices on his face. That made his snoring louder. It was the height of hilarity at the time. I remember another instance in the cold of winter when he ripped my Nintendo off the television, stomped outside in his underwear, and threw it in a pile of snow. He slipped on ice and fell on his ass. That one wasn't so funny. Actually, yes it was.

This made him an ineffective disciplinarian. We didn't have to respect him or take him seriously. My mother is a sweet woman but a pushover. She tried to make life as painless as possible for us. While I appreciated this easy comfort in the short term, in combination the two parents allowed me to slack off far longer than I should have. I didn't learn to drive until I was 22. Not so long ago. I moved out at about the same time.

Anyhow, my father did try to take charge of me, unsuccessfully. As a teen I was at war with him, until I was 21 or so. I was a textbook rebellion case. I dropped out of high school to smoke pot. Mainly because he wanted me to be in school. So he forced me to go back. I had to drop out three times in less than a year before he gave up. The few times I did show up sophomore year I would get applause upon entering my English class.

I managed to blame him for so much that my mother and the rest of my siblings slowly came over to my point of view, that he was the bad guy and that everything wrong with our lives was his fault.

Meanwhile, he had his career. He came home every night for almost two decades to a family that resented him, even loathed him in some instances. He wanted to repair the emotional damage but he was too goddamn busy being drunk to do it. He tried kicking me out many times. The fifth time, instead of allowing my mother to intervene, I decided that it would be good for me. A growing experience and absolutely necessary if I was ever to become an adult. It was and is the best thing he's ever done for me.

A year after I moved out, he lost his job.

At this time, only my mother, younger brother, and younger sister were still living under his roof. He had been a sales engineer selling specialized electronic hardware and components to goverment defense contractors and pinball machine companies. When that career ended, he tried selling insurance and a few other things, but nothing that could put him back into the 70k-110k annual range he was accustomed to earning.

As that awful year ticked on I moved back under his roof for six months while I was between jobs. There were fleas. I was literally itching to get out. Eventually eviction came. My family turned into sharks, and dad, the provider, was the bleeding meat. There was no love or sympathy for him, and my family members were perfectly willing to leave him forever. There was no gratitude for a lifetime of financial support. They could care less if he croaked frozen in a dark alley. So it seemed at the time. They weren't really that bad.

He was trying to rally everyone to pitch in and help pay the rent. They wouldn't. Instead they squirreled away money for their eventual escapes. He grew bitter and resentful. By this time I had come to appreciate him. We'd become friends. We are so alike in many ways.

In the end we all split. Although I had pitched in some money, my income was sparse and could not make much diference, and so came eviction. My longtime friend Tom and his mother Sandy graciously allowed me to move in. My dad rented a string of rooms in depressing places, delivering auto parts and borrowing money left and right from my sisters and I to get by. His drinking even slowed down a little. My mother got a place with my little sister and filed for divorce.

To this day he's lonely. This brings me back to the beginning of this longwinded entry. It strikes me that for all he's done, good and bad, life has not rewarded him. As time passed, each kick in the balls struck a little bit harder. Between watching the slow withering of every hope and dream in his life and the state of his mother in the nursing home, I can't help but be struck by the first lesson he tried to teach me. The one I've resisted with my every fiber as long as I can remember: Life isn't fair.

I couldn't bring myself to write about this until now. I didn't even know what I was getting at until halfway through that first bit about grandma. Here's why I can put this down:

Perhaps there is some consolation to be found. He's finally landed a decent job at about 50k, and he should be able to afford his own dwelling very soon. I'm glad about that. He tells me that in order to be at work at 8am Monday through Friday, he needs to severely curtail his drinking. He also says he needs to do that anyways or no woman will ever have him. He's actually looking forward again. So we'll see.
5:00 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm


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