Thankfulness

7B

It’s a stupid holiday anyway, Thanksgiving. This is what I think at the moment, probably because I’m not feeling very “thankful” as I walk with Mom to the front door of Parker. Parker is a nursing home, a nursing home full of elderly people who sit in wheelchairs all day. I open the door, and Mom signs us in at the front desk. We walk through the hall and turn past the TV area. That’s when we see Dad walking toward us already wearing his coat. Parker is a nursing home full of elderly people in wheelchairs plus Dad. He’s 58 years old, so I don’t think it would be fair to call him elderly, nor does he need a wheelchair.

Dad wears the biggest smile on his face as he walks with his arms open. Mom gives him a long hug, and then I hug him too. He’s looking at Mom, still smiling, when he stutters, “I-I…I thought…”

“You thought we were never coming back,” Mom finishes. “We’re always coming back.” That is what he was going to say. We visit him every week, but the moment we leave, it’s as if we were never here. He can’t get out the words anymore to tell us not to forget about him, but it kills me inside every time he tries. I just wish I could make him remember.

I try not to think sad thoughts now. He continues to smile, and Mom and I take his hands and guide him to the front door. There’s only one hallway between us and the entrance, but walking with Dad… feels… like… this…  We… take… our… time… and… walk… slowly… to… the… door… until…we… finally… get… there.

We say goodbye to the social worker at the desk and walk Dad to the car. I help him duck his head under the roof of the car and buckle his seat belt for him. Then I make my way to the back seat. “Mom, I’m putting in my headphones now.” I always keep her informed so she won’t get upset if I don’t respond to her.

As soon as I turn on my music, a sense of relief comes over me. Now I can close my eyes and just relax. My favorite songs get rid of any worries or stress. I don’t have to think about disease, death or extra homework. As of now, “God of Wine” by Third Eye Blind replaces anything that was previously on my mind. The music on my phone is one thing I can honestly say I am thankful for.

When we arrive at my Aunt Debbie’s house, I make myself as scarce as possible. I sit in a chair near the family while pretending to text a friend, hoping that no one will talk to me. Mom sits next to Dad, holding his hand. She’s talking with Uncle Nat about…um… business-related things I guess. It’s hard to tell whether Dad is following the conversation. I wonder what’s going on in his mind right now. I picture the disease as an ugly blackness, slowly eating away at his brain.  It starts in the middle and works its way out, killing every brain cell in its path. I imagine the end as a shriveled up piece of black goop. It’s painful to think about the end. Actually, it’s painful to think about the present. It’s painful to think about any of it, but I can’t help it.

After about half an hour of “small talk” we all settle down around the table. Dad is sitting in between Mom and me. I’m also sitting across from my cousins, Ben and Zachary. Uncle Nat sits at the end of the table.

Aunt Debbie brings the tofu turkey to the table. She sits down with the rest of us while Uncle Nat cuts off a slice. The turkey is made of tofu because my cousins are vegans. I don’t complain though. I’m a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t be able to eat real turkey anyway. I look over to my father, and I feel sad. I feel sad because he’s not really my father anymore.  I feel sad because he understands that he’s not really my father.  I feel sad because we’re here at Aunt Debbie’s because of him, and I can tell by the vacant look in his eyes that he is completely spaced-out right now.

Uncle Nat passes the “turkey” to me and I take a piece. Then I put some on Dad’s plate.  Just as I expected, it’s absolutely disgusting. It has barely any taste, and its texture is just slimy. After helping Dad pick up a forkful of “turkey” I can see that he feels the same way. His face scrunches up as if he’s tasted a lemon.  I half laugh at his reaction. Dad’s mostly a carnivore, so he would hate it no matter what it tasted like.

Fortunately, there’s plenty else to eat at the table. I help myself to more than enough sweet potatoes. I remain focused on my plate. I’m feeling more socially awkward than usual today, partly because I have never actually met my cousins before. I don’t particularly enjoy having dinner with complete strangers. The other part has to do with the fact that my aunt is doing most of the talking and, quite frankly, she irritates me. After hearing Aunt Debbie babble on for 10 minutes about shopping for cut fruit, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

When I return, Mom is the one talking. My cousins haven’t been saying much at all, so I still don’t really know them. I smile inside because they seem more socially awkward than me. They’re probably not usually like this though.  I assume they’re acting strange because they haven’t seen Dad in 10 years. I’m sure they were expecting the intelligent lawyer who could read and write and speak in full sentences. I guess it’s a little disappointing when you have such high expectations shattered by something you can’t control.  In fact, it’s worse than disappointing. It’s depressing.

I’m grabbing a second serving of sweet potatoes when I hear Mom laughing. I look up to see Dad is laughing as well. His whole face is lit up actually. Mom has made a joke. I’m not quite sure what it was, but it doesn’t matter the slightest bit. Whether the joke was funny is irrelevant. I smile anyway. When Dad’s happy, I’m happy.

I’m so incredibly relieved when it’s time to go. Mom likes to make goodbyes longer than they have to be, so it takes about 20 minutes before we’re finally out the door. On our way to the car I sigh. “Ugh, that was exhausting,” I say to Mom. She laughs.

Luckily, we arrive at Parker no earlier than 8:30. This means that Dad is tired and we can put him to bed before we leave. Mom gets a social worker’s attention, so Dad can be changed. We tuck him in, and Mom kisses him goodnight. I hug him and kiss him on the forehead. Then I sing the song that he always loved to sing with us on car rides. 

Show me the way to go home

I’m tired and I want to go to bed

Well I had a little drink about an hour ago

And it went straight to my head

Wherever I may roam

On land or sea or foam

You can always hear me singin’ my song

Show me the way to go home. 

It wasn’t a happy Thanksgiving at all, not for me at least. I wasn’t hoping for a happy day. I don’t hope for Dad to get better either. I would never let myself hang on to such a ridiculous idea. All I know is that things are not supposed to happen like this. I shouldn’t be losing my Dad any time soon. He shouldn’t be leaving us before he’s really gone. It’s not fair. There is nothing I can do about that though. All I can do is visit him again and hug him again and spend time with him and walk away when I’m done. Again and again and again. This is all I can do until… well… until I can’t.

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