My father slumps over to the left side of the new recliner. His head and body tilt in a way that looks uncomfortable but still he sleeps. He’ll tell anyone who asks that he prefers unconsciousness rather than deal with the pain he’s in. I wonder about that as I watch him snoring contentedly. Clearly, he suffers. No one who sees him would think otherwise, but the uncertainty lingers whether this former alcoholic and drug addict has found validation for his pharmaceutical dependency with his broken body and spirit. I know I don’t walk in his shoes but it’s hard when he’s tripping over his own feet and landing on my doorstep.
This new move to be closer to his family, which is me, my brother and my mother, his ex-wife of nearly 35 years, has been years in the making and years in the breaking. The two bridges between us allowed him to live somewhat independently and allowed me to somewhat believe that he could. But now that we have crossed over, there’s no going back and there’s no more pretending.
Large windows brighten the living and bedrooms of his new apartment and the scent of fresh paint lingers. There’s a new couch, television and media center. His hoard of books, tapes, papers and the clutter of a million misaligned brain cells have been left back in New Jersey in this hope for a fresh start, this last attempt at happiness. But seeing him lying there half unconscious with the garden burger he fell asleep while eating hanging limp in his hand; a small clump of mashed grains, corn and peas probably still waiting in his mouth to choke him or be swallowed, it looks to me like the same problem nicer chair.
When my mother and I test drove the dark brown cushy recliner in the store, we giggled as we pushed a button to gently stretch us back while lifting our legs up, immediately luxuriating in relaxation. It was perfect, we assured each other, thinking he’d love it but not realizing he’d barely leave it.
Now only weeks in, it bears the burden of his physical and mental weight; food staining the arm rest, crumbs resting in the crevices, urine dampening the seat. It is as sullied and doomed as this well-meaning but misguided attempt at a new life.
Back home in my office, I wish I could also just push a button, recline and hide in unconsciousness as I shuffle through papers and field calls from doctors and agencies, all trying to help me help him. The process is arduous, tedious and a little maddening but every conversation hopefully gets me closer to securing a doctor or a home health aide or benefits. It is a puzzle with a million pieces and he sits in the center.
Through the window I watch my boys on roller blades, their newest obsession. My 7 year old has discovered some old bubbles on the porch and blows spit at the stick as he skates around like a puppy. Every so often a cluster of bubbles emerge startling him, flying like rainbows through the air. He delights in his creation, beaming with wonder, and his brothers join him, scooting around trying to pop them. The sun shines, the grass is green and I hope their bubbles never burst.