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Family Circle 2009 Fiction Contest: "The Sanity of Socks"

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Daddy had been changing for several years. At first it was simple repetitiveness, the same story word for word, over and over. Then it was what at first seemed befuddled forgetfulness—lost glasses, misplaced wallet, locking himself out of the house. Then he began seeing things—hyenas in his kitchen and neighbors spying on him to get national security secrets. Late last year I received a call from the police that they had found Daddy wandering down Main Street, barefoot and dressed in his pajama bottoms and his old, too tight WWII Army jacket. The police had taken him to the hospital and that's where my brother, Brian, and I found Daddy, strapped to the bed and heavily sedated.

Daddy's doctor announced the obvious; "You need to do something about your father right now."

I felt like I had been slugged in the stomach. Brian stared at me. "What do we do?" he asked, like I might possibly have the answer.

"You have some options," Daddy's doctor interjected. "There is the Sun Valley Nursing Home, but they have a waiting list sixteen months long."

I stared at him. The very last thing I wanted to do was put Daddy in a nursing home. Brian, however, was nodding. Apparently he didn't feel the same way. He looked at me, "At least we'll know he's safe and not driving the wrong way down the interstate."

I railed against that idea, claiming that Daddy just needed some help, not to be incarcerated. Finally, we decided to enlist the services of in-home aides, and so began six months of trial and error, mostly error.

The aides were lovely, compassionate and kind. Daddy was mean, spiteful, and impossible. He resented the aides' presence in "his" house. He hated being told what to do, when to go to bed, what to eat. He made up stories about the aides torturing him and force-feeding him dog food.

One night six months ago, Kathy, the sweetest and most patient of the aides, called me in hysterics. "Your father has locked himself in the bathroom and refuses to come out. He took the key with him. He says he has a gun and will shoot anyone who tries to open the door."

I arrived just as the police were breaking down the bathroom door. There, sitting on the toilet was my father, pants down around his ankles, aiming the television remote at the door.

The police officers grinned in spite of themselves. Later I could see where someone might find this funny. But right then, I burst into tears. All I could feel was the absolute horror of what my father had become. A cartoon character. An angry, crazy shell of the man he used to be. The Daddy I knew would have died of embarrassment to cause such a fuss, to be so confused, even to be caught on the toilet with his "drawers down." This man, the one aiming the remote, was not my father. Even worse, I realized in a panic, he was a man I didn't want to know.