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

So began the journey with my father. He bellowed when I hired an auctioneer to sell off the house and its contents. He swore at me when I tried to bathe him. He cried when I made meatloaf for dinner. He sat on his glasses. He patted Rupert's head until I was afraid the dog would go bald. He clung to my hand when I left for work and left him in the care of a day aide. He perked up when I took him for rides in the car. He yelled at the kids biking in front of the house. He hugged me some days and called me his little girl. Other days he called me, "Hey, you" or "Missy" and reeled off a list of my faults, imagined or real. He would only get into bed at night if I promised him a Reese's cup. He forgot my name. He didn't remember his grandchildren.

There was the other side, too. The side where Daddy was clever and devious. Some days he pretended to be blind. He couldn't feed himself because he couldn't see his food. He couldn't watch TV, so he needed to be read to. He couldn't find the toilet so he peed on the floor. Other days he pretended he couldn't hear. He turned the TV volume up to BLAST, so loud the house shook and my teeth hurt. He couldn't hear me call him for dinner, but he could hear me dishing up ice cream. Some days he was so hot he wouldn't wear anything but his boxers. Other days he was so cold I had to wrap him in piles of blankets.

I knew Daddy was playing games and I knew I indulged him like a spoiled child. But, like a bratty kid, he would pitch such fits if he didn't get his own way that giving in was simpler to deal with than his imaginary disabilities.

It was so much easier to be angry with Daddy than to feel sorry for him. Pity only made it harder to live with him. Sympathy swallowed me in the grief of being the caretaker, of having my life engulfed by his.

My friends and the boys told me I needed to put Daddy in a nursing home. At first, they were gentle about it and then insistent and then irritated. And I did think about it. In fact, after one particularly difficult day, I stopped by a senior home on the way home from the office. A minuscule, ancient woman met me at the door and asked me if I had seen her son because he had gone to the grocery store a very long time ago. She was whisked away by a kindly nurse. I met with the director who took me on a tour, through hallways of the Able and Alert to the Despondent and Difficult. There were vacant eyes and reaching hands, and it reminded me of the SPCA, where dogs waited for a final reprieve before they were euthanized. I bolted out the doors and threw up in the parking lot. Whatever happened, I vowed that Daddy wouldn't go there.

When I got home, the day aide, Emily, said Daddy had thrown his applesauce at the wall and claimed ants were crawling all over his legs. I looked at her and sighed and when I checked on Daddy, he was slumped in his chair, asleep, his pant legs rolled up to the knee and long scratches all up his skinny, wrinkled calves. He heard me come in and woke with a start.

"Katie, you're home. How was school?"