Twin lasers tracked across my face. They were ultraviolet light. I could smell ozone and scorched dust particles as they left twin trails of charred flesh. I remained impassive. I had raised four teenagers and was almost immune to baleful looks. Almost.
My dad had raised 8 teenagers. I was at a disadvantage.
He restarted the loop. “I want you to take good care of her. I have always loved her. I will always love her. She decided. I only want the best for her….”
Mom was in the room and it was very uncomfortable.
He gave me my mother. He gave me his little dog. He gave me his house “...we bought it in 1966. It isn’t new but it treated me well and has good bones. I want you to take good care of it when I am not here….”
I attempted to deflect. “We will both take good care of mom” I said, implying that I would help HIM take care of mom. It was like a paper airplane hitting a concrete wall. More laser beams followed.
I had dreaded our Friday shift at Mom and Dad’s. Last week did not go well. The messages from the other caregivers over the course of the week were alarming. Dad was angry. Dad was agitated. Dad was accusing mom of infidelity. Dad was depressed.
We got “Dad the depressed”
He slept until 11. He had no energy. He was groggy. He refused to eat and drink and did not take his meds.
He was shutting down.
I was supposed to bathe him today. It did not happen.
He looped, and looped and looped through his message for hours. “Take good care of her when I am gone...”
Just before we left, Mrs ERJ took mom to the bathroom for toileting.
It was just Dad and me in the room. Mano-y-mano time. “It just tears my heart out.” my dad said, tears in his eyes. “Maybe if I had been more of a man or if I had been sexier she wouldn't have left me.”
“Dad! Mom has never cheated on you.” I said with much conviction. In a funny sort of way, it was funny. Dad still thought mom was a prize and some man was trying to steal her away. Mom is in her mid-eighties.
“It is tearing my heart out” he repeated. “I want you to tell her how much I loved her when I am gone.”
The bathroom was just around the corner. I am sure Mom heard.
“I will do that, of course” I said to Dad. “But. She. Is. Not. Cheating. On. You.”
“Why would you think that?” I asked.
“You are a scientist.” I reminded him. In fact, his first job out of college had been as an analytical chemist. “What is the evidence? There is none.”
“...just before we go...” has become a relative thing. Today it was 90 minutes before we left.
About fifteen minutes after the ‘evidence’ conversation, Dad shuffled his walker into the kitchen. “Do you have a minute?” he asked.
“Sure.” I said.
“You will answer me honestly, right? I have that feeling about you. You tell it to me straight when the others might candy-coat it.” he asked.
I nodded. Dad was very serious.
“What is the name of your wife?” he asked.
“Gertrude*.” I said. And then it was if I had been brained with a lightening bolt.
“You and I are both married to women named ‘Gertrude’.” I said.
“Gertrude” I called out into the dining room. “Can my Gertrude come into the kitchen?”
Mrs ERJ came waltzing into the kitchen.
“She is my Gertrude.” I said. “I am married to this one and will always be married to her. Your Gertrude is waiting for you in the dining room.”
Dad wilted in relief. “You didn’t steal my Gertrude.”
“Nope. This one is more than enough” I said, earning an elbow in the short-ribs from my Gertrude.
"I am glad we had this conversation." he said. There was JOY was in his voice.
My dad had been operating under the delusion that a despicable cad named ‘Joe’ had married his Gertrude and stolen her away. His brain worked to make sense of what he heard. He had holes in his memory. He arrived at the only possible conclusion with the evidence he had.
His loop snapped into focus “I want you to take good care of her. I have always loved her. I will always love her. She decided. I only want the best for her….”
He was stepping aside. In his mind, he was giving me his beloved Gertrude and everything else. He was crawling out onto the ice-flow so his Gertrude could be happy.
I confess that it was my turn to tear up a little bit. Dad was not selfish and irrational and mean. Nope. Once again, I got schooled by the Ol' Man. 94 and with dementia, he still humbled me.
*Mrs ERJ and my mom both share an uncommon first name but it is not Gertrude.