How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another Flash Fiction Friday: One Night Stand


Prompt: STARTER SENTENCE: “I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count”
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1500 words
Deadline: Thursday, July 28, 2011, 8:30 pm EST

          I slowly peeled back my eyelids and immediately wished I was still out for the count. My eyes felt like they had had sand thrown in them, my throat burned, and my head throbbed with a dull thunder. A ceiling came into focus. White, wide decorative cornices, a wicker bladed ceiling fan rotated overhead.  I turned my head and red numbers shone: 2:34. Morning or afternoon? I didn’t know.  I felt coarse sheets against my body. I was naked, or “nekkid” as my grandmother used to say.  I wiggled my toes. I still had my calf length stockings on.  A grunt startled me.  The top portion of a head peeked out from under the sheets beside me. The previous night started coming into bleary focus.
          A night out with the girls. A packed nightclub, pulsating strobe lights, throbbing music, a dance floor packed with sweating gyrating bodies, one too many shots of tequila, dancing on a  table. A table? Crap.  Okay, calm, down.  What happened next? Where was I? Who was this person beside me?  Okay, think. I closed my eyes willing the memories to form. Last thing I remembered was pulling off my black strapped high heel and throwing it into the street while I giggled and leaned against.. who? . My Jimmy Choo heel! Dammit! I loved those shoes. Think harder. My mouth tasted like an ashtray. What the hell? I didn’t smoke. I was beginning to feel like a character in a Twilight Zone episode.
          The person beside me moaned. Please, please, please don’t let him wake up. It was a “him” wasn’t it? I sniffed. Yeah. Man sweat. It was a man. Plus the form under the sheets was too bulky to be a girl.  Next problem: how to get home. Nettie had driven and I had no idea where I was, much less where Nettie was.  My cell phone was on the table next to the bed. I slowly reached for it, flicked it opened and started scrolling through missed calls. There were two: both from Rob. No voice messages waiting. I had put the phone on silent for some reason. Why? Only time I ever did that was when Rob and I could find precious time, between his working and me taking care of three kids under the age of six, to make love.
           I had picked up a stranger in a bar.  I was a slut. Oh my God, I thought. I’m a slut.  Me. Go-to-church-every-Sunday, volunteer-for-snacks-at-the-pre-school, take-the kids-to-ballet-and-baseball, scrub-the-grime-off-the-baseboards, bake-cupcakes-on-Sundays me. Now, here I am naked in bed, in God knows where, with God knows who. Did we use a condom? I leaned over the bed and looked around on the light blue carpet. No sign of a disposed condom. I’m sure we weren’t in any condition to be neat and throw it in the bath trash can. I might have gonorrhea or syphilis or AIDS. Don’t think about it.
          I had to get up. Had to get home. I started edging towards the edge of the bed, cell phone clutched tight. The person next to me shifted. I stopped and held my breath. I really didn’t want any stilted, we-just-fucked-but-I-don’t-remember-a-thing conversation. I just wanted to get the hell out and pretend this never happened. The room looked like a hotel. Stark, impersonal. If I could find my clothes and get dressed I could sneak downstairs and call a cab. I waited a minute, two minutes. The person next to me relaxed. His breathing evened out. I slithered out of bed like a snake until I was crouched on the floor beside the bed. I peeked over the edge. He hadn’t moved. I crawled on my hands and knees and found my bra under the bed. I slipped it on while still crouching. My panties? Where were they? I couldn’t find them. Screw it. My pants? Where were my pants? I inched around the bed and spotted them and my blouse on the floor at the end of the bed. I grabbed them, lay on the floor and wriggled into them, zipping slowly and carefully. Damn, who knew a zipper could be so loud? I threw the blouse on and buttoned it wrong. No time to do it over.
          My purse.  I crawled over to the night stand. There it was. I slowly reached up, grabbed it and lay back on the floor trying not to breathe.  Now, to get the hell out of here.
          A noise. He shifted, the bed squeaked. He turned over, sheet still wrapped tight over his head. He sighed. Please, I am so close. Don’t let him wake up.  I waited for him to settle back into sleep. When he quieted down and I was sure he was sleeping again, I flipped open my phone and texted Nettie.
           “Where r you?” I waited.
           In a few seconds a message buzzed through, “Home. Fun last nite, wild grl? lol”
          Great. Now I was “wild grl” .
          I texted back, “Call u in a few. We nd 2 talk!”.
          Nettie texted back almost immediately, “I HAVE 2 hear this!”.
          I slipped the phone into the side pocket of my purse.  I peeked over the bed. The body under the sheet was still and breathing evenly. I looked around. The door was about 25 feet away. My lone Jimmy Choo halfway between me and freedom. I crawled on my hands and knees slowly towards the shoe, picked it up and traced my finger lovingly over the polished black leather. Holding the shoe and my purse, I made it to the door and studied the door mechanisms. There was a flip lock under the handle and a chain lock at the top. I looked back. He was still snoozing, facing away from me. I might get lucky. I stood and slowly, so slowly unlatched the chain lock, careful to not let it tap against the door. I flipped the bolt lock under the handle. It made a loud "click". I bit my lip and waited. I slid back to the floor on my haunches, clutching my purse tight to my chest.
          Now the handle.. I reached up and pulled down. Now to get the door open enough so I could crawl out into the hallway.  I glanced back. Still sleeping; he hadn’t moved. I opened the door an inch at a time. My heart thumped staccato beat in my chest.  There was enough room to slip my body out now. I poked my head into the hallway. Dark red carpet ran in both directions down a long hallway. No one in sight. Good. I crawled until I almost had my shoulders out the door
          A laugh from behind. Damn, he woke up.  “What in the hell are you doing?”
          I stopped, turned my head around, the door slid open wider. “Rob?” 
          Rob threw his legs over the bed. “Well, yeah, but what the hell are you doing on the floor?”
          I couldn’t say anything. My vocal chords didn’t work. Rob laughed again, got out of bed. He crossed the room; his hair standing up in spikes, the freckle on his thigh, the scar on his stomach.
          He laughed again and his eyes crinkled in that way that drives me crazy.
 “I call you last night,” he said, “you tell me to drop the kids at my mom’s, meet you at the club. I arrange a cheap hotel room, we have amazing grown up monkey sex, and now you try to ditch me. Was it that bad, baby?”
          I’m still on my hands and knees on the floor with one Jimmy Choo and no panties.
         

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(If) god is dead (poem)

I wrote this one about twelve years ago. It has since went through three revisions. It's a wonder it survived at all.

The poem reflects the dying whimpers of my own faith that I was experiencing at the time. Thankfully, in the years since this was written, I have discovered a faith in myself and a quiet acceptance of the world.

(If) god is Dead

The Corpse sprawled
beside the massive throne
Layered with the dust
of shattered angels
Golden streets (of paradise?)
crumble under the weight of fallen wings

The children spew
unheard prayers
Hollow eyes reflecting defeat
wash the cracked earth
with diseased tears of crucified faith

Hope flees
from a mother’s memory
as she pushes cold soil over the (still) form
of a silenced child
who lived in hell
will never know heaven
and will never touch the face of God

-Teri Coley Adams

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chapter 4: My Father's Apocalypse "Voice Message"

July 18, 2011
            I found out that my father had Alzheimer’s in a recorded cell phone voice message in  mid August 2009. Mom and dad were in Jacksonville at the Mayo clinic for medical evaluations to try and determine what was wrong with dad.  They had been gone for three days. Dad’s failing memory, his increasing depression and nightmares, his insistence that he heard a sound in his brain “like a whisk broom”, his trouble forming words were all starting to wear on him and mom. They needed answers that weren’t being given by dad’s regular doctors.
             School had only been in session for about a week. I stayed at work late that day. When I left my classroom there was only one other teacher left in the building.  I clocked out, walked out of the building, and reached in my bag for my cell phone. I kept it turned to silent during school hours per school rules. I saw there was one voice mail waiting. I entered my password and there was mom’s voice, “We’re on our way home....” her voice breaks “He has Alzheimer’s. Your dad has Alzheimer’s’”
At this point my knees buckle out from under me. I sink to the ground slowly and silently, like a puppet whose strings have been snipped.
Mom starts to cry, “We’re on our…. way home.. What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
The message ends. I can’t get up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Musings on becoming an old lady.

     I sit here writing and my eyes blur everything together so I have to blink hard to bring my world back into focus. I am forty-nine years old and my eyes are showing no signs of the “leveling out” that the eye doctor assured me three years ago would happen. If anything, they’re getting worse.  A funny thing. My brain has matured and I view life so much more clearly than  I did at twenty or even thirty, but my eyes are failing, my skin is getting that old lady crepe look, and my  thighs are starting to show signs of the first beginnings of small dimples.
     My body resisted the ravages of time for quite awhile, years after when my friends were showing signs of melting into middle age. I was so smug about it. But now, it’s finally happening to me too. I’m not smug anymore. I am trying to deal with the acceptance of it all. I am trying to ‘grow old gracefully”, but all I am accomplishing is generating a quiet simmering anger against the entire process. One of my friends told me yesterday that he fears the moment when he walks into a room and no one notices that he has entered.  I fear that also. Old people become invisible. My friend also said that getting old “ain’t for sissies” He’s right about that too. But I fear I’m a “sissy”, after all. Screw wearing red hats when I get old. I’m gonna run around screaming “Fuck!” at the top of my lungs.  The injustices of getting old deserve a good well placed “fuck” every once in awhile.
           

Sidenote: My Father's Apocalypse July 17, 2011

     Posting all of my writings about my dad's Alzheimer's on this blog has opened a scab. One that doesn't heal. I am good at pretending that things are okay. I am good at hiding my head in the sand. It's a talent I have nutured, but right now it is late at night (or early in the morning, depending on perspective), the house is quiet, the town is sleeping, and I want my dad back.
     I miss my dad so much. He  looks at me and it isn't him anymore. At least he can still hug me tight and stumble over a whispered "I love you", but he is going away from me faster than I can accept. I don't go visit him like I should, and for this I feel guilty. I know one day I will be sorry I didn't spend more time with him, but it hurts. It hurts too much to be with him. I am selfish. Where is my dad?
     There are some things about this nightmare trip with Alzehimer's I can't post here. Some things that would hurt my mom. I wonder if other Alzheimer's families hide the same things?
    My poor mom. I need to help her more, but I am frozen into this damned inaction.

Chapter 4: My Father's Apocalypse "The Wind Blows"

April 23, 2010
            My dad taught me the first prayer I ever recited; “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take”. A simple child’s prayer, but in the face of my dad’s Alzheimer’s it has taken on a new meaning, especially now when my dad can’t speak well enough to recite the prayer. My father is slowly dying with his eyes wide open. He is not asleep. He knows exactly what is happening.  How cruel can an illness be? To rob a person of their personality, their self, who they are, and to have no recourse but to sit back and watch as it happens. To lose yourself while you are wide awake.  I cry sometimes because I want dad to just fall asleep and not have to suffer through this horrible soul stealing monster. Then I feel guilty and repent of those thoughts, but too late I think the wind has heard me…

Chapter 4: My Father's Apocalypse "Roses to Weeds"

April 2010
Mom comes to my house and cries. She has days when I know she feels as if she just can’t do this. She feels overwhelmed and she comes to my house to drink coffee and cry. Sometimes she does this while I am at work, and my ever patient husband tries to comfort her the best way he can, or he just gives her space to be alone on the porch with a cup of coffee. She always tells him not to tell me, but of course, he does. Mom fluctuates between being upbeat and proactive, to feeling guilty over how angry she gets over my dad’s repeated questions. Questions she has answered a hundred times. Sometimes she just has to leave and be alone. Sometimes she needs me to go grocery shopping with her so she can vent. Sometimes she cries, sometimes she’s mad, sometimes she’s that sixteen year old girl in love with Jimmy Coley. She has no idea how to help my dad. And she has no idea how to help herself.
            At this point she is reluctant to let others outside the security of her immediate family know about dad and his Alzheimer’s. She tells people he is just having a difficult time with PTSD. The social stigma is something she can’t deal with yet. She doesn’t want people to start patronizing my dad, or talking to him as if he is a child or worse, stupid. And they will. Once people know, they will treat my dad differently because they won’t know how to react to him, and they’ll be embarrassed by their ignorance and frozen by their fear. They’ll either ignore my daddy or treat him like he is an imbecile. They will talk at him, around him, through him, but not to him. So, my mom carries the burden and the secret and the self induced shame. I have tried to tell her to go to support meetings, but she is not ready for that yet, and I can’t push her past what she is able to handle emotionally right now. My mother is becoming a very fragile woman in the face of an uncaring illness. Her strength is way down deep. I only hope she can pull it to the surface in time before the fragility crushes her strength. My mother is a rose who must become a sturdy weed if she is to survive this intact.

Chapter 4: My Father's Apocalypse "Fitting the Pieces Together"

March 2010
     My dad gave up playing the steel guitar over three years ago. He was one of the best, and could make that guitar sound like an extension of his soul. He got the steel guitar case out three months ago and set it down in the study. Mom walked by, saw him, and thought, “Thank goodness, he’s going to play again!” Twenty minutes later she walked by the room and my dad was sitting on the floor with the pieces of his guitar scattered around him like Lincoln Logs. He was trying to figure how the pieces of the guitar fit together. Were did the legs go? What about this long metal rod? Mom stood there and watched him struggle for a second and then she walked away, almost in tears. A few minutes later he came out of the study. Mom asked him if he wasn’t going to play. He told her he had changed his mind. Once upon a time, my dad could put that steel together in less than 5 minutes blindfolded. Now he has no idea how to even join the two most  obvious pieces of it together.

Chapter 4 My Father's Apocalypse "Writing"

February 2010
      My dad’s handwriting before the Alzheimer’s was distinct. He would press the pen so that the letters became inked in so deep they seemed to have been fired into the paper. He printed in beautiful sturdy letters with no flourishes or curlicues. Perfectly formed letters that gave the rock solid impression of strength and permanence. That handwriting is a thing of the past. His hand writing now is uneven, hesitant, with misspellings and uneven sized words. Three months ago I was at his house and I walked in on him in the dining room. He was holding a scrap of paper and he turned to me and asked, “Who wrote this?”. I looked at the paper and noticed that it was a kind of “honey do” list that he had made out to himself concerning varying tasks to be completed for my grandmother.  I told him. “Dad, that’s your handwriting. Looks like it’s from a couple of years ago when Papa died and you took over some of the chores for your mom”. He told me, “No, that is not my handwriting”. I insisted it was and told him, “Dad, I know your handwriting and that’s it, believe me”. He stared at the paper a moment then said quietly, “Oh…. I had nice handwriting, didn’t I?” I agreed and hugged him. He put the paper down and walked out.
            The other night he was trying to write something and asked my twenty year daughter how to spell “they”. He had no idea how to even go about trying to figure out how to form the word into letters. When he had to create a personal narrative describing the affects of his PTSD for the V.A Center, he came to my house with hand written notes that I could barely decipher. He broke down several times when I asked him how to spell the name of a friend who had died in Vietnam, because I could not read his written version of the name. It was at that moment that I was glad I am a high school English teacher. I assured my father that I read essays every day from my students that made his handwriting look beautiful! Even so, it took us over an hour for me to type out a one page narrative. My father used to write songs, poetry really, that looked and sounded like works of art on the page. What happened? Does Alzheimer’s have to take everything away? Can’t it leave something?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chapter 3: My Father's Apocalypse "Signs"

November 2009
            Dad’s Alzheimer’s didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. There were signs for years that something was not quite right. Looking back, it is easy to see the signs for what they were: Alzheimer’s slowly coming to life inside of my father’s brain. My dad has had symptoms of dementia for seven years now. Of course, at the time we had no idea that was what it was. At first it was little things that we teased dad about, like his ever increasing reliance on Post It notes. We would find them in the strangest places: hanging in his truck next to the steering wheel with the words “GET GAS” printed in bold letters, scattered on the dining room table with his self written commands to “TURN OFF SPRINKLER”, “BUY MILK”, and “GO TO BANK”. I use to joke that The Post It Corporation’s profit margin was probably going through the roof thanks to the single handed efforts of my dad. Now I can look back and see where my dad was trying desperately to work around his slowly decreasing short term memory. Finally in 2003, he quit work with the pharmaceutical company where he had been the route supervisor. The entire family thought it had to do with his increasing health issues with ulcerative colitis.
            Later, after my father was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he admitted to me that he had quit because he was so humiliated at not being able to remember tasks that his direct supervisor assigned to him. My father, the type A, ultra responsible man, could not find a way to circumspect his failing memory, so he blamed it on a more socially acceptable physical ailment, and quit work for good. My dad, a man who had always prided himself on his self sufficiency could not bring himself to admit to his family or others of a weakness, regardless of the fact that it was an illness he had no control over. In his eyes he still had to take care of us. He had to stay strong.
            After he quit work he busied himself in his yard projects. The projects didn’t just stop with his yard though; they leaked into my yard. I would wake up on a Saturday morning and hear the lawn mower rumbling outside my bedroom window, peek through the window blinds, and see my dad puttering around the lawn on his riding lawn mower. I would come home from work to find him just finishing up weed eating around my driveway.  I had two teenage boys who could have done the work. When I would reprimand the boys for not taking care of the lawn, they would insist, “He doesn’t give us time to do it. He’s here before we have a chance to even get out there”. To be perfectly fair to my dad though, I’m sure my boys took advantage of their grandfather’s motto of “Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done now”. I would beg my dad to allow me to cut the grass, but he wouldn’t hand over the riding law mower. One time I became very insistent and he relinquished and taught me how to use the mower properly. After that I was able to pry it out of his hands a few times. I truly loved riding on that mower, but dad still saw it as “his job”, so my times of mowing the law were far and few between. Most of the time he took care of the lawn duties while I was at work, and I didn’t have any choice but to hug him and just say, “Thank you, dad”.
            He still loves to work in the yard, although now mom has to push him a little. She has to push him to do a lot lately. If left to his own devices he would just sit in the house and never leave. Since my mother has quit work, she asks him to complete projects in the yard and he is more than happy to do them. When she asks him to paint the steps, weed eat around her flowers, clean the gutters, he does so enthusiastically, but, more often than not, he has to have these tasks suggested to him now. Alzheimer’s is stealing his ability to even self motivate himself.

Chapter 3: My Father's Apocalypse "Time"

October 18, 2009
            My oldest son, Adam, is in the United States Marine Corp. He arrived in Iraq five days ago for his second tour. My dad and my oldest son have not seen one another in two years. It devastates Adam. He loves his Papa. My dad has been more of a father to him than his biological dad, who I was divorced from in 1996. My dad has also been “daddy” to all three of my children. When each of my children turned sixteen he bought them a car. When my children had problems they went to Papa because they knew he would take care of it. When they needed a strong male role model in their lives, my dad provided it. I am praying in my own contradictory agnostic way that the disease doesn’t progress quickly while Adam is gone. I want my dad and my oldest son to have one last “normal” time together. I want them to be able to converse and enjoy one another. If the Alzheimer’s will just stay at bay until after May when Adam comes home. Dear Universe, please. Only eight months. Just eight months. Give us that.

Chapter 3: My Father's Apocalypse "Iced Tea and Memories"

October 2009
            Yesterday mom and dad came over for dinner. Dad needed to get out of the house and I wanted to spend time with my parents without anyone else, but my husband around. After we ate, we ended up on the front porch. We Southerners love our front porches. They are extensions of ourselves. I made coffee and we settled into our favorite chairs. The conversation briefly turned to politics and the United Nations meeting being held in New York this week. Dad called Gadhafi an idiot.  We took turns taking good old American potshots at various leaders of other countries who we thought had surpassed idiot stature and leapt over into the land of certified morons.
            Our American duty dispensed with, mom and dad started talking about the past. Their past. They were so very young when they got married. Mom mentioned an old girlfriend of dad’s and said, “We saw her a few years back and the years weren’t good to her, believe me”, Mom gloated. They talked about their teen dates and how my mom had to be back at ten o’clock or my grandmother would “send the law out looking for us”.  They laughed over a night when one of dad’s friends got drunk and passed out in the back seat of the car. Mom and dad left him there while dad walked my mom to the porch of her house. My grandmother came out, eyed my father and asked, Do you drink, son?”. My dad hastily said, “No M’am, I do not”. My mother prayed the entire time that dad’s friend would not come out of his alcohol stupor, pop his head up, and ruin the lie.
            This is their past. A past I only know about from their stories. I was not there. But I have heard the stories all my life. I am beginning to question what is true memory, and what is merely the memory of the stories. Was I really there for some of them or have I just heard the stories so many times it just seems I was there? Later years when I was around, I know I didn’t pay attention to the stories if the happening didn’t directly affect or include me. If the topic of their stories were anything other than the major happenings I didn’t file it away.  Like most children, we think our parents have no life outside us and our needs. The day we discover that they too are people, is the day we start moving towards adulthood ourselves.
            Mom and dad talked a little about our time in Misawa, Japan where we were stationed in 1964-1966. Mom retold the story of how all the guys would go to AP Alley after changing shifts. The guys would rotate shifts between days and nights. The shifts went a week. When a shift ended and the guys rotated, they would all go en masse to AP Alley, which was a row of bars, and celebrate. Mom talked about how some women had to go to AP Alley and drag their husbands home. Mom said she never did that. She said dad would go to AP Alley with the guys, but he knew when it was time to come home, unlike some other husbands who would stay all day drinking and cozying up to the barfly ladies. I have an old worn photo of the guys lined up in AP Alley after a shift end. Dad had circled several faces with a black ink pen, but I have no idea who those men are.  Dad told me once they were all divided into groups they called “tricks” and that determined what shift you worked. The guys in the photo were part of dad’s “trick”.
            We sat on the porch and laughed at some of the stories. We reminisced. We smiled. We had fun together. The things I can’t possibly remember hold my parents together like glue.  I have heard these stories a thousand times and I never tire of them. Dad was animated and involved. At one point he looked at mom and asked, “Want to?”. Mom looked at him in surprise and said, “What? Now?”. Dad looked puzzled and said, “I mean, are you ready to go home?” Mom laughed and said, “Oh Lord, I thought I was going to get lucky!”  When mom and dad finally did leave about fifteen minutes later, mom turned to me and said jokingly, “Well, I guess we’d better get going. If we don’t leave now he might forget that he ‘wants to’”. Dad grinned a devilish smile. It was nice to have my daddy back for an entire afternoon. I know these times are going to become rarer as the clock ticks the days away.

Chapter 3: My Father's Apocalypse "A Child Shall Lead Them"

July 2009
            My daughter came to visit last week. They just left today. She brought my nineteen month old granddaughter, Miley, with her. When they arrived Mom and Dad were sitting on my front porch. Miley ran up to my dad and put her little arms around his neck, and said, “Poppi”. My daddy’s face glowed. A little while later, they were sitting together on the front porch swing. Dad had his finger looped through the back of Miley’s shirt to prevent her from falling. They glided back and forth while Miley ate a peppermint stick.
            I tore myself away from the conversation buzzing around me. My mom, daughter, and my husband, Jim, were scattered around on various spots on the porch. I glanced over where dad and Miley were sitting, tuned out the chatter surrounding me, and started watching my dad with Miley. They were encapsulated in their own little world. Miley, intent on her peppermint stick, and tired from the long trip from Florida, had mentally removed herself from the world surrounding her. My dad sat, enraptured by her. He watched her with undisguised adoration.  Every once in a while Miley would offer him a taste of her peppermint stick. Neither of them knew that anyone else even existed. Dad, with his diminishing ability to communicate, and my granddaughter, with her ever growing ability to communicate, didn’t need words. Their eyes and smiles spoke far more of that moment than any words could have conveyed. I want to remember that moment. I am going to lock it away in that small secret place inside myself. Years from now I want to be able to take it out and relive what I felt that day as I watched my dad and my granddaughter reach out to one another, and as my dad fell even more in love with his great- granddaughter.

Chapter 2: My Father's Apocalypse "The Wall"

May 2009
            My dad has always had problems associated with his time in Vietnam. He never would talk about it much, and if something came on television about it, he would either walk out of the room or turn the channel.  When I went to Washington D.C for the first time back in 1996 I called my dad the night before I went to visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I asked him if there was anyone’s name he wanted me to look for.  He said one name: Rodney Gott. I had never even heard that name before. I told him I would look for it 
            The next day I located the name on the black granite face, ran my fingers over the name , made a pencil rubbing on a slender strip of paper a vet working the site gave me , and shed a few tears for Sgt. Gott’s children. When I got home I gave the slip of pencil rubbed paper with Rodney Gott’s name in raised black lead to my dad. He took the paper, looked at it for a moment, mumbled, “Thanks”, and I haven’t seen that slip of paper since. I know he placed it somewhere special, but where I don’t know. Perhaps I never will.
            The Alzheimer’s has caused the PTSD to progress faster. My dad no longer has the emotional brick walls in place that protect him from the memories. The Alzheimer’s has torn his self protected walls down. Some days my mom and I don’t know which is affecting him more; the Alzheimer’s or the PTSD. He will start crying and he can’t tell us why. He just repeats, “I don’t know”. The nightmares are coming more and more frequently. Mom says dad screams out in his sleep more often. He wakes up shaking and my mom can’t calm him down. Vietnam is not in 1968 for my dad. It is here and now. He lives it each day. Ironically, the more clouded his short term memory becomes, the sharper his long term memory becomes. I hate Alzheimer’s and I hate what Vietnam does to my dad’s dreams.
            In the past few years I have considered what it would be like to go to Vietnam. To Pleiku, namely, and walk the paths my dad walked. I want to see the old base where he was stationed, close my eyes and try to hear the ghost rumblings of EC-47’s as they take off on a mission. I want to smell the air that my dad breathed for a year of his life, feel the Vietnam rains drip on my skin, taste the food, and hear the chatter of the people as they go about their daily lives. Maybe then I can understand just a little.
             I can’t relive the feelings of dread my dad experienced the day his EC-47 had to make an emergency landing deep within enemy territory. I can’t take away my dad’s grief that February in 1969 when Rodney Gott’s plane didn’t come back; nine men were lost that day. Men my dad had served with, drank beer with, and laughed with. I can’t erase the image burnt into my dad’s brain of the body bags lining the airstrip tarmac filled with young American soldiers awaiting that final trip home. I can’t obliterate the night shellings when my dad and the other men had to dive out of bed in the middle of the night as round after round of rockets bombarded the air base. I can’t take back the nights dad lay in his bunk deep in the night and missed my mother with an ache that tore right into his bones. Yet, I still want to go to Pleiku. I still want to try to see that place through my eyes, instead of his memories. I want to know what it is that wakes him up screaming and fighting for dear life forty-two years later.

Chapter 2: My Father's Apocalypse "The Love She Gives"

November 2009

       My mother is living in a land in which she is a foreigner. She does not know the language or the culture. I see her struggling to grasp the language of Alzheimer’s: “progressive”, “aphasia”, and “long term”.  She puzzles over her husband’s deep sudden stumbles into depression that are becoming more and more frequent.  She tries to speak his language, to anticipate his needs, but sometimes she falls short of the target, and then she blames herself. She is juggling doctor appointments for her husband at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, a six hour car trip once every month. She drives her husband thirty minutes away every Monday morning to the V.A Center for his group therapy for PTSD. A PTSD that is a holdover from his Vietnam days.
        My dad is not a safe enough driver any longer to allow him to drive distances more than 2 or 3 miles by himself, so mom drives him almost everywhere  She quit her job right before his diagnoses. She didn’t want to. My mom is a very social woman and she loved working part time in doctor’s offices, seeing people, talking, laughing, and interacting with others. Now she lays her husband’s medicines out each day, and makes sure he takes them. She watches her husband closely for drug side effects and contacts the doctors when certain prescriptions have only made him worse, not better. This has happened more than once. The drugged out almost catatonic state that some of the drugs induce is worse than the Alzheimer’s. 
            She makes sure that her husband gets away from the house for a little while each day, even if it’s just for a short drive to town, or a pop in visit at my house for a cup of coffee and conversation on the front porch. She plays interpreter between the Land of Alzheimer’s and the rest of the world. She translates what her husband wants to say into what words that others will understand. And she does this so smoothly that people don’t realize the ruse dance of language that is occurring right in front of them. She pays the bills. She takes care of making appointments, paying taxes, and paying the house insurance, I’m not even certain that my dad knows what is due when.  My mother knows she is losing her husband. She frets that something will happen to her and then no one will take care of her husband properly. No matter how much I try to reassure her that I would step up to the bat if anything ever happened to her, she still shakes her head and says, “No, it will be too much for you”.  So, I have stopped trying to reassure her. I know what I will do in the event that my mother isn’t around to care for her husband. I will do what she is doing. I don’t know how. I don’t even know if I can do it as well as mom, but I would find a way. He is her husband, but he is my dad. I am his daughter. His blood runs through my veins.

Chapter 1: My Father's Apocalypse "Losing Himself"

October 12, 2009
     Dad loses things constantly now and is certain that someone is “taking” his belongings. We don’t even try and argue with him anymore. We just help him look for the lost item, and invariably these lost things turn up in the most bizarre places: $300.00 dollars in cash just lying on the seat of his unlocked car, his driver’s license under the driver’s seat, his debit card at the consignment shop. He lost his house keys the other day. We still haven’t found them. There’s no telling where they’ll turn up. He refuses to say the dinner prayer or offering prayer at church anymore because his speech has deteriorated to the point where he can’t form the words he wants. He gets frustrated and embarrassed. He shies away from social activities where he will be forced to come in contact with a room full of people. If he is in that type of situation, he just commanders a chair in the back of the room and watches. People don’t really notice this change of behavior because dad has never been a loquacious person to begin with. But I notice. I see the fear in his eyes of saying something inappropriate, or not being able to recall a simple word or phrase. He keeps quiet and watches. My father has turned into a silent, lonely observer of the world around him.

Chapter 1: My Father's Apocalypse "Diagnosis and Acceptance"

October 2009
     Since dad was diagnosed he has days when a dark certain descends on him. This is how he describes it: “a dark curtain”. On those days his movements are that of a very old man, his speech slows down, he does not smile, and he clings to me when I hug him. My father is not old; he is sixty-six. He and my mother should be traveling, enjoying their mountain cabin in Hiawassee, going to the movies together. Instead they are battling a disease they can’t see and one they can’t even fight. It is a no win battle. Alzheimer’s is going to win. There is no question about that. The only question is when.
            Mom and dad are not giving up though. About a week after dad’s diagnosis I stopped by their house on my way home from work. I entered the house and called out for mom. She didn’t answer so I started making my way down the hallway to the back of the house. Dad came around a corner so I asked him, “Where’s Mom?”.  He pointed to the sunroom, “She’s out there asleep”, he whispered. When dad and I entered the sunroom, we disturbed mom and she woke groggily from her nap. Dad looked at me and insisted, “She’s been asleep like that all day. I’ve washed the dishes, cooked dinner, mopped the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms”. I saw the expression  on mom’s face and then I looked at dad. He was smiling a mischievous grin. My old dad.  Mom, still nap dazed, said, “He’s lying! I’ve been asleep about 15 minutes”. She then looked at dad, saw the grin on his face, and told him, “You know, with Alzheimer’s, you’re supposed to forget things you’ve done, not remember things you haven’t done!”. Dad laughed and so did mom, He sat beside her on the couch and pulled her close and they hugged.
            Sometimes laughter is all you have left.  That’s when I knew that no matter what, mom and dad will meet this head on. It’ll be hard. Harder than anything they have ever gone through. Harder than when he was gone for a year fighting in a war. This is their new war. It may end up breaking them in the long run. . But as long as they can laugh with one another, Alzheimer’s will not win. One day, yes, but not yet.

NON-FICTION Chapter 1: My Father's Apocalypse "The Dad I Know"

     It is an unforgiving thick humid Georgia June day when my dad comes home from Vietnam. The airplane drones overhead. I squint and try to locate its flight path.The heat shimmers on the tarmac creating ripples like black water. I am only six and half years old,  and my heart thuds against my chest in anticipation and just a little fear.  My father has become a photo sitting on top of the black and white Sears television set in our cramped duplex apartment, where I have lived with my mom and my brother while my dad has been away.  The plane lands. Time shifts and then the doors of the plane open; the sunlight glinting off the metal.  Dad steps out with a military bag slung over his shoulder. His uniform is wrinkled from the long trip and his Air Force cap sits crooked  on his head. He puts his hand up to shield the sun, sees us, and smiles. Mom runs forward as daddy comes down the steps. My little brother takes off running on his stumpy three year old legs. I hang back, and then as mom finally loosens her grip on dad, I run forward. He picks me up in his arms, lifts me, and I put my nose in his neck and inhale. This is my daddy. My daddy is home.
September 2009
            I am forty-eight years old now, and I can still put my nose in my dad’s neck and inhale that same scent The one that tells me that this is my dad. The man who has loved me to distraction, and has made it difficult for me to find a man in my adult world who measures up to him.  My dad was a military man for the first twenty-one years of my life. He is a man with a quiet, dry sense of humor. When he smiles his lopsided smile, his incisors gleam; pointed and white like small vampire fangs. This, along with his tanned American-Indian-influenced complexion, gives him a rakish air; an air that has always charmed women and children alike.
            He is a man for whom music has flowed freely through his heart and veins. The steel guitar was my mother’s competition. When we lived in Texas, dad was away from home almost every weekend night “picking and grinning”. Sometimes my mom went with him. Sometimes my brother and I were allowed to tag along, if it was a church picnic, festival, or some other family oriented affair. On a few precious, rare occasions, I was allowed to actually accompany my dad to real honky tonks. Places where the smell of Jim Beam and cigarette smoke hung thick in the air. Places where Merle Haggard was king and the song “Silver Wings” could reduce me to hiccupping tears. Places where I was instructed to get under the table if a fight broke out. Places where I learned to dance to the Cotton Eyed Joe like a seasoned honky tonk pro, a few years before Mickey Gilley and the movie “Urban Cowboy” made Texas honky tonking famous. These memories make up a large portion of my pre-teen and early teen years.
            I have photos of me and my dad in Japan, in Crete, in Texas, in Colorado, in Biloxi, in Georgia; all the places we lived. In each you can tell my he loves me. His arm draped casually, yet protectively over my shoulders. In a few of the photos he is smiling into the camera and I am looking up at him, almost anxiously, waiting for him to smile at me. My younger brother and my dad have a special relationship, but different from that of a father and his only daughter. My father’s brown eyes have been tender, reproachful, pitying, sad, and happy for me, but always there was the love. He hasn’t been a perfect human being, or even a perfect father, but he has been a good man and a father whose love and good intentions I have never questioned. Now that I have grown children of my own I understand that none of us ever parents our children with perfection and no regrets. We all have regrets. There are “should haves, and “could haves” that echo in our hearts long after our children leave us for the wide world and their own “should haves”. He has been “my daddy”. The man who helped shape and mold me. The man whose disciplining gaze could turn me to tears without his ever having to lift a hand to spank me.  The man whose approval I yearned for all my life. Even now, my need to know he is proud of me is almost obsessive.
            My mother and father have an almost fifty year old love affair. They married at 16 and 17, respectfully. They have had their clich├ęd ups and downs, but through it all I believe their devotion for each other, and for their children, has never waivered. Fifty years. In December it will be fifty years of marriage for them, and I wonder each day if my dad will even be able to fully take part in that day of celebration when it arrives. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last month. The day he was diagnosed we sat on his back deck at my parent’s house and we cried together. He, for the burden he feels he is laying at his family’s feet; me, for the knowledge that my daddy is leaving me and there is nothing I can do about it.  I see, as clearly as if it were yesterday, my dad coming down the steps of that plane from Vietnam, shielding his eyes, and smiling at his family. That is what I choose to remember.

Flash Fiction Friday: Up From Zero


Flash Fiction Friday Challenge
Prompt: Use the photo for inspiration.
Genre: Open
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 8:30 pm EST
http://www.flashfictionfriday.com/

UP FROM ZERO

     An exercise in futility is what this is. Yes, a goddamn exercise in futility. Eating, sleeping, just plain living.  All of it futile.
            The subway car slows, rocks, and the doors open. Two punk ass kids get on. Their pants slung so low on their skinny hips they look like they rushed here from taking a shit. What is wrong with kids today anyway? Hell, what’s wrong with the whole world?  In my day you respected yourself and your country. You worked. You didn’t live with your mama and get food stamps. You didn’t blast that crap they call music.  You pulled your goddamn pants up. And you said “Yes, sir” and “No, sir”.
            Beard itches. Maybe I should’ve trimmed it or just shaved it off. No, it’s me. Been me for so long I don’t think I’d even recognize myself in the mirror if I didn’t have it. Still, it itches. I scratch and the girl sitting next to me looks me over and then scoots away from me clutching her purse close like I’m gonna steal it or something. Hey, lady, I don’t have the crabs. Don’t you ever just get an itch? Train slows again. The kids start pushing each other and yelling. Maybe they’ll start fighting and kill each other. Everyone looks away. But I don’t. One of the kids walks up to me, leans over and says, “What ‘cha looking at, old man?”  I glare at him. The car door opens and two fags and a lady pushing a stroller get on. The kid standing over me has to shift a little for the stroller to pass. There’s a fat baby sitting in the stroller chewing on what looks like a dog biscuit. The baby smiles and throws the biscuit at me. It lands at my feet. The kid shifts again, turns around and grins at his buddy. The buddy shakes his head and looks down at his tattered Converses. The kid looks back at me, cups his balls in one hand and steadies himself against the roof of the train with the other. “I said, what ‘cha looking at, old man?” I look away. The kid slaps my head. Not hard, just enough to make a thwack sound. Everyone in the car gets silent, even the baby. They’re trying to look away. Don’t want to get involved. I understand. I’m just a used up old man.
             I wish the kid hadn’t done that. I was gonna get off at Times Square and do it. Just walk in front of one of those crazy New York taxis. Easy like. Now it might go the hard way.  This punk ass kid is forcing my hand. I go to stand up and the kid pushes me back down. One of the fags yells something, but I don’t know what. The lady reaches down and picks up the baby from the stroller.  The kid’s buddy comes over, “Say, man, leave him alone”. The other kid turns and yells, “Shut the fuck up! Anyone ask you?”  The buddy slunks back to the other side of the car. I stand up. The kid pushes me back down. “I tell you to get up, motherfucker? I tell you to get up?” He’s screaming not five inches from my face. The cords in his neck look like they’re gonna pop.  Droplets of his spit land on my lips. He slaps me on the head again. This time hard enough to make my ears ring. I quietly tell him not to do this. “Do what, you piece of shit? You think anyone cares about you? Look at you. Probably sleep in a cardboard box every night if you’re lucky. You stink like shit man.” The kid grins and then turns back to the other passengers. “Don’t he stink?” No one says a word.  He reaches back over and slaps me again. This time even harder. 
            I put my hand in my pocket and feel the warm metal. My hand closes over it tight. I reach up and quick, just like Sgt. Moore taught me, shove the K-bar right below the punk ass kid’s breastbone. I shove up and twist at the same time. The kid’s eyes go wide. He looks down and then looks up at me again. I feel kinda sorry for him. He doesn’t even know what the fuck just happened. He slumps down like a wind up doll that has run down. Blood starts pooling around my feet, growing wider with each pump of the kid’s heart.  His hand twitches.
            The lady with the stroller starts screaming. One of the fags leans against the other and says over and over again “My God. My God, My God”.  The girl with the purse is screaming too, but in small squawks like a bird. The kid’s buddy just stands there and stares at me.  The train lurches.  Times Square. The doors open. I get off. No one tries to stop me. The door closes and the train pulls away. Just like that. 
            Like Sgt. Moore said long ago as we were stepping off that C-130 in Da Nang, “Welcome to the jungle”.  I walk up the dirty tiled stairs that lead out of this hole in the ground.  Damn, Times Square looks bright tonight. Almost like a diamond.