Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Channel Surfing

It's 2:30 in the morning when I answer the phone to hear my father screaming at his television. His complaints are interrupted by painful tones that cause me to hold the speaker away from my ear as his fingers mash the buttons on his phone.

What the hell is wrong with BEEEEEP. Come on BOOOOOP of crap!

Lying here I can picture the scene in the darkness above me. My father, sitting in his recliner, aiming his cordless phone at the television, hopelessly pressing buttons, and wondering why the channel won't change.

Son of a BEEEEP. I ought to BLOOOP.

These are the conversations that have finally taught me what I need to know about my father's condition. When he knows I'm listening he insists he's fine. It's only when he tries to change the channel with his speed dial that the truth comes out.

Dad, I scream into the dark, though my wife has asked me not to. I'm sure she's right. I have yet to get his attention this way, and God only knows what would happen if he actually heard his remote control calling him Dad, but I have trouble hanging up the way she wants me to, the way I know I should. In the blackness I can picture that scene too, the moment after the operator has warned him to hang up and then sent him that endlessly repeating tone until he looks at his hand and realizes that his mind has betrayed him again, that he's suddenly lost in the house he's known for forty-seven years. I want to be with him at that moment, to tell him it's okay, to assure him I'm there even if I'm not. But I've screamed myself hoarse and so far I've never been present in that tragic instant when the remote becomes the phone. Eventually, I always hang up and the things that happen after that, my father and I face alone.

Goddamn it!

There are several loud clunks and suddenly everything sounds different. The blaring TV is now further away and there's a particular way the sounds echo through that house that almost makes it possible to picture exactly where my father has thrown me. I listen to the program for a minute, trying to imagine we're watching it together.

Would you just hang up already, my wife says finally. She rolls away from me and takes more than her share of the covers in case I've failed to note the displeasure in her voice.

Dad, I yell one more time causing my wife to yank my pillow out from under my head and place it over her own. But my voice has no effect on the sounds coming back. I hear a familiar jingle as the program goes to commercial and I lean over and put the phone back in its cradle.

In the new silence and old darkness I imagine how this particular episode will end. Probably he'll hear the phone beeping and go to get it, perhaps not even remembering having tossed it across the room. With any luck I decide that when he's up to retrieve it he'll spot the real remote somewhere and return to his chair and everything will be fine. Tonight, I tell myself as I lay my head back on the pillowless mattress, everything will work out.


Jerry Bowley said...

Whoa. If this is another example of fiction, I'd say you nailed it. If not...


Anonymous said...

Nice work.

Louisiana said...

When i read this it never occurred to me that you were making it if you are-you are an amazing writter for i felt pain and sadness.

How to deal with a mind that turn on you at any age and for any reason be it age or illness? I don't know but it's very scary and i know what i'm talking about.

Thank you for loving your dad and worryin about him. Thank you for not just shushing him and hoping he died or just went away. Thank you for caring and not being frustrated that he
'upset' another night. Thank you for being a caring son and not a selfish or self-centered bastard...

Unknown said...

all your comments are much appreciated. just for clarity's sake, it's fiction. my dad is fine. but I'd still like to pretend I'm not a self-centered bastard.

Anonymous said...

Very good work. My dad actually does have dementia and does very strange things at night in particular. It's a sad time of life, but they deserve the love and respect of anyone who is feeble of mind, including little children. ;) Thanks...very compassionately done!