Hello and Happy Wednesday! Good to see you all, I hope you are well! It’s another Wednesday here on the blog, what I like to call #WritingWednesday (or occasionally #WIPWednesday), wherein I like to share a snippet of something I’ve written. I believe sharing our work is important– so often I go to blogs to just get a taste of an author’s style and when I see nothing, I’m pretty disappointed.
Today I am sharing a snip from Ruby’s, which is a glimpse into her life with her father, Bernard, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you enjoy it, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Brunch at Ruby’s, available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBooks, Kobo and in paperback via Lulu.com!
I snap from deep slumber to confused awake in seconds. The room is dark. The sun isn’t even up. I sit bolt upright and listen for the sound again.
This time the voice cracks, as if on the verge of tears. Accompanying the voice is something like the pitter-patter of raindrops or a fast leak or… no. No, he didn’t.
I toss the light comforter across the bed, not bothering to throw on a robe over the shorts and over-sized t-shirt and yank open my bedroom door. Standing in the hallway, looking more lost and confused than I’ve ever seen him, is my father. His face is thin, his eyes blank. He’s mostly bones jutting out at appropriate junctures—elbows, pelvis, knees. His V-neck white t-shirt is dingy. His boxers are dark in the crotch. At his feet, a puddle grows, floating on the surface of the wood floor.
I groan, not caring if he hears it until my eyes make it back to his face. He looks so ashamed, it breaks my heart.
“Daddy, what happened? Are you okay? Did you forget to go?”
“I’m sorry, Noodle. I couldn’t find the bathroom. Where is the bathroom?” Noodle was his nickname for me growing up because my hair used to curl up like a bowl of cooked spaghetti noodles. I smile because he remembered.
Alzheimer’s is a humiliating disease. A thief, too. It isn’t just stealing his memory, but also his self-respect and sheer manliness. What was a virile, athletic, healthy man is now a frail shell, standing in the hallway of a home he owns, trying to remember where we keep the bathroom in this place.
“It’s okay, Daddy. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
I side step the puddle and tuck my hand in the crook of his elbow, ushering him back down the hallway toward his bedroom. I find his robe hanging on a hook in the closet, fold the soft terry cloth over my arm, grab a towel from the hallway linen closet and walk him to the bathroom, right next to his bedroom.
“Do you need my help in the shower?”
He shakes his head, pursing his lips in a pout and shuffles into the bathroom. I step out but make a note to myself to check on him in a few minutes.
The puddle of urine is soaking into the hardwood, seeping in between the cracks. It won’t evaporate on its own, so I get to work. I run downstairs and grab a bottle of spray cleaner, a few towels and a mop and head back upstairs.
I never imagined I’d be on my hands and knees on a Saturday morning, cleaning up a puddle of my father’s urine because he can’t remember where the bathroom is.
I sop up most of the liquid with a towel, spray the area down with cleanser and mop. By the time I am finished, the shower is off and he’s humming a song.
I tap on the door. “You okay in there?”
“I’m fine,” he answers, opening the door and stepping out. His robe is on, cinched tightly around the waist. He smells like body wash. Steam billows around him, enveloping me in a warm embrace and dissipating in the coolness of the air. “Is my babysitter coming today?”
He walks past me, chuckling under his breath. A half hour ago, he was about to cry. Now he’s alert and laughing. And I’m confused and disoriented.
I grab the pile of discarded clothing and the towel from the bathroom floor and add it to a white plastic laundry basket. “Any more laundry?” I ask as I pass his bedroom.
“Nope.” He rifles through drawers, pulling out clothes for the day. “You hear me, girl? Jessie coming today?”
I lean against the door jamb, the basket propped on my hip. “Yes sir, but not for a while.” I take a long glance at the twilight peeking from behind the blinds. “It’s five in the morning.”
“Time to get moving. Can’t waste the day.”
I yawn. “I wouldn’t have minded a few more minutes of sleep. Do you want some breakfast?”
He chuckles. “Does a bear shit in the woods? Make me some eggs. With cheese. And toast. And grape jelly. We never have grape jelly anymore.”
“You don’t like grape jelly, Daddy. Are you going to say please?”
“I ain’t sayin’ please.” He turns around, tosses a few articles of clothing on the bed and grabs the ends of the tie to his robe. “You best get out of here before you see some things you don’t want to see.”
“You are getting rude in your old age.” I take his please as implied and leave, closing the door behind me. I listen to him whistle and hum the same tune he’d been humming in the shower.
I wish this version of my father could stick around, but I know better. I’ve had fewer and fewer days with the real Bernard Gladwell.
I feel guilty about the sense of relief that washes over me when I see Jessie walk in. Daddy requires so much work and concentration that I am tired by ten am. When he develops a new behavior, I worry that he’s declining and that I’m losing him and I’m still not over the loss of my mother. By the time Jessie gets here, I need a break. I turn the reins over to her and escape to my room.
My old bedroom was a place where I’d spent so much of my life, growing up. I was shy and I thought I was plain, compared to Debra and Max. I preferred the company of books and TV to people, especially since no one ever wanted to talk to me unless they wanted me to do something for them.
I wanted to feel good about being dependable, but I didn’t. Five dozen cookies for the bake sale? Call Renee, she can probably do that. Babysitting this Saturday? Only person I can think would be free is Renee. It’s no wonder I was on the first train to anywhere but here.
I never thought I’d be back in this room. In fact, I remember telling my mother to turn it into an exercise room or a sewing room or something like that, because I wouldn’t be coming back. My mother, while helping me pack, laughed and said, “Don’t say what you won’t do. You never know when you’ll have to eat those words.”
Wouldn’t you know it? A few years later, here I am in my childhood bedroom, less the posters of Prince and New Edition adorning the walls, eating the hell out of those words.
I’m not sure how long I can hold up. I’m not cut out for being the sole caretaker of a man in the throes of a disease that makes him irritable, confused, and unable to care for himself. I’m not going to be able to take many more puddles in the hallway.