Working Mind

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ashort story about my father who died at a very young age from dementia. It is told through his point of view as he rapidly declines.

Submitted: August 03, 2011

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Submitted: August 03, 2011

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His hearing was the first to go. He spent his early years in the army on a firing range, the butt of a rifle against his shoulder, rounds going off in his ear. His later years were spent on construction sites, always within ear shot of booming equipment going off like explosives.

His wife called it “selective hearing” while his children just considered it annoying and somewhat embarrassing-the youngest especially,  having  had the habit of looking down when he spoke and often mumbling. If he was asked  to speak louder  he’d lose the flow and continuity of a conversation as each word became isolated, collapsed in on itself and  lost meaning.  He’d walk away as his father would call after him: “Christ son, annunciate!”.  The boy would turn back with a scowl and he’d shrug, wondering how the hell his youngest could be so meek while the other two, though not as smart, at least spoke like they had a set.

He didn’t think his hearing was a big problem, not yet anyway. Sure there was that feeling like water in the ears but most people were audible. If at first he couldn’t gather all that a person had said ,a certain look or gesture would cause an almost subconscious need for the speaker to repeat himself and the deficit would go unnoticed. His favorite was raising the eyebrows while keeping his mouth closed. This conveyed surprise bordering on disgust. Whoever spoke would be filled with doubt and wonder if what they had just said was foolish or offensive. The only recourse was to ask the question or to make the statement again, this time loud and slow so both parties could have equal confidence in what was being said.

As the years went by his hearing deteriorated and it no longer felt like water in the ears. It now  felt like he was completely submerged. It reminded him of his youth in the small Vermont town. He  and his best friend underwater in the town pool, trying to guess what the other was saying.  That’s what it was like he decided. Words pressurized by water, unable  to expand into coherence. He thought of humpback whale songs and submarine sonar and imagined that somewhere in all that noise was a language that could be understood. Because now that he was sunken it was not just his hearing that was affected. His speech was traveling through those same oppressive waves.

“I’m still working” he’d think to himself. But if he were to repeat that sentiment out loud it would sound like “At least I’m stall working.”  This was happening a lot lately. Though he was thinking clearly, and the words he desired to speak formed perfectly behind his eyes, when they went to his mouth somehow they were scrambled and put back together but always with one or two letters in the wrong place.

Losing one’s hearing but being able to get by is a lot easier than doing so with a speech deficit. People notice right away. There’s no way to cover it up, no distraction technique one can use. And people at work began to notice. He understood what was happening, and he never blamed anyone when they gave him a quick look and asked him to repeat himself.  He’d think: “I still have my brain. They know I’m capable. At least I’m still working.”

Months went by and his speech got worse. More words were becoming snarled and sentence structure was almost nonexistent. An appointment with a neurologist was made and the oldest child accompanied him to one of the largest hospitals in Boston. They sat in the waiting room, both nervous for different reasons. The child wondering what was happening to the father, the father trying to remember where he had to be after the appointment.

The Dr.:”Primary Progressive Aphasia”

The Father:”What’d  he say?”

The son: “Primary progressive Aphasia.”

The Dr.:”Primary Progressive Aphasia is a type of dementia characterized predominately by……..

He had stopped listening. He was in himself now. Cut off from noise and speech.

In his head: “Promary progressive afysaaphaisa proggrissive primory……”

The words had a nice flow but meant nothing to him. “Work” he thought to himself. “That’s right. I have to be at work after this.”

Three months later, behind the wheel of a car. Distracted.  “Where am I going?” BAM! Over a curb.  The third that day.  Blue lights in the rearview mirror. “Con I halp you officer?” “Liscence  and registration please. Have you been drinking today sir?”……………….

It was  May. The sun was  out, evaporating April’s rain. He was  sitting  in his office, facing the window. They no longer let him out to the job sites. They  said  he’s more of an asset inside looking over plans and blueprints. One laid  before him. Blue lines intersected  with each other, numbers and scales jumped  off the page waiting to be put to some use. His head was spinning. It was  two o’clock. He blinked . It was  five o’clock. Time to  go home.

He no longer drove.

His wife: “you’ve ruined that car. You’ve hit too many curbs. I don’t want you to drive in anymore. You can drive to the park and ride. Please,  take the bus.”

He stood in the parking lot of the park and ride.  He held his empty briefcase in front of him.”My car”  he thought. “It’s black. It’s small. It’s………………..”

A half hour went by. He found his car and got in. the parking lot looked different than it did this morning. He needed a point of reference. He scanned the razor wire that covered the top of the fence surrounding the lot until he found a break in it. “The exit” he thought. He headed for it. He took a right out of the park and ride onto the main road. He drove a mile until he got to his street on the left. He put on the directional. Cars were whizzing by. Some had their lights on, some were off. The distance between them became harder and harder to judge. He finally saw an opportunity.

The brain: “turn the wheel to the left.”

The hands:”ok”

The brain: “put right foot on gas pedal. Accelerate.”

The right foot: …………………

The brain, again:”PUT RIGHT FOOT ON GAS PEDAL. ACCELERATE!”

The right foot. “What? oh. Ok. Let me just……………”

Metal hit metal and the force was so great it sucked in and eliminated  any noise.  everything  stood still, was hushed  and deformed. Outside his window birds with two heads  flew upside down, the pavement below was in yellow ripples. He took his hands from his head and put them in front of his face. “One two three four five six……….. “ everything  became so bright until he had to close his eyes. Then there was noise: a siren in the distance. Finally he sunk into a darkness  deeper  and heavier than any distorted word could describe.

He woke up and saw grey, felt himself moving at a fast pace, could hear the siren blaring from outside. He was on something hard but not being able to lift his head he couldn’t see what it was. Tape stretched across his forehead and plastic dug into his neck. All of a sudden a face appeared above him. The young man wore a hat with the letters EMS written across the front.

The young man: “it’s ok. You’ve been in an accident. You have a collar around your neck to keep you from moving and causing any damage. You’re on a hard board. You’re ok. We called your son.”

He thought about his sons. He didn’t know which one the young man was talking about. He thought of his youngest, in a play, couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. The way he walked across the stage, said his lines to perfection, captivated the audience, got his picture in the paper.

The father: “I was so prood of you.”

The young man: “Um,  it’s ok sir. We’ll be at the hospital soon.”

He closed his eyes and moved his lips wishing a name would come to them.

That same day he was released from the hospital. The staff determined he suffered a slight concussion. A CT scan was performed and the results were negative. He was sent home with an enormous bill and an ice pack. Decisions had to be made. His safety and that of others was in question now. When all was said and done, he could no longer drive. That meant he could no longer work.

The father: “If I pant wook I may as well be dead.”

June came and went and july followed with it. Both months were defined by household projects. “I have a lot to do” he’d  think to himself. “A lot to do.” During these months holes were cut into celings and walls. Wires were exposed and stripped from their protective casings. Supplies were bought-wood and nails and screws and drills and bathroom tiles-all brought home and stored never to be used. The lines from the filter to the pool were dug up and eviscerated, rendering it dank and unusable to anyone except the frogs which inhabited it.

Everyone: “What are you doing?”

The father: “I have a lot to do, a lot to do.”

August arrived and with it sleepless nights and brown grass. He woke up one morning with blood on his pillow. He had to go for a walk. He didn’t know why, but he had to. He took his shoes from the closet and held them in his hands. He knew one was supposed to go on one foot and one on the other. But  he couldn’t remember what made each so unique. He guessed, put them on and left the house. He walked. Up  the street to the main road. Took a left and walked  north. Kept  walking. Came  to a building. “the office” he said to himself. He walked in. it was empty. Lockers surrounded him on both sides. He backed up against a wall and let himself slide down until he was sitting. He ran his hands through his hair. His feet hurt. His  head was pounding. Everything was clear, then cloudy, then  clear again. he looked up  to the banner above  that read “Go Wildcats!”.  “Its time to sleep” he thoughtand went down to the floor, drooling and curled up like a baby.

In the hospital his family hovered around his bed, inspecting him like he was a carcass on the side of the road. Each of them  stared  nervously , everyone shifting on their feet, trying to see something that resembled the person they once knew. 

He had just come out of surgery. The right side of his head was shaved. A crescent of staples tattooed the top rear of his skull. His skin was a wet grey and his bottom lip sagged like his jaw was being pulled down by an unseen hand. A purplish hue now surrounded each of his sunken eyes. White mitts like boxing gloves encased his hands and running between his tied down legs was a catheter , the  collection bag attatched to the bottom of the bed rail, a dark orange liquid sitting stagnant inside. His breathing was shallow, and only once or twice did he stir.

The nurse:”The restraints are precautionary. We never know how someone who just had brain surgery will react when they come around.”

He woke up but kept his eyes shut. His tongue felt like it was covered in glue as he moved it across his teeth. It was quiet except for an intermittent set of beeps coming from somewhere above. He opened his eyes and let them adjust to the darkness. The back of his head itched so badly. He tried  to lift his hand but something was holding it down and he was unable to extend his fingers. He was scared. His eyes darted back and forth trying to find something, anything to lock on to, something  to which he could assign  a name. But everything was unfamiliar and the only word that came to mind caused a tear to fall from his eye.

“Mommy.”

POSTCARD FROM POST-OP.  SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER

“Dear so and so I’m writing from this beautiful resort everything here is so sterile and white and the view well I could go on and on about the view see through my window is another window and through that window is another and if I keep looking I’ll eventually see myself I have two legs two feet twenty toes two arms but only two fingers a thumb on each hand theres a tube in my penis and I cant get it out god I have to pee so bad the ladies here are quite attractive they bathe me and wipe me and bring me ice cream and pudding always ice cream and pudding  they even feed it  to me and when im done eating I feel so sleepy a man came in yesterday with pliers he removed metal from my brain said “you no longer need these” they looked like  staples not like the ones in the office the office does work know I’m coming back? I keep trying to get up but they’re so concerned about me relaxing they come right in and say “its ok just lay back everything’s ok” so I do I don’t know for how long I try to explain to them that I have to get up to pee I just have to get up and do something sometimes I just roll forward and push my head into the mattress push and push as hard as I can every now and again a pretty young lady comes and gets me out of bed and we walk the halls outside my room back and forth back and forth she tells me at the end of each walk that we’re in the same place but I know better when im out of one room they bring me to another and make it look exactly the same my mommy was here again last night and so was my brother and my other brother and my two sisters  and my daddy and then theres this other lady that’s here every day she’s always crying and quite frankly looks like she needs a vacation and sometimes theres a young man with him he looks like my son the next time I see my wife I’ll tell her about these two anyway I just wanted to drop a line see you on the other side!”

It was after Christmas and he was in a nursing home now. His bed had a net around it to keep him from getting up and wandering about. A “safety” feature,  although now a days he didn’t need it. What was once a 6’1 frame with almost 200 lbs was now a hunched over 105lb bag of bones lying in the fetal position.  His wife and son were in for a visit. Both were unable to speak as they looked at him breathing with too much effort and sucking on his index finger. Visions of holocausts race through their brains. 

His wife, bawling:”What’s wrong with him?”

His son, angrily:”He’s fucking dying.”

The next day the nurse came in and started an IV. She gave him morphine. As the drug entered his bloodstream his breathing became more even, more relaxed. She turned on the television, turned off the lights, and left the room.  He concentrated on the sounds of her heels hitting the floor as she walked  down the hall. A calmness enveloped him, and he opened his eyes. He was looking up to a landing where there stood a beautiful young woman and three little boys. Behind him was a door. The children  stood side by side in descending order of height and age.

The oldest child:”Bye dad.”

The middle child:”Bye dad.”

The youngest child:”Bye dad.”

The woman walked down the stairs to him. She put her arms around his neck. He  looked into her eyes, so full of hope and pride.

The woman:”I love you.”

He turned toward the door and opened it.  He looked back.

“I love you too.”

The woman:”have a good day at work.”

He smiled at her, walked through the door and he was gone.


© Copyright 2018 stefan. All rights reserved.

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