August 4, 2011

M

WHILE MY MOTHER ROTS IN MEMORY CARE AT REGENCY PARK

At the Waffle House, if you’re facing some
bitter truth, we’ll save you a window booth.
And we will be waiting.
—David Wilcox, “Waffle House”

My 82-year-old father calls for the second time today
to tell me what he really wanted
was for my mother to have gotten
off their flowered couch in 1985 and boarded that Boeing 727
with him to the Big Island. I’ve clamped the phone
between my shoulder and my ear, and a rusty can opener
that should have been buried in a landfill years ago
to the top of a 29 oz. can of Hunt’s Tomato Puree.
It’s splintering the edge of the lid
into tiny shark’s teeth. My thumb is bleeding.
He’s gone on to volcanoes, lava flows,
and black diamonds spewed in the air.
The CD player clicks and suddenly David Wilcox
is illuminating the finer points of altered states after the midnight hour
while scraping eggs and flour from the napkin dispenser
at the Waffle House. I grab a napkin and ask If a black diamond
had a favorite song, what would it be?
He says Hmmm. I don’t know—That Old Black Magic, I guess.
I say Black diamonds, black magic—who wouldn’t have thought
of that? You’re not very original.
He says How the hell should I know
what a black diamond’s favorite song would be?
Anyway, black diamonds don’t listen to music.
I say How do you know? He says They don’t have ears.
I say Like that’s necessary.
You’re practically deaf, and you constantly complain
about your upstairs neighbor with the swollen prostate
waking you up all night every time he pads barefoot
to the bathroom to pee. You don’t seem to have any trouble
hearing with no ears. He says Okay, wait a minute—
a black diamond’s favorite song is Daddy’s Little
Pain-in-the-Ass Girl. I say Hey, old man, you called me.
He says Not to talk about what kind of music
black diamonds listen to. I say Well, what do you want
to talk about? He says
She never wanted to go anywhere.
Now it’s too late.
Something I can’t have, I guess.
She’s my wife he says. I say She’s my mother.
He wants me to say losing someone to death
is a step up from losing someone to dementia.
That Mrs. De Luca’s calico cat who had his broken tail amputated
an inch at a time hurts worse than the three blind mice combined.
That if she’d had the decency to die instead, his grief would take him
on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to that mythic country called closure.
But I don’t lie to him. I never have.
Even when it’s necessary. I say Join the crowd.
I say If my husband was still alive,
I’d put him on the phone to argue with you
while I wrestle this big game fish of a can to the deck.
Maybe he could go get me a Band-Aid too.
He says I’ll call you tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll come visit.
Do you need anything?
I say Yeah, a new can opener would be good.
He says What kind of music do they listen to?

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

__________

M: “So, I was at my father’s apartment changing his bed linens on Saturday, and I said, You know, Mrs. De Luca thinks we’re always mad at each other. He said, Why the hell would she think that? I said, She thinks we talk mean. He said, Tell that old biddy to go back to fussing at her damn cat. I said, Do you need me to do anything else around here? He said, No, thanks. Get the hell out of here and go have some fun. I said, You do know I love you, don’t you, you old bastard? He said, Why are you being so nice to me? Did the doctor call? Am I dying or something?”