THE BLOG
10/23/2014 12:48 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

There's a Wall Up in his Studio Apartment, and it's Me

I stood at the door, stiff and all business as he puttered around the cluttered apartment, looking for his glasses but not finding them, brushing his hair back for the 100th time, searching for a belt to hold up his jeans, which kept slipping from his slight lower body because he was so hunched over.

He hopped around gingerly, bent at his bulging waist, more in line with the floor than the walls, trying to get ready so that we could walk down to the lobby, where my husband and three boys waited. Hopped really is the wrong word. It was more of a limp, with a slight, uncoordinated bounce. He was happy to see me.

It had been over two months since we last visited. Visiting wasn't easy for either of us. We both had expectations. I expected him to be ready to go down and see the grandkids with almost a three hour heads-up on the visit, and he expected me to understand that he couldn't be rushed.

I understood that, but I could never understand why he couldn't have most of this stuff done before we arrived. Or, I just couldn't accept it. He lost time. It was why some mornings when the home health aide came in, she'd find him on the floor in the bathroom, or asleep on the chair with the oven on. Alone in his apartment, minutes staring became hours of day dreaming, or he drifted into unconsciousness. I knew it, but similar to my experience with calculus, just because I knew the answer didn't mean it made any sense to me.

He's brushing his gums and talking to me simultaneously, moving from the sink, closer to where I stand in the center of the room, with my arms crossed, trying not to touch anything.

"Dad, can we talk after you finish up? After we go down?" It's been over a half an hour. My husband has called three times, unnecessarily exasperated, threatening to leave me, take the boys to a park and come back after. It's not helpful.

He looks immediately annoyed. "I'm going as fast as I can."

"Well, maybe if we didn't talk in between..."

Slowly, he stops brushing, takes out his toothbrush and points it at me. "This talk is the most important part of the visit. Maybe not to you... but to me."

I nod in acceptance but I am expressionless. I feel myself closing up. All I want him to do is finish brushing, take his medicine, find his glasses, put in his teeth, put on his shoes, pull up his pants and go. But, he's right. The point of my visit is to give him a sense of family, to help him connect and feel less alone, yet from the moment I walk in, I'm guarded. Pleasant, but not warm. Interested, but not caring.

I note the cigarette burns on his bedspread, the boxes cluttering the small space, the dozens of medications laid out on the table and I look away. I study the overfilled book shelves instead.

I should hug him, but my arms are still crossed.

This essay and many other happier ones can be found on my blog at Ice Scream Mama.