1. I rented a car, last Friday, and drove out to the VA hospital in the evening. The Livermore branch isn't really in Livermore. I drove through Livermore, but the hospital is way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere. Anway, the sun was almost down by the time I pulled into near-empty parking lot. I watched a line of turkeys waddle past the parking lot. I kept my eye on them--in case they turned aggressive. Turkeys can get brave in numbers. But they didn't bother me. There were also signs warning visitors about rattlesnakes.
2. I entered the big, main building. There was no one around. All of the offices were shut, the windows dark. This was like the dreams I have--wandering around deserted places. I walked up a long corridor, saw no one. I backtracked and went down another corridor. I saw an open room, heard fingers typing on a keyboard. I poked my head inside and saw a very pretty Asian lady seated at her desk. She seemed surprised to see me. I explained that I was there to visit my father but I wasn't even sure if I was in the right building. She was very kind and typed his name into her computer to see if she could find some info. Then she lead me down the corridor to see if there was anyone around who could help me. We found a nurse leaving for the evening. The nurse told me I was in the wrong building and gave me directions to the right building. I thanked both ladies for their help. I returned to my car. I saw no turkeys or rattlesnakes. I drove up to another parking lot, near the correct building.
3. It was almost dark outside. I went into the building. I walked up the corridor to the nurses station. I was about to sign in, when I saw my father seated in a wheelchair outside his room, right across from the nurses station. He motioned for me to come to him. He had lost a lot of weight. I was glad he at least recognized me. But when I tried to talk with him, I quickly realized that there wasn't much left of him behind his eyes. A lot of the things he said didn't make sense--like he was suffering from some form of dementia. Thanksgiving was the last time I had seen him--when I visited him at his home. And, mentally, he had seemed perfectly fine--we talked and had a normal conversation. But now--he just was not completely there. And my heart fell and fell, seeing him like that. And it keeps falling.
4. He wanted me to push him in his wheelchair down some narrow corridor behind the nurses station. I wasn't sure where he was directing me. "We have to go into the big room," he told me. A nurse saw us and escorted us back another way, toward the dining hall. "Is this your oldest son?" she asked my father.
"He's my only son," he said.
"Why are you crying?"
He mumbled something.
"I think those are happy tears," she told me.
I managed to smile and keep myself in good humor the whole time--even though I felt sad and grief-stricken inside.
5. I wheeled my father up to a table. There were maybe another dozen or so patients in the dining hall for dinner. I was the only visitor. I pulled up a chair and sat by my father. He refused to eat or drink anything. "You eat it," he told me. "Eat whatever food you want."
"I'm not going to eat your dinner, Dad."
"We have to find out if it's okay. If the bill has been paid."
"Dad, you don't have to pay anything. Everything's covered."
"Well, you eat it. I'm not eating anything.
"When was the last time you ate?"
"I don't remember. Yesterday. Or last year. I don't know."
He started getting irritated the more I tried to coax him into eating something. Finally, I gave up. "I'm not going to try to get you to do something you don't want to do," I said, holding his hand and patting him on the back.
"It's not ABOUT that."
"What's it about?"
"I have to find mama. I have to make the gold and the silver is safe."
"Everything is fine, Dad. I checked on everything. You don't have to worry about any of that."
"If you say so. You people know best. I'm just gonna let you people do what you think is best."
Another patient sat down across the table from us. He introduced himself as Bob and tried to engage my father in conversation. Bob had many needle marks on his arms and what looked like thick, yellow scabs. It was unsettling to look at. He, too, tried to convince my father to eat something. He ordered a cup of ice cream for each of them. But my father wouldn't touch it.
6. There was a lull in attempted conversation. My father fiddled with the blankets draped over his lap. I watched the other patients dining alone. A few of the staff members thanked me for visiting and wished that more people would visit. I felt horrible for all the patients who had no visitors. "You're lucky," Bob told my father. "I wish I had a son that would visit me."
7. It was completely dark outside. There was a row of locked, glass doors on one side of the dining hall. I couldn't see the lights of the parking lot--just this crushing darkness piled up against the windows. It was a very heavy, oppressive darkness. I wondered what kept the windows from breaking. I wondered what kept the walls from caving in. I wondered what it was like to be a patient and sit alone in the dining hall every evening and watch all that darkness pile up in the windows.
8. "Dad, do you remember when I visited you at home on Thanksgiving?"
"No, I don't remember that at all."
"What about when I visited in September? And S. and C. [my sisters] were there? And we all went out to breakfast together?"
"No, no. I can't remember any of it."
9. The other patients began wheeling out of the dining hall after dinner. "Dad, are you getting tired? Do you want to go back to your room and rest?"
"I think so, I guess."
Again, he tried to direct me as I pushed him in his chair. "We can't go that way, Dad. That's the kitchen." He got annoyed that I wasn't following his directions. I finally got him back to his room. A nurse talked with him. She offered to help him use the bathroom and then assist him getting into bed. I decided that it was a good time to leave. The nurse went down to the wall and gave me a chance to say goodbye. I clasped my father's hand and kissed his forehead. I told him that I loved him and that I would see him again soon.
10. I got back on the freeway and continued toward Modesto. I tried to concentrate on driving. But my eyes kept tearing up. All the headlights and tail lights and street lights looked like bright, wet, shapeless blobs.
11. I arrived at my mother's apartment late in the evening. We went to a Denny's for sandwiches. It was strange that there were so many cars in the parking lot yet so few people in the restaurant. My mother hasn't seen my father in over ten years, so I'm not sure about her level of attachment/detachment. She asked me about his condition. "I can't talk about it," I whispered, my eyes watering and leaking down my face.
12. I slept on my mother's couch. It took me a long time to get to sleep. I kept thinking about my visit to the VA hospital and how it had seemed like a bad dream. I kept going into the bathroom to blow my nose and dry my eyes.
13. Saturday afternoon. I went to my favorite second-hand bookstore in Modesto. I wanted distractions. Escapism.
14. My mother and I had an early dinner at a downtown hotel. There was a loud group of people drinking in the luunge. But we were the only ones in the restaurant. Again, it was just like the weird dreams I always have--we dined in a big open room with all these empty tables around us. Usually I prefer that. But this time, it bothered me. For some reason. All the real people would come in later, I supposed. All the pretty people with their flowing conversations. My mother and I were mostly quiet while we ate. She would sometimes say something--and I would try to respond, usually with nothing more than a short sentence or two. I gave up a long time ago trying to initiate conversation. She's usually not interested in a whole hell of a lot I have to say, so I tend to keep my thoughts to myself.
15. I drove back to SF Sunday morning. I enjoyed the drive--not a lot of traffic and I found a great radio station that plays more obscure music from the '50's and '60's. I let out a big sigh of relief after I exited the Bay Bridge. I returned the rental car and took the bus across town. I let out another long sigh after I got off the bus and began the walk up the hill to secret motel. I spent the rest of my Sunday catching up on my drinking.
16. Monday. I was never so happy to see a Monday as I was this past Monday.