My father’s later years were difficult. He bounced from one nursing home to another, his peripatetic life precipitated by his refusal to stay where he was put. By the time my father entered his first nursing home, he was losing his ability to walk. He had nearly lost his ability to hear. But he had not forgotten his wanderlust. He was born in a shanty car, or as he liked to call it, an early mobile home. Travel was in his blood.  He left his home in West Virginia at twenty-four, his journeying took him to Africa, India, Japan and points in between. How could we expect him now to stay confined in a tiny room with the bright flicker of fluorescent lights and the constant cacophony of institutionalization? Even though he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, he retained a spark of willfulness and ingenuity. He would park his wheelchair by the exit doors and watch the staff come and go. He memorized the door codes. When no one was looking, out he’d go, his strong arms propelling his wheelchair at lighting speed. Once, he was found at a gas station a few blocks away.  Another time, when he was being held on the fifth floor of a hospital, he managed to bounce his wheelchair down several flights of stairs before he was apprehended.

Secretly I applauded my father’s rebellion, believing it signaled he was still there. But I knew his escapes burdened my mother unduly. After each escape attempt, the nursing home administrators let her know his roaming ways had disqualified him for further residency. No one wanted to be responsible for an Alzheimer’s patient who had wheels and remembered the joy of flight. Once again Mother would have to go back to the phone in search of a new placement.

The last time I saw my father, we sat in his semi-private room in silence. Or, we would have sat in silence had the television not been on at top volume. I wanted to snap it off but his roommate, also a man of few words, was on his bed and for all I knew, he was enjoying the program, a documentary on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  As “Scar Tissue” blared from the tinny TV speaker, I told my father how much I loved him. I told him he had been a good father, he had given me more than I could ever articulate. 

I struggled not to cry. I had to say what I’d come to say.  My throat burned, and the effort to refuse my tears twisted my mouth into a grotesque scowl. My father stared at my face intently, his once sky-blue eyes a filmy grey.

Scar tissue that I wish you saw
Sarcastic mister know-it-all
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, ’cause
With the birds I’ll share

With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’

With my father on Mt. Kirishima, 1976

He reached out to me. I took his hand in mine, touched by his gesture. 

No. That was not what he wanted. 

He pointed at my face. Was my grimace upsetting him? No. He pulled my glasses off.

“Daddy, no, you can’t take my glasses.”

His grip was ironclad. It took me some cajoling to get my glasses back.

“Please, please,” he mumbled, but I’m sure that’s what he said.

With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
With the birds I’ll share this lonely view

I noticed that he wasn’t wearing his glasses. I pulled out the drawers in his nightstand and poked around. His drawers were mostly empty. I couldn’t find his glasses. I remember Mother telling me that his things always went missing.  She finally gave up on replacing his hearing aids. I imagined his glasses too had disappeared.

“I’m sorry, Daddy.”

By the time I turned back to him, he had forgotten about the glasses. He had slipped into himself.

I wave goodbye to ma and pa
‘Cause with the birds I’ll share

With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’
With the birds I’ll share this lonely viewin’

I pushed his wheelchair out into the hallway. The aides had told me not to leave him in his room alone when I left. They would come for him when it was his turn in the dining room.

I didn’t want to leave.

I still had to stop in to see my mother before I drove two hours to my sister’s house, and it was getting late. This would be goodbye. I would never see my father again.

I kissed his cheek.  I smiled at him through my tears, and then I headed down the long corridor. The heels of my cowboy boots clicked over the shiny linoleum.

That’s right, I’m my father’s daughter. I’m that third-grader in her kick-em-up cowboy boots who refused to let the schoolyard bully intimidate her. I’m that bleeding heart who joined my father hunting only to cry when I learned he killed a rabbit. I’m that girl who only ever wanted to make my father proud.

I turned to look at him one last time. He brought his hand to the brim of his baseball cap as I blew him a kiss, no longer able to hide the stream of tears.

Goodbye November 2011

Scar Tissue
Writer/s: Michael Peter Balzary, John Anthony Frusciante, Anthony Kiedis, Chad Gaylord Smith Publisher: MoeBeToBlame, WORDS & MUSIC A DIV OF BIG DEAL MUSIC LLCLyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind.com

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash