So my dad is in the hospital again; has been for the past week. I really oughta go see him, my mother says. He’s eighty-four and just had a knee replaced . . .
And that’s the thing.
You see, he pretended he’s stronger than he is, and pestered the doctors for years. Over and over they told him: No, you are not a good candidate. He’s weak and frail, and that’s his own fault. He doesn’t like exercise. Neither do I, and if I’m not careful, I’m gonna end up in the same boat. He’s stubborn like that. But unlike me, he’s got a low pain tolerance, and is unwilling to do anything uncomfortable. (Read: anything that gets his heart beating faster than ‘sitting’.)
Somewhere down the line he got it in his head “I am an old man.” And so he began shuffling like one, looking at his feet, head down, taking those old man’s small steps. And it was like ‘immediately‘ he went from “this way” to that. He’d decided he was getting old, and therefore began acting the part. I think he felt it got him some sympathy.
I think it was mostly in his mind (to some degree). I think he thought the world would throw him a pity-party, with everyone gathering around to mourn. I don’t think he thought it would be as it is. That the knee surgery would hurt so much, or the PT girls he wanted to impress wouldn’t grace him with mercy by granting him an old man’s exception.
“You should see him at the doctors,” my mom said. “He’s got his chest out, puffing himself up like a pigeon, putting on a big show. Then as soon as the doctor leaves the office – he wilts.”
And that’s the truth . The old man was always real good at putting on a good show for the outside world. Usually it was about him: how good he was doing, how much he could give (others, that is: we often starved at home), how pious and righteous and religious, all the things he’d done (education, learning, that kinds of stuff – including ours).
But the truth is: when he wasn’t beating us, he was pretty much leaving us alone. Even when he was home he wasn’t, except as a threat from ma. He was too busy studying, or reading, or doing something. And boy! – you didn’t want one of those beatings. He’s a closet sadist.
I can’t blame him for some stuff. He was in and out of my life like a bad crayon, and a broken one at that. He come back from the ‘wars’ sometimes all full of himself. Nothing we did was right. White glove inspections would become the norm. This after living with his wife. (Alone? Two boys? No wonder we had nightmares!) And she was half out of her mind, a psychotic bitch mixed with a man-loathing person. Pure demon hell mixed up with flowers & bonnets. Witch vs. Christian, spiritualist gone wild, around the corner, and a little bit on the dark side . . .
but that was her. And this is about him. And I haven’t visited him in awhile.
“Hell,” I told my mom. “It’s not like I come visit him anyway.” The truth is they live only a few miles away – I can walk the distance (though it hurts my hip to do so – it’s like stone across bone) – but I don’t go there. I don’t see them both. I can hardly stand to see them, yet I do. And go over when I’m required to. I play my part as the Dutiful Son.
I can remember what it was like growing up with them. I can’t blame them for some of the hard choices they made. My father wanted to become a soldier, and he did. Long before he met ‘mom’. And she was on his wishlist, that was for sure. But he’d already been in the army about ten years; it’s not like she didn’t know what she was doing. But she was trying to escape a military life too, with an abusive stepdad to boot . . . if only she had kept on going, and had ignored his marriage proposal the third time, which is when she said she finally caved in.
“I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known him,” she still says. “Worst mistake of my life.”
Turns out he’d been a loser in the Army as well.
I don’t get that. The fact is, here’s this guy – an enlisted soldier, low ranking with a bad record who comes back from Korea so insane they ship him to some small island off the coast of Japan for rehabilitation. Here he is with a bunch of other guys like him, all too loony (and violent) to let on they mainland. Or back home. The Army didn’t know what to do with those kind of guys back in those daze. They simply set them aside for awhile until they appeared to be all right for society. Or they locked them up for life. And they gave some of them a lobotomy if nothing else seemed to work. I know – I’ve seen some of this stuff, working as a volunteer in Ward 7 at a VA hospital when I was young. A teen. 15 or such.
But him. He’s a work. When something bad happens he always shows up too late. His most famous words to me are often: “If I had known I would’ve done something.” Too late now, every time. And I can’t help but wonder about the military. He accelerated up the ladder (in the Army) all of a sudden. He went from Sgt. to Warrant Officer 1st class to W-4 about eight years later. How did he do that with all the stuff on his record?
He was a bad man sometimes, according to the Army. He had numerous marks on his record. He got passed over for promotion time and time again (this was before he’d made Warrant Officer.) And then all of a sudden . . . it was like all that got ignored.
I’ve got this issue with him. I don’t talk about it, bring it up much. And he won’t admit much. When I ask him about a “program”, he always smiles and shakes his head (or nods) and won’t say “yes” or “know” or any real confirmation. He hints about it a bit. The last time my mom just hushed him. He never drops anything suspicious – but then he does. He might be maintaining silence just because it tends to make him look more ‘mysterious’. He admits knowing about such a program; even stated it still goes on today, albeit under another name. He wouldn’t either confirm nor deny I’d been part of it or any such thing, nor that perhaps it was something he and his dream officers all cooked up.
Who knows? That’s all in the past and it doesn’t bother me anymore (okay – a bit). So what? What’s left is to deal with the ruins, the effects of the abuse. Hopefully it’ll be mild. And there’s some things I don’t know.
I wonder if I should go see him someday.
Maybe I should.