I wrote this “poem” a few weeks ago in response to an event that happened with my dad. He’s been going through a lot of changes lately and, as a family, we’ve been struggling trying to seek medical assistance and a diagnosis. Yesterday, he was finally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Dementia.
The following is less a poem and more or less a vomiting of my feelings onto the page. It’s raw and unedited and I plan to leave it that way.
I’m going to see my dad tomorrow. So I’m sharing this with you now as a way of getting it, along with some of the feelings and fears it represents, off of me as I move with my family into the future and try to figure out what this diagnosis means for my dad, for my family and for me.
Untitled by Val Zane
It’s not so hard for me to think of you as crazy considering you’ve always been completely nuts
For as long as I’ve known you. That’s right. Forever. Or for my forever anyway.
“They either love him or hate him,” I always say.
I bet you don’t even know that I say that about you. Well, I do.
But who cares what they think anyway? Or what I think or say for that matter.
Just tell me another joke. I need to laugh.
What happened to the eight again? Or was it the nine?
No wait. Now, I remember. It was the seven who ate nine and ten.
But when you tell it, it always sounds so dirty.
I’ll never be able to tell it like you.
It’s like asking a stranger for directions.
“Excuse me.” Smile, nod. “Make a left at the McDonald’s?” Uh-huh. “Thanks.” Smile again, then wave cordially and drive away, when I’d rather just skip ahead to the part when I call you.
“You shouldn’t talk to strangers,” you’d say with a quip that no one’s stranger than you.
It’s certainly strange how you always know how to find me and guide me home
Even from a payphone in the middle of nowhere. Do you remember payphones?
You were my compass before GPSs were ever invented.
With you I’m never lost.
But without you?
Mom said she spoke to the doctor.
Well, sure, that goes without saying because you’re nothing if not interesting
Isn’t that what you always say?
Maybe you could use your map and point them in the right direction?
Oh I don’t know. It’s probably in the trunk of your car with your wallet and your keys.
They should’ve said: “We don’t know but whatever this is, it sucks.”
When they came and took you away the other day, I wasn’t there. That sucked more.
Maybe it’s your medicine. Or just old age? Dementia? Alzheimer’s? Senility?
It’s funny but I still see you and hear you the way you were. The way you’ll always be to me.
Or maybe that’s not so funny after all. See, you’re not the only one who’s confused.
Remember that time we were talking and walking together hand in hand and you stumbled and tumbled ass-over-teakettle, then stood back up and kept on walking like nothing happened?
That’s the stuff legends are made of!
You’re my hero. And anyone who says that’s cliché is just another asshole.
Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Right?
Is that what this is, just another one of your jokes?
It’s like you’re faking it, pulling a prank, playing a game.
Are you testing me, like way back then when you tested me on the state capitals?
Well the joke’s on you because I’ve forgotten most of those too. Have you?
Maybe it’s not me you’re trying to trick. Maybe it’s him. The hooded dude with the grim expression. Do you honestly think if he thinks you’re crazy, then maybe he’ll walk on by?
I’m not sure that’s how it works, but I guess it’s worth a try.
This just doesn’t feel real to me. Why do I refuse to believe what everyone else sees?
Even the butts of your best jokes are laughing at me.
But that’s okay because they don’t know you like I do.
You’re the opposite of… or was it the epitome of charming?
“But looks aren’t everything,” you’d say.
Tell me again about the man from Nantucket who uses his bucket for God knows what
And that thing he used to say… what was it again? Oh, does it even matter what he said?
When, in the scheme of things, I’m trying to recall all the things you’ve said along the way
All the laughs we’ve shared, your words of wisdom and the lessons you’ve taught me.
But I can’t. Oh great. Now I’m crying. And through all those empty threats, this is the first time you’ve actually given me something to cry about.
In a way, it’s like you’re already gone. Or not yet gone but already forgotten?
How is it I can recall all of the pointless, useless information?
Cross on the green, not in between. Or how E equals MC squared. All the things that Rob Base knows about and the ingredients to that cheesecake Mom loves so much. How flared jeans make my butt look small(er) or your secret for making the world’s best pancakes.
I remember it all but I’m forgetting you? Maybe I’m going crazy, too.
The irony is that if you weren’t stuck on a loop right now you’d be mad at me for making this about me. But don’t even try to deny the truth because we both know that’s what we do.
You’re the one who taught me ten and two. Don’t you remember?
And the best advice anyone’s ever given me: “If you feel like you’re going to fall, fall on your ass.”
And you know what? I still do that all the time.
Fall on my ass that is.
You asked me to write your stories down but they’re your stories, not mine.
I’ve given you books, journals, voice recorders.
Damn it, Dad. I don’t want to be mad at you but…
Couldn’t you grab a spare square from the diner or that coffee truck you loved so much?
Remember those road trips when we’d just talk? The turnpike was so beautiful at night.
Or that time we went out of the way to cross the Brooklyn Bridge just because?
Or when we drove straight from Philly to Florida and I read every single sign while Mom slept?
You said it was my responsibility to keep you up. See, you taught me about responsibility.
It’s so easy to remember your stories when I’m in them but I guess those are our stories
But the others? The ones which came before me?
Well, this is precisely why I wanted you to write them down!
Not just for me. For you. For mom. For the princess who calls you “Pah-Pah.”
“But I don’t write,” you said. “That’s what you do.”
And you’re right. You’re always right. And in a way, you’re the reason why I write.
But to write your life story is… well it’s impossible.
“Nothing’s impossible,” you’d say. “If you work hard enough for it.”
Shut up, Dad!
No, wait. I take that back. I’m sorry. Please keep talking. Start from the beginning.
Because I need your help. That’s why.
Because I can’t tell your stories—not like you do. At least not without you.
Oh no, you’re fading again.
So you have the stories and I have the pen. Is that how this works?
Well, then I think you’d better start talking because you’re running out of time
And I’m running out of ink.