Updated: Nov 19, 2021
The house that my parents and I bought in 2020 faces the road, but sits in front of acres of forest. They have the master suite, which includes a huge picture window and side windows that offer the best views in the entire house. It's in fact so stunning than when I saw a picture of that view, I immediately called my realtor friend and asked to see it, knowing my mother would have a hard time saying no to that view.
After they moved in, we learned -- the hard way -- that my father hates this room. He would refuse to use the bathroom or take a shower, feeling like the world could see him, feeling like there were threats out there in the world. In all our shared spaces, he wants the curtains or shades closed, which can make me anxious and claustrophobic, something I don't feel when I can see outside.
His closed mindset goes beyond just the master suite windows, too. I've written before about his need to keep everything locked, to the point that he's often locking out the people who live in the house, including me when I come back from walking my dog, no keys in hand, and a locked house. In warm weather, I would open the windows in my own space, and he would inevitably come in and close them. He's constantly telling me I need blinds on the windows "because people can see in," something that concerns me not at all.
This change in him has been difficult for me, beyond just the ongoing annoyance of being locked out or feeling like a caged animal. The father of my childhood did not shut himself in the house with closed and locked windows and doors, afraid of what's outside. He was quite the opposite: this man loved an adventure. I saw the entire country from the back seat of a car, as he was always up for a road trip. He built a house with the help of his brothers. He bought a boat and learned to navigate and care for it like he had for his dozens of cars. He took bike trips across multiple counties without a map. And after he repaired the zipper on my beloved white beaded purse when I was about six, I was convinced there was nothing he couldn't fix.
The other day I found an old box of Polaroids from a camera I had gotten around age
8 or 9, from what I can tell from the pictures. One of the photos was my mom driving an International Harvester Scout, my favorite of the many we had over the years, the SSII that had removable doors and top, like a Jeep. My dad would drive me in that along country roads at top speeds, where it felt like a roller coaster, and I would laugh and scream with joy before returning home with his instructions, "Don't tell your mother." And risk not being able to go for rides like that anymore? My lips were sealed.
In the photo my mother is in the driver's seat, though I don't remember her ever driving it. My sister and I are in the back, and the person taking the photo -- definitely my father -- can be seen in the shadow. I remember that my mother wasn't thrilled when my dad brought home this vehicle, so I imagine he had her drive it to win her over. Regardless, the guy who drove that car now can't stand to have the windows open or the doors unlocked.
My dad and I tend to be wired the same way, so this fear in him irritates me. I intentionally try to live fearlessly, as my father taught me to do. But will I become this way too? Will I slowly shut out the world, afraid of the threats that are out there? Will I not continue to rave and rage as the poet Dylan Thomas described:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
And then this morning, doors unlocked, windows open, sun shining in, I sit here writing this post, while listening to my father try to make my mother her morning cup of hot tea.
He's furious, cursing and muttering, opening up cabinets and drawers, probably trying to find the tea bags that are on the counter in plain sight so that he won't have this problem. Or maybe he's looking for the coffee mugs, that are just above the tea bags (where the tea bags used to be too, but that got too complicated). Or maybe he poured her coffee forgetting that she doesn't like it, and then he'll wonder why he poured himself two cups of coffee and will try to pass me one. Or maybe he can't figure out the tea kettle (this sometimes happens too, and I once found him trying to put the tea pot in the toaster oven).
And my respect and admiration for him returns to me. Because even though he is completely incapable of making my mother her morning cup of tea, he will rage and curse and rant, while accomplishing the impossible, even if it takes him an hour. This is not a man who gives up and lets his dementia win. This is a man who continues to live as he intends, even though he's confused, inevitably afraid, and definitely pissed off.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.