He said no.
I heard the no, between his chuckles and warped speech, the kind I usually have to rummage through to find the words he actually means to use. I feel myself starting to sink. I tread harder but play dumb because I’m tired and don’t have the energy a commitment to this conversation will require.
“No?” I ask, hoping I’m wrong about what I’m suspecting he means. “No, what?” I always have to have an idea of where he’s going with his words, to help guide him to his meaning. Like a game of charades but with half syllables instead of pantomime. Since his brain tumor and ensuing stroke, he has had a problem with word retrieval. He knows what he wants to say, he just can’t find the words to say it. Sometimes he uses words from the other languages he knows, thinking they’re the ones he needs, but usually they’re not. Unless I can figure out the terrain of where his meaning lives, we’re both lost and when he’s lost, he gets frustrated and waves me away with an impatient groan, stops trying to say anything and instead resigns himself to be locked in the prison of his mind.
But during this conversation, he seems more lighthearted. I wonder if he’s had some drinks.
“Sand House.” I can decipher the words through his mirth. “Sand House!” he repeats, louder, like a tourist speaking to someone who doesn’t understand his language, assuming a greater volume will make everything clearer.
The Sand House is the assisted living facility we visited together. And, in this stage in his life, it is the perfect senior living situation for him.
The Sand House is in Santa Monica right across the street from the beach. My dad moved us to Santa Monica from ‘Little Russian’ in West Hollywood just before I went into the fourth grade. He hasn’t budged since. Santa Monica is the one place on Earth where he sees God. Or at least His handiwork. The beach is his altar. When he is at the beach, he is in his version of heaven.
The problem is he hasn’t been going to the beach in the last few weeks. He hasn’t taken his regular walks on the boardwalk or really done much of anything.
Since he was duped by his Internet Bride, he’s just been sleeping all day. He wakes around 4pm to sit in front of the TV, and barely eats, if at all. The gold-grubbing thief arranged for a woman who takes care of an ailing, next-door neighbor to come every day and cook and straighten up for him. But this caretaker woman used to drink wine with the Internet Scavenger so I’m not sure about her morals or her intentions. When I ask my dad what he’s eaten each day, his first meal is always cheese, yogurt and coffee and then a soup as his dinner. The skin is flapping around his spaghetti-thin arms. He is looking as skinny as a concentration camp victim. Each of these conversations breaks off another little piece of my heart.
How could this have happened to my dad?
When we visited The Sand House, its bright, airy interior and cheerful staff and residents was a stark contrast to the gloom in which he now lives. I hoped he was seeing what I was seeing.
They serve three gourmet meals a day but also have a small menu available until 6pm so my dad could eat whenever and wherever he likes. They have housekeeping services and laundry. They have exercise classes including his favorites, yoga and tai chi.
|This is the room where they execise|
They have physical, occupational and speech therapies, all covered by Medicare so it would be 100% free. My dad’s ego has always prevented him from getting the therapy care that he’s needed after each of his medical maladies. His dragging left arm and leg and his stunted speech are the result of his inaction. I can do it myself, he always said. Here, I tell him, he can give his body and brain the attention they need to finally heal.
“You deserve this,” I told him, when we first toured the place. “You’ve always taken care of everyone. Please, please just this once, do something for yourself.”
We even went back again to see the actual rooms that were available, to get a sense of what his life would be like living there. I felt tears meekly slide into my eyes as I looked at the view that he could have.
|Actual balcony view from the room he could have|
It would be like living in a college dorm except with older people. Sure, when I looked around there were a few people that had special needs but the majority seemed like they were there because they wanted to live their lives fully, not be locked away in some isolated apartment like my dad’s.
When we got back down to the lobby after seeing the two available apartments the last time we visited Sand House, my dad’s ailing leg forced him into an awaiting chair and it appeared, but I didn’t want to look too closely, that he was softly weeping under his fedora. I wanted to give him his moment and had to admit that although I can see the beauty of this potential situation, he might see it differently.
|Here’s what I saw (the rooftop deck)|
|Here’s what he might see|
I know, after doing yoga for many years, that what we see in this world may not be what actually exists. People see a blend of what is in front of them and what has happened to them in the past and/or what they are expecting to happen in the future.
I’m sure my dad has seen images of terrible nursing homes, although I would never call this a nursing home. I’d say it’s more like a resort exclusive to seniors.
He said, after his brief weeping episode, when I leaned down to see if he was okay, “I am not in my grave yet.” This was quite a sentence for someone who normally has trouble stringing together more than three words. He proclaimed this with a hot burst of frustration born from the tension taking over his body.
I know when he gets like this not to argue. Besides, there was nothing to argue. “Of course not.” I tried to smooth his rising hackles. “This is not a grave. You’re apartment is more like a grave. This is living. This is being surrounded by people who want to be your friend, who have enough of their own money that they don’t want to steal yours. This is where you can meet a nice woman who will think you are so handsome and like you for who you are. This is where you can do things you enjoy all day long or do nothing at all. Or go for a walk on the beach, which is only across the street!” I ended, sounding more like a cheerleader or a spokesperson for an infomercial than the scared, defeated daughter I was actually being.
Yet, when I called to check in on him the next day, he told me, in no uncertain terms, No. He would not be moving into The Sand House.
Okay, I told him, feeling like a deflated balloon, trying not to get stuck in the slimy swamp of inviting hopelessness, trying not to let anger take over the situation and bring it to an unshakable end. I wished him good night and hung up the phone.
The next day, I called him again and told him I wanted to take him to lunch. “Okay!” he said with excitement in his voice. I couldn’t imagine how lonely he must be now that the greedy witch had abandoned him.
“I’m coming on Saturday and we’ll go back to The Sand House and have lunch in their restaurant and you can meet the Russian server that works there and wanted to meet you.” During our last visit, the nice lady who was facilitating our tours, Kortney, told us there was a woman who spoke Russian and was excited to meet my dad but we were running late that day and she had already gone home.
“Okay,” he said, sounding a little less certain.
“Great!” I wasn’t going to get dragged down by my fears for his future. I wasn’t going to get tangled in my frustration that this situation was going to be harder than I imagined, that his Old World Ego wasn’t going to let him be cared for. If I went down, there wouldn’t be anyone left to see him as the strong, determined man he is that brought us to this country and fought for our survival until we could fight for ourselves. And now I had to fight for him.
Saturday. It was another chance.
|My dad sitting in what could be his room|