His Shirt and Tie

(For my father, Hugh Patrick Trainor of Passmore Street)

My father is an old man and sometimes the nurses that work to feed him and bathe him now will sit him up in a chair and wrestle with the dead weight of him so they can dress him in a shirt and tie.

It was the day after Christmas. I walked into his room and saw a shirt and tie of his thrown over the chair as though he himself had just taken them off. My father’s hands and legs are heavy as gravity now. They don’t move by themselves. I ask him, “Why do you wear a shirt and tie in here daddy?” His mind is near full of dementia. He doesn’t know the answer to this.

He can’t say “yes,” on this day, so, of course, he can’t say “no.” He told me only 6 months ago that he needed a change of scenery. Looking at the wall is hard on him. After I heard him say this, I turned inward (in on myself with the pain). I stay away for months. The next time I visit he is in another room.

He can’t say “yes, I see how the leaves are falling from the trees now,” or “no, I don’t want your godawful beef stew for supper again.” He is fed his meals here in much the same way young children are fed pablum. His food is mashed. Everything is tasteless and textureless as pablum. Patient, able-bodied people stand on the other side of his supper fork waiting for him to swallow. Nobody questions why his hands don’t work, suddenly. The attendants smile. They smile while they wait. I look toward the shirt and tie lying over the chair.

His teeth have been removed. I found them by mistake one day. I was searching for a phone book. They were in the drawer second to the bottom. I picked them up and tried to imagine them back in his mouth. I couldn’t. His face is caved in now, hollowed. It is not the face of the man I know.

I tell him a lie. I tell him that soon I am going to buy us a piece of land. I tell him that soon I am going to build a house for all of us–for all of his children, and him. I tell him that soon I am coming to get him from this place. Soon he will be looking out onto the pink skies of autumn and the ocean that he loves. Soon he will be able to smell the wind and the grass with me. He tells me that yes, this is what he wants.

There are clouds inside his eyes now. They are full of mist. I call him, “Daddy!…Daddy…can you hear me?…It’s me, Daddy.” His mind is so full of dementia. I want him to remember the brown sugar fudge he’d make us on Sunday nights. I call him, “Daddy!”

I hold his hand now, heavy as gravity. The skin is cool. The veins beneath the skin are blue and shrunken. I tell him, “I’m going home now Daddy, but I’ll be back tomorrow.” He looks around him, wondering where I’ve gone even as I stand directly in front of him. He shouts out to the frame of the door, “I love you, too, dear.” The shirt and tie hang over the chair like yesterday is still now. The tie is knotted perfectly for tomorrow.

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