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A Message On The Answering Machine — Linda Is Undone

A Message On The Answering Machine — Linda Is Undone

No one called it dementia then. Parkinson’s is what they said, although we never saw one single tremor.

We should have known something was wrong by the dozens of post-it notes taped to the kitchen cabinets, bearing grocery lists, important phone numbers, his medication schedule.

And by the serenity prayer cards from AA with my name and phone number (“daughter”) scrawled in pencil everywhere — even on the dashboard of his green Nissan Sentra — the last car he owned, the one he drove across three lawns in on the way back from Publix one day, before he had to stop drinking for good.

But there was that night — Mom was gone five years by then — in the two-bit Italian restaurant that he loved, in the strip mall on the west coast of Florida, when he ordered his usual: any meat with red sauce, ladled lavishly over fettuccini.

While we were eating, we noticed him talking softly to the empty chair beside him — Offering food? Sharing a confidence? When we asked, he recoiled. 

When he chose to go, at last, to the assisted living place, we were relieved, but soon he said that he felt out of place among the old folks and complained that their food was mostly not Italian and that even when it was, the sauce was too thin and the meatballs too hard.

And then we got the calls about him throwing out his clothes, about him running down the corridors naked, night after night, until he fell and broke his shoulder and they threw him out, and we had to find a nursing home long distance overnight, and then they complained because he was insulting the staff, calling them fat and commenting on the nurses’ well-endowed frames.

We flew down and tried to run interference.
We bought trays of sweets for the staff on Christmas Eve.
We bought a puppy without even thinking how we would get her back home to Massachusetts.
We had to lie and tell him that it was not a nursing home: It’s rehab, we said, your shoulder, you know?

Still no tremors, but then the meanness took root — something about our lack of respect, he said. Something about how we weren’t there for him, he said. And then he started talking to his brother, long gone, and we lost him to a haze of regret and the immutable past.

Two weeks later, I tried calling him. For hours, no one answered. I went to lunch, came back and checked my messages. 

This is the assisted living residence in Florida, and we’re just calling to let you know that your father died this morning.” Click.