106 – Gwen Hilton
March 27, 2023
My father is 106 pounds. All my life my father was a fat man. A very fat man. My maternal grandmother joked when the cancer had metastasized across her entire body that she wasted much of her adult life worrying about hitting her weight watcher’s goal weight. If only she had realized one day she would die thin too. She hit her goal weight a few weeks before passing. My mother thinks he has less than 30 days left. My mother said his leg wasn’t 60 pounds. His doctor wants him to consider a leg prosthetic. When we call, my girlfriend cries. I cry when the call begins to end, or in the shower, or a day later. I only cried a few tears the first time. I cry the rest later. I put him on speaker for me and for him. One of us usually has a bad connection. He asks when I’m going to see him. I started calling him more after I found out he’s 106 pounds. This isn’t the first time I started calling him more. He broke his ribs trying to stand on his phantom leg. The medicine does not stop his phantom limb pain. When I tell him I love you he doesn’t say it back. Sometimes a few minutes later he’ll realize he didn’t. He says it once. He knows when he has said it once. When I continue to say I love you he doesn’t say it back. That’s okay. I’m doing it for myself. It’s reasonable for him to be skeptical of that statement. It’s not reasonable for me to decide what is and isn’t reasonable for a dying man with dementia. My father was absent in my youth and then present and destructive. Our relationship is defined by which one of us is not talking to the other. I’d take three year breaks. He’d take one year breaks. Sometimes it was mutual. When I developed some agency, which means the risk of killing another person, I stopped seeing him. When he started dying faster, faster than he always was my whole life, I talked to him again. He talked about his father’s secret family. He did this in a pizza shop. Probably ten surgeries ago. Still in Chicago. It’s amazing how we can keep a corpse alive now. My grandfather fought at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. I never met my paternal grandfather. He was not a good husband. He was not a good father. My father was drinking and smoking in the bars with his father by the age of 12. I was in the bars with my father by the age of six. I liked Blackies. I liked Rafferty’s. I remember the Donkey Kong machine at Blackies and walking around Buckingham Fountain. When Blackies moved locations I saw him once more. The final few meals he paid for we struggled to eat. He was not hungry. I was sick to see him. The waiters looked sad. Like they knew. My paternal grandmother was institutionalized until shortly before her death. She did not receive visits. She was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. When I visit the doctor they ask if I’m schizoaffective or bipolar or have a mental health history. I say I have an extensive history of treatment that has made me not trust any one diagnosis. My diagnosis changed with the seasons. My mother says my grandmother wasn’t a schizophrenic. My mother says my father wasn’t fully honest about the secret family. My mother says my father lied about being tortured while in the Marines for saying he thought Ho Chi Minh wasn’t so bad. My mother denies almost all men’s pain. They said all women are schizophrenics at one point. She was probably bipolar. My father wavered in his analysis. My father worked briefly in an institution and he would get drunk and tell me about his time there. I’d get out of the hospital and say it was horrible and he would tell me that it couldn’t be as inhumane as when he worked at one. He’s right. My father would talk to me about bombs and the IRA. He’d make me read history books in his apartment. He would talk about his respect for the Weatherman or the Weather Underground or the independent local cells that set bombs off three times a week in the city and never killed anyone. They bombed empty buildings, but they still bombed. It’s important to coordinate bombings to remind those with more power than you that you can fight back. My grandfather’s secret family moved in with my father after the death of my grandmother. This stunted him. He felt neglected. The women were loved better. My grandfather remarried within a year. My aunts and uncles, or half aunts and uncles are all much more successful than my father. They have properties across the eastern seaboard, many of which he stayed in while we delayed the inevitable entrance into an assisted living facility. They have been married once. Their relationships have trouble. He was married thrice. He is alone. There’s CIA K_ and the aunt that asked my dad to buy the Redskins season tickets. There’s my other aunt. Her daughter is an epileptic. That derailed her family. My father would fight with the epileptic before he got moved to another home. He didn’t respect that she had a chronic disability that impacted her life as well. He did something that forced him to leave immediately. The implication is something sexual with my cousin. My father used to lament his inability to get pussy to me. When he realized he’d never get pussy again he started talking to me less. My mom is a MILF. All my father’s friends told me it was cruel she stopped fucking him so long before their relationship ended. She got hot and held out. She didn’t cheat when she could have. He claims otherwise. He didn’t realize what was happening. None of them did. Now she’s ice. He thought she was getting hot for him. She was getting hot to leave. I drove him to get a haircut after he lost his license for the last time. He talked about the two women he was pursuing. There was the woman with the big tits and the other woman with the big tits. They had money that could be better allocated into keeping him alive. My mother told me I was turning out like him. Often. Bitter, shrunken, hunched, and unsatisfied with a good life. The women with the big tits strung him along. Could you imagine? A guy like him strung along. In the nursing home he met a woman who was also sober. She was religious. She didn’t want to put out. He put pressure on her to put out. He claimed her son was getting in the way of the two of them. Her son was planning to move her to another facility. He asked her to stop letting her son around the facility. He told me he was right to do this. I tried to explain that you can’t get in the way of a family like that for pussy. He met three of my girlfriends. He said my high school girlfriend had nice big tits. He didn’t speak much to my ex-fiancée. I asked Emma to meet him because she would be the last partner that could. He was drinking in my aunt’s basement, but he told me he was sober. This was his second to last home before the first facility. Remember the Redskins? He drank my trust up. It was supposed to pay for college. He bought those Redskins season tickets because it’s cheaper than losing the seats for one year. You have to understand that you spend money you don’t have to get grandfathered in so it’s cheaper in the long run. The finances never recovered. Not for anyone. We started speaking before that, but only so I could get a job working for his friend. His friends that employed me changed the trajectory of my life. My father had exposed all my dirty laundry to them across my entire life. I could not get a wage increase. His friends deny his condition as a way of supporting him, but I think this hurts him. They don’t take his illness seriously because they refuse to admit they’ll be dead in a decade. His friends are old men that smoke weed and panic while sitting still for hours. His friends are rich attorneys. His friends have Cuban wives. He was going to go to Cuba one day. His friends have rich and interesting lives. The last time I saw him in person he talked about his desire to fight against Putin with the US Justice system. He had two legs. I asked him if we could do something other than talk about politics and he did not want that. He didn’t understand why I wanted to just spend time with him and not talk about these things. He doesn’t understand much. It’s because of the dementia. He probably had dementia in its earliest stages when he was with my mom. It’s the slow process of realizing this has been happening for a long time. Hindsight is 20/20, but everything really did make perfect sense. When he was tested for his functioning in the front of the brain – I don’t give a shit about the language – the part where he has emotions and then reacts to them – the number was a 5 instead of a 31 or a 71. It was low. So low that I was told he’s not much different than a child. That explains the rage and the forgetting. That explains the pizza incidents. That explains him floating drunkenly on the couch when the house flooded. That explains him not understanding the severity of the house flooding. We know alcohol exacerbated the illness. Early onset much earlier than most are ready for. There was all the drunk driving. The drunk screaming. The threats of punching. The occasional hit. The erratic behavior. The violent outbursts. The inability to clean his home. The hoarding. The spending until broke. The spending past broke. He used to buy a new guitar every month and he never learned more than five or six chords. He knew you didn’t need more, but he didn’t know what to do next. He surrounded himself with skilled players that abandoned their families and left kids to transition alone and bitter. I’m not calling it a pattern. Birds of a feather. Before I wanted to be a musician I wanted to be a director. Before I wanted to be a director I wanted to be a writer. I thought it would be easier to rely on others, making writing the hardest work. I knew I was going to be a great writer because I was planning my father’s eulogy from as far back as I can remember. Now it feels hollow to run down the line of transgressions. He’s barely alive. He has pain in places that don’t exist. He falls out of bed, shatters his rib cage, and doesn’t die. He doesn’t get visitors, me included. His life is a slow death in pieces brimming with suffering. Hell to him is waiting in lines and the doctor’s office. That’s his whole life. I was going to show everyone. CIA K_ would realize who his half brother was. As if he doesn’t know. As if everyone is too stupid to see it except for me. As if my pain outweighs the suffering of the world. I was going to confront him at the funeral. Ask who he killed for our glorious nation. Ask about Greece around the time Osama died. Ask about why he flew back so soon after. Was the pewter chess set not enough? I was going to ask my aunt about the Redskins games. Did my dad even go to one? I can’t remember. I don’t know his mother’s name. I only know my grandfather’s name because my father was the third. I don’t know much at all about my dad. I know the movies he liked and the music he liked and his taste in women. I don’t know which college he went to. I don’t know which law school. He went to one of the high schools I went to. He traveled with his father. 8 grade schools and 3 high schools. He didn’t have a license until his 20s. He played bass in a band. His guitarist was named in the Chicago family secrets trial. I don’t know the names of his first two wives. His slow death isn’t bringing me closer to my sister. My mom will have to die for that to maybe happen. Or the family will finally rupture fully. His death is bringing me closer to my mother. I told her he wants to see me. She told me my uncle, the doctor, saw their father one last time and said he’d call from then on. He knew he couldn’t do it again. He waited until he died. She thinks it’s too far for me. There’s a right way to see someone in your mind. It’s enough for him to be skinny. My father is 106 pounds and has one leg. He speaks slowly. His voice is rough in the afternoons. He can’t focus on conversations for more than 10 minutes. He forgets after 20. I can’t imagine living like that for years. I’m not going to visit my father before he dies. I’m not going to go to the funeral. I thought I couldn’t write this before he died. My father is dying actively. I thought this was what I wanted, but I feel nothing. I say I love my father, but it doesn’t feel like any time I’ve loved someone. When I get overwhelmed thinking about his total nonexistence I want to die. I know I think that while wanting to live fully. It does not stop the phrase I want to die being on constant loop. All I get now is everything I ever wanted.