By Jennifer Brennock
In their bedroom, I move my mother’s walker to the side. I roll the warm cloth like the fancy spas do and place it on her chest.
“Just leave this here for awhile, Mom. Okay?”
“Your father thinks you don’t love him anymore.”
My father has dementia. My father has a bad heart. My father has lung cancer.
She’s been coughing for weeks. Each an explosion in her china-cabinet body, her eyes wild with alarm. The docs are out of prescriptions.
“He doesn’t even know me,” I say without inflection.
A cough interrupts her best intentions.
My father has four daughters. They are all now mid to late middle age. Three of their bodies have grown, birthed, and fed seven of his grandchildren. Two or three have had work done on their boobs and lips and stretch marks and foreheads and stomachs and eyes and labia. All four have denied their body food to varying degrees because they wanted their bodies to be different than they are. I can guess all four have had sex with men when they did not want it.
“I came over to help with the cough, Mom. Let’s try this ocean thing. It’s silent.”
I lay myself down next to her, and we listen prayer-like to the deep relaxation recording I brought, Ocean’s Serenity. I breathe in and out. She breathes in and out. Waves build and break and build again. The room is slightly too warm, and the peppermint overpowers the smell of age.
My father is charming. My father is handsome. My father taught me by example to do good deeds, to volunteer, to contribute to my community. My father no longer remembers what he just said. My father is a product of the times in which he has lived.
The waves gather and throw themselves, each sliding down the packed sand, sucked back to their origin without will. Trying to get away.
On my last visit, he told the story of his 1950s wedding day twice. “Father Todd told me now I could touch her anytime I want.” His fingers curl around her bird-bone forearm. She is 83 years old. He said this in front of my teenage son. My son who now has a girlfriend for the first time.
My father is happy. My father loves his wife. We’re supposed to laugh for my father.
By now, I feel the salt-itch of ocean water on my bare ankles, the sinking, disappearing stability of the quicksand under the soles of my feet. It is standing at the edge of what has always been. An ungrounding.
My mother is not coughing just now.
My father forced me to hug and kiss him for forty-five years. My father taught me that a man had more choice over my body than I did. My father taught me that “it paid to advertise,” to wear low-cut clothing, and that what I looked like to a man was more important than what I looked like to myself.
It goes on longer than I remember, this recording, an eternity. The churning. The crashing. By now, I am waiting for it to end.
My father has strong beliefs and is brutally honest. I learned these things too.
Something that never ends can be reassuring. And it can not.
My father is almost gone.
He wanders into the bedroom, says something about how exciting it is to find two women in his bed. He seeks my eye contact. Do I think he’s funny? I get up.
“Want to lie down for awhile, Dad?”
I kiss her cheek, leave the room. As I stay busy in the kitchen, the waves are still rising and falling on her nightstand. I think, when it’s time for me, I want to be buried, not spread at sea. Into the ground instead. Grounded.
I think the cloth must be a cold weight on her chest by now. I wonder if she is also waiting for it to be over.
Copyright Brennock 2021