I am 55 years old
I am an average white woman in an average body
I am happily married and child-free
I live in Northern CA
I am employed
I am restless and anxious
I am medicated for anxiety
I have survived alcoholism, cancer and living in the South - both Souths, both Orange Counties
I share my survival techniques with anyone who asks
Oftentimes I don’t know what to do with myself or how I feel
The day after David Bowie died, I sat in my sensible Toyota in my sensible work clothes, ate a sensible sandwich and cried
I daydream less about personal glory and revenge and more about Netflix plot lines
I feel pretty damn lucky most of the time
At this writing, I am in Brevard County, Florida visiting my elderly father. Since my mother died a little over a years ago, I have turned my focus to my Pops. Pops has been neglected or avoided or relegated to the bench for most of my life. We’ve lived so far apart and have had such different lives. He’s been institutionalized for decades because he is severely mentally ill. Funny thing is, now that I see him more often, I am astonished at how well his mind does work. And his dear heart.
Before I left Oakland, I took a mini-inventory of my fears and expectations for my visit.
Ideally, I hoped things would go like this: In my perfect AirBnb I would do 20 minutes of barre exercises upon waking, walk for half an hour then eat only lean proteins and vegetables. Coffee is encouraged. I plan to write 500 words before a quick shower. Pick up Dad by 11:30am and after big hellos and hugs we proceed to our favorite restaurant on the Indian River where we lived as a family 45 years ago. All the while the sun would be shining and the adorable Florida critters would make themselves available for pictures. Afterwards, I would attend to my spiritual life and then find the local karaoke scene.
My fears were basic:
I feared my Dad would be weird and difficult.
I feared family members might be weird and difficult
I feared I could be weird and difficult
I feared my back would become tweaked from all the sitting
I feared the woman who runs my father’s home would want me to be more involved in his day-to-day care
I feared someone would show my Dad the book I recently published
The best way I know how to relieve worry is to reason things out with others. I run my concerns through trusted filters and this time I came away with a more realistic attitude: loosely hold the hope that things will go well. Know there will be some misbehaving and forgive quickly; don’t nurse the hurt feelings. And always have a rental car.
What happened the night before seeing my Dad:
It was pouring rain, Florida rain, even as the plane landed Sunday night. My Toyota Yaris had plenty of pick up and go, especially between semi trucks as it hydroplaned in their dinosaur-sized rooster tail spray. But I was alright even though I couldn’t figure out how to pair my iPhone Bluetooth to the rental car because the prior driver had the radio set to a local Country Classics station and they were playing some choice tunes.
An hour and a half later, I find my *perfect* Airbnb and it is not.
I knew it would be old and rustic since it’s located in historic downtown Melbourne. I knew it was built in 1929 and was decorated by a surfer with a recycled-chic vibe because I have eyes and I had poured over the pictures for weeks. But everything looks worse in the rainy dark doesn’t it?
I held my breath as I reached deeply into a wooden shoe on the drenched and creaky wood porch, in the dark, to find the house key. My glasses had fogged up and I could not see the door knob very well. The surfer had left the lights inside on which was very kind. And the AC hummed nice and loud so that was a relief. But the lights were big and weird and pooled only below where they hung. The unknown was not bathed with the desired illumination.
My first impression was not good. It seems like I had been given the keys to the Head Counselor’s personally-decorated cabin at a church camp in Bolivia. It’s not so much shabby-chic or vintage as it is Missionary left-overs from a 70’s flea market.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t sleep well. Did I mention the train?
Day One of my Dad Visit
I got up after a few hours of tossing and turning and managed to pull the nylon sheets off the bed. That’s right - slippery nylon sheets - without a mattress pad to protect me from the defunct old mattress. My back was on the verge of going out. I had instant coffee and some turkey jerky for breakfast. It was pouring outside. I felt like a prissy middle-aged lady and that realization was a bummer.
However, I stretched and got gussied-up and sweet-talked myself into allowing grace to visit. Then I set out to see my Dad.
I rang the doorbell of his home and a sweet woman welcomed me in. She said, “Mr. Hugh, you have company.” My 81-year old father sat slouched in an upholstered chair wearing a red hoodie with the hood up over his bald head. He looked like a bratty teenager. I said hello Dad, and asked if he would like to go out to lunch with me today. We had just talked on the phone about my trip a few days earlier. Dad didn’t seem unfriendly, but he also didn’t seem very enthusiastic. I said, “Or we can just stay here and visit if you prefer.” He said that would be fine.
So I pulled up a chair and asked him how he was feeling because he had been sick. He gave me the particulars and thanked me for asking. Somehow the conversation verged to where I was from, and when I said, “California,” he said, “Oh I have a daughter in California and she’s coming to visit me this week.”
A sinking feeling hollowed me out and I sagged. Dad didn’t recognize me and, so, my fears were realized and this trip would be weird and difficult.
“Dad, I am your daughter from California,” I said’ “It’s me, Sandy.”
I took my baseball cap off. I had forgotten I had a cap on because of the rain. My Dad was flustered and unbelievably apologetic. He said, “I am so ashamed of myself for not recognizing you.” That made me feel even worse. Then I reached inside where the goodies are stored and pulled out handfuls of recovery and let go of my hurt feelings. We walked out together into the rain, got in the rental car, went to our favorite restaurant by the river and had a nice visit. We have days to get to know each other again.