Chapter 11 Free Falling
I don’t believe that people ever really hit bottom and bounce back up; I think it’s more that we just get use to falling. The post-marriage experiences that I have so far related were isolated moments. Such moments of excitement in my life were really few and far between. Life after Jennie left me was, for the most part, a life of meaningless repetition and mind numbing boredom. I woke up in the morning, went to work, came home, and went to sleep at night.
I was also pretty depressed and wouldn’t own up to it. People have the wrong idea about depression. They associate it with people who have totally lost their way, people who are suicidal, schizophrenic, homeless, or addicted to drugs. Depression is actually everywhere.
Depressed people look normal. They go about their life without attracting too much attention to themselves. They lose track of time and are apathetic about doing the simplest of things. I would do something like drop a sock the floor by the sofa and not pick it up for days and sometimes even weeks or get suddenly surprised by the arrival of an event I had known about for months.
I was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Belle Vista, and it dawned on me just how many of the people around me were suffering from depression. It was like being surrounded by zombies. I was packing an extra thirty pounds that I had gained since Jenny had left, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by other obese people, many of them wearing clothing that obese people should not be allowed to wear in public.
I had just finished reading a book by a Nobel Prize winning professor of bio-genetics who argued that human DNA is hardwired for humans to be their best. A thought bubble appeared over my head with the words, “That’s the meaning of life then. We are here to learn how to be our best.” To me, it made perfect sense and explained a lot, but it forced me to also consider why weren’t more people trying to be the all that they could be?
And I suddenly realized that the reason we don’t always try to be our best is that most of us suffer from so many traumatic life experiences that we don’t even realize that we have been damaged. We have repressed a lot of memories of traumatic experiences that bubble up and manifest themselves in our lives in ways of which we are mainly unaware.
For a while, I became somewhat of a hermit. I didn’t want to go outside and be around people. I preferred sitting home in the dark with my own gloomy thoughts for company. I started wearing short-sleeved shirts to work, the kind with the squared tail that you didn’t have to tuck inside your pants. This made me look even fatter than I was, but I didn’t really care. The only one who said anything was Jonesy. She would tell me, “Damn, Laz, that shirt makes you look like a blimp.”
I pretended that things were going to be great. I allowed myself to believe that dating would somehow magically heal the pain. Since that first day that Jennie left me, I have never felt the urge to date.
I had a hard time sleeping. One night I almost lost it completely. I had driven to Las Vegas on a whim. I had spent the day drinking and gambling. When it came time to sleep, I couldn’t. I started imagining that I couldn’t breathe if I laid my head down. There us nothing so ugly as wanting to sleep and not being able to sleep. I didn’t want to do anything but sleep. The idea of going back down to the casino floor did not appeal to me at all. It was a nasty feeling trying to figure out what would make the ugliness go away. I would have driven the six hours home if I hadn’t drunk so much.
Finally, I had go downstairs and go outside and walk around for a while. Being out in the night air calmed me down some. I had some earplugs on and walked around listening to Miles do his thing. When I went back upstairs, I sat in a chair listening to music and trying to control my anxiety by regulated breathing. It worked. I finally fell asleep about three in the morning.
I arrived at work one day shortly after the Vegas trip, and there were two plastic bags sitting on my desk. I looked in one and it contained a razor and some shaving cream. I looked in the other to see a gray long-sleeved dress shirt and a narrow blue tie. I looked over at Jonesy who was on the phone. She arched her eyebrows, daring me to say anything.
The next day I came to work wearing a shirt and tie and have done so every day since. I also shaved the full beard that I had worn since my college days and shaped it into goatee. They were small gestures I admit, but they were the first real steps that I took back to the land of the living.
I had a friend who coached basketball at a local junior college. He and I had coached high school together when I worked for Jennie’s dad. We were good. We had won five straight league championships before I got a promotion and had to give the coaching up. Roy kept calling me and inviting me out, and one day I accepted an invitation to a family barbecue at his house. Around midnight, after drinking a six-pack and several shots of tequila, I agreed to help him coach. I didn’t really have the time to coach, but I made the time, and suddenly I was too busy to think about Jenny Delamore and how badly I had fucked up my life.
Things lightened up a bit. I was going to games and attending practices. I started hanging out with other coaches and started building up a new life to replace my old life.
Then one May, I attended a coaching clinic in Las Vegas with Roy and some other friends. We had a great time, but I returned home to find my mom in the hospital. She had suffered a heart attack. It was Mother’s Day.
Mom had a pace maker installed and recovered, but she had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. My dad stayed home alone for the first time in sixty-nine years. I don’t know if it was the fear that caused it, but something inside of him snapped. He was never the same. By the time that Mom came home, he was showing the signs of dementia.
He didn’t want to leave his house ever and would constantly fuss with the front door lock. He would get up in the middle of the night and insist that my mom go watch television with him. He had been fastidious in his cleanliness but suddenly quit bathing. He had a hardy appetite but quit eating. He was gentle, funny and kind but turned bitter and angry. He began to wet the bed at night.
He lost his hearing aids and it cost over two thousand dollars to replace them. I made the decision to take him to the Veteran’s clinic, so my mom didn’t have to pay out of pocket for them. It was the worse decision I ever made because in the four months we went there, he never any received treatment for whatever it was that finally killed him. They were still running tests on him when he died.
I had fought with his doctors from the first appointment to get my dad a colonoscopy. I had to go to the archived records of another clinic to find out that his previous doctor had said that he might have a cancerous growth and suggested a colonoscopy every four years. My parents never received that information because that doctor had failed to properly cauterize the polyps that he had removed and my father almost bled to death. My mother wouldn’t talk to the doctor after that, so the news of the cancerous growth was filed away.
After months of wrangling, I finally got the appointments to have my father tested at the VA in Freeburg. The test required for him to be sedated for a hour long scan. They gave me a pill to give him an hour before the test.
“ I ain’t taking no Goddamn pill,” he stared at me in anger. We were standing outside the hospital. It had taken a monumental effort on the part of my Mom and I to get him there. It was sixty miles from Concord to Freeburg and at every cross street he demanded to turn around and go home, sometimes making a grab at the wheel.
“Turn this sumbitch around you ungrateful shit. I’m sorry I ever had a son like you.”
“Dad, shut up. We are going to the hospital; I will stay with you the whole time, and bring you back when it is done.”
“Turn around now, sumbitch. Your mom needs me!”
I finally made him take the pill after threatening to leave him in Freeburg. We went in to the where was the test was to be administered and I was given a paper robe. dad and I went into the bathroom to change. I had to threaten him again. When he unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants, he had fouled himself. His whole backside was covered with shit. I had to undress him, clean him up using only paper towels and water from the sink.
The scan required that he remain motionless for an hour. We had to strap him to the machine. He glared at me and made snarky comments about the Asian ancestry of the doctor, “ I spent two years in the Pacific fighting you people. You started it; we finished it. Had to drop a Goddamned bomb to do it, but we did it.”
“Dad, please be quiet. You don’t know what you are saying.” I looked at the doctor to apologize.
“ I am from Cambodia, Mr. Lazarus. Please be still.”
I had thrown away his shit stained underwear and the shirt he was wearing. He told me to give him my shirt before we left the office. I told him that I couldn’t as it was the only shirt I had on. He would have to wear his undershirt out. I also had to put an adult diaper on him.
As we drove back to Concord, he was subdued. I lectured him. I knew better but couldn’t help myself. After being silent for about five minutes, he looked up at me and grinned, “It was a pretty good day, huh son?” My jaw dropped, I looked at him blankly for a few seconds, then l had to laugh. Something in me knew that that laugh, a smile emerging out of the darkness, was a gift from God. It was the last time my dad ever made me laugh.
The day he died I was on my way to pick him up for the colonoscopy I had finally managed to wrest from the hands of the bureaucrats. When I turned the corner to his house, I could see my brother’s car in front of my dad’s house. I knew that it meant trouble. The phone rang, and I pushed the button on my hands free device.
“Dad’s dead. I was giving him a shower, and he collapsed. I picked him up. He looked up at me and died.”
I had never seen a dead person outside of a casket. When I got to his house, I went in to the bathroom and there my father lay crumpled up on the floor. I asked my brother if he was sure. He just looked at me blankly. I reached down, picked up dad’s arm and took his pulse. There was none.