Splinters and Nails
My dad's birthday is tomorrow and I'll bet we're together in not remembering how old he is going to be. Once, he nail-gunned his foot to a roof he was working on downtown and had to be removed by helicopter. Once, a splinter sliced through his foot entering from the bottom and emerging through the top. Once, he got a rusty nail in his knee that led to staff infection and weeks hallucinating in the hospital. He saw the entire evolution of the Shenandoah Valley from prehistoric times to the present projected on the wall of his room like a movie, mobs of bakers in New York City, his brother- the King of Hawaii and he didn't recognize me. He lived lifetimes there and it was a beautiful world in his imagination, one of my favorite places to visit, the stuff of bedtime stories. When he came home all the skin peeled off his hands like a snake shedding skin and I wondered if he was a brand new person or the dad I'd always known. Now he has Lewy Body Dementia, same as Robin Williams, and some of the worlds he's entered--from Civil War battles to complex Pepsico conspiracy theories to obese redneck takeovers to creatures of pure science fiction- have been the most engaging blends of fact and fiction of my life. Before he became a master carpenter, he worked in a mental institution for the criminally insane. He was a social worker at a boy's home in the ghetto. The kids called him The Big-Headed White Man and he loved that, calls himself that still. Now he loves living in the country with the beavers and geese and snakes but sometimes he thinks he's still in the city where he rented apartments like Monopoly pieces, superimposed over the fields and lakes. With his new medications he tells me his hallucinations are now of the everyday, normal variety and I laugh, jealous. He gave me a suitcase of poetry he wrote before I was born that I open sometimes to decode the mythology, the giant, the wonder of a man I've always found him to be. Still, I wish it were just a splinter to be extracted. I wish it were just a nail.