The Elephant Hills of San Buenaventura
I was sitting next to his hospital bed, he was lying there, madly trying to find the words to tell me what he was thinking.
“Do you see them?” he asked.
“See what Dad?” I inquired.
“Well, I think they are elephants! Look at them! There are tons of them." He exclaimed.
I turn and look out the hospital window, half expecting to see elephants cavorting through the lowland hills of Ventura. But I don’t.
I look again because I really kind of do want to see elephants. I mean that would be incredible. And it would be way better than my reality of sitting next to my father as he not so slowly loses his mind.
But look as I might, I do not see elephants...
I turn back to him.
“What color are they, Dad?” I ask.
“Brown, they are brown I think.” He replies
And then he fades away back to some other thought that has now crowded out his presence. I am not sure where he is. The nurse said that he reported there was a man with a green face in his room last night.
My brain goes into overdrive. What is he thinking? Is it all just a scrambled mess of fantasy and reality? Is he just delusional or do these things he is seeing exist in some former reality for him?
I mean he was in the jungle in all those places for almost two years. There were definitely men with green faces. And there were probably elephants...
I will never know and he can’t explain it to me.
And it doesn’t matter, it is what is happening now, and that is our mutual shared reality. But my mind will not release and let go of my need to figure it out. To create a story that explains how my father who was helping me fix his shower on Saturday, is now sitting in a hospital bed, seeing things that are not there.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I look at my mom who is sitting across the room. She looks terrified. Sadly terrified over how quickly this turned from a fall out of his bed on Monday to an elephant stampede through the hills of Ventura on Wednesday.
I glance back at the hills, just to make sure that the elephants are still really not there. And there is a large part of me that really wants to see elephants blazing a trail up Two Tree (now one tree) Hill. Anything would be better than our reality at this point. And the world has gone totally mad, so elephants in Ventura would really kind of be par for the course.
But as mad as the world is today, my reality is sitting in a hospital room waiting for my dad to be transported to a rehabilitation facility. We tell him how and why and he says he understands...but we know he doesn’t. Well, I mean, in the moment he might but he forgets.
I am struck by how complex the mind is. How many fissures and cracks there are that we fall into and down. How many places within the human psyche there are to get lost...and I am amazed that any of us is capable of tying our shoes every day and showing up for work. I mean, the mind, when operating at full tilt, is such a marvel. And funny how I never really stopped to think about it until I sat next to my dad’s bed watching him attempt to wade through the rapidly deteriorating interior of his mind.
How had I never marveled at our brains before now?
I guess like everything else, I am never really aware of what I have until it is gone. In this case, I am grateful that my brain remains in tact and functional...at least for the moment. And I search and scan it for answers to questions that have no answers. And endless loop in my own head of how we got here, and so quickly.
None of us know. And it likely doesn’t matter anyway.
It is not as if I could figure it all out that I would be saved the emotional spiral I am currently living. As if I could make sense of it all and somehow that would make it better. There really is no making this better. He is leaving us and there is nothing any of us can do about it.
“There they are again!” He exclaims.
And I am jarred from my obsessive thoughts and brought back into his sunshine filled room.
I turn and look again because I mean, this time they might actually be there...but they aren’t.
“Do you see them?” He asks.
“No, Dad, I don’t.” I refuse to lie.
“Wow, it is incredible.” He states.
“Yep, it is all very incredible.” I sigh.
And this is our new reality. His and mine and my mom’s. The family unit of three for the whole of my life. Suspended in time and place while my father’s mind erodes or retreats or slips or leaves, or does whatever the fuck it is doing. And my mom and I sit there, looking at each other, hearts breaking within our chests.
“Are you in any pain dad?” I ask.
“Nope! Feel fine.” He says as he begins to attempt to get out of bed again.
“Where are you going?” My mom asks him.
“Well, I am coming with you guys. I have to get out of here.” He replies.
“Dad, you are going to go later. We will see you tonight at the new place.” I state.
“Oh, ok. So you will go and I will stay and then I will see you both later?” He asks.
“Yes, that is exactly it.” My mom and I say at the same time. Relieved that he seems to relax with our mutual confirmation.
And so we go to another place in the evening to see him. It is not good. The place is chaotic, loud, depressing. The sunny hospital room now suddenly seems far away and not really ever fully appreciated. I want to go back there, I want to blink and take us all back there.
I immediately want to throw a fit and start demanding things but I can see that the people working there are just trying to meet the overwhelming demands of their jobs. A whole host of similarly situated lost souls, all needing care, needing love, attention, safety. The elitist that lives inside me, takes a long breath. This is not really hell, it just looks and feels like it.
But the staff are kind and seem to really care. They are trying to stem the tide of humans being relieved of their senses. Alarms are going off so often that I don’t know how the staff can even pay attention to them anymore. I mean they have almost become background noise to me and I just got here.
When we arrive, my dad is upset and agitated and seemingly trying to resolve a supply chain issue in Vietnam. He is very concerned about getting the “ceramics” to the museum. He also is very worried about getting “that big guy Chris” money to pay for the transfer of the food. My dad is upset and very confused.
We talk it through.
“Dad, what is up? Why are you upset?” I ask.
“Well, Jesus, this is a fucking mess!” He replies.
“Yes, you are correct, this is a SNAFU for sure, “ I reply.
“Well, we have to get the food over there to feed the people. And Chris, that big guy, you know him right?” He inquires.
I ask a couple of lame questions to see if I actually do know Chris, but I do not. And I will never know if Chris is someone real or someone imagined. But I am glad that whoever he was, he seemed to be a good person.
Finally, I just say, “Yes. I know Chris. I will make sure to get him the money for the food and ceramics, ok? And I betray my former resolve not to lie.
“Yes, that would be good. This is a fucking mess,” my dad responds.
“Ok, dad, well you don’t have to worry about it now. I have it and I will ensure that Chris gets the money and the food and ceramics get where they are supposed to go,” I respond.
“Ok, good. When are we going home?” He asks.
“You are just staying here tonight and then tomorrow we will figure out what comes next, ok?” I respond.
“Ok, I guess, whose house is this anyway?” He asks.
I have no response. I wasn’t prepared for that question. I mean I was somehow prepared to address a supply chain issue in the jungles of Vietnam when I was one year old but who house he is currently in, threw me.
“Um, well, it isn’t really a house, but a hospital like place and they are going to help you get stronger so you...” And I stop because I can’t promise him anymore that he is coming home, because he isn’t. I know that. My mom knows that. My daughter who has large tears rolling down her cheeks knows this. But my dad, he doesn’t know.
I begin again, “Dad, this is just for tonight and tomorrow we will make some new decisions, ok?”
“Ok, I guess, I am exhausted!” He replies.
I attempt to get the young girl in charge of his direct care to help but she is busy and will have to help him get ready for bed later. She has other more pressing concerns in other rooms, with other people’s parents. I get it. I see that she cares and that she will be there when she can.
My mom and I do a poor job of helping him get into his pajamas. But we get him situated and covered. By some miracle, my daughter and I find a hockey game for him on TV. I pray that there is another one on after this one as the current one is already in its third period of play. I say a small silent prayer that he can just drift off to the comforting sounds of ice hockey players fighting.
We say good night and assure him that we will be back in the morning. He believes us and seems to relax just a little.
“Don’t forget about Chris, ok?” He asks.
“I promise I won’t dad,” I reply as I feel so guilty that I can’t honor what I just promised to do...
We walk down the hall and out into the fading day and we all stop just beyond the gate, still hearing the alarms going off signaling God knows what. My daughter, my mom and I all look at each other. We stop, we take a breath. We hug and we begin the homeward drive that is pregnant with fear, dread, depression and overwhelming grief.
When I finally climb into bed, I find myself wishing I could harness just one of the those elephants and ride to the top of the Ventura hills and watch the sunset on this most difficult day. But like those elephants, that possibility doesn’t exist. So I close my eyes and pray to be granted enough sleep to get me through whatever the next day may bring.
My life’s motto of one day at a time has taken on new meaning...and the hills of Ventura will now always have imaginary elephants meandering up the hillside, and somehow, that image, brings me comfort. And I will take it, because comfort is what I need right now.