Sunday, January 03, 2010

moon over the osage

I'm flying down the highway through the thick of the Osage. A corpulent yellow moon hovers huge on the horizon, bathing this empty landscape in a golden light. Oil wells and Indians, some of the richest in the state, populate this largest county in Oklahoma. My childhood was spent in Kay, but just across the river, across the rickety bridge, lay the endlessly fascinating wilds of Osage County. Osage County ~ the Osage ~ with rough and tumble Pawhuska and the seedy glamorous, redneck dancing danger of Jump's Roller Rink, temporary home to every swinging, twanging western singer from Bob Wills to Hank Williams to Haggard and Jones.

Hank himself is lamenting his lonesomeness on public radio, and I'm wishing I could cry as I'm driving because the world is a lonesome place at times and heartache is the only word to describe this pain in my chest. I've spent the day with my father and it hurts. It hurts that he is there and not there, that we connect and then the connection is lost. It hurts in my heart and it's physical, this ache, a wound that will never heal.

He's endlessly fascinated by my car, laughing as I race the streets of Ark City, of Winfield, downshifting on the curves, letting the muffler pop-pop-pop to make him smile. I remember my first experience with speed as a child. Waking in the front seat of my daddy's sharp finned Ford Fairlane, I watch big eyed as the needle on the speedometer climbs over 100 and my daddy's foot presses harder on the accelerator. My studious, intellectual father is running that V8 Ford hell for leather across the Salt Plains, side by side with his best friend Gene, racing for the joy of it. Speed and freedom transform two brilliant scientists into wild men. I'm enchanted and terrified, experiencing my first ~ nowhere near the last ~ fear-induced adrenaline rush in the company of wild men I love.

My father is a car man, and so the questions about the six speed Mini are endless. Good gas mileage? How fast will it go? How's the gas mileage? Who makes it? What's it called? What kind of mileage are you getting? I answer each question as if it's the first time he's asked, and I remember his joy in driving another tiny car, a big finned Sunbeam Alpine convertible he found in back of a barn in Texas. That car lived in the garage next to a Cadillac Fleetwood and then a Chevy Nova, jacked up in back, and carting a big block 454 engine, eating way too much gas and moving far too fast for the times.

We spend a happy hour discussing cars of the past: the pink Rambler, the host of big-nosed Studebakers and the 1940 Woody station wagon, my favorite of all. We talk about the Salt Plains race and that fast blue car. My mother vanished in the Fairlane Christmas of '69 and I see the perpetual question in his eyes even before he says it: Do you think she's still alive? Audrey? A wound, a heartache, one that never dulls for him. Why doesn't dementia take the agonies of life as thoroughly as it steals the joys?

We sing our way through Winfield where he started college at 18. Tears come to his eyes and he chokes up as we read the words on the monument at his alma mater. At the top of the 77 steps he used to run without a thought, he holds my arm for support and we are bathed in the golden light of the afternoon sun. He is remembering what life was like nearly 70 years ago, when he was 22 and the world was abrim with possibility and promise.

He sat with my mother there ~ right there ~ on the bench commemorating the class of 1898. He proposed to her on Reservoir Hill, the 1930s lover's lane behind the Kansas State Home for the Mentally Disabled. We saw it today, that scalped hill topped with red brick buildings, now turned to use as a prison. Nothing new there. More horror and pain, different inmates.

We stop for ice cream and coffee and by the time we're done, he can't remember that we've been to Southwestern, that we've driven by St. John's and so we do it again. We stop at the boarding house where he lived with seven other young men, and he says "I never thought I would see these things again" and his voice is choked with tears of memory and the lump in my throat is the result of seeing this place for the third time today.

"Did you have fun today?" He asks me that, and my heart wrenches into a knot. I had fun, I did. But I know he's asking for himself: Did I have fun? Did I? For most of my younger years I longed to have my father to myself. I'd rise at dawn on holidays at the cabin just so I could have him to myself for a few minutes. We'd drink coffee on the terrace, watch the sun rise over the lake, and talk about life, his life and mine, about politics, about the world. It was so hard to get him alone in those days. My family centers around him, a benevolent patriarchy of love.

And now I have him to myself as much as I want and I can talk to him endlessly and it's not the same. It's not the same when he doesn't remember. I feel as if I'm fighting against the black emptiness in his brain, the evil nothingness where a frontal lobe used to be standing in the way of my connection to my father. It's a kind of lonesome Hank Williams never sang about, the lonesome of being unknown in this moment to the man I've loved my entire life.

It's intolerable, this feeling. And so I'm driving fast through the Osage and the moon has gone high and cold and the sound of Hank's lament is long gone. The lament in my heart, though, it never ends. I can't drive fast enough to leave it behind. Dementia is a god damned fucking shame and I am on this night, on this empty road in Oklahoma, so lonesome I could cry.

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31 Comments:

Blogger Willym said...

After reading this post there is little I can say to offer any real comfort. Having read it just after we had a conversation(?)with Laurent's mother where she really had no idea who we were or why she was talking to us I can only say we are with you in our hearts. You've put into words what we are feeling right now and both of us thank you for that.

December 14, 2008 2:55 PM  
Blogger Elaine Warner said...

I walked that long road with my mother. My heart and prayers are with you.

December 14, 2008 5:40 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

I'm sorry that you are going through all this Belle. My thoughts are with you.

December 14, 2008 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the lump in my throat is the result of ..."

appreciating the love and admiration you have for this man that lets you repeat these drive bys as many times as it takes. Your patience is a tribute to the man and your relationship with him. Grieve for its loss, but find time too to rejoice that you've had it to lose. There is comfort in counting.

December 14, 2008 6:36 PM  
Blogger Birdie said...

I saw AIDS-related dementia in my brother, who sometimes knew who I was and sometimes did not. It was hard to smile and answer questions that should never have been asked. It was frightening when he saw things that were not there and needed reassurance.

My mother, now 88, is beginning that slide. She'll make the same comment four times in an hour. We respond to each one as if it's the first time. That vibrancy, intelligence and love of laughter is fading away. She will remain in my heart the amazing woman I've known and grown to love with all my heart.

Let's raise a glass together to our parents, then and now.

December 14, 2008 9:31 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I take my Mum to places she should remember and it's all a blank, or I see her trying to pretend that she remembers (she's not very good at hiding her confusion).

I'm so pleased you were able to do this for your Father. Even if it took a few attempts, it seems like he was able to get something out of the experience before the break in the clouds closed up again. It's frustrating when they can't remember what you've just done for them, but I guess it still counts that we showed them this kindness, even if we have to remember it for them. Good on you to go through it 3 times!

Welcome back, and thanks for all your kind comments.

December 15, 2008 7:37 AM  
Blogger Tater said...

Beautiful. Stunningly written, I was with you in the backseat watching you and your father. You have put into words exactly how I feel in regards to my own father's slide into Alzheimer's. I thank you for the gift of expression which helped me to realize that in this lonely world, I am not alone in my struggles with this horrid illness. Glad you're back, well rested! I am so glad you were able to pen this, and that you decided to share it.

December 15, 2008 9:47 AM  
Blogger Doralong said...

How you must both treasure and loathe this time left. I am so inexpressibly sorry Lynette, I know what that hole in your heart feels like having just lost my Daddy. Whatever good blessings a damaged soul such as mine can bestow upon another are sent with a sincere and genuine hope for peace. For both of you.

December 15, 2008 10:01 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Tragic in its beauty. These few remaining days are so difficult, to be cherished and suffered through at the same time.

You are doing the right thing for him. Be at peace.

December 15, 2008 10:56 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

That was such a beautiful and painfully touching glimpse into your soul...thanks for sharing...

December 15, 2008 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your story needs to be published... I'm so sorry about your Daddy - it hurts every time I hear about him...

Cindy in CO

December 15, 2008 1:43 PM  
Blogger Y | O | Y said...

Why doesn't dementia take the agonies of life as thoroughly as it steals the joys?

This comment really resonated with me. It seems that my mother readily remembers the bad but not the good.

I've also had the experience of going for a long ride, past all those things from her childhood in the hopes that it will trigger any type of memory, and then when we get home she forgets we went.

Where she used to tell me about everything as we rode, now I am the one that parrots back the same stories she's told me so many times. I don't know any of the people, nor have I seen any of the farm buildings that have long since crumbled, but I tell her the stories just the same. And hope I'm reaching her on some level.

December 15, 2008 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, sugar!

December 15, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger Dusty said...

This is so beautiful Belle. It almost makes me smile.

My only child is moving to OK on Saturday. He has found a job there as a plumber. I am very sad and can't quit crying. He is going to be all alone there, but a man needs to to work, right?

Keep Brian in your thoughts for me ok? He is a good kid and I love him so.

My christmas is gonna suck big time. :(

December 16, 2008 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just over a year ago my siblings and I gathered to orchestrate our mom's move into "assisted living". For a year prior we spent an hour each week long distance reviewing her conditions, her options, and a plan. When the inevitable came my long estranged siblings moved as one with a carefully choreographed script. We made all of the arrangements, gathered her affairs in order far in advance and made all the needed arrangements. I hadn't seen her in a few years....her hair completely white, her big boned frame now frail, her home no longer the immaculate place I'd known.
My hesistation at the plan melted soon after I arrived, when she repeated " My word, what a handsome man you are...." over and over. Then finally, "George, I'm so glad you've come back...." (My dad....he died in 1968). It was heart wrenching as each of us did our part in the plan...to get her distracted, ferried away into a resort for the weekend while we boys packed, moved and settled her belongings. We made a huge party of her "return" to her new "condo"...all of her kids, grandkids, great grand kids gathered around her and showed her all of the facilities (again) and her new unit. It made me feel like a part of my family for the first time in thirty years...
Lynette you aren't alone on your journey. Many have gone down the road you are on now. Thanks for voicing this experience in such a beautiful way.

Eric

December 16, 2008 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*..wiping tears away..*
So many memories that brought back.
I need to hug you!

December 16, 2008 10:23 PM  
Blogger planoboys said...

It's so great how you spend time with your father even when he can't remember some of the most precious memories in your lives. Your story is so well written that I can feel the anguish that you feel as it reminds me of difficult moments with my own parents. Many of us go through things like this in life, but very few are able to express it to others like you do through this medium. I know that it helps others know that they are not alone in the struggles of life. Hang in there and know that someday you will cherish even these painful memories of the times that you shared with your father.

December 16, 2008 11:00 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

Thank you so much for your kindness, all of you. It means so much to me to be able to say this out loud (at least in black and white) and to hear how so many of you have dealt with the same thing. Loss is part of life, but sometimes it's just too much to bear alone. Thank you for listening.

December 17, 2008 8:19 AM  
OpenID nowholdon said...

Thanks for the journey. Beautiful. Amazing how you let us into your heart.
DON

December 17, 2008 4:58 PM  
Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Have you seen "August: Osage County" that won all the awards this spring? When I saw it this fall in New York, with Estelle Parsons, when one of the characters said the line "He's not your cousin, he's your brother!", a man behind me shouted out with a thick accent "Yep, that's Osage County!"

December 17, 2008 10:12 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'll never forget the day my husband realized his Mom didn't know him...the look on his face is embedded in my heart...when you talked of the lonliness, that's what he experienced...she was gone to him that day, and he started mourning........

December 18, 2008 12:05 AM  
Anonymous ewe said...

Lynette: i feel so much for you after reading your post. Nothing can be said except that you are a part of your father, a part that you are fully aware of. My thoughts go out to you and him as well. You are doing everything you possibly can and must remember and experience the enjoyment even if he does not. Nobody reading your post wants you to feel sad and that obviously means neither of your parents would ever want you to feel the pain of lonliness or emptiness either. I remember once i said to my mother that i was not as strong as she was and without missing a fucking beat she looked at me and said loudly "yes you are." And you are also Big Ass Belle. Find a shoulder to cry on if you need to and continue to trudge the road toward happy destiny if all else fails.

December 18, 2008 1:09 AM  
Anonymous Mark H said...

Reading the comments after your intensely felt and lived post clearly displays how much you help others so selflessly. Loss in any form is hard to deal with, but I cannot imagine what living the Dementia trail with a parent must be like. It's a slow form of torture for everyone, and I relay my thoughts of admiration and care for you during this holiday season. THANKS for sharing that story of LOVE from both sides, daughter and father.

December 18, 2008 9:53 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Oh Lynette. The way you write ... that was heart wrenching to read, just because you made it so real.

good thoughts to you.

December 19, 2008 4:17 PM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Miss Lynette - you are a treasure. Thank you for this.

December 24, 2008 1:57 PM  
Blogger Sebastian said...

Such a powerful piece of writing. It brought to mind a long ago trip to Florida, driving from New Jersey, to take my grandmother to see the place she had lived once, and said she missed. Packed into a car without air conditioning, we sped south, realizing with each mile that the trip was too late. When we found the little house, a shack really, we stopped and got out of the car. "What's this? Why are we here?" These were the questions she didn't quite ask, but that were written on her face clearly. It wasn't long before her questions were different: "Who are you? Why are you here?" God bless you.

January 23, 2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger jenx67 said...

Gosh. That was so good. My dad has Alzheimer's and was a Hank fan. So, you can imagine how much this means on any old given day dealing with what I not so affectionately call the monster in his brain.

January 28, 2009 4:56 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

another one lost in the inbox for a year. thank you for your comments. always. love, lynette

January 03, 2010 5:30 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

It was just as gripping the second time around!

January 04, 2010 12:54 PM  
Anonymous sherry said...

found your blog cause we share
chuburna mexico. you are a WOW WOW writer.

you ride and listen
with a love in your heart
that will always be embedded
in you ...with you ..thankful
for the love that you have forever

January 14, 2010 12:02 AM  
Blogger Nancy and Gary said...

What a wonderful story Lynette, those memories of your time with your father will live forever in your heart. God Bless You!

February 02, 2010 12:41 AM  

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