My father was standing in the kitchen and eating refined beans from Cain as Paul Simon sang “Greyland” on repeat for 20 minutes.
“Hey Alexa, why don’t we take a break, huh?” He eventually stated, as if the speaker was a child who had taken too many turns on the slide. “Yes, let’s give it a rest for a while.”
I looked at the device and gently shook it.
“Alexa, stop,” I said, and the kitchen fell silent.
My father gave me a look, the same look he gave me when I was 10 years old and did not want to call my grandmother after my birthday party nor send a thank you card. A view to give lessons.
“Yes?” I said.
“Next time,” he said, “please say.”
My father has always been someone who loves listening to birds and picking up litter. I stared at him the way he walked in a room full of friends watching TV and asked, “Who wants to talk?” He wanted to know what people were thinking, and when the phones lit up at the dinner table, he would sit and watch the rest of us sit like this and sit on our laps like a phone-addicted corpse.
I try to be like my father and make these values mine. But these characteristics of her are fading along with her memory, and the medium through which I connect with her seems less like a bond and more like a disappointment.
About five years ago, when my father was 62, he learned that he had Alzheimer’s disease. During this time, my mother and I have witnessed her decline. He forgets the names of his friends and can no longer read. Every morning, he sits in a baby blue polka-dot towel and waits for one of us to start his day.
My mother would say: “Come here and dress, honey.” “Brush your teeth, honey.” “Come drink some orange juice, honey.”
I look at other fathers who make money and pancakes and kiss their wives, and I feel sad for how young my father’s world has become. I see how my mother scrambles to socialize with her or take her to dinner parties where other husbands talk about work and politics, while she says, over-and-over, if Frank Sinatra is alive .
Since graduating from college two years ago, I have divided my time between my apartment in Brooklyn and my parents’ home in Hastings-on-Hudson. Every week, I pack a bag and take the train 30 miles north to help take care. I joke about what an illusion it is to live in two places. “I’m like my divorced parents,” I say goodbye to my roommates.
I struggle to understand myself as a 23-year-old who is also caring for a parent. I feel rude when my roommates get ready for work and ask what shoes I like, or when they talk about their goals: what they want to do, where they want to live. I marvel at the ease with which they can be sure of their freedom and choice.
It’s not that I don’t have plans for myself, or that I dislike shoes. When my father calls me “mummy” in front of neighbors, something is said about him, and then says that he is sorry, when it comes to giving style advice or talking about my dreams , Then my mouth gets tight.
I often wish I had asked my father when he was 23 years old. I wish I could ask what his bad habits were, or how he treated his mother, or what he did on Saturday. But her ability to remember her past has vanished, so I know I don’t. I spend a lot of time asking other questions instead, but my questions have crossed the casual curiosity.
Every week I ask: “Dad, what do you love about mother?” “Dad, what’s your favorite thing about you?” “Dad, do you like crying?”
I shake him like a magic 8-ball and question him as much as I can. But like toys, their answers are random lines that I’ve heard before. I am patient as he searches for words and accents, but we often end up playing chariots because I think he guessed lost words.
Last September, my parents and I were organizing our storage bin in the basement of our apartment building, when I uncovered my father’s chest of old magazines. There were 15 or more composition notebooks from 1978 to 2002 under yellow Superman comics and water-damaged concert tickets.
My mother said that the magazines were personal and that she had tried to hide them from me, but soon realized that I would keep coming back. Ethics and secrecy seemed insignificant if these magazines could give me access to the person my father used to do. So I started reading them. And they have been given a gift.
In his journals, my father wrote about self-doubt and fear and all the things that made him happy. I copied his sentences in my journal and cited his intelligence when talking to my friends. He also wrote about riding his bike around Brooklyn, reporting for small newspapers, and exiting the metro at Seventh Avenue to walk home through the park.
Until I read those magazines, I had no idea that he had done those things, and the resemblance between us shocked me. I have spent the last two years working as a reporter for the younger Brooklyn Papers, and every Sunday, on my way home from Hastings on the train back home, I also walk home from Seventh Avenue.
When I read my father’s entries, I feel less lost. I not only recognize the person who used to be my father, but I also identify myself.
My mother gave me permission to quote some of them.
On September 9, 1991, he wrote: “I want to stand outside between cars, head flying in the air, and scream, scream until I start living… start living my dream . I want something Too much time and too little touch in my life. Loneliness can kill me, I believe. “
A few months later, on February 10, 1992: “I feel like a kid. I wanna dance! she called. Suzanne from Brooklyn. Yes, she would love to go out again. So it’s brunch and watching the playoffs at his place on Sunday. God I feel happy. “
“Last night after 11:00 pm, due to a phone call, I danced in the kitchen in the dark. A Stones song, I danced with old ghosts and made them laugh. Whether trying to move monsters or embrace a new dream, dancing in the dark is always nice. “
Suzanne is my mother, and through these magazines I came to know how much my father loves her. His magazines also showed me how much he loves his friends, and how much he loves me. Every entry from 1997 to 2002 mentions “little Annabelle”.
Although, I was not prepared for it, but that was the moment when the entries closed. On April 28, 2002, my father wrote about my yesterday’s bathtub performance from the musical “Annie”, and then the next page is blank. And so there is next, and then there is one. I flashed wide eyes in denial. I did not want this version of my father to end.
As I read that last entry, he and I sat next to each other on the couch with “Ellen” on TV. She was playing Burning Question with Bradley Cooper, but her exams were too early for her, so she looked at the carpet.
I thought about the scenes I just read: My father phoned his friends in the middle of the night to tell them a joke, ride the subway and read the paper, telling my mother to dance. As she collided with the rug while watching her, I felt uneasy all the time about the restlessness she spends in silence. I was afraid of how much he has lost and will continue to lose.
“Dad,” I said.
“Do you love mother?”
They laughed. “Of course.”
I took a breath and turned off the TV. I tried my best to join him at that moment, as we have.
“How much do you love her?”
“What do you mean, how much?” He laughed again. “One quart.”
“And you love me with a gallon?”
“Yes,” he said. He understood this a lot. “Too many gallons.”