I turn at the woods that borders our back yard and see Lois waiting for me in front of what’s left of the hostas that huddle against the house. I cut a swathe to her. “He did it again,” my wife says. I pretend I can’t hear her over the roar. She motions for me to turn off the mower. Instead I mouth “Be there in 15 minutes” and keep going. I have a quarter-hour to knit up my courage.
We moved my father into the spare bedroom after Mom died. I figured his slide would accelerate, but he did OK at first.
One of my mom’s favorite pastimes had been tending her flower garden. When she passed, it was as if her green thumb were reincarnated on Dad’s hand.
We had dozens of sickly hostas when Dad moved in. They became his obsession. He divided overgrown plants that elbowed each other for space and water. He plucked slugs and snails and headed off future assaults with rings of ash and saucers of beer. The plants were flourishing. I thought Dad was, too. Then he asked me to take a photo of him kneeling, his face among the elephant ears, so he could send the picture to Mom. I hoped it was a temporary relapse. It wasn’t.
My wife and I came home one day and found Dad sitting at the kitchen table twirling a hand spade. When I was able to pry the silence away from him, he said something about a plague of locusts and motioned outside. I found deer had eaten almost all the hostas down to the stalks. My father was never the same.
In the following weeks, I could almost see shimmers of light leaking from his eyes, dimming all he ever was. We knew we could no longer leave him alone while we were at work. Unable to shut Dad full-time in a facility, I decided to try day care.
Dad got along OK at the center for a while, apparently playing checkers for hours. Then they said he did little but stare out the window and pester the caregivers about when his wife —my wife — was going to pick him up. One evening, Dad pulled Lois close to him and tried to kiss her on the mouth. Now Lois can’t be alone with my father. Apparently not even long enough for me to mow the yard.
Knowing that when I go inside I’ll have to try to make Dad understand why he can no longer stay with us, I linger out back after mowing. A buck appears at the edge of the woods. As we stare at each other, I hear voices. Hunters? Without thinking, I motion for the deer to come into our yard for safety. My action spooks him, and he turns tail and bounds back into the trees. I again hear the voices, now louder and more excited. Then quiet.