My Personal Windmill

Jack and Leilani arrived at Bill’s private room, which was sterile and cold. Bill had stopped speaking a couple of weeks ago, looked only straight ahead, and for the most part, only moved involuntarily. The disease had taken over his mind slowly, and painfully.

“Hi Dad. Mind if we come in?” Jack said. “Of course you don’t, you stopped talking, didn’t you? We brought you some jello.”

Jack pulled out a container of jello out of his bookbag. “Strawberry jello, mmm. Oh crap. I forgot to bring a spoon. Leilani, could you…”

Leilani wanted to help her boyfriend. This was a long journey, after all. It was the least she could do. They had lost Jack’s father bit by bit, like water draining out of a basin that you hoped would never empty. “Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll go get you a spoon. You stay here with your father.”

“Thank you,” he replied. Jack spoke to his all but comatose father. “Let’s put your bed up so you can eat.”

Jack fumbled with the controls for the bed, looking for the button that would raise the back rest to the automatic bed. “Jeez, how does this thing work? Not to worry, Dad, I’m a theoretical physicist. Just like you.”

Jack viewed his poor father, once so mighty, so fearsome. So many nights Jack had laid awake, crying and vowing revenge for his father’s derision. After all, Jack was a disappointment, a black mark on the family line of successful theoretical physicists. “So this is Alzheimer’s disease, huh? A one-way road. No cure. Only going to get worse, right?”

Jack clutched the control for the automatic bed in his hand, tears welling up in his eyes. His father had never cared for him the way Jack did now. Why should I care for you now? You never took care of me. Jack recalled the childhood story that his father had told him a thousand times, so painful, so insulting to him, and so indicative of the animosity that his father carried for him in younger days when he ruled the world.

“Did I ever tell you the story of Wolfgang Pauli berating a gentleman of lesser intellect?” Jack’s hand shook with anger and shame as he placed the control for the bed on the tray next to Bill’s orange juice and straw. “Yes, intellect. That’s what it’s always been about, hasn’t it?”

Jack stood up, uncomfortable with their new relationship. Bill stared ahead blankly in a role he had never planned for. Who plans for the end of their life to be this way? Bill was nowhere, trapped in outer space.

“You were always smarter, weren’t you? Too smart for anybody. Unimpressed by friends, your physicist colleagues, or anybody. And me? What an embarrassment, your mediocre son.”

Jack grew angry, crying as he recalled his father’s condescending voice, an albatross that he thought he had finally shed, after years of trying. Jack’s life was a shambles, and now he was lost. It’s your fault. You did this to me. And now? How could you do this to me? Now, when I have just gotten over you? Now you’re a hopeless cripple with Alzheimer’s disease? How dare you need me now?

Jack screamed at him through tears, like he had always dreamed of doing, alone in his empty bedroom late staring at the ceiling on sleepless nights. “I’m your son! What was it you always told me? If you don’t get it, son, that’s your fault. Berating me in front of your colleagues? Well forget you! Forget you! Cause I’m over you, and I don’t need you anymore!

Jack sat back down on the bed, exhausted and bewildered. It was pointless to be upset with his father now. Wasn’t it? Leilani returned to the hospital room with a spoon, but stopped in the doorway. Jack didn’t see her, but rather continued on his quest, tilting at his personal windmill.

“You know the worst part? You’re not even around to hear this. You’re gone, a million miles away. You’re not even around to take what’s coming to you! It’s not fair! I’ve finally got the courage to tell you to get lost and now you’re some pathetic, hopeless cripple.” Jack sat back on the edge of the bed, defeated. He cried softly, ashamed at himself for still feeling something, anything. “You’ve even deprived me of that.”

Bill’s hand moved. He touched Jack’s hand, then squeezed it gently. Jack looked up at his father, surprised. Did he understand me? Jack squeezed his father’s hand back.

Jack wiped his tears with the back of his hand. “It would seem we finally have an understanding.”

Talk story

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