By Jason Sprinkle
My dad is in the guest bedroom, lying on the bed in a near catatonic state. I check on him for the second time that day. The door opens on its own accord. I inch my way into the bedroom. The ceiling fan limps in a circle, as if it’s lost the motivation to move. Light forces itself through the cracks in the blinds, illuminating slivers of the room.
He is staring at the ceiling. It’s one of the two activities he can do, the other is sleep. He’s been here for a month. I tell myself that I sequestered him to the guest bedroom for his sake — to give him some privacy while he recovers. But it’s me who needs space from him. I hide his wilting body underneath bedsheets and a comforter. I turn on the T.V. so I can’t hear his short, labored breathing. I talk to him like a child because he can only process so much at once. I wish I could have my dad back.
“How are you doing?” I ask. He lifts his hand from under the covers. His arm shakes. Not long ago, he was uprooting trees, writing a book, and swimming every day. Now, he can’t move his arm above his body.
“Everything is breaking,” he says in a weak voice. It’s a phrase that he keeps on repeating. The first couple of times he said that, I asked him what he meant, but his responses were incoherent. What might it mean? I don’t want to know.
“Let’s sit up,” I say. With great effort, he props his back against the wall, which is something I make him do once a day to keep his blood moving and prevent bed sores. We make eye contact; his eyes widen, and his body tenses up. It hurts to know that I make my dad nervous.
His glasses sit crooked on his face. The right-side hinges are loose. “Can I see your glasses?” I ask, extending my hand toward him. After they are fixed, I hand them back to him.
Our hands touch when he grabs his glasses. A small electric surge snaps through my body. I jump, yell, and clutch my hand, which stings from pain. My dad cries and smacks his head against the wall. He retreats under the covers, groaning to take his mind off of the shock.
“Are you alright?” I ask, touching his shoulder.
“No,” he says, his voice muffled by the bed sheets.
“What’s wrong? Can I help?”
“Please, just go,” he says. He shakes my hand off of his body.
I undress in the bathroom and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The tip of the index finger on my right hand has a small purple line where our hands touched. I press into it expecting to feel pain, but I feel nothing. I prick it with my thumbnail. Nothing.
The purple line is the only visible mark of distress that I’ve endured as caretaker; however, my mental state has deteriorated over the last month. His catatonia is a contagion: after seeing him, I leave the room less vivacious than when I walked in. For the duration of his sickness, this was always the case, but in the beginning, I could bounce back to life within an hour of seeing my dad. The last couple of days I am having trouble working, cooking, and sleeping.
The levers that control the water temperature of the shower are harder to twist than normal, and, when they are turned on, lukewarm water trickles out of the shower head. My legs are heavy. I almost trip over the shower dam. I use my left hand to reach for the shampoo bottle. It slides out of my hand and bounces on the floor. I bend over to pick it up, and my knees knock into each other, my left-hand quivers, and my core constricts; eventually, I grab the bottle, but it disintegrates in my hand, flowing through my fingers like sand. The purple line has crawled its way up my hand, past my wrist, and stops at my elbow. I stand up and my vision blurs.
The shower rod slips off of the wall. It lands on the bathroom floor, where it melts into the bath mat; the walls sag and separate from the ceiling; the shower head droops down until it almost touches the floor; paint from the ceiling drips onto my hair; the levers to control the water temperature fall off the wall: one of them hits my foot, crushing my left big toe. I collapse onto the shower floor.
As everything falls around me, I cover my head and neck with my hands. Unable to move, unable to feel anything, I only have a slight hope that, at some point, I’ll be able to lift myself up over the shower dam and get out of the bathroom.
The bathroom door bursts open. The doorknob slaps the wall. “What happened?” my dad asks in disbelief. He somehow turns the water off. “Are you ok?” he asks. I peek at him from behind my arms, his eyes are alive and filled with worry, a sign of life that I hadn’t seen from him in a month. With one hand, he is covering his mouth; with the other, he is touching my shoulder. I don’t feel his hand. The purple line is everywhere: it’s on my arms, chest and legs — I assume my neck and face as well.
I roll over to face him. Our eyes meet. I say, “everything is breaking,” then stare at the ceiling.