“Too many people in this room,” he thought. “Again.”
It was getting late. 6 pm to be exact, the hour where everything would shut down at the factory.
“Closing time,” he’d like to say.
The sun going down was the best alarm system ever devised for Dad. It meant quiet would be restored. It was the time when he felt most relaxed, when the world, his world, was in order. Dad sensed someone approaching. He prepared for impact.
“Hi, Uncle George!” the Person said excitedly.
Dad instinctually knew which of his smiles to engage.
He had quite the array of smiles in his arsenal; some were broad, others were veiled politeness. They were never fake or insincere. This one smile was one of his most appreciated because it had genuine warmth, even if he didn’t quite know the source of its heat.
Dad also learned a while ago that his speaking in Spanish was always the best way to keep contact with short.
“If you gave them too much,” he’d reasoned to himself, “they’ll stay too long.”
Communicating with people was never this hard, or maybe it was? How long had this been his “new normal?” Everything felt so hazy these days as if his mind was processing photocopies with very little ink.
Some times, the images before him (memories?) were shockingly bright, with each color pushing its vibrancy to the limit. It was then he couldn’t help but smile. He could see his world so clearly, shapes and figures that felt so familiar and real. Most of the time, he was a witness to an expanse of grey that threatened to dominate everything. Not today, though.
Dad used to miss the “beautiful noise,” as he’d called it before he got “sick.” It still happened from time to time, his recognizing it. That once beautiful din was often too loud now, and it scared him, something that never happened before. For Dad, this human tidal wave of sounds, letters, and languages pulled him under without a floatation device. He couldn’t begin to sort it all out, taking his breath away when a room full of people reached its audible peak.
Dad was well aware something was wrong with his brain. He’d known for some time that things were off. Mom was still a mental constant, as was Sis. They offered him two of the few respites from the long days waiting for “quitting time” to arrive.
“Oh my god! Uncle George looks so good!” said Another Figure.
“This one was more excitable than the other,” Dad thought to himself. Still, something in her face made him feel the need to offer more than one of his pre-fab smiles.
“Bien! Bien!” Dad offered as he excitedly patted this Person’s hand for extra measure.
Of all his Old World manners and gestures, the hand pat was his most friendly, the one he only used with people that meant a great deal to him. Perhaps the criteria had slipped a bit of late, but the importance of it hadn’t waned. Not yet, anyway.
More people arrived, breaking his repose. Suddenly, Dad’s leather lounge chair felt like a steel trap. He wanted to leave, but where?
“I know I’m still me,” he thought. A surge of emotion was making its way to his brain, a lava-like substance that took very little time to heat and explode forth.
“Dad’s eyes are looking tense,” Someone said.
“He’s going to start kicking people out!” Someone else added.
“I’m not angry!” Dad wanted to shout.
He didn’t feel sure about who everyone was in the room. His eyes darted furiously about the den, desperately trying to find the familiar faces of Mom and Sis, but they weren’t around. That made him panic ever so slightly, the color of his eyes shifting from their charming hazel shade to something foreboding and stormy.
“Hace mucho ruido! Tanto ruido. Chingados!” Dad said to no one in particular.
For the record, Dad NEVER swore. In any language. But a long-buried archive of Spanish language profanities had since been unearthed. All bets were off as to when Dad would decide to access it.
“It’s so much better when it’s quiet. Don’t these people know?” he heard from within his fussy and uncooperative mind.
It felt like these words were tumbling forth. Dad could feel his mouth moving, forming a declarative sentence that could restore order, but it was futile. Even if he did manage to say something, it would not have been discernable to anyone. All they would hear was a defeated sigh from the man they came to visit and love as he settled deeper into the isolating safety of his leather armchair.