“Jeezus Christ! What the hell is going on!” I screamed to dad as I pulled up to the house, admittedly excited to be moving in despite the inevitable battles I innately knew were ahead. “You better not chop down that God damned tree!”
Undoubtedly, I had been out all night drinking the night before. I had been totally unemployed for a year, as checking in on dad had become too stressful and I was completely burnt out with my newspaper job.
Honestly, I had thought to myself more than once, “If you’re not going to report on things you know about that need to be reported because of personal relationships, you need to get out of the business.”
So that’s what I did.
Branches were falling from the maple tree out front of what was the family homestead until mom died. It had changed hands just twice when dad got it back, almost 30 years – three decades — to the day mom got rid of him.
Dad and his best friend Jack Long dug up the tree down by the Mississippi River and transplanted it into the front yard when the room addition was built in 1976. I remember it grew very fast, and in a couple of years I was enjoying climbing it. Now I could not even reach the lowest branch if I wanted to. The tree is massive.
Dad had no intention of cutting down the tree. In retrospect, I’m sure he knew hiring a big crew to top that monster was not something I would make a priority, or possibly even be able to afford. He took care of certain things immediately.
Like re-siding the garage. The garage looked like hell when dad bought the house back for more than seven times the price he paid for it in 1963.
Dad and I had a wonderful first six months back in the family home. He began to fall from the day we moved in. In fact, I found him lying on the floor when I moved in the day after he did.
He would fall out of the lawn chair in the front yard. My brother and I both thought maybe he did it on purpose to get neighbors to talk to him.
For me at least, it became apparent by the seventh month that was not the case, and something really, really frightening was going on with my dad. In fact, he had a horrible, extremely rare brain disease called frontotemporal degeneration, behavioral variant, also known as Pick’s Disease.
My dad, who had saved my life so many times, soon would meet an unthinkable finale to half a lifetime of suffering.
In retrospect, some might argue not soon enough. And did.
About a year after dad and I moved in, dad was taken out by paramedics, never to return. He had chased me with a butcher knife and I had called the police, but only because I thought he was going to fall and spear himself. The night before, he had shoved towels and cooking utensils down the toilet.
And as he was running through the house with the knife – remarkably without a walker, as though Lazarus had stopped by – smoke was pouring out of the kitchen wastepaper basket.
Once again, he had thrown a burning cigarette in it.
My poor cat, an incredibly spry 18 years old at the time, used to hide in the basement. Dad loved the cat and she ignored him, so he would cuss her. Later, I found out he was feeding her cookies when I was at the bar at night those first six months.
It would fast become a terribly exhausting, scary and frustrating situation. Dad would howl at the moon at night. He would wake me up and order me to go across the street to the church and turn their music down. There was no music.
This should not be surprising, as he was having many odd flashbacks in the house. In 1984, he walked across the street to the church once, interrupted service, and told the priest that someone needed to move their car so my brother could get his boat out of our back yard.
I call my neighborhood Redneck Ritz.
It was incredibly surreal to be living with dad, in the very house I was brought home to from the hospital. The hospital right up the street, in fact.
The hospital has a helipad. As a kid, I always thought the helicopters touching down at the hospital were the coolest thing ever. That, and the airplanes flying overhead, so low if you squint it feels like you could touch them. The house still is directly in the flight pattern of Quad-City International Airport. Which is not a big deal, despite the “international” in its name. The Quad-Cities likes to be bigger than it is. Almost 30 members on the Rock Island County Board, after all, in a county of 130,000 or so people.
I knew on move-in day that as profoundly bizarre that what dad had done might seem to some, it wasn’t at all strange to him. And by the end of the first week, it wasn’t strange to me either.
Dad, at age 72 and already with significant mobility challenges, incontinence and dementia, had purchased the family home he lost to my mother in their second 1984 divorce.
Yes, from each other. They married and divorced each other twice.
And I inherited half of the same house twice. It would have been a lot more economical had I kept it the first time I inherited it, when mom died, but as a 24-year-old living in Los Angeles in 1995 I was not about to move back to Rock Island, Ill.
I might have been on to something there. But we age, we make choices, and I chose the stability and the warmth of my family home, even if unspeakable things have transpired here. Not only in this house, but in the unspeakably corrupt community in which I live.
Lots and lots and lots of abuse. I lived almost an entire life of abuse, and for many years resumed being a victim – and playing a victim – when I returned to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles to care for dad a decade prior.
Little did I know my real troubles would begin once I already had been a year on the straight and narrow path nobody ever thought I would find. Clean, sober, and laying naked on a concrete slab in solitary confinement in the Rock Island County Jail, held on no charges at all.