It’s Labor Day morning. Papa is up early. He is cleaned and dressed on his own. His plaid button down is tucked into his white underpants. The elastic of the shorts and their Hanes logo visible to all above the waistline of his green pants. I don’t mention it.
If you’ve ever been around or have cared for an autistic child, that’s very much what dementia is like I some ways. Single minded. Routined. Rigid.
Papa is waiting for “the girl” . His companion comes every weekday at 9am sharp. If she’s early she waits in the driveway. She is mild mannered, quiet without very good English capabilities. But they get by.
I told him last night that it was Labor Day and she wasn’t coming.
“No, papa, you are wrong. She’ll come. She always comes “.
He comes slowly down the stairs, his heavy steps making each wood joint creak, echoing in the foyer. He stands in the kitchen where I am resting with my coffee.
“Papa, write down again the name of that store where I can find the pasta for cheap.”
I print O C E A N S T A T E J O B L O T in big capitals across a yellow post it. I don’t know why I think that will help either of them understand it better. It’s like shouting at a foreigner.
Papa takes the paper, he meanders to the front door and peers out the sidelight. He sighs and wanders back to the kitchen.
“It’s Chelsea’s birthday the 4th?”
“Yes, she turns 24.”
“Eh, what should I get her, papa? She likes shoes, I remember she told me.”
“Shoes would be nice. Or a gift card.”
“Ah, where do I get that?”
I make it simple for him. His world revolves around Stop n Shop.
“At Stop n Shop”
“Oh, ok!” He is pleased. He knows that place. It’s comfortable.
“Papa, where is the girl, she said she would be here on Monday.” He wanders to the living room window. “Maybe she will not come anymore.”
“I told you it was Labor Day. A holiday. She is not coming today.”
“No, she said she is coming. I’ll wait.”
Fifteen minutes pass with Papa humming to himself and periodically asking me “is the girl coming today? Where is she?”
I ignore each question. No response is necessary.
I remind myself that compassion is always an appropriate response with Papa. I remind myself that he is not being obstinate, he is being demented. It doesn’t help.
Finally after the twelve inquiry I say “let’s call.”
No one picks up. Papa seems satisfied that his “girl” has left him.
“I guess I’ll go take a shower then.” He turns and lumbers slowly up the stairs. I think this episode of ‘where is the girl’ is over.
At the top of the stairs he turns and yells down “When she gets here, tell her how to get to that store where you get the pasta for cheap.”