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Into the Labyrinth

16

October 9, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

I.

Ariadne gave Theseus a sword and a ball of thread.

NICOLO BAMBINI, (ITALIAN, 1651 - 1736) Ariadne and Theseus Oil on canvas

NICOLO BAMBINI, (ITALIAN, 1651 – 1736)
Ariadne and Theseus
Oil on canvas

The sword he could appreciate. The thread she had to explain.

“Fix one end to the door post, and unravel it as you go in. After you slay the Minotaur, hold fast to the thread, and you will find you way out of the Labyrinth. You will find your way back to me.”

“But the monster is your kin,” said Theseus.

“All monsters are kin,” said Ariadne. “Hold fast to the thread.”

Theseus slew the Minotaur. He held fast to the thread. He found his way out of the Labyrinth. But charting a course home, on the wide open sea, somehow he lost Ariadne.

 

II.

My father was in the hospital once before, in 1975.

He had a ruptured hernia. Not outpatient surgery then. “Dorisanne,” he said, “You want to see something funny?” and lifted up the sheet. “Bald as a baby.” My mother rolled her eyes. Her silence was eloquent then.

It can still be now.

“It’s Paula on the phone. Say something to Paula,” my father begs. “Can’t you say something?” I can hear her tearing out the pages of the Talbot’s catalog, folding them neatly like laundry, stacking the pile on her TV tray.

“It’s okay, Dad,” I say. “She’s busy.”

My Mother on the Island of Naxos. (Actually, she's on the torn-up concrete of our soon-to-be-neighbor's mispoured basement, pregnant with my sister Whitney, in 1965)

My Mother on the Island of Naxos. (Actually, she’s on the torn-up concrete of our soon-to-be-neighbor’s mispoured basement, pregnant with my sister Whitney, in 1965)

This year my father has been in and out of hospital three times in four months.

He doesn’t remember much about the first stay, right after Mother’s Day. Oh, he knows I flew out, and that the flight costs $800 – he was impressed till he found out he’d paid for it – but most of what happened he learned from us later.

He had my sister tell him, over and over, how he got there. How kidney failure cascaded into multiple organ failure. How the doctors brought out the orders for her to sign – Do Not Resuscitate/ Do Not Intubate – and told her to call us all home.

“You thought I was going to die in that hospital, but I didn’t,” he told Whitney. “Because I’m a fighter.”

He was the hero, in command of his destiny. It was a good story.

“You’re a fighter,” she agreed. “Bull-headed, too.”

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, c. 1861 Pencil, brown wash, pen and ink on paper. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898)
Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, c. 1861
Pencil, brown wash, pen and ink on paper.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

III.

We nicknamed the fighter Demon Dad.

I met Demon Dad the first time I tried to call. They had already moved him once. “You screwed things up,” he said. “You gave Whitney the wrong number, and then they took all the cell phones, and I can’t call a cell phone unless I have another cell phone.”

His blood pressure spiked. He did not sleep. He told my sister to cancel the meeting at the high school. My brother Scott was in jail – no, in the hospital. He had to sign his discharge papers. Everything was all screwed up. He knew his blood pressure was high. Where was the guidance counselor?

What was also high was the calcium in his blood.

The doctors were trying to stabilize with fluids. They gave him a sedative, to try to calm him down. The hallucinations and the paranoia increased. He spat at the night nurse, tried to punch her in the stomach. Ripped out both IVs.

They put him on an antipsychotic. And in restraints. At night he battled monsters. By day we watched him become one.

My Father, Painting the House Our Family Built, 1964

My Father, 1964. The paint goes on the house, dad…

“Has he asked about Mom yet?” Whitney wanted to know.

We were changing shifts.

“Not yet.”

He refused to eat or take his medication until they let him go home. It was his constitutional right not to die in a hospital. His children had betrayed him. He was never taking any of us out to dinner again.

“Do you think the home health aides will be able to handle him too?”

“This guy? If he doesn’t fire them all first.”

IV.

Ready or not, here I come. 

And he did. On my mother’s birthday, June 1.

He gave her flowers every year.

He gave her flowers every year.

The notes on his chart said “Acute kidney injury and encephalopathy.” Brain disease. I went to Doctor Internet. “Symptoms include progressive loss of memory, cognitive ability, and subtle personality changes.” Nothing subtle about it. Nor was it exactly a change. He was a manic, supersaturated version of himself.

“We’re getting air conditioning. We’re putting a TV on the screened in porch.” The only place my mother could sit without a television blaring. “That was my idea,” he announced. “And I am going to buy a convertible!!!”

“Is this permanent?” I asked Doctor Internet.

Maybe. I called to sing my mother Happy Birthday. “Happy Birthday to you, too!” she said. Five precious words.

“We’re having cake and ice cream!” my father shouted. “Because I. Came. HOME!”

"Theseus-Mosaic", floor mosaic from a Roman villa, Loigersfelder near Salzburg, Austria. Right, Ariadne hands Theseus the ball of wool to help him; center: Theseus kills the Minotaur; top:Theseus and Ariadne aboard ship: right: grieving Ariadne.

“Theseus-Mosaic”, floor mosaic from a Roman villa, Loigersfelder near Salzburg, Austria. Right, Ariadne hands Theseus the ball of wool to help him; center: Theseus kills the Minotaur; top:Theseus and Ariadne aboard ship: right: grieving Ariadne.

***

Told at StorySlam MN!, October 4, for the theme: Perseverance. Artwork found here

16 thoughts on “Into the Labyrinth

  1. Diana says:

    that’s quite a juxtaposition! And I can see why a post about your father was a while in coming.

    My dad would have agreed with a TV on the porch.Only his TV might have been a radio — on loud!

    Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad he paid. Bless you!

    Like

    • Thank you, Diana. Quite a while in coming, yes, and things have changed considerably since this point. As in, no, the changes do not seem to have been permanent. I was in fact very reluctant to post this one because it does not accurately reflect the way things are now, but I was encouraged to do so by my writing group, who saw it as a loving – if difficult – portrayal. I needed to move through and record the experiences as they were felt. I am going back for the first time since that visit in early November, and there needs to be at least one more post to bring the story up to date. We’ll see if my day job allows me the energy to bring that to pass.

      Like

  2. Ray Defendorf says:

    Beautifully written Paula.Thank you.

    Like

    • Thank you, Ray. That means a lot coming from someone who knows my parents personally, over a long period of time, and knows how much I love them. BTW, one of the most helpful people in the hospital while we were there was George Welch, who was a principal with my dad and (I believe) one of the first folks to graduate with you into the Permanent Diaconate? As I said, this was a five minute slam stories, and slam stories need to hit hard on a single theme. I still need to write about the moments that did not fit within it, and about what followed.

      Like

  3. Janika Banks says:

    Bless your heart. ❤

    Like

  4. Kara Post-Kennedy says:

    Thank you for this. You are one of my 20, too. xo

    Like

  5. Judi Lynn says:

    Oh, boy! You and your family have your hands full. My dad was the quiet patient, and my mom was more antagonist and combative, but their health didn’t fail at the same time. That would be so hard to deal with. Good luck and I hope your dad gets better, that his newer, bigger self isn’t permanent. And as always, I love your voice and writing style.

    Like

    • Things are better now, Judi, as I explained in my comment to Diana. At a conference I was at this weekend there was a panel on The Moral Responsibility of the Storyteller, and I struggle with capturing such moments, precisely because change does happen. Though my parents don’t read this blog, others do, and I don’t want their reading to be hurtful or painful. On the other hand, I do think it is helpful to others to understand that some parts of getting old are very, very hard, and compassion is not always easy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Judi Lynn says:

        You’re so respectful in your writing, and so compassionate that I don’t think you should ever worry. And I think you’re doing readers a service by being completely genuine and honest. It’s hard to constantly support loved ones when everything about caring for them is difficult. (Especially if they push buttons of TENDENCIES that used to get on your freakin’ nerves). I, personally, think it’s a challenge to ALWAYS love ANYONE. But then I’ve wondered at times if, perhaps, I’m a tiny bit more of a bitch than I’d like to admit:)

        Like

  6. So, Paula. This is where you’re at. This was difficult to read (but beautifully written). You have a way with words, telling a story with truth and beauty. The weaving in of mythology was perfect. Thank you for sharing. 💗

    Like

  7. Norah says:

    Lots to cope with. Take care. Best wishes.

    Like

  8. elainemansfield says:

    Paula, I read this earlier in the week and just read again. I’m so sorry for all of you and hope your dad’s situation has eased. I’m moved by your skillful weaving of Theseus’ and your dad’s story. I see your expertise as a storyteller when you can share a complex myth in one paragraph and make it fun to read. I love your quote from Ariadne: “All monsters are kin,” said Ariadne. “Hold fast to the thread.” Yup. The whole piece is beautifully written. And underneath the beauty is the tragedy of a parent who becomes a monster. (My pacifist mom took to biting nurses and doctors when they tried to poke or come close.) I hold you from here and wait for the next installation. Things have changed by now as they always do. I hope for the better.

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