Saturday, June 12, 2010
I take the 10:03AM from Murray Hill to Penn. I bring an extra $50 and the Capital One credit card statement so I can stop at the bank at the corner of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street in between trains. The NJT train won’t leave until 11:07AM anyway. That’ll give me almost half an hour to cross the street and pay the bill on its due date. It’ll also add the slightest semblance of normalcy to my increasingly surreal situation.
How can I think about paying bills, and the schedule at work, and when to do the laundry, and is there milk in the fridge, and what will we have for dinner tonight, when I have no idea if my father is alive or dead? I am used to multitasking, but a part of me is standing here, looking at my self, arms crossed across its chest, and shaking its head at me.
“You cannot control this situation. You should try to control what you can, though.”
When I get to Penn, I go to the NJT ticket machines and get two off-peak round trips (I can always use them, is my very practical thought). I go up the escalator, turn left and walk to the Capital One on the next corner. It is empty at 10:35AM. There is one teller on, and no line. I pass the statement and my fifty-dollar bill under the bulletproof glass. She takes the statement and the money, inputs the account information, completes my transaction, and slides me my receipt.
“Thank you”, she says.
I want to say, Please pray for my missing father, I am so scared right now. But I don’t.
I walk through the door, and as I cross the street back to Penn Station, my tears blind me. I stop for a moment and just stand there, crying, while people in the middle of their Saturday mornings pass me quickly on both sides.
I collect myself, pull out a tissue and wipe away my tears, and walk back to Penn.
I arrive at Roselle Park at ten to twelve. George is there to pick me up.
We go back to Dad’s, so I can walk around the house myself. I just want to see for myself how he left things. I know this is not logical, because since Dad left, Vee has been here, Glenn has been here, the policemen have been here, detectives have been here, George and Barbara and Alyssa have been here, and maybe some other people, too.
I just want to start at the beginning of Dad’s day yesterday.
The self that was standing next to me earlier, looking at me and shaking her head—that self is looking at me again.
“Do you think you can change what happened if you look around this house, these rooms, look at his clothes, his bed, his kitchen table? Do you think that if you retrace his steps, you can unwind them, and rewind them so that the result is different?
“You can’t. Go find him”, this other self says to me.
We leave Dad’s, grab a quick bite at Galloping Hill, go back to George and Barbara’s house, and go over what’s been done so far. They walked the woods by the house yesterday, and again today. They walked the woods by Washington School again this morning. They’ve been driving around the neighborhood.
Barb thought she saw Dad when she was out driving and looking. It was about 7AM. She was driving up by Union Station, on Morris Avenue, when she saw an elderly man walking. She slowed down, and took a good look. She couldn’t really tell; he had his hat pulled down, and he wasn’t facing her. The man’s clothing was similar…. could it be Dad? She got out of the car, and went up to him, looked at his face, closely.
Back in the car, and back to searching.
I’d brought my staple gun and packaging tape with me from home. We have to make a flyer for posting. I ask Barb if I can use her computer. I go downstairs to work. I remember that Alyssa has recent pictures of Dad on her Facebook page—she and Dad visited the cemetery right after one of the huge snowstorms this past winter, and I know that there are a couple of full-face ones. I right-click copy the one where he and Alyssa are looking right at the camera, paste it into an image editor, and crop Alyssa out. I close in on his face and center it. I type my text, fine-tune the spacing and size of the text so it can be easily read from a passing car, and print out about a hundred of them.
Then Barb, George, Alyssa and I get into the car and go to look for Dad.
The first place we visit is the cemetery. We post a flyer on the tree by Mom’s grave and ask her to watch over Dad, and to please help us. We know that if he can be helped, she will see to it.
We go to the office and speak to the manager; he knows my dad. He has seen Dad visit Mom’s grave every day in every kind of weather. He says all the groundskeepers know who Dad is, too. He asks the ones on duty if they saw him. No one can remember if he was there yesterday or not.
He promises to keep an eye out. I give him some flyers, and ask his permission to post some more around the cemetery. He agrees. I look back at him over my shoulder on my way out, and I catch the unguarded sadness on his face.
We drive the cemetery road carefully, the four of us looking out the windows in four different directions, seeing nothing. We take the turn out of the gate on to Galloping Hill Road.
We drive around Union and the surrounding communities.
We visit every park, every local body of water (dementia patients are attracted to bodies of water, I had read somewhere, sometime) every doctor’s office, school and playground that Alyssa ever went to with Mom and Dad, posting flyers. We go to Town Hall (post, outside and in), to the library (post on the bulletin board and on trees in the parking lot), up to Café Z to tell Patty, the owner, and leave her some flyers and our cell phone numbers. She knows Dad well—we’ve had our family Thanksgiving dinners there since the year Mom died. We drive up and down endless streets, posting. We leave flyers with whomever we speak with in Union. We post more. In Westfield. In Kenilworth. In Cranford. In Garwood.
We go to Dad’s church, Holy Spirit, and to Mom’s church, Saint Demetrios. We speak to a handyman at Saint Demetrios and give him some flyers, and get out of the car to post some more on the church grounds and on the nearby telephone poles.
The first time Dad went for a walk where the cops brought him home, they found him up by Saint Demetrios, almost three miles from his house, a few blocks away from the precinct house. That was almost three months ago, in late March. Two patrolmen just starting their midday shift saw an elderly man who seemed confused and went up to him and asked him if he was okay. He couldn’t figure out where he was, but he knew who he was and where he lived, so they took him home and called Barb at work. At about 2PM, George left a voice mail on my cell to let me know what had happened, and that he had sent Glenn over to Dad’s to look in on him and make sure he was all right. I called Dad as soon as I picked up the voice mail, but only got the answering machine (with my mother’s voice on the outgoing message; we’d never changed it). I called Barb, and we tried to figure it out; we thought that Dad must have been on his way to the cemetery, which meant he was walking for about four hours, if he followed his habit of leaving the house at around 8AM. He had probably just continued on Chestnut Street instead of taking the left fork on to Galloping Hill, at the Five Points intersection where Galloping Hill Road and Chestnut cross the end of Salem Road. He was found all the way up on Rahway Avenue, past the entrance to the Garden State, past the turnoff on to Stuyvesant and Cioffi’s, almost as far from the house as Alyssa’s high school and Café Z.
When I talked to Dad about it later that afternoon, he said he didn’t know what happened, that he was “in a dream”. He said he’d gotten turned around and “a little bit lost” before, a block or two off course, but he’d always been able to right himself.
As I saw it, the good news was that his physical therapy was working; he could walk all that way, and all that time, without falling. The bad news was that he hadn’t known where he was when he stopped.
This happened at the end of March, on the first real spring day of 2010. It was the first time he couldn’t find his own way home.
We drive and walk and post flyers for a few more hours, all over Union. By Dad’s house. Around the corners, both ways. On Salem Road. On Chestnut Street, by his bank and the vegetable store where he buys his bananas and the Dunkin Donuts. By Eisenstat’s office on Galloping Hill Road.
I am finally exhausted, and George drives me to the station so I can go home. We post flyers all along Chestnut Street as we go. Tomorrow, we will do this again.
Dad has been missing for almost thirty-six hours now. It will be a while before I stop counting hours and start counting days.
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