Essays and Sermons

I know who I am. I am Russ. I forget other names, but not my own. Russ. I remember how it was with Ma, how it was with Ethel, my sister. At the end, they didn’t know their names. I remember that. I don’t want to forget my name. I remember it again. Russ. I am sitting in a chair on the sun porch. I know that. I know where I am. My children are here, and my wife. They are looking at me. I don’t like that.

One of my sons says, “It is hard for Mom to take care of you all by herself.” I know what he is saying. I need to be very careful. If I am not, they will put me in a home. I took Pa to that kind of “home.” Pa died there. Why did we call it a home? It is not home.

I built this house so that we would never have to go to that kind of home. Downstairs a kitchen, a bedroom, a TV. Someone could live there. Someone could take care of us. I want to tell my son that. But I can’t find the words. Where are all my words? Before, I knew so many words.

I am afraid. But I never say that. You don’t ever tell anyone you are afraid. It is dangerous to let people know that, see that.

I need to say something, something that sounds like I can think, that I can reason. I know that word. I am a lawyer. I won trials because I could reason. Because I had words.

I say, slowly, “Well, ok, if that’s what all of you think.” I don’t mean what I say. I mean, “Let’s talk about this.” I mean, “Don’t take me away.” But I can’t find those words.

My wife leaves the room. She is crying. My children look away. They don’t want me to see they are crying. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to go.

My two sons walk towards me. They stand, one on either side of the chair. I look up at them. They are so tall. They take my elbows to help me stand. I look at one and then the other. They try to smile. Then we are going. We walk through the living room. Where did my sofa go? It is grey, my sofa, and long. I always buy a sofa that is longer than I am so that I can stretch all the way out whenever I take a nap. I sleep too much these days. I know that. But where is my sofa now?

I walk as slowly as I can. It doesn’t matter. We walk through the kitchen, pass the table where my dog Ben sits by me when I am eating. Where is Ben? Now we are through the door and down the little step into the garage. We go past my car, the one I can no longer drive. I remember driving. I remember going wherever I wanted to go.

I see a car in the driveway. One of my daughters is holding open the back door. She is waiting. She is waiting for me. I stop walking. I lean my whole body back, away from that car, that door. I say, “I don’t think this is a good day to go.” I want them to say we can wait — another day, another week, another year.

My sons shake their heads. They are strong. They lift me up. They keep walking, taking me where I do not want to go.

****

They show me the room where I will live. There is a small bed. I have not slept in a bed this small since the War. Not since the War. My sofa is here. My children tell me that I can take naps on it, like I do at home. I want to go home. I want to sleep on my sofa in my home.

“Look Dad — A new TV!” I can see that. What do they think? Do they think I am a child? “And here is a chair,” my daughter says, “right next to a window.” But there is nothing outside that window that I want to see. I look away.

Outside the door of this room, on the wall, they show me a photograph. They say this is how I will know which room is mine. It is a photograph of my family. Ma, Pa, Chick, Dorothy, Ethel, me. Not little B. He died. I touch each face. I say, “I am the last one.”

It is time to eat lunch. My daughter and I walk down a long hallway with shiny steel railings on either side. I take hold of one of them. It is smooth. It is cold.

We go into a large room with tables. I sit down at one. My daughter has come too. She sits next to me. Everyone is already eating.

A woman brings me a plate of food. She smiles. I don’t think I remember her, but I could be wrong. I pick up my spoon. Before I start to eat I look carefully at the other people sitting around the table. I begin to eat, but I keep my eye on them. Some people are not eating. One woman is sleeping. Her chin is on her chest. She is snoring. These people look old. Old and crazy.

My daughter moves her chair closer. I don’t look at her. “You may meet some new friends here!” she says. I keep eating, very slowly. “Or enemies,” I say.

I am afraid. But I won’t say those words. I never say those words.

Never.

– for my beloved father Russel Harry Volkema 1920 – 2001. May he rest in peace