It was the first time I flew 5,000 miles across the globe and my father didn’t get up to greet me. I walked into the living room, and for a moment, I thought I saw my dead grandmother. After a stroke, my father’s eyes looked like his mother’s when she was 80. His hair lost all of its pepper. His tall, athletic body contracted. Chest and shoulder muscles evaporated. His once bright, blue eyes turned lighter, but less clear. Like green tea mixed with milk. All of the shine and optimism was gone.
“Hey, hey, hey!” my father exclaimed and lifted his left arm. His right arm was paralyzed. I rushed over him and kissed him on the forehead. “How long was your flight?” the same question he asked for the past 14 years. He never remembered details – time difference between Latvia and the U.S., the length of my flights, Birthdays of anyone. I was terrified. Terrified that my father has already left me. My stepmother told me he couldn’t speak for a few days right after the stroke, or move any parts of his body. What has that done to his memory? I was 29. I wasn’t ready to let go of my father’s wisdom, his wit, his stories that made me feel powerful.
“God is fooling me!” he laughed, as few tears dripped down his pale cheeks. “He is telling me, ‘Old man, I’m being serious. I am more powerful than you are. Listen to me. Last chance.” My father had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous for several years, but couldn’t believe in God, he complained. “I have a hard time surrendering to him,” he’d say. “They tell me his is more powerful than me, but all of my life, I made it through the worst of it, because I believed in mself. He wasn’t there. He was never there when I needed him.”