Thomas Wictor

It grew back

It grew back

Two years before he died, Dad was told that he had a mass in his abdomen that needed to be checked. We didn’t know this until after he’d died and we saw his medical records. Instead of having his mass checked, Dad went on a plant-slaughtering spree in his yard, chopping absolutely everything back to stubs. Manual labor allowed him to enter a sort of trance. His mind shut down, and he exhausted himself so that he could sleep.

“I’ve never felt stress,” Dad told Tim and me multiple times during his long retirement. He liked to talk about his natural equilibrium when the subject of psychotropic medication came up. Dad knew that Tim and I both take it. He let us know in thousands of little ways that he thought we were weak for having to rely on medication that he himself didn’t need because he never felt stress.

In repose, sitting by himself, reading a book or the newspaper, this is what Dad sounded like for the last twenty-five years of his life:

Stress Free

When a sexy go-go-booted surgeon butchered Tim’s left eye, performing eight botched trabeculectomies to try and cure his glaucoma, Dad sat with me in the waiting room for the first three surgeries, making all those sounds for up to ten hours straight. I’d drive us home with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand holding my head together, because the migraine was about to explode my cranium all over the interior of the car.

Tim’s eye deflated, and the retina became wrinkled. Great news for a graphic designer and photographer, huh? And his surgeon quit the practice without telling her patients, so Tim had to start all over with another doctor.

I’m what’s known as a “glaucoma suspect.” I’m not suspected of giving people glaucoma; what it means is that since Dad had glaucoma and Tim has it, I’ll almost certainly get it, as I will cancer. Doesn’t scare me a bit. What will be, will be.

One thing Tim and I have done is made a pact: If either of us develop the sorts of phonic tics that my stress-free father had, the other will liberally apply a sledgehammer until blessed silence descends like the calm of dusk.

No, we won’t. We’ll tell each other, “You’re making Ed-sounds. You have to get it under control.”

When Dad’s percussive cacophony became unsupportable, we’d say, “Could you please stop making those noises?”

And of course he’d say, “What noises?”

So we’d have to say, “You’re grunting, whimpering, hawking, growling, making a noise like a Jack Russell terrier, and coughing like a dainty maiden locked in a castle keep.”

Well, we wouldn’t put it precisely like that. But we’d be pretty firm. His answer was always the same:

“All right. I’ll stop making noises.” Said with a lifted chin.

And he would. For three minutes. Then it started again. They were sounds of effort, made to advertise the fact that he was reading extremely difficult, erudite, abstruse material that others couldn’t possibly comprehend. My father was raised by his grandfather, who was born in 1877. In most ways my father was a man from about 1895. He spoke very formally, and the older he got, the more noises he made. I read somewhere that Victorian men never stopped clearing their throats, humming, muttering, and grunting.

So to relieve the stress he didn’t feel, Dad made really annoying noises, constantly, and he chopped trees and other foliage to death. The only good plant was grass, as long as it was kept at crew-cut length.

One day he exterminated Mom’s 100-year-old grapevine, which was draped over a frame of pipes. He was indifferent to my total outrage.

“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to trim things in my own yard.

Yes, I was unreasonable to the point of being insane, angry that a man would lightly trim foliage in his own yard. What he’d done, though, wasn’t trim. He’d cut the vines back until they were these pathetic, denuded, wooden snakes. Every single leaf had been removed.

“Now the vine’s going to die,” Tim said. “A hundred years old, and now it’ll get fried in the sun, and that’ll be the end of it.”

What actually happened was that Dad died, and the grapevine grew back. I took a picture of it this afternoon, in the rain.

I feel bad for my father. He sat there making unearthly, obnoxious noises every second that he was conscious, denying right up until the end that he felt stress. And he consistently attacked the things my mother loved. When confronted he’d pretend that he had no idea that anyone would care if he just did little trimmin’.

We never understood the need to keep up those shabby pretenses.

“Mm! Mm! Mm! So! I don’t feel stress! Eh! Eh! Eh! Hah-yah-yah-yah-yah!”

If you think I’m weak for admitting to feeling stress, I don’t care. And I can’t comprehend why my friendless, completely solitary father cared so much about what others thought that it literally cost him his life. His entire existence was one long performance for an audience that only he could see. Tim thinks it was his dead ancestors. People like this.

It’s too bad. The rain shower this afternoon was beautiful, and the grapevine is thriving.

Look how gorgeous it is.

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