My dad, the thief

“Write my name on those sneakers,” he slurred from his world — meaning, his nursing home bed, which he never leaves unless he has a specialist doctor’s appointment a couple times a year. But then when he leaves, it’s on a gurney, because he can’t sit up for very long.

Sneakers? They’re one of those things other people need.

A year ago, his one pair of sneakers he had since having a stroke in 2006 got stolen. Or lost. Or thrown out. That happens in nursing homes. Especially if your name’s not written on your shit. Like a microwavable soup bowl. Or your sweatshirts and blankets and stuffed animals. It’s like we sent my dad to summer camp to live. But not.

Ever since dad’s sneakers went missing, the nursing home social worker Collette has been trying to find him new ones. Buy him new ones. And so she measures his feet, heads to the local shoe store in the small western Mass. town, buys a pair with Velcro straps and puts them on his feet. Bingo. They fit.

“No, they don’t fit,” he’d slur. He’s lying down of course and he isn’t ever going to wear them in bed or stand in them so what’s the difference? But no, they don’t fit, “please get me other ones.” So off the social worker goes— every month or two — to look for “other” ones. And so it goes.

So when I was visiting last weekend and saw a pair of newish gray sneakers on the floor by dad’s TV stand, I picked them up, about to ask him — “hey are these your new kicks?” He stopped me before I could ask and just slurred “write my name on those.”

Me: (asking again) Are they your new ones, dad?

Dad: Yes.

Me: They’re nice.

Dad: Write my name on them.

And writing his name on them would be automatic ownership. But dad lies. Sometimes. Hard to tell when.

Here’s how the convo went with the neuropsych five years ago:

Neuropsych: Your dad has a form of mania not brought on by the stroke.

Me: What’s that mean?

Neuropsych: Sometimes he lies. Probably has his whole life.

Me: Well, that explains a lot actually.

Neuropsych: Also, because of the type of brain damage the stroke caused, sometimes he knows he’s lying and sometimes he doesn’t.

Me: Oh, man…

Neuropsych: Good luck trying to figure out which it is.

Me: (again) Oh, man…

Neuropsych: And because of his age, he’s starting to show signs of dementia.

Me: (numbed) Right…

Neuropsych: Which is why if you ask him if he lied, he might say “possibly” or “I don’t know” or an outright “No.”

Back to the sneakers, which I’m still holding and standing by his room door.

Me: Dad, I’ll be right back.

Dad: Noooo!

But I ignore his response and walk out the door with the sneakers, down the hall passing the one and only cheery resident whose actual name is Donald Grimm (!) in a wheelchair hanging out by the Nurse’s station. He calls — every time I pass — “Hola! Sprechen sie Deutsch?!” And I reply “Nein, Parlez vous Français?” And no he doesn’t, so that ends that until the next time I pass.

I get to the social worker’s office holding out the sneakers. And before I can even ask my question, she says “Oh no, those aren’t your father’s, they belong to his roommate Jed.”

I’m not disappointed. Or confused. I get it. I’m glad I checked. But Jesus.

I walk back down the hall, passing Donald Grimm. “Hola! Sprechen sie Deutsch?! Et cetera.

And back into dad’s room.

Dad: What did you do?

Me: I checked with Collette. She said these sneakers are Jed’s.

Dad: Damn.

Me: You were going to steal your roommate’s sneakers?

Dad: Yeah. Not my finest moment.

And we laugh.

Nope. Not my dad’s finest moment.

He adds: What do you call a colonoscopy for half a person?

Me: What?

Dad: A semi-colonoscopy.

Me: Ha. Where did you hear that one?

Dad: I made it up.

And I’m sure he did.

I think.