In the Eye of the Beholder

In memory of my beloved Dad who taught me the importance of taking one day at a time and laughing along the way...

Since Papa’s stroke, he lived to watch the Braves on television. Nothing changed when my elderly parents moved in with me. So nightly, Papa planted himself in his recliner that I’d bought for his comfort and placed in front of the flatscreen. My mom Sasa (short for Sara) sat on the sofa with the remote control in hand. That’s when the trouble always started.

“Papa,” my mom shouted to her hard of hearing spouse, "the Braves are ahead two to --.”

“What?” he yelled back.

“Two to nothing.” She motioned with her fingers.

“Just tell me what the score is,” he said, squinting at her.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” she snapped. “They are up by two.” She held up two fingers, but it was no victory sign because Papa still couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. Their arguing drowned out the loudest sports announcer as the Braves made another run.

The saga continued with three fingers held in the air as she screamed, “The Braves just made a run. Can’t you see anything?” She hit the buttons on the remote and changed the channel. Papa was fighting mad by now. But SaSa continued, “He is deaf and blind. I don’t want to watch the game anyway, but I have to because he can’t see.” She searched for another show. “Why watch a stupid ballgame when he’s –“

“Stop!” I said. “I can’t take this every night.”

“Well, Papa can’t see the television, and he won’t listen to me.” Mom continued with a list of Papa’s faults. Of course, he heard every one of them.

“I can’t read the scores,” he said, “but she wants to complicate it.” He flew his hands around, mimicking her earlier gestures, and finally collapsed back against his seat with a sigh of disgust. “All she has to say is ‘Braves three, Chicago nothing.’”

“I’ve said that about a hundred times –.“

“Not like that. You have to –.“

“No, I don’t. You can’t see. You can’t hear thunder --.”

“Stop,” I repeated. “Just stop.”

The next day, I made an appointment to have Papa’s eyes checked. We knew that there wasn’t hope for his hearing since he’d damaged his ears as a Navy gunner in the war. But maybe there was hope for his vision. He’d been diagnosed with cataracts, but that doctor hadn’t thought surgery was worth it for someone of Papa’s age. I could only hope that this doctor wouldn’t think that eighty-three was too old. In our family, he could have another ten to fifteen years. In truth, it would be worth it for him to see better for a week, a month, or a year.

Sure enough, the new doctor said, “I think we can get him where he can see the Braves scores.” He turned his attention to the thin man with the broad shoulders sitting with his back straight in the chair, blue-veined hands resting in his lap. “You’d like that, right?”

Papa stared into the distance as SaSa repeated what the doctor had said. “What?” Papa said to her, leaning over the arm of the chair. “What’d you say?” SaSa’s impatience flared as she repeated the doctor’s words again and gestured with her hands. “Just tell me what you’re trying to say,” Papa said to her as the doctor patted him on the back and moved toward the door.

“I think we can improve his vision,” he said to me. He smiled and left us to make the appointment to remove Papa’s cataracts.

In a few days, we rolled Papa back to my car after a two-hour stay at the surgical center of the doctor’s office. We left the office armed with eye drops, a prescription, and a pair of large black sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity.

That night, Papa rested his eyes, but by the next day he was back in front of the flatscreen. By the time I arrived home from work to take him to his follow-up appointment, he was already seeing a lot better.

“Has this TV always been this good?” he asked SaSa as he leaned over to put on his shoes.

She smiled. “And it will be even better when we get your other eye done in two weeks.”

“But now,” I said, “we have to hurry so we won’t be late for your follow-up eye appointment.” I rattled off the list of things that we needed to take with us. “Do you have everything ready I asked Mom?”

Papa headed to the bathroom. Mom moved toward the kitchen.

“Mom, I called you so that ya’ll would be ready to go when I arrived.” I tried to control my temper.

Pills rattled as Mom thrust Papa’s prescription bottles in the Ziploc bag. The potty flushed in the hall bathroom.

“Come on,” I said. “We’re going to be late.” My nerves bristled. I’d had to rearrange my schedule to fit the appointment in.

Mom snapped at Papa. “Get in the car. We’re going to be late.”

She moved behind him as he put one foot in front of the other and held on to the wall for support.

“Where is Papa’s walking stick?” I looked from his chair in front of the TV to the bathroom to the back door before finding it at the bottom of the stairs. “Mom, get in the car,” I said. “Papa, here's your cane.”

He grabbed it and shuffled to the car. Once inside, he struggled with the seatbelt as SaSa shouted instructions from the backseat.

I was exhausted by the time we pulled out of the driveway and made our way through lunchtime traffic to the doctor’s office across town. The October sun radiated against a cloudless blue sky.

About halfway to our destination, Papa said, “At least I got a good pair of sunglasses out of the deal.”

I smiled, thinking that only Papa would like the oversized black shades they provided for patients to wear after surgery. I glanced in his direction. “Papa, you’re not wearing the right sunglasses. We can’t go without them.” I jerked the car around at the next left turn and headed toward home.

“What?” SaSa demanded and leaned up and around the front seat. “Papa,” she cried. “You're wearing Debbie’s expensive Calvin Klein's!”

Indeed, Papa was wearing my splurge buy – my Calvin Klein sunglasses -- that I saved for special occasions or trips to tropical locales. I never considered wearing them every day. I was too rough on sunglasses … I scratched lenses … and I lost them.

But apparently, my loss was Papa’s gain. He sat up straight and grinned at me. “I got a good pair of sunglasses out of this deal,” he repeated. He repositioned the designer sunglasses on his head. Sunglasses that, even though stretched, missed his ears by about an inch and a half. “These are nice.” And they were ultraviolet (UV) protective.

One afternoon when I returned home from work, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. Mom was right behind me. Papa, fresh from his shower, was making his way to his bedroom. I didn’t want to startle him as I watched him from behind. My dad, clad only in his white BVDs, had his graying blond hair toweled dry so that it stuck out in every direction except on the thinning top of his head. His rail-thin legs and bony bottom wobbled from side to side in the hallway.

“Papa,” I said and giggled.

“You’re home,” he said and turned to me, grinning. He touched his hand to the side of the sunglasses he was proudly sporting.

“Papa,” SaSa gasped. “Those are Debbie’s expensive sunglasses.”

“Mom,” I said. “Don’t you know that nobody should come between a man and his Calvin Klein's.”

And I realized it was true. If the sunglasses made Papa happy, what was the harm? Now, my prized Jimmy Choo’s would be another story.