A few days out from surgery, dad was doing laps around the hallway. They removed his NG tube and his Foley catheter.
I spoke to the surgeon again.
He noted that Dad seemed malnourished. I’m sure that his balanced diet of colored sugar caffeine water, acid caffeine pills, and sugar cream buffering solution has nothing to do with that. For some reason, dad has been obsessed with his weight in the past few years. He used to weigh a good 240 pounds when I was in college. Now he’s a little more than half that. And according to my mom, he uses the scale a good dozen times per day.
“He doesn’t eat very well. Kind of lives on Coke Classic and ice cream.”
“Yes, I see that. He’s asking for ice cream at all his meals here. I’m also not sure what caused his ulcer. We’re going to do some other tests to make sure that it isn’t an endocrine problem. His H. pylori testing was all negative.”
“Did he tell you he pops Excedrin like Tic Tacs?”
“No. He said he doesn’t use aspirin.”
That was the first clue in making the diagnosis that Dad was either goofy or he was lying to his doctor.
“I’ll have my brother bring up all of his medicine bottles.”
“No problem. His blood count is up to 10.6 this afternoon. If he continues to progress, he’ll be able to be discharged in the next couple of days.”
That afternoon, I get a call from my mom. She was crying again.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said through the tears.
This can’t be good. Dad must have taken a turn for the worse.
“Is dad still OK?”
“Someone stole all the money out of our checking account. We deposit our social security checks into the account every month and your dad pays the bills. I wrote a check to pay the car insurance since they called the house and said the premium payment was overdue. The check bounced. The whole account was empty. Nothing in there at all.”
“Now I’ve got to pay bounced check fees, the registration on our truck has expired and State Farm canceled our car insurance.”
“Don’t worry about it now. You can get the insurance re-instated. Just go to the bank tomorrow and find out where the money went.”
I called the hospital to check on pops. He wasn’t eating much in the hospital, either. Kept asking for ice cream and Coke. Old habits die hard. Also was continually pestering the nurses for pain medication, but he didn’t seem like he was having much pain. He was up and walking about the hallways – slowly but surely.
The next day, mom called and dropped more good news.
“Your father cleaned out the bank accounts.”
“What do you mean?”
“He wrote a bunch of checks to himself for cash and left no money in the account.”
“What did he do with the money?”
“How do I know? He didn’t even tell me that he was taking it. All I know is that the insurance is canceled, the car hasn’t been registered for three months, and your dad is three months behind in his payments on his storage locker. They’re going to sell all of our stuff if we don’t pay the rent plus penalties.”
Great. They’re going to be on next season’s Storage Wars.
“What’s in storage?”
“Books, pictures, furniture, records. Our whole lives are in there.”
“Maybe there’s some stuff at dad’s office?”
“How am I going to find out about that?”
Dad used to be a lawyer. Pretty damn good one at that. Had a couple of books written about him and his cases. He also loved to read. He made an office out of the first floor of his childhood home and my aunt lived upstairs. After he retired, they decided to convert part of the first floor into an apartment for rental income. He kept a few rooms in the back as his “office” and would go there for sometimes 16 hours a day working on a “book” he was writing about early settlement in his hometown. He had been writing the book for about 4 years and when asked about how the book was going, he would become curt and snap “I’m still researching the premises” or “I have to go and talk to some people about the history.” Every once in a while, I’d ask him how many pages he had written. At first, he’d give me numbers like “about 50.” One time, after telling me “about 50″ several months prior, he said that he had “about 40″ pages done on a subsequent call.
“I thought you had 50 pages a few months ago. What happened?”
“Don’t interrogate me.”
And with that, he never talked about his book with me again.
Dad’s office was locked up better than the storage area where he kept his belongings. Two deadbolts on all doors. “Keep out” and “Private property” signs on doors and windows. Curtains pulled. Mail through the mail slot. We used to go and visit him when he had clients come to his office. After all the kids grew up and moved away, he kept the whole place locked down. No one went inside except him. Not even mom.
So brother went to his office and broke in through a window. What he saw was shocking.
Dad was a hoarder.
Magazines and books stacked everywhere, forming a little maze through the rooms and hallways. At the end of one branch of the maze was a desk – stacked with books and magazines – and a computer where he was working on his “novel.” The computer had several hard drives connected and stacked in front of the screen. Access was locked. In a pile on the floor next to the side door was a bunch of letters. Past due notices. Subscription notices. Renewal notices. Letters from collection agencies. Another pile of similar unopened letters was stacked on the floor and leaning on the planter with the dead tree next to the door.
Mom came in and scooped up all of the letters, then brought them to the hospital. Dad was pissed.
“These were in MY office. I will take care of them,” he yelled.
Mom yelled back. “With what money!?! You cleared out the bank account! What did you do with all of my money?”
Dad looked back at her and said, “Since it’s a joint account, it is our money, not your money.”
“You son of a BITCH!”
I never heard of my mom swearing before that incident. She left the hospital in tears. Dad was even more upset than usual after she left. The armor of the man we used to think was invincible was falling apart.
We formulated a plan to help mom get back on her financial feet. One of the points was to set up a separate bank account in her own name and to have all of her money deposited into that account.
The next morning, it was another call from the hospital. This time I was at work.