Today marks Father’s Day, and I suppose it’s time to pen a few words about him, to bring to life this man who is my father by biology, but who never opted to play that part. Whether that’s unfortunate or fortunate, I can’t say. The season for resentment has passed.
My father is ill. He’s grappling with herpes encephalitis. If you’re not familiar with the term, trust me, it’s not pretty.
According to the World Health Organization, 67% of humans are affected by type 1 herpes and 11% by type 2. Do the math and pick your poison. When your herpes decides to stir, it can give you a tickle here or there. In the case of herpes encephalitis, it can decimate your brain if the infection isn’t caught in time. In my father’s case, the indifferent hospital staff completely missed the diagnosis. Within a few days, his brain was irreversibly damaged. There you have it: you gambled, you lost. It’s the lottery of life.
For the past six months, my father has been trapped in a world devoid of memory, caught in temporal loops from which he can’t break free. He doesn’t know where he is, what he just did, or who he’s talking to. But yes, he talks. He talks a lot. He questions you, he responds to you.
Every day is a fresh life. A new universe. A new epic saga in which his tormented mind roams. It took me some time, but through my visits and our surreal conversations, I finally grasped the mechanics of the inner theater in which the old man is stuck in a loop.
The Theme of the Day
Each day’s delirium simmering in my father’s skull has a theme. One day it’s rugby, another it’s casinos and gambling circles, the next it’s boating and sea races, the following week it’s cooking or prostitution.
This theme is determined by what stimulates his brain in the morning. A TV program, a radio show, a conversation between the nursing staff.
If you’re not a fan of the day’s theme, you can, with a bit of technique, impose a different one on the old man’s brain. I’ve tried it, it works, but it’s rather tedious. You have to be persistent and heavily guide the conversation in the desired direction.
Even though their roles change daily, the characters who inhabit these fictional worlds are always the same: family, friends, everyone who has left a mark on his life at some point.
Ages fluctuate. Uncle Jacques is plucked from the 70s and coexists with little Olivia in an adult version she will likely become by 2040.
The deceased resurrect. For some, it’s nice to see them again. Not all.
There’s a sentence that quite simply encapsulates the backdrop of all these stories and all these interactions narrated from the hospital bed:
Things were better before.
There’s nothing good left in this era. We have to deal with it, but the values of the past have declined and it’s a shame. Today “I don’t know where we’re going, but believe me, it doesn’t smell good”. Deep down, the old man must sense that indeed, it doesn’t smell good. Unless you have a penchant for the scent of pine and decaying meat.
For six months, I’ve been crisscrossing France several times a month to converse with the shadow of my father and live lives I never imagined. I’ve been a coach of a league 1 football team, an international pimp, an unfortunate sailor betrayed by the mast of his catamaran. I don’t know yet how many roles I will have to play without flinching in this cursed room, but probably not many more.
Where are you wandering today?
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.