Casual Shorts for Tennis & Skating [first posted May 23, 2011]
Taped to the side of a long, clear-plastic storage box was a 2-inch strip of yellow lined theme paper, cut perfectly straight along the bottom. With a faded blue marker, my dad had neatly printed in italic capitals: CASUAL SHORTS FOR TENNIS & SKATING. My heart caught in my throat as I peeled Dad’s note off the box before displaying books in it for my garage sale. I’ll reuse the box but I don’t have the heart to discard the note.
Tennis and roller skating were my uber-athletic Dad’s retirement passions. Now he scoots along nursing home hallways on a tall silver walker with, ironically, day-glow yellow tennis balls steadying two of the walker legs. He doesn’t recognize his Senior Olympics tennis trophies. Whether he is in the mood nowadays to watch professional tennis on TV is iffy; used-to-be, he wouldn’t miss a tournament. Not so long ago, names like Roger Federer and Venus and Serena Williams sailed through the air in my parents’ TV den like blistering baseline backhands. And I have countless memories of Dad teaching me tennis when I was 11, Dad signing me up for private lessons, Dad and Mom playing mixed doubles, Dad inviting me to various tennis events throughout my life. Now I doubt he could even follow a tennis game on TV.
I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around this yet. Though difficult and sad, the natural, gradual physical decline of aging is easier to watch than the unnatural, gradual mental decline of Alzheimer’s. A future blog post focused on my 90-year-old mom’s sharp mind but failing body might reverse this assessment, I realize. The whole scene is just so sad. I feel like I’m standing onshore while the two dearest people in the world float out to sea in a dinghy with no oars. I cannot swim out to tow their dinghy back; I cannot toss oars to them; I have no choice but to watch as they toss toward the horizon on this trip they’ve so courageously embarked on.