As New Zealand goes into alert level four – lockdown – in response to the Covid-19 crisis, Catherine Woulfe has her father on her mind.
The last time I saw my dad he kept saying one thing over and over. Luhyee. Luhyee. Ahluhyee.
I pressed my forehead to his and I held his eyes that are my eyes that are my daughter’s eyes and I told him I loved him too, loved him too. Loved him too.
He is 62. He is in a secure dementia ward that has been locked down since last week. He can’t speak on the phone or understand what we’re saying, or understand that a phone is a phone. He can’t watch video or FaceTime, or look at photos, or register the pictures my boy draws for him.
He is 4.7 kilometres away, he is forever away. He has been mostly gone for a long time. I want him to go now. I want my dad back. I want to at least see him. I am a little girl again.
All I can do, now, is wrap him up in love and trust that the people who are looking after him are wrapping him up in love, too, that they do not become sick or overwhelmed, that he is not alone, that he is not scared, that he is not hungry, or cold, or wet. All I can do is trust and hope and love and miss him and wish we could wake up from the long fucking dementia dream and now this new dream, all I can do is think about him.
He used to like his toast with butter and honey. Or sometimes mashed banana. He used to like Earl Grey. We used to get up early, the two of us, and have our cuppas at the breakfast bar, and look out the window at the copper beech, and talk. He made really good porridge.
He wore shorts all winter. He had strong brown legs. He watched rugby and cricket. He liked white wine and red wine and river swims. He was very stubborn. He was very fair. He was very proud of us. He had the most beautiful cursive, knocked into him by nuns at Catholic school. Also due to the nuns: he stuttered. He was ambidextrous.
He used to read Lee Child and Wilbur Smith and he used to watch Midsomer Murders. Coro. He got into cycling for a while and we all hassled him for his Lycra shorts. He loved fishing. I will never hear an outboard start – gubble gubble gubble – and not think of him. When I was little we lived on Waiheke and he would dive for scallops. My parents would give me the plate to take around at parties and I would go find a corner and eat the lot.
He taught me to drive. He loved the bush. He likes The Eagles, he used to like The Eagles, I mean.
He used to be an orchardist. He used to have a frost alarm beside the bed. I would hear him walk past my bedroom, go out the back door, start the ute and drive to the wind machines. I would lie awake until I heard the wind machines start, white noise blowing across all that soft pink blossom, and then I would hear him open and shut the door and walk down the hall and go back to bed.
One night he took me out there with him and we lay on the grass and looked at the stars.
Kate, he said. You know I love you, eh.