After my father’s stroke, he started crying all the time. He cried about everything: sentimental commercials, pop songs on the radio, or the way mom would cut his apples for him width-wise instead of length-wise. She quickly changed to cutting them length-wise after the first time he cried over them. My father only eats apples now. It’s weird. He won’t eat anything else, insisting that apples take him back to his happy place and that nothing else agrees with him. And then he would go off into tales from his childhood where everything was “colder and harder and not as expensive,” and then he’d cry some more.
It sort of became normal after a while; him acting weird, only eating apples, and crying about everything, until one day we knew that it had gone too far.
We would normally wake up to the sound of Dad crying about the sun shining through his blinds. Or about the purple socks he was wearing, but that morning it was quiet. When we got to his room he was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, clutching the bed sheets, and murmuring. We tried to talk to him or even get him to sit up, but all he would say was:
“Jacob… the apple orchards… must go–”
I couldn’t make any sense of it except that I knew I had an uncle on Dad’s side named Jacob. Wondering if there was any connection, I told my mother. After a minute of deliberation with her hands on her hips, my mother announced that we were going on a car trip. When I asked where to she replied, “To Art’s childhood home, of course.” We managed to get Dad into the car–I don’t quite recall how, but we did it. As Mom and I got in the car, she insisted that we were doing the right thing. “I mean, think about it, Ryan,” she told me as she put the key into the ignition, “Talking about his childhood stories, his little brother Jacob, apples and apple orchards…” I simply nodded, not quite getting it but trusting my mom.
We arrived half an hour later at a farm house out in the middle of nowhere. There were apple trees as far as I could see. As soon as my dad saw them, he practically jumped out of the vehicle and started sprinting towards the orchard. My mom and I hastily parked the car and chased after him, yelling at him the whole while. We entered the orchard, my dad eagerly leading the way. He zigzagged across the paths, seeming to know what he was doing. It was as if he was searching for a particular tree. Eventually, Mom and I gave up on yelling at him to slow down and just started following him without questioning his sense of direction. Suddenly he stopped. We caught up our breath, a bit confused. I looked around. This place seemed identical to every other place in the orchard; there was nothing special about the tree that my father was staring intently at. No one said anything, and a few moments passed.
Then my father approached the apple tree and slowly started climbing it.
We protested. His doctor probably wouldn’t think it was a great idea for a man who had a stroke two months ago to be climbing a tree, we said. But he wouldn’t listen. In fact, he showed no sign that he had heard us at all. He didn’t stop until he had reached the top which actually wasn’t that high up. When he stopped climbing he carefully sat down on a branch. He just sat there.
He just sat there. We waited for something to happen, but nothing did. I glanced at my mom uneasily. Was he going to try to jump? This wasn’t safe for him–
Suddenly my father’s arm started moving up and plucked an apple from the branch beside him. Without moving his eyes or face or anything, he slowly bit into the fruit. From my position on the ground, I could see tears gliding down the side of his cheek.
We stood there and watched. And he just sat there, eating and crying.