Thanks to Ashley for this piece about his dad Bruce....
The dining table was bristling with entrees when I arrived, glasses waiting to be filled with drink reflecting the warm glow of the ceiling lights. In the kitchen beyond a delicious smell wafted from a pot on low heat. No one was around. I jumped through the sliding doors, eager to get on the other side of the condensation coated windows, to escape the southern highlands cold I used to love.
I notice a sign resting on top of a CD rack against the far wall. “Teenagers: Sick of your parents bossing you around? Grow up, get a job, move out, while you still know everything!” Next to it a candle has allowed its wax to trickle over the surface of the CD rack and run over the edges, leaving several stalactites hanging in thin fingers.
I hear a slow creaking across the floorboards from deeper within the old house.
“Hello Ash!” My dad, with a broad smile maneuvers his wheelchair into the room. His posture is awkward. His grey beard and long kaftan make him look like a portly wizard. “How’s the flat going?” he always asks.
“It’s fine,” I always say, but this time: “Its alright if you don’t mind the cockroaches.”
Mum strides into the room and hugs me. “Skinny boy!” She practically shrieks as she pinches at my ribs. After being questioned about how much I’ve been eating I sidle towards the table to get some food.
Mum then turns on dad. “Bruce, this place is such a mess, look at all this crap you leave everywhere!” She stabs a finger at one end of the table where there is a raised tray table on caster wheels, perfect for sitting at in a wheelchair. It is separated from the display of entrees by newspapers, printed sheets, an open diary with pages covered in indecipherable swirls, slowly falling apart.
“Yeah right,” says dad. “I’m the only one who ever cleans anything up around here.” He grasps at a metal claw which rides on the back of the chair. “Look.” The claw’s unseeing pincers bite at some loose sheets which have fallen to the floor. Dad, with jerky movements, leans over the side of his chair, trying to get the claw under the impossibly thin pages. On the last attempt, the claw jumps out of his hand and clatters to the floor. I crouch to gather the paper as mum returns the claw. She shakes her head.
One in a thousand Australians will develop Multiple Sclerosis in their lifetime. No one is sure why, or how to prevent it or cure it. Dad, being diagnosed with MS the year I was born, has been living with the disease for 21 years. Over that time his own immune system has been attacking the insulation around his nerves, causing signals from the brain to be disrupted, affecting his movement and balance. With, and often despite his family, he has remained strong and helps to advise people in his situation.