Dad had a habit of disappearing on us when we were shopping at the mall. Understandably bored, he would usually sit in the car and read or meditate. But in the sweltering summer heat, Dad would have to venture elsewhere. And that’s when I was sent out as a reluctant one-person search party while my mom set on a bench in the shade and checked over her receipts to make sure she got all of the discounts owed her.
I can remember circling the mall completely, and still seeing no sign of Dad. I would peek inside at the handful of places he might venture into, such as the newsstand. I would check all of the smoking areas, where sometimes I would get lucky and find him. Other times, I felt like I would never find him. I would be mildly concerned but mainly irritated. It’s not like I ever thought he was in real danger at the time.
Of course, when the dementia set in, tracking Dad down was not a benign, mildly frustrating event but a frightening ordeal. My mom could not even go and have important work done on her teeth without Dad slipping away at the dentist office, despite the promise that the staff would look after him. “He’s at Sonic, is that okay,” the receptionist would ask my mom while she was trapped in the dentist chair, mouth numb and useless due to the Novocain.
The dentist would try to finish up the procedure as quickly as he could, while my mom envisioned my dad crossing the street at the wrong time and being hit by a car, or taking off again and getting even more lost.
So Dad was always a wanderer, but the disease made it much harder to find him.