Jefferson Davis Wood stood outside the door in the hallway of the Mercy State Hospital’s Alzheimer’s Ward and stared at the sign taped to the door. In wavy scrawled script, the sign said simply, Gone Fishing.
“He was quite lucid the day he checked himself in here.” Marylyn Grant was the psychiatric resident on duty when Jeff walked in. She was also the one who admitted Robert Edward Lee. “That’s the name he gave us,” she said smiling.
“He was quite a charming southern gentleman.” she continued, “He said he had a driver’s license and credit cards, but couldn’t remember where they were. He found he couldn’t remember other things too. That was why he wanted to check himself in. Then, of course, he flashed me his meltingly wonderful smile.”
“And you checked him in then?” Jeff asked.
“Yes,” Marylyn knocked above the sign and started to push the door open.
Jeff touched her arm and stopped her.
“When was that?”
She checked her chart, “Eight months ago. Is that when your father went missing?”
“I think so,” Jeff replied.
“You think so?” she said surprised.
Jeff sighed heavily. “I was out of the country for over a year. When I recently got home, the house was empty, closed up, and no note from him. I’ve been searching for him since.”
Marylyn stood looking at him.
Finally he said, “Iraq.”
She nodding in understanding. “I see it all the time. They don’t want to be a burden to anyone especially their kids. You’d be surprised how many run off and check themselves in here. Especially if they believe they have Alzheimer’s.”
She pushed the door open and they entered the room.
The man in the chair sat stooped over, his eyes vacant, a little drool forming in the corner of his mouth. He was fully dressed, clean shaven, and his hair was neatly combed.
“Is he your father?” Marylyn asked softly.
“Yes,” Jeff said, walking over, resting his hand on his father’s, and kissing the top of his head. “He’s all I’ve got now.” He got down on his knees and looked up into his father’s face.
Marylyn came over beside him. “No other family?”
“Nope,” Jeff said. “Just me and my dad and now he’s here, but gone from me at the same time.”
“I put his hands on the bible in his lap every day,” she began. “He read it for as long as he could, then he just liked to hold it. And, he loved the pictures on the wall. He had me put them up for him.”
She pointed to the pictures on the walls. They were all of men fishing; some stood in beautiful mountain streams, some were deep sea fishing on bright blue waters, and others were of a man and a boy in a boat.
“He loved to fish,” Jeff said, staring at the pictures. “It was our thing since I was a small child.” He stood, resting his hand on his father’s shoulder and looked at her. “What do I do now? Can I take him home with me?”
“You can, but he chose to be here. Here, he’s surrounded by his beautiful pictures, holds his bible and I see that he’s well cared for. It will only be for a short while longer. I’m so sorry.”
“I can come and sit with him?”
“As often as you’d like. You can talk with him, hold his hand, and be with him as for long as you can.”
“That’d be nice,” Jeff said, kissing his father’s head again and whispering in his ear. “I’ll be back tomorrow and we can have a long talk. I’ll tell you about my time in Iraq and the one time I got to go fishing there.”
He turned and started from the room. Marylyn touched the old man good bye and followed Jeff out.
She shut the door behind them and they both stood staring at the Gone Fishing sign together.
“He told me that was what his heaven was going to be like,” Marylyn said softly, “fishing all the time. He asked me to put the sign on his door the minute his mind was gone. His heart and spirit would be there fishing even if his body was still here for a while longer.”
“So, he’s just gone fishing,” Jeff said, his voice choking slightly.
“Yes,” Marylyn agreed, “probably in a boat with God.”
Jeff smiled and nodded.
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