6/10/13

Michael Kimball

The Sleeping Father

I think a lot about my father falling asleep on the couch in the living room, which happened nearly every night when I was growing up. The recurring image I have is my father watching the television and reading the newspaper at the same time—all spread out on the couch, his head tipped back, his mouth hanging open and snoring, a section of the newspaper opened up over his chest and stomach, the other sections of the newspaper scattered next to him on the cushions.

**

            When I think about it, my father was asleep most of the time he was at home. I remember everybody else in the family trying to be really quiet whenever my father fell asleep in the living room. We spoke in whispers and tiptoed though rooms. It wasn’t that any of us were afraid to disturb his sleep. It was more that my father couldn’t do anything mean to us when he wasn’t awake.

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One of the reasons my father slept so much was sleep apnea, which he had because he was so fat. When a person is as fat as my father was, the extra soft tissue in the throat can block the airway and cause what is called a pause in breathing.

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When I still lived at home, sometimes I sat in the living room and watched the sleep apnea happen to my father. I liked the part where his chest stopped moving up and down and he seemed to stop breathing. I liked the part where the lack of oxygen woke him up in a kind of shock and he choked and sputtered as he tried to breathe air back into his lungs. Sometimes, my father would look at one of us for some kind of explanation for what was happening to him and that always made him look helpless.

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            Sleep apnea would have put my father’s body under a tremendous amount of stress, which would have contributed to his feelings of hunger and led him to eat even more food.

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            My father’s episodes of sleep apnea happened dozens of times a night, so often that he got very little real sleep at night, which is why he often fell asleep during the day. Besides falling asleep while watching television and reading the newspaper, my father could fall asleep while he was eating dinner or talking on the telephone. My father could fall asleep while he was driving his pickup truck, which caused all kinds of accidents, but usually just little ones. His pickup truck was often at the repair shop for bodywork.

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            The only time my father visited my wife and me in our new house, he fell asleep on the toilet in the guest bathroom. It happened sometime during the middle of the night. The bathroom light was on and he was inside there when I got up in the morning. I went into the kitchen and starting making breakfast, thinking we would eat together, but my father didn’t come out of the bathroom.
I finished eating breakfast and waited a while longer. Eventually, I crept up to the bathroom door and listened for him. I was just hoping he wasn’t dead.

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When I got close enough to the bathroom door, I could hear him snoring softly. I was glad he wasn’t dead.

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            I didn’t knock on the bathroom door because I didn’t want my father to realize I knew he had fallen asleep on the toilet. Instead, I used my cell phone to call the landline at our house and then I let the telephone ring until I had to leave a message.
I hung up my cell phone and listened. I heard my father moving around in the guest bathroom and then the toilet flushed and then he came out. My father walked into the kitchen and acted like he had just gotten up. My wife and I acted that way too. We were relieved he was alive.

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            My father’s sleep apnea, the snoring it caused was turbulent, violent, and full of animal sounds. The snoring was also part of why my mother divorced my father. She couldn’t get any good sleep either. Plus, my father took up most of the bed. There was just enough room for my mother to lie there and not move.

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            My father may have died from complications associated with sleep apnea. My father may have suffocated himself with his fat and died in his sleep. Nobody ever tried to determine if that was, in fact, the case.

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This is an excerpt from Big RayMichael Kimball's new book, about Galaga (the arcade game) is forthcoming from Boss Fight Books.

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