There are boxes everywhere. There is barely a path for my father to get his walker through. The care-giver maneuvers him. My mother is packing too much stuff. We had outlined the size of the assisted living apartment for her last week and it seemed that spatial sense had found it's way into her consciousness, but in the end she couldn't really bear to leave anything behind, to lose anything more than her home and pride, so we are packing a 3,000 square foot home into a 600 square foot apartment.
My father is finally seated at the kitchen table where he spends eight hours like a job. His tasks are checked off one by one as if they are not simply the primal functions of living. "Have you had your bowel movement this morning?", my mother asks him. She does not look at him and has her fists resting on the kitchen counter, having barely the strength to support her weariness there. I wonder if the question embarrasses him. His BMs have never been discussed in font of his daughter before and I question my mother's sensitivity, but it is a rhetorical question. The sensitivity ship had sailed long ago. My father says yes, he has pooped...the ultimate relief to the aged. He is given water and orange juice. After a moment he says, "Is the coffee started?". I said it had not, and immediately set about perking things up. My mother comes to me and says loudly, "Every day. Everyday we go through the same thing. He knows he has to have several cups of fluid in the morning before he can have coffee. But every morning the first thing he asks is if the coffee is started." I imagine all this fluid monitoring has something to do with his blood pressure, the cuff on his arm creaking into action periodically as a reminder of the many trips to the ER. What joy has he but his beloved coffee? His belongings are scattered about and he has no ability to pack what is important to him. He requests that a book be put in his bag. My mother rolls her eyes and shows me that his bag contains thick leather work gloves and ski gloves, as if he will once again do either. It makes me feel sad, this small bag of importance that has no ties to reality.
The same passivity with which he has dealt with her for years still prevails and he sits rather stoically and resigned...defeated. I am looking at my feeling word list as I type this, trying to climb out from my dissociation to write and get the ickiness I feel out of my body. I feel helpless, uneasy, apprehensive, awkward, nervous and concerned. Hmmmmm. My therapist says to remember that whatever word I land on is probably far milder than my actual feeling, so perhaps I am panicked, overwhelmed, terrified and vulnerable. I don't know. Annabelle says we feel "icky" and that works for me.
Soon, my father continues with his daily routine of questions, trying to understand what is going on, to be included, to have a say, to matter. He asks my mother about the telephone. "Are we taking the phone?". "Is service set up?". "Will we have the same phone number?". My mother is exasperated. Maybe she has answered these questions a million times since I was here last week. She tells him she did not get the same phone number. He asks why. She says the phone company said the number was already taken. He asks why. She throws up her proverbial hands and says he should call and ask them. And he does. And she freaks out. "DO NOT UNDO WHAT I HAVE DONE!" she yells, as loud as her weak voice can manage. Anyone who has ever called AT&T understands the time involved in getting anything accomplished. She had done the best she could and everything had finally been arranged. Check! She had crossed the item off her interminably long list of to-do's. Now it was unraveling. She is yelling "Hang up the phone,,,NOW!!!!!" and my father is saying "I'm sorry" to whomever is on the other end of the line. "I just want to keep my old phone number", and behind the statement is the fact that he has had this same number for over 60 years, he remembers it, and it is the only place that he can be found....at this table, near this phone, and now he will be nowhere. He will cease to exist.
The argument comes and goes all morning, like a horse fly that has found it's way into the house, intermittent flurries of noise that you'd like to swat out of existence. I think my dad finally got his phone number. Good for him. I was....(wait while I look at the neatly ordered list of feeling words)...RELIEVED that he was so DETERMINED, and SATISFIED with the result. Basically I had checked out. I remember that at 12:12 I opened a bottle of Chardonnay and poured myself a glass. I hid in the living room on the couch, so small again. My parents arguing, the fear of escalation. When will it end, how do I fix it, how can I make things peaceful again? I will be quiet, I will be un-found, I will be invisible, and when the storm passes I will be helpful, I will be perfect, I will be someone else. The care giver also evacuates the scene and I find her in the living room with me. I tell her to sit down. We will ride this out together. I am quickly shuttled back to some point in childhood where doors are slamming, voices are loud, and it is dark. My two younger brothers have found their way into my bedroom and I am comforting them as we huddle on the bed.
After awhile I hear my mother at the sink. She notices the bottle of wine and says "What's this?". I tell her it was me, I opened it. She said, "Oh. Were you scared?" "No" I lied.
After all the therapy, after all the years, my go-to place with my parents is still to numb out. I try to be understanding, I try to feel empathy for my mother. She is crying. I look at her and say, "This must be so overwhelming. I bet you really need a break from all this." After the slightest hesitation, she turns to me and says, "Do you dye your hair?" I say, "Yes." She asks me why, and I know it is because she does not like the new darker color. "Because I don't want to be gray" I answer. She just keeps looking at me and my hair, finally saying "oh" and I am dismissed. Is this a pattern that explains childhood, encapsulates all the pain? She can't cope with her feelings so she picks me apart, puts me down and belittles me? I am the deflection for everything that goes bump in the night. I cannot be perfect enough to avoid this, and apparently never will be. I touch my hair. My boyfriend said he liked it. Was he lying?