"Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth." - Toby Wolff



Friday, July 10, 2015

Moraga is Sold


She looked so frail, hair unkempt and askew, clothes old and large, hanging off her boney shoulders. My brother is sad to be losing his childhood home. I don't feel anything. When I walk up the stairs of this house I shut down, each step a compartmentalization of feelings, fears, and desires. I'm glad it's sold. I'm relieved that I will no longer have to come here, to the decay that it's become, and the memory of what it had been.

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?




17 comments:

  1. Dearest annie, I love you. I know you do your best,it is not easy, but you can do it. They love you so.

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    1. Thank you Peggy. I am so fond of you and your family. I admire the incredibly creative woman you've become and envy your studio !!!!

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  2. wonderful post. i went through this with my mamasita (never knew my papa) and now we're traversing this with my wife's very elderly parents in full care. i hope this writing was cathartic for you.

    gracias for sharing

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    1. It seems to be the season. This is the first of many we will deal with in the decade to come, so it is a learning one. I love it when my kids call me mamasita :)

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  3. Wow, I got goose bumps reading this. I found it to be so eerily close to my parents and how I felt and went through when I had to pack up my aging parents and close my childhood home. Thanks for writing this I really enjoyed it.

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    1. I am really glad you could connect with it! So often I feel like I am so different from everyone else. It soothes me to know that I can experience things similarly to others.

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  4. Reading this, what was held in my chest, rose up immediately through my clenched throat and out my eyes when I got to, "...a bag contains thick leather work gloves and ski gloves..."

    I cared for my mother for several years until she died at age 97. It took me a long time to realize she was a narcissist and we had a 'difficult' relationship. As she dwindled, she got very sweet (perhaps it was the prozac) and it made her passing very bittersweet.

    I hope you find the right words to identify and heal your feelings. You are a beautiful woman, no matter the color of your hair.

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    1. Awwww, thank you Kass. I think healing is happening. It is slow. I am stubborn, and the patterns so engrained, but I am determined :)

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  5. So many connections, similar and so many the same. Wonderful writing. Sad but reassuring in a way, not being as isolated as I thought..

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  6. what an incredible piece of writing. i have to say that first.

    in my Mother's nursing home, so many residents were ready to go home. out of touch with reality, until you understood that home was indeed their reality, not this unknown place. things made a lot more sense to me after that.

    you've explained this well. i feel for your Father. he knows. and your Mother too. Sometimes all you can do is lean in and bear witness. that counts.

    i know healing is happening. i can tell by reading this, you are a wounded healing fine writer.

    love your pal
    kj

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  7. A sad, moving write, my Annie. xo

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  8. No, your boyfriend wasn't lying,,,but feel sure he was talking about you as well... How have you been Ms. Annie?

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  9. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share

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  10. Checking in and hoping all is well. I went through a four-year stretch of this with my mother and brother. She died in January -- she quit last year, but cigarettes got her in the end. That and dementia. My brother and I fought. It was the same as when we were teenagers during the divorce. I cut my teeth on him, he cut them on me. We may neither of us be professional kickboxers, but by god we know how to manage a reasonably matched street fight. I broke his ribs once. He beat me so bad once the kids at school believed me when I said a gang got me at the mall. I didn't want to tell anyone why I was wearing sunglasses at school, or that my little brother had headlocked and pounded me while our mother beat us with a broom. We broke a wall that night, too, and my stereo, and one of my dresser drawers...

    Anyway, I'm hoping these months passed since then and now for you have been more pleasant. I pray you're right with your brothers, and that your parents are doing well with the move. I pray I did not miss a post with an update somewhere.

    I think of you often, and it's not your hair he loves anyway. Never forget that. (man, I hope yall are still together, now that I say this after so many weeks... my foot's already too chewed up)

    - Eric

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  11. Are YOU still out there, Ms. Wine?? let me hear...Glenn

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    1. Hi Mr. Glenn! Still kicking and doing well thank you! Many life changes, but happy :) How's by you?

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Thank you for listening.