I need a reboot

This week has been hectic yet exceptionally unproductive.  I really, really don’t like weeks like this.

I was on campus way too much, between committee meetings and student meetings.  I’m supposed to continue my work with students, and it’s definitely less time than I’d spend if I was teaching, so no complaints there.   I’m going to complain about how much time the service work takes up, never fear, but I’ll always counter my complaints with the acknowledgement that I’d rather be involved in this work than provided with the results.

I did make it to the gym twice.  Maybe three times?  It took a supreme effort of will to get there: one night I finally made it at 9:30pm and today I sat in the car for 30 minutes trying to drum up the energy.  I’m always glad when I get there, though.  It’s only two miles on the treadmill (on a good day, I can run one of those miles) but it’s something active and that’s what matters.

I got the final proofs for my edited book.  It actually looks like a book now!  And the next time I see my work, it will be an actual book!  It’s all very exciting but also, for some strange reason, somewhat immobilizing.  I need to read through and make any corrections by the end of next week and, so far, I’ve only been able to look at them and contemplate starting the work.

I did make it to a lecture on WWI today, though.  I wrote up a report for my professional organization, blasted through some emails, worked on study abroad admin for a bit.  I am getting something done each day, just not enough to make me feel like I’m moving forward.

Here’s hoping a weekend with Rockford, away from the computer, will get me back on track.

and this is perfection

Rockford and I are sitting side-by-side on the sofa, reading our respective histories of WWII and drinking a lovely red wine. 

The man who is neither effusive nor outwardly romantic says, offhandedly, “You know, meant to tell you earlier, you looked awfully pretty today.”

All is right with my world at the moment. 

in which I confirm that I am, indeed, a girl

I’ve been invited to the ball!

Well, it’s called a ball but it’s really a semi-formal evening next month consisting of dinner and music.  But it’s called a ball – the Policeman’s Ball, to be exact – so I’m going with it.

Rockford’s invitation bordered on the hilarious.  He mentioned it a week or so ago, in the context of “there’s this thing happening but I don’t know if I’ll go” – I just nodded and quietly put it on my calendar just in case.  A few days later, he mentioned it again, with a date this time, but still in a “probably won’t go” way; I noted that I’ll be out of town frequently during March but I’d be here that weekend and kept on with whatever we were talking about.  Over the weekend, he noted that he wouldn’t mind going if he could find an attractive woman to go with him; I offered that I knew plenty of single ladies who were quite good company.  Monday, he brought it up again: Did I know of anyone who might be free that night?  I told him he’d better ask the hot woman in front of him before her calendar filled up.

He does love to tease me but I appreciate that he knows his limits already.  I’ve noted before that the teasing growing up was close to torture, so I can have a pretty thin skin sometimes.  He’s pretty good at reading me, though.  Banter is fun; back and forth is enjoyable; but enough is enough, and it’s nice to know he recognizes that.

So!  I get to dress up and look pretty and spend an evening out with a handsome guy in a suit!  I’m irrationally excited about this…

I also get to go shopping!  I tried on the “dressy” dresses I have.  Of the three, one is much too big; one is too business-like; one will do but it doesn’t fit as well as it could.  I don’t need a ballgown, just a cocktail dress, and I have a few weeks to find one.  To be quite vain, I want to look damn good when I step out on Rockford’s arm and meet all of his colleagues.  Sometimes, it’s the superficial things.

finding my footing

I’ll admit, I’ve basically walked around for the last few days with the same refrain running through my head: “My mother doesn’t know me.” How is that possible? I mean, logically, I understand the medical explanation of mental deterioration but I can’t quite grasp, emotionally, how a mother can not recognize her child.  I’m hers; how does that go away? And if that goes away, if my mother doesn’t know me, who do I belong to? Am I an orphan? Will it feel any differently when my mother dies?

Yeah, not a good few days.

Needless to say, I haven’t been particularly happy.  As someone said the other day in response to my statement of having a shit week, I’m awfully good at covering it, but that only applies to people who don’t know me – or, more accurately, to situations that distract me.  Thurs and Fri were solid meetings, which were much-needed distractions; you don’t have time to think about personal issues when you’re standing in front of 50 people in your department or working through some theory readings with a graduate student.  Once again, work saves me.  I can’t focus enough to write the book prospectus or read the material for my fellowship – 50 pages and I’m asleep, however much I really do want to read it – but dealing with people keeps me busy enough to allow time to pass. And that’s what I need: time.  I need time to adjust.

I need some understanding and sympathy, too, which is why god created girlfriends.  My friends here have been good to me: asking about my visit home but also keeping their distance if I don’t want to talk.  They know my mom from my parents’ visit, and they know the situation from our conversations, so they can sympathize from different perspectives. Dinner Friday night was just what I needed: the chance to vent and the chance to laugh.  I felt much more even-keeled after that.

Friday was strange, though.  I had a ticket to a concert that night; I vacillated about going but dinner gave me the energy boost I needed.  It was interesting – not quite my thing but one of those “glad I did that” experiences.  The added oddity was meeting World Traveler afterward for a drink.

Yes, that would be one of the guys I was sort of dating when Rockford came on the scene. We were rather hot and cold in our interactions by that time, so, while I enjoyed our evenings out, it really wasn’t hard for me to decide Rockford was the one I wanted to spend my time with. He’s stayed in touch, though, with texts every now and then. We were friendly enough, and he was mature enough when we parted, that it hasn’t bothered me to exchange pleasantries every now and then – and no, I’m not an idiot.  I know he’d like to date me again, but I also know that I’ve made it clear that’s not happening; as long as we can both live with that, I’m okay with the occasional interaction.

Well, he hit me at the right time Fri night.  He joked that I should join him for dinner; I said I was going to a concert on his side of town; he suggested drinks; I agreed to meet him after the concert.  One drink turned into four, and I came home at 2:30 in the morning. And nothing happened.  We talked; we laughed; we probably flirted a bit; we parted with a hug on the street.  Selfishly, I enjoyed his obvious admiration (I did look quite nice) and I appreciated his willingness to sit and focus on me for three hours.  I just needed that: being the most important person in someone’s life for that point in time.

Where was Rockford, you ask? He was home with his kids.  More importantly to my state of mind, he was on the “not winning” side of the spreadsheet that day.  We’d managed to meet up for about 20 minutes late in the afternoon.  Between my meetings and his work schedule, we hadn’t seen each other since I got back from Home State.  We’d texted a bit, and he had been nothing but kind while I was gone, but we hadn’t had time to actually be together – and I needed that.  I needed human companionship, a hug or a kiss, something to reassure me that someone was on my side.  Our brief meeting on Friday wasn’t that. He’d had an awful day; he was dealing with a frustrating teenager; he was irritated and tired.  So, he sat down across from me, talked for 15 minutes, then jumped up to go pick up his daughter.  I got a distracted kiss in the parking lot and not one question about how I was doing after my trip home.

Not winning.

As a friend pointed out, he likely hadn’t talked to an adult for the past week.  More over, he hadn’t talked to me, someone who cares about him.  So I do understand but, at the same time, I couldn’t decide whether I should roll my eyes or have a crying jag that he was so clueless.  I’m not sure I managed a smile the entire time he was looking at me; I’d been on the edge of tears the entire day; he knew how difficult the trip had been for me. A little sympathy, dude!

So, yes, I was receptive to World Traveler’s request to meet up, the first time since I started dating Rockford.  And I enjoyed talking to WT.  And I appreciated his interest in me. And, maybe, if I’d had a few more drinks, I’d have gone home with him (yes, honesty isn’t always pretty).  But I didn’t, because he wasn’t the one I wanted.

And I did laugh as I was intercepted by a police officer while walking to my car.  He very kindly asked if I needed a ride to my car, given the hour and the neighborhood, but I was close enough that he could watch me walk there.  We talked for a bit and I shared that I was dating Rockford.  Why I felt the need, I don’t know, but he got a kick out of it.  And then I drove home.

To his credit, Rockford realized he’d messed up.  Granted, a comment I made on FB probably led him to that conclusion, but he did apologize, and that counts.  He invited me over Sat afternoon and, despite the work I should have been doing, I went.  In all honesty, the chance to spend time with his youngest kid was really what got me there.  I was still rather miffed at Rockford, and I needed to work, but I like his kid and, sometimes, a child is the medicine you need.  I wasn’t wrong.  The kid met me at the door and I laughed the rest of the day; he even got me on his dad’s bike to ride with him to the post office.  And Rockford gave me one of his long looks and all was forgiven there.

I spent the afternoon watching basketball, then went with everyone to a HS basketball game.  We stopped for milkshakes afterward and came home to watch a movie.  If I wasn’t sure that I’ve officially hit old age, the evening confirmed it: Rockford and I both fell asleep on the sofa.  Waking up and realizing I had to drive home was painful.

Today: more reading, an afternoon nap, and a Super Bowl party at a colleague’s house. Rockford had asked me to join them to watch the game but I was good and stuck to my original plans, and I’m glad I did.  I had a surprisingly good time, interacting with colleagues from one of my departments.  I like these people, generally, but we don’t mix much outside of school.  They’re pretty fun people, and turns out, they think I am, too, so it was a good evening.  I needed some socializing beyond romantic entanglements.

denial ain’t just a river, people

I drove back home today – yes, three days after driving the 10 hours there – so I’m tired, as well as stiff as well as emotionally wrung out.

I am exceptionally grateful to everyone who has been kind enough to offer support and sympathy in the comments.  However personal and painful my experience, it is also a common one, unfortunately.  This is not a situation of misery loving company: I’m so sorry others have also lost their parents this way.  Two of my close friends have already suffered this: one lost her mother, another her father.  We have talked through the years about their experiences and will certainly talk much more now; it does indeed mean something to say, “You know exactly what I mean,” and know someone does, indeed, know exactly what I mean.

I talked to Dad and Sister when I got back.  Mom was better today – less coughing, less sleeping – so the antibiotics seem to be kicking in. I know she felt miserable so it’s good to know she may be on the mend with that.

I did stop by this morning on my way out of town.  I didn’t want to – I knew it would be better for my mental state to just get up and go – but I also knew Dad would be hurt if I didn’t so, there.  Mornings aren’t good for Mom (good being a relative term) so it was hard(er); she obviously didn’t know me but she’s also more confused and less communicative in the morning.  I watched her watch Dad as they ate breakfast; I guarantee she was watching him use his fork.  She’s slow but she did eat, and she ate “correctly,” so that’s something.

I gave her a hug when I left, of course.  She didn’t say anything but she smiled, and then she reached up and pulled at my hair, patted it a little.  She always loved my hair, usually had a comment to make about its color (it’s distinctive) or how pretty it looked, especially in the last few years.  I wondered if that was a glimmer of recognition, even if she doesn’t know me, she knows my hair.  We’ll cling to anything, won’t we.

Yes, my father needs help.  Yes, some outside assistance – to help a bit with Mom or to clean once a week – would be a good idea.  Yes, my sister gets overwhelmed.  Yes, we need to consider what happens as things get worse.

I have no say in any of that.  My family does not listen to me.  Period.

I’m the one who took my mother to the doctor (how many years ago now? four?) after begging them to take her for a check-up.  It was obvious to everyone that her memory was failing but no one seemed inclined to do a thing about it.  Even after confirmation, nothing happened.  I begged, I yelled, I cried: nothing.  Dad’s view was that this was just part of life and what good would medicine do; my sister didn’t want to upset Dad; my brothers are nonexistent when it comes to any of this.  Finally, in the last few months, they agreed maybe medicine was a good idea; now my sister is trying to get an appointment with a memory center.  Sure, let’s do something now; as she says, it would be good to have a baseline and know what to expect.  Yes, by all means, let’s do that now.

This conversation encapsulates everything:

Sister: I’m really afraid that Mom isn’t going to come back from this.

Me: I know.

Sister: I mean, once the pneumonia clears up, I’m not sure her memory will really improve.

Me: I know.

Sister: I’m afraid this is where she’ll be now.

Me: I. Know.

Sister: Maybe she’ll improve a lit—

Me: Maybe she will improve a little but I doubt it.  I know it’s bad; that’s why I’m here.

They don’t listen.  They’ve never listened.  Mom was the one who listened to me, and we even had our ups and downs.  Now that she’s effectively gone, I might as well scream into the wind for all the good it does.

I knew Mom had Alzheimer’s the day she didn’t remember I’d had breast cancer.  A mother does not simply forget that her daughter had cancer.  I’ve tried to help but I’ve also pulled away.  Right around that realization was when I started staying with Cool Friend when I went to Home State.  It had been a struggle to stay with my parents anyway, for many reasons, but I suppose, subconsciously, I made the decision to check out. Not being in the house when I was there, as well as being so far away on a daily basis, meant I was even more out of the loop.  Even though my sister would share bits and pieces, it’s not the same as being there to see if for myself.

Will they ever get any help? Eventually.  Sister was vaguely talking about in-home care and better understanding the progression of the disease and asking my aunt (a retired nurse) for more information.  They’ll hold off as long as they can, I’m sure, and then they’ll do something.

What they won’t do is listen to me.  And I’ve stopped trying to make them.  I offered a few calm observations while I was there; I pointed out a few things that could be helpful at the house; and I cleaned.  Because furious scrubbing was much better than futile conversation.  Dad thanked me, several times, for all I did while I was there and I know he is grateful.  But he’ll do what he wants, when he wants, and my sister will support him.

Family dynamics don’t change, even when the family changes.  I am my father’s daughter.  You’d think that would mean we could find some common ground – we’re just alike! – but my sister is the one who gets through to him.  And she has mastered the art of slow realizations.  So be it.  I’ll do what I can; I’ll be angry; I’ll cry; and I’ll get just a little harder than I already am.

the things that break us

It was a hard day, from start to finish.  Mom was worse, compared to yesterday, when I got there this morning: confused, uncommunicative, slight fever, didn’t have a glimmer of who I could be.  She slept most of the day, which was clearly what she needed.

She had an accident this morning, which Dad had tried to take care of, but he forgot about the chair cushion, so I ended up soaked, as well, when I sat down to talk to her.  I can’t quite describe my fury; I drove back over to my sister’s to change and I was furious – at life, I suppose, but also that everyone is still struggling to figure out the necessities.  No one wants to treat Mom like a child, and they seem to harbor this fantasy that things are going to get better, but right now, she is child-like and things aren’t good.  You don’t have to talk down to her but you do need to help her with the basic actions of life.  I know they try, I do, but I still get so angry.

I was on my hands and knees most of the day, trying to clean the bathroom.  It was awful, just awful; I can guarantee you Dad doesn’t clean it and it isn’t getting much attention from anyone else.  My sister thanked me for doing it, and all I can think is, you live here, if you gave it a swipe once a week, it wouldn’t get so bad.  Today: bad.  I sprayed everything and left it to soak for a few hours, then scrubbed: the toilet, the sink, the tub, the counters, the floor.  I replaced the shower curtain and got rugs with non-skid backing. I threw away the slivers of soap and little half-empty bottles of shampoo and dried out make-up and curdled lotion.  It’s as clean as I can get it now, and may someone please try to keep it that way.

My aunt (Mom’s sister) came by this evening and brought dinner; Mom rallied enough to come to the table and eat.  She seemed much better afterward; food and drink definitely helped.  She still didn’t know me but she was much more alert and interactive; like yesterday, she seemed to know I was someone, even if she didn’t know who that someone was.  She let me help her change into her nightgown; she laughed at a few of my silly jokes (the rhyme of mama’s pajamas was especially funny). She caught me cleaning out the bathroom, stood and watched for a minute, and I told her I was tidying up because she liked things tidy.  “Yes, I do.”  Yes, she does.

That’s what breaks me.  Yes, losing my mom in front of my eyes is killing me.  But what breaks me is seeing Mom unkempt, seeing her house cluttered and messy, seeing her sink and her floor dirty.  Dad commented tonight on my cleaning – I suppose it was a thank you wrapped in a joke – and I just snorted.  “Dad, I may get my stubbornness from you but I get my cleanliness from Mom, and she would want things cleaned up around here.” She just nodded and smiled.

Because my mother kept a clean house.  She was forever picking up after Dad, taking a dustmop to the floor and throwing away clutter and washing dishes.  I could see her agony from my childhood when I walked in this morning and saw a pile of peanut bits near Dad’s chair after I spent how long cleaning the floors yesterday.  She was always pretty: hair fixed, a little bit of makeup, jewelry with every outfit.  She didn’t leave the house without lipstick: no way, no how.  The indignity of losing her mind is somehow compounded by losing the things that were important to her.

She still makes her bed, though.  Every morning.  If she takes a nap during the day, she’ll make the bed when she gets up.  And when I walked by the bedroom tonight, she had pulled the covers down, as she always did a few hours before she went to bed.  She cleaned the table tonight, too.  I left the dishrag on the table when I took some dishes into the kitchen and when I turned back, she was wiping the table down.  With everything she’s lost, those housekeeping pieces are still there.

You know, I was talking to Rockford recently and religion came up for some reason.  He’s not a huge churchgoer but he is religious and he does go; there’s even a cross on his living room wall (oh, look, something else we don’t have in common).  I didn’t do a very good job of explaining my views on religion or god or faith or whatever you want to call it, and that’s bothered me for some reason.  I had time to think about it on the drive here and I may have a better grasp on it now.

I don’t dispute that there may be a divine entity.  Call it what you will, I can accept that there is something greater than me in this universe.  When I’m standing on the cliffs of Cornwall, watching the waves crash against the rocks, or when I’m standing under the dome of St Paul’s, watching the light stream through the windows, I can absolutely believe that there is something beyond humanity.  The belief in the divine – a god, if you must – isn’t what keeps me from being religious.

My issue is the belief that the divine doesn’t care about us.  If there is a god, he is not involved in our lives; you can pray all you want but that prayer isn’t going to result in any intercession from a higher power.  Believing that a divinity is involved in our lives means believing in a vengeful divinity, a god that purposefully allows suffering and pain and horror. I can’t believe in any power that would allow such awful things to happen in this world and intercede only because some people pray more than others.  Telling me that it’s god’s will or everything happens for a reason or a loved one has gone to a better place: why the fuck is that supposed to make me a believer?  It’s god’s will that my mother – that anyone – disintegrate in front of her family’s eyes? That is not a god I wish to worship.

I wish I could find comfort in faith.  I actually do.  Most of my family does (although I suspect my father does not) and I won’t sneer at them.  If religion brings you a measure of peace, I wish you well.  I do not share it.  And it has nothing to do with my liberal leanings or my intellectual profession or my advanced degree.  This is all about a 12-year-old kid who lost a beloved aunt very suddenly and a 16-year-old girl who lost a friend to a drunk driver.  I couldn’t wrap my head around worshipping a god who would allow terrible things like that to happen, and no one could provide a reasonable explanation as to why I should.  So I stopped.  It may be childish but it really is that simple.

returning home to find my mother

I’ve had many thoughts over the last few days but, for now, I don’t have the energy to get them out through my fingers.  Perhaps tomorrow…it’s been a long day.

The drive to Home State Sunday wasn’t bad at all.  I made very good time; I didn’t run into any construction or accidents; I kept my mind occupied with relatively innocuous things.  If only all of my drives back here could be so easy (and I’ve likely jinxed myself for the drive back).  I made it to my sister’s without any trouble and was in bed a few hours after that.

I didn’t have a good start to the day at all, however.  I stayed at Rockford’s Saturday night, with the intention of getting up fairly early to start the drive.  The alarm went off but I did not get up.  I just couldn’t.  I wasn’t sleepy, I simply didn’t want to leave.  So, I curled up into Rockford and stayed there until he woke up a few hours later.  Once I got up, the getting ready was fairly quick and I was ready to go at a decent hour.  And then I fell, hard. My shoes were wet, coming back into his house from loading the car, and my feet flew out from under me when I stepped into his tiled entryway.  And I do mean flew: I think I hit the floor completely horizontal.

Needless to say, that hurt.  A lot.  It scared me to death, too, so here I am, flat on my back in Rockford’s entryway, too shocked to move and tears running into my hair as I try to catch my breath.  It was’t pretty.  Rockford had seen my legs fly up as he was walking toward the living room and he heard the crash so he was beside me in a flash.  I think he was a little shaken up, actually.  He knows about my back surgeries, of course, so he kept asking if I’d hurt my back.  Well, yes, but not that part of it, so all is well there.  I hit the base of my neck and my head, as well as my tailbone, but nothing is broken; still, I took about an hour to walk around a bit, take some medicine, and calm down before I got in the car and started the long drive.  It took a few hundred miles down the road for me to realize what Rockford said as he hugged me goodbye: “I know you need to go but I wish you didn’t have to.”

I spent most of today at my parents.  It was, as expected, hard but I had to reassure myself that it could be much worse.  Mom is definitely improving from the pneumonia. She was up and dressed when I got there; she stayed up about three hours before sleeping most of the afternoon; she ate a little lunch and a decent dinner.  These are all very good things.  She’s quite weak, though; getting up and down is hard for her and she isn’t very steady on her feet.  Still, I think she’s much better than she was.

Not so good: needing to change all the sheets and put them in the wash.  I did a few loads of clothes, too.  I even dragged the mattress out onto the porch to air out and dry from my efforts at cleaning – by myself, because I am actually stubborn enough to do that.  I cleaned the kitchen a little and vacuumed the entire house.  Tomorrow, I’ll tackle the bathroom. Dad does try, I don’t want to act like he doesn’t, but he has never been the most fastidious and it’s simply more than he can manage now; even with my sister helping, there’s much to do.  At least cleaning is something I can do.

Since it was so warm and sunny, I asked Mom if she wanted to sit on the porch with me and she thought that sounded okay.  So, I dragged some chairs outside and we sat in the sunshine for about half an hour.  She dozed a little but she also talked to me – even made a few observations about the yard on her own. She called my brother by name, which was good to hear (as she didn’t know him last week), and a little later, she mentioned my sister by name, so they’re still there amidst the fog.

I’m not.  Mom didn’t know me today.  I think she knew she should know me, which is something, I suppose, but she couldn’t call me by name.  I’m not sure she knew I was her daughter, but maybe she felt it in some way.  She seemed easy with me, and a few times she took my hand as she walked from place to place.  That’s something, right?

I’ve done really well today but I’m crying as I type this.  Even expecting this would be the case, I suppose I hoped it wouldn’t be.  And who knows, maybe she’ll know me tomorrow; the pneumonia is making everything worse and as it clears, the fog may lift just a little. But it won’t lift enough to give me my mother back.