this message made me tear up :) i can’t thank you enough for reading, and for your kind words. i’ve been avoiding updating that blog because as time goes on, things get tougher, and it’s hard to look it in the face, you know? but to know that someone’s out there reading, understanding, and appreciating means so, so much to me. i get a lot of LOLs and retweets for the funny/silly things i write, but truthfully, this is what touches me the deepest.
thank you beyond words. :)
help us remember to be thankful for where we are
and what we have
fill our hearts with enough love and compassion
to push ourselves out of the bigger picture
forgive us our humanity
when we get angry and yell and scream and slam doors
when we can’t find the patience we need
when we choose not to look for it
when we’re fresh out of strength
remind us that it is woven into our struggle
remind us to look for it now and again
remind us of what a perfect person would do in our shoes
and help us attempt those dance steps
teach us how to not take life personally
show us how to do this
show us how to do this
show us how to do this
and whether or not we think we understand,
help us to be thankful for the lesson
if we can’t manage to look past our scars,
help us find the beauty in them
and when we lie in our beds at night,
alone with our thoughts
left with the echoes of yelling and screaming and slamming doors
help us to forgive ourselves
rather than remain our own executioners,
sitting on the floor of a locked cell,
key in hand.
i wanted to take a quick moment to thank any and everyone who happens to follow this tumblr. i haven’t blogged/journaled personally in a very, very long time, and it’s not easy to be so naked in front of perfect strangers. this particular project is especially hard, as it involves confronting some pretty uncomfortable feelings and emotions. but, it helps. it helps that the words are coming out, and it somehow helps that they’re finding their way to actual humans. this sort of consciousness raising, even online, even without real names being used, is healing, and i thank you all for helping me heal. even if there were no one reading this, i’d still write, but it is exceptionally moving that anyone cared enough to click the follow button. thank you.
also, need to make some mental notes for myself:
as i notice/become brave enough to acknowledge that my granny’s getting a bit worse, i feel moved to write about her obsessions and compulsions, just to capture them, i guess. to take as sharp a snapshot as i can. i’ve been keeping a mental list, and so far it looks like this:
- the weather
- jewelry (specifically, people stealing it from her)
- spontaneous undressing
i need to capture these few now, because i feel like i’m watching it grow longer.
also, i need to write about happy/funny times here. sure, this is a sad thing that is happening, but there are chuckles along the way, and those are every bit as important. so, i have an uproarious story about a bath that i’ll share here.
i also want/intend to just write here more often. i don’t because it’s scary, i think, but i will find the balls. it’s one of my new year’s resolutions. please hold me to this!
she has been without them nearly all day. i gave her dentures to her at lunch time this afternoon so that she could eat the tuna sandwich and handful of cheez-its she had (which she turned her nose up at, of course, but ate anyway). after lunch, she retired to her room, and when i saw her again at around 5, she was toothless again. four and a half hours later she emerges again for something cold to drink, mouth still sunken and shapeless without her dentures.
yesterday morning, she smiled at me when i poked my head in her room to wake her up. i saw teeth. a few minutes after i gave her a plate of whatever was for lunch yesterday, she poked her head into my mother’s room, where i was watching TV.
"i cain’t find my teeth nowhere."
again, i saw teeth, then realized the mistake i’d made that morning. i’d taken the visual proof of upper dentures as proof enough that the bottoms were in too. they weren’t. i went into her room and first looked under her pillows, which, for some reason, has become her favorite place to keep things—nightgowns, her remote control, the newspaper, and on occasion, her teeth. this time, i found each of those items plus a small stack of neatly folded kleenex, but no dentures. i moved on to the length of her bed, pulling sheets and blankets from it and shaking them out. no dentures.
the last time i couldn’t find her dentures in her bed, i ended up having to rummage elbow-deep in kitchen trash that had been in the garbage can for a good day or two, absolutely filling the house with flies and eau de rotten chicken. before i went about kicking things on my way to get the protective gloves this time, i remembered that i once found them inside her pillow case. thankfully i found them there.
but i digress.
all this is bad news because there was a time when she wouldn’t be caught dead without her teeth in her mouth. my grandmother has never been a vain woman, never considered herself particularly pretty (though i and most people disagree), but she was dressed. i mean, *dressed.* she kept herself cleaned up quite well, especially on sundays. and she was never, ever without her teeth. she even slept in them at night.
but she’s been without them for a day and a half. purposely.
this feels like another loss. another piece of who she was is slipping away from us, if not gone already. and not three minutes ago from this very moment, she called me into her room to cover her up because she was cold. rather than reach down and pull up her own covers, rather than get up and put on an extra pair of socks, she got up and sought out her granddaughter to tuck her in.
i rolled my eyes and shook my head at her because it is easier than looking at her laying there, than watching another darkening shade settle on the horizon.
tsk. so lazy. she won’t even cover herself up anymore.
won’t. not can’t. won’t.
"won’t" is a fantasy. "won’t" implies that if she’d just make the conscious decision to cover herself up, to stop undressing in the dining room, to get over the freaking coffee thing already, she would. it suggests that where we are is not permanent, that we can somehow stop and even reverse time.
but “can’t” is our reality. any active will that she has to do any of those things lessens a little more everyday, and i notice that these days we roll out eyes a little harder and comment on this delicious laziness a little louder as if trying to will it into existence.
i tucked her in, though i did not want to. rather instinctively, i began to lean down to kiss her on her forehead, but stopped short, uncomfortable with the motherliness of it all.
i instead called out to her, “good night, i love you” as i stepped out of her room and further toward the land of can’t that i have been so fiercely avoiding.
(an old entry from a few months ago)
As deep as I’m sleeping in the midst of the rain drumming a lullaby on the roof outside, I manage to hear the little footsteps take to the stairs leading to my room. It’s my youngest niece, 6 years old, 7 this summer. I roll my eyes beneath my lids and take a deep breath, stockpiling the patience I’ll need when I’m asked for breakfast or juice or whatever 6 year olds think is important enough to wake someone up for.
"Are you sleeping?" she says, softly. Her voice is high and squeaky, her whisper like the tinkling of glass on a sidewalk.
“Why ?” I say with purposeful irritation in my voice. She’ll need to know that it’s ridiculous to wake somebody up for juice, and I’m dropping the hint before the full message comes.
“Granny’s in the kitchen.”
God. This is far worse than a kid wanting toast to watch with her cartoons. I thank the kid for letting me know (when she came to stay the weekend the night before, I deemed her my Official Granny Watcher, and she hasn’t slipped up once), take a deep breath and whisper for somebody, whoever was listening, to give me strength.
I look at the clock and I swear I hear it giggle mockingly as it ticks to 6:43.
I decide right then that this is too early. I went to bed at a decent hour, but was still tired because it wasn’t even 7 a.m. And beyond that, I hated the idea that she or I should have to be such a slave to her coffee addiction that our normal sleep patterns and natural lives should be so dramatically interrupted by it (she typically sleeps until 10 at the very least; I don’t know what this pre-7 a.m. business is about). Routine is very important to me because I want it to be for her. When she got sick, she became unable to remember the time of day or keep track of the passage of time, and now she doesn’t even try anymore. In trying to hold on to some kind of routine, I guess I’m trying to hold on to who she used to be.
So that’s it, then. I’ll go downstairs and tell her that she can have her coffee, but it’s a bit too early to be up and at ‘em. I’ll have her lay back down for a little while, which she won’t mind since the only thing she likes as much as coffee is laying down beneath a pile of quilts and comforters.
I walk into the kitchen and see the familiar scene: every cabinet and cupboard door is open along with the microwave, the countertops are spattered with random bags and containers of things, the top has been taken off the sugar bowl which lays next to an empty coffee cup and spoon, and my grandmother is in a mint green nightgown bent completely over with her head inside an open drawer.
“Mama?” She sees me and smiles.
“Hi, baby!” She points to the coffee maker and her lips move silently as she searches for the words she wants. I nod my head, already knowing what she wants and what she means.
“Mama, it’s a little too early for coffee, sweetie.” I say this confidently, expecting a little protest but never doubting that victory is inevitable; I heard my mother say once that she tells her to go back to bed all the time when she gets up too early.
Protest comes first in the form of an alarmed look on her face that soon spills into panic, then anger, then sadness.
“It ain’t too early,” she says calmly, though the way she’s bunching her mouth suggests anything but serenity.
“It’s not even 7 yet,” I coo to her. “We’ll get you some coffee, but first let’s rest a little bit longer, okay?”
“I don’t wanna rest, I want—“
“It’s too early, Mama.”
“Not for me!” Now she’s full-blown anxious. Her hands are fat, nervous butterflies flying recklessly between balling up and squeezing the length of her nightgown to scratching nervously at her scalp to rubbing the side of her face. They soon end up in her mouth where she gnashes at them violently with her dentures. I speak slowly, trying to hold on to my patience as long as I can; I know that I only have a few more Mama-please-it’s-too-earlies in me, and I want to savor them for the both of us. She spins around to grab her coffee cup and I try again. This time her shoulders slump, like a boxer before he hits the mat, but her voice gets louder and her eyes fill with tears. Victory is visible. I now have a decision to make.
I can stand my ground and insist that she go back to bed, which she will eventually do, but not a second before all hell breaks loose. I’ve been here before and it got so bad that I had to call my mother all the way home from work to settle things down. Lots of tears. Lots of tears. And yelling. I think she even threatened me with her cane once. Or I can throw my hands up and fix her the damn coffee, giving in not only to her, but to the way things have become.
I don’t like my options and seeing no other way out, I snap.
“Fine!” I push past her towards the coffee pot, which is a quarter full of cold, day-old coffee which I pour violently into the sink. I slam the coffee pot onto the counter and go about making a fresh pot, fussing all the while. “It is way too early for this, Mama. Nobody wants to be up this early on a Sunday making coffee because you can’t think of anybody but yourself.”
“I do think of you, too!”
“No you don’t! All you think about is coffee, coffee, coffee! You don’t care that I’m tired!”
“Well, you shouldn’t stay up so late!” That struck a nerve. I’m yelling now.
“I WASN’T up late! You need to stop acting like a two year old over coffee!!” Hearing myself, I take a quick breath and lower my voice, but I’m still angry. “Just go sit down.” She lingers, reaching for her coffee cup. “I said go sit down, I’ll get it.”
“You think I cain’t wait on myself no more,” she accuses.
“You can’t.” As soon as the words leave my lips, I know that that quiet utterance cut her much deeper than any of my yelling did and I feel ashamed.
I know my grandmother can’t help it. I know that the strokes have turned her into what she is today. But I can’t help it either; I’m angry, at her, at life. I had plans today. They weren’t big plans, but they were plans. But when you’re taking care of a sick old woman, plans don’t matter. You don’t matter. Her routine becomes yours. The unfairness is colossal, and other than put her in a nursing home somewhere, which we could never do, there isn’t any way out of it other than…
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Sometimes, when I’m so angry and frustrated, I ask myself the question very, very quietly in the back of my mind and I avoid looking people in the eye just in case they’ll be able to see what I’m thinking. But I do wonder if we’ll be happier once she’s gone. We’d be sad, of course. Nobody wants a loved one to die. But I’m speaking logistically, once we get over the hurt. When we won’t have to structure our social lives around where she will be and what she will need, when my mother will have the extra money for that fishing trip to Florida she’s been wanting to take, but can’t because of the time she has to take off to make doctor’s appointments, when we can eat dinner in the dining room again without having to watch the infantile mess she makes with her food. When we can make plans again. When we don’t have to hate coffee anymore. When we can step back into our own identities and again become people with hobbies and tickets to plays that we can actually go see and the option to work overtime if we want to. It is a very uncomfortable, guilt-ridden fantasy, but it is a fantasy. I keep quiet about it. I wonder if my mother has it, too.
I am 28 years old and I don’t have any children. I worry that this experience will make me never want them. As cute and fun as my grandmother can be, caring for her is not. It’s a chore, and often inconvenient. I don’t delight in it. I can’t enjoy her company because looking at her reminds me of the woman that we have been robbed of. The frail body swathed in wrinkled skin and mysterious bruises, the wild-eyed stare she gives everyone and everything, the slurred tongue, the slow, stooped gait, the horrible hygiene habits, the odd need for constant hugs and kisses. It was fun the first couple of weeks, and now it feels like a trap. I fear that having children will be the same way. What if I object to being awakened in the middle of the night to breastfeed? What if I don’t feel like giving any hugs one day? What if I just want to sit and read and be left alone for a little while?
I have a friend who confessed to me once from the bottom of our second bottle of wine that she doesn’t like being a mother because she doesn’t have the luxury to be herself anymore. Everything she was, everything she enjoyed, all that has been taken from her and she feels both resentful of it and guilty for it because society sells this dream to women all the time, that motherhood is (or at least should be) the greatest joy a woman can experience. You’re supposed to love this. You were made for this. But what happens when it isn’t a joy? Does anyone ever even allow for that possibility?
Somehow, I knew exactly how she felt, and I increasingly wonder if my mother feels the same way. After all your parents do for you—raising you, feeding you, clothing you, sacrificing for you—the least you can do is give them the same when they need it. My mother refuses to put Granny in a home because she fears that it would kill her (literally—she thinks she would die of grief) and also, I think she feels that she owes it to her to take care of her. But maybe this isn’t for her? That’s possible, right?
Helping to care for my grandmother has filled me with lots of questions that I know the answers to, though I’m too scared to acknowledge them. Right now, I’m too scared to acknowledge her after our little row in the kitchen because I know that she’s already forgiven me. She’s probably even forgotten it all. I’ll go downstairs and she’ll smile the world’s biggest smile and sing “hi, hon!” and open her arms for a hug, and I will be eaten alive by my shame from the inside out, like acid. I won’t hug her because I fear that I’ll burst into flames and I don’t want the heat to singe her nightgown.
(note: this isn’t a true story, but another imagining; a fictional story based on my grandmother & her life. my actual granny doesn’t drink.)
I know you ‘posed to thank God ever morning and be happy He woke you up, and I am, but sometime I won’t mind if He didn’t. I’m old. Cain’t go where I want, do what I want. All day, I just sit, sit, sit; sit so much I cain’t tell the days apart no more. I wake up, I think I know what day it is, what time it is, but then somebody yells, “Mama! What you doin’ up, it’s 3 in the mornin’! Go back to bed!” or “Mama! You need to get up out the bed and eat some dinner!” Always yellin’. Make me sick.
Cold out today, I think. Don’t make me no matter; I be cold no matter snow or shine out there. Sometime I just sit on the couch or lay in the bed (usually the bed) and listen to the weatherfolk talk about cold fronts and heat waves and I turn my head to the side, squint my eyes tryin’ to understand. I shake my head ‘cause I cain’t remember, don’t recall how it feels to know the difference between thangs. Hot and cold? Puh. When you got old blood on top of takin’ blood thinners and whatever else Brenda throws in that pill box ever week, it don’t make no matter. In the end, it won’t matter to nobody, and here they got this fancy weatherman in a fancy Sunday suit, done spent up all this money to buy television cameras and computers covered in Christmas lights to tell us stuff that don’t make no difference no way. Waste of money.
They oughta gave that money to me. I could do plenty good with it. I’d get all my grandbabies everthang they needed—send ‘em to school, see that they clothed and fed good. I’d call up Kenny and see if he need anythang for his wife or that new baby comin’ along and put some money on his oldest one’s college schoolin’. I maybe get Annalea a soft new bed to sleep in upstairs, make sure she comfortable. I’m so tickled to have her back, I wanna make sure it’s happy as it can be for her. And I’d send Brenda someplace nice, real, real nice for a week and let her get some rest from me (and I get some from her, too). And then, once I tooked care of everbody else, I’d have somebody take me up to Walgreens or the Krogers and get me all the chocolate I could ever eat in the rest of my lifetime.
I didn’t never touch the stuff when I was young, but ooh boy! I’d eat ding dongs and Oreos for breakfast and rocky road ice cream for dinner if I could. But I cain’t, of course. Seem like evertime I sit down at the table they pushin’ somethin’ else I don’t want in my face. Toast and jelly, fishsticks and peas. Well, I do love fishsticks and peas, I confess that, but they make me eat it when I don’t want it. “Mama, you cain’t take all them pills and not put no food in your stomach, it’ll make you sick!” Shit. Already sick, I say. But I know they don’t leave me ‘lone til I eat it, so I eat it. With my eyes closed, ‘cause it piss everybody off. You can make me eat, but you cain’t make me look at you.
So I take a bite, close my eyes and remember. Church. The donut shop. Mamie. When Dean was borned and how nobody could believe I did it all by myself in Ray’s old dusty pickup truck (that’s how come we came to call Dean Dusty as a nickname—it sound better than “truck baby,” which LuBell took to callin’ him). I had Dusty on a Wednesday, kissed Poe goodbye before the sun came up and had a baby wrapped and waitin’ on him when he come home sundown. Then I showed up at Sugar Jane’s on Saturday night in a brand new dress and big brimmed hat, not a piece of brown on my new white heels even though we had to walk down a old dirt road to get there, me and my cousin Patience. I walked to the kitchen and ordered a whiskey and Lord, honey, they just went crazy. “Zenith James, ain’t you home with that baby?” I grin and say that the kids takin’ care of him. “Ain’t you feedin’? You know if you drink this, it’ll be in your milk?” I grin again, say it’ll put hair on his chest. Then I walk out to the main room, click my heels on the wood floor in time with the music. Down home bluuuuuues, down home bluuuuues…
I open my eyes and Brenda lookin’ at me like I’m a alien. I don’t know how long I been settin’ there with my eyes closed, noddin’ my head to B.B. King. Don’t care either. I close my eyes again.
I ask for a cup of coffee a few times and they tell me no, louder and louder each time, swearin’ I done drunked a whole pot already. That’s all anybody say around here anymore. No, no, no. Piss. I get up from the table, toddle off to my room to look at them know-nothing weathermen some more before I go off to sleep and dream. Or just lay thinkin’, I don’t know which.
Sometime I can’t tell sleep from bein’ awake no more.