Relative Secrets

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Greg, you'll be happy to know that I've made a deal with myself: I can't read anyone else's blog before I write in mine. That should do it. Uh, yeah.

I was looking through some of my older scribblings, thinking about relative secrets , looking for something to write about. Sometimes it's better when a secret is out in the open. Sometimes, it's not. I wrote the story below about 10 years ago. My mom's still alive, but it's no longer a secret that she's not well. We still don't know what exactly is wrong, but we're planning for things to be worse:
On the phone with my aunt:
Her: How's Jean?
Me: Same. She's tired today.
Her: She needs the oxygen, Cindy, you have to talk her into it.
Me: She won't. I can't make her.

On the phone with my sister:
Me:She has a hard time washing her hair.
Her:I'll take her down to the shop once a week and let them do it.
Me: Okay...

It's dry; it's smothering because it's always there, and it's smothering because I'm so tired of knowing that it's going to happen. I try not to dwell on it. The word "dwell" is weird. Dwell means to live. I try not to live on it. Hmm. I think it dwells on me. If it takes her too long to get home from the corner store. How much longer can she drive? When I locked myself out of the house and it took me a long time to wake her up. Sometimes, she wakes up later than I do, and I look at her door and wonder...
There are only so many ways I can make peace with her. There are only so many ways I can make her comfortable. After that, it's like waiting in line in a room with nothing on the walls to read, unless I can somehow just forget, for a little while, and do the only thing that's left to do: make more memories. Just keep making them and pretending that it's a secret I don't know, so that I can laugh at her jokes, pick on her, and sometimes even have fights with her.
These days I drink beer. It's slower.

Written sometime in 1994:

Letter to the Drive-thru Cashier at KFC

There are some things you don't know about me, things I could tell you that might keep you from being so rude to everyone who comes through. I could start with where I went when I left you. I went to the liquor store to get some Vodka for the Sprite that you shoved at me, because I've been drinking heavily lately. Alcoholic, you say? No. It's just that I've recently decided that my mother is going to die. I'm the only one in my family who knows.
I had a dream about it last night. My sisters sat on the floor, reversed in age to the time when they played on the floor. They're 25 and 26 now. They were sitting there, probably playing with dolls. Dreams can be fuzzy, so I'm not sure what they were playing with, but I was standing, looking down at them, wondering who would hurt more. I'm the oldest, so, in the dream I thought that since I had spent more time with her, I would hurt worse. But I looked at Stephanie, the baby, and I doubted. She didn't get to spend as much time with her as I did, so, well, who knows how other people hurt, how badly?
Back to the alcohol. I might be in a race with my mom. It feels that way sometimes. Since I decided that she is dying, I drink more, drink every night. I outsmoke her every day. I drive fast without my seatbelt. I eat bologna.
I don't get drunk and cry. I get drunk and pretend it's not happening. I get drunk and pretend I'm my sisters, who don't know. I get drunk and pretend that I'm my seventh grade english teacher, Mrs. Rowland, and walk across the front of my living room, diagraming invisible sentences on my invisible chalkboard. "My mother is dying, class," I say. "Past, present or future tense?"
By now you probably think I'm crazy. That's okay, because I think so too sometimes. I say that I decided that my mother is dying, instead of that I realized it, because I need to get it over with. The mourning. I need some time to stretch it out, to play with it like a cat plays with a cricket. It will be easier this way, and when they do tell me that she's dying, I'll have known already and it won't hurt as
badly, as deeply, as long.
She wasn't the typical mom. She suffered from schizophrenia, so we all did. I figured out how to keep her from having an "episode" when I was twelve. I would tell her, when I saw it coming on, when she started telling me that all the people
at work were against her, that we should try a new location. Moving is good shock therapy. I went to twenty-three different schools. But she loved us. Loves us. She would work two jobs at Christmas to prove it, wearing her body and her mind down to a dull point, like a pencil that scratches the paper and leaves only light, dotted lines.
I go to see her more often now. It's amazing that a woman who is dying can look so vital. Granted, she's never been the healthiest person I know. Ninety pounds at the most and five foot four, addicted to caffeine and nicotine. But she has that glow when she's working with her plants, the kind that's not supposed to ever go away.
I'm trying to make it easier for her to die. She's worried about me the last few
years, about my soul. It bothers her when I don't quite agree that the answer to every single problem on the planet can't be solved by simply praying. So I wrote her a letter last week told her that I pray every night. I said a lot of things that weren't true about God and his will and how I believed.
I really don't believe all that, but as long as she believes that I believe, she's more comfortable. And I tell her that I don't need to borrow money, that I'm financially secure. I sometimes beg for spare change at the corner to get cigarette money, but that's a secret.
It all started with a phone conversation. I think I dreamt
it, but I'm not sure, so I'll assume it really happened. It went
something like this:
Mom: "You know, Christi told me the other night that she
never wanted me to die, so I told her I wouldn't."
Me: "Yeah, you told me the same thing, remember?"
Mom: "Sometimes I feel like I'm going to die."
She used to say that all the time when she was mad, but she
wasn't mad that day, so I said, "I think we all think that way,
And she said, "Well, when you get my age and you start
having certain problems, you have to start thinking about dying.
You have to get serious about it, get ready for it."
And I said, "What is it, Mom? What is it?"
Mom: "Oh, I'm okay. Now."
"Now. Now you're okay," I said. "But what's wrong? You
know you hated it when you found out that Gramma knew she was
going to die a year before she did. Don't do that to us, okay?"
Mom: "You just get your degree. I'm okay. You just get
your degree."
After that, I threatened to tell my sisters, threatened to go talk to the doctor, threatened to beat her to it. All these threats and she just laughed. Just like the time I told her that I was going to beat her playing rummy. I never did, and she laughed.
So, see, drive-thru cashier, you never know what kind of things are going on with your customers. Some of us could live without your rudeness. Oh, by the way, you forgot to give me napkins. People always need napkins.