So I gave in last week and became the very last person on earth to join facebook. The other three horse-people of the apocalypse should be here shortly. Until then, perhaps you will friend me? I tried to find a lot of you, but having refused to give my email password to corporate, goings is a little slow. Even for those lovely people for whom I have a first and last name, there are quite a few duplicates, and I don’t know what you look like or where you are from. So here I am, let’s be friends.
the worst stalker ever.
My parents and my family met at Monterey over spring break. It’s a good halfway point to meet, and Monterey has decent bike path. My dad loves to ride bikes. My middle kid is IN LOVE with The Great British Baking Show, and it turns out, fancy pants places like Monterey have some fancy pants bakeries that sell stuff not available in our rural hometown. So! A short jaunt of very touristy tourism followed by a hotel with a heated pool. The cotton-candy stuff kid memories are made of!
Two days before our jaunt, Mom emailed if we’d like to go to the acquarium. Twice spelt like that, both title and in the body of the text. Perhaps my dread seems snobbish – who is not above the occasional misspelling?*
Every trip to see them is now putting on firefighter’s gear, heavy and protective – preparing for how much worse it will be, considering what I might gently say, if given the opening (This time, the horkworthy, “Mom, nothing’s gonna stop what God’s got planned for Dad. Get out of the way.”) As if I’m going to rescue her somehow from her burning-down house, even though I know I can’t, and I shouldn’t.
By the time we’re in the car driving, I’m still wearing 50 pounds of asbestos gear, helmet and boots, too hot, my own breath fogging up my vision, and I realize I’m not suited up to protect her. That’s the lie I tell myself so I can get suited up to see her.
We couldn’t have ordered better weather.
My dad wouldn’t get out of the car. Then he refused to follow Mom on the path. “This is the last time we can do this,” Mom said first thing. “He doesn’t know where he is or what’s going on. He’s so courageous, to have come this far.”
Meanwhile, my dad is cursing under his breath like Donald Duck, except his sentence structure is so broken down and word loss so complete there are no actual curse words. Because of this, it really does take on a cartoon quality. Still, Mom says in wistful tones, “It’s like that old story about the blind mare, how she hears the stallion’s hoof beats and gallops, unseeing, on faith. Your dad’s the mare now.”
He has a hard time getting on the bike** but when he does, he zooms ahead and my mom has to go tearing after him. They are lost almost immediately on the path, and I let them go, because I am here with my kids and husband, and I cannot bear to do what my mom is doing – putting all my energy into someone who will use it up and die anyway.
Except I am not a perfect machine of my values, and so I circle back on the path, leaving my husband and kids. My parents are having trouble – Dad’s forgotten about gears, so he keeps accidentally bumping the gear shift and pedaling either wildly or with sudden difficulty. He thinks the bike is broken. He’s pissed, because apparently he and mom have taken the bike to the repair shop twice to ‘fix’ this problem, and yet it persists. The next time I circle back, Mom says, “He doesn’t understand verbal cues anymore. I keep telling him to stay on the right, but he doesn’t know.”
I ping-pong between wishing my parents had never come and feeling I’m in some Notebook or Driving Ms. Daisy-esque movie, in which I play the stereotypical adult-child too selfish to care about the beautiful suffering of noble geriatrics.
I think of every media in which I’ve seen a fragile nursing home patient, and some tsk-tsking caretaker say, “I’ve been working here six months, and his kids have never come to visit once.”
I find myself with tons of new sympathy for those adult-children assholes. Facing mortality is one thing, but who the fuck needs to climb into the hot tub of decrepitude? Save some horrors for later, man. I would like to get out of here ASAP, because I have enough stuff on my plate without the burden of all this sadness about which I can do nothing, yet cannot look away from. I am resentful that my parents exist in this state of agony, because it sucks all my energy to witness it. And then I am the asshole who is like, “God, can you go suffer somewhere I don’t have to watch? Or just give up and die, because you are making me miserable.”
I think perhaps I am framing this story so that I can look like a bit of a shithead, so that the universe is balanced out from my resentments, at how it is easier to be a shithead than to be immersed in this. I mean, it feels great when it’s a movie or a book and you can put it down in a few hours. It feels like spagettification to be stuck here.
After an hour of time together, Mom calls it a day. Dad needs to go back to the hotel. It’s not yet noon. “We’ll meet up with you later,” she says.
I wait for the opportune moment for her to be exhausted, to give me an opening to tell her to take a fucking break. But it never comes. I can feel her, forcefully psychically polishing her attitude so there are no cracks, no footholds to slip in this idea.
I don’t know what my mom does, while trapped in a hotel room with my dad from eleven in the morning until I see her again at five. We go to a bakery!
We see some version of a challenge on the actual show my kid watches (“brain cake, ahhhh!” she squeals like we’ve spotted Harry Styles crossing the street.) Of course we order it. Along with meringue, and lemon chiffon.
(The next day, we go to another bakery! We get spinach quiche, and macrons, and brioche, and croissants. We share them between the five of us. Middle kid is amazed.)
When we head back to the hotel for swimming, my dad’s asleep and Mom initially hopes to take us out to dinner, but eventually realizes that’s not going to work for Dad. She presses money into my hand and tries to get us to go to a fancy fish place on the pier, to maybe bring her back something, she’ll be fine. Did she eat anything today? Sure! She packed cookies and nuts.
We order pizza and eat with her at the pool. In between sneaking back every fifteen minutes to make sure Dad’s OK, Mom says they’re going to leave early the next day. Dad’s ready to go.
The next morning, Mom calls. “Can you come down here? Dad wants to talk to you before we go.”
I am scared like a kid called to the principal’s office. Dad’s sitting in the darkened hotel room, waiting. But he only talks at length about how he’s going to drive again, if Mom would stop thwarting him. He’s never even killed anyone driving once, so how do they know he’s a bad driver? They don’t know. And then, a change from the regular rant – he’s going to get one of those self driving cars, and then he’ll go anywhere he wants. He shares this bit of new information, hope in his eyes, and I realize this is the thing he wants me to know. Of course, I know better than to ask even the simplest question; where would you go? What world does he entertain in which he can escape Mom now?
My kids knock on the door, ready to go explore Jack’s Peak and then a new bakery. On the way out, Dad bear hugs me and all the kids, and even my husband. While doing this, my dad laughs. I’ve got to believe he’s really happy, because he is way beyond artifice. It’s strange though. He never seemed to enjoy hugs in all of my memory of him. I mean, I have a lifetime of awkward shoulder pats, his butt stuck far out so nothing touches below the ribcage, quickly disengaged. This time, he grabs each one of us and holds on for a good sixty seconds, and rocks side to side, laughs. And then they are in the car and gone.
*my mom, that’s who. She’ll send you a block of text like a wall, but by god, it’ll be spelled right.
** Mom said she thought he’d forgotten how, or perhaps the stress of managing all the other new stimuli, he’d lost the ability.