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Friday, July 21, 2017

(4) THEY LOOKED LIKE REFUGEES FROM A HURRICANE ZONE.

           Despite having promised Ted that he won’t drive anymore, Ed keeps telling everyone that he knows he can still do it as capably as anyone.  Kathie finally suggests that if he is so sure, how about contacting the Registry of Motor Vehicles and making an appointment for a driving test and seeing what they say.  Ed calls back full of good humor.  He found a phone number for a company that gives driving tests and made an appointment.  After only two tests he has been assured that for a few hundred dollars more, they will give him lessons that will correct all his problems and make him perfectly fit to be on the road again.  Aliceann has a perfect fit when she hears this, and Kathie has a perfect fit of her own.  Can’t he see that this company is just after his money?  No, he can’t see it, everyone’s ganging up on him, nobody has any faith in him, he doesn’t see why he can’t at least try it, but okay, he’s outnumbered.  He’ll try to get his deposit back and cancel the lessons.  Why can’t his family understand that being able to drive equals independence and freedom?
September, 1999
Ted just called, sounding agitated, wondering if it's too late to have Kathie stop the whole onrushing project.  He has now rented half of the building and as early as summer 2000, business might improve much more than he has been expecting.  It is possible that his father and Aliceann could move back to Florida within the year if they and their menagerie would settle for a smaller house.  However, before he says anything to them, he wants me to call Kathie and see if she can put on the brakes.
Kathie says she and Frank have invested in the Dry‑Basement project and the gutting of the garage, and have finally gotten the work started on the sewer connection, but there is still quite a bit of the $50,000 left from the refinancing.  If work is halted now, she could repay the bank to shorten the length of the mortgage term and perhaps even retire by 65, as she had originally planned, instead of teaching at B.U. another four years after that. She adds that she and Frank would have to accommodate the Malleys and their pets in their house for a few months, but she is so worried about her Dad’s failing health, she is willing to do whatever it takes to be able to watch over him.  After all, she points out, Ted is not saying that they can afford to take the house off the market and stay where they are until things get better.  Last time she spoke to him he was still talking about their getting rid of the pets and renting someplace small.  So the problem of short-term housing for everybody still remains.
“Good grief!” I say. “How could you accommodate them without the extra space?”
“Oh, we’d figure out something.  It would be sort of like camping out.”
“In the middle of a zoo?” I ask skeptically, unable to picture Kathie’s two cats plus eight additional animals, plus two wheelchairs co‑existing in a six room house.
“Let’s not worry about it until we have something to worry about,” she replies.  I’ll call Dad now and see how he feels.”
She reports back half an hour later.  Ed says “absolutely no” to her question about stopping the construction.  His move to Westwood is going to be his last, even if Ted later comes up with enough money for a house in Florida.  He says go ahead and finish the apartment; he never wants to live through another hurricane season again.
* * *
Ed calls with big news.  The house in Florida is sold.  Not for anywhere near the price he was hoping for, but enough to get out from under the primary mortgage and make their move up here.  They are overwhelmed.  In addition to packing up the remaining half of their house and the two sheds and arranging for the movers, there are plane reservations to make for themselves and the two dogs and six cats, their Medicare and supplemental health insurance to be switched to Massachusetts, appointments scheduled for Edward in the Boston area with a new primary care physician, a urologist, a dermatologist, a neurologist, and a new veterinarian who will be overjoyed at the prospect of eight potential pampered patients.
There’s a lot of catch-22.  Edward can’t get any appointments at Mass General until he has his Mass General Blue Card; he can’t get his Mass General Blue Card until he has his new Blue Cross number.  He can’t get his new Blue Cross number until he cancels his old Blue Cross policy in Florida and they notify Massachusetts.  The people in Florida won’t cancel his Blue Cross policy there because apparently they’re all at the beach.
The high level of frenzy continues in both Westwood and Florida.  In Florida, shipping boxes for the pets have been measured, the house has been packed, tearful goodbyes have been exchanged, the bridges have been burned, and they are almost on their way.  In Westwood, the hammering, sawing, painting, et cetera continues with a whole array of volunteers, including neighbors, relatives, friends, six of Kathie’s students, and two significant others of students.
Kathie’s brothers Tim and Ted make major contributions to the effort.  Tim, a tall lean photocopy of Ted, and still the baby of the family at almost 53, has heavy-lidded hazel eyes and a penchant for wiring. 
Ted also comes to help whenever he can.  Strapped into his tool belt, he has painstakingly put down the bathroom tile. 
October 1999
Once Delta Airlines had disgorged Ed and Aliceann, it took three men and three vehicles to get everybody and everything to Westwood.  Edward and wife #2—dazed and disoriented— looked like refugees from a hurricane zone.  A substantial number of suitcases and shopping bags were loaded into the back of Frank’s truck.  Finally, four pet carriers containing one dog and six cats were put into Tim’s station wagon.  Wait, you say, one dog?  Aren’t there supposed to be two dogs?  Please, we can’t expect preparations to proceed swimmingly.  Sheba’s dog carrier was proclaimed one inch too long for Delta’s regulations on passenger planes, so she’s coming later on a cargo freight plane.  .
The caravan arrives in Westwood shortly after the paint crew leaves.  Ed and Aliceann are eager to release their pets from their carriers and into the pen, but Frank and Tim need half an hour to finish the final steps of anchoring down the mesh, so that nobody can tunnel under.  That done, “the kids,” as Aliceann calls them, are introduced to their new haven, and what do they do?  Complain, of course, loudly and bitterly.  Kathie's dad and Aliceann seem to feel pretty much the same way as the cats.  They are dismayed to find the apartment unfinished.
“We tried—oh how we tried, but we plain ran out of time.  All the red tape put us months behind schedule.”
The floors, walls, ceilings, outside doors and windows are all in place in what used to be the garage, and the kitchen and bathroom sinks are operative, but the shower and toilet are not yet hooked up, and neither are the kitchen appliances. Frank and Kathie’s extra bed is in the new bedroom, so Ed and Aliceann will be able to sleep in their own quarters, but they’ll be having meals with Kathie and Frank and using the master bathroom in the main house until the final touches are completed. 
Ed falls down in Frank’s bathroom his first day in Massachusetts.  He doesn’t know how it happened.  He started to turn towards his walker and found himself on the floor.  Frank helped him up, but he is shaken.  He plans to use the wheelchair more, which we all think is a blessing, but which he views as another of the curses that disease is imposing on him.
The greatest excitement of the Malleys’ first day in Westwood is not Ed’s fall but the Case of the Missing Cat.  During the morning, Aliceann is busy unpacking and Frank and Chad are busy with ongoing remodeling.  Shortly after noon, a nightmare descends upon Aliceann.  She can’t find Calvin.  He is GONE.  She is convinced that someone has let this member of the Thoroughly Indoor Cats . . . out!  Nobody admits to the felony.  Everyone joins in the hunt.  No box is left unturned.  No suitcase unopened.   No room uninvestigated.  No calling, cooing, coaxing left untried.  But no Calvin can be found.  He is gone, swallowed up in the wilds of Westwood, far from home, cold, lost, afraid, never again to be safely within the bosom of his family.  Aliceann continues unpacking, but the tragedy is writ large upon her face. Then, suddenly, as happened so often even in the safe environs of Florida, she turns to go into a different room, and there sits Calvin, licking his whiskers and looking smug.  Why do these people carry on so?  And why must I get so many kisses when I have merely finished washing?   
Two truckloads of Things arrive in Westwood today.  In addition to the lifetime collections of valued possessions are a bag of garbage that Aliceann didn’t want to leave behind for the new owners, the grapefruit picker, several tropical plants (which reacted to the traumatic move by dying), an antique wooden bird cage, a good deal of scrap lumber, a 40-year-old outboard motor that Ed had tried unsuccessfully to give Ted 20 years ago, two ride-on lawn mowers, and several old-fashioned push mowers.  Kathie says the list goes on and on, and she’ll tell me more when she has time.
Aliceann has adapted nicely to not yet having a fully operative kitchen of her own.   She seems to expect to continue preparing the meals she’s always prepared, so she does it in Kathie’s kitchen and makes enough for everybody.  Indeed, Kathie says, one would think they were all in Aliceann’s dining room back in Florida.  “Eat,” she tells everyone.  “Have some more.  Taste this wonderful garlic bread.  Try the potatoes.  Who would like some margarine?  Eat your vegetables, Edward.”  Kathie is delighted to have dinner cooked for her every day.  Between her full-time job as a psychology professor at Boston University and trying to take time with her Dad, she feels stretched pretty thin, and appreciates not having to worry about fixing a meal at night.  She and Frank do their share by taking care of the cleanup. 
Seeing my ex-hubby is difficult.  He says repeatedly,”How the mighty are fallen!”  It is especially difficult to watch this former athlete when he is trying to transfer from his wheelchair into the passenger seat of a car.  This is a painfully slow process in which he uses the car door to haul himself up onto unsteady legs, gradually edges his feet in a slow arc back towards the wheelchair, and finally, gasping with pain and mortification, manages to get his backside turned toward the seat.  His legs inevitably get tangled up, and Aliceann inevitably gets exasperated: “Edward, think about what you’re doing, you’re lifting the wrong leg, remember?  Lift up your left leg.”  At last, the maneuver is accomplished, as Aliceann pushes him into a  sitting position on the car seat. 
Even in his wheelchair, I notice, his body slopes, much like that of Stephen Hawking, the astrophysicist in his motorized wheelchair.  I puzzle over Aliceann’s constant refrain: “Edward, sit up straight!”  Is she unable or unwilling to accept the fact that his Parkinson’s disease has weakened the required muscles, or is she just hoping a miracle will happen and he’ll say “Of course, dear,” and straighten up.  She gets upset about his memory lapses, as well.  “He drives me crazy,” she tells me.  “He remembers what he wants to remember.  I have to tell him everything over and over again.”  My first-wife hackles go up with the implication that he is forgetful out of sheer perversity, but I murmur, “He probably can’t help it.”  And then it occurs to me that perhaps she can’t help expressing her distress at the changes that have descended so rapidly on them and the constant readjustments they need to make.
When the Florida health insurers finally return from the beach and realize the Malleys truly intend to abandon the warm climes of Florida for the not-so-warm north, the paperwork for transferring insurance is declared complete and Kathie is able to make doctors’ appointments for Ed.  His specialists are all associated with Boston teaching hospitals, but Aliceann considers the prospect of driving the 30 minutes into Boston akin to an invitation to hell.  Consequently, Kathie has arranged for them both to have a primary care physician at Dedham Medical Associates, which is 10 minutes from the house.  Kathie drives them there for their first visit. 
The doctor is a woman, which from Ed’s perspective means one more female trying to tell him how he should live his life.   She and Edward do not hit it off.  Ed is annoyed because she is reluctant to give him a new prescription for the powerful narcotic he finally persuaded the Florida doctors to prescribe for the pain in his knee.  He gives himself away when he explains he must have the medication to sleep at night.  She urges him to try several non-prescription medications, but he insists he has tried them all, and the only thing that has helped him sleep after years of wakeful nights is the pain medication.  She writes the prescription but is unhappy about it.   He is equally unhappy at the reluctance of this young whippersnapper (she can’t be a day over fifty-five) to listen to the voice of greater experience.
 Dr. Wife #1 is convinced Ed’s insomnia would be less of a problem if he hardened his heart and stopped allowing eight restless animals to sleep with him and Wife #2.  He admits they wake him up but says he goes right back to sleep, which doesn’t sound like a man suffering from insomnia.  I’m sure he would argue that this is because of the helpful pain medication.)
Aliceann’s visit with the same doctor is much more successful.  The doctor asks Aliceann how she’s feeling about Ed’s medical problems.  Aliceann promptly bursts into tears and sobs for several minutes about her crumbling world.  The doctor’s professional opinion: Aliceann should be talking to a professional about these feelings.  Kathie has been trying for months to persuade Ed and Aliceann to see a therapist, but both belong to the old “I-don’t-need-any-help-least-of-all-from-a-shrink” school of thought.  Aliceann now agrees with their new doctor that talking to someone will be helpful.

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