Friday, July 21, 2017


Another early morning phone call to Kathie.  When she answers, she can hear her father gasping, stuttering, sputtering on the other end.  What has happened?  Have the hallucinations started again?  Has he fallen?  He slows down, then starts berating her, the words hissing, spitting forth.  I have tricked him.  She has tricked him.  Nobody really loves him.  We just tricked him into coming up here and now we think we can keep him here.  We’re not going to get away with it.   When Blake comes back from his trip, he’ll show us all.  His heart has been broken and he’ll be damned if he’ll stay up here in this freezing climate when he’s been tricked and there will be no more chances at happiness for him and at least Aliceann takes care of him and the sooner he gets back to Florida, the better.
Kathie is so overwhelmed by his fury, she breaks down and cries. Where is all this rage coming from?  Is it the medication?  Did he have a bad dream?  He is relentless.  She hardly knows what to say. She repeats her conviction that they’d both be better off up here with the rest of the family to help and provide support.  She gets nowhere.  He won’t listen.  The hell with his whole goddamn family.
During my afternoon visit with Ed, he does not attack me the way he attacked Kathie.  We watch another grade B movie, and when he becomes drowsy, I pick up my book.  After his nap I give him a sisterly kiss and tell him I love him.  Driving home, I come perilously close to a collision.  Bumper-to-bumper traffic with shoppers returning Christmas gifts and vacationers continuing their holiday celebrations. When I near the South Shore Plaza, I turn on my blinker and cautiously move toward the right-hand lane, while another car, suddenly zips leftward into the same lane.  The sides of our cars couldn’t have been more than two feet apart as he slid in front of me.  We missed a spectacular crash that could have landed me in the nursing home with Ed if I wasn’t killed.
Kathie calls to tell me Ed has already had second thoughts.  He says his talk of going to Florida was as mistaken as his thinking he had put $30,000 into the apartment.   I ask if he apologized for saying such cruel things to her. 
“Not exactly,” she laughs, “but I think he is sorry.  And Mom, he does love you.  He says he loves Aliceann, but you are burned into his soul.”
That scares me a little.  Does that mean when he dies, I go too?  That’s certainly what he wanted when it came to flying—he wouldn’t rest until I had gotten the bug and learned to fly, too—but I’d prefer to postpone the Pearly Gates till my own time comes.
I arrive at the nursing home about 3:30, stop on my way down the hall to say hello to a man I met yesterday under unfortunate circumstances.  The first thing Ed had told me was that he had sat down next to a man in a wheelchair, who also had Parkinson’s disease.  Ed told him he was recuperating from a knee-replacement.  “You know what he said to me?” Ed asked.  “He said, `I’m better-looking than you are.’”
We watched television for a while, then Ed decided he wanted to wheel down toward the big area where the nursing station is. “There he is,” Ed said, pointing to a slight, pleasant-looking man sitting by himself.
“Hello there, do you still think you’re better-looking then I am?”
“What?” said the man, clearly mystified.
“Remember?  Yesterday you told me you were better-looking than I was.”
The man looked angry.  “I never said any such words.  Those words came out of your own head.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I just thought I’d kid you a little about it.”
“Now I’m really getting mad,” said the man, turning red, half-rising from his wheelchair and lifting his cane.  “Don’t you ever speak to me again for the rest of your life!”
Ed said to me as we turn to go back to his room, “That’s what a person gets for trying to be friendly.”
I don’t know whether this was one of Ed’s hallucinations or whether the man had actually said something that Ed didn’t hear correctly.  He might have said, referring to Ed’s knee operation, “Then I guess I’m looking better off than you are.”  I feel sorry for both of them and was pleased when the man returned my hello graciously this afternoon.Either he didn’t recall the incident or he wasn’t holding it against me. 
Back in Ed’s room, where Aliceann is crafting another bear, he laboriously gets himself settled in bed.  “Everything takes me ten times longer than it used to,” he tells me.  “For the first time I realize what Kathie has been going through all these years—only for her, it’s even harder.  If I’d known, I would have given her a lot more sympathy.  I don’t know how she stays so cheerful day after day.”
December 1999
Before I leave for the nursing home this morning, I call a radio talk show because I am so incensed by the guest speaker’s philosophy about people struck by misfortune.  His basic argument is this: What else could be the explanation for seemingly senseless tragedies unless the victims were being punished for a past wicked life?
I say to the guest, “There is no way I can prove you’re mistaken and no way you can prove you’re right, but just suppose you’re wrong . . . Don’t you see what an awful injustice you are perpetrating on an innocent person like my daughter, who was paralyzed in an auto accident?  You are suggesting that she and others like her are hardly worthy of sympathy, since they are only receiving the fate they deserve.  I think your philosophy is incredibly heartless.”  The guest mouths something about adversity making the soul stronger and more fit for the next life, or some such rubbish, and then the talk show host terminates the conversation.
I believe random accidents are a fact of life.  Kathie was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s as simple as that.
* * *
Sitting beside Ed’s bed, I watch the second half of “Perry Mason” with the Malleys.
“Barbara, look at that woman!” says Ed.  “She looks just like your mother.”  And she does, very much so, with the Cobern long upper lip and a sweet, gentle-looking face.  In the scenario, this sweet gentle-looking woman has accidentally killed someone and Perry promises to help her in the future when she is prosecuted for second-degree murder.
Ed talks warmly about my mother, what a pleasant person she was to have around, never creating any problems.  Aliceann tells me Dick White had called her a fairy-tale grandmother.  What a lovely appellation for a writer of fairy-tale poems and stories!  I wonder if he ever let her know of his admiration.
December 1972
              I didn’t know I would miss her so much. I didn’t know how much I still needed her.  I remember being fully aware when I was 12 of how terrible it would be if my mother died.  I worried a lot, hugged her a lot, and sought reassurance that she would never do anything so awful as die.  But now I had forgotten that wisdom.  Torn by the break‑up of my marriage, I was beginning to mend when my mother, always so supportive, suddenly died, abandoning me two weeks before Christmas.
Six months ago I met a man.  Not the dashing much younger suitor I daydreamed of flaunting before my wandering husband’s wondering eyes, but a tall, slightly stooped, gray-haired widower of fifty-two.  Rob was courtly, gentle, smelled better than the nuzzly spot on a baby’s neck, and was myopically dazzled by my beauty.  His invariable greeting was, “When am I going to see you again?”  I couldn’t believe what was happening.  I loved every moment with him.
Although Edward and I were living apart, our bonding was too solid to remain dissolved in a crisis.  He was out of town when Mother died; he called the next day and was dumbfounded by the news.   “Oh no, not your mother.  I loved your mother.” 
I calmly made the funeral arrangements.  Then, that night, the enormity of my loss hit me.  My reaction was to turn, not to Rob, but to the rock I had known for 32 years.  PLEASE COME, I NEED YOU.  And I clung to Edward while I howled out my rage and grief and love to a mother who could no longer hear me.
           Aliceann leaves the nursing home at 4:00, and I stay awhile longer.  I’m getting ready to leave at 4:30, hoping to get ahead of the traffic, when Kathie and Frank come in.  We try to time our visits so that Ed doesn’t go too long without any company. 
           Later, Kathie calls me and suggests I call Ed to let him know I got home safely.  “He worries about you.”  I dial Ed’s number, tell him I am back at Weymouthport, and he says he is glad to hear it.  Then he says, “You’ll never guess who just called me—your mother!”
“My mother?” 
“Yes, she was very sweet and nice, wanted to know how I was feeling.  I was quite surprised to hear from her.”
“Ed, I’m surprised, too.  My mother died in 1972.”
“Oh!” Ed says, as the mists clear.  “It wasn’t your mother, it was Aliceann’s mother.”
He gave me quite a turn for a minute.  What I wouldn’t give to hear her voice.
December 1999
I visit Ed at 4:00, bringing a carton of rice, pinto beans, broccoli, carrots, onions, the whole mad mix made extra tasty with some cranberry chutney—Maureen’s recipe.  “Ugh,” Ed says predictably.  But he is pleased that I plan to have dinner with him, then leave about 6:15 for Tuesday night bridge.
He’s been trying to think of ways we can spend time together.  I tell him a man in a wheelchair often comes to the Puritan Bridge Club to kibitz and learn more about duplicate bridge.  “Why don’t I pick you up now and then and bring you there, then take you home again?”  Another possibility: Kathie says there is an excellent Senior Center in Westwood where there are many activities, perhaps even bridge lessons, with lunch served every day.  Ed makes a face and launches into his favorite refrain: places like that are for old people; he has nothing in common with them. 
“There are lots of places where I can get bridge lessons.  I’ll get Frank to find one for me, and when I’ve improved enough, you and I can be partners.”
“By the way,” he adds casually, “I wouldn’t say anything about this to Kathie, but the addition to her house has added to its value.  She’ll get her money back when she sells it.  It’s an investment.”
“She’ll get her money back when she dies, you mean?” I say, exasperated.  “Ed, don’t think you can double-talk me into believing you have no obligation to help with the expense.” 
“I have obligations to burn,” Ed says gloomily.  “That’s what I wish I could do with them.”
“In the end, it all comes down to money, doesn’t it?” I say.  He agrees.
Introducing another subject, Ed frets about what he’ll do with his time when he goes back to the apartment.  “Aliceann’s a reader, I’m not,” he says.  When I ask him why, he says, “I don’t have time, I’m too busy doing other things.”—forgetting that he has just been worrying about what he’s going to do with all his spare time.  "What I want, Barbara, is to spend as much time as possible with you.  Now don’t worry, I won’t interfere with your activities, I’m just going to keep courting you.  I’ll never press you to do anything you don’t want to.” 
He then tells me he’d like to rejoin the Cohasset Golf Club.
“The waiting list is a mile long,” I say, wondering if he imagines he can still swing a club.  Testing that theory, I add, “But you could play golf with me once a month.”
“With one hand on the walker?” he grins.  So he isn’t fantasizing again, he just wants to belong to the club.  He thinks they will surely give priority to him, as a long-time member in good standing.  “Meanwhile, you could invite me to dinner, once in awhile, hint, hint.” 
* * *
At the nursing home, supper is served at 5:30.  Ed has some vegetable soup, spooning it into his mouth quite capably.  Next, a sampling of carrot slaw, which he admits is good, even though he doesn’t like carrots.  Then a few spoonfuls of stewed fruit, which he finds palatable because he likes apples.  “Here, have the rest of it, it’s very good.” 
    “These aren’t apples, they’re pears,” I tell him. 
"They can’t be,” he says.  “I don’t like pears.”
I leave at 6:15, allowing plenty of time to get to the Puritan Bridge Club.  I take a wrong turn and get disoriented and have to ask someone how to get to Weymouth Landing.  I’ve hardly started following the instructions when I realize I should be heading for the Community Center in Hingham.  All the talk about the Puritan Bridge Club with Ed has derailed my brain, leaving me as confused as my ex-hubby.  After stopping again for help, I finally find myself on familiar territory and on my way to the Fore River Bridge.  Should I stop and jump off?  No, it is much too cold.  Only 15 minutes late for the lesson and duplicate game.  Agnes and I came in second last week, but I am feeling much too harassed to be a good partner this week.  Poor, poor, poor me!
* * *
Kathie says her father called her this morning and apologized for being such a shit. She, of course, reassured him that with all he’s been through lately, it is no wonder he doesn’t know if he is coming or going, and not surprising he wishes that somehow he could just start all over again.
            I’m relieved that Ed retracted his angry words, but bothered that he that he refuses to acknowledge he is the cause of the sacrifice Kathie has made.  The hardest part, she tells me, is giving up her garage.  She used to be able to wheel from her kitchen directly into the garage, transfer from her Quickie wheelchair into the car, then leave her faithful chair waiting for her return.  Neither she nor the Quickie had to worry about slogging through snow and sleet and ice. When she arrived at B. U., she used her cell phone to call into the Psychology Department, and a student or secretary would come out to help her get footrests and cushions from the backseat of her car.  She’d lower her lightweight traveling wheelchair from the carrier on top of the car, her helpers would put the cushions in place, she’d make her transfer and be set for the day.  The traveling chair is not as sturdy or well built as the Quickie, and would never hold up under everyday use, but it serves its purpose at her office or on other excursions.  At the end of the day, the traveling chair would get stowed safely back on top of the car, and she’d head home again to where the Quickie waited patiently, dry and friendly, its own cushions and footrests still in place, ready to scoot back into the house.   How she will manage now, I don’t quite understand, but I do know the procedure will be ten times more difficult, especially pushing herself up the steep driveway, and especially when the weather is bad.  A carport, which they can’t afford yet, will help protect her from the elements when she comes and goes, but won’t provide enough shelter for the Quickie to make it possible to leave it outside all day.
Thank God Ted understands her plight and assures me that eventually business will become successful enough so that she will be reimbursed for at least half of the costs for her rescue project.  “Maureen is so smart,” he tells me.  “She said from the beginning that this undertaking would turn out to be a disaster.”  She was right.  Sometimes in-laws are able to be more objective than the immediate family.

No comments:

Post a Comment