Oddments

In search of story


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Vagaries in Gestation: On Being Linear, Part lll, March 15.17

©M. O’Hern

 

There may be no lines in Nature, but there are lines in Geometry, where I learned that a line is an infinite series of dots, that we see only a segment of it as it stretches into infinity. That hurt my head.

Can’t a line be just a line? Must Geometry ruin more than an hour of the school day? Must it contaminate every sketch wherein a line suggests a form, a gesture?

These lines tell of a hand, our first tool and our last. If the lines stretch into infinity, how fitting that they take with them this transient tool. This hand, no longer useful, waits. My pencil reaches out, as does my heart, to that waiting, transcribing it to something see-able. Something tangible. Some way to show what I feel. Some way to keep my dad.

When I sketched this, I didn’t know he would die in two days. I only knew that I was seeing things that no one else saw. I was alone at his bedside, as usual. I am sure that, as it sketched, my hand was also reaching out. Would anyone ever know what this was like for the solitary daughter? Yes. Now you know.

If the line we see is only a segment of its infinite self, what does that tell us about everything else we see?

It flows then like the line that the simplicity of a sketch is not simple at all.

 

 

 

Vagaries in Gestation

 

 


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Layers

I look like a shmoo.

It’s a three-robe morning: the cold is in my bones, and all my robes are called to duty.

The first robe is an ancient peachy-pink flannel. I’ve lost count of its years, poor thing. Maybe twenty? It is a favorite — you know, one of those things in your closet that should never wear out. Its zipper and elastic have gone the way of the pyramids. It is threadbare, limp, exhausted. An old friend. I love it.

Then the new robe, an authentic fuzzy pink. A vaguely bubble-gum pink, alas. Incredibly warm everywhere but my ankles, where the draft is wicked.

The top robe used to be Dad’s. A sober, grey, thinning pilled thing, trimmed in black. My sons and I gave it to him for Christmas after Mom died, and, had Dad known how much it cost, he never would have worn it. But wear it he did! When I had the audacity to wash it, Dad, Linus-like, sighed with relief when it was returned to him fresh from the dryer and he could meld with it again.

The night Dad died, in the comfort of Hospice care, I was wearing his robe, curled up in a big chair next to his bed. I’d fallen asleep. The aide came in, looked carefully at Dad and said, “It won’t be long now.” Within a minute I saw Dad’s body let go.

Do I think of that whenever I wear this robe? Pretty much. Sometimes it’s a butterfly memory, passing by lightly. Sometimes it’s Godzilla.

But three-robe cold will come. And I will meet it shmoo-like. That’s how life is.


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GQ Dad

I would argue that Dad was by nature a man of questionable fashion sense. It can be reasonably opined that I inherited this, but “it takes one to know one” strengthens my argument. The Fathers’ Day ties I gave him were likely no help.

Bad ties aside, Dad was obsessed by red. His wardrobe, his walls, his cars, his lawn would have been blazing scarlet and sultry ruby had he his way. Every time Mom bought a black dress, he would observe that it would be much nicer in red. I’m sure he thought her iconic potato salad would have been better with a dousing of red food color.

One fateful Christmas, someone bought Dad a brilliant crimson shirt, and thus was born his favorite Christmas ensemble: red shirt with a painfully green St. Patrick’s Day tie. He wore it annually with pure euphoria and we dove for sunglasses.

Dad usually looked good, though, because Mom governed when it came to clothes. His blacks and beiges and pristine white shirts were her doing. And, protests to the contrary, they were his preference for most occasions.

But after Mom died his daily wardrobe became more expressive of his inner Matisse, and one day he emerged from his bedroom in full bloom: brown tweed trousers and red-plaid flannel shirt. Over the shirt — wait for it — a beige sweater with green and orange polka dots. That became his favored fashion statement his last autumn. Blaming the dementia would be handy but not fully honest.

The world according to Dad was brown tweed with red plaid with green and orange polka dots. His spine was straight, his head high: the proletariat could wear whatever — he rocked the look.

Happy Fathers’ Day to all dads who rock the look!


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When you’ve had enough…

“You’re talking about me! I know you’re talking about me!”

I looked up. There came my mother full tilt down the hall.

Yes, Mom, I’m talking about you! This is the nurses’ station and I am going home for the night! I’m telling them there is no one with you now!

There was no patience in my voice. I’d had enough of her paranoia and enough of not knowing who she was.

A few years later, my father threatened me. I walked out of his hospital room fighting back the tears, to a different nurses’ station, where I told them I was leaving and didn’t give a damn what my father did.

I’d had enough of Dad’s dementia and enough of not knowing who he was.

My mother’s last Mothers’ Day present was chemotherapy. On Dad’s last Fathers’ Day we took a ride and hit a rough patch of road which caused me to exclaim “It’s a good thing we haven’t eaten yet!” He replied, “You mean we ate already?”

A lot about caregiving comes back to me at this time of year. Dad died at the end of March. Mom went into crisis in mid-April and died mid-June. Different years, same season. Same me. Mom’s brain tumors, Dad’s dementia, spring, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day…it all blends together like muck and mud.

Sometimes you have your parents but you don’t. You see and hear only the look-alikes that disease has left in their stead. They know you, but you don’t know them. Eventually they don’t know you either. So where’s the Hallmark card that says “Happy Mothers’ Day, Whoever You Are,” or “Happy Fathers’ Day from the Daughter You Don’t Know”?

Forget “When you care enough.” It should be “When you’ve had enough.”


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The river

Denial. We’ve all heard jokes about the river.

Like other rivers, Denial can be hardened into ice, and it can be dispersed into mist. Like vampires: shape-shifting, blood-sucking.

As caregiver, I crashed into a wall of that ice. Dad’s sisters were encased in it, admitting only that I was a worrier, not that their brother’s brain was slowly dying and taking him — and me — with it. Dementia? I was over-reacting; there was nothing seriously wrong with Dad. Of course. And when one of those sisters asked which end of the phone to talk into, there was nothing seriously wrong with her either. Of course.

Both my parents were slipping away, each noting behavioral changes in the other but never in the self. The tension between reality and delusion was subtle and pervasive: the mist. As caregiver, I breathed that mist and choked; it had no oxygen.

Denial. “He just had a bad day.” “It’s his medicines.” “We all forget things!” “Why the hell should I talk to the doctor about driving?” “I didn’t forget — you never told me!”

Leeches live in that river; they all belong to the phylum Blame. They slither out to find the caregiver, then suck life from her spirit. There must be an explanation for the frightening things happening; it can’t be dementia so it must be the caregiver, the unlucky one who must face reality and be blamed for doing so.

Caregivers do not laugh at jokes about the river.