Time is patient where I am not. I think I would welcome the rest provided by a police officer as he wrote out his ticket, but mom and dad are waiting, so I remain hyper-vigilant as I leave school for their house, an arched cat, flying through the day, looking in the rear view mirror for the flash of blue lights.
Upon arrival, I de-plane and enter. I greet my mother with a kiss. She stares at me, blank as a sheet of paper. She has not eaten anything today, which means she has not taken her pills. She accuses me of stealing them from her because they are now in a pill minder and not in her silverware drawer. I remind her of the pill minder and remember how strong she was when I was a child, and how sometimes it hurt. I remind myself that I am now not allowed to be angry.
My father calls out from the living room where he is seated in his leather recliner, “Vicky? Is that you? I need you to put my eye drops in.” He has just had cataract surgery. I ask him to do it while I watch. He drops the milky fluid on his cheek, his nose, in his mouth, everywhere but in his eye. I cannot be here tonight when he must do this again, so we keep trying. My shoulders are like the tightly wound springs in a broken clock that always runs behind. I stretch my neck muscles as I watch and put in his last drops for him. When I was a teenager, my father and I spent many early mornings watching the sun burn the mist off of the water before fishing the day away. In the dark, the water on the New River looks like the surface of the moon, and small squid glow with blue fire. If the boat rocked when I stood, he took my arm and held me steady so that I did not fall.
Back in the kitchen I go through old pill bottles and throw them away. I try to shred labels from pill bottles in my father’s shredder. It is a crappy shredder and everything sticks together. It does not shred. I tear my parents’ names off of the bottles and put them in my mouth to chew so that nobody will find their personal information and use it to clothe themselves in my mom and dad’s identities. I have heard the stories. I empty their refrigerator of expired food. On her last visit from Charlotte, my sister left our parents a package of ingredients with which to cook. It reads, “Calabrese Salame, President’s Prosciutto Naturale and Capocollo Gourmet Deli Selection. “Ready To Enjoy!” and I can’t help thinking about the ridiculousness of this statement. They are currently enjoying polish sausage with a mashed potato mixture. Bacon grease is a staple in their diet. I put the package into the outside pocket of my computer bag and make a mental note to put it into the refrigerator when I get home.
He is almost out, but I send her a text. “It’s o.k., I forget things, too.” She is five and a half years younger. Many years ago I taught her the ways of the world. Today I will go to Sam’s club to get medication that I asked her to fill. I text “Just wish you’d told me what was left on your list of things to do, like I asked, so that I could add them back into my calendar. It would have been nice to know.” She does not reply. I make a mental note to complete the list that she obviously did not. I wipe a bit of food from the corner of my father’s mouth, and he smiles at me.
I walk in circles from my dad in the living room, to the kitchen to fill both of their pill minders and make sure mom is taking her medicine, back to my dad to put in more eye drops, back to the kitchen to stand at the counter. There is something important I’ve forgotten. Otherwise, why the hell waste time standing still when there is so much left to do? My feet hurt. I blow gusts of air through my mouth like a winded horse to relieve the stress until I remember that tomorrow is garbage day and I must roll the trash bins to the curb. When I step outside, my mother leaves the kitchen without taking her pills. She has gone to sort through her costume jewelry for the hundredth time. Shiny things make her happy. She brushed my hair until it shone like polished wood every morning of every day when I was in elementary school.
When everything is finished, I run out the door. It’s late. I’m running everywhere. I forget to eat until I am sick to my stomach and extremely bitchy. Only my love of junk food keeps me from weighing roughly three pounds.
The frenzy of the day ramps me up, and I rush home like a bat out of hell only to sit in the car in my driveway for 15 minutes thinking about death while watching bits of red and gold and burnt umber fall from the sky. The leaves are vivid.
My cell phone makes the gurgling sound that signals a text message, and my stomach knots in a Pavlovian response. It is the sound of more work, someone else to shuttle somewhere, take lunch to, or pick up from school, or take to a doctor’s appointment, where I will make copious notes in order to remember everything.
My mind clicks forward, faster and faster.
Make a mental note to do my homework.
Check Facebook and read my daughter-in-law’s status. The baby she and my oldest son have created is the size of an onion now.
A weird thought enters my mind unbidden, “if the baby is the size of an onion now, will it be the size of a potato when it’s born?”
Make a mental note to pay more attention to them and their impending pregnancy.
She is halfway through the pregnancy that will make me a grandmother by the end of April, and I have not yet seen the sonogram pictures they posted online.
Sigh and gather my things to my chest like a barrier. I feel like an old sock.
The leaves are a curtain of color screaming with life.
I walk through them.
I don’t want to go inside.
The garage door has been left open all day, a gaping invitation that says, “We’re not home. Rob us.”
Make a mental note to tell the kids to keep it shut.
Enter my home. It looks like a landfill.
Make a mental note to tell my kids to clean up after themselves. Again.
The blinds are still closed.
Make a mental note to open them every morning before I leave for school.
Make a mental note to stop making mental notes because my head hurts.
Walk aimlessly around in circles randomly picking up bits of trash.
Totally forget that my purse and computer bag are still on my shoulder.
My feet still hurt.
Remember that I haven’t eaten and hope my husband gets home soon with fast food.
Put my computer bag down. Walk in more circles.
Put my purse in a different place than normal. Forget where it is. Forget the gourmet deli selection of meats in the outside pocket of my computer bag until my husband arrives and hands me an Italian sub sandwich.
I’m too tired to take the deli meats out of the computer bag and put them in the refrigerator.
He puts them in the refrigerator for me.
Feel guilty that I am not taking care of my own family.
My husband picks up the slack at home. It only adds to my guilt, and I ironically respond by shutting him out. He responds in kind. We fight almost every night about stupid stuff. We do not agree on most things. We cannot communicate except through anger, and the house is soaked in the high emotion of a marriage in turmoil. My 16 year old daughter and my 18 year old son have taken bets on whether we will divorce. I don’t know who is winning.
Unless I am playing for the Patriots I can’t get my husband’s attention.
“Why am I so ugly?” my daughter asks ‘Siri’ later that evening. ‘Siri’ replies, “good question.” ‘Siri’ is an automated voice system on my husband’s new iPhone. My daughter bursts into laughter, and I relax a little.
Our daughter is lying on the floor less than five feet from him.
The whole thing makes me laugh.
“I don’t know your school address; in fact, I don’t know anything about you.”
Now we are all laughing.
My mind slows down enough to realize that it is now 11:11 p.m., time to go to bed.
It makes my heart hurt.
I haven’t spent enough time with my husband and children.
The next morning I awake and stretch long and hard to prepare for the fight that will be my day. In the kitchen, I discover that my 18 year old son has left a note on the counter near the refrigerator. “Milk was impossible to open. Decided to cut off cap w/knife,” it reads. “Seriously. What the hell was that thing made of?”
I laugh hard, a real belly laugh and feel my tension ease.
My mother and father are old, and I am not. For all things there is a season, and it is now a new day. I turn to face it like a warrior knowing that it is my turn to brush their hair and hold them steady so that they do not fall and knowing that I am strong enough to win even this battle, if I have to.