Sunday, January 24, 2016

X-Files…part 3 of 4 - Giddy Up

Sweeping me into the room he shines his flashlight on my mother, illuminated by the beams emanating from the T.V., which has been on since T.V. was invented. She’s stretched out on one of the many lazy boys populating theatre number one and I’m forced to do a double take. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her recline on one before. She's a dedicated "sinkie". I even wonder if the woman sleeps, as she eats standing up.
Mom waves and greets me with a cheery “Hi.” Without more being said, Dad motions me to sit.  Like some kind of anthropologist I've been granted the privilege to observe this, at least to me, bizarre, unknown and never before witnessed, nightly ritual. 
He shines the light on the clock over the stairs, the only way you can see it in this den of a room. Dad, like many of his peers, can no longer read the digital watch he still wears, nor can he hear its alarm buzzing at precisely designated times of the day for purposes long forgotten.
“So I guess we’re ready to do this,” he asks.
“Ready.” She confirms.
Ready, I wonder. I suspend my breath and watch.
Flashlight in one hand; bottle in the other. He's barely able to control the constant shaking of his hands. Yet, miraculously for a brief moment they are steady, just long enough for him to get one exact, gently placed drop to find its mark on Mom’s eye. And then I exhale, relieved for him that he can still do this small task for her.
“So that’s it for the first set of drops.”  Dad explains to me. “Now we have to wait for two minutes before we can put the other batch in.”

I begin to set the alarm on my watch but Dad motions that it isn’t necessary. He perches on the arm of the couch behind her lazy boy and begins to push down on the top of her chair, setting her in motion. Each rock becomes increasingly far ranging. She bravely clutches the arms of her mount to keep from being bucked off.

“One, two, three, ...” they count every push.
“This is how we do it” they say in unison, counting off the seconds since neither of them can see his watch.
“I’m hoping I’ll be able to rock her to sleep.” They both break out into fits of laughter as the rocking and the counting continue.
“Fifteen ... sixteen ...”

Speechless, I leave them to it, laughing and rocking as I go to tend to the medications. I close the kitchen door silently behind me, make my way over to the counter across the room and turn on the little lamp.
“Twenty ... twenty-one ...”
 I clamber up onto the counter to reach into the cupboard, to the back of the top shelf, where the medicine bottles are hidden. As I pull out the stash, I recall the day when such precautions became necessary and this ritual passed on to me. A dreaded sound, the ring of a phone in the early hours of the morning, was my awakening alarm. I stumbled into the den to intercept the call intuiting that I'd hear Dad's voice on the other end.

“Nance, could you come over?”
“Dad is everything O.K.?” suddenly I’m wide awake.
“Yes, but, but I um, can’t remember which medications I have to take.” his words betray astonishment and shame, for he has been responsible for sorting out his medications from the day he took his first insulin injection some 25 years ago.
“You’ve taken your insulin, right?”

“Yes, yes that’s not the problem.”
 I’m relieved that it’s not some kind of blood sugar fog, but puzzled by this new turn of events.
“It’s the damn pills. I have to take so many of them… I just can’t remember.”
I arrive to find him mulling over the unopened pill bottles laying in disarray on this very counter.
“Forty/fifty ... forty-one/forty-four ...”
“Edie, come on now it’s forty-one,” he chuckles. The creaks from the chair having gotten progressively weaker have stopped.
“No, it’s forty-four.”
“You made a mistake back there at forty,” he’s laughing not sure if she’s putting him on or not. “Now lets start again, forty-four.”
“Well then we should start at fifty because we’ve been talking.” She, the voice of reason, states.
“Come on Edie co-operate with me,” he pleads.
They resume, “forty/fifty-three ...”
A silent pause.
God they crack me up! I chuckle and shake my head and can take no more of this petty bickering. “Fifty- three” I yell out.
“What?” Dad shouts back.
“Fifty-three, start at fifty-three.”

“Fifty-three ... fifty-four ...” they’ve been jump-started back on track and the chair’s a rockin’.
And, I had to jump start his memory back then…

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

X-Files…part 2 of 4

I was raised in the modest 2 story house (where Life at 139 takes place) from the time I was just 3 years  old until I left home, for the final time in '86. Unlike most of my generation, I was a rebound boarder periodically returning to live in my parental home, for a year or so, every now and again.
Yes, I really did this to my poor parents.
 I hope they enjoyed my company as much as I did theirs - not being sarcastic either. 
Mom remained in the home for four more years after our Dad's death. An incident one cold and bitter night in 2006 convinced us that, short of having one of her five children with her 24/7 (which she absolutely did not want) it was no longer safe for her to stay there. But, that is a story for another time.

I should add that, not only was the stairway (mentioned in the story that follows) dark; the stairs leading to the upper floor were slippery as ice. A few non-Thackers who butt-slid from the top of the landing to the bottom of the flight in one fell swoop.…more than once, can attest to that. A bi-weekly ritual of Mom's was to wax the wood floors until they shone with a blinding light. Only when the landing became too crowded with boxes, full of their fledged childrens' items, did the stairway get omitted, yet the treads still retained their smooth, slick surface.

Mom was old school. Rubbing polish into the wood on hands and knees was the way it was done followed by a once or twice over with the floor polisher. When it came time to clear out the family home no fewer than 3 floor polishers were unearthed; all in various stages of disrepair. By the time the first one finally died new flooring material had made such appliances obsolete. Dad, ever the proud hunter/gatherer that he was, scoured the neighbourhoods on dump days for replacements. Most lasted for a few months before kicking off. When he finally gave up the hunt, Mom just dragged the lightest (still about 20 pound) relic back and forth over the dining room floor and hallway.

Back to X-Files part 2 of a 4 part story…

*        *        *

So begrudgingly, twenty bass driven minutes later, and paradoxically calmer I arrive unannounced on a cold and dark night. There I am on Mom and Dad’s doorstep, standing in the rain, waiting for them to respond to the sound of my fist banging on the aluminum base of their screen door. I fear this noise will wake up the neighbours gently tucked into their beds, but not my folks probably dozing in front of the T.V. in “theatre number one” a.k.a. the family room. Except for the blue haze that emanates from the front window it is pitch black inside.
Just last year my husband installed an overhead light above the stair well leading up to the second floor bedrooms. He comes from good lighting stock. His father, also a contractor, instilled in Rod from a tender age, the appreciation of abundant illumination.
“How did you manage to go up the stairs without light all those years?” he asks.
I think, what an odd question. “We counted the stairs and the steps to our beds.” Duh, didn’t everyone. In hearing myself I begin to think, maybe this was a little odd. My mother didn’t like overhead lighting of any kind - though I don’t know why, so all the wiring was capped and tiny bedside table lamps complete with cellophane wrapped shades were placed in the farthest corners of each room. God forbid anything got moved in the space in between the two locations. I think it was her way of forcing us to keep our bedrooms neat - put your things away or else break your necks.

The pride Rod felt in solving what he had deemed the “lighting problem”was obvious as we all stood at the base of the stair watching him demonstrate with a flourish how with the flick of a switch the light fourteen feet above us would be activated. And their reactions! Well, you would have thought he had invented light itself, they were so in awe. Of course we all knew that he would be the only person who would ever use it, but we didn’t tell him this. Didn’t want to spoil his moment.
                 I bang out again our family code  - knock   knock …knock-knock,  knock … knock   knock then shout, “Mom, Dad, it’s me Nance” then peer through the scalloped window, the kind that allows you to see only ghostly images on the brightest of days, and I see a scene straight out of the X-Files. The beam of a flash light jumps and stumbles along the walls of the living room.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Chris’ sake. Give me a chance will ya. Keep your pants on”  The beam cuts wildly out of control through the darkness. “Shit! Goddam it all to hell. Who put that there?” 
I’m shivering pretty uncontrollably by now as he the clicks and jiggles the handle wrestling  with the door he’s confronted on a daily basis for nearly 50 years. “Jesus Murphy ...” a choppy stream of swear words accompanies his efforts. When he finally succeeds, I’m met with a piercing beam of light aimed straight at my eyeballs. We’re stalemated there for a some seconds, silence coming from his end of the beam as I bob and weave my head out of the line of fire.
“Dad. Hi its me, Nance.” I put my hand in front of my face averting my eyes, but it is no use so I give up, drop my arms down by my sides and just stand there squinting.
With beam still fixed on my face, he peers closer; shivering I wait. “Nance?... it’s you ... Hi. Hi. What are you doing standing out in the rain? You’re drenched. Come in. Come in.” He waves me inside, beam gesturing wildly, creating a strobe effect in my brain.
Once my eyes adjust to the dark I ask, “Dad, why is it so dark in here?”
“It is?”

“Um,” gesturing to the flashlight in his hands, “yeah.” and then to the cloak of darkness around us.
“Oh ... OH” my question goes unanswered as he flicks some switches with slight distraction. And there is light - outside. The light over the front porch and then the lamppost at the end of the walkway now proudly shine. Without asking why I’m on his doorstep at 11:30 at night, it somehow seems perfectly normal to him, he motions me in to the living room after I’ve taken off my jacket and boots with the assistance of his somewhat shaky beam.
“Come on in” he says throwing his arms open with a warm expansiveness. “We’re just about to put your mother’s eye drops in.” With light still in hand he begins to sweep me in the direction of the living room.
I wince at the thought, “Dad, I can’t ...”
He stops in his tracks, “What? You don’t have time to visit your old Dad?”
I heave a sigh, “O.K. but only for a minute. I’ve got to put together your docette.”
“Nance you don’t have to do that.”
“If I don’t, who will?”
He pauses. His arms drop. Deflated he shakes his head, his lips purse and tears threaten as, I realize, inadvertently we’re caught short by the memory of the day the torch of this task passed into my hands.
“Look, Dad,” I say as I place my hand on his arm. “It’s O.K. Let’s go in and see Mom.” We nod in  silent conspiracy to proceed as if this conversation had never taken place…(TO BE CONTINUED)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

X-Files…part 1 of 4

Today my world is filled with thoughts of ageing, declining health and dying. Cheery, I know! But, it's odd how the universe arranges things through synchronicity.

BEING MORTAL - Medicine and What Matters in the End, the book by the wonderful medical writer, surgeon and lecturer Atul Gawande (think of a cross between Oliver Sacks and Malcolm Gladwell) stares up at me from my desk. Oddly, the sticker the library slapped on its cover says Health & Fitness. Even they don't know how to categorize a discussion on, what will come to most of us, facing the end of our life.

One of the first posts I read on FB today is from a dreamer friend who shared this THE BIG SLEEP on FB - check it out I'll wait…

And just now, somewhat in denial, I begin to write an e-mail to a 100 year old beloved former client turned friend. My fingers get heavy on the keys as I clear the lump in forming in my throat. She's probably died. The New Year's e-mail that I sent to her had bounced back; address no longer available. Despite her advanced years L was pretty skilled at the computer so…I check the obits and there it is; a loving and brief announcement, date of death Nov 14th.

E-mail to L; delete.

Looking for things to calm the restlessness building up within, I delete old, no longer needed files.
… hoping that this will clear things out of my mind.

Short stories I wrote about my struggles with my parents' ageing and declining health pop up on the screen. I laugh at one titled X-FILES in honour of X-Files' Mulder and Skully's penchant for using flashlights during every investigation. "Turn on the damn lights!" I'd shout at the screen. But, to no avail. My mother like Mulder and Skully wasn't a fan of overhead lighting. We Thackers are all night people. Throughout my life, navigating my way to bed late at light was like being in a training school for the blind.

*    *    *
Perfect. Rod had adjusted the light just right. A crisp beam is cast on my side of the bed leaving him cocooned in darkness so that only soft early stage of sleep snores betray his presence.
Ah ... I softly exhale, gently settling down on the futon having tip toed across the room and slipped out of my jeans, miraculously without disturbing him; he’s such a light sleeper. Mindfully I catch a whiff of peppermint tea wafting into my nostrils as I blow on its steamy surface before a sip passes through barely parted lips. And just as thoughtfully I place it on a ceramic tile on the floor, beside the bed. A barely audible sigh of contentment escapes as I open my paperback Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. I pause to allow a wave of gratitude wash over me for a day full of simple pleasures - car washed, treatments done, dinner shared with Mom and Dad, a beautiful sunny day …
“Shit, shit, shit. Goddamn it all to hell!” I slap my book shut and slam it down onto my thigh.
“What the ...?” Rod torques his upper body in my direction groggily shielding his eyes.
“Ah, damn it! I forgot to fill the fucking docette.”
“Language? Geeze it’s as if you’ve got Tourette’s or something.”
“Sorry. When I get pissed off ...  can’t help myself ... Dad does it too ... low tolerance for frustration ... some kind of conditioned response further habituated by ...”
“Do I really have to hear this now?” he interrupts.
Distractedly I grab my jeans off the floor. “Left it on the friggin’ counter. Must have gotten side tracked. Shit I’ll have to go over and fill it.” 
“Now?” he picks up the digital clock recording the time with blood red numbers and thrusts it into the light. “Nance, it’s 11 o’clock at night for Pete’s sake.”

I step into one pant leg and hop about trying to locate the other, knocking the scalding tea over “shee-ite” issues crisply through my clenched teeth as I lose my balance and my shoulder slams into the wall. “Ah! Goddamn it!”
Rod tisks and then forcefully sighs for my benefit as he disengages himself rolling back over into the darkness.
Mopping the tea up with a t-shirt grabbed from a chair,“If I don’t do it now, knowing my luck, Mom’ll call at some ungodly hour. And now I can’t sleep anyway because I’ll lay awake waiting for it like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Shoes. God damn it where are my shoes?”

“Nance, you’re spinning.”
“I can hear her now.”
“Ahem, ahem.” Rod clears his throat for my benefit.
“Well, you know how she is with the answering machine. Mom can’t even work a toaster oven. Remember last Christmas when we got them that little portable tape deck and she said to Dad, sitting there with the unwrapped package in his lap, ‘I hope it isn’t a micro-wave’?”
“I’ve got to get some sleep. Unlike some people, I have to get up early in the morning.”

“Where are my shoes?” As I crawl on hands and knees upturning everything in my path in search of the elusive quarry an all too familiar telephone call plays over in my head.  “Nance ... are you there? ... I ... ah ... can’t find your father’s medications for the day ... could you? ... um ... come over? ... ah ... well, O.K. ... bye ...” Her voice; shaky, apologetic, helpless.
Augh! God my gut’s turning now just thinking about it. Can’t be woken up like that yet again. It would take me days to stop swearing from the aggravation and guilt.
“Shoes are downstairs by the door." He muffles through the duvet. "In all our fourteen years together we’ve never brought them into the bedroom. Get - a - grip.”
“Oh, damn!” I stand with hands on hips in puzzlement. "Tsk, sigh." I proceed to stomp out of the room, “I’ll just have to grab whatever I can on my way out, I guess.”  
“Please, don’t slam the door.”
It slams shut seemingly of its own accord.
“Oops. Sorry.”
“Whatever,” I barely hear him sigh and mumble. There’s a faint click and the sliver of light escaping from under the door is extinguished behind me. Ahh, I relax, blessed darkness.
I proceed down the stairs barefoot with heavy heels.            
“Shit!” I grab at the railing to keep from breaking my neck as our cat scurries down the stairs. “Max get out of the way!”
            *           *          *
Gotta work the ya ya’s out. “Let’s see.” I say aloud as I rifle through the cassettes strewn beside me on the passenger seat.
Eternal Om too mellowColin James - nahEnya, Rolling Stones ... the Stones ...
Yup, Stones it is! I pop in the tape and crank up the volume.
“You can’t always get what you wa-a-a-nt. You ...” isn’ t that fuckin’ right! I nod in heartfelt  agreement. 
Flat and off key, I break into song wailing at the top of my lungs, "you just might find you get what you need…" And, in a Jumpin' Jack Flash this Honky Tonk woman and Mick are gunning it down the driveway…(TO BE CONTINUED).