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.
“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 mellow, Colin James - nah, Enya, 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).