Friday, February 29, 2008
There are times when the phone rings, and you know whatever is waiting on the other end of that line for you isn't good. That call that comes a little too early or a little too late, or when the phone rings over and over again, in spite of your best efforts to ignore it. Those are the times you just know something isn't right. The ring that makes your heart go a little bit faster and causes every thought of disaster you have to rush to the front of your mind. Then, there are the times when you get blindsided. You're in your sweats just watching tv, eating cereal right out of the box, and the second you say 'hello' into the reciever, life reaches out and slaps you cold. I don't know which is worse: knowing that it's coming and having to wait, or having it drop out of the clear blue sky into the middle of your day. This week, my experience falls into the latter category. And somewhat into the former.
I was surprised to pick up the phone and hear my older sister Amy's voice. I hadn't spoken to her since the day of my grandmother's funeral. This was the funeral I debated for days about whether I should go or not. In the end I decided that it would be basically going to the funeral of a stranger, and the few good memories I had of her would be what I kept. When I told her that I wasn't going, her silence on the other end of the line told me what she was thinking without her needing to say a word. So the second I heard her I knew it was going to be about something bad. I was correct.
'Mom had a stroke', she said. That was when I felt that little chill in the pit of my stomach. 11 AM on a Tuesday morning was not when you expect to get a call like that. She went on to say that she was paralyzed on her left side, but could still respond on her right. She was in the ICU at Mehtodist in Peoria, and they were obeying her living will, which states, 'no tubes, no heroic measures.' That was two days ago. After speaking to her nurses and learning that her eyes were deflected down and to the left, and she was no longer responsive, it was as if I could hear some huge ancient clock in the background ticking. Palliative measures is the tecnical term, I believe. Keeping her comfortable until her body gives up. Either the bleed will keep growing, and it will crush her brain against the inside of her skull, or her organs will fail as she starves. The greatest fear would be reaching some kind of in-between vegatative alive-but-not state. Something she had hoped to avoid via the living will. That would be the one thing I would most hope would not come to pass.
Here I sit, on a rather slow night at work, typing and contemplating. As a kid, I guess I never really understood how awkward a situation it must have been. Having your ex in the next town over, and having your daughter living with her, and your son going to visit on occasion. When dad died, and I decided to start digging into the family past, I had no idea that each and every shovelful would be loaded with secrets, and lies. I simply not process what was being told to me. And without the other side to compare it to, I couldn't evaluate it. Even knowing the past, there was no change of uniting the family. So, I decided to drop it. I let that past, that family, fall away. They split into their two factions and retreated to their corners as soon as dad was in the ground. Never did a single one of them ever darken my doorstep. And eventually, I realized my place. Which was somewhere in between, but not really part of, either group of them. All parties involved were entrenched and stubborn, but I ended up being the furthest away (except for Robin, who escaped without a trace many years ago).
For now, edging away from the dark cloud that is the reality of the family, I am left with remebering Saturday morning spent at Nortwoods Mall, back when going to the mall was actually an event. Eating at Orange Julius, which used to be downstairs at the JCPenney end of the mall, across from Kay-Bee toys. After they went out of business (Orange Julius, that is), we would always eat at Garcia's Pan Pizza by the slice (Home of the flying tomato brothers!). Trips to the second hand bookstore that would net me dozens of books. Going to garage sales and looking for treasures. Renting a big stack of movies from the Convienent store where she worked. Burning down the trailer. Games of Scrabble and Upwords. Sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the living room. The first time I got looped on Amaretto. Coming home on Sundays reeking of cigarette smoke. Not always agreeing on things. Those are the things I will remember as best I can, while I sit here and wait for the phone to ring yet again. This time with more final news. That will lead to more questions, and yet another trip straight down the center of Illinois on I-39. I'll try to combine that trip with hopefully getting to see a couple of old friends, one of whom will most likely have my ass sleeping on his couch.
So one more link in the chain is lost. Another key to the convoluted history of the family gone. The secrets she holds, and bodies she buried, will be lost to history. She never saw my homes, never met my pets. She sort of knew a couple of my friends, and barely knew my wife. My art was unknown to her. For these things, I feel a deep hurt. Likewise, I am sure my abscence caused hurt in return. It still remains true that the phone lines, the mail, and the roads do go in both directions. So, I will miss her, the person I interchangeably called Lynn, mom, or mom1 or 2 (depending on how I figured it), but not as an active part of my life. A loss of history, a bit more of my past swept out from under me. A melancholy loss, not a crushing blow. So, the clock continues to tick, ominously booming through the corridors of my mind, counting towards that moment, that moment when her light will go out, and the moment when my phone will ring.