On seeing what we want to see

My mind feels like a library card catalog, stuffed to the brim with index cards. Funny, that’s an image I used in a short story I wrote several years ago. So many of my stories feature a broken old woman, crazy and lost. She sorts and stacks, folds and files. And a man who is powerless and under her control. A man who stays silent. A man who dies.

illusionApparently, my subconscious knew this was coming for quite some time. I just didn’t want to believe it. So I exorcised those demons in the form of fiction. Where I could control them. Where I had a say. Where I could leave the tragic ending on a positive note.

Unfortunately, fiction is not real life. Life isn’t something you can control or micromanage. My mom and people like her try though. Oh lord, does she try!

And I have a habit of seeing only what I want to see. Matt reminds me the weeks before my dad’s passing were not a time for being vague and my dad was being very vague in terms of his health. Every visit was canceled and I hadn’t seen him in person in months. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw him before rushing over to the house after his fall just after the first of the year. I think it was just after September’s birthday and he only came to the door for a minute. He had an upset stomach so couldn’t sit out on the porch to see us. I didn’t think too much of this because his heart medication always caused him some level of nausea since back in 2008, especially if he didn’t eat at the right time or ate the wrong thing.

I told him to make doctor’s appointments and he did. But then he wouldn’t go to them. He’d cancel at the last minute. This was the story all the way through to December when he had an appointment on New Year’s Eve. He’d told me about this appointment a few days before so I made sure to call him that day to see how it went. I said, “So, how’d it go?”

And he sighed and said, “Oh, I put it off.”

“Dad!” I said, “You need to go to the doctor!”

And he sighed again and said, “Well, I kind of can’t now.”

And I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought he meant that day. I thought he meant it in the same way he was always limiting himself in the previous few years. Just like he had been having some trouble walking–walking quick, any way–because he was so sedentary. He literally sat all day. For years. So whenever he said he couldn’t do something I took it to mean “I don’t want to do it.”

And maybe I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to face the possibility that he might be dying. We see what we want to, after all. We are our own greatest deceivers. After all, no one can lie to me and make me believe it like I can.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

On saying the hard things

I’m a fairly open person. Well at least I am now. This blog has helped a lot with that. But whenever I was around my parents, I’d revert to my old fake and guarded self. I still felt like a little kid and like I needed to behave. This was totally my mom’s doing of course. So when I was around them, I didn’t curse. I acted like a kid in a lot of ways. And that’s weird.

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I wanted to be more genuine with my dad but that was made so difficult because being around him usually meant I was around my mom, too. And being around her meant I couldn’t be myself. Which is funny because whenever my real personality slips out she automatically assumes I’m not being myself. When I was in high school and even younger, she’d claim I was just acting like my friends and that I needed to talk like myself. I wanted to say, “well, maybe if you took a chance to get to know me…” But I didn’t. And I still don’t. I still don’t say what I feel. And in that way, I am so very much like my dad.

I can’t say the hard things. I’ve never been able to. The words will bubble up my throat but never quite make it past my lips. So when my mom says things like, “I always did for daddy and I’d do anything to do things for him again,” I want to say what is it that you did, exactly? Bring him takeout food he shouldn’t have been eating? Tell him not to go to the doctor? Restrict him to a bedroom? Fail to call emergency services when he hadn’t been out of bed except to go to the bathroom (if that) in over a month? 

And when she says, “I liked our visit last week. While you were eating lunch, I ate crackers, didn’t I Brennie?” I want to say, why do you always try to make me feel sorry for you? What is it about sympathy that you crave? Why can’t you go about your day and I go about mine? 

But I don’t say any of those things. I bite my tongue. Hard. I sit and feel the anger seethe within my belly as I just nod and say “mhmm,” as she talks and talks and talks. It builds up and it has no place to go. Because I can’t say the hard things. I can’t get past the fear. I am still the little girl sitting cross-legged on avocado green carpet, looking up at her mother’s widened eyes and manic grin, wondering what she said to make her so angry. Wondering if she’ll ever stop yelling.

And not once did that little girl wonder if she’d ever be free, because she couldn’t imagine a world where things weren’t complicated and exhausting and backwards. She couldn’t imagine a world where things made sense.

So I never say the hard things. I sit and accept. I nod and smile and pretend. And I hate myself. And I wonder if this is how my dad felt. Powerless. Trapped. Incapable of fighting back because silently accepting madness is all you’ve ever known. Or all that you can remember, at least.

Image source: sea turtle

On growing a backbone at the wrong time

I get quite a bit of traffic to this blog from various hoarding blogs and websites, so I apologize to those readers for deviating from that subject matter for a bit. I suppose it’s all related. Still, I imagine I’ll be blogging about grief and guilt for some time. Bear with me.

86509233_76ae55537cIt looks very much so like my dad knew he had heart failure at the end of 2012. Whether he found this out at a routine doctor’s appointment, I don’t know. What I do know is that he kept that information to himself. And while I feel less guilty for not alerting him to his symptoms this past December (because it seems he already knew), I feel guilty for pushing him so much all the time.

I remember back in April 2012, he ventured out of the house with Matt and I to co-sign on a loan to refinance Matt’s car. I was almost 4 months pregnant and the auto loan refinancing was the only way we were going to able to afford the super high delivery costs. I had insurance, too, but it was really crappy. Delivery at a hospital was going to be $3000 (not including doctor’s visits–which always turned out to cost at least $150 each–, tests, ultrasounds, etc). The birth center fee was around $6000 and included everything. But I digress.

We were going to initially do a standard loan. My dad was going to co-sign to help us out. But he talked to my mom and she said flat out no. She said they had too much debt already. My dad was the one that had to tell me this (I could hear her whispering in the background). I was really upset. We were desperate. Add pregnancy hormones on top of all that stress and I was near tears.

About a week later, we figured out that a car refinancing would work because it was a solid piece of collateral and wouldn’t add to my parent’s debt. So I totally freaked out for no reason. And I’m relaying all of this to provide context, by the way.

So, we pick up my dad and he was walking pretty slow. I hadn’t seen him outside of the house in real clothes in a while–not since our wedding in Jan. 2010. Every time we went over there to visit, my mom would usher us into his bedroom and he’d be there in his pajamas or sweats and a robe. He’d started letting his beard grow out by then. His hair was longer.

But he’d shaven and trimmed his hair for the venture. It was nice to see him out of the house. We got to the bank and he was shuffling along (I guess this is one of the first signs of heart failure?). We did all the paperwork and took him back home. I remember feeling uncomfortable. Like I didn’t know what to say to him. I was angry at him, even then. He was giving up on life and it frustrated me so much because it just didn’t have to be that way. So instead of being compassionate and considerate, I got angry. I just wasn’t my usual self around him and that makes me really sad now.

We did the whole bank thing and dropped him off back home. I didn’t even offer him lunch. Not that we could have afforded it at that moment (obviously, we needed a loan to pay for our baby lol), but still. It’s the simple things that show you care and I feel like I was really not being kind to him. And I felt like I was being ungrateful, even in the moment. I was totally grateful for the help with the loan but I could barely express any kind of gratitude because being around him made me so sad. I guess what I’m saying is I’d much rather have been able to go in the house (a normal house) and spend time with my dad listening to music and doing what we always did than get anything related to money. Especially after September was born, I wanted my dad to know her so badly. But it was such a pain in the ass to bring the baby over to just sit on the porch. During winter, no less. I could have brought her inside, yes, but it was smokey. And lord knows what else was floating around in the air (they never opened windows). And I’d put my foot down with my mom on that subject already.

Just a few months before I told my parents I wasn’t coming in the house anymore because of the smoke. I was pregnant after all. But I thought she would have the decency to smoke outside so her pregnant daughter could come in. That’s what I thought would happen. I never thought we’d actually need to have visits on the porch because she couldn’t do that one thing for me. Or that those visits would become so inconvenient because she had to get out the chairs for them to happen that they’d be cancelled more often than not.

I know I was angry because my dad wouldn’t fight against my mom. There was a good 3 1/2 years of “giving up” going on before this point in time. And I know I was angry because he wasn’t taking care of himself. But it never even occurred to me that he couldn’t. I always thought it was a choice he made. That he chose to eat bad food and he chose not to exercise. Even in April 2012, I thought he could still get some of his old vigor back if he’d just get out of that damned room once in a while, get some fresh air, and go for a walk. There were years of me begging him to do just that that preceded this after his heart attack in 2008.  In every phone call I told him to go for a little walk. At first, I told him to go around the block. Then as he got more sedentary, I reeled in my requests. It became, “walk around half the block,” then “to the end of the block,” then “around the front yard.” Till finally, this past year, I just asked him to go outside and sit on the bench on the front porch.  I just wanted him to get out of that smoked-in toxic envrionment.

He would tell me sometimes that he couldn’t get around like he used to and that made me angry, too. It all stemmed back to when he gave up in the first place. I never once considered he might be very unwell. Or just getting old. I never once thought he wouldn’t get better.

And I swear, sometimes, for a smart person, I can be really stupid.

Even in the convalescent home, I thought he was going to get better. I knew his time was going to be limited from then on, but I thought he’d recover some. I thought he’d be able to walk. I thought he’d be able to better manage his symptoms. And I know part of this is due to the fact I wasn’t given all the information but still. I feel like I should have known. I should have been more empathetic. I should have recognized that he was old. But I never once thought of him that way. He wasn’t old. He was just my dad.

And in an effort to stand up to my mother, to no longer do things by her twisted, weird rules, my dad suffered.

Image source: JR_Paris

On being phased out

Dealing with the loss of my dad has been difficult. Some moments I’m completely fine. Some of those moments I’m thinking about him, even, and I’m fine. The way he would give me a side-eye glance whenever my mom said something crazy. How he’d wink across the room at me or say, “Hey Bren, Hey Bren,” whenever he was going to tell me something either wildly inappropriate or that he knew would bug me.

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But there are other moments where I am so completely not fine. I’m not okay. Matt put it perfectly recently: I fall into myself and thoughts of what could have been and what’s been lost rush over me and down my throat. I choke on those memories and in those moments, I weep.

I know that I would be devastated no matter the circumstances of his death. I know this. But there are certain elements of this situation that make everything more complicated, more difficult to bear.

For context: my dad changed after his heart attack in 2008. Actually, he was different ever since I moved out of the house. But it was the heart attack that really made him different. After he was released from the hospital, he was optimistic. He was adamant about changing his diet and getting more exercise. He seemed motivated. Then my mom started in. She made him feel like he couldn’t leave his bedroom. Every time he got to the door she jumped up and said, “What do you need? What do you want?” Every time he made it all the way into the kitchen, she acted like he was invading her territory. He wasn’t welcome anywhere except in his room.

That’s when I first noticed a significant change in him. He was giving up. He was slipping between my fingers then. I didn’t know it exactly. I still had hope. But as it turns out, he was on a set trajectory from that moment on.

I remember vividly one time I was at my parent’s house to accompany my dad to a doctor’s appointment. I’d spent the night because I don’t have a car or drive (that’s another story). We went to his appointment and he needed some labs done the next day or something. I don’t remember exactly but I know my mom asked me if I could spend another night to go with him to his next appointment. You need some context here. My mom hadn’t been out of the house on her own in nearly 10 years at this point. She checked out of life when I was about 14 or 15. She says to this day it was because she got sick (or sicker, I should say) but that wasn’t really the case. She just couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything anymore.

I paused to think for a minute after she asked me to spend the night again. I said, “Let me call, Matt.” After all, I was living with him at this point and he was the one that dropped me off at their house in the first place and was going to pick me up. Also–WE LIVED TOGETHER. I wanted to talk with him to see if he was cool with it and to make sure there wasn’t anything else going on I didn’t know about. So, I get off the phone with Matt. I gave him a brief rundown of what was going on and I was just about to tell my mom that yes, I could stay again. But she wouldn’t let me get a word in. She said, “You don’t have to go tomorrow, it’s okay, you don’t have to stay.” I argued with her. I said I wanted to stay over and over but she wouldn’t hear it. That was that.

I went back into my dad’s room and told him what had just happened and he just sort of sat there, rubbing his thumbs together. He was defeated even then. Because really, how do you fight against a person who doesn’t even acknowledge what you say? She makes a decision and that is that. She went with him to doctor’s appointments for a bit after that. She refused our help buying groceries after a few weeks, too, because I wouldn’t buy her cigarettes. Also, she was having us go down to Lakewood to buy groceries three times a week instead of just making one big list to last all week. Because we wouldn’t/couldn’t do things 100% the way she wanted, she didn’t want our help anymore.

A year or so passed and my dad was very different. He didn’t go out much at all anymore. He was even more secluded in his room. I’d been spending the night to go to my dentist’s appointments which were in Lakewood. Every time I was over there, my mom made a big deal about the fact that she had to “undo” the couch so I could sleep on it. By “undo” she meant move all of her unnecessary crap like a pile of candy, pyramid of cigarettes, and perfectly folded napkins. So, she’d pitch a fit about all the effort she put into my visits. My braces came off, then I got married. I had another dentist appointment lined up a few weeks later. My mom made my dad cancel my visit though. Why? Because she didn’t want to have to “undo” her couch. He sounded so sad on the phone then. I think he knew he was losing me too. She’d driven everyone else away and now she was doing it to me, her own daughter.

The cruelest joke of all now is she calls me every day. I have to hear her voice every day. A women who couldn’t even be bothered to pick up the phone when I called before. A woman who couldn’t be bothered to move a few things off a couch (or god forbid, let her daughter do it) so her daughter could sleep there. A woman who takes everything that matters away from  people while shouting from the rooftops about how much she does for other people. As though buying my dad some iced tea he liked makes up for the years she kicked him out of their bedroom, for never listening to him, for never caring, for the gross neglect.

When I got pregnant, I refused to go in their house because she smoked in there and didn’t have the decency to smoke outside for me. Then when September was born my mom didn’t feel like coming over to visit to meet her new granddaughter even though a ride was all lined up. Every time she made my dad cancel. He had to hear my frustration and anger. She never did. How unfair. As the months rolled on leading up to my dad’s passing, my mom cancelled nearly every visit, and every time she made my dad do it. She pushed me away because I wouldn’t do things on her terms anymore. And my dad suffered for it. And that isn’t fair either.

Around Christmas, my dad called again to cancel a visit. He said, “You sound disappointed.” I said, “No, I’m used to it now.” He paused for a moment then said, “Maybe we’ll see you next Christmas, Jesus!”

I know he was frustrated and too weak to do anything about it at that point. And that’s so shitty. My mom robbed me of the last months of my dad’s life and I was too busy being pissed to argue. That’s a shitty regret to have, believe me.

Image source: Jiska