Saturday, December 27


Where the heart is. The place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. You can't go there again.

Q: Am I home now, at Prestwick Chase? Or was I home there, at my mom's house?
A: THE FORMER. Duh! What are you, stupid or something?

The place where I grew up looks much the same as it does in my mind's rapidly-deteriorating photo album. It's a house with a dwindling population -- just my mom, most of the time. Dad is dead, Beth inhabits her own bitter place, Gramma endures now in the Fulton County Infirmary, yelling her head off in a voice like Gollum's. My childhood home is like a ghost town.

Hey kids, here's some fun snapshots from my winter vacation:

Mom drives past her boyfriend's house, trying to see if his car is back yet or not. Cripes: when did my mom become a stalker?

Saying hello to Beth on Xmas morning. She says nothing, and will not, will NOT even look in my direction.

Also Xmas morning: Beth criticizing mom because mom has continued the tradition of giving us stockings. Beth being vicious. Me thinking that if Dad were here, he would tell her knock it off in a hurry. Beth being generally miserable.

Mom and Beth arguing in the living room; I'm out in the kitchen. Mom comes out and announces that Beth doesn't want to open presents in the morning like we've ALWAYS done, so Mom and I will go up to the infirmary to visit gramma. I notice the shiny moistness in mom's eyes. I get up and go over and hug her, because I can tell she really needs one. I say, "I love you, Mom." She says that I'm the only thing making it Christmas. The only thing. Secret pleasure: I know I'm a good person.

Here's a nice shot of Gramma sitting in a wheelchair, the visor over her eyes giving her the look of a degenerate blackjack dealer. We're in the visitors' lounge, Ellen DeGeneres is talking to Diane Keaton on TV. I'm writing banalities with a black marker on a white eraserboard; the eraser is stuck to the back of the board with velcro, and the whole thing goes into a pouch on the back of Gramma's wheelchair. She keeps repeating the same things over and over. I secretly congratulate myself for patiently answering a question for the 4th or 5th time in less than an hour. She goes into the emotional blackmail thing, trying every trick she can think of to get us to take her home. You remember home, it's where the heart is, and you can't go there again. She assures me again and again that it's a horrible thing to get so old. I don't argue. She is 100 years old.

The next day. Also at the infirmary. Waiting for Gramma to move her bowels. Mom and I loiter near the nurses' station. I say some really regrettable things about how when pets get so old and sick, there's no question about what the humane thing to do is. When Eskimo people get old, they don't want to burden the tribe so they just go out on an ice floe to die. [Please excuse the usage of the pejorative term "Eskimo." Saying "Inuit" would have been pointless. And is this bit of folklore even true?]

Sitting in the Johnstown Movieplex with a good-size noontime crowd to see "The Return of the King." Mom even stays awake. I realize that I have seen all 3 movies in the trilogy at this theater: a second viewing of "Fellowship of the Ring" during my birthday visit, February 2002. The first viewing of "The Two Towers" the day after Christmas, December 26 2002, during that very dark time after the accident. I really enjoy this viewing of "Return of the King," but it didn't have the emotional resonance of the first viewing, which was akin to a religious experience. The first time was attended with SO much craving and excitement, but the second was just, oh yes, I'd like to see that on the big screen again. Mark you well: There's a universal truth in this. Craving makes all the difference.

Mom and I playing Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture DVD edition, having fun Friday night.

Bette being a really poor loser Thursday night, practically yelling at me, as if it were my fault, "I don't like movies! I don't watch movies! I don't know anything about movies!"

Sometimes I look at other people and I feel comparatively sane.

Canolis from Price Chopper. Sweet, creamy. Too bad sugar makes me feel suicidally depressed. But these canolis make it almost worth it. Almost.

Riding around in the car with mom after visiting Gramma on Christmas morning. Neither of us wants to go home right away, because Beth is so thoroughly unpleasant. I cautiously mention what I've been dealing with in therapy. Mom remembers. And I feel incredibly validated. She even uses the A word: recalling the one time Beth stood up for me on the schoolbus, she says of Beth, "She could abuse you, but nobody else could." Hearing it out loud like that makes me feel so much better, in a really strange way.

More heart-to-hearts with mom. She talks about how she used to conceal things and lie to my dad because she didn't want him "flying off the handle." She talks about how her Bill is a laidback, easygoing guy. I'm very happy that she found someone like that, the polar opposite of the Dad thing.

Mom and I hiding from Beth in the kitchen all Christmas afternoon, watching "A League of Their Own" and "Pleasantville" on commercial television. With commercials. What century is this?

Me feeling compassion for Beth. It must be awful to be her.

Mom in the morning just after going over to Bette's for coffee. My mom is like a crystal meth addict. It's like getting up and talking to a speed freak.

Here's one of me and mom going down to Amsterdam to the cancer treatment center for her radiation on Wednesday morning. Here's me sitting with a Time magazine with Russell Crowe on the cover, promoting "Master and Commander." Waiting while mom gets her breast nuked. This old dude is waiting too. Patches on is hat and jacket annouce that he is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Why do so many vets feel the need to advertise? He's one of these talkative North Country types. He starts in on the jigsaw puzzle they have there in the waiting room, telling me about some guy he heard about, wore glasses, a gambler type (? huh?), who would do jigsaw puzzles with a jackknife handy to trim pieces to fit, and pound them in. I make a point of laughing appreciatively, a little longer than is necessary. I can tell he wants to shoot the breeze, but I just can't do it. I raise the magazine a little, pretending, "Boy, that Russell Crowe is one fascinating dude." I feel really guilty for not being able to give him what he wants. The dad thing who lives in my head starts berating me for not being nicer to the old guy. My mind obsesses about this for a very, very long time. I should have talked to him more. I should have. Should have. Should...

Look, here's Bette at our kitchen table again. She's telling about how mom is always apologizing for no reason, constantly, and it drives Bette and her friends batty. First thing Mom does when she comes over in the morning is say, "I'm sorry." Something clicks, a light goes on, epiphany, sudden illumination: "Oh, so THAT'S where I got it from." I say, clearly amazed. It makes sense now. We're always apologizing, because we were brainwashed into thinking that everything is our fault.

Me eating a bagel & cream cheese. Mom's cat, Pansy, comes begging, and I stick my left forefinger in the cream cheese and offer it to her. She sniffs, then licks it off.

Me watching the DVD of "Eyes Wide Shut" on my computer in bed last night. Why did Gini hate this movie so much? And why do I feel like the only movies I can watch while Gini is away are ones that I know she wouldn't like? I'm going to watch "Pulp Fiction" on one of our Cinemax channels tonight.

Me meditating every morning. Doing metta and karuna, and once doing a sweeping meditation.

Mom really digging the CD I gave her of Art Garfunkel: Best of. Us listening to it in the car. The song "Bright Eyes" from the soundtrack of the movie adaptation of "Watership Down." Remembering the death of Hazel, the Black Rabbit, Prince Elilhrairrah, Bigwig, Fiver, General Woundwort...

Me following mommy around and about, happily trailing after her apron strings.

Look: here's me, home again, at Prestwick Chase, doing my own laundry just like a real grownup would. Not a child anymore after all, but a very kind and good man. Look. See?

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