Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Buying glasses and cleaning pools

Last night, my dad was still up when I got home from the train station. We sat and chatted for a little while before he went to bed. So far, I've heard most of the things Matt has heard. For some reason, my dad seems to think (currently) that his time is nigh. He asked Matt, "Do you think Jen will be okay if I die on her?" Matt and I were standing behind the car at the train station. As we put my stuff into the trunk, I lit a cigarette and we stood there while I smoked it, and I laughed and said, "What does he think I'm going to do? Run around the house screaming like a chicken with its head cut off?"

"Dude, I don't know," my brother shook his head. "Dad keeps saying that he doesn't give a shit about the world, but it's his family he's going to miss." Well, my dad seems to be a little sick of my mother's "bullshit," so that leaves me and Matt. So, as we suspected, our being here seems to make him want to die even less. He keeps telling us how impressive people think it is that we are doing this. I am glad he thinks it is impressive, because we think it is impressive too, haha. No, seriously. We do. Heroic even. Nothing like blowing your own horn if you're a blowhard.

I woke up a few times in the middle of the night and I wasn't sure where I was each time-- I was confused because Dereck wasn't there and I couldn't see his digital clock from my side of the bed. Then I would wonder if I were on the train. Then I'd figure it out. But having a better attitude about being here sure makes a huge difference. So does having had two weeks at home.

I woke up with a splitting headache that three advil and two Excedrin have not yet been able to touch. However, I've been writing up a storm today, both here, and on my new writing group blog. Changes of scenery, man, good for the writer. My mother started calling promptly at 8:30 a.m. Fortunately, we were all up. She started in on my dad to make her doctor's appointments with new doctors. But she had the names of some, not all of them, and she wanted him to call their friend Maud again and ask her for the list. My dad told her she should do it, he's dying, he's not going to make her appointments anymore. The phone then got handed to me. I told her I'd call Maud for the names and then call her back. She ended the call with, "I have a very sore throat. And the dentist didn't get all the food out of my teeth! And he thought he did. And I have blisters all over my mouth. And my lips are chapped. And everything is just falling apart. And there is pus coming from my eyes." And that is how I knew that she was fine. Everything is wrong. And so it goes.

While I was still on the brief call with Maud on my cell phone, my mother called back. I told her I had the names. Then, I'm barely sitting with my first cup of coffee and chatting with my brother and dad when she calls back. I explain that I haven't had a chance to make appointments for her yet, and that she might have to wait to see a new doctor, and it also depends on whether they are taking new patients.

There was a pause. Then, as imperious as Queen Elizabeth II, she said in a very clipped and tight voice, "So, you're saying I might have to wait to see a doctor. Is that right?" If she had been a godfather in a mafia movie, I would have been scared that she'd put out a hit on me. As it happens though, she is my mother and doesn't have access to enough money to hire a hit man, so I just said, "Yes, that's right."

"Well, how long?"

"I don't know yet."

Then she asked to talk to my dad so she could tell him she loves him and inquire about him (as she had not in the previous calls in which he had answered the phone). Little did she know that he was going to tell her to stop calling and asking him to make doctor's appointments for her. So, then, of course, five minutes later she called back and wanted to speak to him again. I decided not to hand him the phone again and told her that he knows she loves him. "Is he ever going to forgive me?"

"Of course he is," I told her. "There is nothing to forgive."

My dad may not quite see it that way, though. We chatted about how my mother's jealousy issues are her one great flaw (I saw no reason to contradict him; if that is how he sees things, who am I to disagree?). He told me that her mother told him that before they got married. "After we were married, I'd come home from work and she would be crying because she wasn't getting a PhD."

I wanted to ask, but did not, "At what point did you sort of realize, 'Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into?'" He is writing his memoirs today. He is up to where he met my mom and they got married. I keep wondering how this is going to turn out, written through the glasses colored, "My wife fucked up my health with her useless health complaints, so now I'm dying" lens.

Speaking of lenses, I mentioned to my dad last night that he should get new glasses (he was saying that my mother won't turn on her TV because she claims she can't see it. It's a small room she is in and a rather large TV, but okay, sure). He said, "Well, I need new glasses, and I thought about it, but it didn't seem worthwhile for only a few months."

I said, "Why the hell not? It's pretty important to your quality of life to be able to see. And *I* have to get new glasses."

He thought about it for about ten seconds before realizing that a new pair of glasses, tri-focals, would cost him only about $35 with his insurance, so he's going to do it. He called and made an eye appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I called this morning and arranged for more oxygen tanks to be delivered.

My dad also bought a new book at Borders yesterday and started reading it. I had sort of wondered why he had given up reading books for awhile, so it was nice to see him reading again. It's a book by Patti Smith about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

This morning, my dad and I were talking about death. I asked him if he had a bucket list. He said no, just that he would miss his family. I said, "I think about death a lot, probably a lot for someone my age." His response surprised me:

"Everybody  does. I've thought about death my entire life too."

Oh Christ. You mean you can still have a really hard time facing your death even when you've pondered it your entire life? I am so fucked.

He mentioned that he had met with the Hospice chaplain, who turned out to be Mormon. He told the guy he had no use for Mormon Doctrine. The guy said, "Well, there are some good things," and my dad said, "Yeah, but I don't think that's the point of life."

I leaned forward on the couch. "Uh... what do you think the point of life is?"

"The hell if I know."

Oh well.

My friend Stephen sent me a letter and told me,
"Jen, at the end of your last letter you asked, (maybe rhetorically?) "Is the meaning of life to be happy? And if not, what is the point?" To which I've given a lot of thought too. My own take is that it's not to be happy-- (but hopefully recognize those moments when you DO find happiness)-- I think it's about love. Complete unconditional love is all we've got going for us. Everything else is either a result of love or a distraction from it. It's love for yoru parents that maybe brings you such grief, and it's love that brings about all those other unpleasant and lovely feelings that sort of sum up what life is. It seems to me that love is about the only thing a person can really control."
I thought that was really lovely and hopeful. That probably aligns with what my dad has been feeling. I also got a letter from my friend Alex (Missy, I owe you a letter), and his take was slightly different:
"At least there are smokes. A school group came in today and I overheard one of the teachers say to a seven-year-old: "Put into the world what you want it to be." The kid was spitting. At least my vice kills me. Also, the senator was out, so she sent him into the senator's office for a time out. If that doesn't instruct that kid that breaking the rules is worth it, I'll give up my smokes now."
That cracked me up.

On a final note, this morning I watched the first episode of Raising Hope. I laughed until I cried. Then, I went to find something to post for you guys, and I found the trailer, and I still have tears in my eyes. But the salient point is that in the first five minutes of the show, the main character, Jimmy, age 23, who still lives with his parents, quits his job. He passes his mother leaving for work in her pink maid uniform, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, as he stalks into the house. She says, "What are you doing home?"

Jimmy: "There's got to be more to life than cleaning the same pool over and over."

"There isn't."


  1. You don't owe me a letter. You can write one, but I'm not going to hold you to it.

    I'm so glad you're in a better place this time around. It still stinks, but think of how many people die and don't get closure.

    Hope the next couple of weeks are uneventful.

  2. Stephen says the meaning of life comes/is gleaned in relationships, and when he says that, he means depth and significance, not number of. You can have a million shallow relationships, and have a meaningless life, or two very significant ones, and your life is meaningful.

    Given the way he lives his life, I'd say he'd also include doing what you can to make the world a better place. Sitting at home being meaningful with one other person would probably not suffice for him.

    And me? I don't really know what life's for/about, and find myself wondering about it more as I get older.