Ten Miles Behind Me And Ten Thousand More To Go

On weekdays, someone takes Dara to the bus stop or, if we want to sleep an hour longer, to school. We haven’t slept well. When she was here, Daria took charge of getting Dara to high school but after Daria left, I suddenly had to think about teenager transportation again.

Tata: Shit! We have to get up early because I won’t be able to get home from the high school.
Dara: That would be embarrassing.
Tata: Wait till your friends see my hair done by a cat!
Dara: Am I too young to have a stroke?

Yesterday, we were up before the alarm. I came downstairs and glared at the coffee pot until Dara told me to put on my shoes. The fields all around were blanketed with thick frost. I started the van and could barely reach the pedals but didn’t adjust the seat because everyone who might drive it including Dara is bigger than me. We drove to the end of the steep driveway, where we sat quietly and shivered at a 30 degree angle to the road.

Dara: Put on the parking brake.
Tata: Really? You don’t want to go visit the cows across the street?
Dara: Not without a bun and sauteed mushrooms, no.
Tata: I never use that, living where things are relatively flat. How do I – um – turn it off to go home?
Dara: You press it harder and it releases or there’s a lever without a handle.
Tata: Rock on.

A minute or two later, the bus appeared. Dara and I air kissed. She got on the bus and I thought, “Hot damn, I’m going back to bed now.” But I was wrong, and I couldn’t release the parking brake.

Look, I’m not a genius. A couple of weeks ago, we were desperate to feed Dad anything he’d eat. We searched the grocery stores for ideas, for cream soups, for anything he might take one bite of and it was becoming an obsession for me. Our objective was to keep his cognitive function as clear as we could for as long as we could, and I was working on a premise I may or may not have remembered correctly from Good Eats.

Tata: Brains need protein. Maybe later, we can try spoonfuls of cream.
Darla: Brains need glucose. It’s widely misunderstood.

I blinked a few times.

Tata: I’m pretty wide…

After that, I had to calm down and rethink my obsession. Friday morning, when I pressed the parking brake pedal as far as it would go repeatedly and nothing happened, I tried pulling on the lever without a handle. Nothing. My hands were useless in the cold and without a good grip. I put the van in reverse to see what would happen and I think the cows across the street laughed at me. I sat for a minute, wishing like mad I knew what to do and wishing my hands worked. Then I thought ‘This is Dad’s van. There’s no way in the world he wouldn’t have a tool kit.’ I turned off the van and climbed into the back, where I found a bucket of tools wedged between a seat and the wheelwell – and pliers. That’s all I needed. Getting home from there was a breeze, though I was wide awake.

On Monday, I might drive to school in my pajamas.

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I Never Doubted Your Beauty

Today’s Friday. It’s Friday? Yes, it’s Friday. I have to do more of the thinking now, even though Daria says, “Don’t think. It weakens the team.”

On Tuesday night, we decided it was time for Darla’s parents to make the two-day drive from Canada. Yes, she’s Canadian. No, she looks just like a normal person. On Wednesday, Darla called them. They packed the car – their cases were packed weeks ago – and left almost immediately. The same day, Daria’s four-year-old Sandro pulled a Houdini on the babysitter and the police were called. It didn’t go well from there. I turned a corner in the house and found Daria on a cellphone, turning a lovely shade of ashen I’d never seen before. After a series of frantic phone calls, she spilled the beans.

Daria: Sandro ran away from the babysitter and the police got involved.
Tata: No, Sandro was going for a walk.
Daria: No, he….right.
Tata: Is he under arrest? I always expected to bail him out but this kid’s a prodigy.
Daria: Your godson wouldn’t tell the police his name.
Tata: That’s my boy.

Her husband Tyler came yesterday to pick her up. The plan is for her to come back Sunday or Monday with at least two of her children. I hate this plan but the kids are so small time away from their mother is not something we can ask them to accept stoically.

In the meantime, Daria, Darla and I had formed a rhythmic, dependable tag team verging on a flat-tire roller derby; the idea of Daria’s leaving filled me with dread. For two weeks, the corps of minions jumping up when Darla appeared with some frightening pronouncement narrowed until it was just Daria and me with the italic M sewn to our matching t-shirts. Dara is really too young to be shoved into the fray, in my opinion. Yesterday, I had a few hours of near fright until Darla’s parents arrived. Then Tyler and Daria left. Dara and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

In any case, Daria left all her clothes, doubling the size of my wardrobe. I’d brought enough clothing for a few days and I’ve been here almost a month, I think. When I get home, I’m building a bonfire and burning everything I’ve worn to threads. You should bring marshmallows.

On her way out, Daria said, “I made meatloaf. All you have to do is cook it.” When we decided we should eat, Dara and I stared at the foil-covered loaf pan and cursed Daria. I took out the – don’t look, Suzette! – Joy of Cooking because I don’t make meatloaf. Gently, Darla’s mother Nina came to stand next to me.

Tata: Meatloaf…meatloaf…page 722…
Nina: I’d think we might cook at 350, maybe?
Tata: …we could do that…
Nina: For half an hour with the foil on, perhaps?
Tata: That sounds good.
Nina: And a little longer after that?
Tata: You have my full attention. Let’s do it.

And we did. Darla’s Dad Nigel talks medicine with Darla, which is a great comfort to her. This morning, Dara went to school. I sat with Dad. Darla did some work. Nina and Nigel returned the wheelchair to a hospital and picked up groceries. I am not frightened. We hung on through the white-knuckle ride because there was no other choice. Now we can let go a little.

Grownups have arrived.

Tapestries And Wishes Of Man

I.

The new sleep medication has a startling effect on Dad: he tries to get out of bed. At first, he insisted he had appointments and errands but relented when we said we had taken care of things. Now he seems to be dreaming with his eyes open a great deal. Often, he is angry. Our strategy has been to smile, tell him everything’s fine and that he can rest now but it doesn’t always work.

Sometimes, we can tell that he’s still in there and aware. Yesterday, I sat with him for a few hours while Darla napped. Maybe half a dozen times he sat up and put his feet on the floor. The first few times he did it, I was terrified he might fall and really hurt himself, but I got the hang of thwarting his schemes.

Tata: What are you doing?
Dad: I’m sitting up.
Tata: Why are you sitting up?
Dad: Can’t I just want to fucking sit up?
Tata: You betcha.
Dad: Go away!
Tata: Can’t do that.
Dad: You! Go for a walk! Get out!
Tata: I’ll go sit over there.
Dad: Go sit over there!

I sat where he couldn’t see me, ready to leap if he shifted his weight. He sat for a moment, then lay down and went back to sleep. Later, he sat up again and insisted he wanted to go do something.

Tata: Just a minute, Daddy! We’ll help you up.

I bounded up the stairs and around a corner. Daria came running, so I turned around and sprinted down the steps. When we turned the corner, Dad was fiddling with the bed position controller. With great effort, he sat up and put his feet on the floor.

Dad: Go away!
Daria: Where ya going?
Dad: Over there.
Daria: Nope. You’re too weak.
Dad: I’m not that weak.
Daria: Why don’t you lie down, Daddy?
Dad: What’s with the frigging questions?
Daria: We love you. Get back in bed.

Meanwhile, Daria stood like a roadblock with her arms folded, inches from his knees. He lay back down and fell asleep.

A couple of hours later, the extended family in New Jersey suffered an unnerving setback. Daria assigned me to the daily grocery shopping trip, so Dara and I went to the high end grocery store in Staunton. Dara drove because I’m a licensed driver who has no idea where she is and at least the student driver can swerve judiciously in Daddy’s ridiculously and stupidly shaped big van Darla calls “the dustbuster.” As we bounced along the harrowing valley roads I realized the last time she and I went to the store it might have been snowing. I hadn’t left the house in over a week. In that time, bare trees sprouted buds and some had already flowered. Some of the fields were more green than brown. I said nothing to Dara as I observed life going on in some ways without me and certainly without Dad. In the grocery store, we walked in circles and had difficulty with our list. By the time we left the store, a pounding rain was falling. Neither of us had much to say and only said it limply, and with effort. I felt like I was failing her.

II.

When Dara and I get home from a reasonably terrifying rainy day drive in an oversize vehicle, Dad’s ex-girlfriend of many years from many years ago is sitting in the kitchen with Daria and Darla. Daria’s made dinner and we eat together before Darla clears her plate and goes back to working in the living room. After a little while, Darla tells us she needs a nap and we note that Darla needs to wake up by 9:30 to medicate Dad. We set up the table so Daria can press t-shirts and transfers. Those of us at the kitchen table are talking and laughing about the Shut Up songs when –

DING! DING! DING! DING!

Daria and I hiss at Dara at the same time.

Us: YOU GET IT!
Dara: Crap!

Dara runs off. I whisper to Linda confidentially.

Tata: He doesn’t hate her yet.

Linda laughs into her hand. Daria applies pressure to an iron and a shirt. Dara steps out of the living room and closes the sliding door.

Daria: What happened?
Dara: Daddy said to shut up!
Tata: What exactly did he say?
Dara: He said, “I need quiet! Shut up!” I said, “Sorry, Daddy!”

We almost have to lie down to laugh hard enough.

Daria: “Tell those kids to shut up!”
Linda: I can’t believe it!
Daria: There you go, Linda. You come over to say goodbye and he tells you to shut up one last time!
Tata: He never told Linda to shut up, never.
Linda: Not in those words, no.
Daria: See these pants? They’re my favorite pants and I haven’t been wearing them because they make noise. Like, “Tell those kids to shut up! And those pants – tell them to shut up, too!”
Tata: “Tell those kids and their loud pants to shut up!”
Dara: He knew it was me, I could tell he would have said “Shut the fuck up” if it’d been you.
Daria: Shut Up Time tonight is 8:30, but it has been 10:00. Here’s your shirt.
Linda: I didn’t think you were making it up but I didn’t believe it either. I have to leave. My sides hurt.
Daria: You thought you were coming over to wreck your mascara but you’re leaving with a door prize.
Dara: I’m going upstairs to put on my pajamas, so goodnight, and don’t forget to shut up!
Linda: Good night and shut up!

We’re slaphappy. So sue us.

All the Seeds of Happiness

For a couple of weeks, I awakened with a twelve-pound cat tangled in my shining tresses. I’d spend half an hour talking to said cat, whose name is Atticus. He’d purr, he’d preen. He’d tell me where he wanted to be scratched and nip if I scratched out of bounds. Then, I’d go downstairs and start household chores for the day. One morning, Darla and I were discussing something serious when Atticus padded softly into the kitchen, took one look at me and sauntered off.

Tata: Darla, am I imagining it or is that cat pretending we’re not sleeping together?
Darla: He’s acting like he doesn’t know you in public!

Apparently, Atticus saw Samantha sitting on my lap and now he’s all like “Girlfriend, please!” And I’m all like “But honey, you’re the only cat for me!” And Atticus is like “Sugar, I’m not sure you even like cats.” I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’!

This morning, he was sleeping near my head but not on it, but he did tangle my hair a little. While I wonder if Atticus will take me back, the world keeps turning. Dad is asleep most of the time now. His absent relatives are mystified by this.

Cousin So-And-So: When are they putting him to sleep?
Tata: He’s not a Shitzu! He gets medication that makes him sleep all the time!
Cousin So-And-So: You didn’t take him to the pound?

Daria’s struggled with Dad’s printer for two days and today got over herself.

Daria: Black and white?
Tata: …will be the most awesome thing in the universe if you stop fist-fighting ink cartridges.

Yes, I’m sick of cartridges flying past my head in sprays of whichever primary color was at the top of Daria’s hit list as Daria cursed the ancestors of both Hewlett and Packard. Fortunately, the picture she was trying to print turned out just as well in black and white on transfer paper, then on XL white t-shirts. We have been calling ourselves “Team LongItalianLastName” and now we have uniforms. Daria showed this to Dad, who has in his wakeful moments become a master of graphic demonstration.

Daria: Dad! Look!
Dad: [Crazy people!]
Daria: Team LongItalianLastName! Everyone gets one!
Dad: [Everyone?]
Daria: Your ex-wife, her new husband, all the kids you acknowledge…
Dad: [Watchit, you!]

From minute to minute, we don’t know what to expect so we make no plans. Dara goes to school and I don’t know how she does it. Because Dad is a celebrity here and he involved her in his projects, Dara can’t walk ten feet without someone expressing condolences. Fortunately, she’s got driver’s ed this semester and tomorrow they start behind-the-wheel.

With the Birds I’ll Share This Lonely View

This morning, Todd kissed us goodbye and drove off to catch a plane back to Los Angeles. For half an hour, Daria and I sat in the kitchen, silent, imagining how Todd felt when he had to leave Dad. I stared out the window, cold with fear. Daria jumped up after awhile, started cleaning and didn’t stop for almost an hour while I tried to work but couldn’t concentrate. Not long after that, the hospice nurse arrived, and sat down with us in the kitchen while Dad slept in the living room. Darla and the nurse talked at great length and dizzying depth about medication while I tried to pay attention. I tried. I did. But I am small and covered with fur, and I was lucky I didn’t start meowing.

The topic of conversation turned to what we should expect in the near future and the nurse spoke slowly, choosing each word deliberately. Dad’s better days of mental acuity were nearly over, and by juggling medications, certain truly unpleasant symptoms could be managed by keeping him asleep most of the time. Or he could be clear and uncomfortable. No guarantees could be offered as to what would happen, she said, which we knew but we could also see she was delicately trying to tell us something, and she was quite emotional about it because she had come to care about Darla and Dad. Dad wanted to end his days with his mind intact. The nurse said we might not be able to give him this wish, but we could give him sleep. During this conversation, which seemed to go on for a dozen years, I felt like my guts were ground to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. I was relieved when she left. She’s leaving Wednesday for vacation and it was obvious to me she felt she was abandoning Dad and Darla. You just haven’t lived until your situation has nearly reduced a hospice nurse to tears, but while we were sitting there –

Tata: Darla, I have something to say.
Darla: Now? Do you have to say it now?
Tata: Indeed. You know how you placed the cordless here, designating me Phone Monitor?
Darla: Yes.
Tata: That was two hours ago and I’ve been drinking water, and because I was Phone Monitor, I forgot to go to the bathroom.
Nurse: Well, that’s not really a problem. We’ve got piles of Depends over there. Each one holds three cups of liquid.
Darla: Three whole cups! You may never move again.
Tata: I believe I will move again, right up those stairs to the bathroom. Watch me!
Nurse: You’re not taking the phone with you?
Tata: Not on your life!

– we had more to mull over –

Nurse: You’re back so fast! Are you sure you stopped to pee?
Tata: Yep, I didn’t take the other girls with me because you are them and you stayed here.
Darla: Want a glass of water?
Daria: Hey, why don’t I grab all three phones from the middle of the table. If they rang, we’d be startled.
Nurse: And she’d probably pee!

– so we had to laugh. When I’m in a mood like this, I think it’s just a matter of time before we’re mixing white russians with Dad’s coffee-flavored Ensure, but not until dinnertime, and I suspected a nurse might’ve worried as this happened before lunch. Good thing there’s wine. I have a delicate little glass of it right now. It says, “SPRING BREAK CHUG-A-THON CANCUN ’99.” I’d rather be working the tension off on a stationary bicycle but Darla doesn’t have one and I was Phone Monitor again in the afternoon. How seriously do we take this responsibility?

Yesterday, I needed to get out and get some exercise, so I laced up the sneakers and walked laps of the driveway at a vigorous pace. Earlier estimates of the driveway’s length placed it at two-thirds of a mile. In fact, Dad said it’s “a tad over a third of a mile.” Fine by me. I handed the cordless to Todd and looked him in the eye.

Tata: Not it!
Todd: Dang!

Then I hiked to the street, with a fresh breeze and the sunshine, the faint aromas of cowshit warming in the sun, hay and cows. The cows stopped what they were doing as I walked by, they stopped again on my way back, where I found Todd standing at the side door, talking on his cell as I pivoted and headed out for another lap. I went about ten yard before I turned back. He’d forgotten his job, I knew, so I hiked back to the base of the driveway and shouted, “Phone Monitor!” Todd shouted, “Damn it!” and went back inside. I hiked two more laps of the driveway to commune with Nature and wafting poop. It took almost an hour, and I really needed it. Today, my feet have blisters but I don’t care, and Todd’s gone home to care for his children.

When it’s not my turn with the phone tomorrow, I’m going out on the driveway. We had a power outage this afternoon for over an hour, during which I thought my head would explode. I remained calm enough to insist Dara do her homework in fading daylight while I played Solitaire with my naked Vegas showgirl cards Siobhan insisted I bring here because “…your father cannot be so sick he won’t think hot chicks on a deck of cards are hilarious.” Sometimes, the only thing to do when faced with faced with questions of impenetrable depths is to go good and shallow.

All You’re Giving Me Is Talk Talk

Why is the only place to report a problem the one where other people are complaining about theirs? This has been my problem for the last few days.

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What was I doing at the time? Can there be an answer besides, “I’d have to say ‘up the butt,’ Bob”?