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?
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!
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.