It's before 7 AM, and my nerves are totally frayed. My father is home from the nursing home for a short vacation. He only comes home when I am here to help out; my mother cannot physically move him or transfer him by herself. So my mere walk through the door signals a small dose of freedom for him. This breaks my heart and swells it all in a series of small, but painful explosions. I am my father's 4th of July, but I have swallowed all the firecrackers. I don't know that I've ever been anyone's freedom before. It's a heavy responsibility.
The first day of the visit is always great. My father sleeps peacefully in his chair. We play dominos. I feed him fried eggs and Little Debbie snacks and Coca-Cola -- all the things that I know he loves and assume he never gets at the home. We laugh. They tell me jokes and gossip about the other residents. Although my mother does not live there, she is there so often that it seems so. It is peaceful, and I let myself believe that things are fine.
But the second day is different. I sleep fitfully on the couch, hearing the restlessness of both my parents asleep in their chairs. I think that this must be what it's like to be a new mom, constantly listening for the absolute worst to happen just as you close your eyes. My father had severe bedsores several years ago from being stuck in that chair. Even now, he fears their return. I am constantly asked to check for their rotting return.
His discomfort makes my mom uncomfortable. Her guilt is masked by frustration. My father doesn't see this; he can only see the frustration and that makes him feel scolded. I used to think this too. It takes a lot to see through the mask. I only understood when I let myself feel that guilt as well. Her sadness lives in her inability to fix the situation, to heal my dad. Her guilt lives in her desire for everything to just be fine. But nothing will ever be fine again. It's a narrow line between what we wish for and what we have -- just a little dopamine is all that separates the two.
She worries at him, filling the silence with questions of what she can do, how we can help. She asks no less than 10 times if he's comfortable. Then another 5 if he's really being honest about how he feels. She pokes at the situation like a kid picks at a scab; the picking and poking will only make it worse, but there is nothing else to do. No other avenue for release. I am jealous. I say nothing because I am afraid if I pull at the scab, I will bleed out.
I am the foil to my mother's frustration and impatience. I answer in placating tones and passive obedience. I feel so false; she feels so true. We both want to be the other but we aren't. We can't be.
So we push and pull and rearrange until my dad finds peace for a few moments. We go silent in the early morning hours to try to allow him to rest, to allow us all to rest.
Typically, these are the moments I get up, do the dishes, scrub the stove -- anything to re-focus my itchy fingers, searching out release. Instead, I settle on the couch, swallow my guilt, and wait.