Yesterday I’m writing away when my cell phone blasts my brother’s ring tone.
I stare at it for a second or two – the way I always do of late when I hear Bad to the Bone, (chosen especially for him. Some say he’s scary looking. But I know he’s a teddy bear – one of those guys who melts around puppies and kids).
Then, (the way I always do), I pick it up. Wondering how mad he’s gonna be this time.
But he isn’t mad – he’s decided.
“There’s this place right by my house, we can get her an apartment there – 795 feet, costs the same as her house payment. So until we can get her house cleared out and ready to sell we’ll have to somehow make the double payments. They have one opening up in April – I’m ready to put a deposit down on it today. What d’ya think?”
I’m still struggling through the mist, leaving behind Draigs and Little Girl and the witchy goings on of Chimney Swift – I’m listening but it’s difficult. My head isn’t into this yet – it takes me a moment.
Plus I don’t wanna talk about it.
“What’s she say?” I ask, knowing whatever her opinion at the moment will drastically change the next. Thinking maybe it doesn’t matter what she says. Maybe it’s time and there’s really nothing else to be done.
“She’s all for it – excited even,” he says. I frown, suspecting wishful thinking here. “She wants to know if she’ll be nearer her family.”
“And what’d you tell her?” Thinking, it won’t make her nearer her family. You and I are her family and yes the senior community is nearer your house than hers is now – but you’re still gonna be busy as you are now and I’m out here with no desire to drive in.
No desire to see her, hear the old time blame and meanness in person. It erupts from my phone often enough.
“I told her she’ll be nearer me. And the community is filled with things to do – bingo,”
(oh my god did he say bingo? Has he never heard the “I hadda play bingo at that goddamn Legion every damn Saturday night. Of course I was the best one – but I hated it. Sitting around with a buncha old farts when I was young and shoulda been out dancing. Shoulda been on the stage, the big screen.”)
No – perhaps he hasn’t.
“Book clubs,” (but she doesn’t read anymore! Imagine – not reading. Can I please die first Lord?)
“Different things they put on – ya know, speakers, coffee clubs, that kinda thing. A huge library of 30,000 books.”
( I don’t say anything.)
“And then if we float the cost till we get the house fixed up and sold – we’d have till April – she’ll already be there if…if something else happens. Then we’ll have the house money to pay for other care, if she needs it.”
This makes sense. If something else happens.
Whisper those words, if something else happens. Touch wood, light a candle, say a prayer quick. Breath held, eyes averted – the heart stopping, stifle that gasp, clench your fist astronomically expensive and no the insurance won’t pay for it something else. Being old, being sick, going crazy, dying slow, can bring a family crashing to its knees.
Why is that O America The Beautiful?
But clearing out her house? Even after all my brother’s labor, (literally tons of junk, box after cardboard box of vintage clothes, moldering, mildewed, hauled away. Load after load of earth poisoning antiques turned to land fill trash).
Despite his months of work so much remains, and this time around the harder stuff. The non mildewed and moldy. Things we can sort though without wearing a mask and gloves. Pictures, letters, mementos – each requiring a pick up and pondering. Deliberate placement in this pile or that.
I remember when she bought this.
Yeal – I remember.
How long will it take to clear out her house? Daring to enter her room, her closet, open and go through her dresser drawers? Picking over, sorting though the hoardings.
Until we finally hit the moment when we’re able to see what state the house is really in. The deep down condition of the walls behind those layers of furniture, how the carpet beneath has held up. Remember the toilet overflow she had last year? We drove over at midnight that night, so much water dripping down along the walls, trickling into the family room below.
“There’s water all around the fireplace,” she’d raged into the phone and miles away I could see the light eyes flashing, feel the lingering sting of a raised hand. “I dunno where it’s coming from – is it raining where you are?”
And please let’s not mention the storage unit packed full of other boxes. Other bins. Knotted at the top black garbage bags, labels black sharpied on a piece of duct tape then tossed over and above the hoard. I don’t know what lurks there.
And I don’t want to.
My brother suggests a yard sale. Once mom’s settled in her apartment, happy and making friends.
Does mom do that? I stop listening for a moment, wondering exactly how mom becomes happy, how mom makes friends?
“With mom living somewhere else, (I pull my attention back as he continues), we can clear it all up without her snooping around.” Getting mad, going ape shit crazy, grabbing up this or that. “I can’t sell this! It’s a collector’s item!” Whacking people with her cane.
If she had a cane.
(My mind’s wandering again – thinking when I’m an old lady I definitely want a mean ass cane. Bright red hair, boho wardrobe, but please please Jesus lemme still be reading and writing. Let me be busy and still and full – not wailing on my children, “Who are you anyway? Get the **** outta my house – I don’t know you!” Or lighting tables on fire or wandering the streets looking for the lost little girls I never had.)
And the talk goes on: “I’m taking her to look at it tomorrow, if you wanna go.”
(I close my eyes at this, hold my breath – because of course I don’t want to go.
Going would be too close to making a decision. Too close to admitting I’m involved. Thinking hard: If I go, am I that person again? Part of the ugly, mean “why’s that bitch have such a nice house when I deserve that more’n her – stupid cow!” that I left behind, (pushed away, scrubbed myself bloody raw trying to wash clean), so long ago. Swearing it to myself, (hand on the bible). Promising to never look back.
But I know it needs ending. And I nod at first, before finding my voice.
(Telling myself helping it end it won’t swallow me whole.)
Two hours later I receive a text from my brother
Forget it. I talked to her about it again and she says she’s never gonna leave her house. She’s not going anywhere. Another damned day wasted. **** this!!!!
And sit still. Seeing his angry face, set jaw. Knowing the pain and frustration boiling up outta him.
I sit still, pushing down the old hollow ache trying to fill my chest. A sharp flush so quick it takes me by surprise.
Oh but that’s past.
I touch the pendant around my neck, squeezing it hard against my damn palm.
Mary, mother of mercy.
And rise up – stepping back into my day.