happy 4th

I had originally planned to spend the 4th of July weekend as a tourist in my own town, or more accurately as a vacationer in my own home.  The weeks leading up to my 3 1/2 day weekend I pictured a quiet and memorable holiday complete with bluegrass music and evening bonfires.  My grocery list read “marshmallows, hot dogs, alcohol…”  And I told myself that I would wake up and take my coffee to the porch, reading the news slowly and enjoying the ever warming day.

Day two of my holiday and I feel just as I normally do on any other given day off.  I still haven’t grocery shopped, and I don’t bother to take my coffee to the porch but instead settle into my recliner next to an open window.  I have debated bailing on tonight’s family dinner but know that it would just result in me laying on the couch watching the same tv show I always binge watch.

Last night’s family gathering at my aunt and uncle’s house two hours south of me did not disappoint.  While my father made a few remarks about me needing to have children my mother brought up my ex husband and wouldn’t take my hints from across the table to let it drop.  My sister with the children was absent from the occasion.  Her family was staying at a Christian family camp while my other sister had an engagement session to photograph and couldn’t even take a moment in her day to text me back.  Their missing energy gave my parents the time to focus on me, but this never yields positive results.  “Thank God I’m not an only child” I thought this morning as I sipped my coffee and wallowed in my parents disapproval.

I am sure they don’t mean any harm.  They only mean to pressure me enough that I will decide to have children.  “Do they think their stubborn comments such as ‘I’m praying for you to get pregnant so you better watch out!’ make me want to rush home and jump into bed with you?” I asked my husband on the way home from my aunt and uncle’s house.  “Seriously, do they think bringing up their dissapointment makes me want to produce children?”  My husband shook his head and kept his eyes on the road.  When we stopped for gas I demanded that he call his doctor first thing after the holiday to schedule a vascectomy.  “You know that’s not going to make a difference to your parents.”  And deep down I knew he was right.  But wouldn’t the argument hold less weight?

As for my mother’s remarks regarding my ex husband I have no explanation.  Again, I am sure she doesn’t mean to make me upset, just stirring the pot is all.  Typically after she’s had a couple of drinks the comments about my first wedding dress will be made, but since she was sober yesterday she was less severe.  To this my husband also brushes off saying he is not bothered by her remarks personally although, he says it upsets him that I am upset.  I chalk it up to disappointment as I sat rocking in my recliner, looking out the window to notice how high the sun had already become.

Through the open window next to me I listen to crows cawing as they fly over a dead deer near the end of our driveway.  I turn on some music to drown it out.  Yesterday morning my husband and  heard the thud.  We got out of bed and as I made coffee my husband went to check on the tourists that had hit the deer.  Instead of sitting on my porch and doing a crossword puzzle I peered through the kitchen window, looking past the rows of pine trees at the Indian family that paced up and down the road waiting for a cop and a tow truck to arrive. As my husband and I passed the dead deer on our way to my aunt and uncles I looked the other way.

But today there was something behind the crows and the music.  Something that I couldn’t drown out.  I debated not texting my dad but the sound just wouldn’t go away.  “It sounds like an animal crying, but I’m sure it’s not.  Maybe it’s a raccoon?”  My dad texted back that it was most likely a fawn left behind, calling for its mother and that I should go look for it. I hastily threw off my pajamas and put jeans and a tshirt on.  I slipped on my boots and grabbed my coffee.  It felt good to be outside, and I watched a hummingbird fly overhead, stepped over a small, dead, bloated mouse in the driveway, and tried to forget about the carcass down the road.  The bleeting stopped, and all I could hear were the droves of tourists driving past.  I thought about all of the litter I planned to pick up along the highway and made note of the weeds in my garden.  But I couldn’t find the fawn.  My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the abandoned baby, and I went back inside to hide.  This wasn’t the vacation weekend I had planned on, the heartbreak, the disappointment, the feelings of being a failure, it all made me want to go back to bed.  The forest surrounding me wasn’t making me feel at peace, and as I heard a tire pop on a passing tourist’s boat trailer all I could wish for was the holiday to end.

happy 4th

ham and cheese on bread

I should be working on a grocery list, but instead I lay in bed staring at the low ceiling and listening to Frazier playing on the tv at my feet.  It’s not quite my bedtime, and my to-do list sprawls off the paper and onto the floor.  The sunny hours of the evening were wasted sitting at a classy bar chasing my emotions away with a fruity cocktail and a salty burger.  The afternoon visit with my grandmother left me sad; a sadness that could only be treated with food.

“She has gotten worse,” my husband said quietly as we walked to our car.  We never know what to expect when we pop in to see her.  The dementia slowly steals more and more away from her, and I have noticed she no longer perks up when she see us.  In two years I’ve watched her slip away slowly, knowing it was only a matter of time before my husband and I could no longer cheer her up.  Now when we walk into the nursing home she stares at us as if we were strangers until I announce “hi grandma!” knowing at least that will still register.

Today her memory slipped in and out – at times she got me confused with my mom, other times she would completely forget what we were talking about or lose track half way through my story.  The tired staff looked busy as they tried to keep the residents content.  And then there was me, thinking I can entertain my grandma and bring her mind some relief.  I kept my stories overly animated and short.  She smiled, as did the other residents sitting within eat shot.

Before I get up to leave I notice the dry erase board on the wall behind her.  It states the weather, the day’s in-house entertainment, and the dinner menu.  “Ham and cheese on bread, fruit salad, potato salad” it reads, and I get a lump in my throat.  My gram used to be the best cook I knew; I ate like a queen whenever I was at her house.  I don’t know if it was so much the ham and cheese that made me sad or the realization that this was it.  She doesn’t enjoy eating anymore, and I know it has nothing to do with the food served her.  I could present her a plate of all of her old favorites and she would look the other way in disgust, forgetting the things that she used to enjoy.

As I lay in bed I cannot get that dry erase board out of my head, or the way she looked at me when I walked in, or the way my husband just knew without me saying, as we drove away, that I was sad.  Life doesn’t prepare one for these things, and my pillowcase fills with tears as I drift off to sleep thinking of my grandmother’s homemade dumplings.

ham and cheese on bread

beauticians’ lament

When I was young I would spend weeks at a time with my grandma in Wisconsin.  She was a beautician (as it was called back then) and owned her own salon.  The salon was in the same building that housed a gas station, but from inside it looked like any other small town salon in the 80’s.  I was very young, under the age of ten, but a well behaved child and proud to spend time with my grandmother all day at the salon.  She would keep my occupied by sorting perm rods or by letting me sit at the tall front desk where I would pretend to be the receptionist.  After a particularly stressful day for my grandmother I remember her pulling me aside, looking me in the eyes, and telling me to never become a hairstylist.  I heeded her words as if they would keep me from making the biggest career mistake of my life, forgetting for 20 years to ever question what this ultimate secret was that made doing hair the worst job ever.

Around the time that my grandmother’s second husband, a terribly unattractive person, large and with hair that looked severely fake, was gambling his life’s savings away, I was wondering whatever happened to that close relationship my grandmother and I had had.  And I was also contemplating going to cosmetology school.  When her husband died of cancer my grandmothers alcoholism worsened and dementia, diluted with a cheap jug of wine, came sweeping in. She was half in the bag when I announced I would be attending cosmotology school, and I was surprised when she didn’t tell me I was making a big mistake.  Because I have very few memories of my childhood I had assumed that the one about her telling me  to never be a hairstylist was important.  But while considering the career choice I argued the voice in my head, saying it had recently occurred to me that I had put too much stock into the words of someone who routinely made poor choices with men and alcohol.  Looking back, this argument probably came from a place of anger and confusion as I was watching my grandmother waste her life away.  And plus, how could I trust one childhood memory to dictate my future financial stability?

By the time I had finished cosmotology school my grandma’s dementia was ever more noticeable.  She was happy for me and said that it only made sense that I would follow in her footsteps.  A short time later, at my first salon job, I received a phone call from the receptionist at my grandmother’s eye doctor’s office.  It was not an approved phone call but she felt I should know that my grandma had not only driven herself to the office but had also ordered an abnormal amount of contacts.  I hung up, wondering how I would balance work and taking care of my grandmother.

Around the time I started to realize my hair coloring skills were not improving my mother was realizing the state of my grandmother’s mental health.  We were taking turns checking in on here, cleaning up after her drinking binges, and planning to take her keys away.   My mother eventually stepped in as her full time caregiver, and I went back to wondering if I had taken the wrong career path.  With each new hair coloring disaster the anxiety grew.  Every time a client stopped returning my heart sank.  While sitting with my grandmother at the assisted living facility I would confide in her that I didn’t feel like I had the nerves for doing hair.  Despite her infrequent memory she somehow remembered exactly what I was talking about and it was that feeling of not being alone that kept me pushing forward.

Now my grandmother is in a nursing home.  On her good days she remembers that I am a hairstylist.  She no longer tells my husband, like a broken record, about how I would go with her to the salon as a child.  She doesn’t seem to remember that I would sit at the desk with my crayons or that we shared that very fleeting bond over the anxiety of doing hair.  Three years into doing hair and I am still unintentionally turning women’s bangs blue, not getting all of the dye properly washed from the hair, and routinely crying in my car at the end of the day and wondering how I got myself into this.  And it turns out my grandmother was right.  But maybe not for the secret reasons I assumed she knew.  Maybe the reason all along was the anxiety that we both suffered from and the tole it would take on us at work.

beauticians’ lament

moving on

As I slowly unpacked two vintage sets of salt and pepper shakers, a half used roll of paper towel, and enough cheap toilet paper to last me the rest of the year I thought back to how fervently and emotionless I had shoved all of those things into the stained canvas bag just a few hours before.  This was the second time we had moved my grandmother, and neither time had I been prepared for the little moments that would consume me for days, maybe weeks, later.  The first time we moved my grandmother was when she went from her widowed, alcoholic apartment lifestyle to the shiny, brand new assisted living home just down the highway.  Things had become chaoctic shortly after I warned my mother that grandma’s memory seemed to be slipping and her fridge was always close to empty.  My mother’s way of handling stressful and confusing events was more of a survival method than it was a productive one.  Grandma, nude and nearly unresponsive, had peed on the couch in front of us for the second and final time when my mother decided it was time to look into other living options.  When it came time to move her she went with little resistance, and that was mostly due to diversion techniques and mild lying justified by our sole desire to see her safe and at least somewhat clothed.  It was my assigned duty to take her out to eat on the night of the big move while the rest of the family backed up her belongings and hauled several large pieces of furniture into her new studio apartment.  I had bribed her with alcohol to keep her occupied, but days later when sobriety hit her like a ton of bricks she realized the damage that had been done to her wild lifestyle.

This move was a little different.  Alcohol had been prohibited at the assisted living facility, but the dementia hadn’t let go of its grip.  In just over a year her memory had faded enough to let her sit back and watch as we packed up her studio apartment.  This time I was assigned to packing.  My mom studied every article of clothing or decoration like it was a prized antique, when in reality nothing held any value and had only been acquired in the past sober year of my grandmother’s life.  I feverishly tossed things into one of three piles – trash, thrift store, and nursing home.  I moved from closet to cabinet to bathroom, working up a sweat and impressing my mom with my speed.  This wasn’t my first time cleaning through an elderly person’s belongings.  I had learned several years ago to work on a fine balance between emotional attachment and end of life clarity.  My mother was more of a hoarder, believing everything that had ever entered her home held a meaning so dear she would die before having to part with it.  I spent many nights laying in bed, in my immaculately clean and obsessively organized small home, thinking about the job that would be before me when my parents passed away and their belongings would need to be sorted through.  The anxiety gave me an ill feeling.

Walking into my grandmother’s nursing home room for the first time brought tears to my eyes so I set to getting the place set up like she would prefer.  We had spent a lot of time together when I was little.  My mother would let me spend weeks at a time at my grandma’s house when I was young, so when she would now introduce me as “like her daughter” I knew it wasn’t a dementia slip, but rather something closer to a miraculous memory moment.  When I was a junior in high school I moved into my grandmother’s apartment which was located on the second floor of her antique store.  The small three room apartment was set up like a dollhouse, and it was there that I fully absorbed and began my love for decorating.  As I attempted to set up the nursing home room to what I thought she would enjoy, I knew deep down that she when she moved in the following day she would put her touch on the space, the memory loss having not yet completely stolen her magical ability to transform a room.

There wasn’t a strong enough beer to take away the emotions from the day.  I had watched the slippery slope of alcoholism and knew to not count on a few drinks to make me feel any better or any less.  When I arrived home I immediately set out to unpack the canvas bag I had brought from the move.  In the moment it felt slightly awkward to take a few barely used dish cloths and her stock pile of toilet paper, but as I set the items out on my kitchen table it took everything in me to not start to cry.  While I am normally emotional to an almost abnormal level, I was not one for drama.  My husband carried in the lamp that I had fondly eyed while sitting in my grandmother’s apartment on those long afternoons when I was trying to coax her to eat and my husband cleaned up the alcohol mess in the kitchen.  Now the brass lamp sat next to my existing lamp – my husband wondering why we needed another.  I went into the bathroom and  shut the door knowing that tomorrow my grandma’s life would be the next level of different, and I would have to stare at the lamp wondering how she was doing.

When I unpacked the two sets of salt and pepper shakers I noticed one set looked familiar.  While sorting through all of her recently acquired grey tshirts and black elastic waist pants, through the plastic forks and paper plates she turned to after losing her full kitchen, through the simple decor she had tiresly rearranged day after day, I had somehow grabbed the salt and pepper shakers – possibly the only thing she had left from our time living together fifteens years ago.  I looked at them now on my own counter.  The memories of our midnight snacks in her tiny yet fully decorated kitchen, the conversations we had about her crazy flambouyant sister, her cooking us steaks on her George Foreman grill, it all came swirling back as the tiny S & P set sat staring at me.  Nobody ever tells you about this part of life.  All my years of elderly caregiving could not have prepared me for the emotions that were to surface, and as I reached for one of the many rolls of toilet paper piled high outside of my bathroom door I felt a bit of gratitude- gratitude for a grandma who passed on her love of decorating, gratitude for the relationship we shared, gratitude for the year we lived together, and gratitude for finding those salt and pepper shakers in the midst of this day.

moving on