In My Solitude
New Years’ Day was quiet. I had my pot of black-eyed peas simmering on the stove and a pan of cornbread had just come out of the oven. I looked out the living room window at the small patches of icy snow left over from the two-foot snowstorm we had the Saturday before Christmas. I was thinking about an interview I’d just had on internet radio about my latest book and was optimistic about its potential. I couldn’t believe I had written three books in two and a half years, each with moderate success and spikes of profit. Already working on my fourth manuscript, I had hoped this New Year would be my last year of lab work. I’d been reeling inside myself for too many years to conjure up gratitude and the “blessed” feeling everyone should have in light of the economic situation. Global liars and thieves have reduced just about everyone to be thankful for less of everything, at twice the expenditure of our lives, our energy—of our soul. I was only days away from the one-dimensional routine to which I must resign myself under the guise of acceptance.
I tried to make peace of having only a few days of vacation left before I had to return to work. It kept the ominous clouds of dread at bay long enough to dismantle the Christmas decorations, escaping the depression that haunts me every Sunday evening and New Year’s Day. The radio was playing the top one hundred hits of all time, serenading my memories of past holidays. The songs took me back to my youth filled with parties and gifts. It was a time when I looked forward to everyday. I looked forward to the future, and I looked up to my parents. I remembered when our home was filled with laughter and music. I thought about the lavish affairs that brought exuberance into our home. My mother, Hazel, was stunning, and my dad, Benny, was tall and handsome. They provided memorable Christmases for me, filled with not just presents, but love and security. Music was a part of our life. Mom and Dad and I used to sit on our dark blue four-cushioned tuxedo sofa and watch the twinkle lights dance around our tree, while listening to Kenny Burrell’s Soulful Christmas. Mom baked a pound cake and sweet potato pie that blended so well with the aroma from the tree. It seemed each year passed more quickly than the previous one. I can’t believe those glorious days of family and friends were so long ago. I began to place each Christmas ball in tissue paper and gently placed them in a box. Some of them I remembered from my childhood—when I believed in Santa. Now, I look at this lonesome naked tree that symbolized all that has passed.
The telephone broke my trance. It was the nurse from Hillcrest Nursing Home. She informed me that Dad needed another transfusion. She needed my consent with a third party listening in, so they could take him to the hospital. I gave the consent they needed and was told I would be informed of his progress. I hung up the telephone and looked at the little naked tree again sitting in front of the window, thinking about both the kindness and cruelty of time. Time can heal and strengthen one’s spirit, but the passage of time can weaken one’s resolve.I went upstairs to see Mom. She was getting ready to go to Atlantic City. The casino was her last gasp of entertainment since most of her friends have passed away. She began to go every week after Dad had to be put into a rest home.
“Who was that on the phone?” Mom asked.
“It was Hillcrest. They’re taking Dad in for another transfusion.”
Mom sat silent and looked at me. We both knew.
“You still going to A.C.?” I asked.
“Damn right. I got to get outta here. Sitting in this house is gonna drive me crazy. Where’s your husband?”
“He’s in his usual spot watching television,” I said.
“Did he fill up my car?” mom asked.
“Yes. He did it this morning.”
“Good. I’m getting ready to go down the Ridge and over the bridge! Do you have five ones? I need them for the toll.”
“Yeah, sure. My purse is downstairs.” I said.
“Grab my shoes for me. I’m ready to go down now.” Mom said as she swished her little self down the hallway.
I followed mom downstairs into the kitchen where she put her shoes on. I reached in my purse and gave her five one-dollar bills.
“I like to be ready when I get to the toll. It pisses me off when I see people pull up to the toll and start fumbling for money. They shoulda had that ready before they left the house,” Mom fussed.
“Mama, you know people don’t think. Don’t start cussing anybody out now. I want you back home the same way you left. Mama please, be safe and take your time. If anything happens, call me or come directly home. I worry about you being down there by yourself,” I said.
“I know sweetheart. I’ll be okay. God is my co-pilot and He keeps me. Even though I’m going to the casino, He knows my heart. He knows my fight. Don’t worry, baby. Spend time with your husband. Enjoy your evening and I’ll see ya later.” Mom smiled and we kissed each other.
I got her coat out of the closet and walked her to the back door.
“See ya mom. Love you. I hope you win!” I said as she got into her car and drove away. I closed the door and was missing her already. My husband Benny was in the front basement, plastered to the television, watching football.
“All right, Benny. Get up off your ass and help me get this tree out!” I yelled toward the front of the basement. I wondered who else in the entire world married a man with the same name as their father.
“Wait a minute. After this last play,” Benny lazily yelled back.
An hour later he helped me take the lonely tree down and placed it outside. I cleaned up the pine needles and put everything back where it belonged. That warm feeling from the holidays was gone. Another year had gone. Another year had come.
“Mom, do you want to come with me to see Dad? He’s back from the hospital.”
“I’m not really up to it, Terri. I don’t feel very well today.”
“What’s wrong, Mom?”
“I dunno. I don’t have ache or pain. I just don’t feel well. I definitely can’t deal with your father. Going up there to see him does something to me, but you go on ahead. I like that you’re going. Let it be known that he has family that cares. This way I don’t have to worry with him.”
“Is there anything I can get for you before I leave? Are you hungry?” I asked.
“No, I have no appetite at all. Maybe I’ll eat a little something when you get back. You won’t be too long, will you?” Mom asked. I could tell she was very tired.
“Maybe your trip to Atlantic City was too much. You may need to give yourself a little more time to recover.” I suggested.
“Yeah, you could be right.You’re talking to an old hen! Things ain’t what they used to be!” Mom chuckled.
“That’s it, Mom. You’ll be fine in a day or so.”
Mom got up from the kitchen table and said “I’m going upstairs to lie down. Take your time getting back. I’m all right. Just fix a little plate for me and I’ll heat it up later.”
“Okay, Mom. See ya later.”
I put my coat on, grabbed my purse and walked out of the front door. I felt the same way as Mom. I dreaded going to see the man who was once strong and tall—commanding and, at times, overbearing. The man who gave me unwavering love and care, taught me how to drive, bought my first car and always protected me from the wrath of the world was now in fourth-stage dementia, blind from glaucoma, unable to walk and recovering from his third transfusion. The sun warmed my lap as I drove up Washington Lane. I felt bad for Dad. It’s been so long since fresh air and sunshine hit him.
I pulled up into the lot and walked through the doors into the main floor of the home. The staff greeted me and told me Dad was in the dining room. I stood in the doorway looking at sea of senior souls who were sitting and staring—waiting. Dad’s soft silver hair peeked above the top of his wheelchair. I walked over to him and gently woke him from his peaceful slumber.
“Who?” he asked with his eyes closed.
“It’s me dad. Terri.”
“Yeah, Dad. Terri, your daughter.”
His arms reached out for me. I grabbed them, hoping my touch would trigger something in his long-term memory.
Without lifting his head he answered “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Yes, Dad. I wanted to spend some time with you.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I came to see you, Dad. Happy New Year.”
“New Years, huh? What is it now? Nineteen what?”
“It’s two thousand and ten.”
“Two thousand and what?”
“Twenty ten, Dad.”
“Oh,” he said quietly.
“Hey, Dad, I was thinking about Christmas when I was a little girl. Remember when you used to take me ice skating and downtown to see Santa?” I asked. He struggled to speak.
“Yes I remember. You loved your toy candy,” he said softly.
“That’s right, I did! And remember when you took a piece of cake on Christmas Eve and you and Mom said Santa ate it?”
“Sometimes it was Rudolph. He was greedy.” Dad said, a little smile coming over his face. He lifted his head a little and opened his eyes. I think he could see enough to know it was me.
“Terri. I’m so glad you came to see me. When did you get here?” he asked.
“Just a little while ago,” I answered.
“You were such a joy at Christmas. I decorated the tree and you would sit and watch me. When I was finished we sat on the sofa and watched the lights on the tree. You put your little arms around me and squeezed my neck,” Dad reminisced.
“You mean like this?” I asked, as I got up to squeeze his neck.
“Aww, I love you too. You’re an angel,” Dad said. I hugged him some more and kissed him all over his face. He slowly nodded off. I rubbed his soft hands and held them to my face as I watched him sleep. I ran my fingers through his soft white hair, remembering what he used to be. I decided to leave after a half hour. I had to get home to make that plate for mom. She may be hungry by now. I left a kiss on his forehead. As I walked through the door toward the main entrance, I stopped to look back at him, sitting in his chair fast asleep, and all alone.
“Well, how is he?” Mom asked as soon as I came upstairs.
“He’s the same. He’s a little pale and his hands are cold. He doesn’t talk much, but I got him to remember when I was a little girl at Christmas. He seemed to enjoy that.” I said with a smile. I felt like I made a difference in his day.
“That’s good, baby. I’m so glad you went. I’ll get up to see him when I feel a little better. I haven’t come round yet,” Mom answered.
“Just take it easy, Mom. Are you ready to eat something?” I asked.
“Yeah. Help me to my chair and bring a little something.”
I got her up and settled her in her chair. I left her watching “Jeopardy,” so I knew she’d be all right for a while. I went into the kitchen and prepared plates for both of us. I didn’t realize my cheeks were wet from tears, from thinking about Dad. I could see that he was getting good care, but nobody can give him the love he needs. I wondered if his mind allowed him to feel lonely, or if it spared him from it. Is mom feeling ill from heartache? Are they both suffering from this damnable separation? In some way, I felt as though I was trying to fill a void that wasn’t mine to fill. It was a specialized void, one that only they could fill. I put my plate to the side and carried up Mom’s tray. As I reached the top of the steps I saw her sitting in her chair with her head in her hands. I saw the part of her that I could not touch, and it hurt me. I wanted so much to take all of her misery away and I couldn’t. I jiggled the tray to make the knife and fork rattle as I walked, so she could hear me coming. I wanted her to keep her private moment private.
Only my second day of work, and I was already a basket case. One look at the walls of my cubicle cell threw me into acute depression. The supposed replenishment from vacations felt drained through my feet. It felt as though I’d only had a brief nap. I went through the usual welcome-back ritual, which just about drove me up the wall. I wondered how I am going to get through another year of this? I’m fed up already. I forgot my passwords. I tuned out idle conversation without realizing it. By
lunchtime, I had had enough. I went to my car to lie down in the back seat and prayed for strength and endurance. I prayed for a breakthrough. I dozed off for a few minutes. I felt a little more capacity in the afternoon—I remembered my passwords, although I still felt disconnected from the organized culture that required me to set a career goal, doing the same shit I’ve been doing for almost twenty years. The thought of another year was not only profoundly depressing, it was culturally and intellectually confining.
When I came home, I was completely drained from boredom, and fatigued from fighting boredom. I was hungry and cold. I figured if I could just shake off this funk, maybe I could have a decent evening. I took my coat off, gathered the mail Benny left by the door and went into the kitchen. I was so desperate for a beer, I didn’t see Mom, at first.She was in her usual seat in the kitchen, barely watching the broadcast news. She looked terrible.
“Mom, how are you doing?” I yelled, so she could hear me over the television.
“Not so good today.” She moaned.
I turned the volume down before it made me completely lose my mind.
“What’s wrong? Are you in pain?” I asked.
“Stomach upset?” I asked.
“Did you take your medicine today?”
“I think so. I don’t remember.”
“What have you eaten today?”
“Benny fixed me eggs and toast, then I had a little chicken and potatoes, but I couldn’t eat it all.”
I saw the small plate he had prepared for her. She had barely touched it.
“Mom, I think you’re just hungry. You haven’t eaten much.”
“No. I don’t want anything to eat right now. Help me upstairs. I need to sit on the pot.”
I helped Mom to the staircase. I waited while she coped with her distress and fought for strength to take the first step. I could see she was in trouble, but I couldn’t tell what kind of trouble. I didn’t understand it. Considering she’d recently driven to Atlantic City a few days ago and now she barely has the strength to walk the stairs. I got her to the bathroom. Maybe a good visit to the porcelain throne will ease her problem I thought. I left her there and went to my room to change clothes.
“Terri!” mom hollered. I hurried down the hallway to the bathroom.
“Yes, Mom! I’m right here. What is it?”
“Get me the trash can!” she pleaded.
I got the can by the sink. Her entire digestive system had gone berserk. Poor baby. My mind raced with remedies: Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, Maalox, ginger ale. I decided to pour some Pepto-Bismol in a plastic cup. She swallowed it and, almost immediately, threw it back up. Her uncontrollable spasms made me think she might have a stomach virus. I remembered the pain it caused me. Ginger ale may be the answer, I thought.I flew downstairs to get some and returned as quickly as I could.
“Here, Mom, take a small sip of this.”
She swallowed it and, again, immediately threw up.
“I don’t want nothing. Don’t give me anything. I’ll lose it,” she cried.
I sat on the edge of her bed and watched her suffer, at a loss of what to do. Her system slowly quieted down, enough for me to clean her up and lay her down. Maybe after some rest she’ll feel better, I thought. She fell asleep as soon as she hit the bed. I was thankful for that. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched her sleep for a while. I needed something stronger than beer. I went downstairs and poured some Hennessey. Two shots took off the edge. I sat quietly in the living room so I could hear her if she needed me. I dozed off for a few minutes, but was jolted awake when she called me.
“Terri! Terri!” she shouted.
I ran upstairs.
“I’m right here, Mom.”
“Oh, Terri. I thought you left me. I was scared,” she said with panic.
“Oh, baby, I’m not going to leave you,” I reassured her.
“I’m sick, Terri. I’m sick,” she cried.
“Is it your stomach?” I asked.
I pulled Mom up from the bed. She wrapped her arms around me. We held each other, with all the love we had. Her head rested on my chest. I rubbed her silky silver hair. She quieted down a little, but she was still in trouble. I thought to myself, get dressed and take her to the hospital.
“Terri,” she said.
“Terri, help me,” she began to cry.
“I’ll get you ready for the hospital.”
“No, I think I’m having a bad spell. It’ll pass,” she moaned. “Let me lay down for a little while longer.”
I gently laid her down and tucked her in.
“Are you warm enough?” I asked.
“Yes. I think I feel a little better. I just want to rest,” she whispered.
“Okay. I’ll check on you later. Get some rest.”
I went downstairs again. As soon as I reached the kitchen, the telephone rang. It was Benny. That meant it was almost ten o’clock and, I realized, I hadn’t eaten dinner. I told him about Mom. He thought maybe she picked up a bug from the casino. Give her time, he said and then he told me to please try to relax. I heated up my plate. I ate about half and put the rest in the refrigerator.I went upstairs to look in on Mom. She was still asleep. I took a shower and tried to relax. The eleven o’clock news was signing off when Mom woke up.
“Terri!” she shouted. I ran down the hallway.
“Yes, Mom, I’m here. Do you feel any better?” I asked. She looked so sad. Her eyes were half closed and she was weaker than before. She mumbled something I couldn’t understand.
“Mom? Can you sit up for me?” I was trying hard to stay calm.
She was trying to talk, but then she felt sick again. She pointed to her head as if to indicate she had a headache. I thought to myself: slurred speech and headache. Oh, good Lord, she’s having a stroke! I picked up the telephone and pressed 911.
She was heaving by the time the medics arrived. They stabilized her, lifted her out of the bed and took her away. I was right behind them, reassuring Mom that I’d be there soon.I stood at the curb, not noticing how cold it was, watching the flashing lights fade into the night. My neighbor, Angie, saw the flashing lights and ran down the street to me. She grabbed me tightly to calm me down, and got my keys from the kitchen table. She called Benny while I put my clothes on and grabbed my coat and my shoes. It was one thirty in the morning. I thought to call my boss, and left a voice mail. Angie drove me to Chestnut Hill Hospital and sat with me in the emergency waiting room.
“Angie, you can go home if you want. I’ll be all right. I know you have to go to work tomorrow,” I said.
“Terri, I’ll be here as long as you need me,” Angie said softly.
“I’m okay now, really. Benny will be here soon,” I said.
“Well, all right, but I’m going to call you tomorrow to check up on you and your mom.” Angie said, getting up to leave.
“Thank you, Angie. Thank you so much for being with me,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. I know what you’re going through,” she said. We embraced, and I watched her walk out the sliding doors. The truth was, I wasn’t all right, but I didn’t want to burden her with my worries about Mom. Dad was lurking in the back of my mind. If only he could be by my side, right now. He’d cover every detail and bring comfort to Mom and me. I drew from his strength, but now I would have to come up with my own. I looked around the empty waiting room. I was cold and tired. I felt so twisted, and out of sorts. I was too anxious to keep still and too tired to walk around. I heard the doors open. I looked up and saw Benny walk through.
“You okay?” Benny asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Have you eaten anything?” he asked.
“A little,” I said.
Benny pulled out a little bag of pretzels.
“Something told me you didn’t eat. I thought maybe you could chomp down on these.” Benny said, handing me the bag.
“Thanks, babe. You’re right. Mom was sick all night and it took away my appetite. Now, I’m not so sure I’m hungry,” I said.
“Well, you should eat something. Have a sandwich when we get home.” Benny took off his coat and sat next to me. He leaned over to kiss me and rubbed my back. I patted his thigh. A few minutes seemed like hours, as we waited to hear something about Mom. My patience was gone.
“I’m going back there to see what’s going on,” I said.
“I’ll be right here,” Benny said.
The guard told me my mother was in room seven, and opened the door for me. I walked back to room seven and pulled back a curtain. Mom looked like she was resting comfortably. I took a seat next to her bed, and looked at the I.V.’s and monitors. Her eyes opened a little. She looked around until she saw me. She lifted her head and I stood up to kiss her.
“Shh. Just rest, Mom. It’s gonna be okay,” I said softly, holding her hand.
“Oh, Terri,” Mom said in a dry voice. “I’m glad to see you. I thought you left me.”
“No, I was in the waiting room. Benny is here too. Nobody is going to leave you.” I said.
A handsome young white man walked in and I introduced myself.
The doctor asked, “What symptoms was your mother having this evening?”
I brought out her medicine and then told him about our evening.
“I looked over her blood work,” said the doctor. “And I would like to admit her. I want to run some additional tests and keep her nausea under control. Her heart seems to be unstable, and we have to work on her fluid retention. She’ll be here for a little while until a regular room is ready for her.”
“Okay, Doctor. Thank you,” I said.
He then turned to Mom. “Mrs. Lyons? We’re going to get you up to your room soon, and get you settled in. Are you in any pain?”
“No,” Mom answered.
“Do you feel nauseous at all?”
“Okay, Mrs. Lyons. Get some rest.”
The doctor left. I went over to Mom and held her hand.
“Thank you, Terri.”
“Thank me for what?”
“Thank you for taking care of me. For getting me help when I needed it. Thank you for being so caring and attentive.”
“You reap what you sow, Mom. I never had a day in my life when you weren’t there for me, for better or worse. Rest, Mom. I want to go home and get something to eat.”
“You go ahead, baby. Get some rest too. You’ve been worrying about me all night long.”
“You’re not alone. I’ll be back. I love you, Mom.”
“Mommy loves you too.”
It was almost noon before I awoke. I felt like I had never been to sleep. I wanted to go see Dad. I wanted to go see Mom. I paced the floor with a cup of coffee not sure where to go first.First, I had to get the cobwebs out of my mind.
“What’s the word about your Mom?” Benny asked.
“I don’t know. I have to go to the hospital today and talk to the doctor.”
“You want me to go with you?” Benny asked. He walked over and gave me a loving hug.
“No, I’ll be all right. I don’t want you to spend a vacation day in the waiting room. I’ll let you know what going on,” I said. His concern alone helped me feel better.
“Don’t forget to eat something before you go,” Benny said.
“Okay, I’ll grab a sandwich,” I said.
“You have to keep your strength up. Grab some fruit and make a sandwich. Call me when you get back. I want you to get some rest and eat. She’ll be all right,” Benny said.
“Okay. You go on and get ready for work,” I said.
He hugged me again. I jumped in the shower and got dressed. The mail came just as I headed for the door. There was a letter from Hillcrest Nursing Home. There was no way I could open it. Not now. I put it with the rest of the mail and headed to Chestnut Hill Hospital.
Mom was sitting up in bed. She looked so tiny against the white pillows that propped her up. Her eyes were a little brighter and she was eating, but she looked frail.
“Hey, sweetie. You look so much better,” I said. I leaned over and kissed on her forehead.
“I feel better. Lawd knows, I been through something. Have you talked to the doctor yet?” Mom asked.
“No, I’m waiting for him. It’s good to see you eating again,” I said.
“This ole hospital food ain’t nothing. It’s just as flat and dead as it can be,” Mom fussed.
“That’s because they don’t want you to have any salt,” I told her.
“You can’t have nothing. No salt, no sugar, none of this and none of that, yet people still have big asses and high blood pressure.”
Her complaints about the food let me know she’d be home soon.
“It’s not that bad. You got some chicken there, and mashed potatoes. Just like home,” I tried to soothe her irritation.
“Ah, they’re instant potatoes. They got that cafeteria taste to them. Now look at this! They brought me coffee and no cream. What the hell?”
“Okay, Mom. You need to calm down. I’ll see if I can get you some cream, then I’ll hunt this doctor down.”
“The coffee will be cold by then.”
“Never mind that. Just be cool. I’ll be back.” I left the room in search of cream, and patience. I found a meal tray down the hall and took two creamers from a plate.
“Here, Mom. Two creams. Okay?”
“Thank you, Terri,” Mom batted her eyes, sensing my exasperation.
Good Lord, I mumbled to myself.I went to the nurses’ station to see where Mom’s doctor was. Just my luck, I was standing next to him. He told me Mom had had a severe bout with vertigo and perhaps a small cardiac episode. He said something about enzymes that show up in blood work when a patient has cardiac distress. He wanted to keep her for another day or so, but she was stable. I thanked him and walked back to Mom’s room.
“Well, what’d he say? When can I go home?” Mom asked anxiously.
“Not for a day or so. He said you had a bout of vertigo and maybe a mild heart attack.”
“Vertigo? That’s the first time I’ve had that since your father left home. That man made me crazy every day. I wonder what triggered it this time?” Mom wondered.
“Maybe Benny and me. We’re crazy too,” I chuckled.
“Where is that meathead?”
“I told him to go to work. I didn’t want him to waste a vacation day. He’ll be calling soon. He’s concerned about you.”
“I’m ready to get up outta here!”
“Mom, just try to relax. I know you want to go home, and I want you home, but not if I have to turn around and bring you right back. Settle down. You’ll be home soon. Insurance won’t let you stay but so long, without selling the house, and everything in it,” I teased.
“You got that right,” Mama laughed.
“How’s your coffee?” I asked.
“It’s all right. I drank it.”
“I’m going to pull off soon. I wanted to check in on Dad.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about him. How’s he doing?” Mama wondered. She took a sip of her half cold coffee.
“He’s hanging on,” I said quietly.
“We got you running back and forth. By and by, you’ll be in here, if you don’t take care.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom. I’ll be back to see you later.”
“Ain’t no sense in you coming back here today. Nothing is going to change. You’re just wasting gas. You might as well wait until tomorrow, and don’t forget to ask him when I can get out of here.”
“I love you, Mom,” I said and quickly left before my patience left me. I sat in the parking lot for a minute. I wanted to go home, but my conscience wouldn’t give me peace until I did what I knew to be right.I started the car and drove west on Route 73. I turned up my XM radio and sailed through a lucky streak of green lights.
Dad was lying in bed. I sat on the side and watched him for a minute. He opened his eyes and blankly stared at me.
“Hazel?” he said.
“No, Dad. It’s me, Terri.”
“Terri. Terri. Where’s Hazel?” he asked.
“She’s home, resting. She doesn’t feel very well today, but I’m taking good care of her.”
“Terri. You’re taking care of Hazel. She okay?” he said.
“Yes, Dad. Mama is going to be fine.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I wanted to spend some time with you,” I said.
“Is Hazel coming?” he asked.
“No, Dad. Mom is home resting.”
“You came by yourself?” he wondered.
“Yes. I came alone. I’ll bring Mom next time.”
“How’s Hazel doing?”
“She’s tired today. She’s home resting.”
“And you’re taking care of her,” he stated.
“That’s right, Dad. I’m taking care of her.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
He closed his eyes and nodded off to sleep. I could tell this wasn’t a good day. I kissed him softly and left.
I picked up Chinese food on the way home. The house was dark and quiet. I turned the kitchen light on and sat at the table and ate in complete silence. I felt tides of change evolving in my life, and also felt Divine warmth as I asked for the strength and the courage to walk the battlefield before me. I asked for His blessed wisdom to show me what to do, to guide me through this storm. I gave praise for His countenance upon me, and gave thanks for the anointment of determination and capacity I needed to get through the past few days. The knowledge of Thy will be done satisfied my soul, enough to carry on. I thought of the prayer Mom used to share with me;
Though the load gets heavy
You’re never left to bear it all
Just keep on toiling
Though the tear drops fall.
You have the comfort of His assurance
God will always answer prayer
Because He knows
Yes, He knows
Just how much you can bear.
I finished my meal and went upstairs. The silence in my room—in the house--was uneasy. There was a message in the silence, one I didn’t want to hear. I turned on my computer and checked my email. I clicked on the media player to listen to Yolanda Adams’ The Battle. I began to cry my heart out. I knew I wasn’t going to have either of them much longer. As a matter of fact, it could be any day for one, or both. I didn’t want to imagine life without them. The thought terrified me. The tears flowed. My heart palpitated. I felt so alone. The solid foundation of love and support that I’ve had since birth was slowly leaving me.
Later, I washed my tears away with a hot shower and found some comfort in my nightshirt and slippers. I felt empowered with the knowledge that I’m on a mission, therefore, not to worry. I will not get weary. I will love, honor and praise my parents and do everything for them in His name. I’m going to pick up the cross and walk.
It was a beautiful day. I sat by the living room window and thought about what I had written over a cup of coffee. I had the platform ready for my Spoken Word performance today. Afterward, I figured, I would go to the hospital to see Mom. I felt a renewal I had never felt before, a new determination that I didn’t have to justify or ponder. It was there. By the time I got to the café, I was ready to give it my best. I had chosen several selections of social consciousness and historical reference that I hoped would both enlighten and agitate my audience. I rocked the house with my old school poems, “A Heap Sees, but a Damn Few That Know,” which got big applause. With that shot in the arm, I read excerpts from my first book, Let Me Tell You What Mama Said. Yes, this was where I was supposed to be. I felt so free and natural. I had a book signing afterward and had delightful discussions with patrons, who shared their experiences and intellect. It was an oasis of enlightenment and enrichment. My only sorrow was that it didn’t happen every day, that my mind was fed as well as my body.Mom wasn’t well enough for me to share with her my energizing day.
I went home to change clothes and grab a bite to eat. Benny had just gotten home too. He had taken care of the grocery list and was putting everything away.
“How did it go today?” Benny asked.
“It was fantastic. I had them in the palm of my hand. I sold quite a few copies of each book, but mostly I enjoyed reading the stories and poems,” I said excitedly.
“That’s good. Too bad your mom wasn’t with you. I know she would have loved it. Are you going to the hospital now, or later?” Benny asked.
“I’m going now. I just have to get a few things together and change clothes.”
“Give me a minute. I’ll go with you,” Benny said. He went upstairs and changed too, and we went together.
Mom was sitting in a chair by the window when we got there.
“I’m ready to get the hell outta here,” was the first thing she said.
“Just a minute, Mom. I want to talk to the doctor first,” I told her.
“She’s all right. She’s fussin’ already,” Benny said.
“Oh Benny, how ya doing son?” Mom asked.
“I’m all right, how are you doing?” Benny asked. He took a seat near the bed. I went to see Mom’s nurse, who told me Mom would be discharged. She also told me what a delight she was to the staff. She kept them laughing with her old-school wit and her refreshing disregard for political correctness. The nurse gave me my instructions, prescriptions to fill, papers to sign and then discussed the details of Mom’s condition. Mom’s body was weak, but her spirit robust.
“All right, Mom. Looks like you’re going home,” I said as I came into the room. Benny and Mom were standing by the window.
“Thank Gawd. Come on here and help me get dressed,” she commanded.
“I’ll get the car,” Benny said.
“Take your time. We need about twenty minutes,” I said as Benny left the room.
Mom sat on the side of the bed ready for me to help her get dressed. She was slow and steady. She didn’t say a word while I had her packed up and ready to go. The orderly arrived in the hallway with a wheelchair and pushed Mom to the front lobby. Benny pulled up curbside and Mom almost jumped out of her chair.
“Wait a minute mom,” I said. “I don’t want you to get this far and then fall. Slow down.”
“I’m sorry, Terri. I’m just so glad to get outta here. The sun on my face feels so good.”
I strapped her in the back seat, while Benny put her things in the trunk. We jumped in the car and away we went. Mom seemed to be in good spirits as she looked out the window and said “What a beautiful day.”
Benny said, “Why don’t we go for a little ride and get those prescriptions filled while we’re out?”
“Yeah, I would like that,” Mom said.“Take me for a ride. I’ve been cooped up in that room too long. I need some fresh air and sunshine.”
“Okay, Mom, but when we get home, right to bed,” I said.
“All right, all right, just ride me for now,” Mom said. We took the long way up to Spring House to get her medications and then we drove home. Benny helped Mom into the house and sat her down in the living room. She had a hard time catching her breath. Benny brought her a glass of water and I sat next to her.
“Have you heard anything about your father?” she asked.
“No,” I lied. “I kind of put Dad on the back burner until I get you situated. Don’t worry about Dad right now. I want to get you into bed,” I didn’t think she suspected anything else.
I helped her up from the sofa. My eye caught the letter from Hillcrest that I had left on the chair. I figured Mom didn’t need to know anything about Hillcrest just yet. I helped her up the steps, then undressed and ready for bed. She went right to sleep. I changed into my cuddly sweat suit. I peeked in on Mom and heard her softly snoring. I was so thankful for her peace. I went downstairs with Benny and watched television. We had a chance to spend a few quiet moments together. I finally had a chance to relax.
I had a pile of work to do. I used to be satisfied with work. I would settle in, sail through the lab tests and then sail out the door. But, lately, it wasn’t that simple. My employer had been bought by another company, and the “new sheriff in town” turned every employee into a new mother.Part of our job requirement was buying into the corporate culture. We had to be convincing that we believed their rhetoric, believed in their rhetoric and show enthusiasm about everything. What was considered significant during my schoolyard years had slowly reemerged in this new progressive culture. My job did, however, provide rich material for my poems and essays. I managed to express what I saw and heard with satirical humor. Namely, how the company that encouraged healthy lifestyle had such a stressed-out, anxious, and exhausted staff. Nice. My cubicle neighbor, Vicky, shared my sentiments, and we were comrades in our increasingly torturous dilemma to maintain employment. She rolled her chair around the partition to my cell to vent her frustration.
“I tell ya, Terri, as soon as my kid graduates high school, I’m outta here. She’s gonna have to find her own way to go to college. I can’t take this shit much longer,” Vicky said.
“We’re all scratching to get out of the door. It’s not the work, although it gets boring at times, it’s all the bullshit that goes along with it,” I answered.
“Why in the Sam Hill do we have to go through these compliance modules that have nothing to do with our job? I don’t even know what they’re talking about. We don’t work in accounting. How can we steal money?” she asked.
“Don’t you want to get your free cookies and milk?” I spoofed.
“Oh shut up, Terri. You know they treat us like eight-year-olds,” Vicky spat.
“How about that?” I said. “I bet the ones who are stealing don’t have to take these tests, and they eat a lot better than cookies and milk on the company dime too.”
Vicky stood, her hand on her hips. “They get the company dime in their pocket. We settle for cookies and sometimes pizza.”
“From the same people who insist we have a healthy lifestyle!” I laughed.
“Ain’t it ridiculous?” Vicky said, putting on her lab coat.
“Vicky, I really don’t pay much attention to them. When they say yeah, it’s great, I say Yeah, and it’s great! Then I throw it right in the trash, where it belongs.”
“You just don’t give a damn, Terri. You’re not a team player.” Vicky mocked.Then she mumbled: “Speaking of team player.”
I turned around and saw my boss George walking toward me. Vicky quickly turned to her cubicle.
It seemed that anytime I eked out a pleasant moment, it was promptly shattered by an official visit or small talk with the bureaucrats.
“And how are you doing?” he asked me.
“I’m coping. I really don’t have much time to think about it. I’ve gone into auto-pilot. When something comes up, I’m off and running. I hate to see them this way, but I knew this day would come. I knew they would need me to take care of them, I just didn’t expect them both to need me at the same time.”
“I know where you are,” George said. He told me about his mother’s condition and how difficult it is for him to cope. I appreciated his empathy. It wasn’t often that I saw genuine humanity behind the cubicle walls. I gently changed the topic to work. I wanted him to be aware of my situation, but I didn’t want to drag it on. It took too much out of me. He told me his work agenda for the day. And that the pile of work on my desk was hot stuff; results were needed yesterday.
“You know we have a department meeting today after lunch,” George reminded me.
“Is it a requirement?” I asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“Okay, well, I can have the results for you tomorrow.”
“I was hoping I would have them today, so we can be ready for the team meeting tomorrow,” George said.
“George, there is no way I can sit through a two-hour department meeting, come back, wake up and get all of these results in. You know I can’t stay late, and you know why. Which do you prefer, my attendance at the meeting or your test results?”
“Well, I really need both.” he said. “Our customer is waiting for these results so they can decide what changes to make. They can’t make a decision until we give them what they need.”
“Okay, George. I understand. I’ll do what I can. That’s all I can tell you,” I said.
“Okay, we’ll start there,” he said. “If I catch up on a few things, then maybe I can stay and finish up where you left off.”
“Good deal. Thanks, George.”
He walked away as I began to organize the priorities. Vicky peeked around the partition to look at me.
“Did ya get all of that, pop-tart?” she said.
“Bring your ass over here,” I laughed. “Since you heard it all, you can help me out.”
“Oh no! I got troubles of my own,” Vicky’s white lab coat was like a sail as she escaped into her lab. I began looking closely over my work. I’ve been doing the same thing a long time, in the same place, with the same people. The monotony was almost unbearable. I looked at my lab bench, filled with bottles of powders and liquids that made the same product, day in and day out.With a sigh I wondered, is this all there is?
I called home during lunch.
“How ya doing mom?”
“Oh, I’m coming along.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Benny made a little plate for me. I couldn’t eat it all. I just nibbled on it. What time will you be home?”
“My usual time, about a quarter to six.”
“Oh,” Mom said softly.
“What do you need? Do you need me to come home now?”
“No, I’ll be okay. I just couldn’t remember, that’s all. I’m laying back watching the news and then I’ll look at my stories until I fall asleep.”
“Okay, Mom. I promise I’ll be home as soon as I can. Where’s Benny?
“Downstairs watching television. I guess he’ll be getting ready for work soon.”
“Call him if you need him. He set your phone to speed dial, remember? Just press pound one.”
“No, I don’t need him right now, but thank you. Terri, I’m getting tired. I have to lay back and be quiet for a while.”
“Okay, Mom. I’ll see you soon. Love you.”
“I love you too, Terri.”
I put on my headphones and ate my lunch. I worked through my crossword puzzle from the Daily News and enjoyed the sounds of Marvin Gaye. I was miles away from the job; miles away from doctors and nurses. It was like taking a fifteen-minute vacation.
Jennifer gently tapped me my shoulder. I wanted to scream, but God instructed me to gently remove my headphones and turn around.
“Hi, Jenny. What’s up?”
“It’s almost time for our meeting. You seemed like you’re enjoying yourself a little too much, so I had to ruin it for you!” Jenny laughed.
“I’m so lucky to have a coworker like you. You go ahead; I’ll be tagging along soon.”
Jennifer left. I cleaned up my lunch with Clorox towels and waited for the bulk of the crowd to pass me on their way to the meeting. I watched the others walking over to the main building. I couldn’t help but think of sheep herded together on their way to slaughter; walking quietly and orderly. When I entered the main conference room, all of the seats in the back were taken. The usual kiss-asses were scattered in the front, but for the most part, the front section was empty. I decided I’d rather stand in the back than sit in the front. I found a corner that had my name on it and settled on the floor.
After the meeting, I went for a quick walk around the campus to wake up and then returned to work. While my tests were running, I thought about that letter from Hillcrest. I still hadn’t opened it. I had to face it this evening. Then I remembered to make an appointment for Mom, to see her doctor for a follow-up. I lined up my test samples on the lab bench. About half way through my test series, my phone rang. It was a double ring, so I knew it was an outside line. I felt flush and hot. I picked up the phone.
It was from a woman who had read my book, Let Me Tell You What Mama Said.She hosted an internet talk show and wanted to interview me, to discuss my book on the air.I smiled and agreed, giving her my number at home so we could talk further. I hung up the phone and noticed it was three o’clock. That meant this day would soon be over.
Close to five o’clock, I was halfway through what George needed. I figured I could get the rest done by lunchtime tomorrow.My co-worker, Ken, walked into my lab with a glum face. He stood beside me as I wrote in the last of my data points. I had no choice but to stop and ask what he wanted.
“Hi Ken, what’s up?”
“We have a safety inspection tomorrow,” he said reluctantly.
“Oh, no,” I shook my head, as my plans to finish the project faded away.
“Since we’re on the same team, I want to know when would be a good time to get started. I can’t do the afternoon, because I have to leave early.”
“Oh, Ken. I can’t do the morning because I have to get this series done by lunch.”
“Great, isn’t it? We’re stuck with this safety turd we have to toss back and forth.” He chortled. He hunched over as he shook his head in frustration.
“I tell ya what, Ken, how about if we get started about 10:30? We should be able to get through it in an hour or so.”
“Yeah, but you know, Terri, they want us go over everything in every lab, ask questions and really take our time with it.”
“Do you want to leave on time, Ken, or not?”
“Oh, well, I’m gonna leave at noon. My family is more important than this safety inspection.”
“Agreed. So, we’ll start about 10:30. We should be done in about an hour. That means you’re out the door about noon, and I’ll still have a little time to get the last of my series done before the team meeting,” I assured Ken.
“I tell ya, I get so sick of this place sometimes, I could just puke,” he said softly.
“We all are. Haven’t you noticed the blood streaks at the door?”
Ken said, “Yeah! Some people are retiring. I could just slap them. Now that this new company is taking over, it’s worse than ever. Five years, Terri. I got to try to make just five years.”
I smiled and said, “We sound like somebody in Graterford Prison.”
Ken said, “I try real hard to be grateful and all that, but sometimes I look around and I get so depressed.
I patted Ken on the back, “Take heart. One day, somehow, we’ll all be out of here. It’s something to look forward to. In the meantime, don’t pay too much attention to the bullshit. That’s what most of it is. Patronize them when you have to, and throw the rest where it belongs—in the trash. That’s what I do.”
“Thanks, Terri. I feel a little better. I better go. That nosy Karen walked by here three times in the last ten minutes. See that’s what I’m talking about. The next thing you know, it’ll be some kind of a problem. 10:30 tomorrow?”
“See ya tomorrow Ken.”
As Ken walked away, I spotted my supervisor, George, talking with Karen, a.k.a Miss KYW all news radio. A pretentious cackle echoed throughout the hall. I stood there until they saw me looking at them. I wanted to make sure they saw me deliberately watching.
Then I took off my lab coat and returned to my desk. I was thoroughly exhausted. I set aside the work I hadn’t completed, so George could make some progress. Getting home was all that was on my mind.
“How’s it going?” George appeared.
“I’m about half way through the series. Here is the list of what’s left to be done.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot. I can’t stay tonight either. I have an important appointment later.”
“I guess your business team will have to wait after all.”
“Yeah, I may be able to get started early, before you get in to get things rolling.”
“Maybe you can keep them rolling, George. Ken reminded me I have a safety inspection tomorrow. Another requirement I can’t get out of.”
I looked at George with annoyance. None of this was his fault, but he was the only one around to catch my mounting contempt.The culture constructed an agenda that served to impose fascist control and compliance, as a reaction to fear. I found it somewhat insulting at the expectation that I act like I believe in such a fundamentally unbalanced arrangement, tailor-made for the demise of the average worker.
As soon as I walked in the front door at home, I heard the television from the kitchen. I was annoyed at the volume, but relieved that Mom was well enough to come downstairs. I took my coat off and opened the letter from Hillcrest. It said Dad was ravaged with a terrible bout of shingles. The crisis had passed, but he still had open lesions that concerned the nursing home staff. They had to get him to the hospital for outpatient treatment and needed me to be there on his behalf. Para Transit would provide his transport and I was given the place and time of where he would be.
I walked into the kitchen. Mom was in her chair at the table, sipping a cup of coffee.
“Hi mom. How are you doing today?” I asked.
“Not too bad. I feel better than I have been. I just ate a little something. How was your day?” she asked.
“Another day, another dollar. I’m just glad it’s over with,” I said.
“Did you ever open that letter from Hillcrest? I saw it in the living room,” Mom asked.
“Just a second. I’ve got to turn this television down before I lose my mind,” I said, grabbing the remote. “Yes, Mom. I have it right here. It says that Dad has Shingles, and has to be checked out at the hospital. “
“I figured it wasn’t good news. Lawd, your father is going through something. He just had a transfusion, and now this.Terri, I can’t be worried with it. I would go, but I’m on the mend myself.”
“Mom, don’t worry. I got it. I’ll be there,” I assured her.
“Oh, Terri, you got both of us to take care of. It’s so much on you right now. I don’t want to put no more on you, but I can’t help it. You know I’d do better if I could. I used to go and see him almost every week.”
“I know. You went more than I did.”
“You have to work. When you get home you’re tired and mad. Then you have to fix dinner and get ready for the next day. Don’t you know I understand that?” Mom demanded.
“That’s why I don’t mind going to see about Dad. Settle down, before you blow something up. I feel a headache coming on. I want to grab a bite to eat and lay down for a few. You’ll be okay?” I asked.
“Sure. You take care of yourself for a change. If I need you, I’ll call you.”
I ate a little dinner and took some aspirin. I was desperate to get the pounding out of my head. I felt relief come as soon as I hit the pillow. I had an hour where neither Mom nor Dad, nor work, was dancing through my mind.
I left work early for Einstein Hospital. I never understood why hospitals and universities had to be designed in confusing mazes. Somehow my frustration allowed me to walk right by the room I was looking for. Fortunately, I quickly realized where I was and walked back to the correct waiting room, where Dad was sitting alone, in his wheelchair. I wrapped my hands around him with a warm and gentle hug so he knew it was me.
“Dad, it’s me. Terri,” I said softly.
“Terri,” Dad said. He rubbed my arms that were around his shoulders. My head was next to his. I turned around to face him and guided his hands to my face, so he would know I was standing in front of him. His head was down, but he managed to speak.
“I’m so glad you’re here. Terri, are you going to stay with me?”
I said, “I have nowhere else to be.”
Dad rambled on a little, repeating himself and then became silent. It didn’t bother me as much as it used to. I suppose because I was learning to understand the nature of his illness. I talked to him about the old days, when the cabarets were jumping and Dad played his guitar.What good times they were; when Mom grabbed the microphone and sang her rendition of Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” He seemed to come back to life. He held his head up a little when I told him how I loved to watch him write music.
“Oh, yes. They were some good times. Hazel and I enjoyed life so much. You were just a joy. You liked to dance when I played. You would just dance you little self across the floor. Sometimes you would sing too. You used to sing.”
He smiled and rubbed my hand. His hands were soft and warm. I saw the nurses behind the glass pane catching a glimpse of our tender moment. I happened to look up and saw a nurse patiently waiting for us to finish our visit, before taking him back to the examination room. I gently let Dad go and stood to greet the nurse.
“The doctor will be ready to see him soon. You’re Terri, his daughter right?” she said warmly.
“Yes I am,” I answered.
“Would you like to come back?” she asked, detecting my concern.
Dad asked, “You leaving me?”
“No, Dad. You have to go the exam room and have the doctor take a look at you.”
“Are you coming back with your father?” the nurse asked
“No, I’ll wait here,” I responded.
“Okay, but the doctor will want to talk with you afterward,” She said.
“Okay, I’ll be right here.”
She rolled Dad through the double doors and down a hallway. I watched them disappear into the last room on the left. I took a seat and began to think about Mom. She was too weak to be here—too tired. I began to wonder what she may want for dinner, or maybe she was asleep now. I hoped she took her medicine I left out for her earlier. My mind went back to Dad, and the lesions the doctors were concerned about. My thoughts of Mom and Dad ran so closely together, I wasn’t sure where Mom ended and Dad began. I thought about them both, and how much I loved them. It hurt so badly to see them slowly failing, slowly dying. That pain sparked inspiration to express my love. I took out my pencil and notepad in the waiting room and composed a poem for them.
The Honor and the Pain
It is an honor to care for those who cared for me,
But it’s painful to see them not what they used to be,
A senior soul is the living record of time, and their words are wise,
Though my heart gets heavy when they begin to loose their memory,
It is a privilege to be a comfort when they are afraid of their demise.
I have to take care of them the way they took care of me.
I have to make sure they have their meals and are resting comfortably.
The proverbial mile leaves the mortal man frail and his legs lose their stride,
And it tears me up to see their bodies struggle, against the nimble spirit locked inside,
I love them both.
Wouldn’t trade them for anything,
Remembering when they were young and strong, and able to sustain,
A beautiful life that has gracefully become long ago
My heart yet remains,
Their faces still bestow,
The magic of a wonderful life together.
I seek their tender faces,
We still comfort each other.
I help them with loving care at their own pace,
A gentle smile will suffice for me to go further.
I try to protect them from loneliness and despair,
But Lord knows it’s not easy to do,
I’ll make sure they both know I’ll always care,
Even when I’m spent and completely through.
They restore my tenacity and my soul can always feed,
On what Benny and Hazel have given me since birth
Was everything any child would ever need,
That valuable sense of love and a sense of self worth.
Their December days are all I have,
But I’m going to make them as good as I can,
Everyday I give them flowers,
Because I give all of my love gently held in my hand.
Time had passed more quickly than I realized. The doctor came into the waiting room and asked to speak with me in his office. I followed him and took a seat in front of his desk. His white coat flapped in the breeze while he walked and he quickly took his seat behind the desk.
“Ms. Lyons? You’re Benny Lyons’s daughter?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m taking the place of my mother; she’s not able to be here,” I answered.
“Okay, well, Ms. Lyons…”
“Please call me Terri.”
“Terri. Your father has had a severe case of shingles. Most of the lesions have healed, except for a few on his inner thigh. Those lesions appear to be a little different. I took a culture of them, because we want to run some tests. His blood count is low, but he’s stable for now. I’ll need you to come back when the results are in. It should be in about two weeks,” the doctor said.
I stared at him, because I knew what that meant. No matter how nice or professional the message sounded, I knew my father had cancer, and didn’t have long to live.
“Thank you, doctor. I’ll call to schedule an appointment in about two weeks,” I said, as we both stood and shook hands.
“Okay, Terri. I know you’re concerned about your dad. You’re a good daughter,” He said, smiling warmly.
“We all have to go through these things,” he added. “My sister and I are going through the same thing with our mother. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Wow, and your mother is ill too. I’ll help you as much as I can. Here’s my card.”
I returned to the waiting room, where Dad was once again waiting alone. The nurse behind the glass pane told me that Para Transit was en route, to bring Dad back to Hillcrest. I stayed with Dad until the driver arrived to take him away. I kissed him again. I hugged him and made sure he heard me say I loved him. I walked with the driver down the hallway to the main entrance and watched him get Dad onto the bus, then slowly melt into the Broad Street traffic. I remained at the curbside, for no particular reason other than my chronic difficulty of letting him go, after every visit. Mom’s spirit tapped my shoulder with urgency to get home.
The forecasters said a snow storm was coming this weekend and it was supposed to be a monster. Every gas station and supermarket in town would be in the black by the end of the week. I was looking forward to it. It meant a day or two of vacation, and I could spend extra time with Mom and also work on my manuscript. I went shopping after work to make sure her comfort food was well-stocked before the last-minute rush. The anticipation of the storm lifted Mom’s spirits.
“Did you hear about this snow?” she said excitedly.
“Gotta turn this T.V. down. Yes. Forecasters said it’s going to lock us in,” I said as I took off my coat.
“Lawd knows, this is gonna be something. That’s all they talking about. You know what I would like to have?” Mom asked.
“I’d like to have another pot of black-eyed peas. That’s good for a storm. And make a pan of corn bread. Oh, and get those greens out of the freezer to thaw,” Mom smiled.
“Okay, if that’s what you want, baby, you got it! I have a little ham butt in the freezer. That should round it out just right. You seem like you’re feeling pretty good today. ”
“I do. I’m not as tired as I have been, at least for the moment. That’s because I get good care from you,” Mom looked at me with deference.
“Mom, you’re my baby girl now. It’s gonna be all right. Are you hungry?”
“No. Benny fixed me a sandwich earlier. I’m good. You know that man of yours is all right sometimes. He’s a pain in the ass, but he comes through when you need him.”
“That’s what men do. How many times have you told me the same thing about Dad?”
“Don’t get me started,” Mama warned. “Make me a cup of coffee and sit with me and watch the news.”
I made her a cup of coffee and cracked open a light beer for me.The news went on predicting the severity of the upcoming snowstorm and then switched to the catastrophe of a recent earthquake in Haiti.
Mama said, “I know good and damn well that if that island was occupied by white folks, they wouldn’t be suffering like that. It reminds me of Katrina. Poor folks, black and white, get screwed royally, and the people running the program got every lie in the book to talk it right. That’s why we get these disasters and furious storms. God is not pleased with His people; too much lying and stealing. Governments, corporations or whoever they are, make plenty of money from Haiti; the crops, the resources and even the people, cause you know they ain’t paying them nothing. Now they’re talking about donations. Ain’t no damn donations. Those Haitians are owed big money, from years of stealing by other countries.”
“You’re right, Mom. Look at New Orleans, and parts of Mississippi. United States’ citizens had to wade in filth and suffer. If that disaster happened in Massachusetts, I’m sure the outcome would not have been the same.”
“I don’t know about Boston, but Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod would be fine. They would jump in their private jets or on their yachts and sail away to their other estates. The National Guard would close the entire state to protect it from looters! This is some mess,” Mama laughed.
“Mama, you need to stop. I’m going to get a little bite to eat. How about you?” I asked.
“You know, I think a little cup of soup would be good.” Mama thought.
“I have some of my chicken stew left.”
“Yeah, that‘s good. Got some biscuits left?”
“I’ll heat’em up.”
I served us some stew while we continued watching television.
“Shh, my numbers are coming on,” Mama said. She pulled out her log book filled with numbers, entered the daily draw and then began to eat. We sat quietly to watch “Jeopardy,” her college class, as mom called it. Just before Double Jeopardy, mom became extremely tired. She put her head in her hands. Without a word between us, I grabbed her arm and helped her out of her chair.
“Just lean on me,” I whispered. I got her up from the chair and helped her upstairs to her bedroom. She stopped to look out the window, looking at her car she didn’t have the strength to drive. My heart sank for her. She was never one to sit at home. I thought about the days when she and Dad used to jump in the car on a pretty day, and just drive. I know she missed that. I watched her looking at her car in the driveway, and I noticed her labored breathing. It became so severe that I had to catch her as she almost fell to the bed. She was fighting to breathe. The distress in her eyes rendered me helpless. I just held her, until her latest spell subsided. I made a mental note to make an appointment at Temple Lung Center. Maybe that’s the kind of help she needs. I held her close, until the crisis passed. I gently rubbed her back.
“Thank you, Terri.” she whispered. “Thank you for staying with me.”
I said, “I have nowhere else to be.”I continued to hold her close, tucked her into bed, and stayed with her until she fell asleep.
Before I got out of bed, I couldn’t wait for the day to be over. I prayed for strength to get up and I prayed for endurance to get through it. I found my way to the bathroom. I remembered not to swallow the mouthwash, but I forgot to remove my glasses when I washed my face. I quickly removed them and got soap in my eyes, but I was too tired to scream. I dressed quickly and went down the hallway to check on Mom. Her eyes were closed, but she managed to wave her hand.
“I’ll be back with your coffee in a minute,” I whispered and quickly went downstairs. While the coffee was dripping, I gathered my lunch and found my shoes near the front door. I made a little tray for mom, but the coffee maker hadn’t budged. I looked closer and realized I forgot to put the water into the machine. I quickly got a small pot and filled it with water to pour into the machine and then it began to steam profusely. Undaunted by the scorching vapor I continued to pour and soon the coffee was ready.
“What in the devil took you so long?” Mama wondered.
“I forgot to put water into the machine.”
“You forgot to…Um, did you know you got your top on backward?”
“No I didn’t, and right now I don’t care. I gotta go, Mom. I’m late.”
“What else is new? Go on.”
Without another word, I left through the front door. I pulled into the parking lot at work and turned off the motor. I sat still for a minute and looked at the building I had to enter. Dullness clouded my mind as I thought about the redundancy that awaited me inside that building. A deep sigh and a moment of prayer gave me strength to get out of the car.
I put on my lab coat and began another day of re-creating the same material with a nuance of innovation that, I was sure, would fall short of scientific theory. I was crunching out my test samples and kept an eye on the clock all day. My secret prayer was for the storm to blow the place over. When lunchtime arrived, I had planned to pick up mom’s prescriptions, eat my lunch and call home. In the middle of mixing a concoction of chemical substances, the telephone rang. I thought that Benny must not have seen the list I had left on the kitchen table. I quickly peeled off my gloves and lab coat and returned to my desk. It was Hillcrest. The lady on the phone identified herself as Dad’s nurse.
“Terri, Your dad’s blood is a little low. We’re preparing him for transport to the hospital for a transfusion.”
“Do you need me to be there?” I asked.
“No, but the staff at the hospital will probably call you before and after the procedure, or would you rather they call your mother?” she asked.
“No, no please call me. I’ll be at this number until 5 pm, and I’m going straight home,” I said.
“Okay, Terri, thank you. I’ll be in touch.”
I went back to my bench to try to complete what I had started. My heart was beating a little harder. I couldn’t finish. I turned my equipment off and sat at my desk for a moment. My mind was going in all different directions. I reached for my coat and headed to my car. I sat there and let my tears flow before I left to pick up Mom’s medicine. I looked through my purse and realized I had forgotten my wallet. I didn’t have my license and I had no money.
“Great,” I thought to myself. I ran up to the second floor, hoping my friend Ronald would be at his desk. I checked my pockets as I walked down the hallway, hoping to find a long forgotten five- or ten-dollar bill. Nothing.
“Oh, Ron, I’m so glad you’re here. I need you.”
“Hey Tee, what’s the problem?”
“I have to get Mom’s prescriptions and I forgot my wallet. I don’t have a dime.”
“All right. Take it easy. How much do you need?”
“Her co-pay is ten dollars.”
“No problem. I don’t have it in cash. I’ll put it on my credit card. You need to go now?”
“Terri, how many times have I told you to keep a little something in your desk?” Ronald reprimanded.
“Yeah, I know. You know I’m simple sometimes!”
“C’mon Tee, let’s go.”
Ronald got his jacket and we went out the door. I was so thankful to have a friend—a brother.
I returned to work, heated my lunch, sat at my desk and tried to eat. Before I could get the fork in my mouth, the telephone rang again. It was the hospital. They told me that they had to run a series of tests and procedures on Dad. They did a bone marrow biopsy, protein and immunfix e-phoresis. I was told he was sedated and resting comfortably, and would be discharged in a day or two. They would set up a conference with me at the nursing care facility to discuss Dad’s prognosis. After I hung up, I realized I hadn’t called Mom. I couldn’t call her, not now. I just couldn’t handle anymore.
I prepared chicken stew for Benny and black-eyed peas and greens for Mom. The steam clouded the kitchen window. From the living room, I saw sheets of snow fall from the heavens. Every meteorologist was out in the storm, reporting on every flake that fell. Mom stayed in bed most of the day watching television.
“T.V. sucks on Saturday. Ball, ball, ball!” she protested.
“I know mom. If you’re not a sports fan or a cook, there isn’t much left. That’s why I turn it off,” I said
“What? You expect me to sit up here and look at the wall all day?” Mom said impatiently.
“No, Mama, Let me look through my library. I’ll see if I can find a video you can watch.”
“This is no way to live. I’m so tired of feeling this way, tired of being stuck in this room.” Mama said sadly.
I sat down next to her. Her face was despondent. Her frustration was inconsolable. She was angry and depressed. Her spirit was in a futile fight for resurgence, but there was nothing that either of us could do.
“Mom, I’ll do all I can to make you comfortable. I’ll do anything you want.”
“Don’t you think I know that? This is beyond you. You’re doing all you can and here I am complaining. It has nothing to do with you. I didn’t mean to upset you,” Mama looked into my eyes.
“I’ll be right back.” I said.I went into my room to look for something for Mom to watch. I came across my Ken Burns’ Jazz Series. I popped in part five. It featured Mom’s favorite artist—Billie Holiday. The video began to play. I saw mom immediately captivated by Lester Young and Billie. She looked at me and smiled. She wiggled her toes as she always did when she was comfortable and relaxed.
“Oh this is good. I like this. Okay. You can go now,” Mom said, and that was all right with me.
I returned downstairs and saw that the snow had completely covered the living room windows and it was still falling. I heard the wind howling, but the warm smell of chicken and biscuits comforted me. Benny is okay, Mom is okay, Dad is in the care of professionals: therefore, I’m okay.
The governor declared a state of emergency. Reports declared it was going to get worse before it got better. I brought up a bowl of hot chicken stew for Mom, and a biscuit oozing with butter. I came into her room and saw she was in another spell. She held her head in her hand with her eyes closed, fighting for relief. I turned off the Ken Burns tape and came to her side.
“Mom, are you able to breathe?” I asked.
She whispered, “It’s my heart. Get my heart pill.”
I flew downstairs into the kitchen to get some cold water and her heart pill, and then back upstairs. I placed the tiny pill in her hand and rubbed her back. I gently embraced her shoulders. She took the pill with a couple of sips of water. Now, I just had to wait.
“Stay with me,” she said.
“I’m right here, Mama. We’re gonna get through this together.”
I continued to hold her and love her until her crisis had passed. Gradually, relief came over her face, but she didn’t want to eat.
“I need to lie down.”
I helped her up from the chair. “Put your weight on me, Mom, just lean on me.”
I got her to the side of the bed.
“Wait a minute, just a minute,” she said.
I stood over her and wrapped my body around hers. When she released from me, from the hug, I knew she was ready for me to tuck her in. I propped the pillows up and slid her into bed. She looked up at me and nodded with approval. I sat on the side of the bed and rubbed her back until she was almost asleep. I took her tray downstairs. My appetite had disappeared. I looked out the kitchen window for a long time, watching the wrath of the storm. I sensed an omen in its fury.
I made pancakes and sausage for everyone. Benny came into Mom’s room to give her a playful hard time.
“What’s up?’ Benny said with a devilish grin.
“Hey old man. How ya doing?” mom said.
“I gotta get out here and dig us out,” Benny answered.
“Ain’t this something? It’s been many years since I’ve seen a storm like this,” Mom said.
“I want you to eat your breakfast while it’s hot. Let’s get to your chair,” I interrupted.
“Are you going out now? You haven’t eaten yet.” I asked Benny.
“Somebody’s gotta do it. I can’t sit in the house in my robe and slippers eatin pancakes. Ahem,” Benny looked at Mom.
“That’s right, Negro! You got to earn your keep,” Mom chuckled as she began to eat. Benny left and I looked out the window. The entire neighborhood was outside, digging out. The sky was bright and crisp and the sun sparkled with an optimism I needed. Mom was a little better. She ate all of her breakfast. I helped her to her chair, and we sat and talked for a good while. I was so happy to have her back. We enjoyed a brief moment of peace, until the telephone rang.
“Oh, Lawd, I wonder who that is?” Mom said.
“I’ll get it, Mom.”
It was the hospital, updating me on Dad.
“Who was it?” Mama asked.
“It was the hospital, Mom. Dad had to have another transfusion. After the roads are cleared, he’ll be brought back to Hillcrest.”
Mom looked down at her coffee and shook her head.
“He’s not gonna make it, is he?” she asked.
“Mom, only the good Lord knows that,” I answered.
“I know that. My good sense knows too. I can’t give a date and time, but he’s leaving us, Terri, and I don’t have the strength to go see him.”
Mama began to cry. I fell to my knees next to her chair and consoled her.
“Mama, you have to take care of yourself. Dad’s okay. He’s comfortable. Please don’t upset yourself. When the weather clears up a little, I’ll take you to see him.”
We hugged each other. I kissed her on her forehead.
“It’s just so much on you, Terri. I hate this burden put upon you, I hate it.”
“God made me strong and you made me smart, because God gave us to each other. It’s all right.”
We both turned back to the window when we heard a car stuck in the knee-deep snow.
“Turn the television back on. Let’s hear the latest on the snow,” Mom said.
“Okay, Ma. How was your breakfast?”
“You see my plate, don’t ya? I’m good, for a good while. I just want to sit back for a while.”
I brought Mom a hot cup of coffee and a cold glass of water. I put her pills in a little cup. I woke her up when I walked into her room. I went to her side and kissed her.
“Go back to sleep,” I said. “I’ll call you on my lunch break.” She nodded and I left. Benny dug me out, well enough to go to work. Damn. I was in no mood for first-grade bullshit today. I never liked mornings, never liked morning people and never, ever liked people in the morning. And I don’t like snow. I was not trying to be there. I wasn’t sick, but did not feel well. I didn’t give a damn about doing what I was paid to do. Route 309 was cleared up and almost dry. I hit my first patch of ice when I crossed the property line at the lab, a place where safety was paramount. Ain’t this some shit, I thought to myself. I pulled into the half-assed partially cleared parking lot and went inside. The hallway Nazis were on their usual march, with false cheerful greetings. I sat at my desk and tried to shake off my funk with a cup of coffee and a prayer that everyone keep their distance. I turned my radio on low. As my computer booted up, the weather report said there was another storm on the way. Can’t be, I thought. They’ve got to be kidding. Vicky came down to see me. She said there was an anniversary cake in the conference room, for someone who had worked here twenty five years. I told her I’d be there later. I watched the herds walk away down the hall for cake, and welcomed the sudden silence around me. While they were having their morning cake for someone I barely knew, I stayed at my desk and finished a poem I had started at home. I was in a black history state of mind:
I think of Ellison not being seen,
And the agony of Hughes deferred dream.
I muse David Walker’s appeal.
I think of Elizabeth’s unconscionable school days.
Plessey’s trolley ride ordeal
The churches that were maliciously set ablaze
Billie’s bitter crop
Miles and Satchmo
The Rosewood nightmare that wouldn’t stop
The cotton seed they had to sow
They helped me to understand
Gave me a nutritious place to go
I’d crumble in this landscape that’s shallow and bland
With no place to reflect and nothing to grow
I look upon Robeson’s passion
And rejuvenate with Angela’s style
I’ll take time to read Zora Neale Hurston
And sit back for just a little while
Dr. John Henrick Clark
Articulates the genesis of empires
He elucidates my blood
His presence and command require
Critical thought to what I’m made of
I went to the Birmingham jail—
Heard Fannie Lou Hamer speak—
And Chick Webb wailed away at the Home of Happy Feet.
Booker T’s Compromise,
Du Bois’ talented tenth,
Maya’s quest to rise,
The Underground Railroad length.
Marvin’s divided soul hollers.
Wright’s Native Son.
C.J. Walker had two precious dollars,
And the road to freedom was Highway 61.
Love me some Frankie Beverly and Maze.
Baldwin’s nameless mountain on fire.
Shaft with Isaac Hayes.
Motown’s musical empire.
A balanced diet of ancestral cuisine
Is a necessary supplement
For my mental hygiene.
I love every last one
They made my life worth living
They endured under the grace of moon and sun
And gave a gift that keeps on giving
I felt as though I had every African ancestor in my pocket. I compounded what I had with prayer for strength. A deceitful cackle from Miss KYW reminded me to lower my conscience level to my physical reality. As the hallways filled with people returning from the conference room, I prayed a little harder for endurance. I asked Him to teach me how to feel blessed in this mess. I asked Him to grant me patience until He sees fit to set me free.
He we go again. The snow came down with a vengeance. We had never had snow like this before. I looked out the window and saw nothing but white. The cars had disappeared and the roads were closed again. I had no intention of trying to dig out from this mess. I had no strength or interest in going to work for the rest of the week. I sat in Mama’s room, where I thought I heard a low roar of thunder.
“Did you hear that?” I asked. She sat in her chair, looking out the window.
“Yeah, I sure did. This is some snow. I mean the heavens have opened up. I wanted to go and see your father, but I guess we won’t get anywhere any time soon.”
“Mom, I don’t think anybody will move anytime soon. The roads are closed again. But as soon as things get back to normal, I’ll take you up to see Dad. He’s okay. He’s warm and he’s being cared for,” I reassured her.
“I know. I just think about him being up there all alone. He doesn’t have anybody. We’re all he has. I remember how much he loved to sit back with a cup of coffee during a bad storm. I’d make his favorite dish; a pot of short ribs with some biscuits or cornbread. Then after the storm, he would be outside all day, digging out. You used to go out with him, and the two of you would build a snowman. Remember that?”
“Yes, Mom. I remember. He was out there with the other men on the block, and they shoveled each others’ cars out. I’d see them push cars stuck in the snow. He made a big ball on the front lawn and then come to get me to help him make a snowman. He had me until my feet got cold.”
“I think about those days a lot,” Mama said sadly.
“Enjoy the memories. Don’t get yourself down, Mom, you still have me. We’ll get to see Dad real soon.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. I don’t want you to worry about anything. It’s gonna be all right, you’ll see. Guess what? I have a pot of short ribs and I’m getting ready to put the biscuits in the oven right now,” I said, rubbing her soft hands.
“The sooner the better. I’m getting hungry,” she said.
“All right. I’ll be back soon.”
I came downstairs into the living room and looked out at the relentless snow and thought of Dad. I couldn’t get to him even if I wanted to. He’s all alone and I can’t comfort him. At least I have Mom. Snow poured from the sky. It struck me as some kind of an omen again—a sign of something inexplicably wonderful or dreadful, in the days and months to come. I wondered what God was trying to tell me.
I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
“Oh, Terri!” I jolted up from my bed and looked at the clock. It was two-thirty in the morning.
“Terri, come here!” I jumped out of bed and ran down the hallway to Mom. She was sitting on the side of the bed, bent over in severe pain.
“I’m here, Mama. What is it? Your stomach?”
I struggled for coherency in my open-eyed slumber.
“No. My back. I’m in such pain,” she muttered. “Oh please, help me. The pain!”
“Okay, all right. Tell me where it hurts.”
She pointed toward her lower back. I got two aspirin and the tube of Icy Hot. I rubbed her where the pain gripped her.
“Oh, yeah, right there, keep rubbing. Oh, Lawd, help me,” she cried. I kept rubbing her until the ointment was completely worked in. I wrapped her back in a towel. Benny came into the room with his pants in one hand and his sweatshirt in the other.
“Do I need to start the car?” he asked half asleep.
“No. She has that terrible bursitis. I know exactly what to do. I got her. You go back to bed,” Benny quickly left. Mom had quieted down. She would only take one aspirin, but I managed to shove them both down her throat.It wasn’t long before her pain began to ease.
“I’m starting to feel better. That pain was about to set me crazy,” Mom was exhausted from the ordeal.
“Do you think you can lay down now?” I asked.
“In a minute. I’m so sorry for getting you up, but I couldn’t help it,” she said.
“It’s all right. I’ll be okay. Right now I want you to try to get some rest. How’s your back now?”
“Better. I can feel where it was, but the pain is just about gone. Thank you, baby, thank you so much. You need to hang your shingle. You knew just what to do.”
I helped mom back into bed and fluffed her pillows. She fell asleep almost immediately.
“Terri, you get some rest. I’m all right now. Thank you baby. You take such good care of me,” she whispered. I quietly got up and went back to bed.
My feet hit the floor with Mom on my mind. I hurried to the bathroom, threw some clothes on and went downstairs to make coffee. I gathered my lunch I had packed the night before and prepared a tray for Mom. I heated a raspberry Danish and scooped up a cup of fresh fruit. I looked out the window at the mountains of snow. I wished the day was already over. I poured some coffee into a thermos for me and a mug for Mom. I gathered my things and placed them at the door. Then I took the tray up to Mom.
“Breakfast, Mom,” I whispered.
“Thank you so much, baby,” she whispered back. I went to her side and gave her a quick peck on her forehead.
“You run along, baby. I’m all right,” she said. Out the door I went. The street was almost snowbound, but I managed to work my way out to Route 309 north.
I was numb when I arrived at work.I hadn’t had breakfast, but I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t awake, or asleep. I wasn’t present or absent. I was almost completely disconnected from where I was. I thought about Mom and hoped she didn’t need me. I began the arduous task of mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. I prayed to God to give me the strength to get through this day—another day of more of the same. In the office, talk of the day was about salvaging profits from the volatile stock market. My co-workers one-upped each other on who was the savviest about playing the market and staying ahead of the game. They spent endless hours chasing after the same quarter, I thought, worried about their retirement they were powerless to control. There is no strength in vulnerability to me, so I left mine alone. I didn’t bother to buy and sell, or follow every nickel and dime that would inevitably be confiscated by higher powers, or through some new tax law. I had what Doctor Cornel West called ‘ subversive joy’ from watching people who often ran roughshod over others they thought to be insignificant or otherwise less worthy, who were now afraid of what their future held.They were just as vulnerable as everyone else, and that reality created panic attacks for those who thought they were immune to the ruthless fangs of corporate power they had long promoted. I enjoyed their unease. I left the office conversation and went to my bench to begin work for the day.The telephone rang. It was Einstein Hospital, calling to schedule an appointment at the Cancer Center and Urology for Dad. They needed my signature on his behalf.
I’m always thankful to have a day off, even if it’s not a pleasure day. I woke up with hope that maybe I could get Mom showered and dressed; I was ready to take charge. I prepared myself for what was sure to be a long day. I got Mom up and helped her get ready for her appointment at the Temple Lung Center. She was having a little breakfast, when the telephone rang. It was Hillcrest, taking Dad back to the hospital for another transfusion. They were just calling me to inform me. The voice on the other end needed my consent for his treatment. A third party on the line identified himself as a witness, to hear my consent. When I hung up the phone, I looked at Mom while thinking about Dad. I said a silent prayer to fight the exhaustion I felt and to hide the truth from Mom.
I am a city person, to the bone. I love the action and the grit. But parking is the one true pain in the ass that I hate about city life. I drove toward the garage from Broad Street, which was a good distance from the front door of Temple. I knew Mom would never make it. I left her in the car and went inside to get a wheelchair. I had to wait at the front desk.In my mind, I could hear Mom cussing out somebody, wondering what was taking so long. I continued to wait. No chair. I asked at the front desk again. The receptionist was sympathetic, and called three times for the wheelchair. To hell with it. I walked back to the car and let Mom hold on to me for dear life as we made our way to the entrance and the elevator. I escorted Mom to the waiting room then returned to the receptionist to sign her in.
The Temple physician did a base-line examination. She pecked and poked around Mom’s chest and back. Mom’s distress was obvious, but the physician said a battery of tests would be needed, to establish exactly her diagnosis. Mom sat, exhausted and disappointed. We both had thought that something could be done for her immediately. Maybe we had put too much confidence in the television commercial we saw about Temple. I thanked the doctor. I struggled with Mom to get her to the main lobby, where she waited while I went to get the car. I took her for a short ride around town, and then treated her to dinner. By the time we returned home, Mom wanted to go straight to bed. I changed her clothes and tucked her in.
“Turn my T.V. on,” Mom whispered. “Turn it up. I can’t hear it.”
The volume that was comfortable for her just about drove me out of the room. I changed into my pajamas, went downstairs and poured myself a scotch. I felt subtle storms of change approaching. I was tired and concerned. Mom and Dad have nobody else but me.
Lord, give me the strength and the wisdom to love and care for my mom and dad.
As I arrived at work, the head of the department marched down the hall and told me about a mandatory meeting. I confirmed it, without a smile. But hell, he didn’t smile either. He continued down the hallway, surely making a mental note of my lack of excitement, but it was too early for me to give a damn. I looked at my phone.The voicemail light was blinking. I’ll get it later. I followed the herd to the main conference room. If I have to deal with these mother fathers one more day, I may just lose my mind.
I took my usual seat, in the back of the room and watched the Heads of State fumble with the microphone and PowerPoint projector. They began with a new agenda that was to begin under our new company name. The first topic was Career Development. Everyone was to get their goals written down, in alignment with their immediate supervisor. Everyone was supposed to have a vision for their future. For me, it seemed a blatant contradiction from our previous meeting about forced leveling. That infamous chart had explained that a certain percentage of the department had to be at the top, in the middle and at the bottom. That meant some people were forced into the unsatisfactory quadrant, in spite of their performance. It meant some people will be in danger of losing their jobs, no matter how hard they work or how well they play the game.Unless, of course, the right person backed them up. With that understood, how in world can they come back to the same people and talk about career development after talking about strategies that can undermine one’s effort to succeed? I didn’t get it. I knew then I wouldn’t make it. I don’t do ass. I cannot wallow in the company of deceit, helpless at the mercy of people who didn’t give a damn about me. I could come into work early and stay late; attend every meeting, network with the largest assholes, and still come up short. The next topic, of all things, was Ethics. Everyone was required to do test modules signed in blood vowing to be complicit in exploitive and sometimes unmerited mandates as a function of corporate policies.Substantiation of transgressions wasn’t required, just a perceived notion would suffice. To me, that meant that more than half the people in the room would be demoted, yet expected to defend and promote the doctrines that contain their suppression. It also meant that any pathological liar there who had a good rap could screw somebody and be rendered a company hero. I tuned in and out of the meeting as I pleased, and took refuge in my writing. I looked at one manager and then another. The sight of them made me sick. They repeated the same thing in an assorted parade of well-chosen words. It seemed that a certain type of resignation, dementia even, was a new condition of employment. Dementia, social dementia—Social Dementia. I sat in the back of the room and began to write:
Would you like me better if I just said yes?
Liked what you liked?
Complimented your style of dress?
How about if I only did what you approved,
And lived the way you saw fit?
If I never had a thought or made a move,
Unless it was to you acceptable and adequate.
Would I then be a patriot?
How about a good friend?
A suitable matriarch?
Would you like me then?
I would roll over only to your command.
Eat hot shit right out the palm of your hand.
I’d believe everything you said.
Eat it, drink it and take it to bed.
What if I wished I were you?
Or maybe if I just kissed your ass?
Would that raise your ego a peg or two?
I know then I’d fit into the prearranged social class.
I could lay face down on the floor,
And let you walk my back.
I’ll act like I’m hungry for more.
Of your big flat foot tracks.
Would that make me well adjusted?
And be better thought of?
Would I be better person?
Maybe easier to love?
No, no wait a minute, I’m not through.
It’s my turn to make myself clear to you.
It doesn’t matter what you think or what you see,
I ain’t livin for you, I’m living for me.
My knees will not bear the burden and my feet just refuse,
To wallow in a pool of nothingness,
Wasting my precious life with the likes of you.
I didn’t look up until I heard the group leaving the room. I wasn’t sure if the meeting was over, but I followed the herd on the slow march back to work. My buddy Ronald caught up with me.
“Slow down, girl! You about to give somebody a heart attack!” Ronald said as he trotted alongside me.
“Hey, Ron. How ya doing?”
“Glad that bullshit meeting is over.” Ron said. He shook his head and looked at the ceiling for either prayer or relief.
“I know what ya mean. Now I have to wake up all over again,” I complained.
We walked back into our building and found a corner in which to talk.
“Ron, I can’t wait until I can get outta here.”
“You think you’re by yourself? Man! Now they want everybody to, how they say, align themselves with their supervisor on their goals for the year. First they tell you to write your goals and then they tell you what they have to be,” Ron shook his head.
“Yeah, Ron, if they gonna tell us what they have to be, what are we writing them for?”
“That’s to make it look like it came from us. That’s how they turn it around. It’s bullshit. Now with this new company that bought us, it’s gonna be like a little Nazi camp.”
“Yeah, if you drop a ball somewhere, now they can say that you broke a commitment you made. I see it already. Our cubby holes are turning into cell blocks!”
Ronald laughed heartily in agreement.
“But, hey, you don’t have anything to worry about. Your books will get you outta here. Just bide your time.”
“Right now, I’m worried about my parents. Neither of them is well. I have to leave early today, to go to the nursing home to see about Dad and schedule a doctor’s appointment soon for Mom. She’s so weak.”
“Oh, wow. I’m sorry to hear that, Tee. Just take it easy. Don’t let this mess in here get in the way of you taking care of your parents. It’ll be all right.”
Ronald reached to hug me. I fought back the waterfall of tears inside me.
“Thanks, Ron. I guess we better get back. The tribal army is parading the hallways again.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it? You stay cool. Call me if you need me.”
I returned to my desk and saw that light blinking. In my imagination, it was blinking brighter than it had earlier. I went into my voicemail. It was Hillcrest. I was asked to call as soon as possible. So I called the social worker there, who said she needed me to come in for a conference. Her tone was serious. I said I would be there at one-thirty. I looked at my desk, covered with data to enter and formulas of samples to make.
“George, I’ve got to go. It’s my Dad.” I notified my boss.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You go ahead. Give some of your samples to me. I’ll do what I can.”
I arrived in the parking lot at Hillcrest a little early. I sat in the car for a while. My mind, my mind…My thoughts and agendas were intrusive and overwhelming. I had bouts of visceral weakness and despair. A Ferris wheel of reflections came to me: I have to visit with the nursing home staff, Mom has to see the doctor, I’m running late for work, gotta leave work early, gotta call the doctor at the hospital for Dad, gotta get Mom’s prescriptions, I can’t get to sleep, can’t wake up, I don’t know what to do, I pray, I cry, my stomach hurts, I don’t feel well, I’m so tired, late for work again, haven’t spent time with my husband, Mom needs me so much, Dad’s failing, laundry, groceries, dinner, I need a bath, I need a drink, I need rest, I need Jesus….
The Hillcrest staff was waiting for me and escorted me into ‘The Room’ for ‘The Talk.’ Dad’s nurse and social worker looked at me with empathetic eyes. I already knew.
The social worker began. “Terri, I’m so glad you’re here. I know your mother isn’t well. You need to know that your father’s condition is failing. He’s getting transfusions every two weeks and it’s starting to take a toll on his body.”
I said, “I can only imagine.”
The nurse said, “The transport is especially hard on him because of his dementia. He gets upset and terribly disoriented, and that makes him difficult to work with. I know he’s suffering. It’s hard to make him comfortable. I see his misery.”
I said, “So you’re saying he’s basically shot. He just can’t take it anymore.”
“Yes,” the nurse said.The social worker nodded in agreement.
The nurse continued, “There comes a time when the transfusions have to stop. They allow him to live longer, but not get better.”
A bolt of lightning shot through my head. This is it; I have to let Dad die.
“I know what you’re saying,” I whispered. “You need my consent to stop the transfusions and let him die with dignity and comfort.”
The nurse whispered, “Yes.”
I began to sob. This meant that he had no more than two weeks to live. The social worker went to get some tissues for me. My tears of despair fell on the table.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to carry on like this,” I sobbed.
“You have nothing to apologize for. He’s your dad, and I know how much you love him.”
I blew my nose and wiped my face.
“All right. Listen,” I said. “I don’t want hospice or anything. Stop the transfusions. I want everything to be done to make him comfortable to the end. This is it. He’s tired and I want him to rest. He needs peace. I guess we all need some peace.”
The nurse and social worker looked at me with a sort of pride and relief at how I took the burden of further explanation away from them, and made peace with what was before us. The only thing I wanted to do was to spend as much time with him as I could.
“Terri,” the social worker said. “You are so strong and brave. I know your parents are proud of you. I understand you’re taking care of your mom too.”
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“An only child?” she asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“The entire load is on you. And you work, too,” the social worker said. She looked at me with either amazement or sympathy.
“I’m Hazel and Benny’s child. Only God has the last word over me,” I declared.
“Amen,” she said with a smile and a nod of salvation.
“I want to go and see Dad. I want to try to spend as much time with him as I can,” I said.
The nurse said, “You can go back and see him if you want to. I’ll call you and keep you updated on his condition.”
“By the way, what is his condition, officially?” I asked.
The nurse said, “He has aplastic anemia. His bone marrow no longer produces blood.
“Oh.” I nodded my head. To me, it was a fancy word for cancer.
We stood up to leave. The nurse and social worker embraced me with genuine care. I went down the hallway to Dad’s room. A caretaker told me Dad was in physical therapy. I took the elevator to the therapy room and saw Dad sitting in his wheel chair. I walked over to him and smothered him with hugs and kisses.
“Who’s this?” Dad asked.
“It’s me, Daddy. Terri, your daughter.”
“Terri! What are you doing here?’ he asked.
“I came to see you, Dad.”
“Are you here to see the doctor?” he asked
“No, I’m here to see you.”
“Are you going to stay with me?” I kissed his forehead and rubbed his soft warm hands.
I said, “I have nowhere else to be.”