Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Longtime readers will be well aware of the ongoing saga that is Ben’s mother. It started for us jointly back in 2013 when we reluctantly invited her to move to Denver and stay with us until she got set up with SSDI and properly resettled on her own. At the time she was living in Phoenix under horrible circumstances, had just been fired from yet another job, and we simply couldn’t have her out on the street. Little did we know at the time, but putting her out on the street might have been the best thing to happen to her.

What initially started out as six weeks turned into six months, and after deciding not to apply for disability and instead go back to work, it then became over a year. The nightmare only came to an end when we finally gave her notice and threw her out.

At that time she had a steady job working for Comcast and was making good enough money that she could afford to get a place of her own. She was doing well both mentally and physically, supposedly had her pain killer problem under control, and it seemed she’d finally gotten back to having something resembling a normal life. This lasted for a few months until—as has become standard operating procedure for her—things were going so well she had to fuck them up: off the wagon, incidents at work, and once again out of a job with rent due.

This time Ben made it very clear she was not moving back in with us. She destroyed enough of the apartment during the year she was with us (the first time in my life I had to pay for damages upon vacating a rental) and made life such a living hell (not one, but two calls to the paramedics because she was unresponsive) that she had proved herself unworthy of our trust and that there would be no second chance.

So after many telephone calls to Ben’s brother in Seattle, what remained of her large belongings were put in storage, and she was placed on a bus heading north.

In Seattle, the same tired story played out once again: promises to get set up with SSDI, find a place of her own and rebuild her life. Of course none of that happened; Ben got all the paperwork together—even going to far as to fly to Seattle on his own dime to get Powers of Attorney signed.

And still nothing got filed. (In case you don’t know, getting SSDI approved and in motion is a long process; typically six months at the earliest from when the paperwork is filed until the first check arrives.)

The difference this time was that Ben’s sister-in-law was having none of her bullshit and once again she was put on notice that her welcome had worn itself out and she needed to make other living arrangements.

By this time we’d moved back to Phoenix, and being the dutiful son, Ben did all the required research, sent her job listings, scouted apartments, and bought her a plane ticket home since she hated Seattle and wanted to move back here.

To her credit, she found work rather quickly after arriving back in Phoenix. She even met a guy and started dating! While she wasn’t living here, she had taken up residence on our couch, and what was once again to be only a week-long stay dragged on and on until I pulled the “no unauthorized visitors over a month” stipulation from our lease and sent her packing to a motel.

Apparently her new beau (who didn’t live in Phoenix full time, but had an apartment here) took pity on her and offered to have her stay at his place.

This lasted until about three months ago. For a variety of reasons she moved out of the beau’s apartment into a pay-by-the-week place closer to her work (because no one else would rent to her because of her credit and rental history). Things were going well; she had money, a good job, and a decent roof over her head. The only time we saw her was when she came over once a week to do laundry.

She was succeeding.

And you know she couldn’t let that last. It was about two and a half weeks ago that Ben got a call from a mental health facility, inquiring how he was planning on paying for his mom’s stay.

WTF?

It seems that she was feeling suicidal (she’s attempted it several times over the last ten years), and had checked herself into the facility a couple days earlier. Without so much as letting anyone—including Ben or her employer—know.

My dear friend Al, whom I’ve known for close to a decade, worked as a case manager at a hospital where we were both employed. She’s been telling Ben for years that he has to step away from all this; he has to cut her off completely just as his siblings have done and let his mom hit rock bottom. She needs to be on the street, where—hopefully—she can finally get the state assistance she needs. I’m cautiously optimistic that this latest incident has finally flipped that switch for him, because he’s not having any of her bullshit any more.

Now let me say we are not being heartless bitches here. Ben’s mom is in no way elderly; if she were and it was the cause of this behavior that would obviously affect our disposition toward her. But she’s not. She’s a couple years younger than I am. She has some real physical pain issues that require meds to mitigate, but it’s unaddressed emotional issues that are at the root of her behavior; issues that in her mind are more easily self-medicated than actually addressed directly through proper counseling (something she has been told to seek out each and every time she’s been in and out of these mental hospitals and consistently refuses to do). It’s that willful refusal that has exhausted all our patience and has forced us to say enough.

So once again, faced with no income (the question of whether or not she is still employed is up in the air,  but since she was approved for short term disability I assume she is), she knows homelessness looms in her future. But being the cunning, manipulative user that she is, she’s figured out she can game the system for another week “until she starts getting her checks.” To that end, she’s feigned suicidal thoughts and has again checked herself back in to that same mental hospital.

What will happen in a week’s time is anyone’s guess. She’s burned all her bridges. She knows she can’t stay with us (or, as she ridiculously suggested, in the back of Ben’s minivan). She has no other friends or family. Ben is done with it. We’re storing her clothing and a few household items from of her apartment until such time that they’re needed and that’s it.

A Letter To My Parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s been years since you both left this mortal plane, and while I am not suffering the ongoing level of distress that my sister still is, it’s rare that more than a day or two passes that I do not think of one or the other of you. What I miss most is just being able to call you up and tell you about some silly, inconsequential thing that happened during the day—or bitch about work, or ask for a recipe, or any of the dozens of other things that had become second nature for all of us when you were alive that are now gone forever. I also miss being able to share the big things with you and miss receiving your wisdom and reassurances in the face of uncertain futures.

And yes, I even miss those occasional “What were you thinking?” and the subsequent reprimands as you tried to steer me away from making some very poor decisions.

I’m sorry that you missed my wedding, although I’m reasonably certain Mom knew and approved of where things were heading; it was shortly after she met Ben and sensed that I’d finally met “the one,” that she was able to finally let go and move on to whatever it is that comes after this life. And Dad…you missed it by only a few months, but ironically it was spurred in no small part by your own passing. “After all the horrible things that have happened this year,” Ben said, “we need something positive to happen.”

On the other hand, I’m glad you’re not still here to see what is happening in this country today. You taught me me tolerance and acceptance of everyone as I was growing up (proving that when you wholeheartedly accepted me when the time came) and I think you would be appalled at the level of intolerance rising in our communities. Having lived through—and fought during—the last World War and witnessing the rise and fall of the Third Reich, I’m sure klaxons would be ringing for you every time that Cheeto-faced baboon took to the podium. Perhaps if more of your generation were still alive to remind us of the horrors of fascism, we might not be facing its possible resurgence now.

 

Happy Father’s Day

It may not have been the life you wanted or would have have chosen if you’d had the freedom to live your truth, but you had no regrets when all was said and done, and I still miss you every damn day.

Treasures

I received another little gift from my sister today: my mom’s daily planners from the mid 60s through the late 70s.

Some of the entries are cryptic: Bob/1. Some are humorous in that she recorded them: Owe Mark $3 Lawn. Mark started work at Sirloin Stockade. Others are bittersweet, like my class schedule for the first semester at college:

8:00-9:00 (M-Th) Russian
9:00-10:00 (M-W-F) Freshman Composition
9:00-10:00 (T-Th) Graphic Communication
10:00-11:00 (T-Th) History of Western Civilization
11:00-12:00 (M-W-F) Algebra
11:00-12:00 (T-Th) Graphic Communication
12:00-1:00 (T) Graphic Communication Studio

She also recorded every doctor/dentist appointment for myself, my sister, my dad, and herself. Student holidays, PTA meetings, early dismissal days, plant watering/fertilizing schedules, hair appointments, dinner parties, and some very personal stuff that I just simply didn’t need to know about.

If nothing else, the woman was very methodical. I guess that’s where I got it from.

All We Are Is Dust In The Wind

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that lot of weird stuff goes through my head when I’m laying awake in bed at 4 am; stuff that wouldn’t have pinged my consciousness when I was younger. This morning, while still pondering the joint loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I remembered reading somewhere that within 300 years of your death—unless you’re someone notable like Bowie or Einstein or Neil Armstrong—you will have been completely forgotten since anyone who knew you directly will have long since passed on as well.

I personally put that time frame at half that—or even less. Think about your grandparents. Now think about your great grandparents. How much do you actually know about them and their lives?

I know more about my material grandparents than my paternal. Even then, that knowledge is woefully lacking, and since Mom was an only child, once my sister and I pass on, that knowledge will vanish as well. I believe my grandfather was a chemical engineer. I know he worked in a white collar capacity at a paper mill for the majority of his life, and was recognized by the company for coming up with a new way of folding napkins for use in fast-food restaurants. Beyond that, I haven’t really got a clue. Was he in the army? Did he fight in World War I? How did he and my grandmother meet? Those are some of the things I probably should’ve asked Mom about when she was alive, but they were also those things that when you’re younger you really don’t care about. I have no idea if my grandmother ever worked—or if she did, what exactly her profession had been. As far as I know, she was a homemaker for her entire life (as was pretty common for women of that generation).

Going back another generation, I have no knowledge of my great grandparents beyond what I’ve seen in old photographs. If you even ask me their names I couldn’t tell you without having to look it up somewhere. My great-grandfather (or perhaps it was his father) fled Germany because—as family legend has it—he shot a deer in the Kaiser’s forest and the penalty if he’d been caught was death.

I know even less about my paternal grandparents. I think my dad’s father was a cabinet maker and owned his own business for many years in Safford, Arizona. I have no idea if my grandmother did anything outside the home. Their parents? No clue whatsoever.

About thirty years ago I realized how woefully inadequate my knowledge of even my own parents’ lives had been, so I asked them both to write short autobiographies. Dad took to the assignment like a fish to water; Mom never did come through with her story. Dad’s revelations and secrets were enlightening and helped explain many major and minor mysteries of his life, but like so many things, his written story has gone missing and I’m left with only my own memories of what he’d transcribed.

I think this lack of proper passing-on-of-the-family-story explains both my folks’ interest in genealogy as they grew older. Curiously, at least at this point in my life I do not share that interest. Since my sister never had children, when she and I are gone it will be the end of the line for this particular branch of the family and no one will be asking who my folks—or their folks—were or what they did during their lives.

And also since I have no children, I’ve pretty much resolved myself to knowing that at some point after I’m gone—like so many people who have come before—all my photographs, art, and possessions will end up at the bottom of a landfill or as curiosities in second-hand stores, offering some rare personal glimpses into life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

That’s why the here and now is so important. It’s all we’ve got.

Six Years

I can’t believe it’s already been six years since my mom passed. In many ways it seems like just yesterday.

I won’t lie and say I still think of her every day, but she does manage to pop into my thoughts once a week or so; mostly when something happens and I want to pick up the phone and call to tell her about it—and I realize that’s no longer an option.

 

Better Late Than Never

Last weekend Ben and I flew down to Phoenix for our very belated wedding reception. Since we got married under the friends/family radar a year ago, we both thought some sort of celebration is due—not only for ourselves, but also for those same friends and family.

He somehow got me on an airplane.

Since the vast majority of the people we wanted to share in our special day lived in Arizona, we decided that Macayo’s in Phoenix would be our venue. Since we haven’t had really good Mexican food since we moved to Denver, this was a no-brainer.

Obviously, we went for a Doctor Who theme, but only the die-hard fans got the fez…

Bowties are cool.

I think everyone had a good time…

Besties. I love these women.

We had to run a few errands the next day before we left…

Feels like home.

And of course we had to visit one of our old (and hopefully future, in 2-3 years) stomping grounds…

Then we met a few of our friends at Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles for brunch before heading to the airport. Absolute heaven…

I miss these women more than words can express.

Say Hi to Sammy

Sammy’s the newest addition to our family, a 5-year old miniature poodle/mix. His previous owners were apparently moving and couldn’t take him with them. We found him at The Dumb Friends League, and the moment he walked into the room both Ben and I were smitten.

On a Path of Self-Destruction

As I write this, Ben’s mom is in the process of finally moving out of our apartment. This day has been a long time coming, and not unsurprisingly it is not the happy, positive event that we envisioned over a year ago.

Yesterday, when Ben picked her up from the psych facility, one of her first comments was that she wasn’t going to go to the intensive outpatient therapy that her doctor had prescribed; therapy that her caseworker pushed for in  lieu of the actual rehab facility in Florida that we’d found for her and which she had initially agreed to go to just a few days earlier.

So in other words, nothing has changed. “Doctors don’t know anything.” Just like when we moved her up from Phoenix over a year ago with promises that once here she would be making positive changes in her life and seeking therapy, she’s simply moving her addiction from one location to another. At least it will no longer be in our home.

She’s been off the worst of her meds—the lorazepam—for over a week now and has no more readily available to her, but there is little doubt in my mind that first thing Monday morning she’ll run back to her dealer doctor to get loaded back up and the cycle will begin anew. The difference is that when she attempts to kill herself again—and Ben and I are in agreement that unless her behavior changes and she actually admits that it’s not just the physical pain that’s causing her to pop the pills but also the myriad of emotional demons haunting her and seeks appropriate therapy—there will be an again. The difference is this time there will be no one there to call 911.

I don’t want to see that happen, but honestly, we’ve done everything in our power to get her well, and each attempt has been rebuffed. Because there’s nothing wrong. Having played this addiction game with several other people over the course of my life, I know that until she admits there’s a problem, her path of self-destruction will continue unabated until she finally admits it or succeeds in ending her life.

Apparently 2014 Didn’t Get The Memo…

…that it was supposed to be better than 2013.

Two weeks ago the mother-in-law finally put money down on an apartment, for a scheduled move out today. She and Ben even went out and bought a bed and sofa (since she has no furniture of her own at this point).

But of course—like always happens when she’s on the verge of finally getting her act together and out of our house—she blew it.

I’ll spare you all the ugly details, but suffice to say she’s back in the psych ward again after another failed suicide attempt yesterday afternoon.

While the future is anything but certain at this point, on Monday Ben is going to court to get custody, and once she’s out of lockup, she’s going into rehab. The one thing that is certain is that she’s not coming back here. We’re both done with this bullshit.

We Have Died and Gone to HELL

It’s the only explanation.

I don’t remember the exact moment of our deaths. I don’t know if it was shortly before we were scheduled to move to Denver, or if it happened en route, or if it was—most likely—February 2013, when she arrived; the Destroyer of Worlds.

As I lay wide awake at 4:15 am this morning—again—I started quietly sobbing because I realized that my friend Cindy was right a year ago when she learned that we were moving Ben’s mom up “temporarily” and told me, “She’s never going to leave.”

After five trips to the ER in the last 30 days for uncontrolled neuralgia in spite of a steady diet of beer and morphine (yes, at the same time), she’s now decided to go out on short term disability for the next six weeks. WHY? What is this going to accomplish? Are we going to see any real change—like seeing a doctor who will do anything other than rubber-stamp another scrip for pain meds or god forbid, checking herself into rehab to get off the stuff to begin with—or is it just going to be six weeks of more self-medicating and endless Judge Judy blaring from our guest room?

I asked Ben if this was going to affect her move out date since she will still be drawing her full salary and he said it wouldn’t.  As much as I’d like to believe that I have no faith it’s going to happen. She’s already talking about returning the bedding she bought for her own place, so I’m sure  something is going to happen that will prevent her from moving out yet AGAIN.

At this point I fear the only way to get her out of here is for Ben and I to move back into a one bedroom apartment when our lease expires at the end of August.

When she’s working, she’s on an odd shift so she normally doesn’t get home until around 7:30 pm, giving me a couple hours of alone time (Ben doesn’t normally get home before 7 either) to unwind from work. But now I’ve even lost that brief respite from her crazy. For the next six weeks I’ll be going directly from work to Starbucks until Ben gets home because I simply can no longer abide being around her if he’s not there.

I never believed in a real, physical Hell, but I’m really starting to question it now.

How?

I mean seriously…HOW?

And her move out has been delayed yet again. Apparently she has an eviction on her credit report (something she never bothered to tell anyone) that doesn’t drop off it until next month, and because of that there isn’t an apartment complex in a hundred miles that will even talk to her.

If hell were a real place, I now know what it would be like.

48 Days

48 more fucking days! 7 more weeks!

7 more weeks of laundry being done as noisily as possible at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. 7 more weeks of hearing doors that are apparently incapable of being closed quietly. 7 more weeks sticky door handles and coffee stains down the front of cabinets. 7 more weeks of arriving home to dog shit in the living room because she couldn’t be bothered to take them out before she left for work. 7 more weeks of finding the dishwasher unemptied with dirty dishes sitting in the sink. 7 more weeks of living with someone who fancies herself an expert on everything. 7 more weeks of Judge Judy twenty four hours a day. 7 more weeks of that smell. 7 more weeks UNTIL WE GET OUR FUCKING HOME BACK TO OURSELVES AND THAT WOMAN IS GONE!

I told Ben the other night that if I never see his mother again after she moves out I’ll live out my life a happy man. He said he was starting to feel the same way.

Worst. Houseguest. Ever.

One Of My Favorite

…photos from my dad’s collection of pictures he took during World War 2.

The one in the middle front, and the one in the back about to throw the ball, please.

I remember when I was a kid I used to get all tingly looking at this. Is it any wonder?

Diving Headlong into the Past

One of the guys I follow on Instagram posts nothing but what look to be scans of old found photos; the kind you run across in antique shops. I also spend way too much time visiting the Shorpy Historical Photo Archive. I love these voyeuristic glimpses into the past, especially the ones that record the most mundane of daily activities. While looking at scenes from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, I often catch myself thinking, “Wow. That looks like something that I’d see in my family’s photo albums.”

When my mom and dad divorced in the 80s, they split up the family albums. There were lots of duplicates in my grandmother’s collection that they threw into the mix to help ensure the split was mostly equitable, but not everything is in both sets of albums, and it has been my long term goal to get everything scanned and put back into a single unified virtual album that both my sister and I can have.

After Mom’s passing, I started that project, but was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos involved in her collection I gave up and returned all the physical media to my sister.

About a year before Ben and I left Phoenix, I got the urge to revisit this project and made off with my dad’s albums (with his permission, of course), intending to scan and return them within a couple months.

Like so many of these well-intentioned projects, life intervened and even this modest beginning was put on the back burner. Oh hell…it was shelved and pretty much forgotten about until Dad’s passing a month ago when my sister started cleaning out his place and asked if I had them.

So a couple weeks ago I jumped back into it, and unlike times past, I have not given up. I’m nearly finished with Dad’s albums and will swap them for Mom’s when I see my sister in October. What struck me the most about all this is how so many of these photos really could easily appear on Retronaut or show up in that found-photos Instagram feed:

Mom, me, and our next door neighbor “Gammy” Johnson, 1960

I’m also surprised at how well Photoshop is able to bring so many of these faded shots back to life. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s amazing. The original prints have been faded for so long that it’s how they’re burned into my memory, so in many cases it’s like I’m seeing them for the very first time.

One of the saddest things about looking over all these photos is the realization that since neither my sister or I have children to inherit them, it’s quite likely that all them will one day end up in an antique shop as mere curiosities of a time long gone.

A Boy Grows Up

It has been said that a boy doesn’t fully grow up and enter adulthood until his father dies. If that is the case, I grew up two days ago.

My dad’s passing did not come as a complete surprise. A month ago my sister called to tell me that he’d suffered a major heart attack and the attending physician told her that, “Anyone who needs to say goodbye needs to come sooner rather than later.” The next day I got on a plane and flew down to Phoenix.

It was the first time I’d been to the group home where we’d moved him shortly after my last trip to Phoenix in December. All I can say is I hope that when the time comes and I find myself in a similar situation that I end up in such a warm, welcoming place.

When I arrived, Dad was weak, but in good spirits. Surprisingly, he actually looked better than the last time I’d seen him. And despite the fact his chart read “actively dying,” he was eating like a horse. I called my friend Cindy—a lifetime nurse—and told her about this and she said that was pretty common; that the body was rallying for one last hurrah. She had seen this many times before and said it could be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks until he passed on.

My sister and I mended the rift that had opened since my previous trip, and—since apparently no one had actually told Dad how serious his heart attack had been—had “the talk” with him. We told him that if he wanted to go, he could. We would both be all right, that he raised two great kids, and that we loved him. In typical Arthur fashion, he looked at us and said, “What if I don’t want to go?” We laughed.

My dad worked as chief architect and designer for Hallcraft Homes during the peak of their business in the 1970s. His residential designs changed the face of Phoenix—if only through the ubiquitous presence of the homebuilder in the valley. Today you cannot drive anywhere in Phoenix without seeing his work, even if his name is totally unknown by the people living those homes. (Ben’s grandparents actually live in one of his designs.)

On my second—and last—day in Phoenix, on the way to the group home I took a detour through what I consider to be the high point of Hallcraft’s reign; a subdivision called Biltmore Highlands. Our family had even considered moving there—going to far as to actually pick out one of the homes—as I was about to start high school, but for one reason or another it never came to fruition. I don’t know if it was overall cost of the house, or the school district we’d be moving into, or the fact we could get a bigger home for the same amount of money elsewhere, but ultimately we ended up moving to a new place (in another Hallcraft development) on the west side about a mile south of where we were currently living.

I’d driven through the Highlands back in 1998 and was surprised at the changes, but for the most part the homes were still instantly recognizable to me and my heart swelled with pride knowing that my dad had designed them. But driving through the streets that morning was more of a shock. Major remodelings since 1998 seemed to be the norm, and in fact, entire homes had been razed and replaced with horribly ugly McMansions. What surprised me the most, however, was that the house we’d initially chosen to move into remained virtually unchanged. Yeah, it had been painted, front doors replaced and a small wall had been erected out front, but otherwise it looked the same as it did back in 1972:

Alternate timelines, bitches. The mind reels at how different my adult life might’ve been if we’d moved there instead of where we ended up.

I got to the group home before my sister that morning, so I had some quality one-on-one time with Dad. We reminisced about everything from his days in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War to those days at Hallcraft to his brief stint in San Francisco. I said everything I needed to, and it seemed he did the same. Tears welled in both our eyes as we said goodbye several hours later, knowing that this was probably going to be the last time we would see each other.

I flew back to Denver that afternoon, knowing that the next time the phone rang and my sister’s name appeared on the display it would be that call.

Several days passed, so I called her and she said that Dad had made an amazing comeback; he was even out of bed and sitting out on the home’s front veranda. I called him a few minutes later and he said he was tired but feeling good.

And that has been the situation until last Tuesday. I realized it had been a week since I’d last spoken to him, so I called that night. He again reported feeling a bit tired, but my god, he sounded amazing; stronger and more vibrant than I’d heard in months.

So it was a bit of a shock when I got the call from my sister at 8:30 the next morning. She never calls me at work, so even before I answered I knew what what had happened.

She said he was fine before breakfast, but when they returned to get his dishes he was gone, laying there peacefully with his eyes closed.

I’m not flying down this time; Dad had the foresight about ten years ago to get everything set up beforehand with the Neptune Society (something, ironically I’m going to do for myself with some of his life insurance money) so neither my sister or I would have to deal the actual disposition of his body. My sister will keep the cremains at her house until next fall, when we’ll all gather to scatter the ashes in southern Arizona as he’d requested.

My dad had always been an excellent father. Though I know over the course of my life I caused him untold financial and emotional distress, he never stopped loving me. When one of my cars blew up, he was there with credit card in hand. When I lost my job in San Francisco in 2002, he opened his doors to me. I don’t know if that was strictly the father in him speaking, or if it was because—some thirty years earlier—he’d found a kindred spirit in his son.

In 1976, when I came out to my family, several days later, my dad took me aside and came out to me. Like so many men in the 1950s, he had become—as Bette Midler might say—”trapped in an act, not of his own design.” While there was no doubt that he loved my mother, he was still a gay man living a double life, and my coming out allowed him to finally let someone—family—know who he really was. I can’t even begin to imagine the weight that fell from his shoulders that summer, but I know from that point onward our whole relationship changed. He was no longer simply the authoritative father figure I’d grown up with; he was also rapidly becoming my friend.

And maybe that’s the reason I’m finding that his death is hitting me much harder than when my mom passed several years ago. I don’t know if it’s because Alzheimer’s robbed us of much of who Mom was long before her passing, or if in addition to losing my dad, through his death I also lost a really good friend.

Arthur
March 23, 1926-February 20, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-changes

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Ben and I are about to have a long-term house guest. We are moving his mom up from Phoenix to stay with us until she can get resettled in Denver.

Having gone through enough familial drama of my own during the last two months to last the rest of my life, I was well aware of what Ben was facing. While not exactly the same situation, much like we’d reached the point with my dad that we realized he could no longer live on his own, leaving Ben’s mom on her own right now also wasn’t an option.

Julie is family, and I love her to death, but to be honest I had some strong misgivings about this happening until Ben and I had a long talk and he assured me this wasn’t going to be a repeat of her moving into his old apartment several years ago.

After Ben (who is in Phoenix this week putting all this in motion) reported the condition of her place there (a pipe broke in an adjacent apartment some time ago that was never properly addressed and mold is growing through the shared wall) to me yesterday, it’s more clear than ever that we made the right decision and getting her out of there and into someplace safe and healthy is essential.

Plus, the quote above keeps resonating with me. Am I paying Julie back for a past kindness, or paying her forward? I don’t know, but it feels like the right thing to do either way.

 

Childhood Memories

It’s strange where your mind wanders when you find yourself wide awake at 3:30 in the morning. Fuckin’ insomnia.

Until they relocated to Arizona in 1972, every other year my maternal grandparents would fly my mother, sister, and I back east to spend the summer with them on their 22 acre property in western Massachusetts.

And by “the summer,” I mean about two and a half months—a period of time that as an adult passes in the blink of an eye: ten weeks, five paychecks. But to a child, two and a half months was a lifetime.

Those summers were idyllic times for me, starting with the incredible excitement of flying across country. This was obviously long before you had to submit to a rectal probe to be allowed past the gate; when people actually dressed up to get on an airplane. Hell, the first couple times we flew jetways weren’t even used in Phoenix.

My grandparents lived in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Their closest neighbor literally lived a mile away, it was a 45 minute drive to the nearest hospital, and “going into town” to pick up mail at the post office, or buy groceries, or take the week’s trash to the dump always seemed an adventure in itself. In addition to the 230-year old house and rambling barn that seemed to go on forever, the property had a running stream and pond, two enormous fields (that were leased out for cultivation), and several acres of completely undisturbed forest.

Many nights were spent on the home’s screened porch; a magical place where I learned to play Solitaire with my grandmother, built plastic models, put puzzles together, and drew and wrote stories.

Caution! Future blogger at work!

Every night my grandmother would read to us. Children’s classics like Alice in WonderlandWinnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book were all on tap.


It was there that I discovered the joys of Pepperidge Farm cookies (at the time only available on the east coast), my love of seafood—especially lobster—and the practice of using half-and-half on my cereal instead of milk. To this day, in my mind there’s no more comforting breakfast than a bowl of corn flakes with fresh peach slices drenched in half-and-half. Toward the end of the summer (always marking our sad, eventual departure and the return to the reality of school and Phoenix) we would gather fresh wild blueberries and enjoy homemade blueberry muffins and blueberry pie.

My grandfather was an accomplished woodworker, and in my mind, he could build anything. I still have a “work table” he built for me one one of our first trips back east:

The last summer we visited before they moved to Arizona, I was obsessed with Lost in Space, and enlisted Grandad’s help in building a “life-size” model of the LIS robot. He was very accommodating, but while I initially started off actively engaged in the construction, being a kid I eventually grew bored and spent more and more time wandering off, exploring the rest of the barn. The place was  chock-full of all manner of intriguing things, leading to me eventually being called out in no uncertain terms by my grandmother; the one time in memory I can ever remember seeing her genuinely angry.  From that point forward, I stayed in the workshop—assisting where I could—until the project was completed.

While the final product actually ended up bearing only a passing resemblece the original (I’m not posting photos; they’re on a hard drive in the other room and I’m not waking Ben up to get it.) and because of an initial miscommunication it slid sideways instead of front to back, I was quite amazed that we managed to pull it off at all. It’s amazing what a loving grandfather can do with a bit of wood, plaster, and several feet of chicken wire. When my grandparents moved to Arizona, they actually brought the thing with them, but by that time I was “all grown up” and in high school—totally embarrassed at the way it looked—so it lived at the back of our garage until I finally disposed of it a couple years later.

The only real downside to these northeastern getaways was my grandparents’ dog: a feisty gray poodle they’d acquired shortly after my family got ours. The disposition of the two animals could not have been more different. Our poodle was affectionate; theirs was an aggressive hellhound. I still have the scars on my right hand where the little beast attacked me one evening as I kissed my grandmother goodnight. When the little monster died years later, I did not shed a single tear.

My sister and I have often talked about flying back east to see how the place has changed; I have found it on Google Maps, and while there’s no street view yet available I’ve seen enough to know that memories are best left in the past. The property has apparently been subdivided with two new houses built in the aforementioned fields. The barn has been torn down and rebuilt, and a second garage seems to have been added onto the house. So yeah, as much as I might like to make the pilgrimage, the fact is I think I’d much rather just keep my memories intact of the place that left such an indelible impression on my young life.


A Series of Unfortunate Decisions

Spending a total of about 13 hours on the road Wednesday and Thursday driving back to Denver gave me plenty of time to think about the nightmare that was my trip to Phoenix. While I remain an atheist, I can’t help but wonder if there is still some underlying clockwork in the way the universe works, because I clearly see how Point A led to Point B which led to Point C and so on. (Or maybe it’s only that hindsight is just 20/20.)

About a year ago, when the first bit of freezing weather hit Denver, I noticed that my car had started leaking fluid. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so I took it into the MINI dealer to have it checked out.

Turns out there were two leaks, as well as a cracked strut mount. Thankfully my Geico mechanical breakdown insurance was willing to cover all three items, but with a separate $250 deductible for each. I didn’t have an extra $750 laying around, so I opted for the strut mount (a safety issue) and the power steering leak—especially after they told me the coolant leak around the thermostat wasn’t that bad, and I’d be fine for a while as long as I kept the reservoir topped off.

Well, the weather warmed up and the coolant leak stopped. I had the car in for service for another matter last summer, and they noted the leak, but also said it didn’t appear to be active—but that it should still be repaired.

First bad decision: choosing to ignore the recommendation when I actually had the money to get that leak fixed.

Of course, once the first freeze hit this year, the leak returned. It wasn’t any worse than it had been previously, so I just kept topping off the reservoir as I had last winter.

Second bad decision: Insisting on driving to Phoenix instead of flying. Ben kept telling me I should fly and just rent a car when I got down there. But I kept thinking that if we were really going to end up moving dad into a group home, that meant going through his house and pulling whatever I wanted to bring back with me and it would be so much easier to just drive it back rather than attempt to ship it.

Third bad decision: only bringing enough of my meds to cover the expected trip duration of five days, and in the flurry of rushed activity that started this whole ordeal, forgetting to pick up a refill of one of the more important ones (going off with only two days worth) before I left.

But other things also seemed to be working behind the scenes in my favor. Even though Geico refused to cover the starter replacement because they said the unrepaired coolant leak contributed to the failure in Phoenix, a week earlier I’d finally gotten around to opening new checking and savings accounts at a local credit union (I’d been using my Phoenix accounts all this time), where I was given a $1000 overdraft line of credit that doesn’t have to be repaid immediately. The final bill for replacing the starter and thermostat came to $950.

And as my very wise friend Cindy said after it seemed storm after storm was rolling through my expected route home, “Maybe this breakdown happened when it did to keep you in Phoenix a few extra days so you don’t end up skidding off an icy mountain road to your death.”

That really got me thinking, and I was finally able to accept the situation. Yeah, I still wasn’t happy about it, and I was losing almost a full week of work (I did have a bit of PTO remaining for the year), but the most important thing in my mind now was to stop bitching about what life had thrown me and simply do whatever was necessary to ensure that I got back to my Ben safely.

On my last day in Phoenix, I was supposed to tour a few facilities with the adult care coordinator my sister was working with, but thankfully he called that morning and had to cancel because of a sick child (“Everyone I know has been down with this horrible stomach bug that keeps you in bed for days.”)

Bullet dodged. The last thing I needed after everything else that had happened was to come down sick.

My sister met up with him the next day.

They located a suitable facility, and Dad is now placed and settled—if not happy—in a group home and is out of the toxic environment he had been living in.


Yes, I had to wear a surgical mask and rubber gloves (not shown) when cleaning out the mobile home. It was that bad.

 

And continuing to keep my personal safety in mind, I decided to take the longer—but sure to be drier—southerly route back to Denver, driving through Tucson and into New Mexico on I-10 to meet up with I-25 in Las Cruces.

Other than running into a dust storm that lasted from outside Deming to north of Las Cruces…

…the entire route (including Raton Pass, which had been a major worry for ice and snow) was uneventful, and for the most part, completely dry.  In fact, by the time I reached Colorado Springs you couldn’t even tell that the snowpocalypse that the fear-mongering Weather Channel had dubbed Draco, had even passed through.

(As an aside, I still say New Mexico needs to change its state motto from Land of Enchantment to Land of Neverending Road Construction.)

And of course, now that I’m home, Ben is about to get on the plane that was supposed to take us to both to Phoenix for Christmas.

But you know what the worst part about all this was? Nothing I did while I was down there could not have waited until next week. Simply put, my sister panicked. I ran two errands to request Dad’s medical records, and I tossed out a huge amount of crap from his mobile home, a job that will fully take weeks—if not months—to complete.

I was greeted with a hero’s welcome—and a BSOD on one of the reception PCs—upon my return to work yesterday, and I can honestly say I never felt so glad to be back.

I can’t say that I am yet ready to fully embrace being Coloradan, but this trip has shown in stark terms that I am no longer an Arizonan. Much like when I was living in San Francisco and returned from visits to Phoenix, the moment I crossed that state line I felt a sense of elation that told me even though many hours remained until I crossed my doorstep, I was finally back home.

Unexpected Journeys

I’m en route to Phoenix.

Several weeks ago my dad checked himself into the ER complaining of heartburn and vomiting.

Turns out he had a huge hiatal hernia and the majority of his stomach was sitting on top of his diaphragm. And oh yeah, his surgeon described his esophagus as “looking like raw hamburger.”

So they got him put back together and he spent about another week in the hospital convalescing.

Because my dad lives alone and would be unable to care for himself immediately following this surgery, his doctor placed him in a short term managed care facility with scheduled physical therapy because apparently he couldn’t sit up in bed without assistance.

That’s where he’s been for the past few weeks, and it turns out he’s not cooperating with the staff, refusing therapy and generally making life a living hell for everyone.  In fact, it’s come down to him either doing his PT as prescribed, or they’re going to discharge him on Saturday.

My sister called last night and said, “I need you here NOW.”

For a variety of reasons, it’s been agreed that it’s time for Dad go to into long-term managed care. Several months ago I was discussing my dad’s health issues and his living conditions with a nurse friend of mine and I asked her how we were going to get this to happen. “It’s going to take an incident,” she said, “that will unequivocally show everyone involved that he can no longer live on his own.” Said incident has occurred, and to quote my sister, “He’s not interested in going home. He wants someone to feed him and change his diaper, and that’s about it.”

Did I also mention the onset of dementia? “They’re waking me up at 4 am to do physical therapy and everyone here is out to get me!”

So yeah. Christmas has been cancelled so I can go to Phoenix two weeks early and help my sister get him placed and attempt to go through the hoarder’s paradise that is his mobile home. I’m there until Sunday. Whatever doesn’t get done will either have to wait for another time or she’ll have to hire someone to do it.

I’m not upset at having to go down there; I’m upset at her attitude about it.

Thankfully, it will be easier this time since we had to go through a lot of this with Mom five years ago.

Why Isn't There a Manual For This? A Question for the Hive Mind

I woke up at 4:45 this morning and could not get back to sleep. I kept thinking about something my dad said to me the other day and try as I might I could not get it out of my head.

I asked how he’d been doing since my last call a week earlier. “Oh, not so good. Going downhill fast.” I asked what he meant by that and he said, “It’s these damn sinuses.”

My dad’s had sinus problems for the last couple years, and despite trying numerous prescription medications, nothing seems to clear it up.

As I lay there in the dark this morning, listening to (and quite envious of) Ben’s blissful, rhythmic breathing as he traversed the astral, it hit me.  The root cause of Dad’s sinus problems is the fact his place hasn’t gotten a proper, thorough cleaning in at least five years—and probably closer to ten. In addition, he never opens his windows to air the place out, so it’s not just dust, but probably mold and god knows what else. (He blames “the cats that come over and shit in his yard.” I find that as a source of nasal irritation highly unlikely; my dad just hates cats.)

Anyway…

The man is 86 years old. And while he’s still sharp mentally, he doesn’t have the dexterity or physical stamina he used to, so he admits that while domestic maintenance may get started, it’s never finished. He’s also become a borderline hoarder, and attempts over the years by my sister and I to get his place decluttered so that we can clean have been met with extreme resistance.

(If you watch an episode of Hoarders and see how the folks react when their stuff is being hauled off is exactly what we’ve gone through with Dad.)

A little backstory to his current housing situation is necessary: In 1994, after breaking up with a woman he’d been living with in the Bay Area for several years, he moved back to Phoenix and bought a nice mobile home across the street from his sister in what was, at the time, a decent little park.

A couple years later my aunt moved up north and in the years since the park has steadily gone downhill.

About two years ago, after a wind storm severely damaged his carport and patio covers, he said he’d had enough, and there was a brief window when he was open to the idea of moving into a proper apartment. Wrapped up in our own lives, my sister and I could never coordinate a time for the three of us to start looking for places and eventually our window of opportunity closed.

After Ben and I moved to Denver, there was even some positive discussion about Dad going into an assisted living household, but as of today, nothing more about it has been discussed.

I’ve thought about hiring a cleaning service to come in once a week to at least dust, vacuum, and clean the kitchen and bathrooms, but I can’t do that until the place is de-cluttered. Apparently the VA also has a program available to him where someone comes in and does basic housekeeping. That sounds like an even better solution since it’s free, but again—before that can happen, the place needs to be de-cluttered so that cleaning is even possible.

At this point I would be willing to go down to Phoenix and get the place in order myself—Dad’s protestations about “touching his stuff” be damned—but I don’t have enough accumulated time off yet to do that. I can’t ask my sister to undertake the project herself; not only because it’s unfair to her, but we aren’t exactly on the best terms these days. (She seems to be carrying around a whole lot of anger at the world, and resentment at me in particular for moving to Denver and “leaving Dad in her care.”)

So I don’t know what to do. It’s unhealthy for him to remain in his current situation as it stands, but I have no immediate solution to rectify that.

Any suggestions?  Certainly I’m not the only one to have ever been in this situation.

Remembering Mom

Today is the three year anniversary of my mom’s death. Even now a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her.  Sometimes it’s only in passing—a fleeting memory of something she once said to me, while other times it’s more of a dull ache that rears itself when I realize she’s not just living in another city (as had been the case for most of my adult life), but that she is truly gone.

And yet, I’ve never cried over her death. It’s probably because Alzheimer’s had robbed me of my mother several years before her body finally gave out, and even if there is nothing beyond this life, I take solace in knowing she’s in a better place—if only to finally be rid of the frustration and mental anguish she was feeling toward the end.

This is a small tribute I put together in 2009, scenes from her life that are set to a tune that first came to my attention shortly after her death. The synchronicity of her passing and the arrival of this music in my life was eerie.