Last week I went to Massachusetts to visit my mother in the hospital. She’s been to this hospital often (it’s actually a rehab facility in a nursing home), and at one point we called it her summer residence, because she was there every July for three summers. I took a walk that morning in the woods before I went to see her. I knew she’d be awake, but I didn’t call her until after my walk, because I wanted an hour not to think about the next thing I had to do.
The woods in Massachusetts are scarier than the woods in New Jersey. The deer haven’t eaten everything, so I couldn’t see more than about fifteen feet in front of me. In New Jersey, on the right day, in the right spot, you can see for fifty yards. It felt good to be surrounded by all the shrubs and pine trees. It felt good to be a little wary. When I first got out of the car to walk on that gray cold day, I caught a whiff of salty air, twelve miles inland. It made me miss home. So did the white clapboard houses I passed while doing errands for my mom, even though I’ve never lived in one. I missed the cues of home, I suppose.
My mother asked me to pick up some typically goofy things (Gatorade, for one. What on earth does a bedridden, 72 year-old woman need Gatorade for?), and by the time I arrived I was already planning my departure. I sat with her at physical therapy while she tried to tell me what was in her apartment for me to eat, although I’d already been there and know how to find food (Also, her refrigerator was filled with Gatorade and diet yogurt.). Then we had a nursing home lunch together. When the nurse arrived to change the bandage on her broken toe, I decided that was my cue to go, but I was struck by this feeling that I’d just arrived and didn’t want to leave; I wanted to stay with my mom. I rarely have that feeling. Living five hours away and always having something else pressing on me from the other side creates this sense of constant propulsion in my mind.
Here’s where this post gets weird and might dance a little close to a cliche, but I’m just going to go with it. Just before I left on that trip I started doing more yoga to work a kink out of my back. I’ve been doing yoga every day since, sometimes twice. It’s made me conscious of the fact that in the last couple of months I’ve let my mind spin way too fast. I was thinking before I even opened my eyes every morning, lurching out of bed, careening from one thing to another. I took the kink in my back as a sign that I needed to stop and think every once in a while. In the last week, when I talk to my mom and she tells me how hard it is to be stuck in the hospital, I feel it. In the past, maybe I’ve tried to talk her out of it. I feel like that’s what I’ve done, and I’m sorry for that.
Yesterday, I saw my brother-in-law for the first time since he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He’s now nearly cancer-free, by the way, which makes a person downright speechless. He’s still being treated though, and he’ll be watched closely for years. This is part of his life, and while I’m selfishly delighted that he’s getting better, his internal life has become more complicated than it was six months ago. Or maybe it hasn’t; maybe it’s just complicated in a new way. Regardless, he has a lot on his mind; he can’t quite relax and that makes me sad for him. I keep feeling that and trying to figure out how to be helpful. I did manage to make him laugh yesterday, in between managing my son in a Manhattan restaurant at lunchtime. Never underestimate the power of the one-liner.
In total contrast to all that, the other day I completely lost my grip at the end of the day. I was tired and someone asked me one question too many. A walk didn’t fix it, so I just yelled. Here comes the cliche: When I got to the end of it, I realized that what I was yelling about was the feeling that I wasn’t doing something well enough, that I was overcommitted, that I hadn’t said anything until it was too late and now I was complete beast. It happened again last night. I accidentally broke my son’s toy while I was trying to fix it. He tried to tell me it that it was okay, but I know he loves it, and my head was suddenly full of what a fool I’d been for trying too hard and I was angry and felt bad. My son asked one question too many about how I managed to bust the toy and I got frustrated with his questions and said so in not so gentle terms. Then I thought, that’s twice now I’ve been angry at myself and taken it out on someone else. Interesting.
I didn’t really want to write this. I don’t have much interest in being here lately. It will come back, but for a while I’d rather pay attention to what’s in my head and act on it (or not) rather than describe it. Although someone’s going to tell me that has its uses, too. Yeah, sure.
On the way into New York yesterday, my husband and I had a conversation about all the ways we don’t know how to just calm the hell down. It was a funny conversation where we both agreed we were starting to figure it out, but needed to practice. I talked about this feeling I’ve had that I need to stop and think, or maybe not think, I’m not sure. The point is, it’s all connected, the push-pull between finding the right amount of thinking to do and being a total stress case. Ten minutes later we argued about how to get uptown. Five minutes after that, a school bus full of kids blocked the intersection and all these little wide-eyed faces stared out at us. We made up questions we thought the kids were asking: “He’s screaming something that looks like a bad word. What is he saying?” “Can he see when his face turns that color?” “How can that man still drive if his head has come clean off?”