Back story before the tidal wave: David’s life sentence means LIFE

Back story before the tidal wave: David’s life sentence means LIFE

To better get what the hell it is I’m sounding off about, I’ll set the scene from fifteen year’s ago before the Parkinsonian sea engulfed us, before my husband declared himself trapped alive inside a sinking wreck.

I glanced up. Sitting in our living room, the fireplace spluttering pinon sparks, I moved the fireguard against the adobe orifice and settled back. Newsnight, a program my husband loved, glued him to the screen. Words tossed tired leaving the great big world unchanged. Not ours, though. Ours morphed that night, the night I noticed…

My husband David’s cheeks smooth as the TV screen, the corner of his lips devoid of curl, his eyes saucer round, nodding at the key points being argued in the interview, I assumed he was taking it all in.

Charlie Rose leaned forward, bushy eyebrows pulled close and down mantling personal thoughts. A smile disrupted the furrowed lines demarking his cheeks. He pushed his lips forward. It was easy to see Charlie was engaged. But my husband — was he engaged? His expression gave no hint. I picked up a cashew fragment from my lap, cast it with the doctor’s words into the flames. “Swaha,” I sighed. “Here’s to all we have this minute.” The fire-log like our future incinerated leaving only the present.

David looked the same as he did yesterday, the same sweet way he’s looked for the years we’ve been together, the same physically since his ten o’clock doctor’s appointment the previous morning. (Was that only thirty-six hours ago?) David’s face: Charlie Rose on the box. I looked from one to the other. Studied the contrast.

“You have what’s known as a Parkinson’s mask, an early symptom of the disease.”

The doctor’s words un-rumpled a list of symptoms…joint stiffness, tiredness, micrography, tremor, fears we’d scrunched inside. For a couple of months I noticed his voice. Its new sexy huskiness. And teased him. Then not so long ago, speed walking our favorite circuit behind his house, he stopped, waited for me to catch up.

“My left arm won’t swing,” he complained. “I wonder. Could I have I had a mini stroke?”

Next day at the doctor’s office, the doctor clicked his ballpoint pen. On. Off. On. Aligned the missile shape of it parallel between the two top lines of his notepad.

“You have Parkinson’s disease.” The clicking of his ballpoint spiked the silence.

The three syllables “Par-kin-sons” skimmed the surface of reality and sank beyond my conscious thought. The doctor’s words were just sounds, nothing meaningful about them. After all, the sky still shimmered cloudless, and the smudge grazing the horizon too far distant to define. I was too shocked to ask what lay ahead. Stepping from office to sunlight, we held hands, not talking. I closed my eyes felt the warmth of the sun.

Bloody ironic, David a doctor. All those nights slaving in the ER cranking extra dollars to live the poster retirement under a palm tree somewhere. Now just when he was free…

I didn’t burst into tears then. It took a week. Walking one early morning along the arroyo behind our house, I brushed against a cactus. The cruel pain of its barbs gave me reason. Broke my reserve. I wept and wept. If David cried, he cried when I was not about.

Caregivers, did you stiffen your spine like me on hearing your partner’s diagnosis? “Pointless dissolving into a crybaby…pull yourself together, girl,” I admonished myself. “Face what needs facing and bloody well get on with it.”

I didn’t admit to my feelings. I couldn’t. I didn’t recognize the nothing I felt covered emotions I was not strong enough to handle at that time. It’s a British thing. Denial. Our way of coping.

“Let’s take a trip. Go on an exploration.”

So we hiked into the desert silence of White Sands and lay together beneath the Milky Way and swam the waters of Elephant Butte. For two and a half months we toured Sri Lanka, and clocked ourselves into a Kerala nursing home, South India, to undergo a month’s Ayurveda treatment, then took six weeks in a half-built ocean resort recovering. It was a beautiful time, we agreed, riding waves twenty feet high in the Indian Ocean, strolling the Malabar coast hand in hand, eating vegetarian. We never looked or felt so healthy.

The future, not yet existent, nosing into the past kept us warm and down-coated. Nesting, we called our “do-you-remember-when-we…” stories.

But “Par-kin-sons” was there, three stones lying below the surface. Dark lumps on the pristine sand, one, two, three… I could see them through the water. Behavioral and physical changes like his indecipherable writing, more frequent stumbles, fading memory, curving posture, loomed unavoidable.

What David felt, he kept to himself.

Wearing a hat from hell

Wearing a hat from hell

I have never written a blog. Don’t quite know what a blog is. The one blog I have read was part of a novel. As far as I can tell blogs are rants. Mental diarrhea spilled on a page for strangers. So, fellow caregivers wearing a hat from hell, do you talk of ending it all? Use the no-no word — death? Ooops. Aren’t I supposed to love my role, the God-given opportunity of service, the privileged chance to score a heaven-entry ticket like the pre-check and global card we flash to airport security.

Admit it people, you are persona non-fff-ing-grata, a feared social pariah now your partner/spouse is disabled. At least I am. And, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t choose us to take up space at a dinner table for six or eight—deadweights with NEEDs who don’t fan witty dinner conversation.

So-called friends shy from you and your spouse at social gatherings. If they do stop to say hello, ask, “How you doing?” they move along without waiting for your reply. “Better make the rounds,” they murmur.

“Everything good?” an acquaintance purred as she passed. Her eyes popped when I slammed back, “No. Hardly.” I knew she knew of my husband’s crumbling beneath the weight of Parkinson’s — my crumbling too. “We’re crawling back from death,” I spat. “The emergency room docs gave him a couple of hours to live.”

I’m tired of making nice-nice everything’s-fine bullshit noises, tired of keeping people comfortable. I want authentic. A kindly ear to receive our story.

You might wonder why I was there…socializing, I mean. You might say I had no business going. I wonder why too. Pretending it was fun to sip a glass of red while burbling inconsequential rubbish about the damn cottontails having eaten the new tomato plants.

“…and despite the fact their leaves are poisonous…” the woman paused, smiling.

So bunnies why didn’t you roll about and die if the plant was deadly, my thoughts growled, and immediately my mind flew back to the husband I’d left at home.

“Be gone no more than half an hour,” lipstick dragged across my lips, I kissed my dozing beloved’s lips and fled. I craved air… a few minutes flight with my wings unfurled.

Does that make me an abuser leaving him unattended? Because I do. Sometimes two. Even three hours. Propped upright into his chair, a spill-proof drink beside him, the TV switched to a favorite channel, the phone he can hear but isn’t able to dial within reach, I dangle the car keys hesitating.

“I’ll be fine,” he encourages. “Go. I’m OK. Go.”

Three hours tops is OK I rationalize. If he fell, though it wouldn’t be jolly lying unable to move that long, it wouldn’t be fatal.

“You are so strong. I don’t know how you do it.” (Perhaps you know how fellow caregivers?)

“Do you think I know either? Think I chose THIS?” Suddenly I am mad, want to yell. I don’t of course. Instead fluster a coy, alligator smile, thinly veil my bite. You see compliments make me feel bad.

He’s so lucky to have you… I flap my hands in feeble denial. You’re an angel… Perhaps as a baby I had angel wings and IF I ever did, they’ve long been shredded…the patience of a saint… Meant so kindly such comments make me squirm.

Breaking point trips evermore frequently. Have I become an unsuitable caregiver. Someone who might …forbid the thought …tantrum ohh no…p-l-e-a-s-e, not again when…spills and crockery shards splash the carpet for the thousandth time, and the harridan escapes my throat before I can swallow. Yes, it’s easy to fall back into being a mothering nag. Therein lies the dilemma.

I am not his mother. Don’t want to be. Never have been. Nor for that matter his sister. Standing behind him, I slide my arms under his. Encircle him. He turns to hug remembering belly touching belly. I nibble the underside of his neck. He blows a raspberry between my breasts.

“In sickness and in health,” we laugh suddenly in love again. “I’m sorry I yelled, my darling. I just can’t function on three hours sleep.”

“It’s hard being a caregiver, isn’t it?” a grey-haired woman in the car park tossed, as guiding her husband’s shuffle towards their car, he dragged on her hand. Wild wisps, lost hope escape the pins holding her hair. Wrinkles rut her cheeks. Her body hollow from giving calls for comfort. When next I saw her months had passed. She walked alone. The playful blouse she wore, flounced skirt, and lipstick pearling her lips proclaimed freedom reclaimed. Would that be me when…?

by the Perfect Servant