As evidenced by yesterday’s meandery post, I’ve been trying over the last few days to face my sense of directionlessness, thinking through it as something other than a crisis, or a cause for alarm, but nonetheless trying to get at its roots and figure out how wandering might resolve, at some future moment, into organized movement.
This has not been an ideal moment for such introspection; the weekend just past was my last weekend in DC, and so R. and I had a bit of an overflow of festivitizing, or at least a bit more than allows for unclouded thinking on the following day. But I’m pretty sure that some portion of my fogginess is a hangover from the BR trip, as well. There’s nothing like dealing close-up with a parent’s pain to cast the shadow of mortality over everything.
Oddly, the story I’m spending this summer gearing myself up to tell, in whatever form I wind up telling it, is in part about the death of a parent, and yet it seems that the intimations of the someday-way-into-the-future death of my own actual parent have so overwhelmed the fictional urge as to make it impossible to concentrate.
Some clarification is perhaps in order here: my mother’s surgery was elective, but left her in completely incapacitating pain, pain into which, for the first day, serious meds knocked only the smallest of dents. The meds left her extremely disoriented, though, and thus further incapacitated. And despite the fact — the fact, I keep reminding myself — that she was never in any mortal danger, never even close to needing further medical attention, somehow the combination of her pain and her delirium seriously Freaked Me Out. It was like seeing the leading edge of that tidal wave that you know is coming — given the general histories of women in my family, it likely won’t hit for at least a couple of decades yet, but it’s coming nonetheless, like it or not.
And it’s impossible not to begin asking, when that wave hits, where will I be, and where will I be left? My father is still alive, but we’re hardly in touch — I’ve taken to joking of late that he’s off in the desert, stockpiling canned goods and waiting for the end times. (A joke, I now see, that originated in the post to which I link. Well, at least if I’m being derivative, it’s myself I’m deriving from.) More seriously, for at least the last fifteen years, whenever I’ve referred to “my parents,” I’ve meant to signal my mother and stepfather; my father does not figure in. (Indeed, one of the last times I saw him, I freudian-slippingly said something about how I resembled “my side of the family” rather than his.)
So there’s that. And then there’s my stepfather: though he and I get along quite well now, there have been some exceedingly difficult moments between us, things that keep us from ever really being close. The sheer fact of the matter is that, given his own family history, he’s likely to die long before my mother. But even putting that aside, the end result of all the interpersonal subtraction is clear: my mother is, for all intents and purposes, my only parent, and when she’s gone, what’s left?
Despite the enormous jumbled mess of folks that I casually refer to as my family (mostly steps of various sorts), my actual family does not stretch far beyond her. There’s my sister, of course, but she and I do a lousy job of keeping in touch — we’re always happy to see or talk to one another when we do, but we don’t do so very often, and so aren’t in some basic sense on one another’s radar screens. And there’s R., my perfect love, but given the difference in our ages, it’s almost certain that someday he’ll be gone, too.
As he’d no doubt point out, my greatest terror, the one that most clouds my judgment and interferes with my rational decision-making processes, is that of being left. And I’m beginning to suspect, as I write this, that what I’ve spent the weekend drinking away, what is preventing me from thinking and working today in the way that I’d hoped to, is last week’s snapshot of the future, an inevitable future in which everyone I love is gone and I am, in some terminal sense, on my own.
Part of me has spent my entire life preparing for (indeed, making way for) this future: I moved out of my parents’ house at 16; I’ve moved across the country, away from R., three times in fifteen years; I keep friends and colleagues at a distance — all of this as if to ensure that the alone that I find myself in is an alone of my creation.
And here enter the maudlin strains of Simon and Garfunkel. Sigh. It’s just flat hard to take oneself this seriously.
So the basic gist: mom’s pain, visions of mortality, fear of abandonment, I am a rock, I am an island. The question becomes what to do with all that. To quote John Barth (though on a very different kind of anxiety), “one way to handle such a feeling might be to write a novel about it.” Another might be to write a whiny blog post, to get it out of your system, and to move the hell on.