“Your son is weird!” Dad told me the other night at dinner as Isaac put on a physical comedy show for all. “You callin’ me weird?” Isaac asked, seemingly delighted by the accusation. “Yes!” Dad said confidently. “You were a weird kid too.” he said, turning to me. “What? I was??” I asked. “Oh yeah, just…weird.” he responded, not able to offer any specific details. “Well, I always did feel a little off so I guess I really was.” I told him. Mom didn’t want to agree with Dad but I decided to take his side on this one given the fact that I am now a weird adult. Hey, there are worse things I could be.
When we came back from Kaua’i a little over three years ago, it was clear to me that a lot had changed with Dad. He was less engaged and more confused; Mom was just sprinting to finish up chemo. They were both in rough shape and it was difficult for me to take it all in. Jorge and I had already discussed the possibility of making the move back and although I was overwhelmed to do it so quickly, I just couldn’t leave them in good conscience. For me, my conscience is pretty much everything. I was an “oops” child that was never meant to be but was given a pretty great crack at life by Mom and Dad, the least I could do was give something back to them. I felt in my gut that if I left, they would wither away and that would be the end of the story for them and us. I couldn’t let that happen.
Whether or not the choice we made was the right one, I don’t know. For a while I believed that it was the move back that forced the end of our marriage. I now know that this is not true; the dissolution had been in process for years but my dedication and focus on the children had shielded me from that truth. In hindsight, I realize how fortunate I was to be able to fall apart with witnesses to the pain. As much as I wanted to be completely alone, it was Mom’s hand on my back as I sobbed over an empty washing machine that told me it would all be OK. “Surround yourself with those who knew you way back when.” my therapist recommended. Thankfully that was quite easy to do in my childhood home.
Over these years, I have watched Dad steadily decline and enter a new phase of his life as the eldest member of our family. He forgets things from one part of the day to the next, he struggles to pay attention to even the TV, and gets antsy every evening around 6. He hates pizza now and sighs repeatedly on Fridays when it is the meal of choice and he could probably finish a 2 liter of root beer by himself if left to his own devices. He is still gentle and kind, calling everyone he sees “dear”. The other night we sat and had dinner after Mom and I had attended a wake of a 56-year-old family friend. Dad had stayed home and was shocked to hear, again, that Stephen Ettridge had passed. “What???” he said as Mom and I discussed the details. I found myself tearing up as I explained to him what had happened to Stephen over the years and why he had passed so young. “It’s funny” Mom said, her eyes welling up too, “Sometimes I go to these wakes of young people and I feel bad. I feel like people look at me and think ‘Look at this old lady and why does she get to live and he doesn’t? Why does God do that?’” To that all I could say was “I don’t know Mom.” Now the tears were dropping and I struggled to hold them back. “Why does anything happen the way it does?” I asked.
I have often debated whether or not to be candid about my experiences here in our home. The questions that run through my brain are the ones that mostly have to do with my kids and parents. “What if they read this and are hurt? Am I being too honest? Am I oversharing? What will people think of me? Will Mom get mad at this?” The problem with all of those questions is that they all tried to prevent me from being truthful in my very own way. By writing through the pain and triumph, I have been able to creatively capture the essence of what this human life looks like. It is simply a risk benefit gamble I make here and, for the most part, I have seen mostly benefit. By releasing these pieces into the ether in which I have tackled everything from childrearing to aging, I have found liberation and a slight relaxing of all stress and tension in the small muscles of my jaw. As I sit next to Dad and wonder what is happening behind all the smoke in his eyes, my eyes feel wide open and are comfortably absorbing it all with gratitude. I watch my children scurry around to help Nana and Grampy as best they can and I am proud of the selflessness that entails. We are a lovably imperfect crew with the best intentions and efforts amidst difficult circumstances. Tonight, this some kind of wonderful bunch will all dine at Longhorn Steakhouse and toast Isaac as he tries steak for the very first time. “You think Dad will be ok there?” Mom asked me last night. “Of course he will.” I reassured her.