Self-Arrest

I have never climbed a glacier (though I did slide down one on my butt in high school!), but my understanding is that one has to be prepared to conduct a “self-arrest,” whereby one uses an ice axe to stop a potentially fatal slide into oblivion. That’s kind of what happened this Christmas.

As I’ve discussed previously, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. The holiday involves too much waste, too much self-indulgence, and not enough actual spirit-of-Christ giving. It has also been historically fraught in my family. I won’t go into that here, just trust me. I’ve earned the Girl Scout “Ruining Christmas” merit badge too many times to mention.

This year, I did Christmas differently, albeit somewhat unintentionally. On Christmas eve, I departed my family gathering early–for a booty call. It was fucking awesome, in the most literal sense. On Christmas day, I elfed with Santa and my sister-elf at a rehab center filled with ill and lonely people. Yes, “elf” is a verb, meaning, “To assist Santa by handing out gifts, greeting people, singing carols, and feeling palpably grateful that you are not a patient in that terrible place.” That afternoon, I played host to a friend who unexpectedly arrived at my house, pregnant with weariness and no place to stay. We played tourist and visited my parents, then we met up with another friend for Thai food and booze. Over the next few days, I texted with far-away friends, I went to a play, I went for a hike with a second surprise houseguest, and I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself on a public street.

Doing good for others was, as always, a soothing experience, which helps to explain nursing’s appeal for me. And being with people who appreciate me for who I am was soul-saving. After months of feeling like I am sliding into oblivion, slipping the bonds I share with everyone who cares about me and spinning not off a glacier but off the planet altogether, the choice to go my own way–to serve my own interests–this Christmas gave me a sense of purchase I haven’t felt in a great, great while.

I can feel myself starting to slip again already. The booty call was great, but I wish I could meet a guy who wants to take me to the movies. My friends are doing well, but sometimes it feels as though they are leaving me behind. And being with my parents the day after Christmas made me very sad. I worked a jigsaw puzzle with my mom, and it felt more like occupational therapy than a shared project. “I can’t see it. You do it,” she said time again, as she struggled to fit a piece into its place.

But still–it feels good to know…

that self-arrest is possible,

that sometimes I can make the pieces fit,

that there are people who can still make me laugh and, despite my precarious attachment to this world, who can help me to enjoy the view.

self arrest
Maybe when this guy gets safely off the mountain, he can be my boyfriend.

 

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First-Date Friday: Drunky Joe

puka

My third Tinder date was Drunky Joe (I don’t remember his real name). I have no recollection of the texting or what caused me to agree to go out with him. I think he had two kids, but that wasn’t it. He had fuzzy hair and a big nose, and I have fuzzy hair and a big nose. Maybe that was it. By this point, I was thinking, “Don’t judge, you never know.” Plus, J* was out of state and possibly never coming back (though he claimed he was going to move to my city in a few months). My friends put my personal life in receivership and told me I could not hitch my wagon to J*’s star and that I had to keep online dating.

I complied, reluctantly.

I met Drunky Joe at an Irish bar roughly near my parents’ house and in the same neighborhood where I was supposed to meet my entire family for my nephew’s birthday. I figured that would be my “automatic out” if things went badly.

I arrived, and because it was mid-afternoon, the bar was empty save for a pair of regulars and Drunky Joe, who had obviously been there for awhile. Before I even sat down, they all demanded that I tell a joke. I am terrible at telling jokes and can only remember one.

“Why did the baby cross the road?” I asked gamely.

“Why?”

“Because it was stapled to the chicken.”

They all laughed, because they were hammered, and I sat down. Drunky Joe was wearing white shorts, a billowy white shirt, boat shoes with no socks, and a puka shell necklace. I assure you, we were not within 100 miles of the ocean, but good for him for owning that look! He seemed pretty drunk and also like he had spent a lot of time on a barstool. He made a lot of jokes about drugs, and he asked point blank if I smoked weed. (Nope. I have my reasons, and they are entertaining. Perhaps I will tell you sometime!)

Around this time, I was trying really hard to be healthier, so I found Drunky Joe’s obsession with substance use and abuse particularly unattractive. Also, his nose wasn’t just big–I have a big nose too, remember!–but rather, in person, it was clear that it was bulbous and red, which is symptomatic of long-term alcohol abuse. Bummer, and especially sad because he had young kids.

The only other things I remember about the date are that he had really skinny legs, as though he never got any exercise; that he really wanted to go to Burning Man, which was cool and transgressive fifteen years ago, but now seems to be the province of wealthy poseurs; and that he wanted to see me again. Um, sure? I only had three online dates under my belt, so I didn’t know how to handle this suggestion gracefully.

We did the awkward hug and parted ways. I went to the restroom to–because I am totally on top of things and awesome, also–finish wrapping my nephew’s birthday gift. This was made especially difficult by the fact that I was tipsy. I’d only had two drinks, but they were on an empty stomach and, well, I can’t hold my liquor. :/

I lingered in the ladies’ room for an eternity, because I was trying to avoid Drunky Joe, who had gone to the men’s room. I worried he was going to want to extend the date by walking me to the birthday party. I was right. He texted me later that he waited for a long time, then figured I must have slipped out ahead of him. NOPE. Just hidin’!

The funniest thing about this date had nothing to do with me hiding in a bathroom, drunk-wrapping my nephew’s birthday present, or Drunky Joe himself. It has to do with how I got there.

The plan was for me to drop my dog off at my parents’ house so my mom could have granddog time, then I would meet “a friend” for a drink, then I would proceed to the birthday party from there, then back to my parents’ to fetch the dog. But as per usual, I was running late late late. I asked Drunky Joe to push the date back 15 minutes, and he agreed. Then I did my makeup in the car while driving to my parents’ house, like the lipstick lady in “Airplane.” I couldn’t stop sweating. Still late! I realized that if I didn’t have to look for parking–if someone could just drop me off–I would only be perhaps ten minutes late past the extension I had arranged with Drunky Joe. In desperation, I called my dad and asked if he could help me out. He’s a sweet, accommodating man, plus he’s retired and doesn’t have enough to do. He agreed. 

If you’re keeping score here, my dad drove me to a Tinder date and dropped me off out front. This is one of those moments when time slows down and you realize that your life is going really well.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my dad I was meeting a stranger from the Internet, so I said it was a blind date. He said nothing. This is why I love my dad: he is the only person in my family who doesn’t judge me (at least, not to my face).

After the date, and after hiding successfully from Drunky Joe, I called J* on my walk to the birthday party. Five minutes on the phone with him was so much better than anything else I had going back then. Eighteen months later, and it probably still is.

Drunky Joe followed up on Tinder, but I didn’t reply. One of us–I can’t remember who–swiped the other into oblivion. Then, less than a year later, he showed up on Tinder again–meaning, he recreated his profile using a different email address, which gives you a second crack at all the ladies who swiped left.

He was still rocking that puka shell necklace.

Coloring

My father had surgery on Thursday. To help pass the time, I brought my adult coloring books, which my sister, mother, and I set upon with enthusiasm. I am good at coloring–I stay inside the lines, I assemble soothing palettes, and I mix the colors to create depth and interest as best I can.

My father’s surgery was not the most stressful part of the ordeal, even though it involved general anesthesia for a 78-year-old cardiac patient. The stress came from managing my mother, who has dementia. Her diagnosis is “mild cognitive impairment,” but that is a very generous assessment. Someday, when we donate her brain to science, they will tell us what we already know: she has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s involves the buildup of tau (a sticky plaque) in the brain that disrupts normal function. Memory problems are the first to manifest, but eventually these evolve into serious cognitive problems, and finally the brain forgets how to manage involuntary processes like breathing and swallowing. That’s what finally kills you. But the long, slow death is not the evil of this beast. To be brutally honest, Alzheimer’s makes you hate the person you love and then, for hating them, it makes you hate yourself. It is a perfect circle of undoing, where no one is who they are, and love is just out of reach, because you can only have the same conversation

over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over

about your dead friend or your broken heart or whether or not you’re thirsty, before you want to scream.

There are videos online that find Alzheimer’s caregivers rediscovering their loved one’s true selves. I envy them, for those moments and for the relationships they obviously used to have. Unfortunately, my mother has not settled into to some enlightened state of childlike wonder, mirth, or calm. Rather, her default setting is a cocktail of negativity, low self-worth, and paranoia that emerges when she gets frustrated–which is pretty much all the time. I think dementia strips people bare so that you can see what always drove them. In my mother’s case, her house will never be clean enough, she will never be thin enough, no one respects her, everyone is conspiring against her. These pathologies were ever-present throughout my childhood, and they shaped some of the worst parts of me. Now, for my mother, they manifest in an obsessive need to clean, such that she squirrels away important objects–shoes, keys, cell phones, the dog’s water bowl–in a never-ending quest to tidy up, because no one will love you if you have a dirty house. She doesn’t eat, she’s tiny, and her clothes hang on her, yet she is still sensitive about being too fat, because no one will love you if you’re too fat. We have to handle her, meaning we constantly function on parallel levels of reality, pretending to involve her in decisions while making them for her. When she gets wind this is happening, she lashes out–no one respects her, she is a prisoner, she’s not allowed to drive (true, but for very good reason; YOU’RE WELCOME, fellow drivers!), she hasn’t been allowed to buy new clothes for two years (patently false), she’s not allowed to leave the apartment (difficult, but we make every effort to attach her to the world), she’s dizzy but isn’t allowed to see a doctor (she has seen many doctors and is undergoing vestibular therapy), she was forced to move here (it was her idea and over my objections). Her forgetfulness has made her the perfect victim, just as she always wanted to be, where every kindness done to or for her is completely forgotten in a rage against the prison of judgment and self-doubt she locked herself in long ago.

This brings me to the surgery. After fifteen straight hours of worrying, caring, asking questions of doctors, fetching ice, procuring lunch, going over meds, fitting in the occasional work email, navigating the logistics of caring for an old sick man, and providing my mother with clothing, bathroom, food, exercise, entertainment, and the luxury of detachment from any real responsibility for what was happening, it was time to take my dad home. The trip did not go well, with bouts of vomiting and dry heaving coming from him in the passenger seat, and yelling from my mom in the backseat for “leaving” my sister–who was not supposed to be with us, but cognitively, Mom just couldn’t grasp that distinction. Park the car, go get the wheelchair, get him in the wheelchair, move the car 40 feet so the city bus doesn’t hit it, take him upstairs, get him in bed, get the dog, return the wheelchair, move the car again, walk the dog, go back upstairs, figure out meds, get the two of them to bed. I had no patience left, so I didn’t tend carefully enough to the construction of her alternate reality, because I just needed to GET IT DONE. She lost it, in a torrent of invective muttered under her breath. Then, to me, she growled, “Why don’t you show me some respect for once in your goddamn life,” in the low, scary voice she would use when I was little and acting out in a store and she would dig her fingernails into my arm until they broke the skin. Basically, having forgotten everything I did right for the previous fourteen hours, or 43 years, she was calling me a bad daughter. There was no point in responding–she forgot it all minutes later, the outburst, the surgery, everything. And besides, I really just needed a trashcan, because it was 10 PM, the dog had to be walked, and I was still holding a bag of my dad’s puke.

The coloring–I stay inside the lines, I assemble soothing palettes, and I mix the colors to create depth and interest. I am good at it.

coloring