Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Giving Care

I guess you could call it reconnecting. After spending time with your father and brother mostly in tidy, digestible six-hour nuggets for the past two or three decades, you’re again living with them.

Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week.

You’ve forgotten how utterly slovenly your brother is. Where the phylum housekeeping is concerned, your brother is a genus unto himself, with no known connection to the remainder of mankind.

You wonder why there are two rolls of toilet paper on his bathroom floor, but a bare cardboard cylinder in the wall-mounted dispenser. You wonder what the black stuff creeping up the sliding glass shower doors is.

And you wonder what he thinks a towel rack is for after you spy a mound of towels (interspersed with dirty laundry) heaped on the bathroom counter. The ring of facial hair that circles the sink is revolting.

Your regard for humanity prohibits you from detailing the condition of the toilet.

You peer into his bedroom.

After successfully locating a government-issue Haz-Mat suit, you venture inside. You find yourself subconsciously developing a business plan for a second-hand clothing store after taking in the closets-full of clothing strewn about.

You believe this room is carpeted, but are unable to find a patch of floor not covered by the ephemera that has fallen, leaf-like, from the tree of your brother’s life.

While you have the back-up discs for your computer’s operating system carefully stored in paper sleeves in a small file box, your brother has seen fit to let them lie where they fell or were dropped. They lie alongside the CD-Rs of music you laborously compiled and labeled for his listening enjoyment, and innumerable discs of once-important data.

Some are even unscratched.

There is enough change on the floor to buy a new car. You want to pick it up and pocket it, but the Haz-Mat suit prohibits this.

And the laundry hamper your sister bought and labeled with a sign reading DIRTY CLOTHES GO HERE stands empty, as forlorn as a clearance-priced Christmas ornament that has lingered on store shelves into late-January.

Yet he won’t touch the sponge in the kitchen sink, and instead grabs three or four dozen paper towels to gingerly, almost delicately, wipe the remains of a lasagna dinner from his dinner plate because he knows, with unshakeable certainty, that the sponge is laden with deadly bacteria and fatal viruses.

Upon getting up in the morning, you can trace the path of his nocturnal eating forays by the trail of cellophane, half-empty cookie boxes, glasses and empty soda containers scattered throughout the house.

Albert Einstein would reportedly become so involved in his calculations he would forget to eat. You aren’t that lucky.

You find tolerance more-easily for your father, he having recently survived a year-long bout with C-diff, the installation of a pacemaker, unsuccessful knee-replacement surgery and the mild dementia that is the byproduct of his advancing years.

Yet you are forcibly returned to adolescence when you take him to the doctor, and discover anew his ability to discern upcoming potholes, road debris and to measure the distance between you and the car ahead of you.

Without access to the speedometer, he can assess your speed and the threat it poses to Western Civilization. Even more remarkably, he can calculate the g-forces you generate as you corner and brake.

After several trips, you are tempted to suggest that he seek employment with a car magazine, as his ability to perform these calculations internally would surely save them a great deal of money on testing equipment.

Then there is the issue of food. It is a big one.

Your father, being the product of a certain generation, is essentially helpless in the kitchen. Conversely, he lives to eat. This creates a sizeable quandary when, for the first time in your parent’s marriage, your mother is hospitalized.

But between hospital visits, setting-up in-home after care, shopping, chauffeuring, cleaning and fielding a myriad of phone calls, all while trying to perform a job search and maintain a suddenly long-distance relationship, you are only marginally inclined to cook.

By dinner time, a bottle of beer and a frozen entrĂ©e are pretty much all you’re able to muster. You wonder how your mom did it.

While your vision of hell frequently involves either employment or the lack of it, your father’s is nine straight days of prepared food.

His stoicism soon turns to grousing and finally, a form of pleading, which wears the unmistakable scent of desperation. You relent and dine out. You make a mental note to at least sprinkle some basil and tomato on the next frozen pizza.

You smile at the irony of having told your father, in the gentlest manner possible, that money doesn't grow on trees.

But you eventually realize it’s not all fear of sponges and back seat driving.

Evening frequently finds the three of you together in the quiet repose of a good book, or held captive in the flickering light of an absorbing movie. It is an experience not frequently known, and one that silently joins the three of you.

Certain personality traits have resisted time, like the cap rock atop mesas and buttes. They endure, like stubborn sentrys.

You make your peace with them, because they are you, and you are them.

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