Monday, December 7, 2009

A Day to Remember [September 30, 2007]]

Spurred by the realization that, while the world may continue to refuse me a job, it can’t take the pen from my withered old hand, I have been working hard on fiction the past few months. But my brave resolution has been left for dead by my inability to find an agent to represent TWUSA, better than which I’m not so sure I can write.

Maybe the problem is that TWUSA is about the poverty of Indian reservations in South Dakota, where I’ve never been. If it’s true that one should write about what he knows, maybe I should set aside the epic baseball novel I began working on so feverishly virtually the moment TWUSA was done, and instead begin work on Self-Loathing: An Owner’s Manual, whose preface will include a consideration of the idea of suicide prevention hotlines. It’s my understanding that such facilities are dedicated to trying to talk callers off the precipice, to get them to take their heads out of the oven, to drop that razorblade. I, who often feel that my early exit would be an act of altruism, can’t help but wonder if the departure of a fair percentage of callers wouldn’t make the world a better place.

Every time I think I’ve at last completed my inventory of shameful behavior toward her, I remember 45 other instances of my own monstrousness. On Mothers Day 1999, oozing resentment, I brought my mother to my house in Santa Rosa, California, which I’d been able to co-buy substantially because of her generously “lending” me $40,000. I had rented Dancing at Lughnasa, the Meryl Streep vehicle, hoping she might enjoy it. She fell asleep within the first 10 minutes, but woke up long enough some time later to rhapsodize, “This is really a day to remember.” I, hearing only disingenuousness, rather than her customary enormous appreciation of even the smallest kindess, sneered disdainfully.

Eight to 10 years ago, I used to have an early dinner nearly every Friday afternoon of the school year with Mom and my daughter Brigitte, the latter newly retrieved, with the utmost reluctance — indeed, with unrepentant resentment — from her middle school. I knew Mom looked forward to it all week, but made no secret of my own resentment. In so doing, I essentially taught Brigitte to disdain her grandmother. Behold yet another crime for which I can never be absolved.

And now Mom is dying, very slowly, and not, it seems, without considerable pain. While her neighbors in the Reminiscence (that is, dementia-afflicted) wing of Sunrise played bingo yesterday when Claire and I visited, she lay grimacing alone in a nearby room apparently set aside for those no longer capable even of sitting upright. I noticed that she’d lost a bottom tooth, and that the teeth she retained had gone a horrible brown. She rattled metallically when she breathed. The morphine patch beneath her ear didn’t seem to be providing much relief, and I wished for a long moment for the courage to hold a pillow over her once-beautiful face, now ugly with impending death. For what was she suffering? For whom?

Then there was a fire drill, and I wanted to kill someone else — whoever was responsible for the alarm siren wailing and the lights in the snooze room flashing on and off for what seemed like 15 minutes. If I hadn’t been there to reassure her, and if enough of her brain is intact for her to feel fear, wouldn’t Mom, to whom nothing in the world wasn’t intimidating, have been terrified? On and on and on it went, on and on and on.

My sister has told me that the staff off the assisted living facility recently found her bruised beside her bed, apparently having fallen during the night. But when I tried to lift her into a more comfortable, more secure, position, she quite clearly, quite emphatically, said, “No!” It was the first word she’d spoken to me since 2001.

As I write this, my daughter, who hasn’t spoken even that much to me — or to anyone she knows me to love (not Nancy, a devoted, attentive, and generous de facto stepmom to her for 11 years, not to my sister, not to Claire, who was characteristically wonderful to her during the five difficult months the three of us lived together) — in five and a half years, is oblivious to her grandmother dying. I’m sure she tacitly assumes, in that way of people her age, that Audrey Mendelsohn will magically reappear one day, and that she’ll have a chance to make everything OK. I would bet against her anticipating a time when she’ll be stroking my head, as I stroke my mother’s, and vainly pleading through sobs, as I plead for Mom’s, for forgiveness.

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