Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Down, and Up, Hoping For a Steady Rise

Saturday, Jan was back on a ventilator in ICU.

Her blood-oxygen levels weren't doing well. She was uninterested in my reading, her eyelids only flickering when I told her I was there. Most of the time I sat with her, I was wiping away tears with one hand while I held her hand with the other. She didn't "fire" me, she didn't snatch her head away in anger. She seemed not to care.

She went to sleep soundly at about 5 pm, so I left, and went to sit and chat with my sister-in-law and sip wine for a while, then returned to my hotel, and after talking with Bernie, took a sleeping pill and settled in to read for a few minutes and try to rest, try not to stress out about going to visit my increasingly combative mother and take her to church.

At 11 pm or so, the phone rang, startling me out of my doze. It was the hospital; Jan had taken a plunging turn for the worse. They were taking her for a CT-scan to see if they could figure out why she was ... dying. "It's very serious," they told me, "but we'll call you if the situation worsens."

I fell asleep and woke again at 4 am. The phone had not rung, so presumably she hadn't died. I fitfully dozed and had panic attacks until 6, then got up and paced and wanted to puke until 8 am, when I called the hospital and asked them how she was.

Better, they said, but not good. I asked if I should try to rally our Alzheimer-impaired mother to visit her, and the nurse said, "Yes." In other words, it's time to say goodbye.

Since my mother had gone on a rampage about the disappearance of her truck, and was currently in the mode of "Hate My Daughter Sand With a Passion," I called her closest neighbor and told her the news. To my surprise, she told me that Tere wasn't even remembering that Jan had been ill, she was totally obsessed with her vehicles, and for everyone's sake and sanity, would I please stay away.

I was a bit stunned, but they are actually closer to Tere than I am, so I agreed. I went to church, and then, at noon, went to see Jan. When I walked into ICU, I approached Jan's room, and saw that her bed -- was empty. My heart froze, my eyes welled up -- would she have been taken to the morgue so soon?

A few steps more, and I was stunned -- Jan was there, sitting up in a chair beside the bed. Sitting up straight, her face serene.

The nurse, who was putting a blanket on Jan's legs, turned to me with a huge grin and said, "Can you believe this????"

She rallied, she did, and she was simply, simply beautiful to me. I couldn't keep my eyes off her. After about 3 hours, she began to nod off to my reading, and they put her back into her bed.

Monday she was stronger, and wanted me to stay later than usual -- how unusual! And today, she was moved out of ICU, and she was talking -- talking! She used (with help) the potty (and she was annoyed that the nurses took so long to understand what she was wanting) and later, she was talking aloud, in her 'normal' patter, about the "Holy Land" and it having been "200 years" as well as telling the nurses who were moving her, "Wait a minute. I have something to tell you. I have my own Home Showcase."

She was congratulated on that accomplishment by all.

God grant the improvement holds through the night.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rain and Tears

Sunrise over the ocean?

No, instead it is a streetlight lit automatically over a parking lot during a dark midafternoon thundershower.

They have those things here; at least this week they do. The weather has been very dry for weeks, but this area (can't bring myself to say "we") has had a spate of thundershowers rolling through the area. The sun comes up, the sun is overshadowed by lumpy clouds, the dark gray shreds blow in, and with a light and sound show, rain buckets down like the scenes in the beginning of "The Matrix" or movie scenes of a storm at sea.

I savor the storms when they arrive; we don't have them in the Central Valley, not very often, anyway -- maybe five or six in a decade. While this storm was going on, I was completely countercultural and opened the drapes of the window-wall of my hotel room all the way, turned the chairs to face out and watched the storm play across the hills.

My mother always told me that I was born during a thunderstorm; I've often wondered if there is some connection between that and my overwhelming sleepiness when I start to hear the peals of noise following lightning. I relax, I'm filled with a sense of well-being, I want to curl up and smile, and drift into dreams.

But not like the dreams I had last night, that were the most horrible and ugly and heart-breaking that I have ever had in my life. The emotions of the dream bled over into my waking, so that my chest hurt with the sadness, and just pondering the images of the nightmare turned me to bitter, hopeless tears. I wept through my morning shower, and though I felt less pain after the tears, I was periodically moist-eyed throughout the day.

No thunder-dreams that one. I know the well-spring of that dream: all the emotions that rage and chase each other through my days here. Fury, frustration, guilt, fear, regret, the fleeting wisps of hope, the deep piteous gratitude for passing words of kindness, the disappointment of the low moments -- God, I feel like a war zone, a black and white movie image of the trenches of World War I. Weren't they always in the rain, too? As if the soldiers dug into their deep, gravelike earthen protections in fear and misery needed downpours to drown their wounded as they lay beside them?

I don't mind the rain on my journey here. I wish it would thunder at night loud enough to penetrate this nearly sound-proof hotel room and send me uplifting dreams. Maybe I'd wake in the morning rested and ready to attack the day, instead of going from sadness to horror to awake to the promise of more misery in the daylight.

The update today: Mom's caseworker and I hammered out a "plan" that will allow my mother to stay in her home until she screws up royally enough to unequivocally be sent to a care facility. And Jan had a stomach-feeding tube installed surgically, so that they can get that damned tube out of her poor nose. She was too groggy for me to visit her longer than necessary to find out she was doing all right, so I didn't stick around and read today.

Mom didn't answer her phone when I called her. Oh well.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day to Day, Remembering

That was my mom and dad, just a couple months after they were married.

Mom has always said that they sat for this photograph because she was feeling sick and faint as they climbed to the top of a lookout tower above the Juniata River, I think just before that river joins the Susquehanna as they make their way to the sea. I used to know the name of it, but I can't recall any more.

Mom was already pregnant with my sister, Jan, when this picture was taken. Dad was handsome, Mom was a hottie. They both still enjoyed dressing snappy for an outing.

I called Mom this evening, rather than go visit her, because I needed a mental health day for myself. Not mentioning that I was in a hotel 12 miles away, I had a nice conversation with her. She knows I visited, but she does not at all realize that it was only yesterday I took her to church. She knows Jan went to the hospital (at least for that moment) but said she was glad she'd heard nothing, as "no news is good news."

Indeed, I had no news for her. Jan is still in the hospital, though out of intensive care, still refusing to eat or drink. Sustained by a tube through her nose to her stomach, Jan is indomitable, fractious, in command, whacking the poor nurses every time they touch her. She is damn mad, and letting us all know it.

I read from Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave today for over five hours, stopping after each chapter for a water break to soothe my throat. Through some of it, Jan dozed, and when she would awake, startled, my voice was going on and on. Jan is -- although I know she's pissed -- listening to me read. I like to think that hearing me read eases the transition from her dreams to waking. In her dreams, I'll bet she can see and walk and jump and and have great adventures; waking to blindness and weakness must be a horrid experience. "I'm a vegetable," she moaned today after one such waking.

She didn't bop any nurses today, but she still won't so much as taste food or drink. Every touch aggravates the shit out of her, and she is as hostile as a wounded porcupine. Jan wouldn't let me hold her hand or stroke her arm today. But she didn't tell me to "Shut up" or "Get out" or fire me ... I can only take that as a good sign.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Season to Mourn

This bird is named a "Boat-Tailed Grackle."

In the truncated language of my local dialect, we (at least those of us who didn't just call them blackbirds -- grouping them with red winged blackbirds, blackbirds, starlings, and cowbirds) called them "bow-tails." I always thought it was because their long fanned tails looked like the ends of a big bow tie. But as I learned the real name, I had no idea what boats had to do with the tails of these birds, nor do I at this present time.

What I do know about them is that when they arrive in the spring, you know that winter is finally broken, and hearing their characteristic 'click' and 'buzz' call in the mornings of March or late February mean that violets and troutlilies will soon be blooming, promising another season of new life.

This one was prowling in my mother's yard in Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago. The grass was still green, though a bit parched at that time.

The green of my mother's yard is brown now. They have had no appreciable rainfall in an area where rain is supposed to happen every three days or so at least. Flying in to Central Pennsylvania on a little commuter plane, I looked down and saw not verdant fields and lawns and forests, but ugly brown expanses. Not good.

For a while the weather services were predicting rain for tomorrow, but they've backed off that again. "Well, maybe, but not likely," is the forecast.

Another season of new life. How I wish that there was some bow-tail to herald such for my mother and my sister! But as my mother's lawn has withered, so has her grasp on reality. It's funny, she can still dress herself and keep herself clean, but she can't remember that she's not allowed to drive anymore, or that Jan is in the hospital recovering from two heart attacks. She knows she can't find the keys to her little truck (I removed them all after her license was suspended) but Sunday morning I caught her trying to use the car keys (from the monster station wagon that is inoperable in her garage) to open the truck and drive herself to church. She knows, at least at some level, that she is no longer allowed to drive, but the "core personality" that Alzheimer's is exposing believes that rules are made for "other people." Mother will do what she will, as she has always done.

I took her to church, but it was nerve wracking. She is having a hard time understanding what I say to her. She can't figure out how to do what she needs to do, but she won't admit that she's having problems. After we went to church, I cleaned her kitchen table and her sink, which were filthy. Watching me wipe down her table with paper towelling, she said, "Here, this is what I use," and tried to hand me a disgustingly dirty, many-times-used wad of paper towel. I tried to tell her it was too dirty to use, but she didn't understand. Finally I just took it from her and threw it in the trash, and then scoured her sink with cleanser, trying not to gag.

Each room in the house is in some sort of disarray, with dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of plastic grocery bags filled with unknown contents in every conceivable corner.

Everyone who knows her is scared of what she will do next, because inevitably, her stubbornness and denial are going to run headlong into some sort of disaster.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sorting Through Feelings

I spent a goodly portion of this day with my mother.

Or rather, with her disease and what little is left of my mother. She repeats the same four conversations over and over, which is understandable, given the traits of Alzheimers. What is hard to take -- as it always was, in sickness or in health with Ma -- is that she cannot shut up. Any silence is for her a mandate to fill the quietude with her own voice.

As I was growing up, she could never understand why I would go to my room and spend hours there, or take off for the woods and spend the whole day puttering about the creek and the honeysuckle thickets. As a visiting adult, I would go to bed early or go sit out on the cool back porch by myself, and she couldn't understand that, either. Now she has given up on understanding anything, and a visit with her is a nonstop barrage of her trying to place blame on someone for Jan's illness, spouting angrily complete fantasies about how good Jan had it at home, how having close friends is not a good idea because they will always betray you, or warped tellings of family history of how everyone wronged her all her life.

Today, sitting at her kitchen table, listening to her rattle on and on, I began to wonder if I had actually neglected my duty to the world by refusing to fight with her when I was young. It took her a full hour and a half to eat a small McDonald's cheeseburger, because she could not shut up long enough to swallow. An hour and a half of the same diatribes, over and over, her mouth half-full of chewed food. I knew that the disease has taken her over, and the simulacrum across from me is not really the person I knew from my birth, but I really wondered if things would be different now if I had stopped hiding from her wrath as a teen and gone head-to-head with her, screaming, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! All you do is yap constantly about yourself! You can't shut up for one damn day, or one damn hour unless you're using silence to punish someone! Stop thinking about yourself and shut up and listen to someone else -- or just shut up and let the world rest in quiet for one damn minute!!!!"

Well, I probably would have ended up in a girls' school in Cresson, PA for the outburst, but I still wonder: if I had "taught" her that her self-centered constant rattle was unacceptable 40 years ago, might she not have learned to be still, and so be less of a nightmare for all and sundry now? 'Cause sure as shit, more people than me are being driven batty by her endless filibuster of fantasied wrongs now.

I don't know. I can't go back and change the past. But for the first time in my life, I can see a good reason for interpersonal conflicts. Maybe it's not a good idea to pussyfoot around and not tell people what their faults can do to others.

Visiting Jan in the hospital today, I read her two articles from National Geographic Magazine. She was alert (though unspeaking) through an article about the "Iceman" archeological find; the article on "Swarm Theory" only held her interest about halfway through. I could understand that -- she was awake almost all night resisting attempts to have an oxygen feed mask on her face. She was tired out.

The aversion to the oxygen feed mask I could also understand. I can't even accustom myself to a snorkeling mask. Drives me into a state of near panic. Maybe it's genetic. Okay, let's blame Mom.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Addendum: Not Sleeping

The Old Girl gets up at 3:30 am, having slept all of what, five hours maybe, puffing with adrenaline and regret and trepidation about what is to come.

She gets on a plane by 8 am, arrives at her destination by 8:30 pm, Eastern Time, dog ass tired and ready to die. Can't sleep. Too many questions. Too much adrenaline. Too many uncertainties.

She dozes off at 12:30, but is awakened by 1:15 by a phone ringing.

Adrenaline, adrenaline, adrenaline!!!!!! Who could be calling with what dire news at this time of night??? I leap from the bed, juggle the phone ... and it's a wrong number.

Adrenaline poisoning ruins the rest of the night.

No sleep.

Hoping and praying that all the adrenaline and weariness don't make me have a heart attack myself.

I hate traveling without Bernie.

Reading, That's All

Snow-On-The-Mountain is what I grew up calling this plant.

Looking through the pictures of our summer trip by road Back East this evening, wondering if any of the ones that are on this computer would "do" for this entry, I saw this and thought about my sister's hair, which I remember best as being simply chocolate colored with highlights of copper.

Now, at 60, her hair is mostly gray, though her brows and eyelashes are still chocolate. It's unflatteringly and unevenly cut, because Jan, in our mother's opinion, did not need, ever, to go to a hairdresser to have her hair cut (and so get used to such a process). And in the past 10 years, for whatever reason, Jan decided that having her hair cut was one pain in the ass she didn't want to cooperate with.

So our mother would wait until Jan was deep in an apneac sleep, sneak up on her and cut chunks off before Jan could completely wake up.

I spent much of my day with Jan today, just talking to her, and reading pointless magazine articles to her. Just making sure that she wasn't alone in the hospital noises. She turned her face toward me at first, and though she didn't speak much, she was peaceful until my soporific reading put her to sleep. (Actually, I used to read aloud to my first roommate in college when she asked me to -- when she had insomnia. I was a cure.)

When Jan slept, I took off to run errands or feed myself. When I would return, I'd resume reading. After a tech article in the newspaper about state of the art mini camcorders that are YouTube-friendly, Jan, her hands folded demurely in her lap and staring straight ahead, muttered, "Didn't understand a word of it."

I didn't either, but rejoiced ... she had been listening.

I was also a bratty little sister and read some tasty recipes from the magazines, as well as told her what I had for my lunch (luscious Laskaris Hotdogs). Jan is still refusing to take anything by mouth -- possibly because it's the one thing she still has CONTROL over (and unfortunately, "control" is what our female lineage seems to be all about), but she was salivating as I was talking food.

She's been pattering with her bare feet on the textured cool plastic of the foot of her bed, and making purposeful gestures with her hands that shape something of what she's thinking. She mutters things, makes up things, and talks more than I ever knew her to in the past 15 years ... and she's fixated on three phrases that are like magic words to make people react: 1) "I'm scared." 2) "I'm going to cry myself to sleep." and 3) "I'm so lonely."

Don't get too sympathetic ... Jan is a lifelong drama queen and will play to her audience. Those statements are left behind like dust kitties if we ask her, "What scares you?" or "Why are you going to cry?" or "But we're here, who are you lonely for?"

And then I see that sideways glance from her eyes (even though she can't see) that looks exactly, exactly like the one our Dad had when he thought he had gotten away with something but wasn't quite sure.

It was a good day, and by the time I was wilting (from having no sleep last night, but that's another story), Jan had about had enough of obscure pointless articles for the evening. "Tomorrow," I told Jan, "I'm going to pick up a People magazine. That's got to be more interesting than this stuff."

Thank God, I can say "tomorrow."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Unwelcome Tomorrow

Too many sad entries in this blog, but it's a sad time of life.

My sister had to be put back on a ventilator in ICU after a second heart attack. Both of them have been mild, but they are real, and Jan is weakening. Today when I talked to the hospital staff, she was once again breathing on her own, and a "little more cooperative" ... hope again, with more hopes that our hopes won't be dashed.

I had the nurse in ICU ask Jan if she wanted her sister to come sit with her. The nurse told me that at the mention of my name, Jan's eyes widened noticeably. That's enough of a yes for me; I'm headed back to keep her company tomorrow before the sun is up.

My bag is packed, but unlike the "Jet Plane" song, I'm not ready to go. Being parted from my immediate family, especially Bernie, feels like my heart is being torn to pieces.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Hard Road Beneath Sparkling Water

In the heat of the late morning, we crossed Utah on I-80, and on this straight stretch across the salt flats, watched the shimmering pool of a mirage on the roadway ahead of us, a false promise of coolness and quenched thirst.

How real it looks! There are reflections of land and sky. With a little imagination, you could visualize children flocking to splash in the puddles, or fishermen floating on boats, casting their lines.

Moving my sister to safety in the group home turned out to be a mirage. We all saw the possibilities, the companionship, the fresh air, the exercise, the nurturing -- we saw them as if we could have held them in our hands and passed them around for everyone to look at and rejoice.

My sister's road was quite different. Though she had been moving towards acceptance of her new home, the discovery of the lump in her breast and subsequent visit to the doctor proved too much. Jan stopped eating or drinking completely, refusing to cooperate, and had to be taken to the hospital for rehydration. People think "developmentally disabled" means "stupid," which Jan is definitely NOT. She knows that a lump in the breast means "breast cancer" and she knows that a surgeon means "operation." She's had the input of television as her entertainment for the past 30 years. I suspect that she dealt with the terror in the only way she knew -- to withdraw: maybe the Terror will pass me by.

In the hospital, re-hydrated, she seemed to rally again, even eating some breakfast. But by midnight, she'd retreated into her shadow world even more deeply (more safely) and could not be roused. They took her to the Intensive Care Unit and put her on a ventilator because her breathing was so shallow.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. She was supposed to get used to the new place, and be taken out to hear new and wonderful things, go to the store with people, the fair, concerts and places where she could exercise a little. Get three square meals a day and put some flesh back on her starved frame. In our mirage, I'd get to shop for things for her for Christmas, silly, useless, nice things that our mother would not have tolerated. Pretty clothes. Soft, soft flannel sheets and a girly comforter to keep her warm. I'd visit her as often as I could afford to go back east, without our mother diving in to keep us apart, able to hug her and hold her and shower kisses on her.

Yesterday I cried for our mirage almost all day.

This morning, her doctor called me from the hospital, and told me she was perkier today, and that they thought she could be taken off the ventilator. "She's probably had a small heart attack," the doctor said, "but she seems to be improving." I made sure the doctor knew that Jan hadn't had any physical exercise at all for nearly two years -- except for moving from her chair to the kitchen table (about 10 steps) or to the bathroom (about the same). Her system is unprepared for Life.

I don't know if she'll survive this. I pray that she will, and that our mirage will someday be a reality.

About two hours after the doctor called me, Jan's caseworker sent me an email. Jan was off the ventilator, and having had the tube removed from her throat, was once again vocal and let the entire ICU nursing staff know that she had fired them for incompetence.

Everyone who knows Jan gave a hearty cheer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some Creatures Have It Harder Than Others

At a rest stop in Wyoming, we pulled into a parking space to find the stop inundated with prairie dogs and rabbits.

"No Dogs Allowed" said a big sign in the front of the filthy restrooms. The whole place was decaying, and the vermin had taken over.

There was no doubt that the hapless travelers who used the rest area had been moved to feed the pests, for the beasts immediately approached the car. I did not get out, as vermin creep me out, but I did take pictures.

This foolish animal is trying to look as cute as a meerkat and failing miserably. Prairie dogs are destructive as hell, and like ground squirrels and gophers, can tunnel under a trail and ruin your horse's leg. (Just a couple weeks ago, I was riding my horse and the ground gave way beneath his hoof. Fortunately, we weren't moving fast.)

As we left the area, some prairie dogs came running at the car. I waved my arms to scare them away, but even more perked up and ran toward the slowly moving vehicle. I shouted at them, but they didn't care.

Then I thought of pouring some of my bottled water on them to spook them away from the wheels. At the first splash, the critters bolted -- straight for the water. They clustered, lapping desperately at the little puddle. And that moved me with pity. They live in such an arid climate that any opportunity for water supercedes everything else. You could bait a trap with water and catch a million prairie dogs.

I poured the rest of the bottle out on the ground for their buddies.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Out of Control

That's what you call a jungle, isn't it?

Except that a few short years ago, it was mowed clean, with rows of nursery stock that never sold after my parents retired from the nursery business, the stock allowed to grow tall but always tidy. There wasn't a lot left, especially after townsfolk came to hear that Quay's Nursery was letting people come dig up what they wanted, for free. (In point of fact, I got a number of arborvitae for my house at that time. And a couple dogwood trees.)

But even though they went out of the diggin' business, my parents kept "The Meadow" mowed and neat and inviting, a lovely place for a walk down the hill to the creek. From where I took this picture, you could see all the long way to the end of the property easily. In 1999, I tested a pair of Mountain Horse snow boots by walking down to the meadow and standing on the snow in the shade of a holly tree to see if my feet would get cold. It was all open and lovely then. (No, my feet didn't get cold, not at all -- too bad I didn't have boots like that when I was a kid.)

The last time I was there, Mom and I walked all the way around the meadow and I listened to her talk about all the things she was doing to keep it neat. She had someone mowing with the big tractor for her, but she was still planting hand-raised Japanese maples for donations at her church's "yard sales." I can't remember what year that was, but she just about drove me nuts with her non-stop verbal battering (she would have called it "filling in the gaps in the conversation" because she always thought I was too quiet) and I didn't go back to visit in the flesh until a couple weeks ago.

Now sumac and locust trees have grown up there, and mimosas and silver maples, and poison ivy and nettles and raspberry brambles. Trash plants.

In a strange parallel, the meadow has become as clogged with weed trees and vines as her brain has become stifled and clogged with the Alzheimer's disease.

Today, though I am truly glad to be home, I woke startled to find myself in my own bed. And was immediately depressed. Is it because I know I'm going to have to go back there to find a place for her to live out the rest of her days? Or is it just a reaction to the lack of adrenaline in my system -- I'm not "full on" like I have been for the past month?

I sorted through the various papers and receipts I brought back, put them in folders and filed them away for future reference, and teetered on the brink of tears.

What can I say to my mother, who glimpses reality through a kaleidoscope of shifting images now? The disease has taken over and scrambled her time. It crumbles her knowledge of what is happening minute to minute while it surrounds her brain with cement, burying her, deeper and deeper. All the things that I saw on our road trip, the dust storms, the wild animals ... I find myself wanting to tell my mother about them, like I always did. But she's not there. The only thing present is the disease, which has assumed her form and mocked it with making her forget to eat enough, and which short circuits her words to loop around and around, moving her lips but blocking her ears so she doesn't understand what she hears.

When I was nine, she and Dad cleared the overgrown property they bought and called "The Meadow." They cut down the locust trees, eradicated the poison ivy and the honeysuckle tangles, and built terraced beds down the hill for azaleas, yews, rhododendron, and birch. It was a triumph for them, carving out order from the mess.

This time she has no way out of the jungle.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Day Three: Home, with Plenty of Baggage

Over a thousand miles left their stink on our tires today, in spite of us not waking as early as we wanted.

We gained an hour changing time zones; we tried to keep gas stops and food stops and Howie stops as short as we could. Strangely, we only hit two construction zones that slowed us only down to 65 mph, unlike the aggravating mess of endless road works that lost us a full day on the way East. Huh. Maybe they were trying to tell us something, like "Don't go back East, it's the pits."

We hit the road at 6:30 in Rawlins, Wyoming, and we were home by 8:45 pm. Ooog. Long day, good time.

The travel revelation for the day was that Nevada looks much more interesting and varied and charming after you've spent most of a day driving across Nebraska. In Nevada we saw rain showers and a dust storm, a rich river valley and mountains that could just about be from the moon. In Nebraska, we saw fields of corn and tiny towns and more corn and tiny towns.

Nevada is a welcome sight when California is just the other side of it.

Sadly, Nevada was when I got the call from my sister's house manager. On Wednesday night, when Jan was given her shower, the caregiver noticed that Jan had a lump on one of her breasts. They took her to the doctor the very next day, and subsequently made appointments for Jan for a diagnostic mammogram and a surgeon. Shit. Jan doesn't deserve this.

And then I thought, but if Jan hadn't gone to the group home to live, the lump would never have come to light at all. My poor sister.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Night Two of the Return: Rawlins, Wyoming

I'm so tired my body can't understand that it's exhausted.

We covered 950 miles today, from Davenport, Iowa to Rawlins, Wyoming. Bernie dozed for a while today while I drove out a tankful of gas on the long, long, long, mobius strip of Nebraska. He likes to drive; driving makes me irritable and nervous. Riding as a passenger makes him faintly motion-sick; the only problem I have with being a passenger is the amount of shit I muster around my feet (maps, tourbooks, purse, camera, bottles of water, notebook, etc.)

We're hoping to be home again tomorrow night sometime. I'll drive in Nevada, at least. 80 mph and no challenges, I can do that. Bernie can sleep and then take us through the winding mountain lanes over the Sierras.

Howie continues to be perfect, though I can see that he's a bit tired of the stress of traveling, too. He has a hard time focusing on taking a pee and poop if both his "parents" aren't in sight. He's going to be a case once we're home and one of us has to leave -- or both -- and he's not loaded into the car.

Not wishing to insult Nebraska at all ... the rest stops were lovely, the regularity of I-80's services adequate (except for toilet seat covers, which Nebraskan authorities really ought to consider), and the people were nice ...

God help us, Nebraska looks the same from Omaha to Kearney. That's a lot of hours where everything looks like what you saw five minutes before. Hours. Something like eight or nine hours where everything looks the same as it did five minutes before. Even the road kills of possum, raccoon, and deer are indistinguishable. I had to turn on the radio in order to keep myself in crabby adrenaline for driving. Otherwise, I would have fallen asleep from sheer lack of sensory input. Nice state -- but where do they have a Macy's??

Put that also on the list for Nebraskan legislators. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Getting Ahead of Myself

So much happened in the past week that I can barely remember the order of events.

Fine, I'll work backwards and sideways and try to say what has happened.

The capstone that allowed me to sleep last night (see previous entry) was that on Tuesday, when I visited my sister, she had more or less accepted her new venue in the (beautiful, airy, comfortable, cool, filled-with-compassionate-caregivers) group home. She'd gone with the other two girls for a drive and an ice cream run, had two good meals, and walked through the house to sit at the table -- finally trusting staff to guide her and balance her as she traversed the three rooms. Jan is blind, and moving from the prison of her chair in my mother's house to a new domicile has been a study in vertigo and sensory overload for Jan. She's going to be fine there. She even got to pet Howie briefly before she wanted to take a nap.

When Jan arrived at the group home, she was traumatized by the spacial strangeness, and all the unknown voices around her; the transition from the disgustingly stuffy 87 degrees of our mother's house to the air-conditioned breezy venue of the group home. Jan did what she could to object: she refused to eat, drink, or move, and told each caregiver in turn that he or she was fired, as of NOW.

Over the course of the days, I talked to her when I visited, and was moved to tears when I mentioned that Jan had helped teach me to read ... and Jan whispered, "When I was ten." That was when she read to me, when I was three and four and she was ten and eleven. I put my hand on hers, and unexpectedly, she put her other hand on mine and held it.

My God, we haven't had that much closeness since my mother decided Jan shouldn't bother me when I was like ... nine.

Jan's hunger strike continued for the first couple days, and the staff called me and asked me to stop by again and see if I couldn't get her to eat or drink something. I did, of course, and to my surprise, Jan reached for me, put her arms around me, and put her head on my chest, holding me tight.

Again, my God, if she could remember me and trust me after all those years of being kept apart, what all else is stewing there, asking and unanswered in my sister's head?

I rejected the nasty cup the caregivers had been trying to offer Jan to sip from; it was a dumb baby's cup. I asked them for something that didn't have a screw-on top, and after they brought a smooth-lipped cup, I convinced Jan to have two sips. Then I asked for them to put some sugar in the water. Not a lot, just a little. Sugar is a stimulant, and can help with shock. A couple sips at a time, and Jan drank the whole thing. It was a start.

She's gone leaps and bounds ahead now, and is talking up a storm. She has explained to the staff that she has worked for both the FBI and the German Embassy.

As I left yesterday, the House Manager said to me, "Maybe you'll get your sister back now." Please God, maybe I will.

On the Road Again

Davenport, Iowa, after a 14-hour stint.

There are few sensations more satisfying than heading back to California (if you love it, as I do) from Pennsylvania (which is a wellspring of great frustration to me). The mountains and river valleys that I loved and didn't want to leave 20 years ago now seem incredibly claustrophobic (not to mention disgustingly jungly) and as we drove West, and as the hills receded, the sky grew larger to view and it was easier to breathe.

We figuratively pissed on I-80 in its Eastern incarnation and set out from Lewistown, Pennsylvania, seeking the lower interstate 70. Wow. Wide open roads, hardly any other traffic, and good road conditions. We had to add a few miles after Indianapolis to use I-74 to head north to the Mid-Western branch of I-80, but all in all, we made better time with better tempers than we did when we traversed the Eastern leg of 80 a week and a day ago.

Last night I slept deeply for the first time since we made the decision to travel back East. I didn't have nightmares, and woke up to birdsong at 4:30 am. "That's God's Bird," I told Bernie as I sat up. "Telling us it's time to go."

"Can't argue with God's Bird," he said, and we packed up and lit out as fast as we could without getting arrested.