Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bit by Bit

The hardest thing in the world is watching someone you care about fall apart, bit by bit. First physically, then emotionally, then mentally, until all the things that they knew, that they used to define them, that they clung for any sense of self, has fallen away.

My mother was a beautiful, brilliant woman. She was quick-witted, physically agile and artistically gifted. When the MS hit her, the first thing that began to fail was her coordination and dexterity. Then it was her physical strength. Then it was her memory and mental acuity. Then her beauty. Not all at once, mind you. A little at a time. Bit by bit. It was difficult to watch.Of course, I didn't really watch. I had, by the time it all came crashing down, estranged myself from her almost completely. What I didn't realize then is that the beatings she began to administer when I was eleven and a half were probably a direct result of the emotional and personality changes that MS brings about. She was finally diagnosed (after nearly nine months of testing) when I was 13. She was starting to hit me across the face by then. I was only able to stop the beatings by doing something I never in this world imagined I could do -- when I was fifteen, I finally hit her back. It changed me forever, and I don't think I was able to forgive her until long after her death in '91.

Now, of course, I'm going through it again, with my father. In my whole life, I don't think I ever remember my father stepping up from a street onto the curb. He hopped up -- hands in pockets, perched on the balls of his feet, rarely set back on his heels. His energy was nervous and kinetic, as if it was too much to be stored inside one body. Difficult, demanding, prevaricating, paranoid -- these were the things that always drove my father. He was like a shark, my dad. Always moving, always swimming, lest the water stop moving over his gills, allowing him to drown in his very own world.

Now, he sits in chairs all day -- lift chairs, wheelchairs, power chairs. He sits and watches television. He can't really read much anymore because his eyes are so bad. He can't teach class anymore because his left hand has become so useless, he can't type. He can't seem to concentrate or stay awake. Life and all its accompanying messiness has him in a constant state of borderline hysteria. He's screaming at his five-year-old granddaughter to -- and I quote -- "shut the fuck up!" Up until here, he usually has my sympathy. But since I've made it my mission that this is the generation that puts an end to the verbal and emotional child abuse cycle, I am forced to step in and come to my neice's complete defense. In essence, another parental smackdown, which goes entirely against my nature.

I have tried for everyone's sake to imagine what the lesson is here. Acceptance? Spiritual conquest? Emotional quickening through adversity? But it all comes back to the same thing for me. Sometimes, life just sucks for no damn good reason. It's not God's will. It's not a test. It's not a punishment. In my mother's case, it was sheer dumb luck. In my father's, it was the end of a long series of unwise choices regarding his health and his overall wellbeing. But in neither case was it a reflection of either one of their characters, nor some unseen, omniscient presence that has nothing better to do with its time besides bother us poor mortals. Shit just happened, that's all.

It continues to happen in our house, a little at a time. Bit by bit. The feet went numb, then the legs at the knees, then into the hips, now.... wheelchair. Everything seems to be winding down, getting ready to hang it up. How long that process will take remains to be seen. I just wish there were something to do to make him feel better, to make him less afraid. He's had a very fortunate, lucky life. I want the last bit of it to be a peaceful time for him. Everything's been in such chaos in our family -- most of it generated by us, and for no damn good reason. My goal is to change that pattern.

My list of things to do.... Fix the broken dog. Fix the broken house. Fix the broken dad.


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