It’s once again time to pour yourself a half-empty glass of fine whine and come join us in the weekly complaint department.
WYFP? (What’s Your F#%king Problem?) is our community’s Saturday evening gathering to talk about our problems, empathize with one another, and share advice, pootie pictures, favorite adult beverages, and anything else we think might help. Everyone, and all sorts of troubles, are welcome. May we find peace and healing here. And won’t you please share the joy of WYFP by recommending?
What I can and cannot write about
There are many things I cannot write about. I cannot write about the myriad of details; the financial the legal the papers the phone calls the bureaucracies the email messages the signatures scanned. I cannot write about how last-minute it all seemed, or the emotional roller coaster ride we were on. These things stir up levels of stress that are just barely beginning to settle down. I cannot write about the inadequate finances to deal with anything properly, or the nearly 2,000 miles of distance that made all preparations two thousand times more difficult. The lack of time, the urgency, the overwhelming-ness of it all hung over the better part of early spring like the leaden fog that it was.
I cannot write about how extraordinarily unprepared we were for this; our crash course in dementia.
I can’t write about my mom slipping away so quickly. We thought it was years of sleep apnea, the lack of decent sleep taking its toll, combined with the usual forgetfulness of old age. Then she forgot my birthday, my nephew’s face, what state my brother lives in. A few months back we began receiving word from social workers about her falling, then getting lost inside her building, and then wandering outside and going for over a mile with her walker. We would call her shortly after the fact and she would deny whatever-it-was ever happened. I can’t write about the two dozen or so other incidents that now seemed to come one after the other. This from a once bright, curious, intelligent, intellectually-aware woman, now fading away.
We had to go out west to move her, against her will, into a proper facility. We had to betray her to help her. I can’t write about how extraordinarily hard this was. I can’t write about the complexities of our mother-daughter relationship, while basically a good one, still has its share of stuff, much of which has come to the fore in the last ten years.
I cannot write about any of this.
I can write about how I don’t fly anymore due to PTSD from having been in a precipitous location during a certain west-coast earthquake back in 1989. Another long story, but the fear of flying came about a few years after the fact during some treacherous side-to-side turbulence on a flight in the early-mid 1990s. I still flew for awhile after that, but it became more difficult over time. I tried Calms Forte, Rescue Remedy, any natural stress- or fear-reliever. Then in 1998 a sympathetic doctor prescribed Xanax for me, just ten pills at a time, which was enough to get me there and back for wherever I was going. That worked fine for two years until we hit a violent summer storm over the Midwest one June, and the medication proved absolutely useless to combat the raw terror. I haven’t flown since.
Therefore, I took the train.
Now, I loves me some Amtrak, I really do. But in the spirit of WYFP, let’s have some bullet points for the lowlights of the trip there, written purely in chronological order. The trip out was via Washington D.C. and Chicago.
• For a major train station, the insufficiently few seats in the waiting areas of Union Station in D.C. sure are uncomfortable.
• They crammed all the D.C. to Chicago passengers onto one car, while the other coach cars were half empty.
• The air-conditioning was not working all that well.
• I got seated on the sunny side of the train, and not in a good way. The curtain would not close. Squint-o-rama. Heat up. Burn.
• A few seats ahead was an exceptionally cute family, but they had a video player for the two youngsters that was playing the same episode of Dora the Explorer over and over and over until about 11:00 pm, and which started up again around 6:00 the next morning.
• The observation car was the very loud and crowded party car on this particular trip, so spending time in there was out.
• Why is there very little snoring on the train overnight? Because hardly anyone is able to really sleep. That’s why.
• There is a six-hour layover in Chicago, plenty of time for stashing luggage in an overpriced locker, and going out to play for awhile. Except it was cold and raining that day. And I had packed for much warmer weather.
On the next train I had both seats all to myself after the first three hours. Yay. And the car was quiet. More yay. Thought I could actually sleep as I contorted myself into varying pretzels and boomerangs and ampersands and musical notes, while discovering all kinds of new muscles that could become really, really sore, and stay that way for days.
I couldn’t eat squat in the snack bar besides chips and candy, because otherwise it’s all wheat, which is painfully inedible to me. My own food and water totes weigh a ton. My actual suitcases are small, both of them. I am also carrying a closed bottle of cola in case I wake up in the middle of the night when the snack car is closed, with any of a variety of headaches I tend to have. My pillow is too small. Metal things find their way around the edges.
I slept on and off that second night. I would wake up, and it would still be dark, with me eventually giving up somewhere out there, wondering about all the flashing lights on the ground in the middle of fields and farmland. Dawn sneaked in over the eastern horizon. Time to change clothes and wash up in one of the tiny restrooms downstairs while being bounced off of opposing walls.
Pulling into my destination later that day, after way too many hours of travel, to the left I see a certain silhouette of mountains, looking to me as normal as any familiar face. It’s been over four and a half years since I last looked back at them.
Upon arrival, I took a local bus to the airport and soon met my brother and cousin. They flew in later that day. It was all three of us for 2.5 days, and me alone for an extra two days.
The whole time I was there I had to keep my blinders on. No visiting museums or galleries, no exploring the huge thrift stores that seemed to be everywhere, no taking the time to sit down and eat really good local food, no picture taking, no sunset gazing. I/we had a job to do, and not enough time to do it all in.
The motel was cheap, but clean. The inner window faced onto the indoor pool and the noise echoed throughout our room. The pillows were small, flat, square and extra lumpy.
I can’t write about all the various meetings in all the various places, or how it was to visit mom twice a day, or how we managed to clean out her old apartment of almost everything in less than two days, or how we explained to her why we were bringing some of her things to this new strange place she didn't want to be in.
I can write about the serious sleep deprivation I experienced, the pair of piercing headaches that took control for awhile, the pain in my muscles from being on a train for so long, the wrenching of my neck during the last night on those lousy excuses for pillows. I learned what those horrible tasting energy shots were good for. I learned I could drive a car just fine after not driving at all since the last time I visited Mom. I learned that staying up half the night is nowhere as much fun as it used to be.
More trains going back east means more bullet points of lowlights:
• On my return I was carrying the literal weight of a few hundred family photographs. Now I had three heavy little suitcases to manage for nearly three days of travel. Plus one not-quite-as-heavy large tote bag.
• My level of emotional and physical exhaustion was so high, I probably got the best sleep I ever had on a train overnight while crossing the prairie. Even then, it wasn’t so good... pretty lousy in fact. But I was expecting that.
• Pulling out of Chicago, and hanging out in the observation car, I noticed for the first time these old steel mills on the east side of the tracks, in all kinds of peeling shades of red and turquoise. To this painter’s eye, they were beyooootiful. By the time I crossed the observation car to another seat, got out my camera and settled in to shoot, twenty miles of freight trains going in the opposite direction began, one after the other, sometimes two or three thick. I got one, maybe two usable photos, when I should have had at least fifty.
• The car I was assigned to, which fortunately was one car back from the observation car, I soon dubbed; The Hot Flash Express. Usually the cars are kept somewhere between cool and freezing. This one was rather toasty.
• Just try sleeping on The Hot Flash Express, when you are having actual hot flashes. So, I tried the air-conditioned observation car, it being right there. The seats are even tinier, but I somehow contorted my middle-aged self into something resembling a sleeping position, with my feet going every which way.
• Early afternoon the next day, we landed in D.C. All the big brawny young men got off the train first, and were no help at all. In going down the tight three-point hairpin stairwell carrying all four pieces of mostly heavy luggage, I slammed my knee into the first wall, and had to sit myself back down immediately, as it was just too painful to even stand. Five minutes later, a young teenage girl helped me down the stairs, and a cart took me just inside the station. I asked for first aid at Travelers Aid, but they were no help. I had to slowly limp it off, taking a tour of all the fancy eateries and boutiques that wouldn’t see a single dime of mine. I had three hours to kill before my last train back to another temporary home. And now I’m back. And not going to Rhode Island this June, like I had hoped. Insert unhappy face here.
From the shadows of one disenchanted April
Less than a week after my return, the social workers let us know our mom needed to be moved again. She had been trying to escape, I think even making it out the door once. More paperwork, more phone calls, more stress and nearly half the reason we went out, to settle her in, rendered moot. But somehow it all came together.
Now resettled, and from what I am told, she is adjusting well to her newest place. I probably won’t see her again before she forgets who I am. I’ve had enough sadness in my life to pretty much accept that. She’s in her late 80s. She’s where she wants to be. And she is being taken care of now. That’s the best we can do.