A month of no running

Feeling so fragile this morning. Brittle. Like a translucent sheet of sugar that can shatter into a thousand tiny shards at the slightest tremor. A month of no running doesn’t help. I know just getting out on the road will make all the difference. Even if I run only 3 km. Even if I walk some of that distance. Running can bring about world peace, cure evil diseases and end world hunger. So I know going for a run will go a long way towards getting back on track.

And still I don’t get out the door. I’m so busy putting one foot in front of the other, just making it through one day and into the next, that running is less than an afterthought to my day. Words, thoughts, emotions float randomly through me, one not linked to the other.

My mother is incoherent. Her thoughts disconnected. She’s tired – too tired to lift her arm, too tired to roll over or sit up.

Am I absorbing that, sitting next to her bed each day? Could the shield I wear be porous?

One’s relationship with one’s parents is so much more complex than one realizes. I remember Paul Simon saying in an interview once that his father never recognized his achievements and that his lack of acknowledgement left an emptiness inside him. Here was a man who has made millions of dollars, sold millions of albums, has played in front of audiences of thousands, and still, as a wealthy, successful, popular adult man, felt incomplete without a nod of approval from his father.

And why would his father not acknowledge his son’s success? It can only be that there is something missing in the father, surely? If you cannot appreciate the success of another, it must be because you feel small and insignificant yourself, and that their success casts a scary shadow over you, accentuating how tiny and incomplete you are.

So there I am, day after day, driving my dad to see my mom in hospital. Every other aspect of my life is suspended from two o’clock in the afternoon. From before that, even, if I need to get changed into something less hermit and more outside world. More if I need to stop at the petrol station – yet again. More if I feel like I do today, and the prospect of another day of more of the same looms over me, weighing from my limbs so that I can’t move and my brain won’t work.

The Kid must wait at school until five-thirty, which is the soonest I can get to her after dropping my dad off at home. Then I finally make it to my cluttered home just before six. Two bounding, excited dogs need to be walked. The sad looking garden needs water – well, that’s not all it needs but just keeping it alive for now is the best I can do. Food shopping needs to be done. The fridge needs to be cleared out. Supper needs to be cooked. Work and deadlines …? Well, the deadlines are so far in the past, they can’t be called deadlines anymore. They’re kind of suggestions. Items on a publisher’s wishlist, maybe. The kombucha that I was brewing has become so over-fermented that the scoby took its last breath a week ago and sank to the bottom of the murky liquid.

So, as for running …? Three weeks of being sick, followed by two more weeks of coughing and feeling just too tired to put my shoes on for anything more than walking the dogs … no, there is no running. Maybe today? Maybe this evening.

And through all of this my folks are oblivious. To be fair, my mom has the rottenest deal. She’s stuck in a hospital bed asking how her (now dead for over twenty years) mother is. On Saturday she wanted to know what had happened to the guy who shot her – she hasn’t been shot. And she wondered if my husband would shoot his girlfriend. And she was drinking her duvet.

Yesterday, a typical conversation went like this:

Her: Oh well, as long as I have a tissue. (She doesn’t have a tissue.)

Me: Do you need a tissue?

Her (irritated, glaring at me though half-closed eyes): What?!

Me: Do you need a tissue?

Her (angry, turning head away and closing eyes): No!

Geez. Well, pardon me!

Last week she was drinking water through a bendy straw. Taking long, refreshing, satisfying, thirst quenching sips. Except the straw wasn’t in the glass. It was sticking straight out over the top of the glass like one of those rolled-up party horns that shoots out and whistles when you blow into it.

And, after a few days’ reprieve, a few days of being confused but pleasant, she’s back to ‘you don’t care’ and ‘why can’t I go home?’

Yesterday I took some sewing along. I sat with my needle and thread and sewed the hem of a skirt that I have been meaning to get around to sewing for some months now (yes, months!). I may as well do something constructive while I’m being told that I don’t care about anything or anyone other than myself. My dad sat next to her, switched off from his surroundings, not responding when she wanted him to pass the glass of water to her or to take the glass from her. I had to get up from where I was sitting and move the glass each time. Yet she is quite convinced that she can go home and that he will take care of her while she’s immobile. Heaven help us all.

And I suppose it’s pretty lousy for my dad too. Sixty-two years with the same person, most of it spent bickering with each other, and now he’s alone. Just him and the dog in a big, empty house.

It is harder to feel sorry for him, though, since he has spent most of his 86 years in his own world anyway. He was either working late, demolishing the garden (he called it ‘gardening’), going for a jog, sitting behind the newspaper, watching the news on TV or sleeping. Once a week he would go to the shops and walk from one supermarket to the other, comparing grocery prices and buying the cheapest. Such a busy life leaves very little time for interacting with other people. Now that my mom’s not around to demand attention, he can do pretty much as he pleases, except for the time he has to visit her in the hospital. And that’s kind of effortless too. I fetch him, drive him there and drive him back. And when he gets back home his supper is waiting for him, delivered by a food delivery service, organised by yours truly.

I am doing no more than any other person would do for his or her parents. I don’t expect a medal. It’s simply a case of each day putting one foot in front of the other. Everything ends. Everything. The good times and the bad. My mom will come out of hospital. It might be upright, on her own two feet, finally with a clear head and a smile on her face, insisting on putting some lipstick on before anyone sees her. It might be in a wheelchair, still confused and drinking her duvet, on her way to a care facility. It might be on her back on a bed on wheels, with a sheet over her face. Whichever way it ends, this crappy time will end – to be replaced with either better times or worse times. Who knows? But end it will, and so I just keep going each day.

But some days are not quite as easy as others. Some days I feel brittle. Like today. And yesterday. Yesterday when I again stopped at the petrol station to fill up, not knowing if my card is going to be declined … as it has been a long time since I was last able to invoice, despite working every day … and my dad talked about something or other, the thought of offering to cover the cost of some of the petrol not entering his mind. He speaks of other people, my cousin, for example, who have busy days, who work, who have to ‘rush home and cook’. This while I’m sitting there, thinking, damn and bugger, we’re out of milk and bread, I can’t go straight home after fetching The Kid, I need to stop at the shops first.

My brother calls and speaks to my mother for 30 seconds (because I sent him a text and asked him to), and it’s a massive event – because he’s phoning from ‘a long way away, you know’. And I just stare at them … What is there to say?

No, I don’t want a medal. I don’t want profuse expressions of thanks. I don’t want to be made to be any more special than anyone else in my position. But I would like a nod in my direction. An awareness that I am also a working woman who has a family. Not a robot programmed to drive. But why? It won’t make any difference, anyway. Everything will be exactly as it is.

My mom will still be in hospital. She will still be delirious. My dad’s hands will still not reach the bottom of his pockets. He will remain in his own world where only his thoughts and opinions matter. I will continue to shield myself, remain warrior woman, so that I don’t get so close than I can’t get on with the business of doing what needs to be done.

I will still not be able to get to my work or do all the other things I want to, need to or have to do. I will still feel exhausted. I still won’t manage to fit my running in (except, maybe this evening?) And I will still have a husband, daughters, dogs … loved people and creatures who fill my life and make it wonderful.

So what does it matter what one’s parents think of one? Why is their lack of awareness like a piece missing from the giant mosaic that makes up one’s life?

I need to run.

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