“Time & Space: Lost in a Day Close to Dying”
by M. Dante
Nostalgia and sentimental comfort live in memories of coming home after grade school. What better feeling than the day being done, running through the door, dropping book-bag, lunch box, coat, calling out a loud Hello, before heading straight to the kitchen for a snack, or fast out the back door to play? On rainy days sitting watching cartoons on the tiny kitchen television with only five stations before starting on homework. Love warms each corner, contentedness surrounds with easily found smiles.
Love is a feeling lost in the space time continuum. The lack of love is a void that distracts me within the obvious emptiness. I remember sitting at the kitchen table watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Sitting happily as my mother baked homemade bread or Pillsbury cookies, helping me bake Shrinky Dinks® and stained glass jewelry kits, laughing, with light of life within her eyes.
I remember now a time my mother no longer reflects back on. It has been a long time. My mother has not cooked for herself in years, let alone made homemade bread. Her husband makes all of her meals, which they do not share with me. It is okay. I am sure she does not remember any of those moments I try to hold onto each time I feel like screaming in frustration. Fuming anger like burnt art kits and melted dissolving beads on an old dirty cookie tray. I remember the gel slide light machine I had back then, and use it as meditation, focusing on the blending bubbles of colors until everything dissolves. I must admit the memories of having a mother are more and more distant for me each day, also.
People wonder why I am here. Well—You know—Because maybe I have nowhere else to go. Or because we simply do what we are supposed to do. Because it is the correct thing to do. I think though I actually want to be here because it is a part of life. The challenges and complexities of a rapidly aging parent are not always a feel good Hallmark card. It is life turning itself inside out and becoming a black hole. Despite all my work around the dying, this devoid of space and dimension and order feels entirely different to me. It feels like a black hole in my belly and my heart. Like the black holes eating away deep inside my mother’s mind.
I was hoping to fill this void with a certain amount of love, or at least some similar derivative, though I am not sure that is the most attainable goal. I am not sure how much love I have to share. In fact I keep going completely emotive and ballistic over petty things. I lose myself in the cavern of clutter that embraces me like a vengeful ghost each time my mother attempts to say hello. Except that I can not see her amidst all the trash and piles of undecipherable meaningless remnants mixed in with the special, beautiful things. There is no place for me to sit. Everywhere is another stack or pile of incredibly important irrelevant mishmosh of collected confusion. It is hard to even walk from one room to another without knocking something over, or tripping on something, or upsetting the delicate balance of denial.
I look into the abandon of the chaos, and do not know what to say. I am as lost in the literal debris of what has become an obsessive form of hoarding as my mother seems to be a bit lost inside of her own thought process, only what is happening to her is much more insidiously subtle than what has happened to the house. Her husband just sits there, staring at the television or reading yet another book from the library. It is practically all he seems to do each day outside of driving her to the endless medical appointments and cooking her dinner.
Few—if any of her friends—realize my mother is dying. It is an insidiously vicious process. Though only in her early 60s she is running out of energy. She is running out of money. There is no room amidst this mess to fill the void with excuses. Her husband is out of work. She is barely working. I am working well over 70 hours a week as a personal care attendant and giving her much of my monthly income. Keeping the cars running. The pets fed. The electric on. Trying to avoid foreclosure. Trying to avoid all that is left of the little life savings from being lost. In many ways we are figuring out how to avoid each other within the day to day. At least for me. It is essential. I cannot stand the feeling of osmosis that is happening here. Past. Present. Future. A ghostly nostalgia appears from deep within the daily increasing clutter that now includes the residue of cat dander and urine. The smell of ammonia hits me in the face with such abuse I am left speechless with tears trapped in my eyes.
When I was small child I lived in a very large, clean, capricious house. It was a lovely home, with too many bedrooms and bathrooms and sitting areas for a man and woman with one child. I remember people saying that. I loved it because I often had most of the house all to myself. My Dad was usually away on business. He was a purchasing agent before leaving to start a new life in the desert. He died before 60 and a decade plus ago. My Ma—or Mum as she had taken to being called—began working as a full time photojournalist when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. She smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much coffee while eating bags and bars of candy on the go and in the labs. Despite a family history of diabetes, she preferred Snicker bars, microwave popcorn, and coffee to any sort of diet. “Fuck Housework” was one of her mottos, and her life preferences her choice, her friends would say. Despite her interest in having a vegetable garden and caring for houseplants over decades of dedication, she never particularly cared about taking care of herself.
As a child I was left with an incredible amount of space and quiet order. It allowed me to view personal space as a right, as opposed to a privilege or luxury. I never thought about it until my mum, her second husband, three cats, a constantly barking dog, fish, small and tall indoor and outdoor plants, and all the possessions left of lives once cluttered with chaotic calamity into a house they owned, though which for years I had been caring for. The cubic dimensions of the environment were simply not meant for the familial toxicity which has filled each possible inch. With each odd item that makes it into another bit of space and placement I begin to feel an odd unnatural nostalgia for coming home as back in grade school. Coming home to a clean welcoming front yard, with a lovely glass door leading to a vestibule with a sitting area to remove coats—especially when all wet or dirty from play—prior to entering the foyer. I see sunlight filtering through all the silky linen sheers covering the windows. The etched sides of the glass create a rainbow prism of refracted light on the wooden floor and white carpet. Even on a cloudy day it was bright and cheery and quiet and clean. In the next room, on the wall by the hanging chimes to the doorbell, beautiful framed butterflies float perfectly beyond the glass. A round table in the center of the room for mail with a large centerpiece of glass and bronze flowers. Spacious. Capricious. The artwork and photographs complemented the surrounding emptiness, completing a statement or answering a question that had been hidden deep in the imagination.
Everything in the here and now is filled with something everywhere and all over the place. She hides deep in the embrace of her damaged possessions and surroundings. I realize my mother must look at me when I enter this sacred space she has created, look at me and my disgruntled, perplexed expression which is—of late—as engraved into my face as my tattoos are engraved on my flesh—and she must wonder where the little girl is she once thought so cute. Instead of hello, she ponders me why she cannot still declare me on her taxes. Asks me why I do not pay rent like a good tenant. I stand amidst at the mess of old, stained stuffed animals and the odds and ends pieces of glassware and various pieces of mismatched china and porcelain, mixed in with coupons and cut outs and candy and cigarette packs and real live kitty cats and all of their territorial pissings, and I wonder if this is part of her disease or part of her personality. I feel as though I am losing my mind along with my sense of space—time—dimension and order. Everything is caving in and falling apart.
My mother has a degenerative disease eating away at her mind. A progressive condition of the central nervous system creating black holes in the now dead areas of cerebral plaque. She has multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and cancer. This is not a temporary flare. It is all very permanent. The caregiver in me naively thought I could fix at least a part of it, but I cannot slow it or stop it. Every day I walk into the mess that now surrounds and fills every inch of everything in this house I remember the last place I called home. Only that was almost 30 years ago. It does not exist anymore. Especially not here. My mother is dying. My father long dead. Most of the lovely things lost, sold, destroyed. Remnants are still floating around. Dirty, dented remnants. I see them amidst other oddities and things all out of order and not part of any specific collection. I feel a bit lost, like a cup to a saucer she has kept because it was once valuable and is still pretty, though chipped at the rim, sort of matching another formerly pretty thing. Everything seems cluttered, dusty, only partially relevant. Like me.
Yes. Like me now. As each day passes she is more fascinated with beads and yarn and broken debris once so lovely and valuable. People wonder why I am still here. Why be sitting lost in a day so close to dying? But really where else is there to be.
M. Dante. Passionate wordsmith, qualitative researcher, public speaker, photographer. Known for justice based blogging, critical writing, and communication workshops. M. is also popular for her more esoteric creative non-fiction and poetry. Her writing has been shared in recent years in venues at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) San Francisco, Litquake, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and has placed in semi finals and finals including the William Faulkner Wisdom Competition. Most recently she read with the Clockhouse Salon hosted by Goddard College.