That sounds serious, right? As if we have finally arrived at a place of acceptance: incapable of adapting to the compromises of 3rd party reproduction or adoption, we are coming to terms with the long-term realities of child-free living, replete with home renovation plans to turn the second bedroom into a home gym or a craft room. No. My mother is moving in…because she is a helpless, irresponsible, self-pitying, overgrown child who squandered several months of ahead of the imminent foreclosure of the house in which she’s rented her apartment for the past 10 years.
Without realizing, I guess I stopped really going to her place. A subtle shift, I suppose–we bought the house, which is bigger and cleaner than her place, so it just made sense. Truth: we bought the house and it finally gave me means to control family gatherings in a way that is calm and dependable–in a way that softens the racing heart and chest constriction of spending time with her–unlike the chaos and dysfunction of any enterprise she endeavors. When we host, it’s dinner at 6, soft music, no drugs or cat hair, clean tables and floors, sunny windows, open spaces where I can breathe. At first she rebelled against the “passing of the torch” (as my brother put it) in odd ways, usually related to food because she couldn’t seem to give up her role as the matriarch of the family meal. But in crept a slow-growing acceptance as she recognized that she couldn’t pull it off anymore, these huge Thanksgivings and Christmases, the work, the expense, the juggling and planning, and she eased into her new position as pampered guest instead of martyred hostess. And then came the “bugs”: her imaginary infestation of biting dust mites, a psychotic fantasy which has dominated her life for the past two years, so foolproof that even sending “samples” (of what turned out to be “debris,” entirely) to an entomologist for examination under a microscope proved futile to diminish her certainty. The “bugs” compounded the anxieties because going to her house meant coming face to face with the stacks of clothing in air-tight plastic bags and countertops cluttered with lint rollers and alcohol spray: her daily extermination artillery, a physical space stockpiled with the manifestation of her new level of mental illness, beyond addiction, express train to Crazytown. And why would she invite us anyway when she feared her plague was so contagious? So she always comes here. How could I have know how bad things had gotten?
I was also so overwhelmed with work, a pregnancy loss, a house, a marriage, and multiple out-of-town, out-of-network (paperwork baby) IVF cycles after exhaustive research and consulting to use the last of our insurance coverage (read: chances with my eggs) to really absorb the ramifications of said impending foreclosure. Hell, I assumed she was an adult who could manage her own life (who should be able to manage her own life) and would start making arrangements for when she would inevitably need to move on. She was too overwhelmed (by the battle of the bugs, astonishing denial, her victim mentality) to take this seriously, so the situation turned crisis in a matter of days when the bank took possession of the house and she was under looming threat of no power, heat, or running water. Just over a week ago we suddenly found ourselves in a race against the clock to get her packed and out so she would qualify for the bank’s “Cash for Keys” bribery and have the money to put down at a new place. When we got there last weekend, I was appalled, like a featherweight episode right out of Hoarders. Every cabinet, shelf, drawer, surface, 6 inch space in between this or that was packed like a Tetris board with stuff: 15 old sponges, several hundred VHS tapes, 2-foot high stacks of mail and printed recipes, 6 half-empty bottles of hand soap from every bathroom color scheme she’s ever had, 23 containers of International Delight instant coffee, 11 different kinds of olive oil, expired salad dressing, unopened stocks of vodka bottles clustered on the floor in several flavors, on and on, not to mention 50,000 (hyperbole, but still) knick-knacks and candleholders and unused ash trays, glasses, pitchers, wine decanters all covered like Chia Pets in gray/brown mats of dust and pet hair. And now we have to pack this. And now begins the fight over every item, which she fiercely clings to no matter how obviously useless and trash-worthy so that this process of packing in a dire time-crunch trudges painfully along at a snail’s pace with no shortage of bickering. And while it’s all happening, I am faced with every triggering thing from a traumatic past, like the pictures of me at 5, looking sad because she was beating the shit out of me, or the filth, or the stink of stale pot smoke that lives in the walls, or the clinking of ice cubes against her pint glass because she can’t do anything without a stiff cocktail in-hand, or the sight of the Dunkin Donuts thermos she used for years to bring booze to work, and so on such that I came home in a state of borderline-panic, took a Xanax, and started furiously vacuuming my own house.
She was supposed to be out by Friday, but of course she failed to meet the deadline because she was too stoned to keep her eye on the prize, wasting valuable time reminiscing over every old phone number and kitschy faded t-shirt from 1983, cut to ribbons because she used to walk around bra-less and half naked when she had the body to pull it off. Instead of tossing out mounds of junk en masse, she leafed through and forced us to pack every last useless thing. There was simply no recognition of the urgency. When Thursday rolled around, the bank swooped in and gave her until Monday to finish, but the electric company cut her power the next day, leaving her to pore over the remainder of her possessions in the cold and the dark of her basement apartment amid the stench of raw sewage from a now disabled pump. I thought this might motivate her to leave more behind or to pick up the pace, but no–while she stayed with my brother over the weekend, I found out that she slept in on Saturday morning and wasted 5 hours of daylight before she made her way over there to finish the job. Sunday, Monday, now Tuesday and she’s still not finished. The bank extended her again until tomorrow, but it’s laughable at this point. Will she make it? Who knows. History is no indicator.
In the meantime, B and I have been racing around trying to meet this trifecta of obligations: the 12 people coming here for Thanksgiving on Thursday, the surprise 60th birthday party I committed to throwing her a month ago, scheduled for Sunday and hilariously undeserved, and now the frantic preparations to clear out the second bedroom and set her up with her basic needs here, not to mention affixing cardboard to the walls because she comes with a destructive cat (nothing new since her cats have destroyed every place we ever rented) who is threatening the cherished crown moldings and antique doors of my pristinely maintained 80 year-old home. All the while, my poor husband has been schlepping her junk up and down the stairs with a pulled back and a bad knee and spending all his spare time and days off trying to gently cajole her to hustle, to let go, to make good choices, all in futility. She is a child. She is a victim. She is an asshole.
Me? Well the dark irony is not lost on me that I am preparing the “nursery” for the only child I have ever had: my mother. Yeah, I’m bitter about. I shouldn’t have the means enable her, to get her out of yet another jam, because a kid should live there–a toddler, sweet, loving, full of promise, messy in ways that are warm and happy and functional. At this point, my decision to skip Christmas and head to Pittsburgh seems borderline clairvoyant, and I’m actually looking forward to late nights of parent-teacher conferences while this black cancer moves into my baby’s room.