Mr. Sensitive

August 4, 2010

The One With The Episode Of Friends

Severe headache, nausea, and dizziness set upon me this past weekend and I have effectively been out of action for the better part of three days now.  Jenny reckoned yesterday to be the worst I’ve felt since I quit drinking.  Not positive where she got that from, but maybe the part where I shut myself in the downstairs bathroom for an hour-and-a-half because it’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have a window.  Happily, yesterday morning seems to have been the peak of the physical weakness; I felt significantly better by the end of the day and am better still this morning.  Some of it could be owing to slight fiddling with blood pressure medication my doctors are in the process of doing, but I doubt that’s the problem.  Sometimes the foundation moves and it doesn’t matter where you put the furniture.

I keep the visible, conscious levels of my mind rigorously and deliberately well-ordered.  I’ve always done this; it’s what has allowed me to pile up the immediate and intermediate accomplishments throughout my life without regard to what purpose any of it does or does not serve long-term. So it was that academically and professionally I have been all-everything with flying colors no matter what and/or why.  This is not a strategically sound approach.  It goes against human nature to be able to win and to conquer and yet decline to do so, but if you aren’t strategically disciplined enough to decline you can find that you’re administering the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights for fifty years or you’re a Senior VP at the company you only got a job with because you couldn’t move until your wife finished grad school ten years ago.  (One of those is me and the other one is Israel, in case you didn’t get that.)  So the tendency is to win persistently and indiscriminately and stay at least one step ahead of the implications.  But to quote Bobby again, all the while the slime was under the building.  And even though I keep moving, I’m not totally clueless.  I know that the foundation is shifting, but I figure there’s not so much I can do about it and I’m pretty good at ignoring it and keeping my eyes up.  The unfortunate consequence of this is that even if I have got a solid handle on what’s in front of me at any given time, I may or may not have come to terms with the tectonics of my situation.  Thus the context sometimes changes around me while I’m not paying attention—I look off in the distance and instead of Pangaea, there’s the Atlantic Ocean.  That’s what happened this week.

I finished up Operation Mortal Coil—all my mother’s things have now gone wherever they’re going.  All the rooms in my house that were full of boxes and furniture are now empty again.  So, yay, right?  Two-and-a-half intense months of learning things I didn’t want to know and seeing things I didn’t want to see, and it’s finally over.  It’s a win, a clear win.  I had a duty to perform and I did it.  My mother is gone.  But it seems that something shifted while I was sorting duplicate Kenny Chesney CDs.  I was starting to feel like crap Saturday, and even worse on Sunday, and then Monday night we were watching the episode of Friends where Phoebe thinks her mom has been reincarnated as a cat and she’s carrying it around and talking to it, and that—that!—was apparently too much.  Just like that I went from my mother is gone to Mom is gone, which is a whole different thing, and not so good for the composure.

I want to be clear about something: I don’t have any regrets about what I did or didn’t do at the end of Mom’s life.  I know some of my siblings do have regrets, wishing they had been here and done something different, or even wishing I had done something different since I was here.  I don’t think they should regret anything but that’s for them to decide.  The way I see it is Mom was always speeding and never steering.  She wouldn’t slow down and she wouldn’t ask for guidance when she didn’t know where to go.  She wrecked again and again, and if you live your life that way, eventually you’re going to smash it all up bad enough that you don’t get to walk away.  I didn’t want her to leave Pulaski, where she had friends and community and a support system.  I didn’t want her to marry that energy-sucking creature and move to Mississippi.  I didn’t want her to sit around all day in his house in Mississippi, or in my house, or in her rental house here, and do nothing but watch Law & Order reruns and do Sudoku, declining and dissipating instead of making any effort to live.  But I could not order her to do otherwise.  Katie and I intervened as much as we could given the power and authority we had.  Katie, especially, went above and beyond for Mom.  In the end, it’s for what Katie had to do and see that I feel truly sorry.  And me?  Well, my Mom didn’t like me, folks.  She said as much to Katie, and she made it clear to me many times over many years.  I was not the simpering little boy she wanted, and I’m glad of it because of what that would mean for me and my wife and children, but there it is.  That didn’t erase my obligation to her as her eldest son, but it did define and limit the way we could interact.  I would help her but I wouldn’t enable her, and she resented me.  I see the way Katie is with her parents, the sane, adult relationships, friendships, they have, and the contrast could not be more striking to me.  Katie gave Mom as much advice as she could, and Katie and I worked hard together to craft that advice for maximum effect, all the while knowing she’d disregard most of it.  But Mom would not take advice directly from me, not ever.  I didn’t have the ability to persuade her to change.  To have taken more aggressive action would have required taking away her ability to make day-to-day decisions, and I couldn’t have done that without her consent or, more likely, a court declaring her incompetent and bypassing her (clearly negligent) husband to give me legal authority.  I didn’t mean for her to die, not at all, and certainly not like she did.  But I didn’t mean for her to do about 90 percent of what she did in the 16-plus years since Dad died.  I’m not feeling my best right now, but even I’m not crazy enough to feel guilty because I didn’t use power I didn’t have.

I don’t want it to hurt that my Mom is gone, but it’s not up to me.  It took me two-and-half months and Phoebe’s stupid cat to realize that and I’d have ignored it forever if I could have.  Maybe I got that from her.

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July 31, 2010

Six Day War – Day Six

Filed under: House,Operation Mortal Coil,Six Day War — lbej @ 10:53
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The girls are returning this afternoon and I declare the Six Day War to be at an end.  A stuffed Yoshi met his end in Jenny’s room some time during the week and I plan to clean up that mess, but otherwise I believe I have done all I can.  Decisive victories were won in the office, the garage, the dining room, and the family room.  Most importantly, the Army of Failure was decisively beaten and its remnants scattered or suppressed.  Operation Mortal Coil cannot be definitely concluded until I conduct the review I keep not doing, but the material phase is over.  Everything of my mother’s that could be brought to the house was brought here, and everything that was brought here was dealt with more or less as it ought to have been.  That will have to be enough.  Next week I’ll try to do a little future.

July 30, 2010

Six Day War – Day Five

Filed under: Operation Mortal Coil,Six Day War — lbej @ 09:18
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The dining room has been liberated following yesterday’s action.  In addition to general organizing, tidying and cleaning, I moved comics, trading cards, and related supplies to the office, cleared the far left corner of boxes and plastic bins, and reboxed and removed the last of the papers, photos, books, and other mementos of my immediate and extended families that had besieged me during Operation Mortal Coil.  All such material that I saw fit to preserve and retain has now been sorted and boxed, and 70 percent of it has been stored in the attic here.  Charlotte has taken possession of a full 20 percent, with my blessing, presumably for use in her own version of Operation Immortal Coil.  The remainder represents material that I stored in closets or other obscure but accessible locations for reasons of my own.  Today I intend to clean and reorder the family room so far as I am able; Reagan destroyed it to commemorate herself before she left last weekend.  My effectiveness has been greatly reduced by a course of colchicine I was forced to take yesterday to stop a developing gout attack.  Perhaps I will actually undertake the OMC review I’ve been meaning to do if I’m too nauseous to do anything else.

July 29, 2010

Six Day War – Day Four

Filed under: Operation Mortal Coil,Six Day War — lbej @ 09:26
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Efforts continued last night well until past 9 p.m. with better than anticipated results.  I now consider my mother to have been diluted to a safe concentration.  The last of the clothes, books, and pictures are gone, and thus my mother’s Army of Failure can never again pose a threat to the integrity and momentum of my own personal enterprise.   I will review the Operation Mortal Coil aims and objectives list once more this morning with a view towards a formal settlement at the weekend.  But it was not just the Army of Failure that I faced this week, but a coalition between it and the artifacts of my own disarray.  With the greater threat neutralized I see the lesser as an opportunity to be seized more than as a challenge to be faced, much as Austerlitz represented for Napoleon not only the necessity of a check against the Russians but also the opportunity to put Austria in her place once again.  Many foes I had forgotten (An unwieldy iPod speaker system?  A hand-crank radio?  A midget slow-cooker?) were seemingly unleashed with the emptying of the office, the master bedroom and Jenny’s room, and they are now arrayed in the dining room.  With the Army of Failure knocked out of the conflict altogether, this Army of the Unnecessary is all that stands between me and total victory.  I have the whole of today to force a decision.

July 28, 2010

Day Three Update

Filed under: Operation Mortal Coil,Six Day War — lbej @ 12:44
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Today will be the final drive of Operation Mortal Coil.  My flag shall fly above the Reichstag by nightfall or I will have turned it all into ash.  It was overcast this morning, meaning that I could expect the garage to be 80 degrees or so rather than 95.  That would be the difference between having two or more hours of fight in me rather than an hour or less, and as much as I hate to attack where an attack is expected, I could not eschew such an advantage though it should mean meeting the enemy’s main force head on.  So for two-and-a-half hours I hit him with everything I had.  It was not enough, but I had not expected it would be.  I need a second bulk pickup to finish it and we only get the one per year.  Furthermore, it’s difficult to switch back and forth between bubblewrapping and smashing, requiring a degree of operational dexterity I lack.  However, I have reached the point in Operation Mortal Coil where I am more interested in lacking things I have than having things I lack.  If I broke something I didn’t mean to break I certainly didn’t mean it less than I wouldn’t have meant it two months ago.  Now at midday I’ve done what I can do in the garage.  I’m content to have neutralized the breakables for now, and I will await reinforcements before I attempt to crush them.  Or rather, attempt not to.  Now I shall have meat and Cheerwine before I renew the attack.  The hammer will fall either in the upstairs hall or in the dining room–let the enemy flummox himself guessing at which it will be.

Six Day War – Day Three

Filed under: Operation Mortal Coil,Six Day War — lbej @ 09:23
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Unplanned Mortal Coiling yesterday, and I was very nearly undone thinking I was done.  Katie and I spent last night back in the Hole, packing up and cleaning, and once again I saw things I didn’t need to see.  I thought I was done there and yet I end up with another carload of crap to add to the crap festival in the basement, one more crap blast left by my mother’s creature that he can’t uncrap, one more reminder of all the damage he did to her and to anyone else who cared about her at all.  I would destroy him if I could do it cleanly, but nothing with him is ever clean.  There’s no need, after all: his dessication will proceed without my efforts or attention if I just leave him to it.  I like to think that if I could arrange for a dump truck full of salt to be unloaded into his bedroom I would pull the trigger on it.  But of course I wouldn’t and I won’t.  I bounce back and forth between frustrated and relieved as I find again and again that I’m not as vicious and vindictive as I could be.  It happened again last night.  Katie and I found a box of his personal photos that his servants missed.  They did make sure to leave some of their own dirty underwear, whatever in the hell that was about.  Anyway, we won’t look at his pictures because we have already seen too much we can’t unsee, so I can’t say for sure it’s anything he’d want.  He didn’t know there were any pictures left, yet now we will have to pack them and ship them to him if he is to get them back.  I could have thrown these disgusting things in the trash can at Mom’s and they would be on their way to the landfill the following morning.  He wouldn’t miss them, and if he did, it wouldn’t matter to me.  So I put the box in the trash…and then I got it back out.  Then we cleaned awhile longer, and I put the box in the trash again, and I got it back out again.  Now it’s in the basement with more of his crap.  None of it is allowed to pass the doors of the house proper, and Katie has graciously offered to sort through it and pack it for shipping, involving me only to the extent she deems necessary.  Still, I’ll be working on the basement today, and I’ll be re-packing and storing his mementos, providing a despicable man a service he doesn’t deserve and for which I will receive nothing.  What the hell is my problem that I would do that?  Why would I help a person who has only ever hurt me?  How would I explain such a thing to Jenny and Reagan and LBE3?  That’s the sort of thing I think about.  But if I do it all how I mean to, I shouldn’t need to explain.  I don’t remember my Dad ever explaining to me how you’re supposed to treat other people, but I get it nonetheless.  There is a right way to do things and that’s how you do them, period.  And you don’t do right by others for their sake, you do it for yourself.  Being the sort of person who tries to be happy won’t save you from despair during the hard times when happiness is unattainable, whilst being the sort of person who tries to do what is right will.  In the former case, you know what you want.  The problem with that is that what you want will change; it is ground that shifts when you need it to be firm.  In the latter case, though, you know what you are.  No one can take that from you, and it will save you when no one and nothing else can.  So when you know what’s right, do what’s right.  Also, don’t do drugs, and if you’re stopped at a traffic light and the person in the car in front of you moves up a little to let you by so you can make a right turn, wave to that person in acknowledgment of the courtesy.  End of lesson.

I’m behind schedule on the week because of my mother, but she has my full attention now.  Yesterday reminded me that she’s won’t be finished until I finish her, and finish her I shall.  I didn’t want to have to bring over yet another carload of stuff from the Hole, but now I have seen and can say that there will be no more reinforcements.  The enemy’s reserves are exhausted and I am not.  So now I will attack everywhere, and if I am pushed back I will attack, and if I am imperiled I will attack, and if I can’t attack I will attack.  I will go floor by floor, and room by room, and box by box.  Every piece of it will go where it goes or it will be gone.

July 27, 2010

On Our Own

Filed under: Operation Mortal Coil — lbej @ 17:35
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My mother’s house was supposed to be emptied of all of her former creature’s cars and books and junk by the creature’s minions this past weekend, and so of course it wasn’t.  I really mean that: of course it wasn’t.  But it’s like Bobby says–if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.

This month, no matter what.  It ends this month.

Six Day War – Day Two

Filed under: House,Operation Mortal Coil,Pet Nasty War,Six Day War — lbej @ 08:58
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The office will be done today.  Progression has been from cat poop room last week

to sawdust room this weekend

to something halfway decent-looking yesterday:

Already I wiped down and moved the furniture, swept and mopped the floor, and washed and repainted the walls.  This morning I will repatriate books, furniture and other items and hang on the walls whatever it is I decide to hang on them.  After that I will review my Operation Mortal Coil aims, objectives, and tasks.  My intention is that the entire grim operation should be concluded by the end of this month and a thorough review will help me to identify the gaps I need to close to make that happen.

July 26, 2010

Six Day War

I have been nibbling at three broad strategic initiatives I have described before as Operation Mortal Coil, Operation Coda, and the Pet Nasty War.  Ordinarily all three are subordinate to what I shall call Operation Fun Citizen, the more-or-less systematic discharge of my responsibilities as primary caregiver and life commander for the children.  My objective is to let them have some fun over the summer whilst learning things that will, in my judgment, make them more thoughtful citizens as they mature.  They are my gift to the future of humanity and efforts to temper them accordingly take precedence over whatever other aims I might have.  I cannot countenance anyone else having sustained control over the children equal to mine, but that is not to say I can’t make use of the occasional holiday.  And so it is now that they are visiting their grandparents in Hilton Head this week, having left yesterday and planning to return next Saturday.  That gives me a period of six days to devote to OMC, Coda, and Pet Nasty.  This Six Day War began yesterday afternoon with the laying of a new floor in the office, the reclamation of which was a key objective in the Pet Nasty War.  I will finish transforming said office by the end of the day tomorrow.  There is a thick layer of sawdust on everything in the room owing to the sanding of the floor and the final disposition of furniture and other items cannot be made until the room is cleaned yet again.  Once that is done, I will return for the last time to Operation Mortal Coil.   I judge that I need one last great retrospective and ritual filing-away, what I suspect will amount to a controlled demolition.  This is best undertaken while the girls are away, as the emphasis will be on the demolition and not so much on the control.  Thus I will have put my mother away where I mean for her to remain, and I can have a better look at myself.  I’m putting that on the schedule for Thursday.

July 23, 2010

Operation Immortal Coil Underway

Going through the contents of my office I found this box:

The writing on the upper left corner of the box is my mother’s and reads “EURE $ HOLDERS CHRISTMAS.”  It’s an entire box of unopened plastic puzzle/maze contraptions designed to torture people to whom you are giving cash as a present.  This box was stashed under the desk in the office, and I guess she left it here when she moved out last fall.  We all hated these things.  For several years at Christmas she would put some cash in one of them–a new one every year–for each of her kids (and Katie) and then watch us spend ten minutes trying to move a stupid ball bearing around a maze to trigger the release mechanism.  This is one of those things that was maddening at the time but is really pretty funny when I think about it now.  I clearly remember one particular Christmas when I thought Charlotte was going to kill Mom over one of these stupid plastic money traps that none of us could figure out how to open.  Charlotte was one who always tried to smooth things over with Mom even if she needed a power sander to do it.  Not this time, though.  After all the crap that Charlotte put up with from Mom for years and years, the money trap was the one affront she couldn’t accept.  Every year we would all complain about how much we hated these things and the next year Mom would use them again.  I didn’t understand why she would insist on flagrantly pissing everyone off (except Katie), but I think I get it now.  She never got any of us to debase ourselves on a large scale for money in the way that her own mother managed to do with her children, and I think the experience of watching us struggle with these things once a year for a few bills must have been a tiny but satisfying release for her.  Her parenting impulses and instincts were all wrong, and I don’t begrudge her giving herself over to that on a small scale.  It’s the large scale indulgence I resented, but it’s all over now one way or the other.

When I found this box–an entire box full of torture devices–I smiled.  My mother hadn’t made me smile in a long time, except perhaps ruefully.  But now I think I’ve come to the point where I can focus on remembering the good things about her rather than perfecting a defense against the bad.  I couldn’t do that when she was here because it made me vulnerable to attack.  Mom sensed weakness, as her mother taught her to, and it brought out the worst in her.  As I think back on it, the things she did to me that I never forgave or forgot all took place when I had a moment of weakness and I made the mistake of looking to her for emotional support.  I don’t know what she thought she was doing, or if she thought about it all, but when she saw a weak point in my armor she stabbed when she should have shielded.  She did that viciously, aggressively, and repeatedly, and I never forgave any of it.  But this box is different.  This box leads me to think that I might be able to forgive her now, because I don’t need to keep the pain in focus.  To lose focus would have been stupid in the extreme while she could still do more harm.  I couldn’t stop her from wanting to hurt her children like that, to hurt me like that, but through emotional vigilance and control of conditions I could take away her ability to do so.  I did that for years and I would have done it forever if I had to.  But I don’t have to anymore.  Now I can smile at that stupid box of money traps, because it is pretty funny, and it can’t hurt me.  It’s out of Mom’s hands now, all of it, and it’s safe for those of us who remember her to decide how we want to remember her.  We get to decide, out of all of it, what lives on.  It’s already started.

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