There’s a bird I’d like to kill. It lives in a tree outside the window here in the apartment where I am trapped caring for my elderly mother. It’s a harsh sentiment to want to kill a bird because of its song; not very Mary Oliver of me I know. I think it’s a chipping sparrow and now you think I’m a monster. Well, M. Audubon, imagine someone jangling their keys in your ear every thirty seconds and see how namaste you are with nature. At first I didn’t notice it much. It was just a bird. Lately though, its song is something I have to gird myself to endure, and believe me girding is the last thing I’m keen on these days. It is true that I have on occasion slammed the window closed; behaviour that I found alarming. It made me wonder what kind of person I was becoming.
Caring for my mother is, hands-down, the hardest thing I have ever done, and the dumbest thing I have ever gotten myself into: My mother has terrible hearing, generally refusing to wear her hearing aids, and is almost blind thanks to macular degeneration. When she gets up, I have to close the blinds because light hurts her eyes. Then, since she can’t read, or do puzzles, or do pretty much anything, SHE LISTENS TO THE RADIO, ALWAYS AT 11. ANYTHING ON TV IS THE SAME. I wear noise-cancelling headphones on occasion, but there’s something about wearing them while around my mother–the human who gave me life– that leans toward being a dick, so I don’t. Plus, what if I she actually began a conversation instead of simply passing judgement? I WOULN’T WANT TO MISS THAT!
Speaking of LOUD, on May 21st, a tornado ripped through town. It was odd for this area so nobody was prepared. I have always loved a good storm; it reminds me that the bastards who think they’re in control have no control, but I prefer the not-damaging sort, where good buildings are not tumbled. This storm was a tumbler. The Emergency Alert went off on my phone–and that’s a sphincter-tightening noise you can’t ignore. It was already raining, then things got serious as if someone flipped the “tumbler storm ON” switch. I was standing next to my mother as she sat at the table here just outside of the kitchen. The view out the sliding glass doors turned to muddy grey as the storm took the dirt from the balcony planters and broadcast it as if the god of wind, Zephyrus, spewed a mouthful of Nestle’s Quik chocolate powder. The windows were closed, but the sound was as if they were not. I wondered if I shouldn’t move my mother into the kitchen for safety. She was unable to help me with such a decision, and this is part of what is lousy about being the sole caregiver; you have to figure it all out. “Should I move her out of danger?” “Should I insist that she brush her teeth?” “Should I step up and give her the Heimlich, again?” I’ve joked since that the problem with the Emergency Alert for this tornado was that I didn’t have enough time to get my mother out onto the balcony.
The tornado had its way with the town; there was serious damage. In this building, the power was out for several days, so no elevator service and no refrigeration, but we had water. I was relieved to remember that I had a camp stove that I could use to boil water for coffee; funny how that was my initial concern; to have to gird without caffeine was a nonstarter. On my way to get my camp stove, I walked past the out-of-commission elevators and thought I heard voices coming from behind one of the doors. I stopped to listen, keen on making sure that these voices were not coming from inside my head. I leaned in: “Hey, anybody in there?” “Yes,” came the answer. There were two people stuck inside. We talked for a moment, then the superintendent came up through the stairwell. The trapped people seemed calm, but both the superintendent and I were concerned. Building management had no plan other than to wait for the firemen to arrive for the rescue. Oh the glory of having been stuck in an elevator before! Years back I was standing right in front in a packed elevator that had stopped. I don’t know what possessed me, but I stuck my fingers into the gap between the elevator doors, and pulled them open with surprising ease. Here in tornado-town, the elevator door was one piece, opening from right to left instead of parting in the middle, so no seam to grab. I took a chance and pushed firmly on the outer door, and easily moved it offstage to my left. This revealed the mysterious mechanical side of the inner door still in place. I grabbed the edge of some mechanism, and just as easily pulled this door back, freeing the couple inside! I was as surprised as the superintendent! I recognized the elderly couple inside. The man was standing upright, and the woman was sitting on the floor. I offered my hand to the woman to pull her up as I knew she had mobility issues. “Oh, that’s my bad arm,” she said. I stepped forward, put my arms around her underneath her arms, and hoisted her up onto her feet. I wondered why the man hadn’t helped her up, but since then I have noticed the pair, and the woman is continually nattering at the man, so perhaps he might have been happy to escape without her. I was delighted that the voices were not in my head–those voices, at least.
Two nights later, still without power, the loud, loud fire alarm went off around 3 am. To be clear, I had been sleeping in mom’s apartment since April 25th, when she fell and sustained a compression fracture in a lower vertebrae while trying to make her bed; this is a woman who has not done an exercise in her life and has the core strength to prove it. When the alarm sounded, I figured that there was a good chance this was a real fire, that someone had fallen asleep with a candle burning initially lit to search for a hearing aid, or to check their sugar levels. I bolted out of bed and called to mom, “Hey, the fire alarm went off!” “Oh, did it?” She had no idea. I went into the inky black hallway with my flashlight. A neighbour, Linda, was out also. We could hear people talking near the elevators, so Linda volunteered to run reconnaissance and walked toward the chatter. I heard people laughing, and could see the flash of the firetruck lights bouncing down the hallway. Turns out the alarm was triggered by a water pressure issue from the sprinkler pipes in the parking garage, so all good up top. The alarm stopped.
I’m not sure about what’s happening with me and noise. My 23 & Me report suggests that I have a likelihood of developing misophonia, and that is proving true. The sounds of my mother eating, shuffling, existing make me cringe which isn’t surprising. Our relationship; it’s nothing seaworthy, nothing at all “ship-ish,” but more like ripped netting dragging behind. I remember me as a teenager, having to tell my inebriated mother to go change her pants. She was standing in the kitchen talking to someone and it was bonkers clear that she had pissed herself. At the time, this was just super lousy, but after Dad’s suicide, it became a clue to the magnitude of this rip, left to unravel with little done to mend it. Later, I found my way to therapy without knowing the scale of what net things I was destined to sort through; I knew that something just wasn’t right. Now it’s clear that my mother has completely failed to fulfill her role as the caring, archetypal mother, and instead has remained a needy, arrogant child. Here we are and I’m putting diapers on her now. Oh the hilarity! There is no love, no familiar fondness, only duty: she speaks to me as you might a concierge, or a nice plumber: “Yes.” “No thank you.” “Thank you for the dinner,” as if politeness can somehow make up for denial, for failure and doesn’t make me clench every time. I look for the opening. I do. I look for any clue to the loving mother coming forth, but it is wasted effort. Maybe it’s a Gemini thing to avoid emotional responsibility. I’ve seen it before in relationships, but when it’s your own mother, good luck.
This is torture: not sleeping well, spending so much time in relative darkness with the blinds drawn and whatever sound cranked up sounds like what the CIA does to break bad guys. I’m jealous that the bird can fly away whenever it wants to. Maybe its goal is to get me out of here, to go somewhere and start a new life. That’s a good sentiment. I’m listening.