Demonic caterpillars have burrowed wormholes in my mothers memory. She can play Wordle. She will correct your spelling of obscure French names, like Daignault. But she won’t remember who is sitting on the couch on the other side of the room, even if it’s her first born. She parks herself for hours in front of the fireplace pretending to read The New Yorker, staring at the object in her hands, not turning the pages. She proclaims herself an eternal victim of the wine fairy. “Whose glass is this?” she will announce, clutching the offending stemware she has been sipping from for hours. When my father explains to her she has three glasses going, in different rooms, she apologizes for taking his from him.
To spare her feelings, he refuses all offers of caregiver assistance. They go it alone in rural Mendocino, stoically, as though the calendar read 1972, but with WiFi. Everyone pretends she’s not peeing herself.
“Lying awake at night I have rushes of anxiety that, if she goes first, I won’t be able to deal with it. I wonder at times if there is a me without her. One of the paradoxes of her dementia is my dependence on it. The more she needs me the simpler life seems. I worried at first if I would be able to deal with her illness. Now I worry I won’t be able to deal without it.”
If you knew this man as I did, a selfish, incorrigibly lazy, entitled Boomer asshole, his late life transition to Saint Theresa-like grace has been nothing short of baffling. A lifetime of curated resentments, one of the earned pleasures of middle-age, has been snatched from Mr. UpintheValley.
That’s what I used to feel. Now I’m grateful. She’s not a burden I or my sister are eager to take on and our history with her is darker, more complicated.
In October I bought them a trundle bed to place closer to the downstairs stove, sparing them from building two fires a day this winter. He cuts all their firewood himself. She has woken in the middle of the night, demanding to know where he has taken her. Whose house is this? What’s happening? He explains it all, they are sleeping downstairs for awhile, no one has kidnapped her, it’s closer to the fire. He gets up and plays the piano for her and she settles down, seeming to reorient herself. In the morning she forgets it ever happened, which can be a separate mercy, kinder than eerie moments of perfect clarity.
She is blessed to have him, and he’s blessed to remain able to shoulder the burden, which is as Christmasy as it gets when you hit 80.
John is my neighbor. On Jan. 3 his house, in which he has resided since the age of childhood, is going to be auctioned off at a trustee sale at the courthouse.
His mother, before she died, took a $350K cash out re-fi against the house she purchased for $34K in 1977, signing John’s name to the loan. At the time he was working at WalMart. He no longer does. They covered the mortgage by renting rooms and illegal structures on the property to people on disability, the marginally employed, the precarious. No one has paid him anything in two years, allegedly. Consequently no mortgage payments have been made since 2020.
He survives on SNAP benefits and General Relief. He has no credit, no family laying claim to him and apparently no friends to move in with. The responsible tenants have rotated out, replaced by a motley crew of drug addled spongers. His world has shrunk to a barcalounger and a bed in the living room which he shares with a motorcycle. The other rooms and outbuildings are locked and he has no keys. He’s neither fish nor fowl, falling into no protected class. Slow, but not special needs. Unfit for work but not elderly. Just a man without resources or survival instincts at a moment when America is unraveling economically.
In a reasonable world I could easily buy his house, pay off his mortgage and put some money in an account for him to relocate, but no bank will lend on it in its current condition, doubly so on a short sale. To the sharks it will go, the Armenian mafia or some BlackRock-affiliated institutional buyer, paying all cash.
Jacob Marley, rattle your chains.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Blogging has been light of late. Thanks for sticking around.