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04.30.13 Puke & Snot

Dear Dementia,

It’s one thing to deal with you day in and day out, moment by moment. But sometimes when my life gets crazy and butts up against you, I hardly know what to do with myself. It’s times like this when I want to just jump out of my skin and disappear.

The phone rings even before I head downstairs. It’s the high school. Ethan is in the nurse’s office. Poor kid is sick; the nurse tells me Ethan wasn’t able to make it to the bathroom before bringing his breakfast up all over himself. I give the nurse permission to release him from school and he drives himself home.

Ethan walks through the front door surprisingly only slightly distressed. “Mom, while I was telling the nurse I felt nauseous, it just came up. I tried to hold it back but it just kept coming.”

“Oh sweetie.  How do you feel now? Do you feel like you have fever?”

“No, I feel fine now. But I got it all over my clothes.”

“Well, take them off, and I’ll throw your clothes in the wash. Then you can go lie down on the couch and rest.”

Ethan hands me his jeans, the lanyard from his keys, and his T-shirt—appropriately adorned with the Hurley insignia.

“You just gave Hurley a whole new meaning, bud!” I tease. Ethan smiles and groans. I know he is ok as he flings himself onto the couch. But something’s amiss. I do not hear the sound of the TV and I worry.

“Are you ok?” I ask. “Do you just want to rest quietly?” He can hear my concern.

“No. I can’t find the remote.”

Really? REALLY? Sheesh.

I find it under the cushion and he settles in with Dr. Who.

Now I can descend into the Abyss for the usual routine. To my relief, this morning Garland responds particularly well to my singing.

“Good morning to you. Good morning to youuuuu… .”

Anyone else would cover his ears to deflect my off-key travesty, but Garland giggles. Thank you for that, Dear Dementia.

As I ready his insulin shot, the phone rings again. This time it’s Ali. I am met with sobs and put down the insulin. Oh, this can’t be good.

“Mom, MOM….” She’s quite hysterical.

“What is it, Ali? What’s happened? Are you okay?” Instinctually my adrenalin rises in alarm, but my brain remains calm. This is not her first call to me in this heightened state, and so far no crisis has been life-threatening.

“I slept through my human conflict final and I’m going to faaiiilllll,” she wails. “What am I going to do? I hate school. I just hate it!”

Thank goodness. No is injured. No one is ill.

I jump into fix-it mode.

“Ali, it’s alright.”

“No, it’s not! He’s going to give me a zero. I’m going to fail.”

“Ali, listen to me. Please. Just go to your professor. Maybe he will still let you take it.” Garland is up and wanders over to my supply box of meds. “Oh no. Don’t touch that.”

Ali: “What?”

“Oh, not you sweetie. Grandpa. Garland, can you please come sit on your bed for me?” He follows my direction. Whew. I guess, Al-Z is giving me a break and restraining himself for once. But not for long. I turn my attention back to my daughter. “Go talk to your professor, right away.”

“But how? He won’t be in class! I don’t know where he is! And what am I going to say? That I overslept? He won’t care!”

Really? REALLY! One kid is stupefied into a helpless heap on the couch because the remote is not in his immediate line of vision (granted, he’s suffering; after all, he was just traumatized by the threat of being seen at school with puke down his shirt) and the other is crying so ferociously she has lost her ability to reason on any level at all, her face surely sodden with tears and dripping with snot. Briefly, I wonder if what inspired the Renaissance fair duo Puke & Snot to craft their act.

Ahh, now Al-Z  wants to play.

Garland opens the French door and heads outside into the back yard.

“No, no, no!” I shout to him.

“What?”

“Not you, Ali. Grandpa.” I manage to rein him back inside.

“Ali, you have to at least try to speak to your professor. You can’t know his answer until you ask. And then if he says it’s too late, well, then you’ll know you failed. And you’ll just have to deal with that. But don’t make that happen because you didn’t try to do something about it. Try to fix it. Please. You have to try. Find him.”

“But he won’t be in class anymore. I’m wandering around here. I don’t know where to goooooo,” Ali laments, still sobbing.

“Ali, go to the administration building. Go somewhere. Find someone who works there and ask for help!” I’m beginning to lose my cool. Does no one’s brain function in this family?

“I can’t! What am I gonna say?”

“Ali, just go. Tell the truth. See what happens. But don’t give up.”

“Oh I just hate school. I don’t want to ever come back. There’s no point in taking my other finals!”

Really? REALLY!

I deflate. I plead: “Oh Ali. Just take care of this final right now. Go find your professor. And yes, there is a point in taking your other finals. So study and take them. We’ll worry about the rest when you come home. Right now just do what you can do about human conflict, okay?”

“Oh alright. I don't know why I even call you. Bye.” She abruptly hangs up.

Human conflict? The irony does not escape me. Nor does it escape Al-Z.

Garland heads back to the French door and opens it.

“No, no, no,” I plead halfheartedly, still deflated. “You don’t have any shoes. Later, I’ll bring you your shoes and then we’ll go outside. Now, it’s time to brush your teeth.” And I lead him to the bathroom.

It’s not even 8:30 a.m. yet. In my head, I call out to my friend Max: Are you ready?!!!

That’s our signal that life demands a shot of Jäger.

Years ago, Maxine and I bonded instantly when we met waitressing in Bob’s BBQ, a local watering hole that served heaping platters of slow-cooked, marinated flesh of the beast (both of us are vegetarians); where regulars were so regular that the pleather barstools were indelibly marked with their assprints (Max and I were certain that if ever the cops had only assprints instead of fingerprints to go on, we could identify the culprit); where surprisingly high-caliber bands loved to play great music until Bob inevitably tried to rip them off; and, of course, where the Jäger flowed freely. Customers pegged us as sisters even before our souls knew it; which was odd, because we look nothing alike. So one day I turned to Bob for an answer. You know what he said? It’s because you both have all your teeth. Yikes!  But those stories will have to wait for another blog.

Anyway, in our Life After Bob’s, we began the habit of calling each other in the evenings whenever we had hard day to vent our frustrations and share a shot of Jäger.  Our attitude adjustment.  Are you ready?

The phone rings. It’s Max. She must have heard my silent scream.

“You ready?” I joke.

“Oh no. Your day’s that bad already?”

“Well, not great. What’s up?”

“Can you pick up Bella from the bus stop for me this afternoon? I don’t think I’ll make it in time.”

“Yeah sure. No problem.”

 Anything for my fairy goddaughter Bella. Of course I forgot that Aon Hewitt Navigators is scheduled to call between 1 and 5 to help me pick out Medicare plans for Garland and Meryl Claire. Garland’s employer plan ends next month so they’ve been granted a special enrollment period. Oh well. I’ll find a way to make it work.

I settle Garland down on the couch, turn on Good Morning America, and run upstairs to get breakfast for my father and the dogs. I return to the Abyss to find Garland halfway out the door again. Before I foil his escape, I slop down the dog food and the bowl of cereal; a slice of banana topples onto the coffee table.

“Hey Garland. Come back inside. Come have your breakfast,” I urge.

“Oh, breakfast! I’ll have some of that.” That was easy. He plops down in front of his bowl. “You know, a lot those people don’t like these. But I love 'em. I’ll eat it.”

“Good. You enjoy your cereal and I’ll be right back. Stay right there, pleeeease. Ok?”

“Ok. I’ll be right here.”

I know my request is meaningless, but I’m compelled to try. I bolt upstairs to retrieve an extra sign I penned on fluorescent yellow paper: “Garland Stay Inside. Do Not Go Outside! Do Not Open This Door!” I grab some clear packing tape and scissors and head back down into the Abyss.

Al-Z is ready for me. Garland has abandoned his nearly finished breakfast and is halfway out the door.

“Oh no! Garland wait! You haven’t finished your breakfast!” I call after him.

He stalls and looks back at me blankly.

“C’mon back inside. You don’t have any shoes. C’mon back inside and let’s finish your breakfast.”

Al-Z allows the logic to sink in and Garland retreats with me to the couch. While he focuses on the few remaining shredded wheat biscuits and banana slices, I hurry over to the door and post my second sign, slightly above the first, right at Garland’s eye level.

“Oh. You’ve got that. That’s nice.” Garland startles me with his touch. Boy, that Al-Z can be stealthy.

Garland struggles to read the sign and promptly reaches for the door handle. I redirect him to the signs and we read them together out loud.

Mid-sentence, I realize that this time my signs are no match for Al-Z’s relentless determination to open the door and set Garland free, no matter the pain from the pine needles and pebbles under his socked feet. So how am I going to stop Garland from opening the door?

Aha! I cut a long piece of packing tape, place one end on the door frame, lay the middle over the door handle, and stick the other end to the opposite door frame. I secure a second piece of tape for good measure and step back to consider my handiwork. Take that, Al-Z.

Al-Z immediately takes up my challenge.  Garland looks through the door windows, leans back to read the signs, and reaches for the doorknob. He fiddles with it, and for a moment I hold my breath, wondering if he’ll figure out how to remove the tape. But he’s baffled.

“Well, you’re no good,” Garland says to the door and walks away.

Ha, ha! I’ve won this round, Al-Z.  But the victory is hollow. I know it won’t last, that my fix is only temporary, that Al-Z will figure out a way around it faster than I can adapt.

“Garland, why don’t you come sit over here?” I suggest, pointing to the comfy chair.

“That’s mine! Those people came here. And they did this,” he explains, touching a geometric design on the fabric, “and they did that.”  He touches another design.  “And they took all my money. They aren’t good people.”

I don’t know exactly who “those people” are. Seen and heard only by my father, they do all the wrong things just to piss Garland off. There’s no way to talk my father out of the Mist, so instead I properly acknowledge Al-Z’s cohorts in the Mist.

“The bastards!” I exclaim, and Garland smiles, nodding in agreement.

“Yeah. And the money. But I haven’t got any.” Now Garland deflates and at last he sits. Still, I’m not comfortable leaving Garland unattended.  Al-Z is too clever. The tape surely will not last.

But I also need to prepare for that Medicare meeting. I’ll have to wake Meryl Claire. It’s nearly 10 a.m. She rarely rises before 11; typically it’s closer to or even after noon. She won’t like it, but she will just have to suck it up.

“Mom, mom.” I nudge her shoulder. And she stirs. “I need you to get up. Garland keeps opening the door and I can’t stay down here with him til you wake up. I’ve taped the door close to stop him, but someone needs to keep an eye on him.”

I nearly choke on my own words. Asking Mom to keep an eye on him is like nicely asking an untrained dog to refrain from chasing the squirrel darting past two feet in front him: not gonna happen. But at least her presence may distract him.

“C’mon. Here are your pills,” I prompt her, handing her a cup of water and her pill cup.

She groans but gives in. As soon as she is up and on the couch, I head upstairs.

Twenty minutes later, the chair alarm goes off. The dining room chair I keep propped on its hind legs beneath the door handle leading into the Abyss smacks resoundingly into the tile floor as Garland pushes the door open from the other side and alerts me to his presence. Sometimes the noise startles Garland and he retreats on his own. But this time I race down the top flight of stairs to meet Garland as he enters the kitchen.

“Hi there!” he says, happily.

“Hi there.  C’mon let’s go downstairs,” I say, opening the door and sweeping my arm downward.

“I go down there?” Al-Z’s already swiped his memory of walking up the very same stairs.

“Yeah, down there.”

“Oh, I can do that.” And off he goes.

I close the door behind him and reset the chair alarm.

An hour later, their yelling wafts up two flights and I abandon my Medicare studies. I tiptoe down the stairs and listen for a moment.

“Take that out of your pocket!” Meryl Claire screams. “Take it out. No your other pocket!”

“What? Here?” Garland is dumbfounded.  

Meryl Claire has no patience and, sadly, no love for him. “Your right pocket, you dumb piece of shit! What is in there? Take it out. Show me!”

“Oh, you are no good!” Garland responds, instantly enraged.  “You don’t do anything for me! You lousy bitch!” Al-Z can be particularly foul when he wants to.

That’s enough for me. I intervene, reaching into Garland’s pocket from behind before he is aware of my presence and pull out a pink disposable razor. So unsafe!

He turns on me. “What the fuck are you doing to me?!!”

“Garland, you’ve got to empty your pockets. You can’t keep razors in them.”

“I don’t got to do anything! You people are terrible!”

“Yeah, okay. Come on now. Let’s empty your pockets.” I quickly reach in and pull out the two remaining razors and he raises his fists in protest. I’m not sure if he’s going to hit me, but at least I’ve taken the razors away from him.

I stand up straight and puff out my chest making my tiny self as big as possible, wondering if Al-Z is laughing at my primal reaction. But I don’t care, because Garland backs down.

I glance at the television and redirect his attention to the toy dogs that are modeling couture.

Really? REALLY?

Well, thank goodness for elegantly dressed and coiffed papillons; Garland giggles and sits down.

I turn to Meryl Claire. “How did he get into your room to get the razors with you sitting right here?” As soon as my words take flight, I am sorry. I know the answer.

She looks up at me blankly. “I don’t know.” Al-Z smirks.

Damn it, why do I find it so much harder to accept that she wanders into the Mist too?

I go upstairs to make them lunch. They both perk up when I return with bagels and whitefish.

Then I remember my son, quietly languishing away on the couch. I make him a plain bagel because he’s hungry and he asks for Gatorade. I tell him I’ll pick some up on my way home from getting Bella after school – and maybe some doughnuts.Yes, I may need a doughnut by then.

Good news at last: Ali calls to report that her professor allowed her to take her human conflict final. She wasn’t allotted much time, but at least she has a chance to pass. I can remember when just passing would not have pleased me, but now I need to see joy wherever I can find it. So I am thrilled and encourage Ali to do her best on her remaining exams.

Maple, the home healthcare aide, arrives at 1 p.m. and I hug her with relief.  Now I am free to spend the next few hours on the phone signing up Garland and Meryl Claire for their Medigap plans and Medicare Part D. Yippee!

May the next generation conquer you Dear Dementia.

With love,

Belinda Jay
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