Monday, March 27, 2006

Make it stop


These three tiny words are my mantra now. Taking up permanent residence, tumbling over and over, sometimes staccato, matter of fact; sometimes plaintive; sometimes demanding. Always there. Always.

"What's wrong?" I ask, walking in the door.

Tears are rolling down her face. She murmurs a sheepish, "I'm sorry." I lean over now, where once I would've reached up, wrapping my arms around her. She nearly disappears into them, a tiny, thinning-haired, slump shouldered doll leaning against me.

"What's wrong?" I ask again, quietly. "Are you in pain right now?"

She's silent for a moment.

"No...I just...I'm just being a baby."

Suddenly, loudly, in a tone heard only once before - when I'd laughed at her lecture about teenage girls not staying out all night - she snaps.

"I just want to walk! I HATE NOT BEING ABLE TO JUST WALK!"

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

"Oh...it's okay. It's okay," I say, stroking her shoulders so far beneath my own. "You're not a baby. It's gotta be so hard." I'm almost whispering now, absently stroking her hair.

"You know, I really like that new doctor," he says from across the room. Apropos of nothing, it shifts all our gears.

"Great, dad. I'm glad. Give me your prescriptions and I'll go get---"

"No. Not tonight. It's late and you have to work," he says. "Come by tomorrow with the bread, okay, and you can go then."

By now we've detangled. She leans on the table, arms shaking, sliding one leg forward cautiously over the chair's edge, hovering for a moment before her arms let go and she drops into the chair with a thud. "I don't know...maybe you can call the pharmacy and see how much these new prescriptions are..." her voice, tentative, trails off. Always a sure sign of something missing, something more, tucked out of sight - a phantom hanging between us.

I pick up the reports. It's all gibberish to me. Along with the white jackets, the stethascopes, words nobody really understands - this is their power, these men who hold sway over our lives, who are supposed to have the answers.

Finally, on the MRI, words I can at least read: brain diminishment, calcification. On another page, this time in mom's tiny handwriting - diabetes advancing in legs, with a question mark after it. Arteries narrowed.

"So, dad's legs hurt more now because of this?" I ask, gesturing to her notes.

With a strange look - resignation, pity and fear all at one time, she says nothing. Just places her hand over mine.

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

"Your brother yelled at me today. Can you believe that?" he says, voice bellowing across the room. It's ever thus: conversations never finished, most things left unsaid, and him, the boisterous bandleader always changing tempo, mid-song.

Oh, I can more than believe it.

"Yeah...well, you know...me, too. He's just worried and always the drill instructor, remember?" I say, smiling at him. "Don't pay any attention to him."

"No!" he says, "I don't like what he said to me. Tellin' me all I ever did was stand behind that bar. I cleaned every night until 5 in the morning. Scrubbed damn toilets and mopped floors. I worked my ass off to get all this and he doesn't know..."

His voice gets louder, but there's something else. The slightest tremble. He stops, but it reminds me of Gab, pleading her case to me against her sister, voice a potent mixture of righteous anger and wounded indignation.

"Can you fix this?" she asks, handing me the blood monitor. "I got new strips, but forgot how to set the code. See, this old package has a 'nine' on it. But this one says '15.'

I turn it on. Set the code to 15. Piling up the hospital test results and prescriptions, I remind them we've got paperwork: the VA application, forms for her hip surgeon. For his neurologist. She rifles through some envelopes in the drawer, two bills from Medicare for premiums totaling $1000, a check from Social Security for $100 - half the money to pay for one month's worth of one diabetes prescription.

Realization smacks me in the face: it's not because I've got to work tomorrow. They can't afford the medicine right now.

Oh, God. Please make this stop.

"You know, I should sell the house, come back here for awhile before the surgery. I can always get something else later," I say.

"No. You are not selling that house," he yells, still riled-up from before.

"But...how then? She's not going to be able to get up for awhile. You can't do it on your own. I can't be here all the time."

Silence.

Except in my head, where the drumbeat refrain begins again...
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