Last week was the kids’ spring break, and they, along with their cousin, spent two days with John’s parents in Coos Bay. That meant John and I had two days on our own, which was delightful. We felt so drunk with freedom one night we went out for pie — at 8 PM.

There’s a big difference between briefly stepping out without the kids (our normal ultra-lame getaway is what we call the store date, which is where us adults go to Safeway and wander the aisles bullshitting while the kids are back home staring at YouTube), and having them totally under someone else’s care for a decent period of time. It’s rejuvenating, a bit like coming up for an extra-oxygenated inhale. It’s an opportunity to actually connect as married people, not married people with kids.

(I mean, even though we tend to talk about the kids the whole time.)

This stage of parenting is much less hands-on than those early bootcamp years, but it’s consuming all the same. Now we have, like, people around all the time, people who are present in a way small children are not, so pretty much everything we talk about and everything we do is as a foursome. It can be hard to step out of that and be reminded, this is who I still am as an individual, or this is who we are as a couple.

It was so great to have that break from our usual routine, be able to take a minute to think, Oh hey, it’s us. I like us. Let’s go get us some pie.

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I am only here for today, so that she can leave the apartment. She has an appointment with a lawyer, it’s time to talk about next steps for her husband. He has cancer and Alzheimer’s, he’s fallen three times this month alone. “I just don’t have the strength for this part,” she tells me. She’s talking about physical strength, or maybe not.

She’s neat as a pin, buttoned into a crisp blouse and cardigan. She sits, spine straight, hands folded in her lap. She apologizes for the cat, who winds himself in needy figure eights around my ankles, and tells me to make myself comfortable. Her husband will likely sleep the whole time. “He sleeps a lot these days,” she says.

She bustles around his bed, introduces me to him (“Hi, honey”), asks if he needs a drink, re-arranges his pillow.

They live in a retirement community, a building for seniors but without the staff of a care facility. There is a button on the wall above his head, I ask if it’s for emergencies. She shakes her head. “Best to just call my phone,” she says.

While she’s gone, I sit on the couch. The apartment is tiny: one small room that is living area and kitchen combined, an adjacent room that is bedroom and bath. Her husband lies in the type of bed I’ve become familiar with, all metal railings and origami mattress folds. A television blats above his head, he fumbles with the remote and lands on a game show. He snores for a while, then startles the daylights out of me by loudly exclaiming, “OH boy. OH boy.”

“Everything okay? Can I get you anything?” I call, hovering in the doorway.

He smiles at me, blurry and tired. “I’m fine, honey.”

There are no books in the living room, no radio, no TV. It’s quiet in an airless sort of way, like being inside a stoppered bottle. I try to imagine how she spends her time. I can’t shake the image of her sitting in the recliner and absently stroking the cat, then getting back up to check on him. The carpet worn smooth from this singular path.

From the bedroom: “OH boy!”

What I would like is to keep coming back, so that she can leave. Go have lunch with her daughter, maybe, or just sit outside and feel the sun on her face. I tell her that, say she doesn’t even have to call hospice, she can just call me. She’s polite, and thanks me, but I know I won’t hear from her. She just needed to get to this appointment. The rest of the time, she’s doing what she can for him.

I want to wave a magic wand for this couple, fix the financial trap that has left her as sole caregiver, undo the heartbreak and confusion and the need for such steely resolve, breathe some life back into this home. I want assurances, that this will not happen to the people I love, that it will not happen to me. But none of it is within my influence or understanding, and I am only here for today.

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