Friday, September 16, 2005


The messenger pops up as I sit at my desk.

Lis: u there?
KT: y
Lis: talk to your mom. I think I can get her a referral to a psychiatrist but she has other ideas.
KT: Like what.
Lis: A meaningful discussion with her oncologist.
KT: christ.
Lis: I have been the tough daughter-in-law all week. Can you take a turn?
KT: Can I shake her? Sorry. Have her call.

I am annoyed and the thought of more down time turns my stomach. My brothers, my sisters-in-law and I are all on call, with discreet roles to play. It is exhausting because we are all by nature so transparent.

"I've been going to a counselor. She isn't helping. She doesn't ask me any questions."

"Well, are you telling her what you have been through?" I ask, certain of the answer. Suddenly she has her heart set on a therapist with inkblots and an Austrian accent? Why would Mom pick this moment in her long, chatty life to get quiet? Nothing goes as planned in this misadventure.

"It doesn't matter anyway. Nobody listens to me. All the men are such chauvinists and don't hear me. This one, this woman therapist doesn't write anything down. Aren't they supposed to write things down? How is Haley feeling anyway? Gosh I hope she gets better. I cannot visit until she does, it is so cold and all. I really don't want to get sick."

"They are listening. What they hear is a woman incapable of focusing on the issue at hand. Then they tell us to get you help. I have an idea. Take your pad with all your notes from Dad's last episode and give it to the counselor. That might help get you both going."

"I'm not sure I can find it."

"It's in your suitcase. I saw you pack it. I told you to bring it because I would need it if we have to get him committed."

"I think I may have taken it out and put it in the desk in Florida, so I wouldn't lose it."

My brain stumbles. She is protecting him.

"So many people have called me, wanting to call or write to him," she continued.

"No one is to contact him. He must learn that there is no net."

"But he is supposed to be surrounded by love. That's what everyone says. And I have to be more careful about the things that drive him to drink," she adds, in a voice more fitting of a mother with a dying child."

"Events don't drive him to drink. He uses them as an excuse." We had been over this many times, but it is hard to communicate with people about the mental process. I switch to physiology. If she wants to protect him, we can do the aliens have taken over his body routine.

"Long term alcohol use alters the brain at a very basic level. Alcohol convinces its host, Dad, that he cannot live without alcohol. It's like whatever tells our brains we need to breathe to get oxygen. It's on automatic. If he already has alcohol in him, he cannot resist getting more. Dad, our Dad, not this other guy, what he wants cannot surface until the body is completely dried out, and that can take months. Until then, he cannot stand up to the alcohol impulse on any kind of a conscious level."

"Then we can be there?"

"Hold on. Until then, the desire to drink is all consuming. Anyone he knows likes him will become someone he can con, sucker, bully, or manipulate in order to get a room where he can hide a bottle. Tell everyone to stay away."


"Think of how he manipulates you. It's not Dad, it is something wildly bad. One moment he tells you he loves you, he weeps, he is contrite. An hour later he belittles you with insults, mocks you over your mastectomy, threatens to divorce you, talks about other women. He won't let you know where the money is kept. He wants to know where you are all the time. He reviews all your shopping receipts to make sure you are not buying too many pickles or paying too much for milk. He will glare at you and blame his condition on you. He doesn't want you to visit your kids. You know this is not our dad. This is a monster that understands that its host cannot lay about and continue drinking unless you are there, keeping him just fed enough, clean, and out of jail; someone to drive him home from the hospital when he takes a fall in the driveway looking for his stash. It is a strong a need as his need to breathe. How are you going to defeat that monster? None of us has a clue. We are all out of our element. We have to do as we are told by the professionals." I sat down. That was all I had to give her.

"I was thinking, " she said meekly, "You know how I have become afraid to drive?."

I did. I reckoned it had something to do with weakening eyes.

"I think it is because he gets so angry with me if I go to see you kids, or visit my friends. Now, when I get behind the wheel, I cannot breathe. You know what else? As soon as I walk into a grocery store, I get nauseous. I get sick because I have to spend money. Is this what you want me to talk about with the psychiatrist? Maybe I will go get a notepad and see what else I can connect. I will go find a place to sit in a sunny window and think. It is so cold here, did I tell you? . . ."

I sit there, thinking words I will not type.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Buffalo Bills play Pittsburgh in the Wild Card show-downs

The Big Game. No, A Big Game.

"If we leave at 2 am, we might get home in time for the game Buffalo Bills vs Pittsburgh, but don't forget the time change," the Captain said, calculating wind speed and toll waits into the long apres-holiday journey home. A viscious ice storm kept us from departing at deer-killing time, but he would see the Buffalo Bills play Pittsburgh in the Wild Card show-downs, no matter what. He kept checking the clock and the map and had even the night before scoped out sports bars featured along the mapquested cities. Five hours into the journey (which involved two wrong turns and an upset stomach episode, I just wanted to hear, "Oh, the heck with it. We have a long way to go and a car full of kids. Let's just go home." I heard instead, "Yes. This could be the magic exit. Let's try this unknown city and find a place to watch the game." The kids sided with him. One of these kids had thrown up on me about 2 hours earlier. Apparently that was all over now.

"Here. The sports bar should be right here," he said triumphantly as he manuevered the van into the parking lot of the Lounge. The windows were placed high. The lot was full of beater cars. The building looked more like a worn down double-wide than a sports fan emporium. The sign on the door said, "No one under the age of 21 admitted."

"That cannot apply to us," he said. "Not during the day."

I had given up offering any opinion on this trip about four days earlier. I thought of what the inside of the Lounge must look like, smell like. I wondered wether the barkeep had anything on over his T-shirt. I thought of my four-year-old, snuggling up to the bar with the locals. "I am sure you are right," I said to him as he headed inside. I wondered if I would ever see him again.

Fifteen minutes of driving later, we were seated at an Applebees. They had promised we would be able to see a television. I ordered three wines while everyone else was into fried whatever. The Bills, as history prefers to have it, lost. Our waitress said she was sorry, and added, "Wasn't that the Steelers' second string they had in? How interesting. Some were even third stringers weren't they?" Her tip was getting close to 5%, when I noticed her dangling Pittsburgh Steeler earings. We were two and a half states away from Pennsylvania. Do I really need so much material? Can't anything in my life be so strange it must be made up?

So, despite thinking of the Steelers as a decent back-up team to route for when the Bills aren't around, at the end of their loss to New England yesterday, all I could see were those dangling earings and the waitress's mouth in slow motion forming the hollow words, "Sooooo sooorrrrrryyyyy."