Being in the Townville house yesterday was really hard. Really hard. I slept horribly last night, with dream snippets of Mama dying and a feeling of total displacement. Like my childhood was all a dream, that it didn’t really exist.
I wrote this last Sunday, a week ago, the day after this trip. I then saved the draft and closed it. It’s a balancing act, this grief process. If I fall down the rabbit hole into how it really feels, it takes days to climb back out to the real world. But if I carefully skirt around the edges of the hole, making sure to not get too close, I lose the genuineness and “realness” of the raw, true emotion. Which seems dishonest.
Which is better? To just take a flying leap into the crap, and worry about the repercussions later? Or to keep it under control until it’s more “convenient”? Like falling down the grief rabbit hole is EVER convenient.
Although the nightmares and feeling of displacement have abated during the last week, I’m still absolutely certain that I’m avoiding going back to Townville until absolutely necessary. The house has changed. Mama doesn’t live there anymore. It smells like my father now — a mixture of Mich.elin rubber, fried eggs & bacon, with a faint tinge of aftershave. Just inside the back door, there’s now a designated rack for his work shoes. Those shoes used to be relagated to the broom closet. The carpet leading into the living room is dingy & permanently stained where he doesn’t take his shoes off before walking through the house. Daddy only cooks breakfast for himself, then goes to restaurants for lunch & dinner, and so the kitchen is slightly grimy with the dust of neglect… only the stove top, the sink, a couple of pans, & the coffee maker are ever used. There’s one chair in the living room that’s becoming more and more worn, while the others remain the same. A creature of habit, my father only sits in that one chair. The dining room table where we used to have special occasion dinners is now covered with notebooks, books, legal pads, and random bits of paper scribbled with notes.
I found this picture. It’s Jan-06, almost exactly 4 years ago, Tom’s birthday. Pictured from left to right: Tom, back of Jennifer’s head, Kathryn (family friend), Justin (Sue’s then-boyfriend), Sue, me, Daddy, & Mama bringing in the cake & leading us in the birthday song. THIS is how I see it in my mind. This is not how it looks now.
I would (perhaps should?) feel compassion for him. After all, he is living alone, and the house tells the story of complete aloneness. There’s literally a path worn through the house, where he follows the same routine every single day. But I know this — while that existence sounds miserable to me (and probably most people), Daddy enjoys it. He truly does. Jennifer and I had this talk… although he would have never wished Mama to die, and did everything he could to help save her, he is LOVING the life he has now. The independence, the lack of obligation, the fact that he does exactly what he wants when he wants — it’s the life he was always meant to have. It’s the life he always wanted before, and Mama didn’t allow it… her personality was just too big, and too overwhelming to allow the solitude that he’s enjoying now. I remember as a child, him looking at her and saying “Denise, will you please just leave me alone?”
And now she has finally granted his request.
Imagine seeing your childhood memories through a funhouse mirror, where you see your distorted image stretched taller, wider, thinner, shorter. That’s how it feels when I walk through the Townville house. It’s technically the same, but completely different. Jennifer, during her (decreasingly, at Daddy’s request) regular visits, has shoved the furniture around in an attempt to freshen & revive. But with each rearrangement, Mama has become a little more distant. Mama’s room is the worst. It’s the room where she died. It’s the room that I spend the most time in on the rare occasions that I’m there, because I’m there for a purpose — to pack up and move bits & pieces of her out. We shoved her (used to be “their”, but Daddy quit sleeping in that room months before Mama died) furniture around on Christmas Eve 2007, and it hasn’t been moved since. But there’s no way to erase what happened there. It’s the place that I feel closest to her, and the most distraught because it’s the place where I lost her. It’s the only place in the house that still smells like her.
As I was leaving the house, I perched on the sofa to put on my shoes, and noticed the large, glossy book lying on the coffee table. And felt like retching. In the center of the coffee table, there’s a large, leather-bound pictorial tribute to TheMan that TheChurch follows. It’s like a book that you would have of a President of the US, or your favorite celebrity. And I guess for my father, this man IS his favorite celebrity. It made me irrationally angry, that book. I wanted to burn it, or rip it to shreds. Not because I hate or disrespect TheMan — I still have enough of the TheChurch ingrained in me to believe that disrespect towards TheMan is spiritual risky business & may just earn me a one-way ticket to the fiery pit. But the fact that my father would have that on his — THEIR — coffee table, in a place of prominance and reverence, in a place where my mother would have had pictures of her — THEIR — grandchildren. Denise would have never, EVER allowed that book to be displayed on her coffee table. Ever.
The coffee table pretty much sums it up, I think.
It’s so strange —Displacement. Again. — to really, truly believe that your parents should have never gotten married. I’m glad they did because otherwise Jen, Sue & I wouldn’t exist. But two people could not have been more poorly matched than my mother & father.
If I believed that stress could cause cancer (and I don’t — I believe that cancer is physical, not mental), I would believe that he killed her with stress and anxiety just as surely as if he had picked up a gun and shot her. If I believed that, I would blame my father for my mother’s death. Maybe, deep down inside, I already do.