I am, in my own mind, notorious for lack of follow through on big ideas. There are many notable exceptions, but the self-critic voice is extremely loud and incredibly close. In my head, I bail on everything. But I won’t venture down that introspective rabbit hole.
The latest of my big ideas is to stay, for now, on the property my parents built, where my sisters and I came of age, that my mother hung onto by herself against all odds; and to do a new thing with it. Atypically, I have set incremental goals with initiation dates. There are roadblocks, but I am pushing forward.
I have met my first goal, just three weeks beyond my timeline. A week and a half ago I published my rental space on Airbnb. (You can view it here.) Over the next few days, five bookings quickly pinged into my phone. “Congratulations! X is booked with you on…” THRILLING!
They’ve slowed down now and I’m struggling to be patient. Patience, I realize with sudden clarity, may be at the root of my perceived lack of follow through: I want results to burst forth fully formed. When they don’t, I move on to the next big idea. I’m sticking with this one though, need for income is a mighty force.
The next goal is trickier, requiring more self-confidence and stepping hugely out of my comfort zone. Someone quietly sleeping downstairs doesn’t require much of me. Leading a writing group might be the most extroverted endeavor I’ve ever attempted. Stay tuned.
Mama is looking into her future too, with much less alacrity. If you remember from last week’s post, she was fearful about the “pain around her heart,” an old and ongoing complaint. I decided to revisit it with her. Not the pain, but her fear of it, her need to have it addressed over and over and over; not hearing or not believing or not remembering that doctors tell her her heart is strong and she isn’t going to have a heart attack.
My guess was that she doesn’t want to die suddenly (something we all say we hope for) maybe because she doesn’t want to be alone. That maybe she wants fair warning so she can be surrounded by family and have time to say goodbye. That dying in her sleep after all this time is a lame way to go. I could not have been more wrong.
“How is the pain around your heart?” I ask her a couple days later.
“It’s gone away,” she says. Mmmhmm. It always does, but that isn’t my purpose in this conversation, so I press on.
“When you have those pains, you are eager to have your blood pressure taken and to have a doctor tell you what’s going on. Can you tell me what you are hoping for? What you want them to do? Medication? What are you afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of being in pain for a long time. I don’t want medication. I want to just die quickly.”
“Are you afraid to be alone?” I understand her fear, but not her solution. I press for understanding. “Do you call for an aide so someone will be with you?”
“No,” she says. “I want to just go to sleep and not wake up.” Flummoxed, I decide to go for reassurance rather than understanding.
“I think if it’s a heart attack, you will go quickly, as you hope to. But more likely your heart will just stop beating someday, probably while you are sleeping, but that isn’t the same as a heart attack. I don’t think it will hurt.”
“Okay,” she says.
It seems like a good enough story; it’s what I’ve got. I decide she’s afraid of being alone in pain of any sort, and she isn’t able to ask for someone to just come and sit with her. I don’t have to understand; she doesn’t have to be able to verbalize. She is—we are—in the anteroom now, and we might be here for a long time. It’s a dark and mysterious place; frightening to her, curious to me.
I change the subject, deciding to tell her about my Airbnb. It’s risky. I want to share my life with her, I’ve always wanted that. But she is a dream robber. And I still want her support. A bad combination. Sometimes I keep quiet, but often I stupidly tell her, thinking surely it will be different this time.
I fill my voice with enthusiasm and my words with excitement, hoping to clue her in to the response I’m hoping for.
“You are going to let strangers sleep in the house?” she exclaims.
That went well. I backtrack to reassurance mode.
“I put locks on the interior doors so guests can’t get into the rest of the house,” I tell her. “And I know two of the first guests. I’m excited to meet new people and share what you and Daddy so lovingly created.” (I also implore her not to be a Debby Downer if she wants her daughters to share their lives with her.)
Today I will tell her one of last week’s guests (a photographer) took an early morning walk in the Seminary Hill Natural Area. He said it was beautiful, and asked me to thank her for saving the trees. This weekend, I will tell her, a couple is stopping on their way to Portland to visit their son. They are coming from Lynden, a town near the Canadian border founded by an ancestor (Phoebe Goodell Judson) on my paternal grandmother’s branch of the tree. Connections. It’s how we change the world, one stranger at a time.
We are on parallel paths, Mama and I, both heading toward a new land moving in opposite directions. As she moves toward the center and I out into the world, we pass every now and then. We try to connect, but our eyes are on very different prizes. I try to be where she is when I’m with her; but when I leave her, I have to be where I am and hang on to who I am.