Thursday, August 25, 2005

History repeats itself.

Sometimes I feel like I lived two separate childhoods.

From my earliest memories I can remember the days at home while my Dad was at work -my Mom stayed home and would play games with me, sit and watch me play in the front or backyard. When my Dad got home from work he'd turn into the "Shampoo Monster" and we'd play a game that ended up with him giving us a bath. I was a lucky kid -I had a sandbox, a big wheel, and a slip and slide... As I grew older I was allowed to ride my bike from "Adam's to Aimee's" (the houses of two kids, each about 5 houses down the block from ours). My parents bought us a 4-foot pool, one of the few on the block, and every year we went on vacation. Our family went camping, fishing, canoeing... We'd go out to my Grandpa's farm and shoot cans with our BB gun. It felt like we had it all.

Then there was the other side. I can't really remember when it started -not long after my Dad started a business at home, I think. He'd drink all day while we were at school and when we got home he'd be angry at us for stupid little stuff. He'd yell and we'd escape to a friend's house or to our rooms to play quietly. But, as we got older we got more defiant and it progressed to the point where he'd throw things. Not at us (usually), but numerous things got broken -remote controls, our Nintendo... I remember a pizza being thrown at the wall. It got to where we'd fear for our safety sometimes and I retreated to my room even more often. I remember late nights where I'd sit in my room with the door cracked just enough to see out while my Mom and Dad fought (verbally). He'd threaten to leave, she'd run after him begging him not to. I shed so many tears over his drinking and over the possibility that he'd leave us and I'd never see him again.

The bad times were definitely bad, but the good times were very good and the household seemed to swing from one extreme to the other as if hanging by a string and swaying in the wind. During the bad times I'd often write my Dad letters asking him to please stop drinking -for his health, for me, for the family... He ended up going into AA for awhile, and for a brief period the mood was more stable, but then -without the alcohol to medicate him, he grew even angrier and then slipped back to drinking again. After that he no longer just threatened to leave, he would leave, sometimes for a day or two, sometimes for a week or longer. The first time he was found in Joliet. He was so drunk he didn't even know his own name. This was all taking it's toll on my Mom, so letters would no longer do, and I'd be the one following him as he packed his stuff to leave yet again. I'd follow him out to the driveway and beg him to stay while my Mom fell apart in the house. Just like my letters, my begging went ignored and I would watch him drive down the block through the tears in my eyes. Every time I felt like my heart was torn out and I worried that he might kill someone (or himself) while driving drunk.

When I finally left home, I worked very heard to leave those things behind me and slowly came to the realization that I wasn't responsible for his moods and I couldn't do anything then or now to help the situation. I sympathized with it, but I had learned to live my own life, separate from their drama. Then my Dad had his stroke...

Now, there exists all the old problems (my Dad's anger, his wanting to drink, my Mom's going to pieces and him wanting to leave), but there's also new problems (the added frustration of him not being able to communicate, my Mom's fear of his health getting worse and her wanting to do all she can to help him regain what was lost when he had the stroke). All of it together is simply too much for my Mom to handle. So, when it gets really bad, she calls me crying and in hysterics.

This last time, Monday, she called saying he wants to leave again and begging me to talk to him. -This is a common thing, she wants me to talk to him over the phone, but he can't talk back! -He tries, but its gibberish and it serves only to frustrate him and me both. So, he's agitated, and she wants me to talk him out of leaving. Gee, the situation sounds familiar. But instead of getting angry about it I think: my Dad's had this stroke, and my Mom's been a saint looking after him 24x7, so I start trying to come up with other solutions. I ask her the name of the Social Worker that worked with my Dad the last time he was in the hospital -she might have some ideas, or at least some contacts for support groups for my Mom so that when this thing blows over, she can get some help. My Mom says no one can help, she's tried everything -she can't go to a support group because she has to take care of him, the doctors are no help, friends and family refuse to help her, and on and on until she's so hysterical that I can barely make out what she's saying.

Mom: "Just talk to him"
Erica: "It's not going to do any good. We need to come up with a solution here."
Mom: "Talk to your father, calm him down for me."
Erica: "It's never worked in the past, it's only going to frustrate him more when I don't understand what he's saying. We need to call someone to find out what our options are, what was the name of the Social Worker at UIC?"

We do this over and over again until... Silence. She's hung up on me.

And I'm left knowing that my Dad is angry, probably violent (as he has been since the stroke), and I'm cut off -an hour and a half away, not knowing what's going on, unable to do anything to help them because my Mom can't think straight while she's stressed out like this. I let it blow over and try to continue what I was doing before (working on my car), but I'm angry, upset, and hurt by what transpired. I can't get anything done because my thoughts keep going back to the phone call. Was I wrong? Should I have talked to him? (She puts him on the phone everytime I call to see how they're doing. It's uncomfortable. He talks on and on and on and it's all babble -the same sounds over and over, but in his head they make sense. There's nothing I can say but "I'm sorry, Dad, I don't understand" and the phone goes back to my Mom.)

An hour later I can't stand it anymore. I feel guilty for not taking some sort of action, so I call my brother. He's been better at calming her down through these situations before. But, when he answers, I find out he's as frustrated with her as I am. He agrees, however, to call her and see if he can help at all.

As soon as I put the phone down it rings again. It's my Mom. Do I pick it up? My whole body trembles. I want this to be over, one way or another. Is it good news, or bad? Does she want to apologize? Does she realize how childish the hang-up was? -I pick it up.

Mom: "I just wanted to let you know that it's a little better."
Erica: "That's good to hear. -I just got off the phone with Jeff, he said he was going to call you."
Mom: "Call him back and tell him not to call me."
Erica: "He's probably already dialing your number, why don't you want to talk to him?"
Mom: "The least you can do is talk to your father when I ask"

Then, silence again -she hung up on me a second time! My heart beat speeds up, tears start forming in my eyes, my whole body begins to tremble... I was taken back to the days where I watched the two of them fighting through the crack in my door. It took awhile, but I calmed myself down, then took it out on my exercise bike and went to bed.

My next contact with my Mom came yesterday via email:

Mom: "guess what today is?"
Erica: "your anniversary"
Mom: "yes, Bad morning. I'm going to need some help from someone...."
Erica: "You need to ASK for help when you need it. What do you need?"
Mom: "Time away from Dad..the only time I have is here at work. Friends and family seem to disappear at times like this."

We've been through this before too, and over and over I've offered to sit with Dad to give her a break, I'd do anything she'd ask of me, but when I visit, she never asks for anything at all. And as for me "disappearing" -I was there a week ago Monday!

Before the stroke I visited once a month, now I'm there every week or every other week. She keeps bringing this up, that I don't visit enough, that I should have been there to help her mow Gram's grass last week. I'm sick of being made to feel like a bad daughter because I can't anticipate her needs and be there when she needs help (without her asking). Never once has a request of her's been denied by me or my brother, but we continually are made to feel like we're abandoning her. I'm having an increasingly hard time trying to balance being grateful that she's there and caring for my Dad 24x7 with the total and utter frustration of her endless accusations that I'm a bad daughter while shes totally unable to take my (or anyone's) advice. She claims she can't get away from my Dad to go to support group meetings, but she's called me in great triumph when she's left him alone while she went grocery shopping. She won't call anyone to find out what her options are when my Dad tries to leave, and despite him being "dried out" while he was in the hospital, I came to find out last week that she's been GIVING ALCOHOL TO HIM!!!

How do I come up with sympathy for her situation when she continuously creates it? All the problems that they are having, aside from the communication problem that undoubtedly amplifies everything else, were there before the stroke. -I feel like they should have either dealt with all these issues a long time ago, or divorced back when I was in Jr High or High School.

I don't know what to do or what to think anymore. This is all driving me crazy. I have my own sources of stress, my own life, and I believe that I'm entitled to an entire weekend here and there to recover from work and everything else that's going on. So, where's the line between being a caring member of a family, and being a bad daughter? Right now I feel like just packing up the dog, grabbing Ed, and disappearing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Normal people watch TV.

I climbed the stairs slowly, trying not to touch anything. I got to the bedroom and decided I wasn't really sure how I was going to get a towel out of the closet. Well, I figured I'd do it just like last time -I took off my t-shirt, turned it inside-out, and wrapped it around my hand before opening the closet door. I grabbed a towel through my t-shirt covered hands, and placed it in the bathroom, then grabbed the remote off of my bedstand. I turned on the TV, not caring what was on. -I just wanted some background noise so I didn't have to focus completely on anything in particular. I dropped the t-shirt in the dirty clothes bin, unzipped my boots and put them away, socks, belt, jeans...

I stood there in my underware, hands black with oil and grease from the car and turned to the TV. It was a program called "Spy" on WTTW (channel 11). -It was a reality show, but it looked kinda interesting. I thought about the millions of people across the country who were at home right now, sitting infront of the TV. Me? -I was exhausted and I was jealous. I turned the TV off and got into the shower.

In the shower, I scrubbed away the result of a night's work on my car -well, most of it. Then I headed to bed to get as much sleep as possible before getting up for work the next day.

The TV was on for all of 5-10 minutes. I think that was the first time it was on all week. Normal people watch TV. I work on my car.