Monday, November 4, 2013

Obstacles to Love, Part I

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find 
all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”~Rumi

"All I can say is, Love stinks."
~J. Geils Band

This time the rescue squad comes because my mother has been picking her nose; she admits as much. She is sitting up in bed, surrounded by a new white duvet.  I bought it yesterday—because she insists color and patterns are too jazzy for sleeping—but it looks just like the old one now that it's covered in blood.  I've been pinching her nose for 45 minutes;  she says she doesn't know how long she was bleeding before that.

          "Roxanne, can you tell me who is the President of the United States right now?"  The EMT who asks her is barely older than my own kids, who used to wear costumes like his to go trick-or-treating.  My mother's bedroom is jammed with EMTs in bulky blue uniforms, plus a cop, all waiting for her answer.

          "Of course," she says.  "Just give me a minute." 

          What year is it? What month? What day of the week? None of these questions has any relevance to her, and at the moment, they have no relevance to me, either.  In the ER, they'll have to cauterize again, and in a couple of days she'll pick her nose and hemorrhage again, and if it should happen in the middle of the night, I won't know till it's too late. 

          "Mom, why do you pick your nose?" 

          The EMTs hear me,  whining and shrill, the cop hears me,  and I hear it.  I don't care that I'm interrupting with my own mental test.  No one can help her and I'm fed up with it.  "Why do you do it?" I ask.

          "I just don't know," she says.

Rather than making an appointment to see my old shrink—who must be in his 80s now, nearly my mother's age—I decide to figure out what my dream about the lifesaver means. Instead of catching the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, I end up at a deserted rodeo ground with a bunch of pissed off cowboys. The rodeo's been cancelled and my car won't start so I take pictures of the lifesaver mounted in a big glass case. There's a very important word printed on the lifesaver and I want to remember it, but every photo I take is blurry. When I wake up the word is gone.

          I'm embarrassed later, when I finally remember the four-letter word on the lifesaver: it's LOVE. But it also makes me happy for awhile, because finally I have a doable alternative to helplessness and despair. Love saves us.

          The problem is, I haven't kissed my mother for days. I don't like the way she smells, she refuses to bathe or brush her teeth, or the way her eyes roll all the way back in her skull when she avoids the question, "What would you like to eat for dinner?"

          Before lunch she'll ask, "Do we have anything delicious to eat?" Instead of being charmed or charming, I'm determined to make her tell me what she wants. 

          "We have leftover lasagna, does that sound delicious?"

          "Oh, no."

          "How about biscotti? Blackberries, cantaloupe?"


          "You tell me something, then." And her eyes roll all the way back before the eyelids come down. "Mom?"

          "I really don't know," she says. "Just anything."

          I bring her a plate with a small square of warm lasagna and when I come back later to remove the dirty dish, she thanks me in a way that makes my throat close up. She's lying down with the covers up to her ears and her eyes are shut. Most of the lasagna is still on the plate.

          I know already that when I'm orphaned, I'll be consumed with guilt, and I will deserve it, and that maybe the guilt will even be my way of staying close to my mother. I know that all she really needs anymore is the full attention of my love. That would be enough to sustain both of us. I absolutely believe that love saves us. But I can't get around the fucking boulder that stands in my way. Or maybe, in my dream lingo, I won't use the lifesaver that's right in front of me. What is the impediment to love? In case of emergency, break glass. What's stopping me?

I fall down a flight of steps at work but land on my feet. Danny leans against the banister at the foot of the stairs, already yakking away about something boring. Sports, probably. Because I've stumbled into him, our faces are too close, but Danny doesn't notice. All he wants is my full attention and he has it.

          Danny's face is so near to mine I can see the muddy flecks in his green eyes and the reddish stubble that covers his jaw. He rubs one eyebrow, the way a child might stroke himself to sleep. He stops blinking and his nostrils flare a little because he's making some crucial point. It feels like he's talking into my mouth.

          I wake up pissed off. Why am I back there again, in dreamland, dazzled, same as always, by his indifference?

          I put a slice of bread into the toaster for my mother's breakfast and make a pot of coffee. While I froth hot milk in her favorite white mug embellished with grapevines, I don't even have to close my eyes. White, beguiling and soft as a cloud, as a pillow, I lean into Danny's face, his warm breath, and I inhale. Just like receiving mouth-to-mouth, or oblivion.

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