It was Gary, to tell me to leave the cell phone home for the boys, since his mother had been rethinking her situation and might be wanting to be re-hospitalized after all. It might take hours.
I'm still not sure of the circumstances of her being discharged anyway, less than 12 hours after her fall, fracture, trip to the ER and hospital admission. Gary had said something when he brought her home about a possible option of staying in the hospital, but this was after they'd already left.. So, since she'd been discharged, to get readmitted that night would be an arduous process. However, a night at home seemed to have convinced her it would be easier to be somewhere where she could get 24 hour care: "She can't lift her nightgown to go to the bathroom. She has to wear this Depends thing and she can't do that herself. She has to have someone with her all the time."
So Gary wanted me to leave the phone so he could reach the boys if necessary. He said he didn't know how he was going to do it all.
I don't know whether the force that was shaped like "you-should-not-be-leaving-when-he-has-to-take-care-of-his-mother" originated from me, or him. He didn't ask me to not go, beyond implying it was too much for him to juggle her needs with the boys' in my absence. There was a kind of hint that it was wrong to leave the boys. This is a question I've had for years: if I feel the presence of pressure on my decision to act, is it "my guilty conscience" speaking, or am I feeling the influence of something external to me? And should I heed it?
Was I feeling the presence of an unspoken request in "she needs 24 hour care. She can't lift her nightgown"--stuff that he as a son doesn't really want to do and it's awkward and distasteful for them both, but a daughter-in-law could do it? Is the field being tipped toward me making the offer--"Here I am, Lord. Take me."? Or if I'm aware of such a force, does that mean it's the voice of my 'conscience'? Certainly they're telling me that there is a big problem, and if I was to offer, I could make life a lot easier for them. Especially since their 'problem' is within my skill-set.
And so I felt doubt. Leaving the boys wouldn't be an issue had she spent that night at our house. I began to feel doubtful about leaving them...it could be hours, even though a good portion of those hours would be with them asleep. But what about my need to go to Toni, and my perception that she needed to see Marti and I. This would be our first opportunity since the memorial; Christmas stuff had gotten in the way after the service, then freezing rain and icy roads in the week following. I felt a sense of being drawn toward her that was quiet, but persistent. Yes, she'd understand that an emergency with my MIL would prevent me, but that didn't diminish the sense that I needed to be there, in Washington, with her. A voice inside questioned that need--whispered shouldn't my mother-in-law's need take priority, was I not exaggerating the importance of seeing Toni...she and I had waited this long, why not wait another week? Was I overstating the need only to escape an obligation? What was "The Right Thing"?
It would have been really hard for me if Gary had straight-out asked me. But since he didn't I took the conversation at face value. I told him that I should take the cell with me--that it wouldn't do the boys any good to have it since they were going to be home anyway and we have our land line. I told him he should have his mother's cell phone with him so they could reach him if necessary, and he could call to check in on them. He said he didn't know her phone number. I said, "Well, she knows it, right?" "She's got it written down on a piece of paper somewhere." He didn't ask me to bring our cell phone over and I didn't offer.
We hung up, but my doubts didn't. Still, I proceeded to get ready; packed some hiking gear in case we would take a hike. Wrote the boys a note with cell phone numbers and left it outside their door. Fed, watered, medicated the dog. Considered again my course of action. If I didn't go to Washington, and stayed, would it really make a difference? He'd be within 15 or 20 minutes from home. Gary's mom is well acquainted with her health system. Yes, it's nice to have Gary with her, but if the boys did need him he'd be able to leave her there. She doesn't need him to negotiate the admittance process.
The phone rang and it was Toni. She wanted to know if we were coming. I assured her we were, and decided to take the call as a sign that this was what I should be doing.
I drove to Marti's, about 10 minutes away, to have breakfast, after which we'd leave together. I told myself that I would have time to change course if needed.
But as we ate, and I turned the car toward the highway, I felt no sense of fighting my way upstream, of swimming against a tide.
One week before David killed himself I'd been having breakfast with Marti. She said that the police had come to her door. Her ex-husband Sam, and the father of her 17 year old son, had been found dead in his apartment a few days after Thanksgiving. He did not leave a note, and the toxicology report is still pending, but she had no doubts he'd killed himself. They had been divorced for 15 years; his downward spiral had begun during their marriage and continued unabated after their split. He drank heavily and repeatedly failed to show up in his role of father. So his relationship with his son was complicated, to say the least.
It was while I was writing her an email a week later, to inquire after her son, that I received her message that Toni's son was dead by his own hand.
David's death has kind of eclipsed the other, but Marti and I had a chance to talk more about it on our long drive. She's worried about her son, who confided in her that he's very depressed. He's having trouble sleeping, he's in a dry spell creatively, he's struggling in keeping up the facade of normal life: school, his job. He's been a person who's had difficulty forming warm relationships, and his step-father despises him. The feeling is mutual.
She said she asked him if he thought his father might be with him. The answer: "When you're dead you're fucking dead. That's all there is to it." It occurred to me that I need to live my life with my sons so that if I did die, the thought of my continued presence to them would be a comfort, and welcome. Marti told me about a movie, the title I can't remember. It's about a 6 year old girl, who is in an automobile accident that breaks her arm and kills her mother. The movie is about the desperate attempts of this child to feel her mother's presence, trying to summon her. Marti broke down when she described a scene where this child is lying on her mother's grave, desperately digging with her little hands, sobbing. "And then, a woman appears behind her...and it is her mother, who said that the strength of her desire had made it possible for a brief return. And she held her, and they were together for only about 10 minutes, but this gave the girl the strength to go on and live her life." It makes me cry as I'm writing this--the poignancy--of being reunited with her beloved mother who she needs so much, only to have her pulled away again...and that having to be...enough. Marti expressed desire that there could be some way that a sense of presence of his father could comfort her son.
We cried together, 70 miles an hour down the highway. The imagery reminded me of that heartbreaking scene in "Dumbo",where the baby elephant is taken to see his mother one last time before she is carted off in shackles. This in turn reminded me of an interview I'd read on Fresh Air, on NPR, with Pete Docter, the director of "Up":
"Dumbo" is one of my favorites. It's just a simplicity, a wonderful simplicity to it. And as a kid, you know, I saw certain things about it, all the fun and, you know, pink elephants on parade and flying with the crows and things. And now looking back on it, it's got this added dimension to it as a parent that you know, when you have a baby and ma in the scene with the trunks, and they can't even see each other. They can just kind of hold trunks. I have yet to watch that without crying, you know.
In turn, this reminded me of thoughts I'd had about that movie. Something about Karl, and his grief about losing Ellie galvanized taking their home to their childhood dream: Paradise Falls, in Venezuela. And how he'd had an epiphany: a sign from Ellie that at some point love was no longer about transporting the house--he needed to transfer that love into action on behalf of a boy, a dog, a bird. His grief, and his honest experience of it, led him to a wholly new, transformed experience of love and joyous fulfillment that he'd thought was beyond him.
Marti remarked that it was curious that I'd taken Toni's phone call that morning as a sign that this was what we needed to be doing. She said that she would have taken it as a sign that Toni wanted to do something else, and didn't want us to come. However, for me, the conversation Marti and I had been having, and our total ease and comfort, was further confirmation that indeed we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.
I'm pausing, and trying to find words to describe the persistence of this rightness. Toni lives now in the home of the man she loved for 12 years, and ultimately left her 23 year marriage for. For the first time I heard the story of how they'd met...her family visiting a mutual friend's down the road, and ending up here in this house we were now sitting in. She had watched, anguished, as he went through 3 relationships in that time. She told how she'd driven to his house 6 years ago and declared herself to him; said she wanted to get her youngest child through high school first (she was a sophomore then), but she had set her sights on him. She watched him go through at least another relationship after that, dying inside.
I had not realized the force, duration, and persistence of this drive to be with him. It's an incredible story, and reminds me of my own drive, which persisted beyond logic, to be with her that day. The day was a perfect cradle, which held the three of us softly, held the space open for what needed to unfold. We lounged before the wood stove; every window revealing a scene of harmonius peace: the peeling bark of an aspen; the texture of the brushy needles of a ponderosa. Birds feeding; the sweeping vista of the Columbia River Gorge. It's a view that savages Toni now...she can see where her son died.
The day held the space for our relationships to midwife what needed to be said.
Gary is here from his mother's and plans to stay there tonight. A home health physical therapist came to her house today. A social worker will come tomorrow. Last night was the second night that Gary stayed at her house; and at 8:30 he'd taken her to the emergency room. Her splint was causing her pain. They didn't get back to her house until after midnight. Then he was up at 4:30 am with her because she'd undone her new splint and they had to struggle with it. Everything, he said, is a struggle. Things that should take a few minutes become big problems that take an hour to resolve. They've fought several times. I asked if she's safe, home alone right now, and he said she's lying down.
He said depending on what her options are revealed to be by the social worker he may bring her here. I told him straight that if I've seemed distanced from this process, it's because I am. I told him that given the nature of our relationship, his and mine, and hers and mine, he cannot expect me to take care of her. I told him that he can tell her that we are getting a divorce if he wants to explain it to her. He said if he brings her here he wants me to provide an equal amount of help. He wants to set her up in our recliner chair in the front room, since our bed is too low for her, and the guest bedroom is downstairs. I said this doesn't make sense; we're up in the middle of the night sometimes to let the dog out. We get up early to get the boys ready for school. It doesn't make sense to have her parked in the middle of our family living space. I said that if he brings her here I will stay away during the hours that the boys are in school. I will not bathe her. And, I think it is a Really Bad Idea. I pointed out their struggles at 4 a.m. this morning, asked if he wants to bring this into the middle of our home.
If we had a different kind of relationship, him and me, and her and me, this would be a completely different story. My resistance to this is as logical as the number 4 following the number 3. Caring willingly for her would be the result of history and conditions that do not exist.
It's an interesting juxtaposition, this new wrinkle with my mother-in-law, and the questions it posed for me in visiting my friend. The answer was tuning in to internal guidance, which felt different, more subtle, than I'd expected.
We talked, Marti, and Toni and I, about David. Toni described a longing that reminded me of the movie Marti had told me about in the car. Little instances; a particular song David had liked coming on the radio at a time when she needed to hear it. Struggling to set a clock, frustrated and angry because the minutes digits were stuck on a certain number. Struggling and struggling with it, to glance up and see a photograph of her son in his high school football jersey--with that very number. Longing for him while on a drive, glancing up to see a junction with another highway, numbered his number. I cried out in recognition: "It's just like the movie Marti was telling me about! What you're experiencing is the equivalent of the little girl's mother appearing! This is the form it takes!" I pictured another dimension, a whole iceberg of a world, inserting itself gently into ours--the very tip manifesting as the team number for her son...a song on the radio.
And every moment, for me, confirmation, that where I was, with these two friends, was right where I needed to be. And it seems that we all needed to be there, together.
It's a relief to know I made the right choice.