“He fell again,” my husband mouths to me, then returns to his phone call with his-brother-who-I-cannot-stand. “No, no. I’m right here. I can be there in twenty minutes.”
Of course he’s going out in an ice storm in the middle of the night. Of course he’s the one my father-in-law calls, a man who patently favors my husband’s inept older brother and overindulges his younger one. Of course he’s riding to the rescue. That’s what martyrs do.
My husband paces, phone still in hand. “Did the doctors say anything else—what caused the fall?”
Dehydration, I say to myself. Your father never drinks anything but coffee and whiskey, oftentimes together.
“He has a urinary tract infection, too?” My husband looks shocked that his father’s poor lifestyle choices have had a negative impact on his health.
Of course he has a UTI. Primarily brought on by dehydration, I want to say, but at this point in our marriage, we’ve had too many conversations about the same things. I’ve learned it’s better to say nothing. Eggshells can only be walked on for so long.
My husband hangs up the phone and starts to get dressed.
“Sorry I woke you up,” he apologizes, but the apology is insincere. He wants me to commiserate with him, but I’m not playing this game at 3:00 a.m. I have my own problems. We have our own problems.
“I have to get up and change the sheets anyway,” I mutter.
“Yup,” I pull off a pillow case. It’s drenched.
“Maybe try hormone therapy?”
Maybe go to hell, I want to say, but I conjure up an icy smile which looks suspiciously like a grimace. No, I don’t need any more synthetic hormones floating through my body, thank you. Remember how I spent twenty years on the pill because you wouldn’t get a vasectomy?
“I love you,” he says, giving me a perfunctory kiss.
“I love you, too,” I reply, wondering for a second if I really do.
He leaves for the hospital.
I luxuriate in his absence until 4:17 a.m.
My eyes open before the second time my name is called. My name. My name has been Mom for over three decades. Even my husband calls me Mom.
It’s our youngest. She’s weeping, mascara and eyeliner running down her puffy face in black rivulets. She’s blubbering, incomprehensible and hysterical.
“What—what’s going on?” I say, getting out of bed, finding a robe, knocking over a glass of water.
“Mom, I wrecked the car . . . I. Wrecked. The. Car.” She caterwauls, falling into my arms. She smells of alcohol, tobacco, and my perfume, which disappeared from my vanity last month. And why cigarettes? Why can’t she just vape like her iditoic peers?
“Slow down. Tell me what happened.”
I hand her a box of tissues and she blows her nose.
I wait, wrapping a thick fleece blanket around myself. After my perimenopausal night sweats, I expect to get the chills—and they arrive as advertised.
“Okay, don’t get mad,” she starts.
This preface to her confession is when I know it’s going to be expensive.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m all right, but the car is t-totaled!” A new round of sobbing begins.
I pat her on the back, wondering if I can put her in a warm bath then go downstairs to eat a pint of ice cream. Any flavor. Doesn't matter.
“Tell me exactly what happened,” I pull back, looking into her tragic, raccoon eyes. I note she has a new facial piercing. I ignore it (for now) and affix a look of genuine concern.
“Okay, Mom,” she sniffs dramatically. “So I backed into a car at Taco Bell. And then the driver was really mean to me—he yelled! So I left, but I ran over his foot.”
I raise my eyebrows and start counting the felonies.
“On the way home, a cop followed me. He pulled me over. I waited until he was out of his car—then I took off!”
“You. took. off.”
“I was scared because I had been drinking—” her lower lip trembles. “And then I hit the sign.”
“The sign outside our subdivision. The Walnut Grove sign.”
“That’s a brick wall. You ran the car into a brick wall?”
“Uh-huh,” she cries. She buries her face into my chest, wiping her nose on my nightgown like a five year old. The thought of strangling her seems very appealing.
“Darling, I’m going to need you to take a shower and go to bed. When dad gets home, I’ll talk to him. We’ll sort it out. Just go to bed now, all right?”
“Uh-huh,” she blubbers. “I’m sorry, mom,” she apologizes, but the apology is insincere. She is sorry she got caught.
When she leaves, I lay down on the bedroom floor instead of making up the bed. I gather most of the pillows in a heap and briefly consider making a pillow fort. How nice it would be to have someone else to deal with aging parents and adult children.
I sulk, staring at the ceiling.
I’m in the sandwich generation, my mother complained one afternoon when I came home from school. I didn’t know what she meant and asked her to make me a ham and swiss. I had wondered why she burst into both tears and laughter at my request.
Now I know. I am in between two generations whose incessant needs make me wonder who I am.
“Every woman in her fifties wants to run away,” my mother told me before she died. “And the ones who don’t are few and far between.”
“I think I hate everyone,” I confessed to her. “Especially men.”
“Menstruation. Menopause. Mental breakdown. You see a trend?”
“Running away is easy. Fighting is much harder,” she said, lifting my chin, looking into my eyes to see if I was listening. “And I didn’t raise any wimps.”
The bedroom door opens, jostles me awake.
“Honey, why are you on the floor?” my husband asks, eyes bloodshot and weary.
I stand up and reach my arms around him, grateful for his presence. “I was down there getting a new perspective on life.”
“Then you’re feeling better? No more hot flashes tonight? No more chills?”
“Oh, they’ll be back.”
“Are you sure I can’t get you anything for your troubles?” he grins, and I wonder how he missed our car decorating the entrance to the neighborhood.
“Probably a good lawyer or two,” I smile, kissing him lightly on the lips.