Love & Addiction
I wake up with a start before the alarm goes off and, being that it has not sounded yet, I attempt to roll over and resume my often-haunted dreams. After what feels like forever, finally accepting that sleep is not coming, I grab my phone. Open it. 8:24am. Jesus.
After watching a morning talk-show I crawl out of bed; start my morning routine an hour before any other day. 10:04. What do people do when they are awake this early? I settle on beginning the book I purchased the night before. Itâ€™s about cancer; more precisely, watching parents die of cancer. My uncle succumbed to the affliction nearly two years ago, my freshman year of college, as I was driving home to be with him for the end. I had received the phone call the night before, things are getting bad, you should maybe come home this weekend, but no indication it would be so soon, and what a call to have to receive anyway. Instead I watched a movie and cried on my boyfriendâ€™s shoulder. I woke up early the next day, earlier than I thought even the rest of the family would. I didnâ€™t call until I was nearly twenty minutes from the house. Oh, I wish youâ€™d have called. He passed early this morning. I finished the drive, helped set up for the funeral, and drove back to my college town before the last memorial.
I think about all this as I begin reading, and finally look at the clock. 11:47. I look in my closet for a sweatshirt to wear as the weather has turned colder again. They, of course, are all dirty. Iâ€™ve had the flu for weeks and the prospect of laundry was laughable. I instead grab what we lovingly call the â€œMr. Rogers Sweater,â€ pull on my coat and walk out my door.
12:05. Thereâ€™s an exam in the first class I have, and rather than study I pull out the book again and get lost in my own history. I remember when I was in primary school, eleven years old, grappling with the word cancer. My grandfather had had it years before, but now my mother was attached to the word, cancer, and I wondered what the meaning was as grandparents and my father consoled my crying mother in her bedroom. Would she spend months in the hospital as Gramps did? Would I begin sleeping in backseats and doing homework in hospital cafeterias as I had before? Parts of me believed I was excited, because when Grandpa was in that hospital, in that cancer ward nine stories in the sky, heâ€™d allow me to curl up next to him, pull close the tiny television set, and watch cable television channels we didnâ€™t get at home.
12:28. The professor walks in. I put down my book, pull away my headphones. This subject has never been my strong suit, and I believe Iâ€™m some sort of entertainment for those who sit near me as I frequently get so frustrated I begin to cry. I try to put away the memories, better days when family members would take me to the gift shop during chemo treatments to buy me a piece of candy, I got excited about elevator rides, and my grandmother could still drive, and I attempt to bring to my mind letters and equations and which goes with what.
The tears begin on page three of the exam, but I soldier on. I begin to remember the day we brought Gramps home from the hospital. All of these new things weâ€™d had to install in the house theyâ€™d built the year my father was born, next to the house my grandmotherâ€™s parents had lived in, which my parents moved into in their third year of marriage. A hospital bed and all sorts of intimidating, daunting medical devices. Would we have to replace everything in my house now for my mother? Would she require something Iâ€™d later hear the name for: catheter? As all these people arrive at my house in my memory, I descend the stairs to my campus hiding place.
I go to a university to which I do not belong. In theory, it sounded great: I was able to continue my music, it was only two hours from home (far enough that my dad wonâ€™t visit, close enough that I can go home for weekends) and it was small enough. Now, three years later, I feel stuck. My friends have either moved to other, better schools, or they have decided that Iâ€™m expendable (but, to save face, theyâ€™ll fake it around others.) I know now that itâ€™s because of where Iâ€™m from: a west coast where, if we donâ€™t like you, weâ€™ll tell you so. My accent has been made fun of for years because everyone that attends this university is pretty regional, having attended a high school not more than an hour away. This is true of all the students living in my dorm, itâ€™s true of the boys that Iâ€™ll date, and itâ€™s true of the friends Iâ€™ll fake. I dress differently, speak differently, and mostly, I wear high heels. I should have known then that living for four years in such a situation, surrounded by people who refuse to reach for or believe in better things, would kill the spirit of someone having grown up on a Great Lake.
The hiding place Iâ€™d found for the winter was ironically in the building where most people I try to avoid have classes. Iâ€™ve been successful enough, and I take out my book again. Iâ€™m on a diet and Iâ€™m really trying, so I take out the peanut-butter-and-homemade-jelly sandwich Iâ€™ve made for lunch. Iâ€™d been sick for days, and when Iâ€™m sick I get lonely for things from my childhood, things that always made me feel better, so I had taken out a container of frozen jelly. My grandmother taught my mother how to make it, and so many of my Saturday mornings had been spent nibbling on toast with this jelly as I watched cartoons. I now attempt to make it, but it never tastes like theirs. I try to remember the last time she was well, the last time my grandmother made this jelly, but I canâ€™t. She tried to kill herself a year after my uncleâ€™s death, and sheâ€™s been in a nursing home basically ever since. Sheâ€™d suffered from dementia for years before, telling us that grandpa was having an affair with so many other women. But then sheâ€™d really done it, and my mother called me as I was shopping for a dress. A friend was still in high school, and his prom date had disappeared, so I was the stand-in, a lost twenty-year-old college girl shopping for a prom dress. She called me and I called the boyfriend Iâ€™d been dating at the time of my uncleâ€™s demise, though weâ€™d broken up months before. Maybe you should go home, he urged. Iâ€™d been angry with her for years, though, and I felt that going home would be like forgiving her, and I wasnâ€™t ready for that. Dementia is a disease, and I know that, but Iâ€™ve never really been able to exonerate her of the things sheâ€™d done to my family, charged with caring for both grandparents in their ailing states. I try to remember the last time sheâ€™d cooked for me, and I canâ€™t do it. The only memories I have of her now are in the basement, doing my uncleâ€™s laundry because heâ€™d never been married for more than a season, and these recent memories of being the familial burden.
I finish my sandwich, fill my travel mug up with water, and head to the library. Iâ€™m attempting to coast through the semester without actually cracking open the book for my literature class, and point the web browser to a website that will tell me everything I need to know. It reminds me of the times I used to troll it in middle school, because spending time with my mother in hospital beds didn't leave for much time to do homework. I remember the first surgery, when I insisted upon walking back to school after I saw her in recovery. Her entire family was in town, congregating at my grandparent's house (steps between my school and the hospital) as she convalesced in the hospital, and I arrived back during the lunch period, or recess, they were always the same to me, and I went to my teacher's room because I had just seen my mother in the most vulnerable situation in which anyone can be seen, and I didn't quite feel like running around the gymnasium and watching the baby jocks play basketball.
The temperature in buildings on campus never seem to be regulated and it's hot where I am now, so Mr. Rogers and I have had a consistent on-and-off relationship since we arrived in this lab. I'm tired now, so I rise from the seat, walk out of the library, past the new coffee chain installment, past the classrooms, out, out, across the street, out to my car, because the campus has recently passed an asinine rule stating that smoking is only allowed in parking lots, legislation championed by one of those ex-friends I was once fond of. I'm tired, so I walk out, settle into the driver's seat, roll down the window and light up a cigarette. My parents smoked as I was growing up, my mother until the day they told her she had cancer, and my father for a few years after, and I was always under the childhood illusion that I'd never do it when I grew up. I was, of course, wrong. The boy I was dating when my uncle died who later became my best friend smoked (his name is Phil, I should probably give him a name since I talk about him a lot,) and the summer of my twentieth year I had a rough go of it, and I began smoking when I missed him, which begat social smoking, which begat a pretty constant stream of cigarettes whenever I was tired, or stressed, or had a headache, or was hungry, or couldn't find caffeine. Cancer has always been in the cards for me, and I always though I'd do things to nudge it alongâ€”indoor tanning, consuming massive amounts of alcohol not just on the weekend but weeknights during the summer, and now smoking. At the end of the summer, those medical professionals told me that I had cystic mastisis, and would likely share the same fate before I finish college.
But for now, I haven't finished college and I'm only twenty-one. I finish talking on my phone, I finish my cigarette and I make my way back inside. There's something abrew in my stomach as I cross the street and I wonder if the flu is going to force me out of class for another week, but it subsides and I realize it's probably just the acid from all the coffee I've downed. It's 3:37 when I look at the clock inside. Almost time for my next class, so I take up residence in the hallway outside, pull out the book I've been so devouring. The author is remembering now a summer spent in a sort of commune, so like the way I grew up in the summers, on holidays. I soldiered through some of that school day before deciding to milk my situation for what I could and run up the hill back to my grandparent's. Everyone except my Ohio cousin is still at the hospital, and we watch PBS children's television. I think about the holidays when I was even younger, when my grandmother's brother was still alive, and her sister still came to Thanksgiving, and we'd all cram into the three-bedroom ranch home that my mother and her three siblings had grown up in. As I got older, I'd learn the word for what my grandmother is: matriarch. She's Sally Field on Brothers & Sisters, she's the epitome of every 60's TV show stereotype. I remember this and sing along with the Cookie Monster until the family comes home for dinner, come home to return me to my mother. She's wearing red satin when I arrive, a robe I'm not sure I've ever seen her wear. I climb up onto her bed and my father is there, the family matriarch is to her right, and there are chairs that have been dragged in from the hallway at the foot of the bed. The news is on in her room, but we can't hear it, and it's probably on to drown out our noise for her roommate, whom I never see throughout our stay. There are intravenous drips running in her arms, and there's an oxygen tank next to her bed, in case she should have trouble breathing (but, having been raised around all that secondhand smoke, I'm the only one in the family with asthma.) I think of all this in class because it's a better memory than I'm sure the awful film we're watching in class will turn out to be. I remember how, only a few weeks before her diagnosis we'd all gathered around the dining room table in her parent's kitchen, around the couches and recliners and the grandchildren had nestled into the corners of the living room with Thanksgiving dinner on our plates, with the cousins and step-cousins and great-aunts and we had all, undoubtedly stared mindlessly at the television set at whatever was on. On Thanksgiving Day, we all watched the Detroit Lions have their behinds handed to them, frequently by the Green Bay Packers, but this side of the family (after custody battles and travel problems) began celebrating the holiday on the following Saturday.
So here we all are, before I decide to be a vegetarian, with probably five bites of turkey on my plate and spoonfuls of stuffing and mashed potatoes on the rest of it. It's when my maternal grandmother (Gogo, when I was very small, which became Mogo at some point, and has seemed to stick) was still a presence in the kitchen, still spending the end of summer canning homemade catsup, making her signature oriental salad as a side dish for every family event. It's the last time I can remember everyone being all togetherâ€”the Ohio family, the Lousiana aunt and her son (who recently remarried with two step-kids,) and my newly-married uncle, his wife and her daughter, as well as three great-aunts, three great-uncles, my grandparents and my mom (my dad hadn't been a fixture with this family as long as I could remember.)