Word count through today is 3542, just above the minimum I need for each day. I was already feeling like I didn't want to spend the time writing today but I sat down and did it. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but this is what today wrought:
All of this laying around in the hospital brings mother’s and father’s death to mind. Mother went first. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when she went. What I do remember is visiting her in the hospital, watching her waste away and die. She’d had a stroke and they got her to the hospital about as fast as anyone could get to a hospital, but it was too late to do anything for her. It became a deathwatch after that. My father, he’s also a Hank, which is why I’m a junior, and the boy I call Junior is actually the third. But that doesn’t much matter at this point. It’s my mother I’m talking about. They put her in a convalescent center, some call it a nursing home, but it was just a place to lay and die. We visited her every day, at least someone from the family did. She just lay there, occasionally squeezing a hand if we took hers in ours. But that was about all she could do as she lay there, waiting for the end.
One of the worst things about that place is it was like a motel room. There was the bed, a television she could watch, or her visitors could watch, a few chairs, a nightstand, and a bulletin board where we could post family pictures, cards from friends and that sort of crap. They tried to make it seem like it was a home or something, but it was just a way station for dying people, a place between when they were getting on in the world and when they wouldn’t be getting anywhere else. Everyone who felt an obligation came to make a visit, came to say goodbye to her, and they usually brought their kids, thinking it would cheer her up. Maybe it did, but I can’t imagine seeing all the life in those kids while laying there dying, all that energy bouncing around the room and driving the adults crazy while the reason they were supposedly there was laying in a bed, one pretty much like mine with its automatic rising and lowering and air blowing through it to soften parts and harden parts so as to prevent bedsores. Those damn kids drove me crazy as we sat and waited.
We sat there waiting and waiting and waiting for over a week. Nurses would come in and check on her, put some balm on her lips, making give her a drink of water, but that was it. She lay dying and all we could do was watch. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think she was doing it to get away from us, from me. It’s not that I’d ever done anything to her, but I just had that feeling that she was done with her family, done trying to be our mother, trying to get us to live the way she thought we should. God knows it would have been trying on her. My sister and I, Rachel and I, we weren’t the best behaved kids in the neighborhood, that much I know. But we never asked her for anything once we came of age. We just went and did what we had to do. For me, that wasn’t much. After the war I decided my aim in life was to never work if I could avoid it, and I did a pretty good job of it, at least I never took a paycheck in my life beyond what I did during the war, and that was only so I could stay out of the fighting. Daddy got me a special assignment, got me classified unable to fight or even train to fight. That didn’t keep me out of the service, but it did keep me pretty close to home the whole time and out of harm’s way. Haven’t held a job since then, and damn proud of it.
When Daddy’s time came, it was different. He spent a lot of time sitting in that hospital room with mother and knew that he wouldn’t last, wouldn’t stay right in his mind, if he was in that situation. Sitting here in this hospital room, in this damn bed that pumps and bulges and vibrates at all hours, I know just how he was feeling back then. He ended up dying at home, in his bed. It wasn’t like it happened all of a sudden. Like Mother, he had some time to think about things, but he didn’t have much to say about any of it. He just lay there, looking out the window, watching the leaves turn and fall off the Horse Chestnut in the backyard. It was something to see, that tree, when the leaves turned a bright yellow just before they dropped. And if the weather was just right, though I’m not sure what just right was or is, they all dropped in the course of the day. Maybe it took a cold snap over night, but as he lay there dying and watching, they all just dropped, like it was snowing heavy, the leaves dropped straight to the ground, covering the hydrangeas and the lawn and the pond, blocking all the light from the fish. I loved watching those leaves fall when I was young, even though I’d be sent out to rake them up, pile them and dump some gas over it all and put a match to it. It wasn’t until his death, watching him watch, that I began to see something more in those leaves dropping from the tree, though I never did figure out what.
When he was on his deathbed, it was just Rachel and me with him. I told her I didn’t want the kids around, even though they were a few years older by then. They didn’t want to be there anyway. I knew that much about teenagers, since my Junior was about that old. He sure didn’t want to be around to see his grandfather linger and die. It’s not like he’d done a deathwatch with his grandmother and had seen enough. Even when he was there with her, he wasn’t there. He was wanting to poke his cousins and torment them, to run around and play, to just leave so he could go home and do what he couldn’t do in that hospital room. With his grandfather, he’d poke his head in a couple or three times a day, mostly to see if I was there I think, ask how his grandfather was doing, then quietly shut the door and go to do whatever it was he was doing while we sat there, staring at the walls, at each other, occasionally saying something, but never anything of importance.
“How’s things been”? Rachel would ask.
“Oh, good enough,” I’d answer. “I’m getting buy, having to do some work on the farm, but I’d rather stay in town.”
“What sort of work?” she’d ask. “The wheat’s in, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, the wheat’s been in for over a month. You never were very good at knowing how things worked on the farm, were you?”
“No, I guess not. So, how much time you putting in out there?”
“Yeah,” she said, “time. You working out there like it’s a job or something?”
“Nah, that’s what we hire folks for. I’m just there to tell ‘em what to do. That’s all. It’s more than I want to do, but someone’s gotta do it. May as well be me.”
“Sure,” she said. “May as well be you. At least it gives you something to do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just that it must be nice to have something to do. Looking after these kids gets on my nerves. I think I’d rather be on the farm even if it was just telling people what to do.”
“Whattaya mean ‘just telling people what to do’? If you think that’s all there is to it, maybe you should go out there and do it and you can send me the check for my part of it all. I’d gladly give that up and give it to you, you think you can do it better than me.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she said, following with a resigned sigh. “It’s just that raising the kids leaves me empty. I want to do something with my life beyond raising a couple of kids. “
“But that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”
“What do you mean? Why do you always come back to that, that it’s what I’m ‘supposed to be doing’?”
“It’s your curse. That’s the way of it. And mine is having to work. The good lord, when he kicked Adam and Eve out of Paradise, he said that we men would have to work for our food, and that you would have to endure the pain of child bearing. Just like work goes on forever, the pain of rearing children goes on forever. You should be happy with that. It’s your duty, straight from God.”
“Christ Hank, you know I never bought all that Bible crap. I’m not here to suffer the pain of child rearing. It hurt enough with them coming out, and it’s hurt plenty along the way. But there’s no way that’s my lot in life, to suffer this way until I die, to never really live.”
“You’re living like you’re supposed to, and it ain’t crap. It’s the Bible, the Word of God, and you’d do well to listen to it, pay it heed, do as it says. Maybe then you wouldn’t be so miserable.”
“Hank, keep your voice low. You’ll wake Daddy.”
“Don’t mind him. He’s dying, going to meet the Lord. You keep up your way of thinking Rachel and you won’t be meeting the Lord, not the way you think and talk.”
“I don’t care if I don’t meet the Lord, not with the life he’s given me here and now. And don’t talk to me like you somehow are working for your daily bread, acting like an overseer on that farm, never breaking a sweat, never doing honest work when you can get someone to do it for you. If I’m not meeting the Lord because I don’t appreciate the pain of child rearing, you won’t be meeting him after you’ve avoided working all these years.”
“But you don’t understand sister. That’s just why I am going to meet the Lord when my time comes. He cursed all of mankind to toil for their bread. Well, I haven’t toiled, not when I could avoid it. I’ve avoided falling victim to that curse of his, and I figure that makes me a better man the most, maybe nearly all, and better than you for sure, for damn sure.”