Monday, January 4, 2010

Ladybug in the Sink

I am walking alone along a cliff, looking over my right shoulder into brown, foul-smelling water. I know that I have to keep shuffling along this slippery edge if I want to keep from falling into that abyss. The water is the ever-present possibility of complete chaos. The water represents getting sick, not showing up for work, crashing my car and going crazy. The cliff is my life. The cliff represents my jam-packed days at the office, my long nights at the hospital, my empty refrigerator, my unused gym membership, my sick cat and my uninvited cold sore.

I'm exhausted from being forced into this prolonged balancing act. And I am angry that this cliff has no end. Come on, Universe. Is this some kind of sick joke?

I was brought up Christian, but I am not one to talk much about God. When discussing the Big Matters, I somehow feel more comfortable to do a Presbyterian-Buddhist blend and just wax poetic about the 'Universe' instead of mentioning the Big Cheese known as Mr. G.

You know when we get into the habit of saying certain phrases? Like when we say things like:
  • "At the end of the day..."
  • "Let's be honest..."
  • "I'm not going to lie to you..."
  • "What the FUCK!?"
  • etc. etc...
Well, I use all of those phrases and I love and respect them like old friends. (Even though I think bullet points two and three make it sound like dishonesty is the norm.) There is a new phrase in my lexicon that I have been using lately. There are a few variations, but they all have the same meaning. The phrase goes something like this:
  • "What the Universe might be trying to tell us is..."
  • "Maybe the Universe has other plans for us..."
  • "Perhaps the Universe knows a way this will all work out, and we cannot see it yet."
  • "The Universe is fucked up."
  • etc, etc
To have my dad needlessly become a quadriplegic and to watch him go through months of silent suffering while my small family runs miles and miles of circles around his hospital bed seems to me to be an exercise on par with Gitmo torture.

Of all the things that suck about watching my dad get so screwed up after colon cancer surgery, probably number one on the list would be the 'd' word. I had accounted for many traumatic possibilities for my dad's journey, including throwing up, hair loss, extreme weight loss, death from surgery and death from cancer. What I never could have imagined was the 'd' word. No, not Death. Disabled.

Obviously, things have gone horribly wrong. Obviously, I am struggling to find a way to fit this sick detour into my World View. My mom tells me that God did not do this. She tells me that when I start ranting about why us and when my brother shares his choice phrase that, "Our shit bucket [in life] is full." I have a hard time because then I start to wonder why the first thing everyone tells me is that they "pray for us everyday." Then my mom says that the praying is helping us get through this and that it is helping Dad hang on. Then I remember that annoying phrase about how it is not what happens to you in life but what you do about it.

So what about those people who never seem to have anything bad happen to them in life? What about them? Is what they are supposed to do with it is just enjoy the house, hubby, 2.5 kids, and retirement home in Scottsdale? Or do those people even really exist? Perhaps here is where my dad's old advice creeps in which was always, "Don't judge your insides by other people's outsides." Oh, and also, "Stop shoulding all over yourself."

I spent much of my holiday break with my mom at my parent's house. It seems unfair to make her fill up that space alone. There is food in the refrigerator that eventually finds its way to the freezer on account of missing mouths. There is an empty room with a rumply bed where my brother and sister-in-law stayed, but now stands unoccupied with blissfully ignorant sunbeams streaming through the blinds. I stand in that empty room for a moment, and I ache for the time when it was Susan's Room and down the hall was Paul's Room and downstairs was Mom and Dad's Room. I ache for that so much that I just want to give up on being an adult all together.

There are strange creaks in the ceiling on account of the ruthlessly cold winter. My mom and I both look up in alarm, silently acknowledging that we cannot just go ask dad what that strange creaking noise is.

I look down at the orange-stained bowls and plates with toast crumbs. My mom had made us tomato basil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I wanted her to eat more slowly. I wanted her to just pause for a moment. I wanted both of us to just stop and take a minute... maybe see if the Universe would give us a comfortable lull.

It didn't.

I'm finding that it takes something more like going to a movie, drinking a few beers, or just falling into a dreamless sleep to get the lull that I am looking for from this unexplainable Universe.

My mom is done eating before I am even finished with one half of my grilled cheese. I cannot keep up with this woman. For every 11-hour day she puts in at the hospital, I only put in five. For every crying moment she has, I have seven.

Because my mom has been at home alone, she no longer uses the dishwasher. I sleep over a lot, so I guess I make my fair share of dirty coffee cups, but we are no where near needing Kenmore anymore.

I tell my mom to just sit and I take the bowls and plates along with the coffee cups over to the counter. I fill the sink with hot soapy water. I get her washcloth wet, and I secretly think about how I don't like these washcloths she uses because they quickly begin to smell like rust after a few washes, but then again, I am kind of a germaphobe and I microwave my dish sponge to kill bacteria.

I start swirling around all the submerged cups and dishes and they make a bongo sound as they bounce against the metal sink. I look out the window into my parents yard and I picture my departed Samoyed playing in the snow. I always do that. I look back down at the sudsy water and I suck in a startled breath when I notice something red moving near my wrist. It is a Ladybug, or perhaps an Asian Beetle (according to my aunt, they look alike.)

The Ladybug appears to be doing a silent death march down the side of the sink and straight into the water. Call me hormonal, but I had a visceral reaction to this like none other. Perhaps it was the vague notion that ladybugs are supposed to represent good luck and so I selfishly wanted to protect that small chance at good luck no matter what. It was similar to what I feel when I force myself to eat the dry, stale fortune cookie because people say you have to eat the cookie first if you want the fortune to come true.

In any case, I cannot fully explain why I suddenly felt fully responsible for the fate of this ladybug. But I just stood there, frozen, thinking through possible repercussions if the ladybug had already gotten some suds on its nose. As I watched the ladybug struggle, I felt protective yet powerless. I wanted to dip my sudsy finger in to help it out, but I knew that I could not change its course without getting it all soapy and hurting it.

That's when I got a momentary God Complex.

I just stood there watching the ladybug struggle in a bad situation. It was the wrong place and the wrong time for this ladybug. I wondered if this is what the Universe (or, I guess God, if you want) is like. Just standing there, watching, empathetic yet unwavering in its objective presence.

I did not stay completely objective about the ladybug. After a minute or two, I wiped off my hands and gently scooped him, ever so delicately, onto the counter. I watched him flip on his back and wiggle his legs in his disorientation, and I fretted over the fact that one of his wings now seemed bent outside of his shell. I watched him walk, or seemingly stumble, as he encountered a fast food crouton packet in front of him. I started to doubt myself. I wondered if I should have just kept to my dish washing and not interferred.

I looked out the window again. I got the sinking feeling that I get on those bright sunny days with the innocent snow and the empty creaking house. I gulped down my quasi-depression, then checked on my ladybug. He seemed as depressed and confused as I was. Just perched on top of that crouton packet and waiting for who knows what next...

"Oooo, thanks for doin' the dishes!"

Mom, look at this ladybug. Why is he here? In the winter?

"What? Oop. Here we go..."

My mom ducked over my arm, and in one confident swoop picked up the ladybug and gently placed him on the windowsill. She squeezed my shoulder, smiled, and started chatting about something newsy, like our agenda for the day or something.

I looked at the window and watched that ladybug, a bug with a newfound purpose it seemed. I looked at my mom in wonder and I hoped that over time her optimism would become more genetically linked to me. I looked back at the ladybug and he was huffing and puffing his way vertically up the side of the window. Everything in his Universe seemed much better. It almost seemed that he paused a moment to enjoy the sunshine through the glass.

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