Saturday, January 21, 2012

Festive Egg Squares and Dirty Laundry

"I don't tend to do things like wash my dad's back. My brother and I don't do that. It's a boundary we try to keep."

The nurse looked back at me with neutral, blinking eyes.

"Oh. I guess I never thought about that."

I am at my parent's house, watching over the nurses and watching over my dad. I've slept here for the past four nights and have found a new appreciation for my mom's role, which I call, "CEO of The Nurses."

I selfishly feel ill at ease because I cannot get my dad to smile today. He wants me to be with him, yet I am far from delighting him. I was all bundled up – Winter coat, scarf, hat, gloves, boots – ready to leave and go meet my boyfriend at the gym. But upon saying goodbye to my dad, I could tell something was wrong.

"Dad. Are you OK?"
(Shakes his head "No.")

"Is it something physical?"
(Shakes his head "No.")

"Is it something mental?"
(Shakes his head "Yes.")

"Are you sad?"
(Shakes his head "Yes.")

"Is it because I am leaving?"
(Shakes his head "Yes.")

"Do you want me to stay and we read more out of the Duluth book?"
(Shakes his head "Yes.")

I've been reading stories to my Dad out of a book about Duluth. I discovered that the nurses are reading the stories to him, too. There is something comforting about the stories. It's like a non-threatening balm in knowing that we are not going to encounter any death, sex, violence, or depression. I hate it when I am going along, reading a book to my dad, and I get to some passage that I just cannot bear to read aloud to him. It might be something about a person feeling trapped and unable to run (try being completely paralyzed), or it might also be something that I never would have wanted to read aloud to my dad, like basically anything with a trace of sexual innuendo.

While my mom has been away, it has been a strange sensation to think about "needing to get home" in the same sense as one might need to get home for their small children or family pets. Each day this week, I have wondered about when my dad will fall asleep and when he will wake and I've tried to coincide opportunities to read to him.

When I cannot bring any delight to my dad, it only adds to my feelings of failing at playing my proper role in this unit of related human beings. I feel as though I am pushing further and further to the outskirts of familiarity with my family. I do not know if that is my own doing or if it is the fallout of exceptionally unique circumstances. Whatever it is that is pushing me, I feel as though one or two more shoves to the edge could completely throw me outside the invisible lines of the family circle and I can see myself tumbling into an emotional abyss of estrangement and pathos. Which brings us to Christmas.

The Christmas season for me was like a business trip to Atlanta. I just wanted to get through it. 

There were so many family crises going on at the same time that it was almost comical. The one moment in time that sticks out in my mind as coming the closest to celebrating the birth of the Savior was during the late morning on Christmas day.

I arrived at my mom's house, and everything just looked spectacular. All of the Christmas ornaments twinkled from the brittle Winter sun, and my mom had a fresh coat of lipstick on with a warm motherly smile. Everything felt calm and familiar in a 1990s kind of way.

It was just the two of us. My dad was sleeping and the nurse on duty was a sweet, quiet woman from Ethiopia. Despite the chaos of life, my mom held fast to a Christmas tradition that goes back years and years. She got up early (or stayed up really late) and she diced and sliced onions, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, pork... She cracked eggs and baked and baked until out came the annual Festive Egg Squares. 

This is a dish that is good but not necessarily mind-blowing amazing. Still, we all really like it, especially with a dollop of sour cream on top. We always get the name wrong, accidentally calling it things like "Egg Bake" or "Egg Surprise" to which my mom jokingly pleads, "It's Festive Egg Squares!"

Like a military commander determined to win the war despite losing consecutive battles, my mom made those damn eggs like it was her calling. And I loved her fiercely for it. I felt the invisible swirling cloud of family chaos lift as my mom and I sat in the sun-drenched dining room, eating Festive Egg Squares on Christmas Day.

But happiness and calm don't stay around too long in this house, and it went away pretty much as quickly as it came. I was visiting my parent's house a week or two later, and I ended up in an unfortunate battle over something pretty stupid. I got critiqued by an outside family member for bringing my laundry over to my parent's house. This is something I have done forever. Sometimes I do the laundry myself, but, mostly, my mom does it. LET IT BE KNOWN, here in this naked, public blog, that I, a 31-year-old grown woman, get my laundry done by my mother.

Anyway, it was a stupid fight with, unfortunately disproportionate fallout. I feel a familiar urge to run away and hide in the cul-de-sac. I've been indulging visions of moving to Shanghai or simply driving to Iowa. But I have a history of running away, and I know that it only makes things worse.

I think that everyone in my family in general is just super strained and worn out.

When religious people say that God only dishes out what each person can handle, well... God must have considered my family to be Titans. No, Olympians.

It's funny. I originally started this blog so I could complain about trite yet annoying things in life, such as how I inadvertently purchased spoiled milk from the grocery store (yes, brand new sour milk actually happened). Then I naturally spilled into the realm of lonely business traveler, then lonely single girl. But it was not until cancer crept in to my family circle when all bets were off and I allowed myself to write about anything and everything, including hospitals, old people, smoking, anger and death.

Now, I am at a loss. I have been conflicted about this blog as well as conflicted about my entire family for quite some time because I no longer fit the Brand New Sour Milk mold.

I no longer fit the Brand New Sour Milk mold because, well, I am... happy.

Yeah, I'm happy, dammit.

I have an amazing companion and we do tons of fun things. My mind is alive and open to the world. I devour books (which still takes me a few weeks, but I feel like I am devouring them), I listen to music, I delight in home cooked food. I go to art galleries and unusual events put on by my creative friends. I got my hair highlighted (I had fallen months behind).

It's like, I am doing cool shit and I do not have time to sit down with this blog and wax poetic about all the sad things we go through in life.  

I've heard before that when your inner energy does not match the energy of the people surrounding you, you tend to find yourself in different locations. I see how this is true. I do not feel comfortable carrying my happiness on my sleeve because this is not a time when others can feel very happy for my happiness. And it sounds spoiled and self-centered (doesn't it?) to want others to acknowledge my newfound happiness.

I remember a time when I used to sleep until 3:00 PM in the afternoon. Everyday. I would go sit on my parent's deck, still wearing my pajamas, and I would smoke, and smoke, and smoke cigarettes. I would look at this one particular tree in their backyard, and I distinctly remember watching it change through the seasons – green, gold & orange, bare to sticks, covered in snow, then soggy wet with tiny green buds. My thought that entire time was, "I wonder if I will still be sitting out here on my parents deck smoking cigarettes the next time that tree changes." I saw that tree change over two dozen times. It just kept changing, but I just stayed the same.


But I am no longer stuck.
I am flourishing.
But I am flourishing in a harsh environment.

I am like an exotic sea plant flowering peacefully next to a hot, volcanic geyser piercing the ocean floor.

Sure, it is nice to be happy. But I want to be surrounded by other happy people too. On January 9th, 2012, I think I may have been given a potential chance.

A baby was born into my family, Samuel Wesley Andersen.

Sam is my nephew.

See, this is why my mom is gone. She is off visiting Baby Sam in the Pacific Northwest. My mom is getting her feet wet as Grandma Mary. Each time I talk to my mom, her voice is dazed in starry-like wonder. Sam is so good, Sam is so cute, Sam is so small, just like a football.

I need to get myself out of the Midwest and I need to go meet this Sam. Despite photos that, to me, look just like an infant version of my brother, Sam is not real to me yet. But he will be. I can only imagine the tears that will flow and the smiles that will widen the first time I get to hold Baby Sam.

Hopefully, soon with time, Sam can teach us all how to be happy, joyous, and festive again.

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