It’s 4:25 AM, and I’m cleaning the seals on the doors of the refrigerator. I’ve already washed dishes, scrubbed pans that didn’t seem clean enough, scrubbed the sink and counters down, and even washed out Hoot McDaniels + Marilyn Monroe, since if the counter’s going to be clean. well. They’re going to have to get on board too.
This all started after I thought about losing my dad two years ago because someone asked what he died of. Everybody knows that quite plainly put, he died of the broken heart that was left behind after my mom died 3 years previously. Her cancer that had been quiet and missing for 5 years came back quickly, and angrily. We went from a simple bone spur operation on her shoulder into a declaration of tumors in three weeks after her ability to handle the physical therapy post-op was getting worse and worse to the point where she was still exhausted two days after her last therapy session. In less than three months, we went from coherent, but tired, Mom to confused, sad, and scared Mom who couldn’t recognize her own son. The tumor that was growing in the back of her brain was, little did we know, rapidly consuming parts of her occipital lobe and cerebellum. She often demanded to know who I was after my dad had left for work and I was getting C ready for school.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“It’s me Mom, Bobby. Rob. Your son?”
“No you’re not. My Bobby is a little boy. He’s in ballet.”
“No Mom, that’s me. I did that when I was seven.”
“Bobby is seven. There he is right there. Hey Bobby, who is this?”
C would tell her that he’s not Bobby, that he’s C and I was his dad and she was his grandma. Then she’d start to cry because it upset her. No matter what though, she always knew my dad, she always recognized him. When she went into the hospital in the beginning of May, he didn’t sleep at home for three weeks because he was beside her for every possible minute until the end. When my mom passed, we were both holding her hands and had fallen asleep for only the fewest of minutes. She waited for us to not be looking so she could finally leave like we were holding her up. I heard his heart break in that moment when the 17 year old girl he was still with 49 years later wasn’t beside him anymore.
In the next three years I learned more about my parents, and more specifically my dad, than I had ever learned in 37 years. He told me how they had met, how his opening line wasn’t exactly the most flattering… but it worked, how most of the places from his childhood in Norfolk were gone now with stories of things he remembered. I was always a mama’s boy because I wasn’t the healthiest or masculine of kids, but in the last 3 years of my dad’s life I had a relationship with him that I never would have imagined that would be there.
So. Why does it matter that I’m cleaning door seals at 4:25? Because I haven’t really completed processing any of it. I know that a lot of my issues (like my social anxiety that ebbs back and forth like a tide, or the depression that gets debilitating to the point where it’s using social anxiety as an excuse to wallow in itself) stem from an immense sense of guilt over my father’s death. I was only 15 feet away when he died, but I was asleep before getting up to get ready for work. Logically, I know there is no blame. He was ready, and his body was tired. Emotionally however, if I’d had woken up sooner, if I hadn’t have stopped to answer messages on my phone, if I hadn’t had done something that wasn’t important then he wouldn’t have died quiet and alone. Or maybe I could have saved him somehow… until I remembered that he had a DNR because he didn’t want to linger longer than he should have; and so he could return to my mom.
It’s 4:30, and I now probably have the cleanest and mintiest smelling kitchen in the entire apartment complex thanks to insurmountable guilt that I know is unreasonable and illogical. Yea, it’s probably broken me and made me enormously dysfunctional especially in interpersonal relationships. Romantic relationships are probably doubly dysfunctional, because nothing damages self worth like feeling that you failed a parent and that’s a train wreck women aren’t just dying to be a part of.
But, at least guilt gives me a clean kitchen, a remounted towel rack in the bathroom, clean domes on all the light fixtures, and the central air now puts out heat instead of just blowing lukewarm air about the place.
Now it’s 5:18. I wish I remembered how to relax enough to sleep.