It took us half the day to get there. We waited in line for the ferry, trying to ignore the malodorous canine carcass a few feet from our Trooper. The Belize River was high that day, making the process of getting our vehicle aboard the barge even more challenging than usual. When it was our turn, we drove across the partially submerged ramp to the deck. The distributor got wet and we had to push the wagon into its place in line. Panting, we settled in to watch the driver hand-crank the ferry up the cable that stretched across the turbulent water.
Our friends in Banana Bank had invited us to watch Super Bowl 32 and stay the night. We hadn’t listened to a radio or seen a TV since moving to Belize 8 months before, and we were looking forward to a taste of the 20th century.
It was a good game, lots of back and forth, and our team, the Denver Broncos, won. The ads were ingeniously witty as per usual, and the snacks gloriously indulgent. We had brought a big pan of Bob’s famous teriyaki chicken wings. I drank too many beers.
Our hosts were a good ten years older than me and Bob. I don’t know how the conversation got started, but at one point, they snorted and remarked that, after fifty, things don’t work like they used to. Of course we laughed, and shook our heads in appreciation of this sage comment, thinking to ourselves that it wouldn’t happen to us, that our plumbing would never go awry, and none of the things one associates with bad plumbing would ever happen to us.
And yet, here we are, in the same post-fifty boat, sitting on the other side of the river with bad plumbing.
Super Bowl 52 airs this Sunday and we’ve been invited to a party. We’re bringing a big pan of teriyaki tofu and plan on watching the game with a group of people who are mostly younger than us. This is my opportunity to snort and make snide comments about the ravages of time, saying, “You don’t know the half of it,” and “You’ll see.”
More likely, I’ll keep it to myself, because I realize I’m not old compared to my parents who were as old as I am now back when I was watching the Broncos eviscerate the Green Bay Packers. My mother’s plumbing fell apart ages ago, so long ago I was practically in diapers myself. And now it’s her heart and lungs.
Yesterday my mother, who has relied on her doctors for every birth and tooth extraction, infection, ache, and pain, said no to further testing after a visit to a heart specialist. Struggling to breathe, pulse surging well above 100 beats per minute, she told my brother she just wants peace in her old age. I never would have predicted this, despite the absolute predictability of it. She’ll be turning 86 this year and has struggled with health issues all her life. Everyone calls it a day at some point.
A couple of weeks ago, I called my Mom and listened to her pant like a dog for a few seconds before she disconnected. She called back shortly to say she was getting her hair washed and couldn’t talk on the phone. A few nights later, she told me about how she sits in her chair all day watching the people outside her window. They are all walking with their eyes on their cell phones, she said, oblivious to everything else. She noticed there weren’t any cell phones on her wall of Christmas cards, only old timey things like horses and carts. Then she had a coughing fit, and after she recovered, she told me the story again, in the pretty much same words.
After Bob’s mother died, on Valentine’s Day of all things, he carried on stoically. But when his father died a few years later he told me, “I’m an orphan, now.” I casually considered how I would feel when my parents orphaned me. Reality was still outside my grasp.
I had my existential moment while I was at work yesterday, a bit of pre-game grief. I had been talking with one of my brothers after his conversation with what may be Mom’s last doctor. He wished my mother’s boiler-plate living will had concrete directives. For the first time, the terms palliative care and hospice entered our sphere of reality.
After speaking with my brother, I watered the kitchen plants, had a conversation with Malcolm, and called Bob to say I was done with my day at The Plant. He said he hadn’t gotten over to the farmer’s market and suggested I stop on my way home. I was reluctant. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel fit to talk to anyone. I wanted to just stop everything, sit down, and stare at the sun sinking behind the trees.
I felt heavier than usual and was reminded of Tami’s terrible grief after her son died. I went over to her house every day for weeks after that unimaginable and unforeseen event, and one day as I came to her door, Tami got up slowly from her sofa and said, “I..feel..so…heavy…”
But, I did keep on moving. I did stop by the farmer’s market and talked with four bright-faced people I’ve spoken with many times before. I did come home and embrace my husband, make dinner, call my brothers, shower and go to bed. Just like normal. And I will go to that Super Bowl party, and laugh and joke and eat with my friends. It remains to be seen whether I mention plumbing, or hospice, or end of life directives.