If writing had been relegated to the edges of my life before my father came to live with us, it has now been pushed over the precipice and plummeted to its death. Words shattered at the base of the canyon. Letters splayed everywhere. Sometimes, I stand at the edge and look over at the wreckage and feel overwhelmed at the prospect of putting it all back together.
I miss it. The outlet. The opportunity to make sense of the senseless. To construct a narrative out of chaos. Line up the sentences of my life and make them march in order. That’s really what writers do. They tidy. They take the messiness of life and try to make it neat.
Living with my father living with cancer is anything but neat. Every day I find new corners of impatience within myself.
I look at my sink, that once held the detritus of just two people, and now it’s littered with the remains of three. Signs of illness gather in the corners of the bathroom, pepper the sink, lie matted in the drain.
I know he tries to clean it up, which I appreciate. But there’s always more.
Most days, I feel like I am slicing off parts of myself and handing them to others until the end of the day, when there are a only few crumbs left to dab at. At dinner, my father, anxious to share the day, tells us every detail of every moment.
“I had the most wonderful day,” my father begins, his voice still traceable to the Lower East Side. “I went to Shop Rite and spent hours picking everything out, reading all the labels. I brought back the coupon they gave me the last time I bought coffee and they gave me the two dollars, even though I didn’t buy new coffee. Isn’t that wonderful?” He regales us with stories about everything he has eaten, every person he has encountered, everything he has read.
Sophie pleads at my elbow to tell me something. “Dad, could you hold on a sec. Sophie needs a turn.”
“Do I have to eat this?” Sophie says, prodding her eggplant in peanut sauce.
“Just eat the broccoli.” I tell her. “You don’t have to have the eggplant.”
“My stomach hurts.”
“Soph, if you don’t eat, there won’t be any dessert.”
“How much do I have to eat to get dessert?” I sigh.
“So let me tell you about this band that I heard in the park….” My father starts in again.
“Do I have to have the noodles too?”
“Soph, I’m not cutting deals. Eat. If you’re stomach hurts, don’t eat, but you’re not having dessert if it hurts.”
“They were terrific…” my father continues.
I look over at Kevin who is almost finished eating. I have no idea how his day has gone. Nor does he know anything about mine.
Underneath the table, my toenails are menacingly long. Later, in an effort to cover the chips in the polish, I give them a coat of quick-drying red. As I go to replace the cap, I spill the contents of the bottle all over. Bright red splashed onto the floor, the cabinets, the off-white towels, and my leg.
I pour nail polish remover on the floor and get most of it up, but it stubbornly clings to the grout and the fibers of my towel,
“Mommy? What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to clean up nail polish I just spilled all over the place,” I tell Sophie, trying to keep my voice even.
“Can you do my nails when you’re done?”
The hours I never knew were empty are now filled with hospitals and side effects and phone calls. My relationships with my friends have been relegated to texting and facebook and voice mail.
Thinking of u always.
Miss u. Much love.
My working hours stretch deeper into the night, because it all still needs to get done.
I hate being busy. I remember when I once wore it as a badge of honor. How I used to get into these competitive little conversations with my husband about who was busier. I spent years unwinding that knot, trying to create more spaciousness in my life. Not that I was wildly successful, but I had been making progress.
That progress has stalled in the middle of an intersection. Everyone’s honking, and all I want to do is get out of the car.