And This Is What I Don’t Want
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Crimes to the Third Degree.
The old man sits in his chair, sleeping while the TV is on loud enough to be heard clearly in any corner of the house and most of corners of the two-acre garden beyond the barn out back. But he is sleeping, and his wife is grateful.
She’d prefer a different TV show, perhaps a movie with British actors, Celtic flutes, and enough history to quench her thirst for something, anything, other than news programs and tabloid TV he thinks is indicative of what’s become of his children’s generation. But tonight it’s the fifth CSI episode in a week and it’s blood and gore and lowlife and tonight it’s gyrating and offending strippers while he sleeps, and she will do nothing but hate it.
Lower the volume one notch, and he will wake.
Gently turn the channel to something historical or psychological or philosophical, and he will wake.
Slip out of the house and into the gardens to hear yourself think, and he will wake.
Eventually, he will wake anyway, and he will call her. Whether she is cooking or in the bath or sleeping or outside in the gardens, he will call her, and she will stop everything and run to him.
She will wash his back and tend his medicine and bring his drink and, if she must, crawl on her hands and knees to do it because she is as ill herself as he is. Yet she keeps going and he keeps pushing, and she’d never tell him to fuck off.
He will watch her walk all the way back to the kitchen after she’s run to his side for next to nothing. The moment she reaches the farthest corner of the house, he will call to her again… to come hand him the remote two feet away so he can change the channel at will….
And then she will go to the farthest corner of the backyard to water the vegetables she’s planted and at the farthest step, he will call to her to come answer the phone and she’ll run and run and run and reach it on the fifth ring after the caller has hung up and he’ll sit and wonder aloud who was calling and why and complain that he could not get up and answer the phone even though it was only six feet away.
And she will return to the farthest corner of the yard just in time for him to call to her again to come to his side and hand him a magazine on the table next to him.
And finally, finally, when she can go no more and darkness has come and hours have passed, she will walk to her chair, dragging her feet, and she will lower herself into the cushioned seat with a sigh to watch the one thing on TV she likes, and at that very moment, he will tell her to go fetch him something from the farthest corner of the back yard, two hundred steps away.
And when she returns, he will have changed the channel to something full of the basest qualities of life and he’ll turn the volume all the way up so he can hear it over his oxygen tank, and there he’ll fall asleep.
He’ll fall asleep and not even dream that I have seen him walk with a spring in his step when he believes he is alone and unnoticed, or that he breathes with little effort when no one is obviously around to hear his panting and whining and his prophecies of his impending death, meant to manipulate his blood kin into staying close at hand. Though he is very ill, he wields it like a weapon, like a bludgeoning tool especially melded for those who love him.
And when he sleeps, she will be grateful, because there is nothing else of his to do for then, and because there is nothing else she will do for herself.
And as for me, I won’t be grateful and I won’t like it all and I’ll know for certain that I will never spend my last years in the hell of codependency, hating every moment of life because I am not afforded a life by my husband and will not claim it for myself.
This, this is not what I want for the end of my own life, but there is nothing I can do, nothing at all that I can do, except to recognize that there is nothing at all that I can do for her, that she must do it for herself, but that I will never again walk in my mother’s shoes.