My phone rings, I glance at the clock and see the time is 9:10 A.M. and as I reach to answer it, I steel myself for what I will find on the other end. My heart is pounding, I tap my foot in time to the chanting in my head of “not today, not today, please not today…” and of course, it is today and we are on day 5 of grandpa’s daily hate hour. My grandmother’s warbly, tear-strained voice is in my ear, she is crying, grandfather is yelling at her in the background and grandmother says the words again, “your grandfather’s been to the bank this morning…”
It’s day 5 of week three in our own private Orwellian treat, breaks courtesy of the bank being closed on Sunday and the peaceful mornings when I whisk grandmother away to my house so we can all “rest”.
Grandfather’s dementia has made him forget many, many things- except, curiously, his ownership of money. He cannot remember his children, his parents, places he’s lived, friends,- beyond the personal bubble of his wife, his things, and his bank account -there is nothing else. He likes to bring out a small photo book to show us, photos of his things- his planes, his boat, how he used to go lobster poaching. The only person in the book is holding up a lobster, a prop- the person, not the lobster, that is. It’s very, very sad- except when he lashes out at grandmother and then I am very, very angry. I’m also helpless, hostage to a process I don’t understand, a future I cannot predict and of relationships I can’t untangle.
Grandmother is hysterical, grandfather is shouting in the background, threatening to drag her to the bank and “make her put his money back”. I try to calm her, I tell her, again, to not argue with him, to stop trying to explain to him, to just go lock herself in the bathroom. I grab my keys and head out the door to make the 1 hour drive to her house. I give out quick instructions to Demi and Amie as I rush through the house, grabbing things, “do 40 minutes of Aleks Math online, master at least 4 things and do your Veritas press History online lesson. I’ll be home by 3, there’s turkey in the fridge and somebody please walk the dog- and oh, don’t forget to practice the piano and then work on your creative writing stories!”….and I’m out the door. I call my sister while in the car, to update her on what is happening, knowing that today she cannot run over because she is on a field trip with her youngest. I tell her I am heading down there, to calm her, in case she received a hysterical call also. Later, at the half-way point, I call grandmother to let her know I am almost there, and to check in. She is calmer now, weepy, but calmer. Her voice is slightly slurred, so I ask, “how many valiums have you taken, grandma?” She tells me 3, and I wonder to myself how many it takes to overdose, and wonder if she would ever take too many on purpose. Grandmother tells me she is okay, and happy that I am on my way, because she is hoping I will move all their savings back to the checking account and make grandfather stop screaming at her. But, I can’t do that, and I feel horrible about it. I call my sister back and ask her if she thinks, after 60 something years of domestic abuse and sadness, would grandmother try to overdose on purpose? My sister does not think so, not after all she has endured already…but I know, deep-down, that depression is senseless. I drive faster.
And then, …and then it is an hour later and I walk into the house and grandmother’s face is puffy, her eyes red. Grandfather is delighted to see me, a visitor! Do I know how old he is? He is 90! Grandmother tells me he has calmed down, and that she can’t go home with me, she is worried about what he will eat if she is gone and worried that he might go for a walk and get lost. She’s happy to see me, everything is better now. Grandfather is happy to have a visitor, he doesn’t really know who I am.
I take grandmother out to lunch, to get her away from the oppressiveness. I take her to the store to buy a few things to eat. I ask her if she’d like to buy some soup, since she just had dental work and her teeth hurt. “Oh no,” she says, “we don’t ever eat soup anymore, he doesn’t remember that he likes it.”
“grandmother”, I say, “Do YOU like soup, it doesn’t matter if grandpa doesn’t, he can eat something else.” she hedges about it and puts the soup back, like I knew she would.
I take her home, grandfather is delighted to see a visitor. He asks me, “do you know how old I am?” and I guess wrong on purpose, so he can surprise me by saying “I’m 90 years old!” and I fake disbelief because he looks so young…
and then, I get back into my car and drive an hour back up the 91 freeway.
It’s the next day, the phone rings, and it’s 9:30 a.m. and my heart starts beating fast