When my dad switched from living to dying my mother took up solitaire.
As soon as there were computers she spent her life at them, writing books, preparing syllabuses, whatever else tenured professors at ivy league schools do. She was happy there, creating, editing, annotating. The super speedy click of her long polished fingernails on the keyboard was the constant, comforting sound track of my childhood.
In one of his last acts of rebellion in the not long enough life of a rebel my dad had refused to die in his bed in his room, instead he co opted the three room suite of kitchen, family room, breakfast room and spent December and January there receiving some visitors, talking some nonsense and smelling worse and worse.
He didn’t like light so we had the shades closed against the sun and its reflection on the lake. So my mother’s laptop added a bluish cast to the room as she flew through piles of cards.
I could always tell if she wanted me to sit and stay by what she did with the laptop screen. Tilted halfway to keep the game active was my yellow light, shut with a click meant come on in, and there were a few times when she didn’t look up, the clicking coming from the draw piles, rather than her full on typing mode.
She was in survival mode, not creative.
(For those of you without kids age 6-14 that is a minecraft reference.)
My father was the last person to have big expectations for me. He asked for what he wanted. Often forcefully. Despite the fact that I lived 3 hours a way, was tending to a failing marraige, was in graduate school, and working he expected me to be by his bedside always.
I tried. I drove back and forth and only got in one accident. I was really no where during that time. But that was fine with him. If I couldnt be sentinal at least I couldn’t be engaged anywhere else.
If this makes him seem selfish, it should, he was, and also generous and loving with me. He had the gift of shining an intense bright light on whomever he attended to. At times (many) this light was the light of inquistion. Equally as common was ridicule. The last alternative was the light of life, reserved for people who surprised and interested him. So I became one of those.
So my mom took a semester off of work, I checked out of my life, and my dad became more of himself. Like they say about money and drunk people imminent death tends to make you more you.
Then it stopped. He got sicker and there was just solitaire. I couldn’t regale them with conversation about being a newly wed. My husbands drug use and my affair were topics too taboo even for me. (Then.)
But we were in survival mode. At least the rest of us.
My father died on Valentine’s day 2000. I was not home with my husband, nor was I by his side. I had moved into a crappy little apartment. Perhaps my penance for the affair, and heard the news over the phone. I remember the feel of the carpet on my knees. I had no furniture in the apartment, and I looked out the large window at the rushing river and tried to feel my father.
This is the moment that I will know. A skeptic by nature and nurture I opened up to the possibility of him still being out there, expecting things of me.
But there was nothing. His light was gone, and the darkness felt absolute.
Then the arms of the other man, kneeling beside me on the floor, hugging my frozen self into him. And this is why I struggle not to judge anyone. I was a cheating cheater and so was he and in this exact moment he was the most and only person who could take me away from the life that I had already chosen to leave. Like a catalyst for an inevitable reaction, I know. KNOW. I wouldn’t have made it through that time. So in the midst of universally accepted bad behavior, and grief like I have never known I decided that I now had to expect things of myself. Shit.
I wanted to write about technology. My meditative/medicative obsession with candy crush. Level failed, try again. I was going to tie in Minecraft, and my mothers solitaire. This other stuff came out though. I guess it was time.
I forgive myself for cheating. I would do it again in that exact situation. But now is not then, and I am not her anymore.
I share this with you as a glimpse into how perfect moments can be contained inside layers of crappy choices and situations, and probably the opposite. Road to hell and all.
Lets judge each other a little less right now.
And just as importantly lets judge ourselves as little as possible.
Level failed, try again.