I'm having some anxiety lately. I think I know why...
Here is a picture of my girls with my parents, taken four years ago almost to the day:
A lot has changed since that picture. Four years could be a lifetime. Those two girls--then a tween and a "big girl"--are now both solidly TEEN, how did that even happen? I don't know. But--as scary as having teenagers can be--that's not the source of my anxiety.
I just came back from visiting my parents. I would publish a picture of my father today, but that feels like too much of an invasion of his privacy, even though he wouldn't see it and if he were to, he wouldn't understand.
As I have mentioned, he has Parkinson's Disease. It is a shitty, shitty diagnosis, let me cut to the chase about that. His has progressed with terrifying, dizzying speed. Four years ago, in that picture, he was undiagnosed. One month later, I flew home (funny, Freudian even, how I still it call "home" 25 years after I moved out) for the neurology visit where "Parkinson's Disease" entered my life. Three months ago, he was visiting here and I held his arm while he crossed the street, and wanted to scream obscenities at the careless, reckless punk skaters who made a game of seeing how close they could come to us, nearly knocking us over. It was almost enough to make me wish Parkinson's on their young, able bodies. Almost.
Three months ago, he had trouble buckling himself into the passenger seat of the car, but he at least understood what the seatbelt was for.
Last week, I sat on the couch in the house I grew up in, trying to make idle conversation while Fox News (increasingly the socio-political Spanish Fly of their generation) harangued us in the background. After an hour or two, my dad looked at me, his eyes swimming vacantly. He asked, "Is Erica coming to visit me?"
But...I am Erica.
There is a picture in my head of my father. After I left last week, my brother stayed out to visit them. He managed to talk Dad into going out for ice cream. I was a little jealous--I hadn't been able to coax him farther than the driveway. Afterward, my brother texted me a picture. Our father is curled up, impossibly small, in the back of the rental SUV under the hatch. He's half sideways, his feet pulled up awkwardly, his eyes drifting off. He has lost weight so drastically that he looks lost in his own clothes. Apparently he had wanted to sit there. Did he think it was a seat? Who knows--his logic is fleeting now, a mystery even to himself.
So my brother let him sit there for what seemed a reasonable amount of time, then gently suggested they head home. My father, surprised maybe to find himself sitting there, allowed my brother to guide him around to the passenger seat and buckle him up.
I wander around my childhood home, and everything I see is something he did: The walls he framed, the wood trim with its perfectly mitered corners, the shower surround he tiled, the hardwood floors he laid, the trees he planted, the yard he cleared and graded...he even wired the freaking lights in that house, all of them, is there nothing he couldn't do?
Of course, there was plenty, and many of those things he couldn't (or wouldn't) do are the things I struggled with, things I replicated uncannily in my marriages, things I had only begun to recognize and wrestle with over the last five years--or precisely the time-frame in which I began to lose him.
I could give you some saccharine take-away on the order of "cherish your loved ones while you can," but that would do both of us a disservice. Love is hard. Being a child is hard; becoming an adult is hard; having to parent your own parents is hardest of all.
Almost. Saying goodbye is hardest of all. I am not ready. Then again, who ever is?
So the anxiety creeps in, that dirty bastard, and closes its cold clutching hands around my heart and throat. I flee from parking garages and crowds, chew my cuticles til they're ragged, and try to breathe. And eat, and sleep.
I reassure my father: Yes, Erica is coming to visit you. I'm right here.