“Maintain, Roxanne, maintain,” she always said.
I was young when I worked with the actively dying. I liked the work. I had spent a lot of time with death in my own life already…sitting quietly with it while drinking coffee in the early morning, drifting towards it at varied paces, trying to make friends with it by calling it up. Because of this, unlike a lot of others my age, it didn’t scare me when I went to a job where I was confronted with the daily march of death towards people I had grown to know &, often, like. I had great respect for the position I sometimes held at their bedside, so that they weren’t alone when they let go. I was able to survive at this job because I was able to section myself up into little compartments where their ends & my daily functioning mostly didn’t touch. Mostly.
One of the ones that did get to me was Grandma Anne when she finally went. She wasn’t my grandma. Wasn’t a grandma to any of the staff, in fact….but we all called her that. You hear people use the term “lady” in funny, sarcastic ways now—but she was a lady. Definitively & quintessentially so. It really was the only way to describe her. Even at the end, when her heart was just slowly saying no to all of this, I would visit her in her room and she always was dressed in impeccable hounds-tooth prints or blazers with velveteen cuffs, crisply pleated linen pants, little heels. Her hair was always done. Even at her sickest, she never complained. She’d offer you candy or, if she really liked you, she’d give you a finger rosary she’d had blessed. (Still have mine somewhere.) She always asked me about the details of the wedding I was planning. (Was actually taking a picture of my wedding dress up to her, when a co-worker stopped me at the door and told she’d died.) She was always just so lovely, even when she knew her heart was a thinning out rubber band that was soon to snap…We were equally fond of each other.
At this job, my least favorite task was to call bingo for the residents. Someone was always pissed. Fights frequently broke out amongst themselves & ire was often directed at me for not calling the number they needed in order to win. Even more so, I hated the idea of people who were otherwise proud, rational people sniping at each other over quarters & cheap trinkets that often were donations from the families of residents who had passed. I hated it & in particularly contentious moments, I guess sometimes it showed. Grandma Anne would always reach over, pat my hand gently and say, “Maintain, Roxanne, maintain.” Finally one day I asked her what that meant. She said, “It is something my mother used to say to me. It means in the heat of an ugly moment, maintain your grace & maintain the carriage of yourself as a lady.” I haven’t exactly followed that advice. Sadly, I have often been a complete loose-moral’d pig in the more baser moments of survival in my life, I fully admit–but I have never forgotten her words, often repeating them like a mantra that she gifted me.
In fact, lately, I think about the phrase a lot as I try to just withstand the strange weather in my life.
J. has been on vacation at his family’s place in the Bahamas for the week, and will be for another week. The long days of me restlessly checking a phone screen that has no text messages has made me realize how much we actually text throughout the week. Even when we’re not talking, per se, we’re sending links to YouTube videos of music we think the other would love… Mister has smirkingly suggested that I am perhaps way more invested than I pretend to be & that I appear to miss J. I told him I can’t afford to be attached. Mister says that attachment happens anyways…it doesn’t consult price tags or billing invoices. J. has texted me from the Bahamas a couple times…which tells me that perhaps he misses me a bit too. And that little gesture, sending me those messages while on vacation, makes me happy. Also, lately, he has brought up the topic of us having a baby together at some point…jokingly imagined this little combination of the two of us…a little Lennon glasses wearing, music loving, dark-humored weirdo of a baby…I can tell he’s already imagined the baby’s face. I am always alarmed by this, zapped by it…but sometimes there’s something exciting about seeing what will happen when you grab onto an electric fence….even when you know it’s a matter of how much pain, not whether or not there will be any.
I do like him.
I just don’t know how to make it all work.
I’m just kind of a glorious mess these days.
The drinking is an issue. I don’t want to admit it…but it is. I can’t remember the last night that I haven’t had enough vodka in me to take down a strongman in a circus. I start thinking about drinking in the middle of the day, making promises to myself to indulge if I get thru the day…Then I drink myself to a stupor every night after the kids go to bed…I drink in an effort to shut out my feelings over my life, the fact that I live in a house where I feel like everyone hates me…I am sick to the bone marrow with loneliness…and downstairs, alone, I am afraid of going to sleep where my uncle still gets me nightly…because there is no one to wake me out of it…and there is no one to comfort me after I wake up either….So I fight it with drunkenness…at the cost of my physical well-being. Fists of vodka have a hard time with aiming, I’ve learned.
I hear a clock ticking. Marking time. Marking deadlines. Subtracting from the total, ticking away. But, for all I know, I could be wrong and it could just be a bomb instead….
My subconscious has been scraping deep in the bottom of barrels of my trauma to find material for my dreams these days…. The other night I had a dream that my uncle was in his trailer, making this unnerving hissing noise from behind the window. (In real life, he would stalk me while making that sound. I would walk out to the field to feed my horse at night & he would follow me in the dark, hissing at me…then laugh at my look-over-my-shoulder fear. He would stand outside my bedroom window at night as I undressed & make that noise. To this day, if I hear anything similar, I’m immediately operating remotely from deep within my body where I can’t be reached. Poof. Wave of hands. Just gone.) In this dream, he just kept hissing & hissing. I kept frantically trying to get away from the noise. Finally, I get to a silent place…I exhale my relief. And it is then that he grabs me, his sandpaper farmer hands contracting tightly around my neck. I remember this feeling from back then, so it feels pretty fucking real. I scream myself to raw throat, waking myself up in the process. I go splash water in my face and see I have blown out the whites of my right eye. Burst blood vessels. Fuck. It gets worse as the day goes on.
The next day the bleed has spread further, ringing halfway around the bright blue iris of my eye. My coworkers at first express concern. They webMD the shit out of it…”Have you been straining? How’s your blood pressure? Did you poke yourself with a sharp implement?” I become increasingly grumpy with the line of questioning. Then, taking a joking approach, they ask, “How’s your sight? Can you still see us?” “Unfortunately,” I growl. Their concern quickly switches to mockery, which I am more comfortable.
Later in the day, we’re sitting at lunch & somehow manage to spill blue cheese dressing in the ends of my hair. I try to wipe it out, but it only smooshes the blue cheese in worse. I try to wash it out, but it makes it more noticeable. Once again, they all make fun of me—including my director—when I loudly announce in dismay that I have a shiteye & there is blue cheese dressing in my hair & I just remembered that I have a home visit to do with a family we are going to provide services to. (To be fair—my office mates are used to me just loudly & frequently announcing inane things in the office…In fact, when I don’t have an authentic announcement to make–I sometimes just make horrifying child-birthy kinds of noises & then tell them that I’m ok, just giving birth to my own anxiety.) My director cracks up at my announcement. She jokes that she is deeply concerned about me representing our agency in my current state. I tell her that her critical assessment of me is making me want to eat my feelings & I am going to start by sucking the blue cheese out of my hair. “Well, at least your typical attitude is intact,” she spars. (Love where I work. No sarcasm.) In the end, I resort to pulling my wild mane of red waves back into an extremely messy bun, trading in one mess for another mess…but that’s always the name of the game in my life.
Maintain, Roxanne, maintain…
I hear you, Grandma Anne, but it’s impossible to stay somewhere you haven’t even been to yet….