Our couch came with craters installed underneath each cushion. Sit on it, and your rump plummets. The cushion caves in. You sink, your knees are as high as your forehead. You have to peer around them to watch TV. I pile three pillows together to sit. And still I sink. Lesson: don’t buy cheap-ass furniture.
Imagine a ninety year old woman trying to pull her rump out of that hole. It’s a sight to see. My mother’s arms are long, spindly things. You could fit one inside the cardboard tube of a roll of paper towels. When I hold her upper arms in the lift, my fingers press into swaths of muscles draped over her bones.
She didn’t want help at first. “I’ve got to figure out how to do this,” she said, then got into position, like an Olympic gymnast mounting the parallel bars. One hand gripped the armrest, the other pressed against the cushion, right at the crater’s rim. She breathed that guttural, Villatoro breath and lifted herself upright, deftly grabbed the walker’s handles, released the brakes and rolled away with commentary on how old age isn’t for sissies.
Back then, the lift from crater to walker took about ten seconds. Then fifteen. Then twenty. She’d get stuck in the arc, suspended between lunar couch and walker, and hover there a good while before standing upright. Sometimes she’d plop back onto the bottomless cushions.
Now she lets us help her. It’s precarious: If I grab her hands too tightly, I could snap her wrists. Her knees might buckle and she’ll drop to the hardwood floor. Her feet slide. I prop my foot in front of hers like a metal plate. She jabs her toes into my arch. We lift together. She grabs the walker.
When she’s just too tired, I lean over, snake my arms under hers, bend my knees and pick her up out of the hole. Sometimes she collapses into my arms. We stand there, pressed together. Her head falls into the crux of my neck like a baby’s. She sighs and laughs and wonders if she’s becoming a sissy.
Came the day we were watching Twin Peaks for the third time (that show never gets old for us). She had to visit the restroom. She tried four times to get up, but couldn’t make it above four inches and I thought, Hmm, maybe I ought to do something about this.
Instead of filling in the couch craters with sand or cement, we got her a lift chair. It’s a miracle. The chair itself stands up. It raises her until her knees are nearly straight. She reaches out, grabs the walker and she’s on her way. It’s a little strange, a chair that, on its outstretched hydraulic system, is as tall as I, and leans toward the TV like the Tower of Pizza.
I work at home, and can keep an eye on her. Anything can happen. One fall can end it. I get tired at times, but there is only a little angst tied to it, the remnants of Pavlov habits, when, as a child, I learned to measure, constantly, the dysfunction-checking Richter scale of our home.
But now, I’m not measuring others’ moods. I measure distances, between bedroom and kitchen, front door and car. We once stored boxes of soda in a cabinet above the washing machine, when it hit me how absolutely stupid that was. One slight California tremor, and that mountain of aluminum cans will avalanche. I imagined Mom inside the washer, her feet sticking out, with a mound of Diet Seven-Ups on top of her, and her cursing underneath them. Now the cabinet holds the Costco supply of toilet paper.
These things please me, because I can see them: crater couches. Dive-bomb soda cans. This is much easier, or more simple, than negotiating a sudden change in mood, when happiness twists into an inexplicable rage, and past horrors barrel into the house and occupy our Now, which is a failed image—the horrors are not outside of the house. They are still in here, in this mind, and in hers.
I am the sicker. I take a palm of anti-psychotic pills three times a day. Christmas is always horrid. I write this now, knowing that, the moment I post it, the tremors will begin. My family knows this. Mom’s well aware. They do their best to take care of me. They lift me out of craters.
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