Thursday, June 28, 2007


I’m still trying to shake the last phone call when the next one comes.

Mom called just an hour ago to tell me her lover, Tony, has pancreatic cancer. He is going to die. The doctors have suggested Hospice, translation, the guy has less than six months to live. By the way, he doesn’t technically have a place to live, as he lives in a “5th Wheel” on his sister’s property. He’ll need to do his dying with Mom, in her house.

Sweltering on this hot, early July evening in Portland, I’ve got both kids in the bathtub, intended to both cool and cleanse, when Mom calls. Three-year-old Lucy is quite helpful when I put nearly one-year-old Wil in the tub with her. She makes sure he sits securely in his suction cup bottomed bath seat, the one he hates, but not as much if she distracts him. I wash her white blond hair, finally reaching some length at age three, when for so long is was just wisps. This further mesmerizes the hard to mesmerize Wil. If she shrieks when shampoo gets in her eyes, all the better. Hearing others squeal is one of his favorite activities.

Wil has so little hair on his big head it’s hardly worth washing, but I do. It’s got everything he’s eaten today mixed in up there, it needs to come out, it needs to come off.

Standing at the phone, a victim of its short cord and location in the center of the house, the “pressure cooker” we have named it, the pressure coming now from the other side of this conversation, 150 miles away. Now my mom needs me, too. She can’t be of help with the kids, she needs me to help her as she navigates new terrain. She is going to lose her fourth life-mate, but this time to death, not divorce. I am less than sympathetic and feel bad, but not that bad. I’ve been through so much with Mom. This one is all hers.

I see her in my head, standing in her kitchen, her mobility also limited by the length of the phone cord in her little home in Sisters. With her salt and pepper hair, cut into a perpetual “pixie,” very little make-up, a body that has never seen the inside of a gym or “worked out” ever, she has gorgeous, shapely legs and a face that defies her 66 years on this planet.
I recall the original conversation when Tony entered the picture two years ago.

“I met him in Al-Anon, but he’s a recovering alcoholic. I’m not sure why he was in Al-Anon, really.”

To pick up on YOU! He is a recovering alcoholic in need of an enabler. You’re perfect!

“I can’t find any detectable neurosis,” she prattles on.

That may be true, but I’m detecting a couple already.

“Listen, Mom,” I say in all earnestness, “if you are happy, I’m happy. I can’t go another round with you, however. I do not wish to meet him. I do not need to meet his family. I don’t care about his kids. I don’t want to know when his birthday is. I do not want to spend holidays with him. I choose to let this be between you and Tony. I am not getting involved.”

After the last two divorces and a couple of questionable boyfriends, I feel I have more than earned this right to forfeit attachment.

When the call comes tonight I stand on my original platform. I’m “out.” I have nothing left to give to her; there is simply no more of me she can ask. That doesn’t stop the asking, but it shuts down the giving on my part, from that phone call forward.


With the kids out of the tub and watching a “Thomas the Tank Engine” video, the phone rings again. It is the other Ruth in my life. There are two. Both are mothers to me. One is technically my mother, but that role has been reversed for 34 years. The other Ruth is my high school, college and life friend, Ruth. With a much better head on her shoulders and steady, consistent behavior and advice, this Ruth is my preferred mother. She is not a taker, she is a giver. She is not needy and guilt-slinging. There are no hidden agendas with this one. There is no “projection,” nothing that this Ruth says to me is really all about her. Talking to this Ruth is the antidote to talking to the other one.

Ironically this Ruth also has salt and pepper hair, having begun her graying process in high school, rightfully earning the nickname “Mom” by all her friends, especially me. Ruth was everyone’s designated driver, “D.D.” being her other nickname. Tall and steady as an oak, this Ruth has a vast reservoir of sage advice and the capacity to listen without judgment. She is worth her 145 lbs. in gold.

This Ruth has another thing in common with my mom. She is from a family of eight. Where my mom is one of two girls with six brothers, Ruth’s family has the opposite. Ruth has two brothers and five sisters. With that many siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, Ruth’s life is so full she has very little time for outside friendships. She teaches first grade and is raising two young daughters with the help of her amazing, and stay-at-home husband, Chris.

Most of what Ruth shares with me, and always has, is the updates on all the family members. While their lives have experienced the usual obstacles like divorce, substance abuse and serious financial problems, Ruth’s has been nothing but steady.

Tonight she is calling to tell me about her brother, Joe’s, little boy, Justin. Joe and his wife, Michelle have four-year-old Brianna, and two-year-old Justin.

“Carrie, pray for Joe and Michelle. Something’s wrong with Justin. Michelle was giving him a bath and noticed weird bruising. She took him to the doctor and they are doing all kinds of tests. They might have to go up to Portland if they can’t figure out what’s wrong, here, in Eugene. It could be bad, Carrie, it could be really bad.”

After hanging up the phone I hug and kiss my children. Nothing here is bad, really bad. I am filled with gratitude.

To be continued...


kario said...

Wow - this is great, my dear! I love the images of the kids in the tub and your mental picture of your mom in her kitchen.

Hurry, continue!

riversgrace said...

I love your voice. Really.

Jerri said...

Love this one, Carrie. Love getting more of your story, always.

In the beginning you say you're still trying to shake the first call. What did you do to shake it? How did your body react?

I want to know it all.

Kim said...

I also just adore those two delicious kids in the tub. And everything about this.

I just want even more: more of you wrestling with that oppressive phone cord, of having to put on a happy face and return to the tub after a call like that. What you were wearing, how those calls felt in that heat, the way your childrens' hair smelled when you kissed them for comfort after the second phone call.

Wonderful work!

Eileen said...

Loved the contrast between the two "moms", and both time having to go back to being mom. Really good writing Carrie, I loved getting to hear more of your story. Really identified with the comfort kiss at the end. I look forward to the next part. XOXO