Adventures in Eldercare, Part Deux

This is probably the last time I’ll be able to relieve my mother of her eldercare duties, for a while anyway, so I drive up with Dad, and they take off for the Berkshires.

Some things are the same.

“Here are the dogs!” Denture-smacking. Cribbage shit-talk. Laughing at weird things: “‘Armed officer sends school into lockdown‘ ha ha ha.” Uncle Russell still steadfastly refuses to glue his upper plate in and often takes it out and sets it on the coffee table while he gums his dinner. One night I hear a tickety-tickety and look up from my book to find Redford trying the dentures on for size. Thank god he didn’t bite down very hard.

Some things are different.

His hearing aids whistle and squeal nonstop now. Between that and the denture-smacking, at least I always know where he is.

Also, Mom has started putting out a sign for him


so he doesn’t accidentally double up on his meds. His Alzheimer’s pill enables him to be more accurate in counting his cribbage hands, but an extra dose makes him… frisky. Once, after a double dose, he walked up behind an in-home care person as she made brownies, pinched her rear end, and told her he wanted to sample her goodies.

His vocalizing has ramped up too. Now it’s not just repeating newspaper headlines. It’s repeating them and repeating them and repeating them for 15 minutes at a time sometimes. If I had a dollar for every time I hear, “Drug treatment center gets new life,” I’d probably have enough money to put him in a nursing home.

“Disney club hits high note” is uttered almost as many times but with “high note” spoken an octave above the rest. It makes me giggle. The first 50 times.

Sometimes he repeats phrases so many times and so quickly that they become unintelligible. “Twelve fifteen,” he says after glancing at his watch. (It’s 11:10.) “Twelve fifteen, twelve fitteen, twelve fittee, twalvittee, twalviddeetwalviddeetwalviddee… twalviddeetwalviddeetwalviddee.”

One thing about Russell is he’s… well, I won’t say obsessive-compulsive, but he’s definitely fastidious. He likes things to be tidy and in their place.

He mentions the piles of newspapers in the garage and how much they bother him. I suggest we take them to the town dump, and he likes that idea. About half of the load will fit in my trunk, which I figure is perfect, in case Mom is saving some for the wood stove or decoupage or something. I carry great stacks to the back of my car. He squares the corners of every pile. On the drive there, he mentions the dump sticker. Crap, I forgot you’re supposed to have a sticker on your car to get in.

We pull up to the gate. I smile sweetly at the guy sitting on a utility stool outside the shed and explain the situation: my mom took her car on vacation, I’m caring for my great uncle, here’s his street address. “Well, you can’t go in unless you have a dump sticker,” says the man.

Is there anything more frustrating and pathetic than a peon wielding the tiny bit of power he has? “Maddening,” says Russell. Agreed.

We turn around and go home. Russell wants to unload the newspapers in the driveway. I tell him I don’t know when Mom’ll be home, and I don’t want them to get rained on. He’s very frustrated. I distract him by handing him a rake and the yard waste can. He starts picking up leaves and sticks, and I unload all the newspapers back into the garage. It’s fine. Later I find out Mom will put them under the mulch in her gardens to keep the weeds down.

He’s restless. I’m listless. He needs a thing to do, but I don’t have the energy or knowledge to give him orders. Fortunately, two light bulbs have burned out, so we simply must take a trip to Stop & Shop to buy new ones. At home, he replaces them and is sated for a while.

“When are these folks coming back then?” he asks. My parents.

“I don’t know,” I say. Really, it can’t be soon enough for either of us.

I remind myself once again that my mom has done this for nine years.

Fayshun Quest

Let’s talk about fashion, because we haven’t done that in awhile.

You may or may not have followed along in my recent quest.

I first went to several discount stores: Ross Dress for Less, TJ Maxx, etc. It was not going well.

Eventually, I ended up at Macy’s, which seemed to be no better. 

  The only half-decent ones I found were like 160 bucks. No. Absolutely not.

I decided to head to other department stores.

She was in a nylon track suit, no less!

Like this but red.
Like this but red. It was delightful.

My gay husband Paul reminded me that Gypsy Rose Lee, too, wore tassels. That was a good point. I told him I’d buy a tassel-less purse and some sassy pasties.

Seriously, gross.

Indeed, there were a number of problems with that purse.

Finally, I hit Sears--yes, Sears--and the first one I picked up was from a designer with the same name as my sister. Fate.

purse purchased

You may be wondering why I needed boots, given that last year I bought tall boots and short boots. Well. The tall boots, which I loved so much, are wicked uncomfortable. They just barely zip around my calves. It's like wearing calf-tourniquets all day. Plus, as I mentioned, they're so tall, the tops dig into my inner thigh fat. So I never wear them.

I loved the short boots and used to wear them all the time. Used to.

See, Violet does this thing when she's nervous. She collects my shoes and bras. Doesn't chew them; just puts them in her bed or snuggles with them on the couch. I often come home from work to find a shoe, a slipper, a flip-flop, and/or a brassiere next to a warm spot on the chaise.

Look closely at the top right and bottom left. You can see her shadow against the wall.
Look closely at the top right and bottom left. You can see her shadow against the wall.


Annoying to have to go around the house, gather my footwear, and toss my undergarments back in the hamper, but I can't get mad at her because

she soooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuuute.

And besides, she never chewed them.


She must've been real nervous that day. So long, short boots.

The good news is, I went to DSW and found the same exact ones, except they didn't have them in brown, so I bought black. Fine, since I can't wear my black tall boots anyway because torture.

But now I need brown boots. Maybe brown tall boots? That don't boa-constrict or jam themselves into my laygs?

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Also, Kate told me to buy

Old Navy t-shirts
Old Navy t-shirts

in a variety of colors, you know, for layering with cardigans/jackets/whatnot. So I did.

...It's possible I've done less of the layering and more of the just wearing them with jeans and calling it a day.

Also, I haven't worn a skirt yet this school year.

<cowers, covers head>

Stranger Danger

I don’t really talk to strangers much. Maybe because I have some social anxiety that prevents it. Maybe because I learned about Stranger Danger when I was kid—you remember: mustachioed guy with Mars bars offering rides home in his windowless van.

But one place I always found it easy to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know was the dog park. I used to go there all the time when my dogs were younger, and something about being in a fenced-in space watching these lovable beings running around, and slobbering, and pooping, makes people want to share with others about how their specific dog runs around, and slobbers, and poops.

So one day, I was chatting with a stranger—I’m sure—about the minutiae of our dogs’ bowel movements, when somehow we got off on a different topic. We started talking about creamsicles. You know what those are, right?

Orange popsicles with a vanilla center.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and I’d hear popsicles, I’d be like, “Ooooh!” but if they turned out to be creamsicles, I was all

fresh prince running man

Good god. They were the best.

Anyway, this particular stranger said, “You know, Arby’s has a creamsicle milkshake.”



Now I was at the dog park in Carrboro when this happened, and if you’ve ever been there, you know there’s an Arby’s, like, a quarter of a mile away. And I was like, Fuuuuuuuuuuuck this place—I’m out. I loaded up my dogs and headed for the drive-thru.

I wasn’t familiar with Arby’s menu—I mean, is anybody? Does ANYBODY go to Arby’s? Be honest, how many of you have been to Arby’s in the last month?

No, it’s definitely a nationwide drug front.

Anyway, I got some kind of sandwich and some fries—you know to balance out the meal—and the motherfucking creamsicle milkshake.

arby's orange cream shake

I only ate about half the sandwich and half the fries because they were just OK, but when I tell you the creamsicle milkshake… was a creamsicle milkshake—listen, it was a creamsicle… but also a milkshake. I was in dire ice cream headache pain but could not stop slurping it down. Thing was gone in 2½ minutes.

I lived in Hillsborough at the time, so I went home, dropped the dogs off, and headed to Durham to go out for the night. So I was on I-85 headed east when the stomach cramp hit me. It was one of those that makes you kind of stand up out of your seat, as if you might be able to get away from it?

And I was scared because I was on that stretch of highway between Hillsborough and Durham where there are no exits whatsoever. Hoping that the cramp was a one-off, I settled back into my seat, but alas. Alas! My guts started convulsing inside me. I hit the gas pedal. I needed to make it to Route 70, and I needed to do a very rude thing indeed to some poor gas station’s bathroom. I sped towards Durham, but it became VERY clear VERY soon that I was just not. going. to make it.

And that’s a weird moment, you know? When you realize that in a very short time you’re going to be a person who has shat in the woods next to the highway.

For the rest of your life.

You can’t un-become that person.

Forever and ever, if you find yourself in a game of I Never, and somebody says, “I’ve never dropped a roadside deuce,” you’re going to have to drink. It’s very humbling.

But I didn’t really have time to consider what was happening. I pulled off the interstate, grabbed some napkins from the Arby’s bag still in the front seat, and sprinted—as much as one can sprint while squeezing her ass cheeks together—into the woods.

Now I grew up in the country, just down yonder from Mr. Proffitt’s cattle farm, so I know of which I’m about to speak. When I say what came out of my body was a cowpie, I mean, in circumference, height, volume, consistency, everything—

’twas a cow pie.

Like, have you ever taken a shit so big that, when you stood up, you were off-balance? That’s how it was. Like all my organs had shifted to make room for it and now they had to slide back into place.

I staggered back to my car and made it home, and everything was totally fine—I didn’t end up in the ER or anything–but the take-away, of course, is that Stranger Danger is not always a dude in a van with candy. Sometimes it’s a friendly person at the dog park with advice about fast food.


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A lot of people said,

“There’s probably another explanation.”
“Could anything else have happened to it?”
“Maybe it’s just misplaced.”

But it was in that box. Inside another box, in my closet, next to my socks. And my house has never been broken into. What other conclusion am I supposed to draw?

There isn’t any. Someone I know took my great grandmother’s engagement ring.

I filed a police report. Durham PD has a detective who does nothing but pawn shop investigations. He’s very good, I was told by a clerk at National Pawn as I peered into their jewelry case. The investigator asked for a photo. I didn’t have a photo. I drew a picture, added details from the 1998 appraisal I had in my files, and emailed it to him.


I haven’t heard anything.

I didn’t expect to, really. I can’t imagine a friend or acquaintance taking it for the money. I don’t have destitute people as guests in my home (though I don’t like what that says about me). Years ago, a woman in my therapy group shared about her shoplifting compulsion. It wasn’t that she needed to—she had plenty of money—and she clearly knew better, but she had a pathology. I assume it’s the same in this case.

Speaking of pathology, my mind is doing weird things.

The day after I wrote the last post, I let the dogs in and found myself standing at the door unable to move. I stared at the door jamb and, in the middle of the day on a Sunday with my two pit bulls at my feet in a house where I’ve never felt unsafe, flipped the lock on the knob and threw the deadbolt.

In a fit of “Do I really trust who I trust?”, I changed the password on all my protected blog posts.

And I keep having fantasies of the ring’s return. Of a friend coming to me, crying and sheepish, to confess. Of finding an anonymous package in my mailbox. Of the detective calling and saying, “It turned up at the Picasso on Roxboro and Club.” And yes, of finding it in my laundry basket and having to eat crow. I would gladly eat crow. But it’s not in my laundry basket. It would’ve had to slither out of the box, that was inside the other box, in my closet, next to my socks.

Maybe this experience hasn’t changed me. When a friend asked if he could invite two new acquaintances to my New Year’s Eve party, I said yes without any hesitation. Is that because I still believe in people, love people, want to know people? Or is it because I literally have nothing else to lose? There’s literally nothing else anyone could take from my house that means anything to me.

I guess that’s not true. If someone took the dogs, I’d lose my fucking mind.

So there’s that. I have my dogs.

Dogs are the best. They have so few pathologies.

I Am Distraught

In my life, I’ve owned only one thing of any value. I mean, aside from my house, which is supposedly worth more than anything else, but let’s be frank, it’s a 750-square-foot glorified shed in the ghetto. People have cars worth more than my house.

And my car, which cost—I don’t even remember—$18,000? I’ll be paying my car off for a couple more years.

My computer is a 2006 Mac desktop which weighs approximately a pood. The television that sits in my spare room was a hand-me-down from my friend when she moved back to Europe in 2008.

So really, it was just the ring. My great grandmother’s engagement ring that my parents gave me for my college graduation. Platinum, a round-cut diamond in a square setting with three tiny diamonds on either side, the stones together weighing almost a carat.

I never wore it. Why would I wear it? Most days, I remember to put on a pair of silver earrings, but I don’t do sparklies, I don’t do baubles. No, I kept the ring in a little tan velvety box, which itself sat in a gold cardboard box, accompanied by a brooch and the only pair of gold earrings I own, in the small closet in my bedroom, next to my sock box. Every six months or so, I would open the box, look at the ring, slip in on my finger, and put in back in the box.

And now it’s gone.

I don’t know why—maybe because I was getting dressed in a sparkly sweater for a Christmas party, or maybe because a friend at the gym got engaged last weekend—but last night I noticed the box, next to my socks.

IMG_7640I opened it and found the brooch and earrings. The ring was gone.

No, I didn’t lose it.
No, I didn’t put it in a safe deposit box and forget.

It was in that box, next to my socks, and now it’s gone.

And the hardest part about this situation is that my house has never been broken into.

So what that means is that someone came into my house, invited, looked through my stuff, and stole my ring.

And it could be anybody. I have parties. I invite friends and acquaintances and neighbors. I don’t know them all well. I hang out by the fire pit while they mill about my house. I do that because, and this is the hardest part, it would never occur to me to walk into a person’s house—friend or stranger—and take so much as a postage stamp. So I never imagined anyone would do it to me.

When I was in 5th grade, Monica Green got a birthstone ring. It was purple. She was skinny. It fell on the floor of Mrs. Heller’s classroom. I picked it up and tried it on. It more or less fit my pinkie. Eventually, Monica realized it was gone and saw that I had it. She told Mrs. Heller, who then inquired. No, I said, this ring is my sister’s. And remarkably—I can’t, as a teacher, imagine letting something like that go—I was allowed to leave school with the ring.

Years later, when I read “The Telltale Heart”, I would get sweaty remembering the way the ring had felt awkward on my little finger, the way it had sparkled in my dollhouse bathtub where I dropped it, the way I hadn’t been able to shake the cloud that hung over me, the way the next day I had waited until Mrs. Heller wasn’t looking, walked casually by Monica’s desk, and dropped it on a pile of pencil shavings inside. And the relief—good god, the relief.

I should have said sorry to Monica. I should have confessed to the teacher. I still think about that. But the important thing was the lesson I learned, which was that it’s real shitty to take something that’s not yours. For them, definitely, but in addition, it will make you feel real shitty.

And so I don’t do that. I don’t take things that don’t belong to me.

And now I feel so mad and sad and stupid. The box wasn’t hidden. It was in my closet, but it wasn’t hidden.

Why didn’t I hide it?

As I sobbed to Mom this morning, she said it’s a good thing, or it means a good thing about me, it means that I’m trusting. Is that a good thing?

I know it’s an object. And objects are just objects.

But this object can’t be replaced and neither can my belief in people.

30 Days

I’ve been attempting to focus on the abundance in my life, rather than participating my usual Trance of Scarcity. The meditation (see Day 25) definitely helps, but I also thought I’d tweet one of those annoying 30 Days of Thankfulness things, except try to make it not-annoying.

The most difficult part was not coming up with things for which I felt grateful—I got plenty. The most difficult part was staying within 140 characters. You know how I like to babble on. The teacher of a writing workshop I took last year said, “You’ve got 25-30% too much fat.”

I was like, “DON’T I KNOW IT. Wait, you mean my writing?” He was right. I need to trim it down…

Arg! If I wanted to go on a word diet, I would’ve been a poet!

But I did it for thirty days. (NB: The following is not poetry. It’s just skinny prose.)

That 4-year-old, man. She’s dramatic and sassy, she wants what she wants, and she’s in the 8th percentile for height. In other words, she’s me. Hahaha. No, she’s not. She’s her. She’s her own person. But kind of me. I yub her.

This girl. She does something to my heart.
This girl. She does something to my heart.

This goes for both my parents. My parents showed the fuck up.

I’m still bad at crying (i.e., I need to do more of it and less eating/checking Facebook/self-flagellation/etc.), but I have good role models (namely, Cat, EJ, and Melissa).

(Typo: That was supposed to be Day 13.)

When the doc actually felt it, she goes—I shit you not, “Yeah, you got a lot of lumps and bumps, and this one doesn’t feel any different from the other ones.” :/

Also, if they do hate me as a result, that’s their own goddamn problem.

It’s a good job. I just wish I got paid more and didn’t have to deal with so much bullshit. I guess that’s everybody, right? Except I really should get paid more.

Every so often I consider it, dry-heave, and un-consider it.

I’m hosting the StorySLAM on December 11, folks! Come on out!

So, in today’s ironic news, when I need to unplug, I use an iPhone app. It’s called Get Some Headspace, and I highly recommend it. The dude who leads the meditation is a former Buddhist monk, and he sounds a tiny bit like the Geico Gecko so everybody wins.

Terrified of jinxing it, but there’s an amazing woman who has created a passion project, and we met, and it was awesome, and she’s invited me to be part of her team, and I hope I can keep up.

I watched 5 episodes of Game of Thrones in the middle of the day yesterday, true story.

As you can see, I’m thankful for a lot of things, including those of you who’re reading. Happy rest-of-your-holidays!