Friday, October 19, 2012

The "Off" Side of the Lightswitch


Watching the condensation slip down the side of the martini glass was enough to make me laugh.  Either I’d been staring too long it or had finally managed to clear enough of the vodka out of the fluted glass that I could find something as simple as sweat humorous.  “It must be latter rather than the former” I said out loud to myself in an empty room.  The tell was that I found the glass to not only be humorous but to be slightly erotic in shape as well.  Clearly, the vodka had hit the mark.

The helpers had decided to take Bethany out for a ride now that her tantrum was over.  Roll her while she’s happy”, is the motto around here.  Just minutes before she was a furious and confusing mass of anger.  Now she was laughing and carrying on in a delightful manner.  Delightful if you’re a prizefighter anyway.  They found her socks and shoes, stuffed them on her rather square, stubby feet and headed out the door.

I sat in the silence for a moment, soaking up the freedom that I find by something as simple as her leaving a room.  She can suffocate you with her presence at times, and this was one of those times.  As they left, her happy giggle reminded of the words the psychiatrist had left my wife with that afternoon; her laugh and nightly antics were indeed and officially “manic”.  Like, that was a big relief to me? 

Nearly every night for the last two months she’s been up till one, two, or three in the morning; crashing around her room like a rock star; screaming, laughing, punching out windows.  In her mind, nothing brings more delight that crapping in her diaper and then body slamming the door till someone comes for assistance.

There, on the floor with her 16-year-old feet on my head and her hind end way up in the air while my hands clean the unpleasantness, she laughs.  Flat on her back, the punch line to this joke comes to life:  “I crap, you clean, I keep my feet up by putting them on your head.”  Funny, right?

She laughs, and as I clean her up I find my anger softening.  Her laugh is so infectious that I can’t help but laugh at myself for thinking of the sight that this must offer.  With all that nightly challenge, the doctor’s official words, declaring her actions as “maniacal laughter” seems as unsatisfying as the words “The End” when movie is obviously done.  Her laugh makes her belly jiggle and makes it nearly impossible to affix evenly the tape straps that secure the new diaper.  Even after all these years, I still try to put the diaper on evenly with the straps positioned as if she were wearing a gravity suit.  It is in fact, the only semblance of dignity that remains in this whole process.

As I sit there alone, thinking about all this and laughing at a sweating and empty glass; I wonder if I’ve in fact lost it.  Has she succeeded in sucking me into her world of manic and then depressive behavior?  Both Sherry and I now follow the same emotional paths; we like Bethany go from joyful laughter to deep sorrow with the transitioning happening like the flicking of a switch.  On, off.  On, off…

While she’s gone, I amble off to mix another glass, this time making sure to add extra ice.  More ice means more sweat to laugh at, and since it’ll likely be another long night of the “off” side of the switch, I figure a bit of my own maniacal laughter supporting the "On" side of the light switch is just what the doctor would order.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coffee With A Friend


“The problem”, He said as he leaned over the table and looked deep into my eyes, “is that you let your reasoning and your own ideas keep getting in the way of my plans”.  This was a bit of a shock to me as I fancied myself a pretty fair and reasonable man.
“Don’t spoil my plans by wanting to impose your ideas”.  With that, He leaned back in his seat and waited form me to respond.

For a while, I sat there and listened to the chatter of the coffee shop; smelled the deep aromas of cold coffee and burned toast.  I let myself turn his words over in my head and wondered if I’d end up smelling like burned crow as well as the burned toast that was at this very moment permeating my clothing.  I looked at Him and started to say something in my defense but I realized He was not only way ahead of me in the discussion, He was way right.

His stare remained fixed and without a movement of his body he continued with one last indictment; “I need my hands free to act David, don’t tie them with your worthless worries”.  With that, He stood to leave.  I noticed that He didn’t offer to pay for the coffee but I wasn’t about to throw that log into the discussion, I’d had enough.  What stared as a discussion over coffee about how rough I’d been on Bethany the night before turned into a backhand of “I told you so’s” that sucked the joy out of good coffee; good coffee that I now had to pay for as well. 

We’d been laughing about the fluky nature of my old car, how as soon as I fix the lights something else would break.  We laughed to the point of Him nearly wetting himself at the irony of the tag line that the brand of electrical componentry my seemingly possessed car used: “The Prince of Darkness”.  Half the time (usually at night) those lights didn’t work because of the wiring; Prince of Darkness carried such a rich double-entendre that I couldn’t help but share it with Him.  There’s nothing like a dear friend with a sense of humor.  That sense of humor that I’d hoped would support my case with Bethany now seemed to disappear into a cloud of His indignant self-righteousness.  I thought about dismissing the advice and the admonishment but I knew better.

In Bethany’s zeal to get a rise out of me, she’d managed to bust open the bedroom window again, this time making sure that she hauled as much soil from the flowerboxes into the house as possible before I got to the top of the stairs.  Once she heard me coming she squealed with delight and ripped faster into the potting soil.  By the time I got to the door, she’d shifted from ripping soil to ripping diaper and had also shifted from a squeal of delight to more of a deep cackle like I’m certain the Prince of Darkness uses every time my electrical fails.  With the window broken open the cold night air mixed quickly with scent of potting soil, gnarled leafy vines and the unmistakable and pungent odor of filthy, ripped diaper.  Her face told me that this was more of a taunt than an obsessive need; a tell which set me off more than had I been mugged in the park. 

The thing that got me wasn’t found in the explanation of all this, in fact we both laughed at the visual that it produced and I’ll be the first to admit, the look on her face, the mess I saw, the seer lunacy of it all made for a great story.  We both laughed at the telling of it and I must have had great power in the telling because He was so tied into the story, hanging on each turn of phrase, each conveyed emotion; we’d been so close for so long I think He knew exactly what was coming.  No, none of that fettered me; what really got me was the way He reacted at my tired dismay in the continuous predictability of her behavior.  I thought for sure He’d offer some sort of solace, a timeframe perhaps, an explanation or some sort of justification maybe?  Nothing.  I got nothing.  A blank stare across the table in a noisy coffee shop was all I was afforded, that and a bill for two black coffees.

“I’m the victim here” was the defense that I’d planned on tossing back in His face when He first leaned towards me with His advice.  Now that He was gone, I was glad I’d not tabled it; clearly He was in no mood to accommodate me and myself, bigger things were afoot and it was clear from His admonition that I was more of a problem standing in the way of His solution than anything else.

It took me the time of those two coffees to mull his words over in my head.  I had to relive each thing I’d said, each movement offered, each angry moment right there in the cafĂ©’ before it would make any sense to me.  He was gone but His words still hung in the thick, smoky air… accurate; his advice was just.  Not only did I offended Bethany with my impatience but I’d harmed my wife – the sharp edges of my words now carried the blood of two people; the collateral damage of my imposed ideas. 

I got up to leave having reluctantly paid for the two coffees that I got billed for, and as I put the single empty coffee cup into the dishpan on my way out the door I realized what His intent was with the issue of Bethany; It was clear that I needed to simply lose myself confidently in Him, to rest on what He knows and to leave in His thoughts, my future.

Monday, October 8, 2012

I Swim to Forget, She Swims to Remember


While swimming laps today, I could hear her murmuring from the other pool.  I have no idea who she is and I can’t understand a word she says; one thing for sure, she certainly says them.  I’d seen her many times before and I secretly admired her confidence.

She carefully walked down the stairs into the adjoining therapy pool as I sat there adjusting my goggles and futzing around with my earplugs; this the first time I’d seen her on land, was a sight to behold.  She was in fact quite tall and had a girth about her that reminded me of the old syrup bottles of Aunt Jemima; a woman with a presence and confidence that said more visually than she’d ever have to say verbally.  She was wearing a full-length swimsuit that vaguely reminded me of the survival suits that that are commonly used on commercial fishing vessels; vibrant orange from neck to toe.  Over that suit she was festooned with noodle-like flotation antennae.  A bristling band around her waist and a complementing set around each arm let you know that even though she likely couldn’t swim, there was no way she was going to drown.  On her head she wore a white cloth swim cap that seemed more piled on than pulled on and her tall forehead made a marvelous contrast against that white with the beautiful dark color of her skin.

She dropped down into the water like a Baptist into a water trough and almost immediately began talking to herself as she waded out into the swim lane.  I was glad I’d seen this, It gave me something to think about as I swam, flip-turned at the end, swam and flip-turned at the other end only to be repeated 71 more times.  One, two, three, breathe.  One, two, three, breathe….flip.

It took me 40 minutes to finish my flips and my "one, two, threes"; happily water-logged and tired at the end, I allow myself to stand at the end of the lane and enjoy the cool water; that’s when I heard her murmuring.  At first I only heard the word “Lord”.  I’d heard her many times before and had assumed that as she waddle-bobbed, back and forth across the 25 meter length, she was simply talking herself along not unlike my “one, two, three, breathe…”  I turned towards her and rested my arms on the pool ledge and listened more closely as she passed by on her way to the other end.  “Lord, I wanna’ praise you.  Lord, I wanna’ thank you.  Lord, I wanna’ exalt you. Lord, I wanna’ lift you up…”  On every other upward bob, she stressed the verb with which she celebrated her Lord.

Suddenly it dawned on me that what I was hearing was the most beautiful example of praise I’d seen in quite some time.  Here was this woman, bobbing her way across the pool festooned in a bizarre assortment of white noodles, getting exercise for both her body and her soul.  I waited till she came by again and I watched with every fiber of my Dutch Reformed underpinning screaming in glorious confusion.  Her face was upward, her voice clear and strong and her workout was clearly more restorative than exhaustive.  I was immediately aware of how wrong I’d been. 

I crawled up onto the deck and headed to where my towel waited.  As I passed her I was looking at her while trying to give an approving smile; she looked up at me and not missing a praise beat, gave me a smile and kept on going.  In my mind we connected on a common spiritual thread but in reality, she likely was thinking how tall I was and the girth I carried; how odd I appeared all white, wet, and clad in a Speedo.  She probably thought how strange I looked, festooned in swim flippers and goggles.  The real tragedy is that I gave her no testament in my words or actions of how much I wish to please my Savior. 

The only difference between us on this day was found in the realization that while I swim to forget, she swims to remember.  I go home pleasantly exhausted; she goes home rejuvenated from within.  I swim for me; she swims for Him.