HospiceLand - Superman
June 18th, 2009 - La Crosse
The walks up and down Ebner Coulee have been my savior when I’m in La Crosse. It gives me a chance to stretch the legs and to think and to reconnect with this place I grew up in. I felt like it used to be MY neighborhood. When I was a kid I owned this place. It was my right and duty to explore it and wander over it. I had an ownership. But that feeling has long since passed.
Even by the end of college the walk seemed different and now at 46 it is a bit surreal - it takes you back in time. The walk feels comforting for me. Even as the surroundings slowly changed, the core and soul of the valley remained the same. The smells are the same. The types of animals are the same. It‘s easy to believe sometimes it is in 1979 as I‘m walking. Trees grew large that were once small - sometimes strikingly so. We used to play wiffleball and badminton in my back yard and now that yard is dominated by this huge tree that used to be just a minor part of the field.
As I walked, I wondered how far I had snapped or if I’d snapped at all? I withdraw when I’m stressed out. I actually become more functional. It seems I appear pretty normal. I appear strong. But it is really just my own dysfunction. I shut down. I close up. I don’t feel. I act like I do but I don’t. And I can be that way for long stretches. To the point I don’t even realize I’ve put on the shell. Until things are quiet for awhile and the shell melts away and all of a sudden I’m really breathing the air and feeling the heat of the sun; that the laugh is genuine and heartfelt. I feel as if I’ve escaped. The real “me” is out. And the real me is soaking up all the joy this life has to offer and can really enjoy a nice day instead of fake it like the hard ass self does. A part of me hates the strong part.
I was thinking about how on Wed morning I could’ve just drank the dozen beers sitting idle in my fridge, sitting there since I bought an 18-pack for Karl for doing the roof earlier this summer. I rarely drink and never as an escape. But I could’ve snapped. I could’ve sucked down that beer and there is no way my wife, Jeanne, would’ve let me drive back here that day. I'd just gotten home from a long stint at HospiceLand. I was re-charging my batteries. I wasn't ready to come back.
Worst of all, the day I had to drive back was the anniversary of my dad’s death thirty years ago. I wasn’t fully rested yet and I never function well on June 17th. Can't they see how totally devastated and broken hearted I am? I must be really good at pretending I'm OK - that has to be it. I wasn't ready to come back here yet. My mom was my rock and although I can deal with her not being that anymore - it is still hard to accept she will be gone. No calls. No advice. Done. This reality eats at me. It’s the part that makes it hard to stay here. And that thought did make me feel very sad and sorry for my sister who lives here - the one who had just gotten back from her real home but during that away time she had been sick and wasn't ready to face a week in HospiceLand once she arrived back. It's not like I don't understand that. She hit a wall. I’m amazed she didn’t hit a wall six months ago.
As I step up the coulee I think odd thoughts like if Superman gets to have an off day? And if Superman ever needed to rely on his sister who turned to alcohol the last time a parent died? And I’m feeling stunned and confused. As when dad died my sisters got to just keep on living their twenty something lives while I lived with my mom who wept inside of my dad’s golf sweater night after night.
Selfishly, I think about how I was the only one of us there that day and that I was the one that watched him die. I was only 15 years old. And there was no one strong there for me - just my mom that day. And I had to be strong and I tried to save him as my mom stood in shock at the doorway of her room – the same room she is going to die in. It wasn’t a choice that day – like being here now isn’t a choice. It isn't now or then because I’m better than anyone or stronger than anyone - this just falls on me.
This time we are sharing death. It’s turned into a game of hot potato almost. Each of us wondering when (my mother included) this will end and on whose watch. We are feeling guilty because this isn’t so bad and mom is here and can talk to us - so we shouldn't complain. It is really good actually, we are lucky. But it is hard to watch your mother wither away slowly day by day.
I understand my sister just hit a wall and I had to come back but I’m at the wall as well. I just don’t understand why I don’t get to fall apart – to drink myself to blackout one damn time or just up and leave because I can't take it. I’ve hit the wall now, as I walk the coulee I know it. But no one in that house sees it – it’s just another day for Johnny and I’ll go in and smile and pretend like I’m OK when I’m really at this moment totally and utterly emotionally destroyed. As I write this it isn’t super bad as I've closed those emotions up. I’ve pushed myself into the functional state. I’m aware of the heartbreak but it really doesn’t bother me much now – I’m cold to it - there isn't any time for it right now. It’ll come out in a sob with my wife at some point when I return home… but it can't come out now. I’m safe from it now.
August 1, 2010 - At Home
My mom passed in October of that year. I felt like I kept the cape on for another half a year or more. But as it turned out I was the only one who seemed to see it that way. What I thought had been more than a year of giving everything I had to give and taking nothing in return - was called my "gravy train" and instead was my taking advantage of my mom and her resources. My mom's death was labelled the end of a free ride. It made me feel like those super heroes in the Crash Test Dummies video about Superman - unappreciated, devalued and discounted. I didn't make any money saving the world from Solomon Grundy either... I used up my severance and I cashed in my pension. I strained my relationship with my wife and put additional worries and hardships on my daughter and son. Free ride?
Maybe with time there will be some salvaging of what is left but I lost more than my mom when she passed - I lost two other people and a good chunk of what was the best part of my essence. Maybe when I get back some of my heart and my soul I'll get back the other people I lost. It seems doubtful. I think it is just time to give up on that and move on. Maybe I was the man in the cape - maybe I just felt like I was... Either way, Superman is dead.