March 3, 2004
Grandma and Grandpa were living with us now. I couldn’t believe how much work it took to move them out of their little two-room apartment. It was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes – there was seemingly no end to their possessions. Dad made two trips with his box truck and then we still had to squeeze stuff into the trunk of his car. Cousin Bill was there to lend a hand, and I was available too since I was ten months into my gap year from college.
I constantly ran into other tenants on my way in and out of the building, and I bit my tongue every time one of them said, “Oh, that’s such a good thing you’re doing, moving them in with you. God bless you.” I did not think it was a good idea at all. Mom and I tossed the subject around between us and agreed that my grandparents were better off where they were. She worked as a home companion and said you can’t uproot old people and move them out of their environment like that. They go rapidly downhill afterwards; she’d seen it happen almost every time.
Grandpa was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s but he slept all day, emerging only for dinner. Grandma was still fully functioning. All her friends were in the building and the church was right across the street. She just needed someone to go shopping for her, take her to her doctor’s appointments, etc. But Dad said he didn’t want some stranger doing any of that. He also worried about one of them falling when nobody was around.
Dad asked Mom if she’d look after Grandma and Grandpa. That was her line of work after all. Mom declined. She had bills to pay and couldn’t afford to quit her job. Dad said he’d pay her if she moved in. Yeah, right. Mom wasn’t falling for that. In fact, she suspected that moving his parents in was primarily a ploy to get her to come back. She also suspected he was also motivated mostly by the convenience of not having to drive 45 minutes to visit them.
Anyway. Eventually we cleared everything out and packed everything up. Grandma gave the empty apartment a final, sad look and a parting wave She might miss it, but I surely wouldn’t. Their apartment was claustrophobic and hot as hell. Every time I was there I’d crack the window a half inch for some modicum of relief. After five minutes Dad would admonish me to close it because Grandma was freezing. Meanwhile it was like 95 degrees in there. As soon as Dad said it was time to leave, I’d run outside and fall to my knees on the sidewalk and greedily gulp in great lungfuls of cool, fresh air.
And if the heat didn’t get me, the boredom surely would. Every visit followed the same pattern: Grandma talking about the Church, What The Pope’s Doing Now, and Did You Hear About Such-And-Such Priest? Grandpa sitting there like a grumpy lump, nary saying a word apart from an occasional snide remark. Boston Market takeout for dinner. Then Grandma would retrieve her shoebox full of bank statements and doctor’s bills. She’d lay awake every night worrying about them because she couldn’t understand them, and Dad had to explain everything and do his best to soothe her. Each time we visited this would go on for over an hour.. Jesus Christ. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why Dad didn’t just take them off her hands and handle things himself.
Once we got back to our house we had to seize Grandma under the armpits and carry her up the front stoop and then the threshold so she wouldn’t trip over it. “Gee, I guess I should build a ramp,” Dad observed as Grandpa did a swan dive into the bushes. He had been holding onto them as he tried to get up the front steps, since there was no railing either. Grandpa’s stubborn and arrogant nature asserted itself, and he fought us off as we fished him out.
They took a seat on the living room couch, keeping their coats on because Dad had the heat off all day and it was freezing inside. It also didn’t help that we brought fresh blasts of cold air with us as we brought their bedroom furniture inside. Dad made a racket assembling their bed as I kept them company in the other room. My older sister Kathleen arrived on the scene shortly afterwards. She’d recently moved back home for the third time, and this time she promised Dad she’d only be there temporarily. She was hardly around as it was.
I thought this would be a good opportunity to quiz her about the weirdness from the other night. I was doing my weights in the basement when I heard the doorbell ring. I heard her rush to answer it, and as soon as she did I heard her start yelling my name. Somebody for me…? But when I ran upstairs I found her standing with some dude. When she saw me she was like, “Oh my god, you’re here! I thought someone broke into the house!”
Um, what? Well, upon further questioning I learned that she had come down from the second floor just as I went in the basement. She heard the basement door closing but didn’t know it was me (despite my car parked out front). So she panicked and called her boyfriend Joey to protect her. I asked her why – if she thought someone broke in – did she not call the police?
“Because Joey’s a big guy.” He certainly was. All her boyfriends looked like they rolled off an assembly line of hulking douchebags.
“Well, there could be more than one big guy in here. And they could have guns.”
“Why are you being so arrogant?” Grandpa demanded of me as he listened to this exchange. I nearly snorted. Like he was one to talk.
Dad was still assing around with their furniture, so he invited them to sit in the den where it was a bit warmer and they could watch TV. Unfortunately the house was a disaster and Dad and I had to lead them there through an obstacle course of crates and buckets and piles of wood . Thanks for cleaning up, Dad. I hadn’t believed he was seriously moving Grandma and Grandpa in with us, because right up to the day before he hadn’t done a single thing to elder-proof or even clean up the house. And he was worried about Grandma falling in the apartment? He had to catch her from tumbling down the steps into the den.
“Gee, I guess I should put a railing here,” he remarked. Gee, you think, stupid? Unbelievable. It’s not like he didn’t have months to plan and prepare.
Once they were seated again, Grandma asked Dad where Mom was. Dad just mumbled something in response and said he’d talk to her about it tomorrow. Grandma apparently had no idea my parents had separated. Dad hadn’t told her, but she was such a basket case of anxiety and worry I couldn’t blame him. But did Grandma agree to move only because she thought Mom was going to be there? Wow. If that was the case, then that was pretty messed up.
Eventually we got their room set up and Grandma and Grandpa were able to go to sleep before midnight. I zonked out immediately, and when I awoke the next morning I ran around the house doing my best to organize the mess so they wouldn’t kill themselves. Then I unpacked the rest of the boxes as Grandma shuffled to and fro, clucking and worrying and wringing her hands over how many there were. Good grief.
Meanwhile Dad was nowhere in sight. He came home late in the evening after working all day. It was very nearly worse than that, though. His original plan was to leave two days later for his annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic to build houses for the poor. Sure, I was 19, but did he really think it was okay to move his parents in and then saddle me with the responsibility while he fucked off to another country for two weeks? Unreal. Thankfully he changed his mind about going after I suggested it might be a better idea to help his parents adjust to the recent upheaval in their lives.
I still had to adjust to this myself.