I am on the phone with an old friend, catching up on months’ worth of ups and downs at work and home, wondering how it’s possible that although we live much closer to each other these days, it’s been I-don’t-know-how-much-time since we’ve seen each other.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Plans have been made and forgotten or broken by this Covid scare, that extended meeting, the latest rush to the hospital with an elderly mom.
We are lucky. Our moms are made of something we can’t define. Whatever It is, it makes them strong, healthy, determined, even as their bodies approach an age that must be difficult to bear. They are our personal Titans.
They are also our wards. In between work and chores and all the strings that pull at our attention, we watch over them. And we do so with caution, standing at the ready to intercept confusing conversations, doctor’s questions, meal preparations, personal grooming, cracks in the pavement, and only when needed, when not doing so is an immediate threat, so as to preserve the sense of agency and independence that they need in order to continue to thrive.
It is not easy.
“I don’t know how you do it alone,” my friend tells me.
I get that a lot. The alone thing. I am single, childless, and have no siblings. I feel alone and not alone at once. The friends and family members that I’m close to are here for me in very real ways. But yes, the day-in, day-out, live-in-my-home reality is mine alone. When Mami goes down, catching her, holding her, and then getting to a phone is an acrobatic feat. Some moments have been terrifying.
“At least I have support,” she tells me. “When I come home from work and I tell my husband that I’m gonna sit with my mom for a while, he tells me it’s fine, and not to worry. He lets me do whatever I have to do, and not every husband does that!”
I celebrate this acknowledgement of support from my husband’s friend. It’s what one does. But something she says rings a distant bell. Something is off. And then, as the rest of the conversation takes over, so does my old habit, which is to turn the spotlight inward and explain, justify, dig for words that will elevate my single existence, even though it did not come up in a negative light.
My persistent singlehood is an anomaly so inexplicable to many, even at this late stage of the game, it hovers over many conversations. It’s as tangible as a physical deformity that some can’t help but examine, rationalize, ask questions about, or feel sorry for. Dodging it, facing it, owning it, all of it, has been one of my life’s Epic Battles.
But that’s not the battle in my mind right now. Something else in this conversation is sitting with me. Not the “alone” part. Not the “support” part. The “let” part.
I take care of Mami that evening, the interchange replaying like an annoying jingle while I fill her med organizer, set up her favorite program, make sure her cell phone is charged and within reach. I have a clear path around my mother’s care. How much effort or time it takes for me to ensure her well-being, safety and comfort is between me and my Maker. I am Free. I am alone, yes, and my Maker also knows that loving, caring, emotional and physical support with her and in my life would be the greatest blessing. I hope for it still. But as I walk away from her and leave her to her novela, I notice something. If “Support” were to arrive on a horse-drawn chariot but with a caveat, an assumption that my needs were something that he would “let” me meet, I’d have to send that chariot away. Support is presence, not permission. I am Free.
What my friend and I never say out loud is that we look at the other’s realities with a certain sense of dread. It’s not judgement. Not something cerebral. It’s fear. She could never survive my daily existence, and I could never survive hers. She cannot imagine a life without the words “my husband” in it, and I cannot imagine a life with the words “he lets me” in it. And so we part ways, doing what we do, believing that at least we have what we have.