Homes, Housepets, Husbands, and Heartaches Not My Own; A “How Not To” Manual

(On the occasion of feeling assaulted by the PR barrage surrounding Garth Risk Hallberg’s $2 million advance for his first novel and my mother’s latest medical emergency – and checking my blog-stats, realizing that NOT writing for a month did not change my hits, which means, no one actually READS these, well, anyway. Here.)

Forgive me readers for I do not believe in sin, but, having been silent for 36 days, I do believe in confession.

In my last post, from August 31, I was happily composing my first extended Manhattan stay. It’s been five years. Thus far I’d planned a return to the Algonquin, and accepted invites to a matinée starring Judith Light, a Broadway opening night, and visits with dear ones from Twitter and my past life. Departure date: October 16.

September. We were informed by my mother’s cardiologist that the blockage in her left carotid artery had advanced to the point where the risks of not having surgery were worse than the risks of the surgery. It was, said the cardiologist, an emergency situation, Mommy was at near 100% risk for stroke in the very near future.

Surgery was scheduled. First available date – despite our being told this was an emergency situation – was October 16. New York trip canceled.

During and around all of this, I was continuing to have some sort of gastrointestinal torturing all my own. After multiple doctor and clinic and lab visits; collecting and testing of almost every product my body could expel (and there was QUITE a lot of expelling, believe me, I lost ten pounds during the illness), and weeks (yes, weeks) of pain, fatigue so bad some days I would remain on the bathroom floor so as not to have to walk from bed to toilet, until, finally, cause (we think) and proper drugs (I hope) and cure (I am still not sure, not really back to normal yet) achieved.

But, I’m able to work again. Two days ago, Sunday morning, I was to begin my latest house-sitting, pet-watching gig.

That morning, before six a.m., my phone rings; it is the duty nurse from my mother’s residence, Record Street, informing me my mother has fallen out of bed and has three lacerations on her face, will probably need stitches, perhaps a CAT-scan, should they call 911 or would I like to come over? Yes, I would like to come over.

Detail: I ask, “How many sisters have you called?” I like to know just how much crazy I will be dealing with. Answer: “Well, your mother told me to call [name of younger sister redacted] first, but when she didn’t answer, she said I’d have to call you.”

Have to call me. Okay. Let that go. Because, you are not the favorite, Charlie. You are not the first choice, Charlie. This is not about you, Charlie. Go help Mommy.

Redacted younger sister soon returned my call and we met at Record Street and took Mommy in my car to the ER where we were informed that the check-in nurse, Destiny, would take care of everything.

I said, “I’m sure you get tired of hearing this, but it is a great comfort to me knowing that everything is being taken care of by Destiny.” She said, “Oh, I’m glad you’re happy about it. Usually people freak out and get upset.”

Detail: I, Charlie Smith, was more positive about something than most other people were? Wow.

Destiny was the beginning of what was – for an ER visit – a remarkably pleasant experience. We were treated well, Mommy was patched up by a gorgeous PA whose name tag indicated his first or last name was Augustin – I am unclear on this because I suck as a writer, in fact, since the August 31st entry I have come to the conclusion (I know, most of you already knew this) that I am NOT ACTUALLY A WRITER – just like I was never actually an actor or a director or a lover or a brother or a son or a nephew or any of the other things I thought I was meant to be – but, rather, I am a barely-surviving, fully-self-delusional person waiting for death – a wait that was made more pleasant when the aforementioned (somewhere a few hundred words ago in this Balzacian mess of a sentence) Augustin entered the curtained-off cubicle, and caressed me. It was unusual enough that redacted younger sister later mentioned it. We argued over who Augustin – whose name she did not note, I might add – was hot for. We had this argument in front of our mother on the way back to Record Street. We had this pointless argument – pointless because Augustin 1)clearly preferred me and 2)had spent not a little time sharing with us stories about his mother-in-law and children, though not a word about his spouse although he did have a wedding ring; but, as redacted younger sister said, “I have a wedding ring too, so what?”

Redacted younger sister is not – I think – the kind who would borrow the husband of another. Unlike me, redacted younger sister has her own husband, her own house, her own pet, and, like me, her own heartache. She does not need – as do I – to borrow. She is not – like me – a substitute. She is not – like me – the person who is called when the first choice is unavailable.

In the ER that morning, with our Mommy, and at Record Street, later, redacted younger sister and I did what we used to, before the falling apart happened; we finished one another’s sentences, read each other’s minds, spoke in our secret language of nods and glances and half-words, the near telepathy/twin-language that used to irritate our mother and siblings so.

Redacted younger sister and I only come together now around these falls and crises. We only speak because another sibling died.

I am in someone else’s house. When I am not in someone else’s house, or watching someone else’s housepets, my home, my address – it is not mine. It is – you see – I do, you see, live in someone else’s house. I lost my dog when I moved from a house that – apparently – all parties involved had only been pretending in any way belonged to me. I signed that away. In order to save my life, I signed away my life.

Funnily, once I decided and determined saving myself would require I let go of some things, some details, some doings, a number of redacted names I thought I could count on decided I did not count.

Which, well, made me wonder about counting. About what matters. About what reality is, what love is, what words mean, what matters.

What I have, now, is borrowed time in homes, houses, with house-pets and, in addition, outside those homes, here and there and other-wheres of which I am careful not to keep track, I have liaisons with husbands not my own, whose names I try never to know.  And, heartaches? My mother fell. My mother needs a surgery the risks of which are – well, there are risks. My mother is living out her days in the same Record Street where my aunt, Sissie, died. My aunt, Sissie, died on opening night of my production of West Side Story – and no one called to tell me she was dying because they thought I should not/could not be disturbed on opening night. One of many opening nights full of many people for whom I sacrificed a great deal of myself – whose heartaches I assuaged at great cost to me. Great cost. Great loss. About which I wrote a long novel. Which no one will even read. Which no one wants. Which another novelist told me was brilliant. So what. Which a professor of literature at Duke told me was the best thing she’d read in ten years and not to give up. I have. I think. Given up.

Not my own. Friend name redacted recently told me my behavior was hurtful. I cried for three days and told no one. There is no one to tell. Friend name redacted recently told me every day was too much to take. I get that. Friend name redacted recently lost her second dog in the past year. I could do nothing to help that heartache except weep at a distance. Me, name not redacted, I was sitting in the sauna at the gym the other day, weeping at the too much to take. Name redacted pre-signing everything away told me as I was on my way away that I had never actually really done anything to contribute. It was something of a shock to hear that twenty years had been all about my doing nothing, that the life savings sunk into – in essence – a vanity project not my own had been nothing – and the tons of money raised for a project to make it special, unique, one of a kind – not a penny of it from savings or loan – that project that was later called “useless” and, quote, “I didn’t want it or need it and now he’s stuck me with it” – that, was, somehow, part of the nothing I’d done – some something of which I was guilty? And, after all that, because of all that, in addition to all that, now, these names redacted (aliases, actually, blank spots, characters without names) want to see me when their wives are away or busy.

I can’t stop with these picture in my head: Mommy needs a walker. Mommy uses a walker like a toddler uses a baby-bounce-ride-along thingamajig. For both, toddler and senior, they know they can walk, could or will walk, they see where they want to go. They envision going there. They move a foot. Something doesn’t work. The message between brain and muscle misfires. Now, for Mommy, she is having the reverse of the process of being an infant, toddler, where the falls are part of a process of growing stronger. Now, 87, she is having the process of growing weaker.

I am growing weaker, too. I am losing emotional-muscle-resilience.

Look, dammit –

Name redacted is all the fuck over media with a two-million dollar advance for his nine-hundred page first novel, he is awash in glowing reviews while I, name, Charlie Smith, am not a writer, like I never contributed anything, like I am a friend who hurts other friends, like I do not have a house, a husband, a house-pet or anything else, really, of my own. I am not the first one my mother wants called. I am not the novel they read. I am not, really, anything but that fellow who you see crying in the sauna.

You know, the one you call when your wife is out of town.

Or, you need someone to watch your dog.

Or, his mother fell and is bleeding and name redacted is not answering the phone.

The mother who told me the boy I loved when I was thirteen had died – the boy she never knew I loved, the boy I could never say out loud I loved because the boy said we had to be a secret – because, you know, he was going to grow up to be someone else’s husband and drink himself to death.

Disposable, redactable, never contributed anything, hurt other peoples’ feelings, delusional me.

Crying in a sauna.

Writing this in someone else’s beautiful home with their one fantastic dog on my lap, and their other curled at my feet.

Borrowing this space. These pets. Solitude.

I’m holding a place.

And now, you see, why it is I’ve stayed off Twitter and gone redact.

And not posted for a month. I don’t have much of my own to give you. Even my heartaches are so uninteresting they don’t warrant an advance or even a read. So, that. This.

And. Here I am, going.

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