The Soundtrack of My Life – 23 – (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons

I really pity the folks who never had a close relationship with one of their grandparents. They missed out on the most profound relationships that truly shapes who you are as an adult. And I understand that not all grandparents are good. Nor are they always present, whether that be by choice or just circumstance. That’s why I feel horrible if I ever do adopt, because they will miss out on my mother. She would have loved the shit out of them like my grandmother did for me.

Much like my husband’s experience, my grandmother was like a third parent. She was also the one who cultivated my love of reading and my want to be a writer. She literally read everything I printed out and gave to her. The best part was when she was honest and gave me critiques while attempting to no be too harsh. Even as I think back on it I can see the struggle on her face, as she chose the appropriate words to describe what she wanted to say without offending me.

My grandmother was the only “grand” I had. At least, one that had any effect on my life. My paternal grandmother was in and out of hospitals when I was a toddler. She was a chain smoking narcist who I was fortunate enough to have never known in my formative years. My paternal grandfather was absent my entire life, much like he was for my father.

One of my earliest memories was when I was almost 3 years old. Some might think this is unbelievable but I vividly remember going to my grandfather’s funeral. I remember the sight of him laying in his casket, with a single red rose. I can recall my father taking me outside to get a drink from the drinking fountain and I asked him, “why is mom crying?” And him telling me in his calm tone that she was sad that her dad, my grandpa, was gone.

Sometimes I thought that I had made all of this up, until my own grandmother had passed. We held her services in the exact same funeral home and it was precisely how I remembered it. There was no doubt that I hadn’t concocted a false memory.

My grandmother’s passing was the first experience of real loss. I had lived a very charmed life never having known such sadness. When I did… I was distraught.

My grandmother had been forced into having a hernia surgery by her two oldest daughters. The medical professional had advised against it, this was her third surgery for the same affliction. However despite his and her own reservations she agreed. The surgery was a success. She left the hospital and came home without any issues. We all thought she was in the clear.

My mother had had a Las Vegas trip planned with my Aunt (her best friend), and she sought my grandmother’s blessing before departing. She gave it and told her to have fun and not worry about her. When my mother got back, my gran complained about feeling unwell. My mother offered to take her to the ER, but she had a scheduled doctor’s appointment the next day. So, she said she would wait until then. There was no sense going when that was just around the corner.

My mom regretted agreeing to that.

At the time I was working overnights at Best Buy, helping them renovate the local store to a format they called “Buzz.” It was a layout that was geared for the shopper who was interested in the “latest and greatest tech.” I worked from 10 P.M. to 7 A.M. for a month, in close proximity to the store manager. (He was a sleeze bucket.) And one of the rules of doing this work was I had to leave my Nokia bar phone in the car or turned off. Over-nights was all about work.

On the morning of my last day of scheduled overnights, I was sitting in the living room having something to eat before I went to bed. My grandmother shuffled in, in her trademark pastel nightgown. She didn’t say anything, and neither did I.

I finished up my quick meal and got up to go to bed.

“Do you want the TV on or off?” was the last thing I ever said to her.

That night we got out a little early, we had successfully recreated the floorplan of the store to be buzzworthy. Everyone agreed to go out to eat at some restaurant as a “celebration.”

As I got to my car, turned my phone on, I immediately got a voicemail from my mom.

She spoke very soft and methodical. She told me to come home right away.

What I can’t understand is why I didn’t bother calling her back. It never crossed my mind. Not even once. Instead I raced across town to find out. As I pulled up to the house, I already knew something was very wrong. There were a bunch of cars taking up any free space and I was forced to double park in the driveway.

Inside everyone gathered together, in the living room, in silence.

My breath caught in my chest, my heart pounded in my ears.

I came to a stop and stood at the end of the counter.

“Grandma is gone,” my mom said.

I spun around and collapsed, cross legged, on the floor, sobbing.

My mother, her voice trembling, told me to come to her. But I couldn’t move.

Once I had composed myself the first person I called was my husband. He didn’t answer, because he was on the road for work and it was his turn to sleep in the cab while his partner drove.

One of the biggest things I regret is that I was so rude to my grandmother in the months before her passing. I was battling with my sexuality and the expectations of my family and faith. Her constant “worrying” about Charlie, my husband, was irritating. I know she knew I was gay and who he was. Her room was right next to mine and our walls were thin. I also have a very loud voice. There wasn’t a night that I didn’t spend at least a couple hours talking to Charlie on the phone. It was how our relationship began.

I did have a dream, shortly after she passed, of her and I spending time in the kitchen of her home in the mountains. She was busy doing something, what I don’t remember, and I felt so sad. I told her that I loved her, missed her, and how I was so sorry that I was mean to her. She just brushed it aside with a smile and let me know that it was okay.

My dad told me, after I shared my dream with him, that she had come to visit me. He was so matter of fact about it.

I chose this song because my grandmother would sing it every once in awhile. Sometimes it was to me, and others it was because she missed my grandfather. He and her had been together since she was 14 years old. They had gone through so much together. He had “saved” her from living in a group home, after her step-mother had given her to be a ward of the state.

They had had seven kids, lost one in war and the other to cancer, and they had travelled back and forth across this country three times, trying to make a living for themselves and their family. It was never explicitly told to me, but I am certain their move from Missouri to California was my grandfather’s attempt to break into the music business. There are demo tapes of him singing different gospel songs in boxes throughout my mom’s home.

This was one of the songs that he would sing to her, unprompted.

This September will be 18 years since she passed. And I still miss her as much as I ever have.

The Soundtrack of My Life – 11 – Danny’s Song

My mother was my primary parent. She was the one I identified and spent the most time with. And it’s not like this was because my dad was a bad dad. He was a good role model and really tried. I was just a different character than him. Which is odd because we are very, very similar. I have always been a Chatty Kathy and my dad, because of his anti-psychotics, wasn’t very talkative. On top of that, I think my dad got in his head that since he never had a father he didn’t know how to be one. Whatever the reasons, my mother was the go-to parent.

I think she and I bonded moreso because my mother worked in Costa Mesa and she had found a private Christian pre-school around the corner from her office that I attended until first grade. This was about an hours drive from where we lived, so she and I spent a lot of time in the car. We would chit chat and listen to music. She would sing in her monotone soprano. My mother loved Mama Cass and Anne Murray. These were the ones I remember the most from growing up. (Especially Anne Murray’s Christmas album.) It’s strange to me that now whenever my mom gets upset, caused by her dementia, she is soothed with Patsy Cline. I have tried the other two talented ladies and she shows zero response, which truly saddens me. They are such a huge part of her memory for me.

Memory… I say it as if she’s gone. She’s not dead. She’s still alive, but the person she was doesn’t exist. That’s one of the worst parts of Alzheimer’s. It’s taken the woman I once knew and morphed her into this “bizarro mom.” One where she’s cruel, a liar, and exceedingly stubborn. The lying upsets me the most. She was never like that. Not once in my youth. She notoriously told me that there was no Santa Claus, at six years old, when I asked her point blank if he existed. For the longest time I resented her for that. I had wished she had kept up the charade a little bit longer to prolong my sense of “magic” and “wonder.” As an adult and thinking of the idea of having my own kids, I have immense respect for her. The truth is always the best. And because of her unrelenting ability to be honest, I could always rely on her.

It is such a weird experience grieving for someone who is still alive. Its even harder when you have to handle her affairs and possessions the same way. Even now as I write this I find myself deviating from my thoughts. All of this causes me so much trauma and I fucking hate it. I don’t want any of this. I don’t want to see her change and I don’t want to lose her. Everything that’s happened thus far has stripped her of any dignity. It is because of this that I cannot for the life of me believe in a god.

My mother has always been deeply religious. She grew up in a devout home and spent most of her days at the church. She has lived her life as a good Christian woman, and how does this higher power reward her? Alzheimer’s. It’s a cruel fucking joke. One in which no one but this sadistic deity could find humorous.

It is because of this deeply ingrained brainwashing that, even though she had transcended her prior beliefs, has devolved to where she obsesses over the sin of me being gay. That is the one that truly hurts the most.

I know what everyone will say, “she’s not the same person” or “it’s the disease.” Yeah… I have heard it. But knowing and understanding are two very separate things. Especially when it comes to past trauma.

My mother’s and my closeness ceased to be when I told her I was gay. Well, when I told her I was “bisexual” as if that could/would soften the blow that she wasn’t going to get grandchildren. She had made her beliefs about homosexuality very clear growing up. I even distinctly remember her saying she was a “proud homophobe.” After I had outed myself she didn’t speak to me for a solid month. Then any communication after her hiatus was short and cold.

As time went on and after my husband and I lived with my parents for a year, while we got ready to buy a house, I think she saw how normal we were. We weren’t these sinful sexual deviants. We were just us. That’s it.

My mother was the one to sign our marriage license (I think I put her on the spot and she couldn’t decline or else look like a dick) and she even introduced my husband as her son-in-law. All this progress, all this change, and every ounce of it lost because of her disease.

The last couple weeks have been the worst. She is now seeing people who are not there, talking to them, and living in a constant state of fear because these delusions are calling her ugly and/or saying they’re going to harm me. She breaks down into tears because she doesn’t want to see me hurt. I hate all of this for her. This isn’t fair.

She is now on hospice care and while most always believe that the death knell is growing, this probably isn’t the case. There was a moment this last weekend where I thought she had died in my car, so I pulled over and dialed for help. When the ambulance came out and checked her vitals this bitch was in top notch health.

The only way she’s going to leave this earth is because her mind forgot how to breathe.

Now I sit and wait for the call that she’s passed.

My Bouquet of Balloons

It’s amazing how little I don’t know about my own emotions/feelings. It’s as if I hide all of them in these pretty little balloons to trick myself that they’re not there. But the strings are tied tight to my wrist.

Then when something with mildly jagged edges brushes against them they burst. They burst and I’m showered in my feelings and thin bits of rubber.

I explode. No longer can I pretend that those feelings weren’t there.

I want to know if that’s a me thing, or an everyone thing.

Today I was meant to meet a property owner to do an inspection. I called him at 9:05 to see if he was still coming. No answer. Already I could see the writing on the wall. (It’s funny how this same pattern happens specifically with multiple units.) I sat in my car, waiting, building up my rage by ranting to myself about this revision request I had received the other day. (They didn’t like the value I came up with for their rent comparables.)

At 9:25, five minutes before the end of our scheduled time, I tried him again. He answered and gave me this cock and bull story that his secretary was sick so he had to take her home… It was ridiculous. This idiot forgot about the appointment and was putting it on some other B.S. He informed me that the tenants knew I was coming and to just do it.

They tenants didn’t answer. Per usual.

I drove away ranting and raving, furious about this situation. (I loathe appraising multiple units.) My voice obviously carrying outside of the confines of my car because people down the street were literally looking at me. (I am naturally a loud person.)

It wasn’t until I had made it to the office that my real feelings sat on my shoulders. I could feel them pulling me down and now I’m just sad.

I hate the phrase, “you’re going through a lot.” It’s right up there with, “I’m sorry.” Every time I hear it I either roll my eyes, grit my teeth, or visibly cringe. I don’t want to hear it. Mainly because I don’t want to face it. My life is absolute misery. Everywhere I turn my life is literally falling down around me and I’m trying so hard to keep everything up, but no matter what I do these things are going to fall. These balloons are going to pop.

I need healthy ways to cope, but at the same time I’m worried what all of this grief is going to do to my brain. Yet on the flip side, one I refuse to view, is what is this denial going to do to my neural pathways? Everything in our life determines who and what we become. Even the tiniest of choices and reactions.

I want to just hide away today. I’m glad the tenants didn’t answer. I just don’t want to deal.

And to top all of this off… It’s made me a week behind with my year long writing goal.

The Soundtrack of My Life – 7 – Time in a Bottle

There is something other-worldly about this song. The guitar intro trickles in like pixie dust drifting through the air. The shimmering specks land on the closed eyes of a sleeper and transports them to another place and time. It’s a bittersweet imaginary adventure where they enjoy the moment for what it is, but know that it won’t last.

It’s weird. This song takes me to a time when everything was very real, but life still felt like a dream.

My father had started to have trouble walking again. He had had this issue once before when he had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which is fluid on the brain. At that time, my husband and I were convinced it was because my dad was just fucked up on prescription pills. When he got out of surgery it was like someone had flipped a switch. He was walking and moving better than he had been before.

Fast forward 10 years and we were back to the same. This time it wasn’t as bad. It was basically just a stiff leg that was causing him pain. Oh, and the little thing of him repeatedly falling.

I accompanied my mother and dad on his doctor’s visit down to a specialist in the LA area. There they said they were going to do a spinal tap and test the fluid to see what was causing him this issue. They didn’t know then, but I am almost certain it was ALS related. There are just too many coincidences for me.

On the way back from that visit, I told my dad, “What do you want to listen to? Anything in the world, what would you want to hear?” He mumbled out “Jim Croce.”

I pulled up spotify and started playing the top hits, and this was the first one.

I may have heard it growing up but I don’t think I was paying attention to anything adults did. I was pretty self absorbed and really only focused on what interested me. A bluegrass/folk singer would be right at the bottom of the list.

What’s funny is I am a lot like my dad. I share with him an obsession with music and a particular habit of repeatedly playing the same song. There was a story of my father doing this with a tape while on a road-trip with my mom. He would listen through, stop it, rewind, and play it again. He drove my mother so nuts with this that she ejected the tape and threw it out the car window. I don’t know what song it was, but I just have this gut feeling it was this one.

The early Monday morning we had my mother’s appointment to confirm she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, I noticed some big bruises and cuts on my dads arms.

“What’re those?” I had asked.

“I fell two times yesterday,” he said.

I joked and said he needed to be careful and should I buy him a helmet? “Do you need a life alert?”

He chuckled.

I should have bought him a helmet. I should have given him a life alert.

That following Thursday morning, while he was using the bathroom, my dad fell and hit his head on the edge of the counter. He made it to the bedroom and from my mother’s COUNTLESS, gruesome retellings (complete with re-enactments) he called for help and began to seize. My mother’s idea of “helping” was running outside and literally yelling “help.” Not… dialing 911. And even when the school bus driver told her do just that, she rushed inside and forgot the number.

I’m pretty sure my mother’s disease will, in the end, claim two lives.

That morning I got a call from my dad’s cellphone but instead of his voice was a stranger’s. She told me that he had been taken to the hospital. I went to work as normal and then informed my boss of what happened. I got my mother and went to the ER.

He was braindead by the time we got to see him.

I called my mooch of a “step-sister” (it’s complicated) to let her know. She cried and told me to play (of all the bands my dad loved) Jim Croce for him. For a brief moment I thought she actually cared and could be a real “sister.” But then she began her grift the weeks following. Didn’t send flowers. Didn’t do anything. She was a “Hensley” in name alone.

We pulled my pop from life support and he was gone in seconds.

That following Saturday evening my husband orchestrated this little get together at a bar to celebrate my dad’s life. (This was also the first time Josh ever hung out with me and Charlie. He was uncomfortable at first, but because of the circumstances powered through.)

We hijacked the jukebox and played Jim Croce all night and drank all of my dad’s favorite spirits in his honor (peppermint schnapps and Coors.) I don’t think I have ever cried as much as I had that night. Nor do I think I have ever been as drunk. Good lord…

“Time in a Bottle” is a sad melody, but in the chorus for a brief moment there is a turn and it becomes hopeful and bright. I live for the chorus. I belt out the lyrics as hard and as loud as I can muster every time.

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do once you find them
I’ve looked around enough to know
That you’re the one I want to go through time with

Like life, the song is mournful for the loss of time, the microscopic moment we all get to experience it. It is loss, it is pain, but there is brief moments in that sea of yearning that are hopeful. They give us enough joy to carry on to the next chorus.