This has been a rough week.
There have been GLITCHES in life that have made it difficult to get anything done. We were planning on staying home to get things done around the house and get ready for me to travel for a play I’m working on. But then the phone rang.
“Mom has taken a turn for the worse.” It’s my wife’s brother, the same one who took me fishing a few weeks ago. He tells us that the small spot on Mom’s liver has now developed into a mass. She’s refusing treatment.
My mother-in-law’s health has been failing for about a year and she’s been in and out of a rehab nursing facility about four times in the last six months. She goes home, can’t take care of herself, falls or forgets to take her medication, and ends up back in rehab.
We pack quickly and drive to the Cape to see Mom. She sits in the corner of the darkened room, her hair sticking up in tufts around her head. She looks surprisingly like a baby bird: soft, wrinkled, eyes wet and wondering. She is glad to see us this time. There aren’t the usual complaints and demands to go home.
We get her up out of the chair to go outside. She walks twenty steps and has to sit down on her walker. “I need to rest. This walking is for the birds,” she says.
We walk twenty more steps and rest. Twenty-five. Rest.
I punch in the code on the door leading to the covered sun porch and it beeps and clicks. I push it open. It takes Mom so long to get through the door, the alarm goes off. I have to punch in the code again to get it to stop.
We play cards and the four-year-old squirms and runs around, catching imaginary bunnies and shooting imaginary monsters. “Do you have any Jacks?” I ask.
“Go Fish,” Mom says.
We never knew Go Fish could be so cutthroat and we play several rounds, laughing and teasing each other. We don’t talk about what will happen soon, we only focus on now.
It gets dark. We walk Mom back to her room and settle her into her chair. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Mom tells us she wants us to take her Buick. She realizes now that she can’t drive it anymore. We say thank you and tell her we’ll bring her the paperwork tomorrow. Kisses. Flutters of bird wings. We step out into the light.
We get the Buick and I drive it the 250 miles or so home. It smells like burning oil and when I hit a bump, the car sways and rocks on its shocks like the baby buggy going down the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. I listen to Mom’s CDs of Neil Diamond and Nat King Cole and bounce my way home.
As I go to take a sip of coffee, I feel something small and hard inside my mouth. I reach in and pull it out. The dental work a hack dentist did a few weeks ago has fallen out. Again. This is the third time it’s happened.
I put the piece of dental work into the cup holder. My tongue keeps finding its way to the broken spot. I try to distract myself by singing along to Neil’s rendition of Song Sung Blue. It works, for a little while.
We pull into the garage in New York where we trust the guys running the place and leave the car overnight. We’re hoping that we can get away with a couple hundred dollars in repairs and have another car. We also want to make Mom feel good that we are using her car and giving it some “exercise” as she says.
We make it home and after packing away the things we brought to the Cape and putting the little man in bed, I flop on the sofa and fire up my old Windows PC that I keep attached to the big screen TV as a way to watch Netflix and do some blogging. There is a bump and a whirr, but the computer doesn’t boot itself up.
I spend the next hour or so trying to get it to boot, but it’s gone. The hard drive has crashed while we were gone. I’m not too concerned because I recently did a back-up of most of that hard drive’s contents, but eventually I’ll try to find something and it will be gone forever. I fall asleep on the couch dreaming of shiny metallic hard drive platters flying through a dusky purple sky.
In the morning, I switch to the laptop. I’m ambi-computer-ous so I pull out the Mac laptop and fire it up. I’m looking forward to getting some writing done. I have beats to finish for a Steampunk YA novel I’m working on and chapters to write for the MG adventure in progress. When I put my finger on the trackpad, the cursor suddenly starts whipping from side to side on my screen. Apps start opening of their own accord and I can’t control the cursor.
I do some research and find out that I am experiencing something known as phantom cursor. I try many things to resolve the issue and it takes HOURS.
A text message pops up on my phone.
“The car will cost $2100 to pass inspection.”
I look up the Kelley Blue Book. It’s only worth $1500 in GOOD condition. This car is not in good condition. The garage tells us the axle is broken, the shocks are leaking, oil is burning.
GLITCH. GLITCH. GLITCH.
I text back. “I give up.”
My wife calls. She’s crying. She’s overwhelmed. Her mom is dying. The car her mom gave us isn’t salvageable. The computers are breaking down. We have another broken down car we need to get rid of. I’m going away to work. She has projects she has to finish. A film we both worked on is premiering soon.
We dub this the week of breaking down. It’s something that is inevitable, breaking down, but it doesn’t have to break us.
We drive to the garage to get the car and bring it to the junkyard.
“Umm, it’s sitting in the garage all taken apart. We were waiting for you to let us know what to do.”
My wife cries again. I explain to the worried man behind the counter, “It’s her mom’s car. Her mom is dying.”
He nods and we leave.
It’s overcast and cold in New York. Rain hits my face like tiny needles. My wife goes to work. I go to find a dentist to fix my tooth. He’ll be in tomorrow at 2:30 but they don’t take my insurance.
I have to get the tooth fixed. I have to go say Shakespeare’s words and need my teeth unbroken to do that properly.
There is a Dunkin’ Donuts next to the dentist’s office. I go and sit with my Dunkin’ coffee and pumpkin doughnut and breathe. The news blares from a TV behind the counter.
Ebola is in the United States.
An armed ex-convict was on an elevator with the President.
The phone rings. It’s my wife.
“Where are you?”
“Dunkin’ Donuts. Trying to catch a moment to breathe.”
“I talked to the garage. They didn’t realize our situation. They’ll buy the other junk car from us for $350 and make enough small repairs to make Mom’s car safe enough to pass inspection. We can make the other repairs later. Total cost will be $300 or so.”
“Yes. What do you think?”
A break in the glitch-iness.
“Yes, let’s do it.”
In A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
I guess I’m in no special hurry. I feel stronger in my broken places. One glitch has been resolved for now and I turned the rest into a story.