Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Vacation Continues

As we drive home from Kalispell, the setting sun behind us, the sky in the east turns from blue to grey, the sort of end-of-the-day color that heralds the moon high in the sky. The mountains to the east, part of Glacier National Park, grow dim, as if behind tracing paper, the sort of thing we used to make a picture on top of a picture, for those of us who had no art skills. Geese swirl overhead, and it’s so peaceful that none of us speaks.

Or maybe we just have nothing to say. We’ve been to the Winchester Steakhouse, where my stepdad, Jerry, meant to buy us dinner on our last night. But instead we insisted on paying, for his birthday we told him, which is Friday, when we won’t be here. He doesn’t think it’s fair, but charming husband has given the waitress his card before Jerry could do anything about it, so it’s too bad for him.

I haven’t accomplished much during this visit, by which I mean, I haven’t gone through any more of Mom’s drawers, I haven’t winnowed out the discards from the keeps, I haven’t sorted the pictures. Underneath the table is a big plastic box, full of pictures, that I put there on a previous visit, but there’s a  drawer in the desk that Jerry points out to me that is more important to him. “There’s cards and pictures in there, and I don’t know what to do with them.”

“I’ll go through them,” I tell him, and he pulls open the drawer to reveal the folders from the mortuary, the cemetery, the probate papers, and underneath, cards and pictures.

“I want to keep those,” he says, indicating the death documents, “Just in case.”

The next day I go back to this drawer, and I look at the cards and pictures underneath. They’re cards and pictures that someone put away less than two years ago, and they’re pictures of, mostly, the funeral, and the after party (whose idea was it to have an after party anyway?), and the cards are sympathy cards. I put them in a neat pile to take home with me.

I also take possession of my grandfather’s old camera, and I go through some software for the computer, most of which I discard. It’s old and useless. I pick up a few of the small hard disks that were so prevalent just a few years ago (or so it seems) and on them my mother had printed “pictures,” and I wonder what to do with them. I don’t want to get rid of them in case the pictures are ones that should be kept, but how can I tell? My mom’s computer, now Jerry’s, doesn’t have one of those drives, and neither do any of my computers at home. I’ll keep them though, and figure that out later.
Other than that, I’m not productive this visit. Charming husband and I go for long drives and visit Glacier National Park, Jerry takes us for drives and shows us the buffalo down the street, the river that’s perfect for floating, the Canadian geese in a nearby pond, and at night we sit in the living room and we watch baseball. I’m calling these few days a vacation, and so I’m living them as a vacation.

Eventually I’ll have to deal with the big giant box of pictures, unless someone else gets to them first. I’m not sure what to do with them. I don’t know many of the people in the pictures. I know my side of the family, mostly, though not always, and I know fragments of Jerry’s family, but there are so many kids and grandkids and great grandkids and friends and strangers and there’s a past that I don’t even know about.

My mother had a life without me, and there’s so much of it I don’t know about. I was my mother’s oldest, but I wasn’t her favorite, and except for a few of the early years, I lived apart from her while growing up. She loved me, but we had separate lives, and while our lives intersected enough for us to have a relationship, I’m not sure we ever understood each other.

That’s okay. We just did the best we could with what we had. I feel like an intruder, rummaging through the remnants of her life. On previous visits I emptied her closet and her drawers, I took possession of the correspondence she’d saved all her life, and I sorted through the files and labeled them so Jerry could find anything he needed. I showed him where the bills to be paid were, and what he needed to do. I took home a few items of clothing, the last unfinished afghan she’d been working on, a box my uncle, long deceased, had made.

The photo albums sit on the shelves still, the framed photos on the upper shelves. I’ve looked through some of the albums, but I can’t bear to do anything with them, much. I do find a newspaper clipping in one album, a story in which I was featured many years ago when I was an NCOIC in the Air Force. I removed that one and kept it, because it was funny. But the rest? I don’t know. There are many pictures of my mother to be found in these albums, and I don’t want to lose those, but I don’t want to cannibalize the albums either. Neither do I want to take them. They’re not mine.

I can barely keep together the pieces of my own life, much less the pieces of someone else’s. The boxes of correspondence she kept all her life I have now, but I haven’t looked at them, other than when I looked at them to pack them up. They’re not to me, though some of it is from me. But much of it is from other people, perhaps people who don’t want me reading the letters they sent to my mother long ago. Some of them are dead now too.

There’s so much past here. Tomorrow we leave, back to our own lives, and I’ll come back again someday, and maybe then I’ll have a plan. I doubt it though. I’m not much for planning. Maybe someone else will get to the albums and the big box of pictures first. But probably not. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tilt A Whirl Hell

Our vacation got off to a smooth start, by which I mean: we managed to take the dogs to the kennel and then leave on the same day we intended to. It’s important to appreciate the small achievements as well as the big ones.

We drove throughout the day, or, I should say, the charming husband drove throughout the day and I played with my iPad, napped, read random road signs, provided a running commentary on the landscape, and did my very best to make charming husband’s vacation a delightful journey. He may scoff at that description, but since I’m the one writing, I get to say what I want.

We stopped in Spokane for the night, mostly because it’s a convenient place to stop.
Let me back up. Here’s the thing. I’ve been meaning to schedule a trip to Montana to visit my stepfather, but since I have a history of eventful journeys I was a bit hesitant. For three of the last four trips the following has happened: I ran into a deer, crippling it and making me cry; I blew a tire in Spokane, on the freeway, on a Sunday when nothing was open; and so on the last trip I took the train, figuring I’d at least be safe that way.

And so the last trip my knee went completely bonkers, and I was unable to walk without pain.

This time, charming husband said he’d come along, and we’d make a vacation out of it. He acts all nice and everything, but I know he just didn’t want to come get me out of the hospital or jail this trip.

Anyway. So we stopped in Spokane without incident, and the next day we went to Silverwood, a theme park in Idaho.

Charming husband loves theme parks. Disneyland is his favorite of course, but Silverwood has roller coasters and is on the way to Montana, so it fit our needs well.

After our last trip to Silverwood I swore off roller coasters, but I’m happy to wander around while he amuses himself on them.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho. Sunny blue skies, warm but not overly hot, slightly breezy, just the kind of Labor Day weekend we always hope for but never get. Shortly after arriving at Silverwood, before we’d done anything other than wander around, we came upon the Tilt A Whirl.

I grew up on Tilt A Whirls. Every year there was a carnival in the local park, and the Tilt A Whirl was a standard, as it has been for many years in many places. When asked, I said, 

“Sure, let’s go on it.”

We stood in line underneath the warm sun, watching the little kids get more and more excited the closer they got to getting on the ride, and even though I felt a twinge of trepidation, I decided it was silly, and at last it was our turn. (It wasn’t that long of a wait, but I’m trying to inject some suspense.) I joked with the attendant that I was escorting charming husband so he could go on the ride. Poor husband puts up with a lot from me.

We sat in our car, and the ride started, and wasn’t that fun? Just like the Tilt A Whirl of yore, back when I was smaller and lithe and not on enough medications to kill a horse, if one wanted to kill a horse by overmedicating said horse. Not that I’m overmedicated, but I’m certainly well medicated.

And as we spun around I started to feel something other than nostalgia start up in my stomach. Innocent harmless butterflies at first, the sudden empty feeling that lets me know that trouble is headed my way, and then, as we kept circling and spinning and whizzing around, I prayed for the ride to stop. Despite my normally heathen nature, despite times call for desperate measures.

It didn’t stop, it just kept going around and around, and the butterflies turned into moths, and then into dragons, and if you’ve never had dragons roaring through your stomach, lucky you, and I hope you never do. I put my hand over my mouth in what I knew would be a futile attempt at containing what was coming up, but I had to try, didn’t I? I kept my hand stuck over my mouth, and as my mouth filled with what had earlier been breakfast (I assume), we kept spinning.

As we whipped past the attendant she asked if I was okay. Or so I’ve been told, I was focused on not spilling my guts as we whirled because that would definitely be a disaster. I could picture it, as I held it in, vomit spewing in slow motion as we continued to spin, a toxic waste dump that could contaminate everyone we flew by, or past, or anyone who followed.

The Tilt A Whirl, that demon ride, started to slow, and as it started to slow I started to retch, and as it came to a stop I threw up everything in my mouth into my hands, making a special effort not to get any on myself.

So there I was, vomit in my hands, and on me, and feeling like I could do it again, easily, with no provocation at all, and the attendant gave us a disposable towel, something they probably keep on hand for those riders who underestimate their abilities, and I emptied my hands into it. Everyone else was off the ride by the time I managed to stand up and wobble to the exit, where I promptly bent over so I could retch into the pretty foliage.
Poor charming husband, trying to take care of me, so worried.

“I need a restroom,” I said, “And I need it now.”

Or, alternatively, “Get me the hell out of here.”

I don’t really remember.

After I cleaned myself up and got some water, I told charming husband to go ride some coasters, and I would sit on the grass in the shade under the trees, and then I insisted he go, since I hadn’t gone through all this only for him to miss the roller coasters, since he was focused on how I felt instead of what he was supposed to focus on, which was Having Fun.

So he went, and I laid down on the grass, at the top of a grassy knoll, where I could have a good view of anyone coming my way, and I closed my eyes.

I stayed that way for a long time. I moved to get up once, but my stomach didn’t want to come along, so I stayed until I felt human again.

It happens eventually, the returning to a human state.

I don’t know if it’s the massive quantities of meds I’m currently taking, but charming husband is leaning in that direction. Could be – I used to never throw up, and I’m starting to make a habit of it. (By which I  mean, that was the second time this year, and we still have the last part of the year to go.)I once had a vomit free streak of like 10 years, and not that I was proud of it, but I never ever throw up. So I used to say. I think my stomach has just had enough of a lifetime of abuse and has decided to fight back.

Whatever it is, the Tilt A Whirl has taken on the patina of a demon, and I shall never get on one again.

We continued our vacation, and since then it’s proceeding as it should, by which I mean, there has been no more public vomiting. Yay me!