You know how when you’ve been away from home for a while, you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are? That’s how I’ve been feeling the last couple of days. I open my eyes and expect to see windows at the foot of the bed, but no, there’s a closet there. I go to the bathroom and reach for the toilet paper on my left, but it’s in front of me. I open the refrigerator and reach for the milk I just bought, then realize I bought that milk in San Jose and it’s in my father’s refrigerator.
After a month in San Jose, I find that things are pretty much the same here in South Beach–except for the lawns and berry vines being out of control–but they look different to me. I’m noticing so many things that I never noticed before. Were there always so many trees? Was my bathtub always so pink? How come I let so much junk pile up in my garage? Did they always help me take out my groceries at the J.C. Market?
I feel as if I have come from another planet. In many ways, I have. I spent most of September and the beginning of October taking care of my father, who broke his hip in late August. We were together constantly. I spent my days cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, buying groceries, answering phone calls, keeping track of visiting nurses and physical therapists, tying and untying shoes, and listening to Dad’s stories. In a way, I was living my mother’s life. At night, I lay awake in the room I occupied for the first 22 years of my life, ready to jump up at every noise I heard from down the hall. At first I was afraid to leave my father for even a few minutes. He seemed so fragile and helpless. But Dad is a cat with more than nine lives. By the time I left on Friday, he was elbowing me out of the way to do his own dishes. The doctor had cleared him to bend and to drive his car. He still needs to lean on his walker, but he’s ready to return to solo living, with occasional visiting helpers.
So here I am back in Oregon, trying to catch up. I have thousands of emails to deal with, bills and mail piled high, stories to write, music to practice, and lawns to mow. My dog Annie is thrilled that I’m back, and I’m glad to be with her again, but she has developed a new pre-dawn barking habit in my absence. I’m happy that the weather is pleasantly cool after San Jose’s incessant heat. But I find myself just sitting still, trying to grasp where I’ve been and where I am. I’m not as worried about my father now, but I miss him. Both of us widowed, I think we both enjoyed having someone to hang out with. But we each have our own lives. He is very old, and I have no doubt there will be another crisis. Someday he will be gone. Meanwhile, I am here, unleashed in Oregon again.