Shifts, Displacements, And Slouching Beasts

Jeez, I thought a suitcase and backpack would accommodate all that remained once I’d liberated my stuff, liberating myself. Yet I still have too much—in a storage unit and in my room at Laura and Erma’s house. We, the Sisterhood, are together, temporarily. They’ve provided a launch pad for whatever adventures I actually implement.

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to the condo. Laura and I carried the staples of my life and loaded them into the back of her Lesbaru. Once at their place, I surveyed what they’d assigned: the cabinet shelves they’d emptied to make room for my toothbrush, toothpaste, vitamins, lotions, shampoo, those items whose location effortlessly can be identified when they’ve occupied a particular place for months.

Suddenly, I thought about my mother and father, moving to Laura and Erma’s for their final years—different circumstances but with similarities. Daddy wasn’t as affected. He was sharp, conversational, yet his near-blindness made him oblivious to a specific address. But Mother, oh, Mother. We didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate that she’d feel anything but gratitude and relief that she’d have help with Daddy. They’d lived in their house 50 years, raised the four of us there. She said 401 W. Maple contained all her memories. And not only memories but also the familiar.

She must have felt disoriented, unmoored.

“What have I done?” As I lay in bed, this was my question, just as it must have been Mother’s in 2007. “What have I done?” And it would have been more extreme for her. Because that was IT, the IT at that point defined as until death us do part. Sure, there was the assisted-living option but living with Laura and Erma was an invitation too loving to refuse. And totally life-altering. We didn’t consider this at the time. I don’t know if it required taking the step I’ve just made to glimpse what the upheaval did to Mother. But I’m reminded that period during widowhood when I advised obsessively, directing friends to appreciate every moment, to stop bitching about minutia, the toilet seat left raised—stupid, meaningless, pathetic waste-of-precious-time nitpickiness. Eventually I abandoned the role of preparing people for an event that’s like an amputation, one for which there is no preparation.

If you’re saying, “First-world problems,” I don’t disagree. Mother’s new address and mine are examples of shifts. But they are insignificant compared to tragic displacements: refugees and immigrants forced by the savagery of war or persecution to leave their homes and often their countries to flee to safety, carrying whatever they have time to grab while holding the hand of a child. Terrified of the known, terrified of the unknown, situations encompassing the unimaginable, separation from a child or children, separation from a spouse, death of a child or spouse.

My intent though is to convey a small, personal experience that provided insight into a late-life issue, an issue we didn’t understand.

Last week, Laura and I drove to KY. I hadn’t been there since Mother’s death in 2011. We went to Camp Nelson National Cemetery where some of Mother and Daddy’s cremains are buried. And we drove past that stately Georgian Colonial that once brimmed with Mother’s memories, a house where now another family is creating theirs.
People say I resemble my mother. And as I sit with Laura and Erma in their living room and read a book while they’re watching a basketball game, I tell them I’ve become her.

I think of my mother so much. Remark to Laura and Erma about how she’d react to today’s political scene. To Hillary Clinton, the strident, war-enamored, endorsed-by-the-vile-Henry-Kissinger Hillary, the it-takes-a-village Hillary, the Hillary whose intent is and has been to take OUT villages. Mother would be repulsed. And she’d be just as revolted by Trump. Both Hillary and Donald represent the bloody, go-for-the-jugular viciousness that pervades U.S. culture and U.S. imperialism. My father often said we choose the politicians we deserve. Indeed. And some “rough beast, its hour come round at last,” is slouching towards the White House.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: