It’s been another busy week–or how many days?–since I
wrote last. Taxes still loom over me. I have to delay paying until my next
paychecks come tomorrow, and then I have to scrape together enough money to
keep my credit card from maxing out completely. I really hate that I’ve got a
maxed-out card. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. But I didn’t quite expect a
$9,000 tax liability. And Lazarus still needs medical care, even though he’s
healthy for an old man. Two visits this month for antibiotics to kick a
UTI–you can relate!–and he needs a lump removed from his neck. Not helping
lower that debt.
I own your truck now. Did I tell you that? Hard to remember.
I do feel age creeping into my brain. It’s hard to know what I’ve said and what
I haven’t, and I’m often asking people to repeat themselves, not because I’m
hard of hearing, but because I just can’t process what they’ve said to me. I
need to hear it again. Anyway, I just loaded up your truck with about a quarter
of the waste wood from my old deck. I think I’ll hold onto it for a while, as
some of it came in handy building Mother’s ramp. I’m going to drive it over and
store it behind your garage, though.
When did I last write? I don’t know. Months. Not good
months. No one is to blame. Life gets too busy to handle. One person’s
anxieties clash with another person’s anxieties. Changing life situations catch
us by surprise and make the ground beneath our feet seem unstable. We take it
out on each other.
There has been little to no progress on the house since I
last wrote. I take that back. Christian has organized the tools. Ethan and
Christian have cleaned up the basement, actually trying to reclaim it as usable
space. Ethan unearthed two lab cabinets that you have bought decades ago. I
remember carrying them into the room I think of as the “lab” room. It
contains the water tank, the darkroom, the electrical panels and phone
interface. It also has your workbench that you built in the 1960s with your own
hands. It has the bloody (literally, as I recall) steel lab bench with the
transite top that we bought from Sacred Heart Hospital. And it has lots, and
lots and lots of oscilloscopes. And one last b-52 gunsite. Oh, and, yes, one
So much has happened in the last six weeks, it’s been hard
to keep up. Mother was in the hospital… Jim Heller died… Christian got a
car… Tax season hit…
I already talked about Jim. That was a blow, and really got
me thinking about my career and what I want out of it. Still thinking, so I
won’t say a lot about that.
Mother’s hospital visit and aftermath… I wrote about her
homecoming already. Since she’s been home, things have been stable, but our
lives have changed a bit. Mother’s more forgetful than she was before. A severe
urinary tract infection can do that to someone who’s 92 years old. They affect
the brain, sometimes permanently. Mother is very aware of her short-term memory
loss, and very frustrated by it. She asked me the other day why she had lost
the ability to focus on something like doing her taxes. “I always did our
taxes,” she said. “Your Daddy never did. Why can’t I do them anymore?
I try, and it just frustrates me. I get exhausted just looking at them.”
I explained to her that the human short-term memory is like
a table. When you’re young, the tabletop is big enough to hold, say, three rows
of five index cards. Everything you can write on those cards, you can think
about, all at the same time. As we get older, the available space shrinks–the
tabletop has to hold our pills and our eyeglasses and our hearing aids. And
photos of our grandchildren and the parents we lost a few years ago. After a
while, maybe there’s only room for three index cards, and that’s all you can
think about at once. If it takes seven index cards worth of information to do
your taxes, well, you don’t have space for that anymore. You need to put them
on another table, namely someone else’s brain.
A friend asked me recently, “You’re under a lot of
stress, right? Like, all the time?”
I had to say, “Yes.”
I am under a lot of stress all the time. Maybe it’s been that way my whole life. Maybe I do it to myself. I used to ask Ethan, when he was little, “What’s the going rate on trouble?” To which he would respond with a blank look in his little, blue eyes. And then I would explain, “Because you’re borrowing a lot of it.”
My little future economist would not then ask me to explain
usury, because, of course, he knew it inside-out by the age of two. He would,
however, ask me what it meant to “borrow trouble.” It’s a high art
form for a lot of us, imagining all that can go wrong, stressing over it,
planning for how we’ll handle it. It’s the natural state of a lot of science
fiction writers, of which group I am (quite) nominally a member. It can be a
valuable skill, anticipating what could go wrong, so you can prevent it from
doing so. It can also drive you batty.
I also used to tell Ethan the tale of the three Sillies, the
fairy tale about the man who went out in the world to see if he could find
three examples of people stupider than his fiance and future in-laws. The deal
was that, if he found those three, he would marry into a family of idiots.
It snowed yesterday, and pretty much everything shut down. I
suppose, if you could plan a snowstorm, this one would count as being pretty
well-planned. It started before rush hour, on a day just cold enough to keep
the snow from melting. Roads had been salted, but snow accumulation out-paced
the chemically induced melting, and my street, which is normally kept plowed
clear throughout a storm, was snow-covered for most of the day. Because of the
timing–we were expecting the snow as early as 1:00 in the morning–schools and
offices had already decided to close the night before. And now, the day after,
the roads are clear, and, at 36 degrees with an expected high of 51, the snow
I realize that having to close costs businesses money.
Full-time employees still have to be paid, and no revenue is coming in. Howard
County must lay out about 1.5 Million for those eight lost hours, but having
the decision made and having it all over with in a day seems pretty low impact.
Even the trash was picked up on time.
Of course, some people still have to go to work. The staff
at Mother’s nursing care facility all came to work. All of my colleagues in the
Fire service came to work. The Emergency Operations Center was activated for
the County, and everyone who supported it was working. Also of course, having
every location connected to the Internet, as we certainly do in Central
Maryland, means you can go to work without going to work. I wound up working
five hours yesterday. Were you able to work from home? I don’t recall you ever
doing it while I was growing up. You had an office, and all manner of papers
and equipment around, but I don’t recall you working.
I wrote this entry in a time of turmoil. Your house was
suddenly ours. Mother was still in the nursing home. My employer was still
settling into a new office building and adjusting to a new leader. There were frustrating
family issues. As I publish this, a good friend is in the hospital, dying, there
are still work frustrations and family frustrations. There are still bills that
I’m trying to figure out how to pay. In all of this, a friend of mine wrote
today, it might be best to “go full Vulcan.” That is, to turn off our
feelings, like Mr. Spock could on Star Trek, and just make all the right
intellectual choices. I think you would have considered that an attractive
option. Well I wrote this response to you seven months ago, and I still think
February 20th, 2019
I remember you, red in the face, angry at me about
something, demanding “What’s so damned wonderful about having feelings?” I was probably 15 or so.
I didn’t know what to say at the time. Now I do.
We’ve come to a crossroads. Is that the right turn? Maybe
it’s a fork? Anyway, we’ve decisively chosen a path.
The document begins, ” – Witnesseth – That for an in
consideration of the sum…”
It continues on to say a lot of other things, including,
“Beginning for the same at a nail now set in the center of a thirty-foot-wide
right-of-way of the county road known as Simpson Road… “–a description
of the landmarks and boundaries that define the 13 acres that you bought 53
years ago, we believe for sum of $18,000.
In short, it says that Renee and I, as of yesterday, own the
house on Simpson Road, with Mother as holder of a life estate, meaning that she
enjoys the use of the property until her death. Well, sometimes perhaps
“enjoy” is too strong a word…
Our first full year without you has come to an end. 2018
was, well, an adventure, I suppose, as every year is. It’s become popular on
social media to declare an entire year a “fail,” or an “epic
fail,” meaning that that year is somehow cursed, and that either the
population of the universe should be given another year to replace it (the
logistics of this are not discussed), or that it should be wiped from the
history books. Such declarations usually begin on about the 2nd of January. I’m
sure, somewhere on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, someone has already deemed
2019 to be a dud which should be cast into the waste bin reserved for products
that failed quality control testing.
Facebook, Twitter, Instragram… you probably don’t
recognize those terms, although they were invented during your lifetime. You
would have had no time for such foolishness. You also, I’m sure, never
participated in water cooler conversations in the office. I’ve no doubt you
considered water coolers unsanitary, to begin with–sharing water with all of
those other people, whose mouths had been Heaven-knows-where doing
Heaven-knows-what! I know you didn’t drink beer or whiskey with the rest of the
boys on Tinian. Indeed, you gave all your allotment of whiskey to the flight
crew–a year’s worth at one time–and they burned down a Quonset hut.
I was talking about the basement, and the accumulation of
STUFF. Most of that stuff is gone now. Here’s how that happened.
You were still alive and mobile, albeit diagnosed with
Alzheimer’s, when the cleanup began. After making some inroads in the house (literal
inroads–pathways through the mountains of junk), I told Mother I wanted to do
something about the basement and the garage. She said something to me like,
“I wish you’d do something about the storage place. It’s costing us over
$700 a month.”
You were paying more than my first house payment for a garage bay storage unit that was about 10′ by
28′. Yes, that needed to go away.
It’s officially Winter. Actually, it’s not. Winter comes in
nine days, I believe. But the days of below-freezing temperatures, frost on the
grass, aching muscles and leaving the water trickling in my kitchen (old pipes
near old farmhouse walls tend to freeze) have begun. Mother had her first oil
delivery of the year and was astounded at the bill for over $500. I explained
to her that I paid $250 every month last year, and over $1900 in August to make
up for the rising cost of oil. Her response was, “Yes, but my oil bill was
The furnace is heating the house nicely, though. No more
space heaters. No more blankets and curtains in every doorway. The whole house
is warm and usable.
I was explaining to Renee last night why this house always
had oil tanks, when the furnace wasn’t active until last year. She had
forgotten the Sears Oil Stove in the basement.