One from the archives…
At 5:30pm, a van rolled up our driveway, carrying the second wave of relatives to come a callin’ in as many weekends. (As I’m sure you can imagine, my eyes lit up with sheer joy upon noting their arrival. Swear.)
At 5:31, the van parked, the doors flew open and a swarm of people flooded out, all of them chattering in that enthusiastic way people have upon being released from a vehicle after a long drive. (Well, one of them wasn’t chattering. Nor was she swarming. My youngest sister, Roni, is confined to a wheelchair, for the most part, after a stroke in her early 20s that left her paralyzed on the right side. She sat there in the front passenger seat, waiting for folks to remember that she might need a hand or two getting out of the damn van, what with the non-functioning limbs and all.)
At 5:32, I waved at her and smiled, from the relative safety of the back patio where I was standing, not yet emotionally committed to joining the fray of madness billowing around the van, as suitcases began flying through the air and arguments commenced about things that may or may not have been left behind in Tulsa. Roni looked at me with a mixture of happiness that I still existed and frustration that certain other family members continued to exist, with her eyes saying “you have no idea what I have just been through with these people”.
Oh, but honey, I do. I’m 13 years older than you, and I will win this competition every time.
At 5:33, my Fortress of Solitude was already breached, with a stream of worker bees lugging huge amounts of inventory into the house, as if they’d gotten news that we might have to hunker down for a few years and wait for the radiation cloud to dissipate. Someone had managed to get Roni into her wheelchair, so I snapped out of my own temporary paralysis (there are so many people in my house!) and took control of the contraption, rolling Roni up the steps and into the den. I lovingly parked her off to the side, in an area that had the lowest risk of being trampled by the supply convoy. We hugged and said we loved each other. (Well, I said it. Roni is non-verbal as well, but I understand her body language nonetheless.) It was a tender moment of reunion and-
5:34 – Mom: “Do you still have that rolling stool?”
Me, because I’m getting up there in years and the ways in which the body can fail you are a constant topic, initially thought Mom was somewhat-brusquely inquiring about a digestive issue: “The rolling stool…”
Mom: “The one we used the last time we were here. So Roni can go to the bathroom. Because she needs to pee and her wheelchair doesn’t fit through the guest bathroom door.”
5: 35 – I glanced over at Roni. Her body language made it clear that of course she needed to go. Everybody else in the van was able-bodied and they could easily meet their biological needs at any point during the journey, be it a gas station or a laundromat or squatting behind a tree at mile marker 497. So, let’s work this out. Or I’m just gonna let it rip right here on this feng-shui artisan rug you parked my ass on.
Me, outer voice: “Oh, right, the rolling stool we used to get Roni into the guest bathroom because her wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the door.” Inner voice: “The rolling stool that left deep, irreparable gouge marks in the wooden floor that I cover with yet another artisan rug.” Outer voice: “I’m not sure where that is.”
Mom: “Huh. Okay, let’s see if we can find it.” She then puts on her Nancy Drew spelunker cap and heads off.
5:36 – Something crashes to the floor in the guest bedroom. It sounds like an expensive crash. I don’t even bother to investigate.
5:37 – I head to the very back room of the house, which is where I have my writing desk. In said desk, I keep all my medications. (Long story, no time to tell it.) I’m just wanting to make sure that I have plenty of anxiety meds on hand, especially if the rumor about the nuclear holocaust proves true. I discover Mom, poking about in various stacked boxes. (Truth be told: The back room has become a dumping ground for a variety of things that don’t yet have an official position in the Fortress of Solitude.) Who knows what she will find, but I know she won’t find that damn stool.
5:38 – Me, outer voice: “I think that stool might be out in one of the sheds in the backyard.” Inner voice: “Please don’t make me go look in the sheds. It’s 107 degrees and I’d rather give up a kidney than dig in a cobwebby antechamber to Hell. Plus, I may have thrown that stool away because it tore up my wood floors.”
Mom: “Oh. Well, maybe we can just take the door of the guest bathroom.”
Me: “We can do what?”
Mom: “Take the door off. Barry can do that in half a second.” (Barry is Mom’s long-time friend who is part of the cavalcade of arrivals, for those keeping score.) “Maybe the wheelchair will fit through without the door.”
Part of me dies.
5:39 – Mom and I are investigating the architectural values of the guest bathroom. It’s a two-tiered situation. There is one door leading to a “vanity” area, where presumably guests at this house could powder their noses with the aid of a big-ass mirror before returning to the dinner party and swilling another cocktail. There is a second door that leads to the bathroom proper, where the real action takes place. Mom makes note of an additional change that has taken place since her last visit. “Oh, you’ve put in a new sink cabinet that extends further than the last one, and now the wheelchair won’t fit through here.” She gives me a look that makes it very clear that we installed the new cabinet for the sole purpose of not allowing my sister to pee with relative ease.
Me, outer voice: “Well, dang.” Inner voice: “This is not a nefarious plot on my part, despite your mistrust of me based on all the nefarious things I did as a teenager.”
Mom: “Okay, let’s go look at your bathroom, see if we can take that door off.”
Me, outer voice: “Sure, let’s check it out.” Inner voice: “Just shoot me in the head.”
Mom: “Great, let me go get your sister and we’ll make a test run.”
5:40 – Said test run, with Roni clenching as much as possible and Mom ramming the wheelchair up against the door opening into the master bathroom, proves that this arrangement can work without the pesky privacy door. “Great. I’ll go get Barry.” She trots off
I look at Roni. She looks at me. I feel compelled to say something. “I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.” She just shrugs one shoulder. Oh, don’t worry about me. I could tell you stories that will have you screaming in your sleep.
5:41 – Barry arrives, assesses the situation, and proclaims that he needs tools. We head to the laundry room, where we keep our primitive collection of manly implements. (Long story, no time to tell it.) I proffer several items until Barry is satisfied. We then head back to the master bathroom (Roni is no longer there, I don’t even bother to wonder why) and Barry starts to bang and grunt.
5:42 – The door is now detached. I grab such and finagle it to another part of the bedroom, leaning it up against a clever cabinet. (I know I can’t leave it there for long, because Cleo the Cat loves said cabinet and will most likely not appreciate the viewing hindrance when perched on the cabinet, knocking it over in the middle of the night so it will bash in my skull as I innocently slumber in the nearby bed.)
5:43 – Mom reappears, shoving Roni along in her wheelchair. They are able to slip through the reconfigured doorway with remarkable ease, nary a threatening scratch to the finely crafted wood of the door frame. Mom begins the intricate process of moving Roni from her wheelchair to the porcelain throne. I race out of the room, because I really don’t want to see my sister’s Niagra Falls.
5:44 – Something else crashes to the floor in the guest bedroom.
5:45 – I’m hiding in the back room of the house, recounting my anxiety pills to make sure I have enough to survive the rest of the day, never mind the weekend. It’s only been fifteen minutes since The Arrival, and everything has already shifted so far sideways that I may never be whole again…
As noted, previously published, slightly modified.
Story behind the photo: A detail snap I took of a wall design (or maybe it was a ceiling design; I’m old, things fade quickly) at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. I thought the “maze with no escape” aspect of the image was rather fitting for today’s lovely exposition on familial dynamics…