I sit on the edge of the little guest bed that I've been rolling out into the living room each night -- since mom has been sleeping on the couch -- the fifth such time on this night.
I sit in the dark and think -- how long can we do this?
Waking up every two hours, helping mom to the bathroom and back, then up at 6:30 for work, commuting the 45-50 min. to Sonoma, only to come home at six to make dinner, to talk about the day and spend time with mom over Jeopardy and Newhart and Seinfeld.
How long can I do this?
How long can mom's knees do this?
As I write this I just called in sick (again), using already the fourth day of my five sick days alotted for the year.
I know I can't call in sick to work every time I feel mom needs some extra care, partly because I'll run out of sick days but also because of the uncertainty. My emotions have been running like an old wooden coaster, no flips just drop after rise after drop.
That just three months ago I called it a day in Nashville, pulled another u-haul on another cross-country trip, scrambled to find another job, another place to live, all to get mom on a better path - then to be smacked in the face with the reality that it might all be for naught.
After I found some decent furniture on Craigslist, much of it free, and a $40 like-new flat screen TV just before Christmas I was feeling pretty good. I thought about this new chapter and how I was doing pretty well, in fact maybe even born for this.
Then came February.
Then a second slip for mom on the hardwood floors.
She didn't break anything but it sure changed her confidence, made her more tentative and less desirous to leave the house.
Then came a lingering cold.
Then a relentless cough.
Then missing one Sunday of church.
Then missing a friends' party.
Then the late nights after late nights that blurred together like a newborn's first months -- but going in the opposite direction ala 'Benjamin Button.'
That's when I lost it.
Mom didn't pick up her phone when I called from work the day after the second fall, and with my stomach in knots I told my boss I had to get home.
I've never had a panic attack but maybe now I have.
Weaving through traffic on highway 101 while trying (failing) to silence the little voice in my head that said she's gone, you'll never get another conversation with her, you'll never hear her laugh again, you'll never see her smile or be with this person who has basically become your best friend. Where will you live? Will you stay here? Will you get a roommate to live in mom's room or a lonely studio in yet another new town by yourself?
I got home to find mom fine, sitting exactly where I'd left her, an empty protein drink container and a 1/2 eaten banana lying on the little table next to the couch, just resting her shoulder from the fall, trying to force a smile and looking shocked at my appearance.
I broke down on the hardwood floor in the middle of the living room.
As if we were back in time, me coming in with a skinned knee or a broken bike she went into mom mode.
"Alden what is it? What's wrong??" She pleaded.
I told her I can't do this. That I didn't want her to go.
"I can't lose you mom," I said through tears -- "I'm not ready for this."
She answered emphatically "I'm not ready either."
That was two weeks ago and since then I've shed lots of tears.
Even she's shed a few.
February may be the shortest month as far as the calendar but this February feels like 28 Groundhog Days.
One after the other.
On the edge of the bed that night, bleery eyed and so desiring of sleep I realized I had gotten it wrong. The 'new chapter' I'd anticipated and that I had told friends was going fine wasn't the new chapter at all. Not the moving, not the job hunting, not the house hunting, not the doctor visits, not the shopping, not the introducing mom to new people. . . none of that was the new chapter.
All of that was just the transition.
THIS is the new chapter.
This new chapter doesn't include things I already know how to do - (no matter how hard) - things like moving, finding a new place to live, a new job, even new-to-me medical visits with mom.
No the true mark of a new chapter includes new actions, new moments, new thoughts, new challenges.
Things I haven't done before like listening to her breathing and praying it continues. Trusting when I leave for work that she'll be ok by herself, and that if not that I'll know we both did all we could. Helping her shuffle to the front door and being ok when she says she's too tired to walk around the block, even though we both know she needs it.
With the facts -- the facts of age and time -- that my mother who I love is getting older, and unfortunately that her time on this earth is whittling down and that life without her is something I have to face, as does everyone who's blessed with moments like this to contemplate.
God can I please just have just a little more time with my best friend.