It’s been a difficult summer. Your kids go with their father, your ex, every other weekend. Your heart breaks each time you watch them climb into his car with their little backpacks. You wish they didn’t have to go, but you need the break from caring for them by yourself 24/7. Your older son has serious issues with ADHD, depression and a primal rage that seem to have come into the world with him. Dad leaving has not helped matters. You haven’t been feeling well, school will be starting in another week, and you’ve still not bought their supplies or any new clothes. Child support only goes so far when you’re having to spend for therapists and medicine not covered by their father’s insurance. On top of everything else, you haven’t felt well for a couple of weeks, but you have no health insurance, so going to the doctor is not an option.
After they leave on Saturday morning, you clean house as much as possible before you have to lie down. Your “free day” is spent napping, planning meals for the next week, and mapping strategies for bringing the boys back down to earth after a day and a half without rules or routines of any kind. You read the want ads on Sunday morning as you drink your coffee, looking for anything remotely close to your field. Reality has set in. With the advent of personal computers, your clients are taking all their work in-house, hiring newbie designers to do the work at a fraction of what you must charge just to cover your overhead, even before you make a profit. You have been looking for more than six months for work and you are becoming discouraged. Even if you find a job, you’re not feeling well enough to go to work. You put the paper away, sift the litter boxes, play with the cats for a while, do a load of laundry and change the bed linens, and before you know it, the boys are ringing the doorbell.
They’re all excited. Dad took them to some really cool places. They went to the museum and the planetarium, and next time, he has promised to take them to the aquarium. He has also bought them more toys. Each time they are with him, he takes them to the toy store and turns them loose. He lets them stay up late, watch whatever they want on TV and play games on his computer. There is no question about “where the wild things are.” They are in your living room.
It’s Labor Day weekend, school has started and the boys are going with their father. It’s miserably hot in the house; you have no air conditioning, just one small oscillating fan. The ancient shag carpet stinks from animal urine and years of filth. You don’t feel well, but you can stand the odor no longer. In a frenzied burst of adrenalin, you move all the furniture out of the dining room and into the living room. With a screw driver and your bare hands, you set about tearing out the carpet. On your hands and knees, the stench overwhelms, but you are crazed enough to persist. You somehow manage to remove the 17′ x 17′ square in one piece. You roll it up and by sheer strength of will and determination, you drag it out to the front porch and then with screw driver and pliers, you remove the pad and every last tack, nail, and fastener from the beautiful oak floor. You are ready to collapse, but you are on a roll. You mop the floor with vinegar, hoping to neutralize the residual odor. While that’s drying, you put on another pot of coffee, wipe off the sweat pouring down around your eyes, clean your glasses and start on the living room.
The living room is 17′ x 25′. You somehow move the furniture into the dining room and survey the carpet. With a kitchen scissors, you cut the carpet into two pieces. You yank up the first half, move the furniture from the other half and viciously attack the last piece. You roll that up and drag it out onto the front porch and then you go around on your hands and knees and remove all of those tacks, nails and fasteners. You are dead on your knees, but the stairs are still covered with that wretched stuff, and you just cannot stand it for a moment longer. You start at the top and tear the carpet off. To your immense consternation, the oak stair treads come up with the carpet, leaving gaping holes. All the years of many people tramping up and down has broken them all in two. The only way to navigate them is to hold onto the railing and walk up the narrow central support that’s still intact. At least there are no tacks to remove….
Your parents will be arriving in two weeks. You mother thinks you are having a nervous breakdown and wants to come up and help out. She and your father are together again between separations. You try to tell her it’s not necessary to come, that you are not having a nervous breakdown, you are just sick with some lingering virus. They are coming anyway. You call around and find a carpenter who can put in new pine steps for a reasonable price by the end of next week. You want oak, but it’s way beyond your budget. He finishes up just in time for your parents’ visit. At some point, you will have to carpet them.
You wake up one morning with your 12 pound cat sitting on your chest. You open your eyes and realize there is no cat. Your mother is downstairs making breakfast for the boys, and you are thankful that she and Dad didn’t listen when you told them not to come. You feel kind of dizzy when you stand up, but you take a shower anyway. A hot shower always makes you feel better. You still can’t breathe. As you are getting dressed, you notice that your fingernails are looking strangely purple. Obviously, you are dying and if you die, your children will have to go live with their father, who has made it clear to you that he does not want children. Money be damned. You call your internist.
The doctor insists you come in immediately. Your father will take you. His myasthenia gravis causes a bit of double vision, even with the medication. You learned a long time ago never to argue with Dad. They did drive all the way up here from Oklahoma without incident. He covers up one eye and drives; you close your eyes and hope for the best.
The doctor takes one look at your hands, puts the stethoscope to your chest and sends you over to the hospital across the way for a chest x-ray. You tell her you have no insurance; she tells you not to worry about it. When you’re done, you return to her office. You have some serious pneumonia and she wants to admit you to the hospital. Oh, right. You ask her if she’s going to come over and take care of your kids for you while you’re vacationing in the hospital. She gives you “the look” and shakes her head, disappears for a moment and comes back with a pharmacy in her arms. You are to go home, go to bed and take all of these as directed. She writes down the instructions, puts everything in a plastic bag with some drug company insignia on the front, has a few quiet words with him. He nods, puts his arm around your shoulders and takes you home.
Ratcheting up into Jewish mother mode, Mom makes you chicken soup, bakes cookies for the boys, helps them with their homework and takes care of everything. Your cats terrify her; they love her. Grudgingly, she allows them to sit next to her as she knits. She constantly dusts, vacuums, sweeps, scrubs to get rid of cat hair. Finally, exhausted by their visit and convinced that you are not having a nervous breakdown, she and your father leave the following week. Your ex’s weekend is coming up and you are looking forward to having the time to recuperate without the worry of caring for your rambunctious boys. They sit on the couch in front of the window, their little backpacks ready to go, watching and waiting for Dad. An hour goes by, and then another hour. They try calling his house; no answer. They sit in front of the window all afternoon. Finally, their little hearts aching, they trudge upstairs to put their things away; he is not coming.
By January, you are feeling more like your old self. You never receive a bill for services from the hospital, and the doctor never bills you for her time or all of the medicines she gave you. You are filled with gratitude for her kindness. Your ex has made his excuses and apologies; the boys are wary, but still glad to see him. They get more toys. Life bumps along until the next pothole.