Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Mother Side of Things...

Recently, I came down with a virus (thank you, son) that made it virtually impossible to sleep. Normally when this happens, I wallow on my side of the bed, moaning audibly, in the hopes it will rouse Jeanette from sleep, so that she can administer that most Dominican of Cure-Alls: "Viapuru." -- Vick's Vapor Rub, for those of you not in the know.

On this particular night, her sleep was a fortress, and no amount of my whining was going to breach the ramparts. I could lie there, continuing to sweat a cold sweat, switching soaking sides of my pillow every so often, or I could get up and try to occupy my time.

I opted to go into our family room and read for a while. I turned on the lamp, stretched out on the chaise and flipped on the Kindle to the Raymond Carver biography I've been reading. It was at that moment a wave of deja vu overtook me, and I thought, Where have I seen this before? The answer came almost immediately: This was my mother's little nest -- the one I've described in short stories ("The Favorite Nurse," and others), where she would alight with gin and tonic and ashtray at easy arms-length.

I looked at the clock. 3:30 a.m. or so. Yes sir. That would have been about right. She enjoyed waiting until the rest of the household was fast asleep before going into her little "alcove" -- an overhang, really, not a separate room at all, but it was all her own. My father lay there in their bed, only a few feet away, snoring loudly. This would prove one of those occasions when my mother's deafness went from being a deficit to a benefit, and she would simply slip her hearing aid off the back of her ear, and place it gingerly next to her sweating highball glass, allowing her, I imagine now, to work or read or doze in a blissful, buzzing version of silence.

When you sat in her chaise, you were immediately aware of the hanging smell of old cigarette smoke in the upholstery, along with the understanding that it wasn't your space to be in.

My wife, Jeanette is the one responsible for the creation of our version of Carol's nook. It is Jeanette's space, which is not the only difference. Like my father, Jeanette tends to knock off early. Let's just say it's highly unusual to find her awake after 10:30 PM. She doesn't smoke, thankfully; and her forays into the kind of alcohol my mother drank nightly are few and far between. She's also much more likely to be found there on her chaise reading a book or a magazine than scribing poems about aging parents or aging pets, the way my mother did. But just the same, there's something deeply pleasant for me when I find my bride there. There's a familiarity in seeing the matriarch of the family sprawled comfortably in this way, a throw keeping her legs warm, as she patiently accepts the embraces of her family, allowing them this brief interruption of her well-earned solitude.

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