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I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel just a tab bit lonely now and then but who’s not? Isn’t that how it always is during the holidays? I mean c’mon how shallow of a guy would I be if I wasn’t? Yet I’m still not lonely enough to do anything about it, which I suppose means I’m just not that lonely. Right? You see, the way I have it figured a little bit of loneliness now and then builds character and sure beats the hell outta being stuck somewhere I don’t want to be with someone I’m just not 100% on. But you know, every now and then you have to ask yourself; has life without a chaperone been all you hoped it would be?
A little loneliness now and then and a ‘sense of feeling alone’ are a funny thing. They may seem alike and sound alike and even feel alike in the moment but they are quite different, worlds part actually. It seems they only become more pronounced with age and not necessarily just in old age. I mean speaking strictly for myself I know I have felt a prevailing sense of loneliness, different from a sense of feeling alone, ever since I can remember. I was just born that way. No reason really I suppose it just is what it is. I can be in a room full of dozens of people and still have that deep sense of loneliness. It lies somewhere deep within, somewhere try as I may I cannot get to, so deep mind you that I just stopped searching for where it comes from long ago. I simply decided to live with it and learn from it the best I can. It has never been any different nor has there ever been anything that ever quelled that loneliness. I have merely through experience learned how to deal with it better as time slowly passed. I have also learned how to be alone as a result of that loneliness. Nobody likes being alone all of the time but sometimes, hell, even many times it’s better than being somewhere you don’t want to with people you don’t care about. I’m not the kind of guy who can yuck it up with people I don’t care about much less sit at the same dinner table with them. I never have been. It’s just how I was built. It has helped me enjoy spending time with myself, not as easy a task as it sounds. Go sit in a room with the lights down and no sound at all with only yourself, your heart beat and your thoughts and see how long you can last. Most cannot last long because of their innate fear of being alone, something for better or worse I have mastered over the years.
You see, we live in a society that constantly rails on the current generation that they are weak and should “just suck it up and live with it”, societies ills that is. The older generations love to rail on about how they were stronger and today’s youth are weaker and lazier while they were more industrious and hard working. Really all just a bunch of bullshit and bravado if you ask me. I mean c’mon if we of my generation were that fucking smart then why the hell are the generations after left with fewer life options than ever before? Nah, the truth is older generations need to relieve themselves the best they can of any guilt they feel for fucking things up so badly so they choose to blame societies ills on those after them. Or maybe the truth is they are just scared and we don’t see it. Being tough and sucking it up ain’t everything, maybe a little sensitivity and compassion for our fellow human would go a lot further than what we taught them.
Now something I have never had to personally deal with is that ‘sense of feeling alone’. That is until this past year. You see I came home a little over a year ago for my yearly pilgrimage only to find myself still here over a year later. What kept me here was the need and I must add choice to help my father onto the next stage of his life which ultimately ended up being a convalescent center. What was difficult to do turned out to be the best choice for a man who could no longer care for himself after his wife died. I suppose I never recognized that all the years he was taking care of his sick wife twenty-plus-years his junior I never noticed it was his sick wife who was taking care of him, that is until he was left standing alone and fell apart. Now let me say I did this by choice not any sense of obligation. As my younger brother aptly asserts why do something for a man who never did anything for us. I learned some time ago from some very wise men that he didn’t have to be a good father for me to be a good son. That said, everything I did was by choice and a choice I am glad I made. I was prepared for it to a large degree. I mean he was never a particularly strong guy, though it wasn’t really his fault. Don’t get me wrong, he was a fighter and he would knock you through a brick wall, he had brass balls when it came to throwing down. He wasn’t afraid of throwing a fist or taking one and he threw many and took many. But when it came to taking and rolling with life’s real punches it was my ma that had it really going on.
So I was not at all prepared to have to walk the same road with a woman who was as strong and stronger than anyone I ever knew, especially when this past Christmas holiday my ma took a turn for the worse. After a few falls this year that severely limited her abilities to move around like she used to I should have seen it coming but I just didn’t. Even my baby brother who has suffered a life of schizophrenia saw the writing on the wall. Maybe it’s because he is closer than anyone to her. That’s not to say she loves him any more than the rest of us, that’s not her way, it’s just that for whatever reason or many reasons they shared a bond that was unbreakable. I have always been grateful for that because I knew they would take care of each other in hard times. While we faced out demons alone and in our own ways conquering some and succumbing to others they had shared demons and faced them together. She has even time and again made it a point to remind me to always take care of my brother. I mean at the end of the day what’s life all about if you can’t take care of your own loved ones. She was a brick wall when it came to her children. I’m not ashamed to admit that many a time she stood on the front lines heading off the cops who were coming through the door for me as I got out the back and down the street. She had done the same for her many brothers. She is Ma Barker tough and that is no exaggeration.
Through all the hard times, shitty husbands, no money, long public aid lines homelessness. no one to turn to with her children she withstood it all, she was stronger than anyone I have ever known. This is a lady who has nothing to be ashamed of. I now realize that any sense of toughness I project or real strength and undying belief in loyalty to a fault I possess is all due to her. Period. I love my pops and always will but it’s no secret he has thrown me, all of us under the bus an several occasions. I don’t hate him for it, to the contrary I have come to understand him and who and why he is. But her, my ma a women who was shit on and abused by many and still can say, “make sure you see your dad, no matter what he’s your dad”, now that’s loyalty. The Roman Catholic religion, God, The Virgin Mary, the Saints. She will tell you They are who got her through a tough life. I don’t have much use for religion but I suppose there must be something to it.
When I got the call from here building manager that she was laying on her couch for three days I didn’t walk, I ran to her. When I got there she didn’t want me to call an ambulance even though she had gone to the bathroom in her pants and had not had a drink of water for three days because she could not get up to reach it. She had knocked the phone off the hook and couldn’t reach it. While I waited for the ambulance to come to take her I asked her calmly as I could remain what happened all she could say was, “I didn’t want to bother you guys”. It broke my fucking heart. It killed me that she felt she still had to project an image of strength that she no longer had available to her. Now it was my turn to be strong for her.
I waited with her while the ambulance came and held her hand. When she gripped my hand as tight as she could she need not say anything I knew she was scared. Like I said, even my brother knew and had recently told me as much. “She’s getting older fast man and she can’t take care of herself like she used to. She ain’t gonna say that to us, but I know her better than anyone”. As she lay there on her couch, his words echoed in my mind.
She fought them tooth and nail in the hospital threatening to walk out several times. She couldn’t even sit up much less walk anywhere. Once again my baby brother said she was playing tough but she was really scared. I sat there with them thinking to myself, “I think I’m so fucking tough when I don’t have half the strength of these two people who I love so much”. Yet I found the strength I needed to be there for her. When we finally had a heart to heart, something I in all these years recall only having once before with my ma I realized my brother was right, she played tough just so we would never see her scared so we would worry not about her but each other and take care of each other. In reality, her sense of feeling alone and vulnerable was all too real and I finally understood that ever night when she went home she felt unsafe and unsure and unable to take care of herself as she once could. You see, she had taken care of everyone else for so long her own parents included she forgot how to ask for help when her own time came. Now I knew. The moment when she looked at me and said, “I’ll do whatever you think is right and it’s all up to you now”, I saw the look in her eyes and knew her fear and doubt was real. Never before in my life through jails, addictions, dying friends in my arms had I ever experienced a sense of feeling alone so hard to accept from anyone. the strength she gave me growing up is all I had to rely on to not break down in front of her.
Even now a week and a half later after being admitted to a nursing home right down the street in the neighborhood she not so subtly tells me “this place ain’t so bad, the people are nice and they treat me nice and they take care of me and it’s right in the neighborhood so you and your brother can come see me anytime”, “she cries a little when she says, “I don’t want to go back to that building anymore”, then pauses and adds, “until I’m ready and better”. I now understand that to mean she wants to stay and be taken care of and she deserves it. The going home when she gets better part is not real it’s simply her way of telling me she is ready to stay where she is without saying it. I know she is finally starting to feel safe perhaps for the first time in a long time maybe even many years. I now know what I need to do and I feel okay about it. I want to be ma’s chaperone on her next journey in life.
It makes me think about the sense of feeling alone so many of our elderly parents and friends have and what we owe them. The sense of feeling alone and vulnerability so many children have. I don’t recall ever having that sense of feeling alone where I could not take care of myself, maybe I did and blocked it out, most likely I did but had my ma to fall back on. Now it’s her turn to have me and my baby brother to fall back on.
It must be scary to not know what’s going to happen when you go home at night and there is no one there to help if you need. I’m blessed I get to be here to help my ma get through to the next stage in her life and blessed I get to be here for my pops as well. You see I never have to wonder if I did the right thing by them because now I know I am. I want to be here when they go to sleep quietly and feeling safe that last time one night hopefully a long time from now. I can be okay knowing they were helped safely into the next life.
I guess we just have to show those we love that we love them as much as we can. I now have a respect for that sense of feeling alone I never before had. I hope I never have to feel that sense of feeling alone that they have felt. I don’t know, maybe I do, maybe I have but I don’t admit it because I’m just like her.