Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And Then He Mentioned He Might Shit on My Seats

At 2:00 the other day my mother called me and said, "Hey. You want to come out for dinner?"

I said sure. Of course I did.

Then there was this. She said, "Bring your grandfather."

My grandfather lives next door to my father, in the house he has let go to pot since my grandmother's death in 2003. For the entirety of his life, my grandfather never had to make his own food, tidy his own house, do his own laundry, take care of his bills and other important matters. But after grandma was gone, suddenly he was faced with an important decision. Either he did the stuff he never had to do, or he didn't do it and live in squalor.

He chose squalor.

The house is filthy. People--my uncle, his wife, my brother, my mother--come to tidy it, come to tell him he can't keep living like this, but because they come, and because they have picked up where my grandmother left off, he doesn't see any reason to shape up.

A few weeks ago my brother went over to the house to make sure grandpa's medicines were lined up for the week ahead. He came prepared to do a little cleaning, too, since grandpa has been known to shirk even the most basic of normal cleaning duties--like keeping his urine in the bathroom. He, like his father before him, had, for a while, taken to urinating in a bucket kept in the living room, by his recliner, where he no doubt watches hours of pornography like he was recently when my mother came by for a scheduled visit.

Anyway, when Adam showed up to our grandfather's house, he found the man watching television while the kitchen surfaces crawled with maggots. The man--who is capable of getting up and putting his uneaten food in the trash, who is capable of running a sponge over spilled spaghetti sauce, who is capable of taking the trash from his house into the garage; and I know this because he is capable of walking down to the back lawn to check on his garden, to water his plants, to climb on the tractor and mow patches of the field in his backyard--the man chooses not to do any of those things. And so there are maggots. Maggots my brother had to clean up. Rotten food my brother had to hold while he searched for a trash can that was no longer in the house. Messes he--and everyone else--has to clean up.

When I hear these things, I get so angry I can hardly breathe. I recognize that I have it easy, that I'm not here, that I don't have to deal with the man on a daily basis, that I am not his son or his daughter, both of whom had to live with his cruelty and indifference for years, and therefore I should suck it right up and do what little I can do--like transporting the man to my mother's house for a spaghetti supper on a Sunday night--but sometimes that seems like the most exhausting thing I could ever ask myself to do.

And so I was angry at my mother when she asked. But I, after a few hours of sulking, agreed to do it. I went over to his house and went to the front door to collect him. He came down tottering down the hall, shrunken, skinny, wearing suspenders to keep his pants up around his waist. He looked sad, pathetic, a hangnail of his former self, but I wasn't fooled.

I made nice, loaded him into my car, and then held awkward conversation for thirty minutes about the following things: bird shit, elderberries, hay baling, and his cat. He didn't ask me a single question about myself. He didn't wonder how I was doing up in Maine, how the semester had gone, how my writing was coming along. He didn't wonder about anything. But at the end of the drive, as we sat at a stop light near the turn for my mother's house, he did let me know one crucial thing about himself.

"I sure hope we get there soon," he said. "If we don't, I think I'll just shit on your seats."

"What?!" I said.

"I've got to go to the bathroom," he said. "And I'd hate to leave that kind of mess on your seats." The way he said it, though, made me think that was a fairly big lie, that he wouldn't actually mind doing such a thing. He was, after all, past embarrassment, and it might've been the most interesting anecdote of his week.


He held it, and when we got to my mother's house, he spent the next twenty minutes in the bathroom, while the rest of us sat on the back porch looking down into our plates of spaghetti.

Later, after we'd pushed back from our plates and were sitting and listening to my brother tell one of his stories--this one about taking his girlfriend on a sketchy trip to find an unmarked graveyard that was supposedly haunted by the ghosts of dead fetuses that had been extracted in illegal, quick, and dirty abortions--my mother noticed the bruises on my leg (fall) and arm (collision with kitchen wall).

"Jess," she said, "where did all those bruises come from?"

"She always bruises easily," my brother said. "You know that."

"It's true," I said. "I do. But these are from substantial things. This one," I said and twisted around so everyone could see the black and blue circle that marked my upper arm, "is from running into the corner in the kitchen the other day. You wouldn't believe how bad it hurt."

My grandfather, who was sitting next to me, turned to consider the bruise. "Oh yeah?" he said. Then he raised his index finger and jammed it into my arm, straight into the center of the bruise.

I saw white behind my eyes. It hurt just as bad as when I had first hit the corner and slumped into the wall, my breath knocked out of me. I wanted to hit the old man back, to hurt him like he'd hurt me, but I couldn't do that, and I couldn't say anything either because that's not what we do in this family. We let that man hurt us, and we press our lips shut and just let him do it again. And again. And again. And he will because that's what he knows best, that's what he loves, that's exactly his favorite thing in the world.


Joshua said...

Hilarious and sad

Jess said...

Mostly sad. The man drives me crazy.

Please tell me you don't want to grow up to piss in a bucket like he does...