Sunday brunch with Mom.
Pushing her wheelchair into the elevator, she mumbled over her shoulder:
"I'd like to see your father."
"I don't know," she answered. Then simply, "I just want to see him."
Speaking as a woman who has been around the block a couple of times, I can certainly understand being hopelessly in love with one man your entire life. Stuff like that doesn't change.
A few days later, I telephoned Dad in Texas.
"Look--I need to ask you something and I know you can't give me an answer right away, but I'd like you and Fiona to discuss this and get back to me," I said.
"Gosh! What is it? It sounds so serious," he joked.
"Well it kind of is, Dad. I saw Mom the other day and she said she wants to see you."
"Is she alright?" he asked solemnly.
"She's fine-- I mean, well... you know how she is. She's as tough as nails. Stiff upper lip. But Dad, I've gotta tell ya, she's getting worse and worse every day. Me and the Redhead-- when we talk we wonder, 'How much worse can this get?', but it always gets worse and worse." I paused, feeling tears coming. I took a breath and continued, "So she wants to see you, Dad. I think she just misses you. And I miss you. It'd be really good to see you and have a visit. How long has it been? Four, five years?"
"Yeah... the last time we saw all of you was when Fiona and I came up and put Mom's new flooring in the condo. That's about four years ago." He cleared his throat and said, "Let me talk to Fiona and I'll give you a call back-- okay, Boo?"
"'kay," I sniffled. "Thanks, Dad."
So my Father is coming to visit next week, the primary reason being Mom. Because he hasn't seen Mom since the Parkinson's began to accelerate, the Redhead has been trying to bring Dad up to speed, to prepare him for what he's going to see.
"So my mouth won't drop open?" he laughed.
The Redhead answered, "Yeah, Dad-- that's right."
Clearly nothing we've shared with him over the last several years regarding Mom's worsening condition has stuck. Dad hasn't grasped the enormity of what Mom is going through, or possibly he thought we were over-dramatizing.
Being a supremely confident person, I think Dad felt he had a good grasp of Mom's condition. He once read a memoir some guy wrote, who was charting his life and experiences as his Parkinson's-stricken spouse became more and more sick. Dad was moved by the book because he thought it foretold what my sisters and I were going to experience, and he knew it was going to be tough for us. He said to me, "It would behoove you and your sisters to read this book."
"Behoove us? That's so stupid," said the Redhead when I told her.
"I know. Like we need to read the fucking book to figure out what's going to happen. Jesus Christ. We're living it," I said bitterly.
After calling Mom one day, Dad phoned the Redhead and said, "You know, I could barely understand her. I think it was nerves."
"Nerves? Like being nervous about talking to you?"
"Yeah. I think I caught her when she was painting and I interrupted her..."
She heard the sound of my voice and lost her composure. Typical.
"No-- no, Dad. You could barely understand her because the nerves in her vocal chords are dying. Pretty soon she won't be able to talk at all. She wants to see you now because pretty soon, she won't be able to talk at all."
The normally jocular and breezy Dad said, "Oh."
I once asked Mom if she wished she still had Dad around to help her through her illness.
"No," she answered. "He wouldn't be able to handle it." Mom knows him and his faults better than anyone.
So. All the mysterious things which are contained in the Hal and Mary Safe Deposit Box, those things that are only between the two of them-- these two people who love each other so much and who suffered in different ways while married to one another-- those things are going to be spoken of in private for the last time. Whatever is in the safe deposit box hasn't seen the light of day for almost 25 years. Now it'll be taken out, laid in the sun and given fresh air.
Whatever they think of their visit together will only be known by them. Those regrets Dad may feel (if any), that longing Mom will most definitely feel, will be laid out. Those things will be examined together, or more likely, will be considered privately.
Then Mom and Dad will put those things back into their box, lock it, and put it back on the shelf.