Out of Control

Glass topped table. Silk plants, baker’s rack, an ancient oak-and-brass ceiling fan. Beat-up linoleum and bleached pine cabinets. The kitchen of the 90s.

All of this will soon be gone. The skin of our house—the first house my husband and I bought when we married twenty years ago—peels off like dead skin after a sunburn.

For now, we spend life in uprooted disarray.

Yes, we are out of sorts, off the beam, living in the chaotic dissonance of renovation. It’s not as hard for me to adapt; this is my life. It has been my life, from the cross-country childhood moves as my father chased oceans for his career, to numerous alcoholic-fueled “geographics” that landed me in new cities and never produced the anticipated fresh start, to two decades of business travel, and later, family caregiving.

But the rest of my family is a different story. My mother, disoriented in the depths of dementia, was never quite sure where she was. My father, who has now moved three times in the past five years grows more cranky each time I unpack him.

And my husband. “I don’t like change,” he confesses, as he searches for a protein bar on the cluttered dining room table. He’s like the pets when any tiny tweak to the routine—new food bowls, closed doors, that ache when something small or large, in this case and entire room—is inaccessible.

Through all my years on the road out of suitcases, hotel rooms, totebags, boxes and airplanes, I learned the necessity of getting organized and establishing a schedule. Immediately. Even if I’m only away for a three-day conference or a week of petsitting. It’s all about retaining a sliver of control, when it feels like most has been taken from me.

For me, this remodel is just another adjustment to the routine. I embrace and accept the bedlam. The kitchen will be done when it’s done; the contractor’s two-week project completion timeline a broken promise the moment it came out of his mouth.

Yet suddenly, in this tiny space I’ve been forced into for an indeterminate length of time, the little desk from my kitchen writing nook shoved in the corner of the dining room-turned-kitchen, I find myself writing volumes. And I realize the words have always been out of my control.

Because, after all, control is merely an illusion. A myth we tell ourselves again and again, to avoid confronting the ultimate truth as inevitable as death itself: we have never had control over anything.

Root Words

I move between two worlds: the desert, its sharp, crisp edges and the sea, on an island away from the world.

My life has always been this way, a juxtaposed duality. A Gemini, after all. Always two of me in the room.

My desert world is vast and bright and full of present-tense me. I got sober here. A place of new beginnings. I met my husband here, another transplant uprooted from the centuries-old steadfastness of New England.

The island, though. It is full of past-tense me, of ghosts and lives and memories. Yet it is where the journey took me, in a soul-search for a future self I never set out to find.

All my life I have searched for home, a Dorothy lost in an Oz-like existence. I have come to realize that this flawed vision of home as a physical place lies within my own rootstock, not the branches of my family tree.

And as I summon the muse of my mother, who appears so effortlessly when I am writing in her old island studio, I begin to understand, just a little, how words and home are rooted together. How they take on life, breathing their universal breath, how they flow like the brook from the backyard into the cove. How I am merely their conduit from heart to page, through pen and keyboard. How they happen in a place not always confined to a geographic location. How, like a mother’s love, they always, always, start in my heart.

The Sixth Dimension

Said he would call you shortly, my father texts from his bed in the cardiac unit. He’s referring to the “hospitalist,” a relatively new term as annoying and ambiguous as the passage of time in a hospital. Thought today or over the weekend for possible discharge.

Could he be any more vague? I respond.

Hospital time. That indeterminately noncommittal measurement of consults and rounds, case updates and test results and discharge dates. In a hospital, time takes on a nonlinear dimension, its flow seemingly in perpetual limbo. In a hospital, time knows no hour.

I’ve entered this dimension before.

I’ve felt that indeterminate uncertainty in the numerous trips to the ER with my mother and father and husband over the past five years. Waiting for calls, for answers, for something, for anything to propel us forward, each time alternating patience and persistence with irritation and anger.

And here I sit, surrounded by old clocks that stopped years ago. Stuck in this time warp of an old farmhouse where my father once lived, unwound like my mother’s descent into dementia. Here, time carelessly unspools, its ebb and flow as unconcerned as the tides in our cove. Because in the end, I realize, life is all about accepting what is.