So yeah. Here is what it’s like in the old folks home in Offenbach where my Oma lies waiting to die:
In the common room mostly forgotten men and women wail and howl and gibber. Some have their heads on the table and respond only when someone comes close enough: “help me get out of here,” one woman gasps; “please, don’t leave me,” a man moans, gripping my hand tightly. An attendant tells Hans to let go of my hand, but he only squeezes harder, his eyes unfocused, lips slack. One old man squeezes his eyes shut and yells out in Hessisch, “I want to know what’s for lunch!” while behind him another man in a wheelchair keeps repeating, “what can I do? what can i do? what can I do?”
There are, as well, the ones who aren’t yet completely gone. They feel themselves superior by virtue of their sanity. They help the attendants sometimes, and chastise the worst of the gibberers.
“No one knows what you can do.”
My Oma is quiet because she’s been taking her pills. She can barely move. She drools on herself. She says maybe one or two words within the two hours I’m there. When she sees me she breaks out in a wide smile. Crust and spittle on her mouth, I feel like she wants to kiss me but I can’t bear to put my lips to hers, so I kiss her cheek instead. Her skin is soft and thin and loose. She has old bruises and old scabs. She sees me, answers, pleads, forgets, sees me, answers, pleads, forgets. From time to time she smiles. I make the same faces when I feed her that I made with my boys: mimicking them as they open their mouths, nodding as they, she, swallow mashed potatoes and meatloaf and bits of watermelon.
The other day she was more responsive. I prayed to every god I knew to take this woman into an embrace and free her from this prison of old meat and brittle bone. She held my Buddha amulet in her soft, wrinkled, clawed fingers and I told her I couldn’t cover her face with the pillow and she moaned out, “why not?” The Buddha pendant is from my late great homie Tenzin and when she grabbed it I asked him point blank, homie can you do something, can you help, can you put in a word for her, and I heard his voice in my mind say whatchu want me do homie? I can’t help her.
I watch an attendant change her diaper. I get tested downstairs. I take her to the garden outside and keep her out of the sun. I show her pictures of my sons and am happy when she smiles.
“Great grandmother,” she says, when I call her Oma. And I say yes, that’s right. Ur-Oma bist Du.
Along the Main
At dinner last night along the banks of the Main we discussed my Oma’s state. Everyone shook their heads at how bad it was, everyone sighed that they wouldn’t have wished this upon her. We pass the subject around, vowing to not allow ourselves to endure the same fate, nor our other loved ones. Oma’s sister, for example, who is still healthy and sentient at 86. The old folks suffer in torment in a home and we lament and say how wrong it is that we do this to our elders and how stupid it is that suicide is so frowned upon that we’d rather extend hell than offer mercy. “No one knows what to do.” The absurdity shocks me into silence, I veer away from the abyss and order another Apfelwein.
We each speak of our own experience with aging. Gerda, my great aunt, the 86 year old sister of Oma who lies drooling and curled about herself in a bed with a diaper on, Gerda points out the brown spots on her hands and then tries to hide them from me. She tells me how alone she is, now that her husband is dead a year. On the other side of the table, her daughter Martina speaks of when she was a baby and how she lived with her Oma, Gerda’s mother, because Gerda was never there. Gerda finds that hard to believe. I see an old folks home in her future. No one wants to suffer like Oma, but no one wants to be held responsible for whomever is next in line. We march like lemmings towards our own common room full of forgotten men and women who once thought just as we did, who once ordered an Apfelwein to stave off the abyss for one more day.
We remember together, days when we were young. I’m the youngest, at 44, and even I feel the hand upon me. I tell them how it takes longer to recover from injuries, how I worry that I won’t find a girl who likes me now that I’m older, how I wonder if I’ll have my ducks in a row by the time society collapses around us. “You paint a black picture,” Martina’s husband Peter says. Yes, I respond. I do.
I feel like I’ve got maybe 10 years left before I’m old, and society moves on without me, no matter how youthful my spirit nor boundless my taste for adventure. Soon enough, I’ll be elbowed out of the circle of life and I had better have my shit together. No one loves an old man on the road, single and leering. I vow to myself not to become that old man, the one people veer away from. I vow to myself that my mother will never lie alone on Mother’s Day, barely cognizant but still aware of loneliness and pain and a life that keeps going “long after the thrill of living has gone …” I vow that I won’t go out that way, I’ll go out the way a pirate like me should, down with the boat in a storm far out at sea.
“Deep sea silence how sweet the sound; bury my bones in undiscovered ground.”
I wrote that line in my 20s, the hand already upon me, the dread of any other kind of death already seeping into my daily. I’m too young for this; too old for that.
I vow that my boys will have a castle I built for them. I vow that, when the time comes, they’ll only see me as I am: wild and hale and laughing and free. Irreverent and silly and in love.
Karmic Debts Paid and Unpaid
Louise and Kaydee and Kelsey
I still think you were the prototype, and fucking it up with you doomed me to a life of dysfunctional love. My bad. I often hear your voice, and the things you said to me then, and I melt all over again. I can still feel you in my mouth.
Zuo Li and Xiao Li and Satomi and Mingming
I found you in my greedy wolf days and I used you for essence to keep me alive. You may have been the most beautiful, the most loving, the sexiest, but I ran away anyway. It was for your sake, really, because I knew what you were getting into, even if you didn’t. I can’t say because hindsight corrupts.
Yushi and Tyler
Two sides of my love coin. I was still a boy and I tried, I really did, but everything I said and everything I did led me further and further into debt, where I left you to burn. Take heart, because she came along and through her I paid off a chunk of the karmic debt I incurred. Believe me when I say I burned too, and even if it wasn’t enough for you, it’s a start. I’m sorry I couldn’t be what you needed me to be, when you needed me to be it.
Homies and Homettes
Thank the many gods for you all. My family when my family falls short; my lifelines when my life goes awry; my conscience when I lose my sense; my haven when I’m lost at sea; my peoples when I’m all alone. I hope I can live up to my love for you, every single one of you. Stay calling a fool out, please.
Mom and Dad
You did a great job, given the circumstances. Sure, it would have been better had you told me right away, but you chose a path and stuck to it. I thank the gods I was raised by you two, and no others. I love you and I know I’m the black sheep but no family is complete without one.
I hope it works out this time and no I don’t want to see his ass but I’ll take you in forever and anytime and you’ll always be my lil sil and I never judge, even if it feels like that to you. I only wish. Wishing is something else, but I understand how they can feel the same sometimes.
No other homie comes close. I’m so proud of you and it would be cool if you were proud of me too. I feel like I need your approval, ain’t that a bitch? Because I think you feel the same way. I approve. I always approve, because you’re a G.
Boys, I gotchu. Every day I gotchu. Every second of every day I gotchu. It’s easy work, even when it isn’t. I was designed by gods to do this work. I gotchu, cheesin as I do. I sing songs to you on my downtime wherever I be. Constant love everlasting.