A breakthrough, thanks to Starbucks.

Recently, Mom and I had some time to kill waiting for a prescription to be filled, so went to Stop & Shop to pick up something for dinner. Mom has her groceries delivered (hooray for PeaPod–though she does not love recent changes to your website, yo), and hadn’t been inside the grocery store for years. She was gobsmacked at how big the place is, and couldn’t manage walking the aisles. Happily, there is a Starbucks there as well, so we got coffee and sat down for a bit.

People familiar with LBD will know what I mean when I say that you never know who your loved one is going to be on any given day. On this day, I had Nice Mom. People walked by as we sat, and she smiled at them, and they smiled back. This struck her as amazing, that people seem so nice, and so happy to be smiled at. It was as if she’d never noticed that before.

Over the years I’ve learned not to talk about myself with her, nor about Aaron or any of my friends. We talk about Robin and Josie. About her granddaughters, she doesn’t twist things around, or criticize, or inject snobbish or haughty opinions. She just delights in their growth and accomplishments, or their humor, or any of their stories. So, as we sipped our coffees, I babbled on about how this or that recent event revealed some aspect of their personalities.

Last fall’s kitchen incident showcased Robin at her best. I told Mom the story from our perspective, as we came to her house thinking we were there for dinner and to fix the answering machine, but found a pretty impressive mess on arrival. I told her how scared we were, and how Josie was upset to the point of tears, and how Robin had taken care of her and handled things beautifully while I pieced together what had happened. Mom hadn’t known any of this.

I told her that Dad had been beside himself and fixated on getting her medicine adjusted as a “solution.” I reminded her that when she was diagnosed, I read everything I could find about LBD, but that there is no way for Dad to do that. I’ve told him things, but he can’t do his own research. Blindness has him quite literally in the dark. He seized on medication as the problem, but hadn’t quite come to terms yet with the progressiveness and incurability of her illness. Medicine is great at keeping some of the symptoms at bay. It won’t work forever.

I got a lot across in a very short time. Didn’t lecture, didn’t preach, didn’t rub her nose in it… just told her how it is for us, through this one incident.

She listened. Such a simple thing, but it almost never happens. She really listened. She didn’t get hostile, paranoid, defensive, or mean. She seemed, for the first time, to consider what the changes happening to her feel like for all of us. That they terrify her husband. That her grandchildren are not just aware, but coping, in their own ways. And–maybe–she came to appreciate a small fraction of what it means for me, too. That there is a real emotional cost to the increasingly managerial role I have taken in their lives. That I keep my phone within reach at all times. That there is never a day I pull into her driveway without a little nugget of fear in my gut. And, importantly, that I need her help, while she still can, to figure out the next step.

Then I listened. She told me what it feels like to have a malevolent voice in your head threatening gruesome violence and belittling your every attempt to overcome the fear of it. She told me how every day, the voice tells her it will kill her on the way to the mailbox, and every day, she tells it “fuck you” and goes to the mailbox anyway. She said that she doesn’t tell my Dad that it’s become a triumph of will just to get to the mailbox and back, but that she asks him to wait at the head of the driveway while she goes and to hug her when she gets back, and he does, and he doesn’t ask why, and doesn’t make her feel stupid for needing it. He just does it, because it’s what he can do.

It was good. Good to talk, good to hear, good to have coffee with my mother as if we were friends sharing parts of our lives. I’m going to need that Starbucks again.

Dementia update: hallucinations and loss of license.

Life would be a lot easier if Lewy Body Dementia were just a memory disorder. Unfortunately, it’s that and a whole lot more.

My mother suffers from auditory hallucinations. It is no use explaining to her that the voices she hears can’t possibly be real. They are real to her because she hears them, and she’s lost the ability to distinguish what makes sense from what doesn’t.

The voices are evil. They taunt her while she’s undressing, and when she’s using the bathroom. They threaten gruesome violence to her and my Dad. They threaten to kill me and my children. They tell her in detail how they’ll do these things. I’ve read most of Stephen King’s stories over the years, and the voices would give him a run for his money. And that’s just the stuff she tells me about.

I wonder where the horror comes from, and I imagine how different things would be for her if the voices were kind, positive and fun.

The inability to distinguish hallucination from reality is a problem. Even if she does sometimes grasp that the voices are just in her head, she still thinks her neighbors are bad people. One’s been in jail for years, another’s a drunk whose husband has left her, etc., etc., none of it true. She thinks one neighbor’s son “killed his gay lover in their backyard.” In reality, he’s studying to be a priest. Not that those things are mutually exclusive, but near as I can tell, her neighbors are just people.

Sometimes, she calls the police about the things the voices say. This has consequences. One morning recently, she “heard” a federal agent driving around with a megaphone, calling all law-abiding residents to a meeting at the police station to discuss what to do about people from the Black Lives Matter movement who have been terrorizing the neighborhood. She told my Dad, who said “it isn’t real! Stay home! Don’t go to the police station!”

So she went to the police station. Naturally none of her neighbors was there. Still, she went in and told an officer that “Black Lives Matter people are threatening to teach the neighborhood a lesson.” When the officer later called me to discuss her visit, he said that she then left in a paranoid hurry because “they probably know I’m here.” He followed her home to see that she was all right.

He interviewed neighbors, reviewed previous incident reports, drew some conclusions. Then he went back and filed a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles that resulted in my mother’s driver’s license having to be surrendered. She got a letter from the DMV saying she should send it in voluntarily within 20 days, or the police would take it.

I have no quarrel whatsoever with the outcome, but mixed feelings about how it came about. The letter was a complete surprise to my parents, and to my mind, it would have been more respectful of the officer not to have done it behind their backs. I asked Officer Vigilant how her driving was as he followed her home, and he said “Fine. Quite good, actually,” so his decision was entirely based on her mental state, which is interesting.

She was mostly a bad driver, though. Dementia just meant that in addition to pulling out in front of people and doing 50 mph in the passing lane, she’d forget where she was going or where she’d been, and maybe get lost. It’s a good idea all round to have her off the road.

She did call her attorney, outraged, to see if anything could be done. The attorney called her dementia doctor, who said no, he was not willing to object in any way to the revocation of her license. Patients do get angry with him for that, he told us at her next visit, but stopping driving is the right thing to do. Then he increased her dosage of quetiapine again, which should keep her racist, paranoid hallucinations away a while longer. I hope it works.

Mom’s not being able to drive changes her life less than you might imagine. She uses a grocery delivery service and rarely went out anymore, anyway. For me, it means more frequent visits, which were already happening for various reasons, and driving her and Dad to their doctors’ appointments, which I was mostly doing anyway.

Hopefully, it is also fueling motivation to look into assisted living. That’s becoming a battle, of which more later.

In which I confirm my existence

Well, six months went by in a flash.

All is mostly well.

I’d been writing here to document my “sandwich generation” experience, sharing the humor as well as the trials and tribulations that come with having a parent with dementia. While things are still humorous (it’s life!) we did have some more on the trials and tribulations end of the scale this fall.

For one thing, there was a mishap in Mom’s kitchen. For reasons unknown, she got up at 4:30 one Thursday morning and put a plastic tray on the stove. Dad awoke to the smoke detector half an hour later. They got the stove turned off and the smoke aired out. Mom went back to bed.

Dad called her neurologist’s office, thinking that surely her medication could be adjusted, or there would be something else the doctor could do that would prevent this ever happening again. (I don’t think he’s quite come to terms with the fact that things are going to get worse.) They played phone tag that day and the next, and he became increasingly frustrated. Friday evening he called me in a total fit because he couldn’t get the answering machine to work. I said I’d bring the girls over for dinner and fix it.

We arrived with pizza in hand to find the kitchen and some of the rest of the house coated with greasy black soot. He’d told me nothing about the kitchen incident — I thought I was going to solve the answering machine problem. I would never have brought the girls, let alone food, into that setting had I known.

Josie’s eyes got huge and filled with tears. “I don’t like this, Mommy. There is something wrong here and I’m scared.” Robin went instantly into “cope” mode, in which she is totally amazing. She comforted her sister, found a relatively clean place for us to eat, loaded and ran the dishwasher.

Meanwhile I pieced together the story from Dad, and went in to the bedroom to talk to Mom about it. “Mom,” I said. “You had a lot of smoke in the kitchen, I see.”

Her response? “Really? Wow!” And, later, “am I supposed to be feeling somehow responsible for this?” (Days later, to me, “you know, your father hasn’t been himself lately. I think he had something to do with what happened in the kitchen.” If by that you mean saving things from being much worse, Mom, then yes. Yes, he did.)

Long, long story short: the house was cleaned by specially trained professionals in a process that took two weeks. The stove could not be salvaged. Insurance company hassles were minimal, but not zero.

Also: my mother has been admonished by her doctor not to consume a bottle of Chardonnay along with her medication in the evenings. This falls in the category of “things you don’t think you’d have to say out loud,” but evidently it was necessary. She’s been pretty good about it since, as far as I know.

Rick and I are doing our utmost to convince them to sell their house and move to an assisted living community. Stay tuned.

 

Summertime — and the living is… different.

Our first week of summer was sort of disorienting, with no particular reason to know what day it was and no specific time to have to get up or go to bed. We had a holiday weekend, a full moon, a sleepless night with Dad in the emergency room (he is fine, and more about that later), and an intense storm complete with tornado warning thrown in just to keep things feeling weird.

Robin’s first week at “nerd camp” coincided with Josie’s interlude between school and musical theater camp (lord help me), and my time between work projects. A few days adrift hasn’t been a bad thing, but now I need a new rhythm. For one thing, my nascent exercise routine will have to be nascent all over again.

While Robin had a terrific week living in a dorm, piloting an ROV, and studying “Strength of Materials” and other things, Josie had a terrific week being an only child at home. We had a shopping day and got her sneakers, socks, shorts, a new watch, and a new bike helmet. As usual, she chose “boys” sneakers and “boys” socks. She used to get all pissed off that the stuff she likes best usually says it’s for boys. If a salesperson asked if we needed help, she’d tell them exactly what she thought of it. Now resigned to society’s stupidity about gendering stuff, she just goes for the colors she wants without much grumbling. However, if there is ever a price difference between “boy” socks and “girl” socks, I have a feeling we’ll be speaking to the store manager.

We also stopped in a store called Five Below (like the Dollar Store, only everything below $5). I had never been in and was curious. Josie was up for checking it out. We went in, and each drifted around to whatever caught our eye. Pretty soon Josie was back at my elbow. “Mommy, we need to get out of here. What kind of store sells fake poop?!”

On the way home from our errands, I looked over at her in the passenger seat and thought, OK, a 6th grader. Not little anymore. Right. It’s not like I just realized how old she is, but she just did one of those jumps that kids do. Same kid… same kid… same kid… new kid. All of a sudden her little-kid-ness isn’t on the surface anymore. She’s big.

Robin just did the same thing – the teenager emerging where the big kid used to be. Not just in the sighing, in the way she says “…okayyyyyyyy…” when asked to do any little thing around the house, but in her long limbs, her posture, and the way she hugs me. She’s giving those hugs, not reaching up to indulge them. We went to the beach for July 4th fireworks. I told the girls to put on long pants and a sweatshirt. Robin came downstairs in a panic: “Mommy! All my pants are too small!” She’s grown two inches. When? When did this happen? These pants fit her a month ago. I guess that explains where the pancakes go.

I know I’m boring you. Every parent says the same stuff. But still.

In case you are still reading, I shall close with a rant about social media:

People have been Tweeting and Facebooking about Cape Cod summer holiday weekend traffic as if it is some kind of horrifying new and unforeseen phenomenon. Some of these people have brains in their heads, but they are acting like morons. It is July 4 weekend. Yes, westbound traffic on Sunday is terrible. Remember Thursday and Friday, when eastbound traffic was terrible? That was your clue that westbound traffic would be terrible Sunday and Monday.

You might as well be surprised when the sun rises every day. “OMG, look at this giant ball of fire in the sky! This picture was taken facing EAST at 5:30 AM.” Comments following: “OMG. Awful.” “When I looked, the fireball was getting HIGHER!!!” “Someone should do something about that. Giant balls of fire in the sky are just stupid.” “Thanks, Obama.” For the love of Pete, Cape Codders, knock it off. You are smarter than this.

And now to the summer schedule. Jumpstart that exercise routine, hit the lake for swimming and sailing, get in some campfires at the beach, avoid left turns when possible, lie low on weekends. Life is good!

In which Robin hates everything except her friends, then doesn’t, then does, then doesn’t, and goes to nerd camp.

Yesterday, we brought Robin to Advanced Studies and Leadership camp at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. It’s a terrific program, serving about 200 7th and 8th graders from public school districts on Cape Cod. For three weeks (coming home on weekends), they’ll do a mix of STEM-related classes and activities, a humanities course, team games, music-making, and all kinds of other stuff.

Robin and her friends call it “nerd camp.” They couldn’t be happier or more excited. They’re living in dorms, and assigned roommates not from their own town so that everyone gets to know as many new kids as possible. It’s right on the Cape Cod Canal. A dorm is a dorm, but the view from this one is pretty cool.

I am so proud of her and thrilled for her to have this opportunity. It’ll be the first time she’s been away from home longer than overnight, so a major step for our family, and particularly for her sister. The girls have been fighting lately, which is unusual for them.

Robin can be bossy (first child…), and her emotions can get out of proportion when people don’t behave as she wants them to. Josie can just shut down and refuse to engage. They each get how they get, and know when to give each other a wide berth. But lately, Robin’s been picking fights, and overreacting to things even by 12 year-old girl standards. And the mood swings… omg. Yesterday she was screaming and crying about how she hated everything and nobody understands or listens to her. Ten minutes later she made us all oatmeal cookies. Today, she picked the same fight with Josie as yesterday — ending in the same screaming and crying and self-indulgent wallowing outrage as yesterday, saying how she’s DONE. DONE! with having a sister. Then she asked if they could watch a TV show together.

I think (warning: amateur psychology ahead) that a lot of their fighting has to do with getting ready to be apart and miss each other. It’s easier to be OK with a separation if they’re not feeling so happy together, sure. But more than that, both girls are at developmental stages where each is beginning to see and define herself in the world apart from her family, and apart from her sister in particular: I am like this. You are like that. I am not like that. It is OK for me to be away from that. In fact, I don’t even like that very much, so there.

All normal, I think, but it’s exhausting.

As much as we’re going to miss Robin and the house will feel incomplete while she’s not home, we could all use a break from the whole tween psycho routine. I have whiplash from following the mood swings too closely. I can’t wait to hear how nerd camp is going when she comes home for the weekend, by which time I hope to be out of my neck brace.

Baselines

A friend joked with her forgetful mother on Facebook. She said, “how will we know it’s Alzheimer’s, Mom, if this is the baseline? LOL!” Good-natured family banter ensued.

I thought about my own mother, and her diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. Mom’s diagnosis was an aha! moment. A lot of things made sense in retrospect. Now I know why she was so extraordinarily hostile and disoriented after surgeries. Now I understand why she insists she hears neighbors talking about her, and says such hateful things about them.

But what about the behaviors that have always been? Rick and I shake our heads over this sometimes. How could we know it’s dementia, if this is the baseline? Our mother has always been kind of dopey when it comes to anything managerial. She’s always been self-centered and lazy. She’s never been great with the truth. She’s oddly dismissive of Rick to this day — he doesn’t even take it personally anymore. She’s always said mean things about neighbors, and been critical of our friends to the point of embarrassing rudeness. (These days I just tell people ahead of time to be prepared. When it happens, they sort of blink in astonishment, then remember I’d warned them, and don’t experience it as a direct hit. Later I say, “told ya.”)

Maybe — especially if you can’t imagine saying such things about your own mother, or if your mother has passed on and you’d give anything for more time together — you’re thinking I’m being too hard on her. Maybe you’ve met Mom and think she’s a lovely person, which she can certainly be. There are people she doesn’t cut down behind their backs. I might even be one of them. (When people say to her “you’re lucky to have such a great daughter so close by,” she says “It’s not luck. It’s management.”)

I try not to be hard on my mother for the hollow satisfaction of it, but I don’t feel inclined to make excuses for her, either. She’s got that part covered. A very indulgent therapist in the 1980s encouraged her to “set aside feelings of inadequacy and guilt.” At the time, I would have preferred she focus on being less inadequate and guilty, but what did I know. I was a child, and some of her inadequacy and guilt affected me in ways I am just beginning to understand, as a mother of daughters myself.

My daughters’ childhoods are several orders of magnitude happier than mine was. Maybe mine was several orders of magnitude happier than my mother’s, and maybe with more insight, I’d achieve a gentler mindset. As truth-challenged as she is, there’s no point in asking for it. I piece together clues as they come.

Sometimes, when the clues make me realize, deduce or remember things about my childhood, I am furious anew. I am nowhere near being able to write about what these things are. But what do people do, with anger at their mothers? When they realize, as parents themselves, how much power there is in that role? When they look back on parts of their childhoods and think, how could you. How could you?

Probably, they see therapists.

I am always heartened to see women hanging out with their moms, each enjoying the other’s company. It shows that it’s possible. It means everything to me that my daughters and I should have that when they are grown women as well. I tell them I’m not perfect and try to own and improve on my shortcomings (except for swearing. I can’t seem to clear that particular hurdle). I include in our “prayers” every night a request to the Universe for help being a good mother to them, because they deserve the best mother I can be. They deserve it.

Only my mother knows whether she was the best mother she could be. I seem to have turned out all right, even if sometimes I feel broken (and I don’t imagine many people get through this life without feeling that way sometimes). I don’t hate her for her limitations, but I don’t have to respect her for how she’s addressed them, either.

And now, it’s hard to know where her personality leaves off and Lewy Body Dementia begins, which is both funny and sad.

Hot flashes (no, not mine) and other things for the birds.

On the way to visit my parents this week, I picked up a rotisserie chicken at BJs for their dinner. If they like it, I will do that more often. It’s quick and easy for me, and considering they mostly eat prepared or frozen meals, it’s relatively inexpensive for them ($5 for a whole cooked chicken? You can’t beat that with a stick). I threw in some of the ginger snaps they love from Trader Joe’s. (I don’t know if my parents ever eat any vegetables but that’s one of the things I file under “not my problem.” If my 85 year-old Dad never wants to eat another vegetable again, I’m not gonna make him.)

When I entered their house, Dad was sitting with his head down on the kitchen table, complaining of a “hot flash.” He said he’d woken during the night and the heat had been turned on. He knew Mom did it, and he kept trying to get her to say that she’d done it. Mom, never a big fan of admissions of truth, denied it and kept trying to get him not to obsess over how it had happened. It was certainly warm in the house. She said she’d turned it “back down” to 72F. Great. I got Dad an ice pack, and set the thermostat to 70F. The a/c came on: sweet relief.

I put the chicken in the fridge, and spied a bag of Romaine lettuce that had been left out since whenever they’d had groceries delivered. “Shall I put the lettuce away, Mom?” “Sure, in the bottom crisper.” The bottom crisper was already occupied by a sad, tough loaf of white bread dated December 7, possibly of 2013. That is where things go to die. So I’ll give the lettuce a couple of weeks, then retrieve it and compost what I can’t use.

I paid the bills, then at Mom’s request, tried to help renew her driver’s license online. Turns out the RMV won’t let her do it. In fact, they’re planning to revoke her license if she doesn’t attend a driver retraining class. Evidently she’s racked up an unacceptable number of moving violations. Mom is a terrible driver — not due to age or illness, but for as long as I can remember. I’ve been nervous about her driving since I was 6, and have never allowed my children in her car. So, she’ll go to driving school this Saturday. Maybe the instructor will remember her from last time.

The December 7 bread came home with me, along with a tote bag full of books about Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography and other such nonsense. Mom has always liked buying books about doing stuff more than actually doing stuff. Week by week, I’m chipping away at this lifetime’s accumulation of worthless print via my local library’s donation shelf. I hope they’re making some money off it at the weekly book sale.

Josie took the bread when she got home from school, and happily threw it (“like Frisbees!”) to the crows in the woods. “Did that come from Grandma’s?” she asked. “Of course it did. Where else would you still find bread from December,” replied Robin.

Where, indeed.

Visiting Mom and Dad

I spend a few hours each week at my parents’ house, usually on Mondays. (For someone with a memory disorder, routine is key.) This week I went on Tuesday, because Mom and Dad had back-to-back dentist appointments on Monday. All I can say about that, folks, is FLOSS. FLOSS WHILE YOU’RE YOUNG. The more you “hate the dentist,” the more you should care about flossing. Go floss. I’ll wait.

OK? OK.

When I visit, I bring my parents lunch, pick up prescriptions, pay the bills, change light bulbs and batteries, and fix whatever random things needs fixing. (It’s a mystery to me why there is almost always at least one light bulb or battery that needs replacing. In decades of home ownership, I don’t think I’ve replaced as many bulbs and batteries as I have since I started doing it at my parents’ house.) And, of course, I hear what’s been going on with them, and help where I can.

Mom’s been having auditory hallucinations again — she is convinced that the next door neighbor’s son is watching her every move, and she hears him narrate everything she does. She says he killed his “gay lover” in the backyard, and now he’s going to kill her and my Dad. She says he watches her with stolen binoculars. In real life, this is a nice kid who just graduated from college and wants to be a priest. Mom has, on occasion, called the police to report his evil plans. The police check in with the neighbor. The neighbor calls me, understandably beside herself. I try to calm everyone down.

The hallucinations are so real to Mom that she does not feel safe on that side of the house. She relates them as if they are real: “he said,” not “I heard him say.” When I point out that he can’t see through walls, and there’s no way she would be able to hear him speak, she can perceive that it’s her brain doing this to her. But, it still does it to her. Her psychiatrist has instructed her to double her dose of the medicine that’s supposed to keep the hallucinations at bay.

In the meantime, she said, she came to the kitchen this morning and saw a skillet in the sink that had obviously been used to cook scrambled eggs. She said she had no memory of having cooked or eaten the eggs — the whole experience was a blank. “Well,” said Dad,”you should probably add that last night also included you drinking an entire bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and singing along to Burt Bacharach’s Best during the PBS on-air fundraiser.”

So, yeah. There’s that. I hadn’t the heart to tell them that based on the empty carton in the trash, the sell-by date on those eggs was in February. The damage, if there was any, had been done.

Most weeks, I end up bringing something home from my parents’ house. This has become kind of the fun part — you never know what it might be (especially if I’m making progress cleaning out the kitchen). For a long time, it was garden hose. My Dad had an astonishing amount of garden hose stored who knows where, which he parceled out to me in 25′ lengths over a period of about 6 months. Aaron and I were pleased at first, because our own hoses were wearing out, and Dad’s arrived just in time to save us buying new ones. As more hose appeared week after week after week, we went from delighted to baffled to mildly inconvenienced to actively trying to pawn it off on our lovely neighbors, who are enthusiastic gardeners who know other enthusiastic gardeners and seem to find homes for such things.

There have also been countless little cardboard boxes filled with tiny things about which Dad says, hopefully, “maybe Aaron can use these?” Fittings and connectors and adapters and washers and bearings and screws… the detritus of a lifetime’s puttering around a workbench. Aaron, fortunately, is just the guy to sort through all this stuff and put a lot of it to use. To say he’s handy is the understatement of the century. To say he’s frugal is also inadequate. Best, though, and what makes me proudest to be married to him, is that he understands. He makes a point to tell Dad when one of the little thingamajigs has served some critical function without which we would all have been lost for sure. This makes my Dad very, very happy. We are making those moments happen whenever we can.

Today’s haul included a Canon printer/scanner/fax machine, which Mom says was “broken.” As near as I can tell, whenever Mom’s computer stuff doesn’t work for any reason, her “computer guy” advises her to buy new stuff, and she does. All I ask is that she not give her computer guy the old stuff, because often there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it. I fully expect the Canon to be humming away productively in our home office as soon as I plug it in. That would be cool.

I also brought home open containers of All Bran cereal from the year 2000, instant coffee from 2009, and Quaker oats from 2003. It was Josie’s turn to take out the compost, and she was not thrilled.

It turns out some friends aren’t “forever.” And it turns out that’s OK.

According to daysoftheyear.com, today is “Best Friends Day,” which makes it as good a day as any for this post, which has been brewing for a while.

I’ve been letting go of an old friendship – one I once described as a “best” friendship – that isn’t healthy anymore. ­­­I can be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to this kind of thing. Sometimes things aren’t right for a long while before I realize that hey, this shit needs to stop (see also: husband, former). I think in my relatively dumb youth, I burned too many bridges out of carelessness or callousness – too lazy to do the heavy lifting that being a friend sometimes entails – so now in middle age, I’m reluctant to let fall even the ones that have had giant orange “CONDEMNED” signs on them for years.

My friendship with Jane has, if not a “condemned” sign, at least caution tape strung across it. It took years for me to see how out of balance things had become — to realize that I wasn’t just being used, I was being used up.

I had been reluctant to say, “hey, it hurts my feelings when you do [this thing she kept doing], would you please stop?” – and then one day I finally said it, just as clearly and specifically as I could… and it made no difference. So I said it again. And she did it again. Lather, rinse, repeat…  and finally, I thought oh, I see, now. There is no room here for my feelings. It is OK for me to let this go.

Still, I fretted. I told some other friends a story or two to get their take on it. They said, dude, that is not how a friend behaves. I’d gotten so used to thinking of Janie as the definition of “friend” that it took me by surprise to see that by objective criteria, she’d not been that to me for a very long time, and that when I need a friend, I don’t call her.

It still bothers me. Years ago, she’d been a dear and true friend, and I am not a “what have you done for me lately” kind of person. It’s been hard to give myself permission to let this friendship fade into friendly acquaintanceship, but I’m coming around to it. It’s liberating, in a way. What a relief to let those calls go straight to voicemail instead of answering with a kind of dread: what is going to be drained from me this time? How am I going to be dismissed in return?

It seems I’m not alone. Over the years, Jane’s other friends have dropped by the wayside, some backing away slowly, others cutting off contact as if with a machete. While validating, this does not make my best self feel better. I maybe should’ve been able to find a better balance. All these years, though her physical and mental illness, through her marriage and divorce, I’ve been her unconditional support – and it turns out that “unconditional” was a mistake. I should’ve had conditions, and the first one should’ve been to put my own oxygen mask on first, just like they say on airplanes. My allowing myself to be disproportionately used is just as much to blame as her doing the disproportionate using. It took two of us to get where we are.

Which is where, exactly? Well, I don’t intend to tear down this bridge. Time may make some repairs, the caution tape might come down, and Jane’s life and mine could reconnect on healthier terms. For a while, though, I’m going to heed the warnings, and quit crossing at my own risk.

And they’re off.

The girls just left for school.

Robin goes first, about 7:30. Packing up her things, she was talking about an art project she’s working on at school, a watercolor painting. She was telling me about how she experimented with different dry/wet brush techniques and how they affected the intensity of the colors she’s using and how she did something that she imagined would have a particular effect but it didn’t, instead it made some of the colors look sad, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually kind of cool, it’s just not what she thought she was after, but now that the painting has that look, she’s actually happy about it because it gives her a more complicated feeling when she looks at it. In real life, that sentence went on for probably 12 minutes and ended in the front yard with “…and I should probably stop talking now BYE!”

Josie leaves later, especially if the weather’s good for walking — the way her bus route is, it takes longer to ride the bus than to walk the mile to school. Today, she’s walking. She put on raincoat with hood up, rain boots with pants tucked into them. I looked outside at the sunshine. Looked back at her. “I don’t care!” she said. Okey dokey, kid. Off ya go.