On the ropes: Refers to a boxer on the verge of defeat who has been knocked against the ropes and kept there by the opponent’s offense.
Round 1: November 2012
In this corner, my mother, age 81. Her former 5 feet 2 inches have shrunk and settled to around 4 feet 11 inches. She is shaped like a question mark. No one knows what she weighs because she can’t stand long enough to step onto a scale. In the other corner, me. Her youngest daughter, age 54. My original 5 feet 3 inches are currently intact, weight about 130. I have a lot of muscle, except where my mother is concerned.
We are in her kitchen, recently remodeled. She shows me the floor plans, the neat figures comparing the costs of different appliances, the notes about the “renovation consultant” and the contractors. She touts the new range, refrigerator, dishwasher, all sleek and surgical gray. She bemoans the fact that her budget did not allow her to replace the microwave or the cabinet fronts. It did allow for cork floors, which she cannot stand on, and granite countertops, which she cannot reach from her wheelchair.
We are not arguing. We are not agreeing, either. She has too much stuff, boxes and boxes of it piled everywhere, in the closets, around the perimeters of rooms, in the garage. She loves her stuff, her talismans of safety and security. Unknown talismans, I think, since many of the boxes have not been opened in almost 20 years.
“How do you know there’s anything in there that you need?” my practical daughter self throws an opening jab, a test of my mother’s mettle and range, what she’s willing to fight about, or not. [End Page 15]
“I just know,” she huffs. “They’re my things.” Things. Lifelong code word for “items I consider important and I don’t have to explain why to you, missy.” I need my things. Don’t touch my things. Did you girls get into my things?
I don’t remember how old I was when I realized that my mother was fonder of her things than of her family: her parents, her husband, her children. Things were beautiful (if someone didn’t mess them up). Things didn’t disobey, didn’t make emotional demands. My sister, always able to go unblinkingly to the heart of the matter, once said, “Mama likes Daddy and Granny and Granddaddy and us. But she loves her Ethan Allan.”
My mother wants me to start going through her things. She wants me to take them to my house. I tell her that I have my own things, from my own life. This is not the answer she wants to hear. Her lower lip trembles and her eyes fill with tears.
I say, “Maybe I can take the box of dishes in the garage.”
She says, “Seven boxes. They should fit in your car.”
One moment, I am ahead in the count. Before I know it, I am on the ropes.
Standing eight count: When the referee stops the fight and counts to eight, to determine if a boxer can continue fighting.
Round 2: December 2011
After my partner of 22 years moves into nursing care, I take a long look at myself and don’t much like what I see. Lack of sleep, eating at odd hours or on the run, the occasional walk for exercise after a long day of work, the endless details of caretaking, the struggle to navigate my partner’s decline. If someone were to ask me, “Do you run?” I would reply: “Only if something is chasing me.”
After my partner moves into nursing care, an entire village of people performs the caretaking that I used to do on my own. I move into a space that is smaller, more manageable than the one in which she and I lived. On Christmas Eve day I unpack boxes, move shelves, and stack the sheets in the closet. I don’t cry until I am in church that evening, sitting next to a friend who insisted that I get out of the house...