Monday, August 22, 2011

Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo

When I was five years old my parents moved the family to a place called Kalamazoo, Michigan.  They bought me and my sister and brother shirts that said "Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo." They happily took pictures of us and sent them to their friends and family.  

My mother had never lived anywhere but the south...Alabama, Kentucky and Texas to be exact.  Michigan was a novelty, but to move to a place named Kalamazoo, they found that hilarious.  Kalamazoo was an adventure for the whole family.  A new career for my father and a new life for us with great lakes and snowy winters.  

The first few years were like a storybook.  We all went cross country skiing as a family and my parents went snowmobiling.  We picked berries, which my mom called dew berries and we were convinced they were special Michigan berries.  We picked them in the fields around our house and my mom made jam and pies.  During the summers we would spend long afternoons on the beaches of Lake Michigan which was 45 minutes away.  The rides to the beach were filled with card games and my mom playing her Alabama cassette tapes over and over and over.

Yes, there really was a Kalamazoo and it was god damn amazing.  Magical.  
Until, it wasn't.  

Now I go back there to visit my mother, who after years of living in California moved back to Michigan.  As I start getting closer to Kalamazoo, my stomach is in knots and my shoulders tense up.   

I never know what to expect when I visit my mother.  Many doctors are surprised she has lived so long considering the drugs she has been on for 20 years.  

My last visit was in January when her doctors called me and suggested I put her in an assisted living facility.  Now my sister and I have been getting calls for years now about how my mother has been admitted to the hospital for accidental drug overdoses, and many times we feared she would die.  My mother is the one that always said "mean people live the longest" and she seems to be proving that point.

When I rushed over to take care of my mother in January, I was very tense.  Earlier that morning when I was getting dressed, I decided I should put on a flower pin I had just made.  I wanted to wear it because it made me happy, it was a silly little thing, but I wore it like a badge of bravery.  I walked into her hospital room expecting the worst and my mother slowly propped herself up and said "well, well, look who is here."  She rubbed her eyes and said in a slurry, southern drawl,  "What is that on your shirt?  A wadded up piece of tissue?" She snorted.  Then she grabbed onto the nurse's arm who was checking her vitals and she pointed at me.  "Look at my daughter, she came in here with a wadded up piece tissue on her shirt."  She cackled and then fell back onto her stiff hospital pillow like it took everything out of her to insult me.  What the hell?

She continued to insult me about my appearance, how I don't have any money and how she couldn't believe I was the one sent to take care of her.  

As it turns out, you can't send someone to assisted living who won't go.  You also can't send them to a psych ward or drug rehab if they won't go willingly either.  This free country thing sucks sometimes!

I ended up running around the hospital like Shirley McClain begging for someone, not to give my daughter the shot, but to please take my mother off my hands.  The doctors told me she was an opiate addict with a probable mood disorder with nothing else physically wrong with her, so she would have to go home with me.  They took away many of her pain meds and off we went.  They were nice enough to give me several pamphlets on counseling services available for family members of drug addicts.  My mother was smug as I wheeled her down the hall.

When she is mean, ridiculing and spiteful it is so much easier to handle.  I can take it.  It validates all of my knots and tension, and frankly a lot of my issues.

The worst is when she is nice.  Like this past weekend.  I haven't been back since the January incident.  This time I took the kids and Tim.  Not sure what to expect we packed up for a quick weekend in the Zoo.

She had been ill the week before and was complaining about her doctor and how she needed to find a new one.  Code for...he is on to me and won't provide me with the correct pain meds.  I called Friday night before we left and she explained how she was just back from the urgent care where they gave her a shot of Dilaudid (a "mild" pain killer like morphine).  "Sooooo much better," she said in a sleepy voice.

When we arrived she was quiet and interested in my kids (that doesn't always happen).  This is the worst!  I look around her house and it is filled with silk floral arrangements, candles, ceramic angels, more candles, pictures, miscellaneous doo-dads and books.  "Is it too much?" she asked.  Um, yes.  But I said "Nope, if it makes you happy."  It makes me sad.  

Her closet is overflowing with brightly colored, be-jeweled shirts on hangers and on the floor, many with the tags on them.  When I saw her closet, my chest started to hurt.  The only people that see these shirts are her doctors and the young guys at the bank she goes to every other week.  

I found an old photo album laying on the floor and in it was one of those pictures of me, my brother and sister in those "Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo" shirts circa 1981.  My chest felt like someone was jumping on it, it hurt.  

My heart hurt for all the magic that was lost.

My mother called me into the room and begged me to take her to the urgent care for another shot because her legs were aching so badly.  But I have been through this routine so many, many times.  I calmly told her they would probably turn her away and she should just rest.  Surprisingly she did (she probably went in for another shot after we left).

Worried about how my children would respond to Grammy going through withdrawal on the couch, I suggested they play outside.  But Lucy climbed right up next to her and snuggled her, JT sat down and played with her dog next to the couch and Peyton told her he hoped she felt better.  Their special kid wisdom/compassion sense kicked into overdrive.  Without a big talk, without explaining "Grammy is a drug addict and needs to lay down," the kids understood what they needed to there and give her some love.

Maybe there is still some magic in Kalamazoo.  
But boy is it heartbreaking and heavy.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry she has that problem. I'm sure it's not been easy dealing with all of that. I remember your mom as having the sweetest softest southern voice and always a smile.
    I remember the berries too! We would pick them around our house and make pies too.
    I think your mom helped me to learn how to tie my shoe at a garage sale we had together.