My mother was an incredibly strong, patient woman. She had to be to take care of my father, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis not long after they were married in late 1969, and to deal with me, a spoiled, sometimes very selfish meathead. But even she had her breaking point.
I’m not sure when it first happened – maybe it was at the tail end of my time in grade school, or maybe it was when I was in middle school – but I heard mom and dad get into a heated argument, likely over the fact mom was now the family’s breadwinner and dad was feeling sorry for himself about being laid off from his job after 16 years and wasn’t concerned about staying active, thereby further weakening an already frail body. I can’t remember mom’s exact words, but she told dad she was ready to walk out the door – alone – and never return.
Similar arguments occasionally took place over the next few years until we no longer were able to care for dad and we placed him in a nursing home in the fall of 1990. Mom never packed her bags and split, but her threats to do so always left me angry, sad, and scared. Everyone, including yours truly, says the wrong thing in the heat of the moment and immediately wants a do-over. But I always wondered if there was a smidgen of truth to what mom was telling dad. Deep down, did she really want to go away for good? There was no question her life was difficult, but was it really that difficult?
I’m now less than three months from turning 50. I’m married to an incredible woman I swear I fell in love with on our first date 19 years ago. I have an incredible 15-year-old son, Nolan, who continues to grow and develop despite having Autism and being nonverbal. We live in a great house in a nice neighborhood. We’re far from being wealthy, but we have enough to eat and decent clothes to wear.
And while I absolutely, positively would never vanish and not leave a forwarding address, I really do understand why mom might have been tempted to do so.
We’re coming off a rough week at the Bey house – not quite a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, mind you, but it definitely rated at least an 8.2 on the nasty-o-meter. As a point of full disclosure, the fact Nolan wasn’t feeling the best contributed heavily to most of the trouble. But it was the type of week where I would have had just cause to start drinking, taking amphetamines or sniffing glue. Read, and weep. Or thank the maker you weren’t me last week.
Monday: I got a text from Nolan’s teacher telling me he’d taken a dose of ibuprofen in the afternoon because he’d been crying and told her on his iPad his head hurt him. He hit the “go” button on his iPad just a few minutes into his music therapy session after school. He decided when we got home that urinating in his pants was easier than going to the bathroom, which led to him leaking on his comforter and bedsheets while I was finishing folding a load of laundry and Cindy was making dinner – which, in turn, led to sore knuckles on my right hand when I tried to follow Nolan’s lead and put a hole in his bedroom wall.
Tuesday: My bladder gave me a 2:45 a.m. wake-up call, and Nolan decided that 3:15 was a great time to start his day. Two large bowel movements and a meltdown later, he calmed down and we put him on the bus – which, we found out later, he didn’t want to disembark once it arrived at school. His teacher texted me in the early afternoon to tell me he’d bitten one of the paraprofessionals and had had a difficult day. I brought him home early, wishing I’d listened to my inner voice that had whispered quite loudly to call him in sick.
Wednesday: Cindy and I kept him home from school and agreed we’d let him sleep as long as he wanted. He was covered in poop when he did get up a little before 8 a.m.
Thursday: Really, bladder – before 3 a.m. again????? Really, Nolan – 3 a.m.????? On the positive side, he had a decent day at school, and I’m happy to report that no paraprofessionals were injured.
Friday: A dog chased me on my morning run. I forgot the paperwork for Nolan’s physical in my car when we arrived at the clinic, so we had to go back to the parking lot to retrieve it. Nolan smiled when we got to the car, opened the rear door and climbed in the backseat (Sorry, buddy – you actually have to see your doctor, and you don’t get to go home after spending only two minutes in the waiting room). His briefs were wet when we stopped in the bathroom, so he had to go commando for his appointment. I told him I had faith he could keep his pants dry. He peed in them, and also on the examination room floor, when his doctor tried to examine his ears.
Saturday: A planned trip to a city 1½ hours away for a sports card and memorabilia show went by the wayside due to a winter storm that was forecast to hit by mid-afternoon, but didn’t arrive until long after dark and ended up not packing the punch that was first advertised. In case you’re wondering, I would have returned home. Probably.
Functioning in a pandemic-stricken world has been difficult for everyone, but it’s raised my already high levels of anxiety into the stratosphere. Sleeping was difficult even before my one to two nightly trips to the john. The aches and pains in my body have grown much more noticeable. COVID-19 has deep-sixed the monthly winter flea markets and road trips to Minnesota that always gave me something to look forward to even on the most miserable days. Every day I read the news stories that show up in my Facebook feed and swear Jim Morrison was right about the future being uncertain and the end is always near.
There are times when Cindy and Nolan, the two people I love more than anything, suffer because of it. I snap at Nolan for something as trivial as leaving a blanket on the floor. I mutter under my breath and go to bed without saying goodnight to Cindy because I swear that she didn’t try to wake me up when I fell asleep on the couch even though she likely did multiple times. I wonder if, after all these years, I’m really cut out for this marriage and fatherhood thing.
It’s moments like those that I realize how incredibly stupid it would be to walk away from everything I have.
Cindy deals with an incredible amount of stress between her job, Nolan, me, and probably so many other things I don’t know about, yet she’s always there to encourage and reassure me that everything will be all right – tomorrow, next week, 10 years down the road – when I really need to hear it. One of the guests at our wedding wrote us a note at the reception reminding us to look into each other’s eyes and remember that night when times got tough. I truly understand why I love Cindy whenever I do that.
And Nolan? Last week aside, he’s done a magnificent job so far in his freshman year of high school, and I’m so very proud of him. Lately he’s gotten in the habit of taking my head in his hands, pulling my face to close to his and clicking his tongue. I’ve never heard him tell me he loves me, but as far as I’m concerned that says it quite clearly.
I’d like to think I learned a lot watching mom all those years ago. The pressure of being a wife and caretaker of a disabled husband was immense. She could have said “the hell with it” at any time, jumped in the car and left, but she didn’t. I know she loved us and believed she was where she was supposed to be, even on the worst days.
I feel the same way about Cindy and Nolan, and even after a very trying, rough week I can’t imagine being anywhere else other than with them.