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This mountain that's in front of me...

About 13 years ago, my baby Peyton had to be hospitalized for pneumonia and RSV. Which begs the question: What happened to RSV? You never hear about it anymore. Did they come up with a vaccine? Anyway, I was so afraid. I held him the whole time he was there, only occasionally setting him in that scary cell-like metal crib to go to the bathroom. I held him in the chair all night, waking every two hours as the respiratory therapists misted albuterol into his tiny lungs.

Several years later, I lay next to his hospital bed tossing and turning on an awkward and uncomfortable plastic cot as he tossed and turned in pain awaiting an orthopedic surgeon to re-set his horribly broken and displaced arm.

Those were my two worst hospital memories.

Then, a week ago, after several days in the hospital, I had to take my mom to a nursing home. Although, she is only there for short-term rehab, it's still a nursing home. While it has clean rooms, beautiful surroundings, a state-of-the-art rehab facility and some very kind employees, the halls still smell of urine and people moan and yell unintelligible things. The food is delicious, but many of the patients and residents still drool and spill it all over themselves.

When we walked into the room, I watched my tiny little mom's eyes grow wide and fearful as we surveyed the room occupied by one other person who stared vacantly in the opposite direction of a blaring tv. For what seemed like an eternity the unfamiliar and unpleasant smells and sounds and reality of the situation silently settled over us before my mom piped up, "Do you think she needs the tv that loud when she isn't even watching it?" I swallowed the vomit that was rising in my throat, and my sister found a remote and turned it down.

It has been a few days. Her roommate was sent back to the hospital. She is kind of settling into a routine. The dining hall is reminiscent of a middle school cafeteria. The more...aware...female patients eat at one table--they are the cool girls. The next table is filled with men who aren't drooling. Then there are a few more tables with people who are.

My mom sits with the cool girls (plus one's husband.) They ask every day, "Do you remember what we ordered for lunch?" "No, do you?" "I think I ordered lobster and shrimp." "It's a surprise every day!" The couple is 96 and 91. The wife told me in her thick German accent that they met during the war, when her husband was a handsome army captain. Then she implored the nurse's aide to give her a little booze in her coffee. They're adorable. In the twilight of their life. She said, "You're sooooo young!!" When I tried to slide the menu to her to see, she said, "Oh honey, I'm blind."

Yesterday, one of the gentleman at the men's table attempted to lure me to his table by telling me how delicious his apple juice was. I smiled and told him that was wonderful. He said, "If you come over here, I'll give you a kiss, and you can taste it."

"You're a rascal," I said, "Does that line work on many girls?"

He nodded his head so vigorously that his teeth came loose and tumbled onto his plate, and I had to look away. But every time I looked up he winked at me. I told my mom to keep her distance as he was evidently a ladies man.

In the past two weeks, my daily schedule has changed in a way I never imagined. My house is so quiet, and I miss my mom giggling and gossiping on the phone. I wish that she would pull into the driveway with a car full of groceries just when I sat down to eat. I reassure her that she is getting stronger every day, and that she will be coming home soon, but I'm scared and worried and wish that someone could reassure me in a way I actually believe.

My friends ask if they can help, but I don't how to ask or even what I would ask for. Could you please, ummm, maybe try to be me for awhile so I can curl up in a ball in my bed and cry and pretend this isn't happening because I don't want to be a grown-up and deal with this shit? How do you ask for that? And even if I could find a way to ask for it, who the hell in their right mind would say yes? The only person I know how to ask for help is my husband, but somehow even those requests sometimes get lost in translation, and the help he offers is not what I really wanted or needed.

Today, I cried for a long time. For a really really long time. Ugly self-indulgent sobbing. The cats watched me, heads cocked to the sides, like What. The. Fuck? I cried for myself and for my mom and for my friend who just lost her mom. I cried for my other friends who are going through similar situations or worse and for all those who are gonna go through it. I cried for the fictional characters on Parenthood. And then I got dressed and put on lipstick and more mascara so I can flirt with that old man. And I remembered what it's like when the first step in your makeup routine is putting Preparation H on your swollen eyes.


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