Sunday, February 7, 2010

Newton's Third Law

“Étude pour Poe” by Leonor Fini

Grab your book and sit down, kid. You’re not going anywhere any time soon. They’ve got you practically locked up with Grandma at home. And you didn’t understand what was happening at first, but the truth is slowly showing its hideous face.

Grandma’s dying.

And they’re not doing anything to stop it. Not only that – they’re “helping her” to die faster. They’ve got her stashed away in the coldest, darkest room in the house – the one with no windows. And they’re not feeding her, anymore. They do it to you all the time – send you to your room with no dinner. Just so they can “teach you a lesson.” If they can do it to you, they can do it to her. Nothing to eat. Nothing to drink. Starve. Dry out and shrivel like a snail pulled out of its shell and slammed on the pavement.

Your. Mom. Is. Killing. Her. Mom. And you wonder if you’ll have to do the same to her, one day. Kill her by starving her. I’d never do that, I hear you thinking. But never say never. Life has a way of making us do the unspeakable, kid. If push comes to shove you’ll do it. And push will come to shove when your future wife tells you she’s had it with wheeling your mom around everywhere and taking her out to the park and taking her out to the clinic and taking her out so she can fill her prescriptions and cleaning up her shit and yadda yadda yadda. You’ll be up against the wall. And you’ll know your mom will be gone soon anyway, and that she’s nothing but a bag of bones with a persistent heart, so you’ll figure you might as well take everyone out of their misery and pull the plug. Not that you’ll literally pull the plug. Or maybe you will. If there’s a plug to pull, you’ll pull it. Like I said, life has a way…

But that’s not the problem, right now. The problem is that Grandma is confined to her bed and you know she doesn’t like it one bit. You know she can hear them whispering about her in the hall. She breathes through a tube and pees into a bag but she can still hear like a barn owl. And most of the time they don’t even bother to step out in the hall and do their talking. They just stand right in front of her and talk about her in the third person like she’s already dead. The will and the estate and the dwindling health insurance and the deed for the house and so on. And she can’t talk back because she’s got that damned tube stuck down her throat. And you always happen to be in the room when they do that. And it spooks the hell out of you when they start with it because Grandma always sticks out her little hand that looks like onion skin speckled with brown polka dots glued around a handful of bones and clutches your wrist. And she looks at you with a tear beading in the corner of her left eye like she’s saying You won’t let them do this to me, will you, Mikey? Remember all the good times we had when you were a little boy? Remember when your mom had to pack you out of your house because you were moving and you stayed with me for ten days and I baked for you and we sat out on the porch and had cookies and milk?

And sure. You do remember. You remember Grandma’s house that looked like an illustration out of a fairytale book with her white lace curtains and her French windows and her rose bushes and the sound of the straining hinges on the swing on her porch and the ladybugs that liked to hang out at her windowsills and mushroom quiche for breakfast. And you remember Grandma tucking you in at night because you were afraid of the monsters under the bed. She’d tucked you in without making fun of you and told you she was going to sit right there until you fell asleep. No monster will ever come near you as long as I’m alive, she’d said.

But, nothing lasts forever, kid.

Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love, they tell you. It’s one of those hard facts of life. And they always make it a point to add, Grandma can’t make decisions for herself, anymore.

You’re only fourteen but you know all the hard facts already, because you’re always the one that ends up with Grandma while they’re all out "taking care of business." And it’s not like you hate having to babysit Grandma, because you do remember all the times you’d been a bad boy and Grandma had never said a word to your mom. So you don’t mind it in the least. You don’t even really mind the smell of disinfectant that’s supposed to mask the smell of human waste but ends up smelling like disinfectant trying to mask human waste. It’s just that when you’re hanging out with Grandma, you always feel like you want to try and explain your mom’s behavior, or justify it, maybe. Or something. You know. Just to clear your conscience. And maybe help Grandma to feel a little better. But you know, deep inside yourself, that your grandma knows everything that’s going on, already. That Alzheimer’s may be creeping in and licking away small slivers of her mind, and she may be as ancient as a mummy, but her gut is as alive as it’s ever been. And your grandma’s gut is telling her some pretty evil shit about her daughter. Your mother. That woman who lectures you about morals. Ha – what a laugh! She lectures you about doing your chores so you can "earn your allowance," and then she turns around and starves her mother so she can get on with her own life. Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love.

And so you sit there with Grandma. And you wet her dry lips with a damp sponge because you know she's thirsty but they tell you she can't drink. And sometimes you read to her from Kidnapped while she stares at that right angle that connects the ceiling to the wall in front of her. And you don’t know if she’s really listening to you, but you keep reading, anyway. I’m doing my part of the deal, you say to yourself. And while you’re reading to Grandma, they’re at the bank or at the store or at the attorney’s office. And sometimes they all decide to go out and "do something social." Together. Your mom and her one sister and her one brother. And their spouses. And this is what happens today.

They decide they all want to go out and eat. And they decide they’re taking you with them. And you start to protest and make excuses. I’m not hungry and Who’s going to take care of Grandma? But they’re not listening to you. As usual. And you’re seriously worried about Grandma, because you know that she's terrified of being alone. But they’re worried about the fact that they’ve let you watch them for too long without stepping in and trying to explain what’s going on. And this lunch is their way of ganging up on you and “presenting the facts” in one whopping session.

They’ll start with the usual Sometimes we have to make tough decisions about people we love. And then they’ll move on to Grandma can’t make decisions for herself, anymore. This will be followed by Grandma’s going to be moving on to a better place. And then they’ll start to explain about God and Heaven and all those other words that you never hear them say except when someone’s pissed off at someone or something and they say Goddammit! or  Oh my God, I can’t believe this! or Good Heavens! Yes. It’s always exclamatory. But this time they’ll speak calmly. And they’ll tell you Grandma is unhappy but when she dies she’ll be happy again. And they’ll expect that to make you feel okay about what they’re doing.

So, you’ll all go to a burger joint. And everyone will place their order. Mom and Dad and Aunt Lisa and Uncle Brad and Jim and Alice. And then it’ll be your turn. And you’ll think about saying you’re not hungry, again. But you might as well order yourself a burger and some fries and keep them quiet. You’re going to have to learn to be wiley around wiley people if you’re going to make it in this big jungle, kid. The rules of the game are simple: Order burger and fries lunch with ice-cold coke. Make small talk with family members while awaiting order. Make eye contact with each person with whom you speak. Speak with confidence. When food arrives, pick up burger. Take one bite and chew well. Swallow down with ice-cold coke. Eat French fry. Make small talk. Take another bite of burger and chew. And so on and so forth. And then when they start talking about the whole Grandma business, which will probably come around your second or third bite, once they know they’ve got you stuck, you’ll want to tell them, “Grandma might smell like decaying skin and concentrated urine. But you guys stink to high heaven!” But don’t! Just nod your head like you’re saying, “I understand what you’re saying completely.”

Play the game, kid. And don’t let on. You haven't learned about Newton's Third Law yet, have you? The one that says that for every action there's an equal reaction? It's about matter, but the truth is, it works for humans, too. So just think about that every time you consider not going with the flow. These are some pretty messed up people. And you already know that they’ll do to Grandma what they do to you. So the opposite should be no news – they’ll do to you what they do to Grandma. And you sure as hell don’t want them thinking you can’t make decisions for yourself.


  1. All so real, Nevine. Decay and death are inevitable, yet we devise any number of ways to confuse the issue. So much left to learn.

  2. what a nightmare ... i remember when a very similar story happened with my grandparents 5 years ago . i , sure , was adult aread and didn't live with my mother when she decided to "adopt" then .
    well , any cruelty was made , but the feelings aren't difern't , i used to visit then on my mother's once a week and sleep over for be able to spend a little bit more of time .

    i was reading and remembering of your other works .
    you're the oposite of me . i am always writing on the first person of the singular . me myself and i .
    you always see the other people's side of live .
    that is the reason come to visit you here is a real jorney Nevine . to your feelings and the rest of the world too .
    have a great week !!

  3. so real, death, waiting....Ive been there recently.......Horrrible the decisions life makes us decide.


  4. if you were watching me....

    you seen the tear roll down my cheek...

  5. Its heart-rending. As I always tell you: You have the remarkable ability to present every person's thought from their perspective. I could never hear you speak through any of them, except the last part.

    I am confused whether to appreciate the lovely story or the story's creator. I think I like and adore both of them :)

    Joy always,

  6. Another wonderful piece of writing. I love your stuff Nevine...don't stop! :D

  7. Nevine, this is quite fantastic! You depict the circumstance from all perspectives, highlighting the conflicts and contradictions, deceptions and self-deceptions. This is one of your strongest pieces of writing! You've opened up something new and powerful in your work. Keep this going. This kind of vein is truly fruitful for you, I believe!

    Steph Fey x

  8. Such a human story. So real. So honest.
    We see all sides. This is like having a 360 degree view into the minds and thoughts of all involved, which is a totally refreshing read, Nevine. I agree with what Caio said. I love this aspect of your writing.

    Thank you for this breath of fresh writing (always)!

  9. Martin - I've watched so many "happy" families fall apart because of similar issues. I've watched dynamics in hospital waiting rooms, game playing, planning and scheming. It's frightening to see, and most frightening to realize that it's somebody's reality. You said it right about so much to learn... and first comes the step of admitting that we don't know it all or have all the answers.

    Turquoise - It is a sad reality for many, unfortunately. And thank you!

    Caio - It's a good thing there was no cruelty, but like you mentioned, the feelings of resentment are usually there. It's most unfortunate when the resentment translates into cruelty or other negative behaviors. And hey, sometimes I write in the first person, too. :-) I just like to experiment with going inside someone's head and talking to them. It's a cool experiment, and it makes me feel powerful. ;-)

    Steven - Yes, sometimes we do get stuck and feel like we have no choice but to make a bad choice. Maybe I wear the rose-colored glasses, but I'd like to believe there's always another option.

    Reaper - I hope you're not crying, now... :-)

    Susan - You make me smile and you fill my ego and you're just wonderful. I try to go inside all of the characters' minds and see what they look like, what they think like. I just close my eyes, and it's like I'm at the movies. It's fun to imagine, fun to write about. And then it's fun when you read it and enjoy it and tell me so. Thank you for always making me feel so special. :-)

    Akasha - So happy you liked it!

    Steph - I am so flattered, and thank you. I will try to keep it going, although I have to admit that this was a bit too dark even for my very dark mind. It was sort of a relief to hit the "Publish" button and release it from my system. But still, I do see what you're saying. And thank you much for the encouragement.

    Calli - And thank you for making me feel so appreciated. Your comment is a very high compliment, Calli, and I truly do feel it. You're awesome! :-)

  10. Wow, that was intense. Your words always have a physical effect on me. At the end of this I think I stopped breathing for a moment. Death is a powerful thing. When are we dead? When do they consider us dead? When do we consider ourselves dead?

  11. "They just stand right in front of her and talk about her in the third person like she's already dead."
    I lived that part too. I was 18 and I was on holiday at my parents' and my grandmother had been found after 3 days wandering alone in the woods, and we were at the hospital in her room and I would have liked to dare say to them:" just shut up!" But then if I had they probably would have beaten me!
    You know, my grandmother still lives in my heart and I will always be thankful for the love and caring she brought me.
    I hope I will be gone before my children have such nasty feelings in their minds*

    Fais aux autres ce que tu aimerais qu'on te fasse:)
    Bisous et à bientôt mon amie*******

  12. You move from the highly lyrical to the downright tragic so effortlessly that I never tire of reading you. It's almost as if you were a Hydra (broadly speaking) with multiple stories and yet a strong core.

    Your parents. They f**k you up, don't they? By the way that's the title of a book.

    I enjoyed this, nevine. I enjoyed it because it was raw and gutsy writing. I was in need of a post like this today. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  13. This one is really hard for me because I'm just kind of in that place now, of taking care of my dad. It was painful to read the viewpoint of the kid here. So hard to let go, when someone has been so close to you, and you want to point fingers when they are dying. You captured his (it sounded like a he) inner voice well.

  14. nevine there is so much in this.

    i was confused at first, almost horrified and then i saw the in betweens. the read between the lines.

    your voice is powerful.

  15. Nevine, sad and touching!! It pulled on my emotions (memories of my dad). So beautifully written!!
    Betty xx

  16. You punched me in the gut from the beginning and once I was quivering on my knees,you led me to think in your more tender voice that mercy might be at hand. Alas,I get to the end and there is no mercy. Raw, authentic writing that at the same time weaves a poignant sorrow along with it. Fabulous writing. Just fabulous.

  17. Eva – You ask all the valid questions. I think every person considers themselves dead at different points in time. But it’s always the consideration of others that matters most, it seems, especially if we are at their mercy. It’s always saddest when someone tries to determine our fate for us. I often wonder what allows people to think they can exercise such power over another? Probably the fact that they can exercise power. Scary…

    Crémilde – So this is an all too familiar feeling for you. I think this sort of thing happens more commonly than we even dare to think. And it always leaves me wondering about families that consider themselves to be close and “together”. I really do wonder… I think it is the hope of every parent that they will be gone before they become a “burden” to their children. An unfortunate but often necessary way to think. Gros bisous, ma chère!

    Cuban – You put it so plainly. Your parents do fuck you up and then you decide it’s okay for you to deliver the same… I’m so happy you enjoy reading my writing, Cuban. That does make me smile. :-)

    Cat – Isn’t it sad when you’re a kid and you have to watch such horror? And it’s also sad to be the child/caretaker of a needing parent. At some point, resentment and frustration crawl in, inevitably, and drive us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Yes, it was a he. :-) You do always get it, don’t you?

    Claire – Thanks so much for your comment on the voice… it’s always the most important aspect of writing, to me.

    Betty – So sorry to have brought back painful memories. :-(

    Judith – Sometimes there is just no mercy in reality. I know so many stories have happy endings, but the truths of life sometimes dictate otherwise. I’m so thankful for your appreciation of the writing, and I’m also secretly smiling at your having been misled into thinking I would relent… ;-) Thank you for your always energizing comments.

  18. Well, you've probably got grandmas everywhere boarding up windows and hiding in closets. I remember when my grandpa died after so many close calls. just stopped breathin in his bed. All the relatives got together, drank beer, played cards and laughed until someone at least went in and closed his eyes. I was a child but it gave me the creeps. Great writing. ~rick

  19. I volunteer at an elderly care facility when I was a teenager and there was an old lady there who only spoke the German of her youth. I think the nurses called it 'Twilighting' but despite this her mind was sharp and she would say over and over:
    "I educated you and gave you my youth and now you allow me to rot in this prison so I've devoted the rest of my days to praying for you to flaccid and have a painful death."
    It stayed with me and now this will too.

  20. so ironic this post now - this weekend my daughter was scheduled on a flight back home to visit her very elderly grandmother with whom she is very close but who recently, at the behest of her father and the other siblings, has recently been moved into a nursing home - the boy in your story could be anyone of my own children in terms of their caring for their paternal grandmother and the situation with that part of their family - sadly true, but true, nevertheless - so especially poignantly told this particular weekend - and notwithstanding the major snow storms/blizzard we have been hit with lately, lisa is determined to go "now" so sits in dc awaiting another flight after this storm - keeps saying she "has" to go "now" - we've all had that feeling at times, i think - anyway, your story beautifully illustrates the horrendous truth of many families in terms of their treatment of their elder relatives - and as always, so beautifully written!

  21. Dear N. this definitely tells about the experience of a lifetime...You know as everyone knows... Such is it.
    Oh-My grandma left behind there to death... I feel kinda guilty for that end of hers... :(

    Woman>>> You are UNIQUE!


  22. Reading this, Nevine, I felt all these fissures opening up, like mouths of madness parading as rationalizations. The enforced divide between mind and body, selfishness and empathy, memory and present. What an earthquake this boy has to endure, and reconcile, in his mind and heart. All alone.

    I really liked the cool, omnipotent narrator here. His voice reminded me of a gangster teaching the "new kid" the ropes. And your details concerning the Grandma are heartrending, in spite of his voice. Maybe more so because of it. None of us wants to be "business" to be taken care of, while our guts are still alive. The threat inherent in the final paragraph left me chilled to the bone.

    As always, your range and ability to slip on new skins never fails to astonish me! Wonderful work, Nevine.

  23. Beautiful and real. Selfishness is part of the human personality, the ego. Unconditional love is part of our nature. Going beyong the ego is the toughest job for us, human beings.
    By the way, I love your pictures...You are a shining Light...


  24. Rick – I’m so sorry to hear that; it’s too too sad. And to have had to witness that as a child… I can only imagine. But these things do happen.

    Simone – Even when the elderly appear to be “losing it”, even to diseases like Alzheimer’s, I’m always surprised at their instinctive astuteness. My heart just feels for that lady, though she has by now passed away, surely. Still, there are many like her. An unfortunate reality…

    Jenean – I’m so saddened by what some of my readers are sharing, here. But I realize that these are realities that do exist. Your daughter is a light in the darkness… she is the grandchild that sees what is happening and is trying to stop it. The good news is that Lisa is old enough to be able to make that decision without fear of a reprisal from her father. It’s very sad when the grandchild is a child and is afraid to help because the parents will used it against him or her. I hope Lisa makes it to her grandmother’s side.

    Dulce – Thank you for your sweet comment, Sweetest. :-)

    Sarah – I’ve always been both disgusted and fascinated by some of the rationalizations that children give for treating their elderly parents the way they do. Because I always aim not to be judgmental, I try to look at their side of the story, and I understand that children sometimes become burdened and resentful of the “duty” that they never expected or asked for. But still… how inhuman can some become in the face of this? I’m very happy to hear that the omnipotent narrator worked out… I was worried about trying to take on too much with that. Thanks for the reassurance, Sarah. I know I can always trust your judgment. :-)

    Lorenza – You put it so very eloquently. I think it is one of our biggest struggles, as humans, to overcome what our ego inflicts upon us. We are so challenged by our “self”, it sometimes allows us no room to express the beautiful person that is hiding behind all of that concrete. Thank you, Lorenza, for your high compliments. :-)

  25. a dark journey. a dis-mull existence. the making of a monster or a saint...

  26. This felt like a punch to the chest. I just found out last week that if anything happens to my parents, god forbid, I'll be the one charged with making that final decision. This piece really hit home.

  27. This is a true depiction of barely tolerating our oldest, frailest people in their last days.
    It is so awful because it really happens.


  28. Christopher - That's such a huge responsibility to have to bear. But I think that it comes to all of us, at some point or the other. All I can say is... I wish you patience... and good judgment!

    Secretia - Yes, it most certainly does happen! And it's so sad when it does...

  29. Nevine, this is frightening. You've written
    this so cleverly I'm feeling the same way I did
    when while reading '1984' so cold as if someone
    is walking over my grave.
    I kept hoping the boy would somehow stash away
    some of his food to give to Grandma. Horrid.
    You my dear are far too good!

    Nevine, when you have a chance please stop in
    my blog and read my dialogue with Eileen T.
    and leave a comment of your thoughts,if you
    will. Your sensibilities are so alive.

    Thank you.

  30. Thank you, Cynthia, for your insightful comment. "1984" was such a terror to read; I remember that experience quite vividly. And I'll be stopping by shortly... my pleasure!


Your thoughts are deeply appreciated.