They had planned to stay for two more weeks but dad wants to go back to Ottawa.  I don’t think mom wanted to go yet.  She was keen on staying till Diwali.  I was looking forward to that as well.

Left on my own Indian traditions and festivals are devoid of meaning or significance and Diwali, our most significant annual event, just celebrates an end of a king’s exile; an exile that ends in him banishing his beloved wife to exile again by first demanding a test of her virtue and then despite her passing the fire test believing that his people would consider justice having been served only through her banishment encore.

And yet, when my parents are around, when family is around, I can let myself get convinced of the larger aura or significance around this legend.  I like it when my Mom adds grace to my place with her faith, her prayers and blessings for my home and my family.  I am transported to a place where I can forget my solitude, where I can feel as though my outlines and colors are being deepened by some artistic super being , for a change, rather than being systematically erased.

I have been preparing myself for the drive back to Canada for four days now.

Visualizing an event and going over it in your mind takes the sting out of it, or so I believe.

So I’ve visualized getting in my car, packing the trunk with their luggage, gassing up at the Quik Check and then dodging radar wielding cops for 400 miles of dreary roads.  There will be 325 miles of driving before the Canadian customs will want to know where the passengers in the car live, why they are going to Canada, how much time they will spend there and if they are bearing any tobacco, firearms or gifts.  We’ll look them in the eye and answer all the questions truthfully and in the negative for tobacco, firearms or gifts.  Looking them in the eye saves time.  Shifty eyes lead to opened trunks and time wasting searches.

Then we’ll be on routes 401 and 416 for two hours.  Unexciting roads.  The speed limit says 100 km/h but Canadians will pass me by at 140 km/h, making me wonder if the OPP will write an American a ticket that has to be settled right on the spot for thousands of dollars or whether said American can also bump up her speed a bit.

I imagine I’ll be thinking these inconsequential road thoughts because the passengers in the car will be silent.  There will be an air of anxiety within the cabin.  Dad will be thinking about the ways in which his biological systems have repeatedly failed him since 1987 and how he has fought back each time and beaten all odds.  Yet the torturer in chief remains relentless.  The next hurdle in the form of an oesophageal ulcer and spinal stenosis in the C4 and C5 looms.

Mom will be standing on a fence of uncertainty; on one side of it the idea that the symptoms are psychosomatic and on the other side the thought that they are all very real and physical.  Her fence will tend to dissolve as thought progresses during the seven hour ride because the real, physical and the psychosomatic all build up to an inescapable and grave reality; yet another hurdle looms.  I’ll wonder at my actions from last evening when she shed silent tears while facing away from me.  I kept up a strange pretense, making small talk, as though I wasn’t in the least bit aware of the sadness, the anxiety, the steady stream of tears.  A part of me wanted to reach out and offer some comfort.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  Doing so would be an admission, it would hint at or underscore an inevitability.  I couldn’t let it happen, for the same reason that her tears were kept so silent, her face averted.  It isn’t a shared denial, it’s defiance and we know defiance yields results.

My daughter will be fiddling with her music or her video games while sensing the tension in the car, during this ride, not knowing what words could console anyone – an awkward age, one I remember well.

I’ll be singing along to really old tunes in an abnormally feeble voice because these times are not reminiscent of happier times, when a louder, happier voice was encouraged, when my singing was interrupted only by long stretches where dad enlightened me with the latest philosophical turn in his thoughts or talked about science or politics or human nature, when Mom told me about her childhood, when there were anecdotes and laughter.  This ride will feel as though there is a fifth dark passenger within.

This ride happens tomorrow.  I keep wishing for a reconsideration, a postponement.  It is unlikely.  I don’t care for my thoughts on this.  I don’t like myself very much when I find myself thinking that the biggest illusion some of us harbor all our lives is that our parents are the strong walls we can lean on.  We harbor this illusion for a very long time, even when we know it has shattered.

My dad is wearing his skin on his bones these days.  He leans back on the couch, eyes closed, forehead creased in a frown or he slumps forward, head down and spine curved in an arc.  My mom refuses to stop.  She is still active and agile despite her aches and pains, her frightening ailments – COPD being the worst of them.  But sometimes she doesn’t hear me.  Sometimes a joke doesn’t register.  I drift back through the time tunnel to stop and stare at those moments between us when she wanted to know all about my school day, my friends, later on my job, my bosses, when she asked questions and was relentlessly encouraging.  Now I expect the long conversations with them but I don’t get what I expect.

It is hard to accept that the time to be the eternal seeker of the only place where one could expect to hear the words, “Lean On Me”, has passed.

I am ashamed at the involuntary disappointment I feel.  I feel like a needy, sniveling, clinging child.  I am about to type that I don’t know how else to feel – there, I typed it- but this implies that I have always been a needy, sniveling, clinging child and they have tolerated me well.

None of this should be about me, about how I feel, about my resistance to the idea that Atropos is within, snipping away at the telomeres.

1 Comment

  1. There isn’t much to offer in terms of comfort, if a friend can in fact do such a thing. But if listening counts, I have listened. It’s also time to clock in a hug from across the seas..even though I will be thinking about these things you mention for a while to come, I will cringe when met with similar situations – which aren’t far – and feel disappointed at myself, too.

    It is so true that we harbor that illusion that our parents are walls to lean on. In fact, it is also true that it is the one illusion that unfailingly crumbles right in front of our eyes. I can’t accept that my dad is now a hunched-backed, hard-of-hearing, 80+ man, even when he is in front of me.

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