555 words. That’s the game.

555 words.

That’s the game.

555 words a day for 90 days makes a book.

The idea for the book is that I discover the idea for the book.

Yesterday, I created a kitchen that is spotless, almost. I spent the day cleaning it — taking everything out of every drawer, throwing away what was too old to use, donating to Goodwill what somebody else could use, and recycling what could be recycled.

And then, late last night, I discovered three drawers, just to the right of the sink, that I had forgotten.

So why did I forget these drawers? There’s a reason for that. It’s no accident that I cleaned the entire kitchen, including some really grimy shit in places the eye never goes that have never been cleaned (the tops of the cabinets above the stove). I had to stand on the countertop, with my knees bent, my head against the ceiling. It required a scraper.

And then there was the top of the refrigerator!

Yet, I did not clean these three drawers — easily accessed and easily cleaned — beside the sink.

Why?

The answer is inside the drawers.

The top drawer contains plastic grocery store bags. What are they used for? Absolutely nothing. My wife uses reusable bags when she goes grocery shopping. I forget to take these, so I get the plastic bags from the store. When I get home, I throw the plastic bags away — thereby polluting my planet.

When I lived in England, in the ‘70’s, they didn’t give you bags at the store. You brought your own. And here, we waste for the sake of waste because we can.

When I get home from the store, I don’t put my bags in this drawer. Why not?

Because it’s full! It’s overflowing! It’s a little landfill, inside my house! A little place with items that will never biodegrade — taking up prime real estate in our kitchen and on our planet.

Filling valuable space in my kitchen with toxic waste.

Filling valuable space in my life with toxic waste.

Down from there is a tool drawer. We have a place in the garage for tools, but every so often, I need one. So I bring the tool in the house, use it, and return it to the tool drawer. So now there are few tools left in the garage. And the tool drawer is overflowing.

Need a hammer? A screw driver? Start digging.

The other drawer is full of items that get used by the tools. A couple of screws. Nails. Leftover parts from installing a towel holder or a mini-blind. Stuff that’s almost useless but sometimes a life-saver.

If I feel like digging.

Start digging.

Digging for tools. Digging for nails and screws.

Digging for a bag that will eventually be buried in a landfill that no one will ever dig.

Digging for my life.

And for some reason, I don’t want to do the digging.

There must be something in the drawers I don’t want to find.

Something I’ll find that reminds me of something I don’t want to remember.

The picture wire for the picture I never got hung.

The clamps I borrowed from my dad and never returned.

The caulking I got for the bathroom that never got caulked.

The putty I got for the window that I never got fixed.

The things I did not complete.

The drawers represent a life of incompletion.

So I stop. Let it sit. Incomplete. The drawer that could be the easiest of all. Incomplete.

Do I want a life of completing things and moving on, or a life of digging and wondering where it went?

a mother without words

I did not visit my Mom today.

Most every day I stop in — if only for a few minutes.  Sometimes I stay awhile.

Today, I was busy from the moment my feet hit the floor until late — and never made it.

Her Alzheimer’s has progressed, and her ability to speak has rapidly diminished.

For quite some time now, uttering a sentence has taken on the difficulty of balancing a chemical equation.  Her efforts have sometimes born fruit, but most often give way to mute frustration.

In the past few weeks, she’s hardly said a word.

It’s not important that she talks — or does not talk.  That’s not why I visit.  These days, it takes all of her energy to take a step, sit-up, open her eyes.  So I don’t aggravate her frustration further by trying to get her to talk.

But when those rare, fleeting, audible moments happen, they are special surprises — and big moments in my life.

In order to speak to her, I have to bend over, get fairly low, and look up.  She tends to keep her head down, eyes pointed straight down at the floor (if they’re open).

A couple of days ago, I got in her face, as I was leaving, and said, “Bye Mom!”

She said “Where are you going?”

This was quite a lot for her these days.

A few days before that, I said, “I love you, Mom!”

She said “I love you…”  Then she uttered another sound.  I’m pretty sure she strained briefly to remember my name — and quickly let it go.

I visited her two weeks ago, on my birthday.  I think I’ve talked to my mother on each of my birthdays — if not in person then by phone.

Last year, on my birthday, we had a little party at her house that included her, my wife, and her caregiver.  We brought a cake.  She knew it was my birthday and joined the celebration.  We had dinner and I blew out a lot of candles.

In past years, she did what most mothers do:  she made a point to tell me how happy she was that I was born, and shared a few awkward details about my life as an infant.

In fact, I think this was the first birthday of my life that didn’t include an enthusiastic commentary from my mother about the virtue of my existence.  I always found this talk rather uncomfortable, tuned out most of it, and now remember few of the details — although I remember the gist of the message quite well.

This year, I knelt in front of her, looked up, and said, loudly, “Hi Mom!  Today’s my birthday!”

“I forgot,” she said.

My mother had been quite a talker.

I’ve spent much of my life waiting for her to finish talking so that I could move on to matters more important to me.

How many times did she tell me to get a master’s degree?  Hundreds.  I never did.  How many times did she tell me to get a job?  Many.  (Even though I’ve always had a job; one job was never enough for her).  How many times did she tell me to stop chewing my shirt?  So many.  (It’s a habit.  I’m chewing it now, as I type).

How many times did she help me with my writing — offering insight and critique that only she could provide?  Every time I asked.

How many stories did she tell?  That would be like counting the leaves on a tree.

Alas, those are only memories now.  She was a person who did not withhold her opinion.  If she thought she knew better, she said so.  Now, by not speaking, she’s teaching a different kind of lesson — probably the most valuable of them all.