What to Do

You’re lying on the cool wood floor of your dining room, beside the china cabinet, almost under the the table, in the fetal position, sobbing, moaning “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” Forcing tears, to underscore just how mystified and helpless you are. You are stuck. Damned. 

Upstairs, she’s glowering in her death-approaches, steroidal madness, sharpening her arguments about how subtly and grossly you suck. “My brother would have looked out for me properly. He would have saved me. He’s just more empathetic than you.” And you’re sure that just one more of these battles will be destroy everything. One more badly made bed. One more poor parking job. She remembers them all with steroidal ferocity, and your inability to remember, your desire to willfully deny is infuriating her. Your mistakes have gone down on your permanent record. (Except you know that it is not permanent, but that’s not the release you want.) She sharpens her most cutting argument: either you’re incompetent, or your negligent, and either way, you’re dangerous and useless. You’ve slammed doors in her face. You’ve come late from dinner. You’ve colluded with doctors. (Never mind that doctors have no interest in how crazy the steroids make her.) 

You lie on the floor and tell yourself the worst thing: you don’t know what to do! And that means you aren’t who you thought you were. You didn’t have the answers after all. The problem is too big. How to love and care for a wife on steroids fleeing from death into the arms of death. So you cling to the mantra (you never dared share with her) “not her, not me.” The rage doesn’t come from her, and it’s not directed at me. But the mantra’s intellectual, not visceral. You lose it in the moment. You try to defend yourself. “How do you think it makes me feel when you compare me to your brother?” 

“Fuck the way you feel, it’s the way I feel that we’re talking about. I’m the one who’s dying. You’re good at some things, but empathy isn’t one of them.” You know she’ll disown it by nightfall, or by morning. And you’ll let her. But you’re growing weary of the marathon to hell. You want it to be over. No, you never want it to end. 

So you lie on the cool floor and bellow “I don’t know what to do!” Then you do what you know. Step out the door. Have lunch with a friend. Cry over sushi. Head for the canyons and walk off into the live oaks under the eternal LA sun. Walking, walking, where you know what to do. Stomping angry on the way up. Exhausted, calm on the way down. Thankful for LA traffic delaying your return. Then stepping back across your own threshold and into the mixer. Will it be a day? A week? A month?

Rages come every few days until she begins to run out of steam. They cost her, too. And you know that you will miss her energy when it’s gone, and some part of this mess will become the good old days. And you don’t know what to do about that either.

I Learned from My Mother

How Are You?