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twenty years on - The Literary Exhibitionist
twenty years on

Today I am reminded of how the passage of time creates a gulf between actual reality and remembered reality -- a phenomenon that really affects everyone. For instance, I've thought for a long time that my mother married Bill 13 days after meeting him in person. Well, if you're to go by Mom's own testimonial posted online only five months after their marriage, it was actually 11 days. And how long was it after they met online? 33 days. Mom actually mentioned that number specifically this past weekend, and she was remembering it correctly.

So, consider this: no one bats an eye at the idea of marrying someone you met online in 2017. They wouldn't even have in 2007. Hell, Shobhit and I met online in 2004, and even then no one really thought much of it. But in 1997? That's a whole different story. Also, even by today's standards, marrying someone barely more than a month after meeting them for the first time -- let alone 11 days after meeting them in person; after all, people can be very deceptive online -- is genuinely insane. That's the part that remains crazy: marriage so quick. It's no longer crazy that they met online, per se. In 1997, though, both elements of their relationship were massive cause for concern.

How could Mom possibly know he wasn't some kind of psycho? Well, as we all know, the rest of us did finally meet Bill. I quickly came to the decision that he couldn't possibly be a murderer because he was too dumb to know how to do it with any efficiency or agency. I used to joke that he'd probably try to bludgeon her with a Nerf ball. Twenty years later, I should now clarify that although I still think Bill is insanely naïve, misinformed and in a lot of ways ignorant, I do not at all think he is stupid, like I did when I was 21.

That Nerf ball reference has never stopped haunting me, though. Between October 1997 and May 1999, I wrote a personal newsletter that several people actively requested I send them (in much the same way I now send my photo digest emails), and I wrote something in the January 1998 issue that got me into big trouble at the time. You can even find it here, most easily by doing a search on the page (keyboard command Alt+E+F) for the word "Nerf", but I'll just share the pertinent passage here:

I stayed the entire week with Danielle, the first time I went home to Spokane and did not stay with any family members. My mother's house is much too dirty and I'm not comfortable yet with her recently-acquired oversized (and overstuffed) Nerf Ball of a husband.

Okay, here's my lame attempt at an excuse for doing something so objectively stupid: I was 21 years old! Brain development doesn't even stop until 25. (I did not know this until many, many years later but whatever.) If I were thinking at all, I would have considered the fact that Darcy, one of Mom's best friends, was one of the people I send this newsletter to. And she got very offended on Mom and Bill's behalf, told Mom about it, and what followed was an email exchange in which Mom said probably the most horrible things she has ever said to me before or since. And this was after our relationship barely survived my coming out in 1996, followed by Mom and Bill's crazy-fast marriage testing our relationship to nearly as significant a degree in 1997. Now it was 1998, and we were going back to square one. Mom was especially vicious in her email attacks, understandably upset and defending her husband, but having no regard whatsoever for how she was speaking to her son. To be fair, I had little regard for her feelings when it came to how I was writing about Bill.

But here's the irony: Bill was the one who tried to keep her from attacking me in response to my stupid behavior, and he literally laughed about it and thought it was funny the moment he heard I had called him a Nerf ball. To this day he loves to bring it up, and says something about my once calling him a Nerf ball nearly every time I see him. He did was when I was there last December. I think the only reason it didn't happen this past weekend was because I saw so little of him; he came out of the bedroom for only a few minutes on Saturday evening and was only out long enough for the pictures I took of everyone on Sunday afternoon. That day he was otherwise pretty distracted by all the company. There was never any chance, this visit, for any real conversation with him, and honestly that's fine -- conversations with him are reliably frustrating anyway, for different reasons.

That said, I posted an entry in 2006 about a renewed appreciation I had for Bill, after noticing how much he truly cared for Mom, and how happy he makes her. I sent Mom the link so she could read that entry, and Bill brought it up several visits later, telling me how proud of me she was after reading that. It was interesting to hear that, since Mom never gave me any direct feedback about it at the time I sent her the link. I have to say, I'm still glad things worked out for them, contrary to any expectations by anyone besides Mom and Bill themselves in 1997.


Mom and Bill have lived off disability, as far as I know, for at least as long as they have lived in Wallace -- and they moved there in 2003. The disability in Mom's case stems mostly from chronic pain issues after different surgeries in both the late nineties and, I think, the early 2000s; Bill's, on the other hand, stems from his near-fatal car accident in North Carolina in 2000. He smashed face-first into his windshield because, of course, he was not wearing his seatbelt.

A lot has happened in the intervening years, particularly in the second half of the 20 years they have now been together -- huge, life-threatening incidents for both of them: Bill was hospitalized from sepsis in 2012, and was still in the hospital when I visited at Christmastime that year; he was barely able to speak for many months after that due a tube damaging his throat, and was not to be let out of the rehabilitation center in Coeur d'Alene until he could eat solid foods again. I took Mom to see him there, and that was the only time I saw him that visit. (Incidentally, that was my second trip to Wallace in 2012, the first being the last time Shobhit came with me, until he came again five years later -- just this past weekend.) Then, of course, Mom had her stroke two years later, in the summer of 2014, and then had her period of inability to talk, for different reasons: as opposed to Bill's physical throat damage, in Mom's case it was brain damage.

Medically, the two of them have weathered a lot. They both contend with countless ailments stemming from countless sources (although I believe in Bill's case they pretty much all can be traced to the 2000 car accident), and I wouldn't ever be able to enumerate all of them. They both have continued chronic pain issues, although in recent years it seems Bill does much more so than Mom; Mom is always up for going out to eat, and Bill coming out, depending on the pain in his foot, is always a crapshoot. They seem to appreciate it when I order pizza to be delivered (although last December, because of the massive amount of snow, I had to go and pick it up), but I like to get them out of the house whenever I can.

Between 2003 and 2009, I visited Wallace once a year. That changed in 2009, when Mom expressed an interest in having a Christmas party, and it was Holly, then working as their Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) worker, who was so delighted that Mom was even interested in doing such a thing that she really went out of her way to convince me to come -- going so far as to offer to drive out to Spokane to pick me up at the airport should I fly over, since I did not want to drive over Snoqualmie Pass in the winter. Although this was still three months before Shobhit moved to New York, he did not come on this trip because he was visiting India at the time.

And then, hoping to make the "Christmas party" a tradition, I kept coming back every December, in addition to my usual springtime visits -- that first party was never quite replicated, but most years we had one or two other people around. Usually people working for the state who help take care of Mom and Bill in one way or another, but they take what they can get. I've been back every December since 2009. It was only 2015 that I did not bother coming twice; I did come for Christmastime that year, but never did come in the spring -- a choice I decided not to make again. When I came for the Christmastime visit in 2015, for the first visit in a year, I deliberately stayed three nights instead of the usual two in an effort to make up for the one-year absence, and wound up deciding three nights is one night too many in Wallace. I'd rather stick to the two-night visits twice a year. That's about all I can take.

The years since 2014 have been interesting, and, somewhat depressing. Mom improved dramatically from her stroke by 2015, but it does feel like she's slightly re-deteriorated every time I've seen her again since then. She gets confused sometimes, and also has tried to insist she's remembering something from the past correctly that I know to be totally wrong (that it used to snow a lot in Olympia, for instance -- no, it didn't). There was a couple of moments while playing Cards Against Humanity last weekend that she lost sight of the fact that it was her turn and what it was she was supposed to be doing. It kind of had the hallmarks of slight dementia, but they were both relatively fleeting moments, and as I already mentioned earlier this week, the vast majority of the time she was able to play the game just as well as the rest of us.

I still think having her oldest son, who is now 43, living with her and being supported by her, is not the best thing for her -- far from it, at this juncture. Hopefully Christopher can figure something out soon. I am very concerned about him, to be sure, but I am no less concerned about Mom. The whole thing is clearly very taxing for her. I go over there to visit now and often find myself wondering what future visits are going to be like, what kinds of new needs Mom and Bill are going to find themselves having, what kind of resources will remain available (neither Shobhit nor I can ever get over the irony of the degree to which Mom and Bill both rely on state resources that the Republican establishment they fervently support would happily eliminate), and what, if anything, I'll be able to do about any such changes.

For now, all I can do is keep coming to visit as usual. I know Mom appreciates it, and I do it for her. I remain grateful that she has Bill the rest of the time, even if he does apparently spend most of his time in the bedroom, often playing online games all night. But whatever, as always, whatever works for them, right?


They no longer have any teeth, but they still have each other.

positive energy please