I railroaded my dad into letting me move in with him this past September. It seemed like a good time with COVID and lockdowns and my continued journey with chronic Lyme. The original plan was to sell my house, move in with dad for a while, and later on, move to Costa Rica. Then came COVID and a radical change in plans. I kept my house. Katie is living there and taking care of everything. Keeping the house was more of an emotional decision than purely financial. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem like a good time to take risks.
Isolation was wearing on everybody by this point. I had stopped writing, unable to draw on any of the emotional and mental strength writing requires. I was sick of Lyme, sick of COVID, sick of myself. There was no life-guarding or teaching swim lessons.. Airbnb had ground to a halt. Strangely, none of these things particularly bothered me. Trying to help dad solve his everyday problems with his computer, or his phone, or some mail he received, that bothered me.
It would have been about time to go for a visit without COVID. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I should be down there for a much longer stretch of time. Not anything concrete or pressing, just a feeling that we could, and should help each other through this time.
My best friend Laura ( I can say that, right, Laura?) needed a break from sheltering with the four males in her household and offered to drive me down to Tucson. We set out the day after a freak September snowstorm and arrived in Tucson late in the afternoon the next day for my 14 day quarantine. Our first place was a tiny condo across the street from dad with NO WIFI. I cannot stress this enough. NO WIFI. We got another place and saw my dad every night outside with masks on.
I moved in the house on the 15th day. Dad had cleaned and moved his office out of the room next to my bedroom. This visit was very different from earlier ones. We were going to co-exist for a long time. I truly appreciate his willingness to turn over parts of his house to me, allowing me to make them functional for myself. There was another person in the house, though. My mom has been gone for ten years. Most everything has been left the way she liked it. I helped dad go through a LOT of her things after she died, and we got rid of the things that accumulate in illness and old age: blankets, medical equipment, assorted kitchen things that haven’t been used in years, and knickknacks that must have meant something to someone at some time. We never really moved any of the furniture., though Dad had moved a few items out of his bedroom and rearranged the den and his office, but that was it.
This was more cataclysmic. My mom was precise. Not house proud, exactly. Everything had it’s place for both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes and it was to be kept like that. I felt like I was thirteen again, rearranging my room late at night, knowing mom would not be thrilled.
The kitchen was where I started first. Dad, like many widowers, had adapted to a simple kitchen routine: coffee, OJ, English muffin and sausage for breakfast, granola and milk or a sandwich for lunch, and either crackers, cheese and fruit or a frozen dinner for dessert. He used few of the many things in the kitchen. I started small, rearranging the pots and pans and cleaning out the pantry. Then I forged ahead and went through the cabinets. So many mysteries! Why were there so many mismatched storage containers and lids? Why did we have three candy thermometers? And the biggest mystery of all, why did we keep spices from at least the 90s?
There must have been about thirty containers. I took a photo of some of them. Note the labels and prices. When was the last time you saw any spice for .57¢?
After I cleaned out the spices, I found it easier to change things in the house. I’ve rearranged my bedroom and office. I’ve added plants. The pantry and the fridge are well-stocked, just the way I like it.
We do pretty well, all things considered. Dad’s small retirement community has been and is very isolated, the threat of COVID moving through the community a powerful impetus to not gather or go out. Zoom classes don’t come close to filling that gap. Sometimes, like in my Spanish class, it highlights the differences in how people act during COVID. The three people under thirty have done the bare minimum in terms of isolating and social distancing. They talk about their travels and adventures while the three of us over sixty listen. We don’t do much at all, except go to parks or drive to pick up groceries, or go to appointments that can’t be avoided.
Sometimes I get frustrated when I see how differently people act during the pandemic. I can’t work up too much anger, though. I would probably do the same if this happened when I were much younger. It seems to me that it’s easier to hunker down at home and keep busy when you’re older.
At any rate, I can’t control what other people do. I can only control me. So I write, read, hike (a LOT), cook, clean, and keep trying to learn Spanish. I get depressed, I have relapses. I try not to think about when everybody else goes back to normal and I’ll still have Lyme to deal with. I think about letting go of the illusion of control to gain control, a futile, koan-like pursuit that so far, has not given me any intuitive enlightenment or tranquility.
I have done everything that I can do to protect myself and Dad from COVID and from the crushing loneliness self-isolation brings. Next week the Australian Open begins and we’ll watch tennis together, something we’ve both missed far more than I would have thought pre-COVID. We’ll continue to do our best to get along. I’ll ponder the fact that I have become my mother about many things. And then I will return to what I’ve learned best in the last six years with Lyme: the full-time business of coping.