Displaced from a second failed marriage, I slinked back to my parents’ home, with two sons, taking a front row seat to Tony’s distress and ultimate decease on New Year’s Eve night of that year. The holidays tiptoed in the background, outshone by his demise.
Contrary to previous anticipations, I didn’t revel in the spectacle.
Although warranted by the disease’s debilitations, admission to a full time nursing facility was financially inconceivable. Because he worked ‘under the table’ most of his adult life, never paying in Social Security or Medicare, he was ineligible for disability or Medicare coverage; Mama’s salary disqualified him for Medicaid benefits, yet, it did not meet the expense of private health insurance coverage for him. Maintaining her full time job, she nursed Tony, the best she could, at home, hiring a local retiree to sit with him during the day. His mother, sister and I rotated sitting in the evenings, accommodating her visits with Eric at the nursing home; Mama slept in the recliner, at his bedside, every night, tirelessly completing the twenty four hour a day regime.
Awkwardness from childhood, virtually a living being itself, fought for survival as I joined the communal efforts tending to my step-father, ruthlessly recapping his transgressions, but it never stood a chance in the face of Shy-Drager Syndrome. The disease demanded intimacy, stripping him to helpless dependence, disrobing me of harbored bitterness. There was nowhere for either of us to hide.
As I heaved through diaper changes, his sense of humor flourished, initiating fits of gut wrenching hilarity for us both. Imagine, if you can, me, at 110 pounds, attempting to man handle roughly 200 pounds of limp body weight, over to one side, strategically using my elbows to hold him in place, while cleaning his rear end of a perpetual seepage of poop, and like a magician, trying to extract the dirty diaper and replace it with a fresh, clean one in one fell swoop, before any more poop made its appearance from his uncontrollable bowels, or I fell to the floor from exhaustion first.
We laughed at ourselves, and each other hysterically, defying all logic, consecrating our newfound bond in his shit, literally.
Our relationship culminated, not long before his death, during one of my afternoon shifts of sitting, as I spoon fed him a pureed meal. With tears swelling and porridge dribbling down his quivering chin, he arrested my attention, looking me square in the eyes, and slurred “I’m sorry”.
Those two words will never bear the significance they did that day, when spoken to me, by him. He didn’t expound on what he was sorry for, not that he physically could have; maybe he was apologizing for dribbling his food, maybe he was apologizing for pooping on me, it didn’t matter.
His apology, the way he delivered it, covered everything.
For the first time in my life, for just a little while, I honorably felt like the ‘Bully’s Little Girl’.