Fairness Is The Devil’s Promise

I was at the library yesterday, writing and generally minding my own business, when I overheard a grown man at the checkout desk say, “But it’s not fair!”  

I did not hear what the librarian said back to him. I really wanted to but alas, her words were lost in the noise of the crowd. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that libraries have become boisterous social halls these days. Talk about not fair.  

Scene inside the library at lunchtime. No one can shut up.

You know what else isn’t fair? Life. Or, at least it seems not-fair to us mere humans, with our lack of understanding of so much of our existence. Disease isn’t fair. The distribution of wealth isn’t fair. Bad people winning and good people losing, not fair not fair not fair.  

I eventually left the library and went back to work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy and his complaint. Uttered to a librarian, no less. What could possibly be not fair in a library? You take what you want, for free. You bring it back when you’re done. Sure, they fine you if you’re a day late, but what’s so unfair about that? You knew the due date. It’s perfectly reasonable. Dammit, I wish I’d heard the rest of that conversation. 

Here’s a conversation I did hear: later that afternoon, my phone rang. Dad’s nursing home. “Hi, Melissa, no reason to panic, it’s nothing bad,” said one of my favorite nurses. 

Me, when they tell me not to panic.

“Okay,” I said. “What is it?” 

“Well, your dad fell out of his wheelchair,” she told me. “But he’s fine. He was trying to pick up potato chip crumbs. You know how he gets.” 

I do know how he gets. If there is a crumb or a scrap of paper or straw wrapper anywhere on the floor, he must clean it up, stat. I pictured him, leaning out of the wheelchair with no sense of his own tipping point, then tumbling to the floor, an old man, fallen.  

For whatever reason, at that very moment I thought of one of my favorite scenes from Frasier. Frasier, trying to prove that Michael Keaton’s wheelchair-bound character is a phony, pushes him out of said chair just before a phone call proves him wrong. Later, Frasier talks to his father about it.

Frasier: Now there was a lesson learned. 

Martin: Yeah, don’t throw a guy out of a wheelchair. Who knew? 

And so I laughed. I’m sure the nurse was a little confused. What kind of person laughs when told that her elderly father has collapsed to the nursing home floor? 

Well, me, I guess. I laughed just as if she’d called me up to tell me a really good joke.  

“He’s not hurt at all,” said the nurse, possibly panicking herself. Perhaps she thought now it was I who had fallen. Into hysteria. “Him and his cleaning though, huh?” 

I laughed more. God, someone stop me.  

We eventually hung up, and of course I stopped laughing right away now that I didn’t have a horrified, misunderstanding audience. I wished very much that I could tell my mother about this. I knew she’d think it was funny. We might have laughed about the time Daddy fell down the stairs trying to save my sister and me from a burned out light bulb, or the time he fell through a warehouse roof after being told very specifically to not walk there. We’d have laughed about these things because we didn’t know what else to do. Some things are too sad to cry about.

While I was at it, I wished my dad weren’t in a nursing home wheelchair at all. I wished I could tell him and my mother both about this crazy dream I had, in which she was dead and he was too feeble to pick up a potato chip crumb.

I wished for a librarian to whom I could say, “But it’s not fair!” 

I wondered what the librarian would say back to me. Maybe, “If you don’t have the 75 cents today, you can just pay the fine next time.” That is, if I was able to hear her over the loudmouthed jackasses at the table behind me.

So. I could pay the fine and move on, or I could stand there all day whining. My choice.  

Fair enough. 

To My Kids: In Case of Dementia, Read This.

Hi kids. If you are reading this, it must mean that the dementia finally got me. That sucks. For me, certainly, but mostly for you because your minds, unlike mine, are presumably still functional enough to see what’s happening. I know how much it sucks because as you may recall, I’ve been in your shoes when my dad had the same disease. Which, obviously, is exactly why I’m writing this: we can call it an Advance Dementia Directive. It is not, as you might suspect, simply because I am bossy and rather particular in my tastes.  

Actually, it is that. But it’s also because I want you to have the guidance and advice that Pap Pap never got to give me.

So here you go. Please don’t treat these requests as optional. I do believe in life after life, so follow these recommendations or suffer the wrath of Ghost Mommy. I dare you!

Ghost Mommy may have lost a few pounds.

1.  Feel free to laugh at me, if I do or say something funny. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. It doesn’t matter if I meant to be funny, it doesn’t even matter if I understand why you’re laughing. I will not take it personally and my confusion will not linger. Laugh. It’s about the only good you will get out of this, so take it when you can. 

2.  Soft clothing. I don’t care if it looks like a tablecloth or set of curtains. For that matter I don’t care if it is a tablecloth or set of curtains. If it’s soft, I will wear it. Dress me in jeans and you’ll be checking under your bed every night for the rest of your lives, and trust me, haunted-mommy-under-the-bed will be way uglier than even early-morning-trying-to-finish-writing-something-but-you-two-won’t-quit-arguing-over-a-Playstation-game-mommy. 

3.  Nursing homes might try to tell you that I have nutritional needs. I do not. Their only goal is to keep from getting sued. Tell them I must eat what I like and if that means all of my meals include pureed cinnamon rolls, so be it. I’m not going to get any healthier. Let me have the goddamned sugar. 

Extra credit: push me uphill in a wheelchair while carrying a man bag.

4.  Very important: socks. I HATE WHEN MY SOCKS ARE BAGGY AND FALLING OFF MY FEET. Please, I am begging you, make sure my socks are tight, but not so tight that they cut off my circulation. You know what, I’m just going to buy my own socks. I’m going to start stockpiling them now, then I’ll attach them to this letter and you can tell all my grandchildren, “You know, this is just like Grandma! Always solving problems! Always living her best life!” And so on. 

5.  Come to see me. At the very least hologram yourselves into my room, as I’m sure that will be a thing by then. 

6.  While you’re there, make friends with the other residents. They’ll be happier for it and so will you. 

7.  On days you can’t make it, hologram a Tom Petty concert into my room and follow it up with Prince. I’ll make some playlists. I don’t want to hear any of the songs I don’t like. If I cry while listening to those songs, know that you have done well. 

My room at the nursing home.

8.  While I’m on the subject, hologrammed Golden Girls episodes would be super-fun; either that or perhaps there can be some kind of virtual reality (perhaps one of you can invent it!) where I’ll actually be in a Golden Girls episode. With cheesecake! It’s a dream come true.

9.  You can bring your kids to see me if you like, but it’s not required. HAHAHAHAHA! You’re thinking, WHAT??? Not required? Then how come WE had to go see YOUR DAD all the time? I’ll tell you why, it’s because you were good kids and you knew it was the right thing. If you’re raising little hellions that refuse to visit their grandmother, that’s your problem, not mine. 

10.  If I become mean or otherwise not myself, know that I love you. 

11.  When I seem distant and disengaged, know that I love you. 

12.  When I say things that don’t make sense, know that I love you.

13.  When I stare out the window instead of smiling at you, know that I love you.

14.  When I don’t know your names or who you are at all, know that I love you, KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU. 

15.  Lastly – if your father is the one to get dementia instead of me: well, it’s hard to imagine nice socks and Golden Girls holograms will keep him happy. Maybe send him into the woods with antlers strapped to his head. I don’t know.

Just kidding. Be nice to Daddy.

We both love you.



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