Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

One Year Out

Even though I'd repeatedly reminded myself what today's date would be, I still managed to forget it until late in the afternoon. I was signing Skylar and myself in to the visitor's log at the nursing home where my mother is undergoing her latest rehab stint and stopped short when I came to the column under "Date". Since most of the people who had signed in recently had just put down empty quotation marks, I had to move my eyes well up the page until I saw "2/19".

And then I realized why I'd forgotten the date in one sense, while clearly remembering it in another. Because even though all I wanted to do today was lie down -- from allergies and a cold coming on, I told myself -- I had still made it a point to make it over to the home and, what is more, to make my under-the-weather daughter accompany me. For today was the one-year anniversary of my mother's terrible fall, which ended up hospitalizing her for over a month and whose after effects led to my parents moving out to Tucson.

The slip for the de facto anniversary dinner my mother had tonight

But that also meant that it was my parent's forty-fifth wedding anniversary. She fell last year in the morning, before she and my father had any chance to celebrate. And now she inhabits a reality in which marking events with dates seems pointless. Still, when I entered her room this evening I made it a point to say, "Happy anniversary!" Then, while she was eating her dinner -- lentil soup, chili, and watermelon, since she couldn't eat the default option -- I looked up what present one is supposed to give on the forty-fifth.

"Sapphire," I told her. "Make sure Dad gives you one." This piqued Skylar's interest and made my parents smile. My mother still remembers when she was married, but she won't remember tomorrow that today was her wedding anniversary. And she certainly won't be demanding that commemorative stone. But at least there was a moment of recognition we could all share tonight.

When Skylar and I got back home, her mother had returned from her latest overnight trip. I explained why it had been important to go visit my mother and then repeated the information later, while we were at dinner, but it didn't seem to register. Maybe it's silly to think that it would. Given that I inaugurated my newfound openness here on Live Journal with an entry titled "Anniversary Party", however, it seemed important to me that I make an effort to communicate what was special about today.

But I realized as I was writing this entry that this is another case where my perception of time differs radically from hers. Despite great stress at work and a strange array of health problems, the past twelve months have been decidedly positive for her. From deciding that she was going to commit to Tucson as her place of residence to making new friends to the intense build-up to her first gallery show, this arbitrarily designated year has seen her become a new person in many ways, one she is comfortable with as never before.

For me, though, the last twelve months have represented the most taxing part of my life. I've grown as a person, too, I think, but have yet to reach that place where I can look in the mirror and say that I'm happy with what I see. I'm trying hard to be less melancholy and, as a consequence, less invested in acts of commemoration. Sometimes, though, the only way forward passes through the dark places in one's past. And that's where I was today, forgetting the date that I'd reminded myself over and over to remember.

After dinner, I stopped by my parents' apartment to help my dad with a computer problem. I brought some dark chocolate and pistachio gelato from Frost for us to share and made sure to stick around for a while to keep him company. He was having trouble with the Metropolitan Opera's online brochure for the just-announced 2011-2012 season, which had apparently been redesigned to be iPad-friendly and was therefore very hard for a nearly eighty-year-old man to navigate on an old Windows machine with a balky mouse.

I managed to download a PDF and then scrolled through the brochure as he watched, writing down all the operas that will be shown in HD broadcasts at movie theaters and the date of their screening. This made him very happy, since the printed brochure he requested won't arrive for several weeks. Surely, it was a much better anniversary present for him than a sapphire would have been.

I thought it was interesting that he didn't remind me that today's date was special when we talked on the phone this morning and this afternoon. Maybe he didn't want to make me feel pressured. Or maybe he had mixed feelings about commemorating an anniversary that sadly now has a double significance. But when we were eating our gelato he did finally acknowledge it himself. "Last year at this time you were on the road from Louisville," he noted, which led to our getting out the map book -- long one of our favorite activities -- and tracing the route I took that awful night, not knowing what I'd find when I made it to the hospital, as well as the one I used to bring his two cars out from Maryland to Tucson later in the year.

That reminded me that February 19th was also the last time I had contact with a friend from whom I'd grown estranged, the one I mentioned in an earlier entry. Although we hadn't spoken in a while, I texted her on my drive that night, desperate for support. And she responded with words of encouragement, which meant a great deal to me at the time, seeing as how I didn't have anyone else to communicate with at that late hour.

At the time, I didn't realize that those text messages would be the last contact between us. But it seems fitting in retrospect. For whatever reason, the important dates in my life seem to accrete extra layers of significance above and beyond the ritual of annual commemoration. There's my birthday, which took on new resonance back in 2005, as I noted in a recent entry. And my parents' wedding anniversary, of course, which also happens to be the birthday of my best friend from high school. And, for the pièce de resistance, there's October 26th, the day on which I got married back in 1996 and on which Skylar was born two years later.

Sometimes I see the way my mother is now and wonder what it would be like to lose the capacity to make new memories or remember when to conjure old ones from the depths. It would make life a lot simpler from an emotional standpoint. But then I'd lose the capacity to excavate meaning from seemingly insignificant details. I went to look at what I'd written last year before my mother's fall and found that the entry I'd posted right before my flight -- I always try to do something a little special prior to a trip -- referenced one of my favorite Cure songs, "A Strange Day":

I was thinking ahead without a rational reason to be doing so as I titled this entry last year with a line from one of my favorite Cure songs

I've listened to this song a great many times over the years, but didn't fully appreciate its implications until I sat down at the computer tonight. The lyrics seem to describe a "trip" of the sort that dreams and drugs make us take. The surreal imagery builds towards the musical climax with the line I used in the post from February 18th, 2010. But then, right at the crescendo, the capacity to remember breaks down: "Then everything is gone/Forever."

I don't generally put much credence in psychic phenomena. In this instance, though, it's hard for me not to wonder whether something inside me was prescient in a way I can't rationally explain. Because, as I sit here commemorating the date, I realize that I'm also commemorating the loss of a capacity to care why dates matter. There's freedom in that loss and perhaps the foundation for a new identity that I will be happy to confront in the mirror. For the moment, however, I want to hold on a little longer to the moment of remembering that strange day one year ago and the radical transformation of my life that it set in motion.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, family
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