tricks of the trade

some good friends called me on the occasion of one of their birthdays, and it got me to thinking. (yes, it takes an effort, or intervention, to get the old cogs meshing again…) this is just a ramble, no cohesive commentary intended. inevitably, it will turn into a rant, but not necessarily a bad thing.

i don’t have much real interaction with live higher life forms, here in the VOE. partly it’s my fault, because i purposely burned my bridges when i got out of this place decades ago, and therefore don’t know or care to know anyone in this creepy town. there’s nowhere i want to go around here, and no friends with whom to do it. my main interactions are with old zombies and medical/business transactions related to same. not even as many of those, since my father died.

caregiver manuals all warn of casualties of the trade, one of which is getting so hung up in the preoccupation of caregiving that you relinquish outside human ties. it’s easy to do, especially for someone who is a loner in the first place. in addition, by definition, a caregiver tends to travel in circles where other tired, distracted caregivers are wrapped up in their own oldster burdens, not a very lively crowd. i avoided the whole caregiver support group thing when i got into this; not really excited about spending what little downtime i have listening to my counterparts whining and bitching, or alternately gushing about the rewards of changing oldster diapers. much more productive to drink a beer in my room.

i stopped watching what little tv i used to, and started reading books like an addict. my escape preference is hard scifi and fantasy, which tells you something. i live in the nyc metro area, and yet never get up the nerve to navigate the complex mass transit system that could instantly connect me to any diversion you can imagine. the thought of being solitary and lost in nyc overrides any urge to go there. friends and relatives who jump on planes to anywhere every five minutes, encourage me to visit. that’s easier said than done, when you take care of an oldster. it takes a lot of planning, preparing your stand-in relief, and time-constraints. it’s much like leaving your toddler in someone else’s care for a week, only add in dozens of drugs that must be administered very carefully and properly. (ok, i also have a thing about flying in recent years, but i’ve almost come full circle to where the change of scenery would be worth the risk and hassle.)

so i live in what amounts to a ghost house; no one talks to each other or interacts, for the most part. it’s our old family dynamic, what’s left of it. we barricade ourselves in our separate worlds, only coming out for minimum daily required tasks. mom just skulks about dementedly; my brother conducts business and does his thing, mostly elsewhere; and i do my ‘job’ and hole up in my batcave. (yes, there are bats hanging in it. like a belfry! appropriately, i was watching the movie ‘batman’ when my friends called. somehow i can relate to that dark, demented story.) i don’t receive or make many phone calls, other than to transact business. most of my connecting is online, and minimal. i actually forget sometimes how to talk to people, as in a jobsite, or a friendly conversation. the impersonal, nonpressure online format lends itself more to the disengaged exile i’ve become.

i think the major disruption that brought me kicking and screaming full circle to the VOE has changed me in many ways. hey, i’m the person who has a hard time adapting! anyone at my old job could attest to that. i’ve had to do some major adapting just to give up everything, become a zombie-manager, and lose what little future i might have had. i’ve had to relinquish any illusion of having any control over circumstances and events. i’ve had to accept being back in the last place on earth i want to be, only with me as the parent, calling the shots for my parents, one-time absolute dictators reduced to helpless, mindless dependents. not to mention, one died on my watch. i’ve had to learn to manage, supervise, and navigate complex bureaucratic labyrinths. i have to visualize an uncertain post-VOE existence with all familiar landmarks removed.

ironically, as i’ve lost what few people-skills i had, i’ve learned a new trick: with virtually no friends (or more precisely, only some virtual ‘friends’), i’ve turned anyone i meet in the course of transacting business into my ‘network’. in other words, the working class hispanics and indians who wait on me at stores, the jamaican and african health aides i’ve dealt with in my caregiver capacity, the polish cleaning ladies who ‘came’ with the house, and so on, are all a support network of sorts, for lack of any other. people i used to ignore, or take for granted, took on a new significance for me. i’ve gotten to know and respect all these hard-working people, learned some of their languages, and empathize with their plights. it has opened my eyes to what was there all along, just under my radar, but not relevant or significant to me.

my upbringing tried to blind me to humans ‘beneath’ our class; they were necessary evils existing for our convenience, but not to be considered equals or friends. but since i’ve experienced life in which you’re one paycheck or crisis away from ruin, i’ve come to recognize and admire the immense labor and sacrifice of these individuals to make life better for people like my parents and myself. in fact, i’ve been in that class myself, so i have more in common with my counterparts in service industries. now that i’m technically unemployed, or underemployed as the case may be, living under someone else’s roof for the duration of my temp job, about to lose my health insurance extension, and potentially homeless in the future, i guess i can relate.

my posts always seem to degenerate into what amounts to a self-pity rant. my intention was the opposite: the realization that i still have actual friends out there, who somehow see me as someone with some remaining value, caused me to re-examine myself to see if any of their claims were valid or just an illusion i had somehow projected. i don’t see myself as anyone to admire, so i feel like a fraud or impostor when described as some kind of role model. like, they got the wrong person! i think they were trying to get me to write down something experiential they could apply to their own lives. as i tried to say in a previous rant, many things are just learned for oneself, the hard way, and can’t be taught. still, just realizing someone out there still thinks i’m not hopeless, gave me pause to consider what this interval in my life may have signified.

if nothing else, the exercise of writing, trying to articulate a surreal and isolating experience, while reminded of normal life being lived outside mine, helps me to keep some perspective and retain some dwindling communication skills. so, thanks, you know who you are.

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