My counter-top looks like I’ve committed a crime against blackberries. Juice glistens, covering the bag I carried them in, the bag underneath the bag I carried them in, the sifter I used to wash and drain them, the smooth counter, several paper towels and most unfortunately among them all, the edges of a tall stack of paper plates plopped in the corner. I don’t know how I did that, maybe I swung one of the bags too hard. It’s not excessive, but more like a small splatter of spots. It doesn’t look anything like blood, but I think about blood anyway. The cat watches me silently from his post atop the fridge, enjoying this Sunday afternoon show.
I am attempting food prep, in my usual chaotic way. My brain is busy rotating through the list of things I absolutely must accomplish today, the list of things I would like to accomplish today and the list of things I need to do that there won’t be time for today, or tomorrow, or the day after that, but will still lurk at the back of my brain, consistent as the baseline in a song you can’t get out of your head.
I have been practicing lately, turns of phrases in my mind. Old stories, retold with new endings. “Everything I have been through has prepared me for this,” I said in a phone conversation to Megan yesterday afternoon, in a rare moment of peace as I lazed sleepily on my bed and breathed in the fresh air of a flash summer rain. That is my mantra, and the great gift of it is no matter how far I keep going, it will always be true. I can’t turns into I can – this is conscious work, sometimes painful, often tiring, but consistent. After all, I have to – continuing is my only choice.
In my current situation, some people seem to think I have a choice. That caretaking is a self-inflicted burden and an unnecessary one. As if I am flogging my own back, then complaining about the cuts. This puzzles me – would they say the same if I was caring for a disabled child, rather than a senior? What about a spouse? Why is care for one applauded and not the other? Being a single mother is hard – it’s a turn of phrase that has almost become part of our culture. But being a single daughter is hard too.
For all the blackberry carnage, I don’t feel very accomplished. Besides the washed fruit I’ve finished a salad that’s a bit too wet, sliced some raw veggies for snacking, but there’s no meal in my meal prep. That would be next, but it’s late afternoon and I’m close to hitting my limit for the day. To be so tired for so little finished product makes me feel unhappy, unsuccessful. What have I even been doing? I start mentally listing the activities checking for accidental laziness, in case I frittered away my own time without noticing. There has to be a better way, I think, though I don’t know what it would be. More hours in the day. Someone willing to help once in awhile. The energy of stimulants without actually consuming stimulants. Maybe I just need more practice. After all, isn’t everything always practice? This work of caretaking all by myself – all the struggle, the anxiety, the exhaustion, the juggling, the constant forgiving myself for never keeping all the balls in the air – is it not preparing me for some future point in my life just as all my previous fights have prepared me for this moment? I imagine my future, a black dot suspended in the center of a cloudy marble. My own miniature crystal ball.
The cat, still atop the fridge is licking his paw. He seems unimpressed with my philosophical thinking. He jumps down to the counter and sniffs at the juice of crushed blackberries, bringing me back to the immediate moment. I need a rag. It looks like I’ve tried to kill a blackberry bush in here.