Usually I look forward to getting my tax refund. My first thought is to do something practical with it, maybe squirrel a little bit away for fun. However I use it, my first thought is doing something that'll benefit my family. Last year, I took a big chunk of my return and bought over $277 worth of groceries, filling two carriages. It's a basic function and responsibility but please understand that $277 is more than I usually pull down after a 40 hour week. We never eat so well than at tax refund time and I came home with a car full of food and me full of pride and a satisfying sense of accomplishment.
This year I dread getting my return. Because a couple of weeks after that, I'll have to leave and use my entire refund putting down first, last and security for a place I don't want. Not knowing the day I'll have to move out, it's sort of like living on Death Row without being told the day of your execution or having a loved one put a contract out on you and not knowing when the assassin's bullet will strike.
Suddenly, little chores that used to be irksome are now incalculably precious. I take a bittersweet joy retiling the kitchen floor, replacing the string on the light switch, fixing the vacuum cleaner then using it in the den, tidying up the clutter there and elsewhere.
But then she reminds me it's too little too late, I'm doing these things with a manic, desperate energy out of self-preservation, she says. I cannot win. I will never again mow those lawns. I will never get to weather-proof the deck. I will never have the chance to repair the front porch. She demeans and minimizes everything I do, impugns my motives.
She just doesn't get it. Better late than never is a cliche because it applies so often in life and I'm not acting solely out of self-preservation because I see the light at the end of the tunnel. My life, as well as my dignity and self-respect, means nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to my love and devotion for this family.
It's a horrid predicament that I honestly wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Anyone who's ever gone to work the day they would get fired could perhaps appreciate this: Noticing people treating you like a leper, keeping their distance, not looking you in the eye, as if you have some communicable disease.
It galls me that my stepkids, who fiercely protect their friends at the first discouraging word from me or anyone, couldn't think to defend the only father they've had, really, for these past 15+ years. Ingrid absolves herself of any responsibility for this but when kids grow up, they observe how their one natural parent regards the newcomer and they take their cues from the more familiar parent. And the bottom line is I'm not worth defending or supporting. Their friends, who come and go, are. I, family, am not.
I cannot understand that skewed priority. But all my life I've suffered from a shocking lack of respect and support. Lacking that, lacking love, respect or any of the qualities that go to form a functional relationship or family dynamic, I'd still take what I can get, even if all that's left is a sense of pride and accomplishment in doing for my family. It's an almost insanely stubborn determination because I've identified myself so much and so completely with this family. I'll take what I can get because, as stated, my pride and self-respect means nothing compared to my love and devotion to this family.
Knowing I will not be here much longer, my time with my loved ones is also all the more precious. I sometimes cry my eyes out, as I did all day yesterday, whenever I hold Gavin or even just look at him. I tell him, even though he cannot understand me, "Please don't forget me, do not stop loving me." At 20 1/2 months, he will be vaguely aware of my sudden absence but he will forget me. I'm hoping the extra time I spend with him may make the difference between an enduring memory that I intend to strengthen with regular visits and oblivion. Yet I cannot escape the cruel irony that my grandchild, the only human being on earth who still loves me unconditionally, will soon be torn from my life.
As the snow falls here in the northeast and the world, awakened from its false spring that gave us back our grass for the first time since December, gets colder, it's the perfect metaphor for my life. Just when I thought 2009 was going to be our year, just as I was gearing up to do the things that needed to be done but couldn't be done until spring, winter again strikes, seemingly without end. Until last month, I could easily imagine spring, summer, fall, me in the back yard.
Now, I cannot see beyond this endless winter.