February 17, 2023

When a room is more than a room...

This past Tuesday night — Valentine's Day — marked the first night I've slept in an actual bed since September 7. It was also the first night that I've ever slept on a brand new mattress, at least in my adult life. As far as I can remember, I've always just slept on hand-me-downs from my parents or grandparents. I have to say it's pretty nice.

That first night, I slept like a baby. On the second, my mind was racing. But I wasn't stressed about work or school or anything like that. I was thinking about the room in which I slept.

Up until September, Sadie, my dog, and I slept in one of the bedrooms upstairs, but in September, she tore her ACL, and stairs are now out of the question. We started sleeping in the den — me on the sofa and her in a dog bed — but I knew that wasn't a long-term solution. After much debate, I ended up buying a king-size bed earlier this year with plans to turn the little spare bedroom downstairs into a place where we could sleep.

It's taken me a while to clean that little room up, but I finally got it done over the weekend. Or mostly done. Done enough to roll out a king-size mattress on the floor. And that room may be the smallest, most insignificant room in the house, but now that I'm spending so much time in there, I can't help but think about how much time I've spent in there in the past.

This house has been a part of my life from day one and probably always will be in some capacity. My grandparents built it when my dad was in high school, and I grew up in the house next door. When my grandfather died a few years ago, my parents bought this one and moved in, and I've been living here with them as my mom's health got worse over the years. Now, it's just my dad and me, and one day, it will be mine alone.

As a kid, when I'd spend the night with my grandparents, that's where I slept. My toys were kept in that closet in a yellow laundry basket. I vaguely remember a blue and peach? maybe bedspread, and I remember hearing my grandfather snoring in the room next door and telling my grandmother I'd heard a bear. Thinking about that kind of took me by surprise as I remembered I'd actually slept in there many times before this week.

When my grandfather retired, they turned that room into his office with his big executive desk and all of his Georgia Bulldogs memorabilia. When that happened, maybe around the time I was in middle school, I'd come spend hours in there using his computer for school (or, at least, pretending I had to do schoolwork on it) because I didn't yet have one of my own. As the years passed and we all got older, I'd spend time in there with him, talking sports and politics, asking for advice, looking at pictures, and getting to know him as more than just the guy who fell asleep in his recliner watching the Braves games when I was a kid. When he died, most of his stuff was cleaned out, but his college diploma still hangs on the wall.

When my parents moved in several months later, my mom deemed it her office/craft room. She had a little home business at the time, plus more craft supplies than you could possibly imagine, and I helped her move them all over here from the house next door. The room became her space to get away from it all for several years until her health began to decline further.

Eventually, after being on dialysis for a couple of years, she decided to give home dialysis a try. She'd need a clean room where she could close the door and keep traffic, both human and animal, at bay. That room was really the only option, so I helped her pack up all the craft supplies again and haul them back to my parents' old house. I think it took 11 trips in my Jeep. Or maybe 13? Something like that. And that's not counting what we stored in the basement.

If you know anyone who has ever done home dialysis, you know that it comes with many supplies. Pallets piled with heavy boxes full of bags filled with liquid arrive every other week. After packing up all the craft stuff, my dad and I hauled all of those heavy boxes in and set up the space so she could sleep in there and do her treatments at night. It was exhausting, but she was so excited for the change. She had a nice nurse who came out and taught us how to do it and checked in from time-to-time, and for those two months or so, that room was a clinic.

Looking back, it felt like forever. My mom had broken her pelvis shortly before it happened, so that prevented her from being able to move the way she needed to. The machine was not working correctly, and I didn't actually figure that out until we were near the end of this trial process.

It was also one of the most stressful times of my life. After I'd go to sleep (if I did go to sleep - it got to the point where I'd just sit there in bed, anxious for the call), she'd inevitably call me and tell me it wasn't working. I had to go troubleshoot. This meant sitting up for hours and waiting to see what would happen when I did. I was so tired during the days that I'd fall asleep sitting in a chair. In the meantime, I was in the process of trying to find a house to buy because I was in the process of working towards adopting a baby, which I couldn't do without a home. On top of that, someone at my job had thrown me under the bus to save themselves in a particular situation, and I pretty much didn't work for a few months until it was rectified.

Even though that period was dark, I still remember those nights when my mom and I sat up in that room, waiting to see if the dialysis would work. We watched TV. She enjoyed Impractical Jokers. It's how I came to find the podcast that probably saved me, but that's a story for another day. We listened to music. Lots of Tom Petty, the one thing we could agree on. We sang. We made jokes. As awful as that period was, it really turned into a bonding experience. I'd promised her that as long as she was on dialysis, we'd be a team, and I felt like those nights really reinforced our dedication to that. Every trial she faced was mine too.

When my mom finally gave up on the home dialysis, we spent hours dismantling, donating, and tossing the supplies, and then we lef the room alone. No one really wanted to go in there after that, plus things got kind of crazy. That next year, she'd get severely injured in an accident that required many surgeries, and just as she recovered from that, my dad ended up with sepsis and needed open-heart-surgery. Her issues took up the first half of the year. His took up the second. I think I spent more time in a hospital in 2019 than I did any room in the house.

And suddenly, it was 2020. COVID hit my mom hard. She's a social person. She needs to get out and see people and go to the store and shop and interact. But given her health issues, that didn't seem like such a great idea at the time. Dialysis was her only outing. She needed something to do here to keep her busy . So, she asked me if I'd turn that room back into her craft room. I just wanted to see her happy at that point, so I did.

I spent the better part of a month that summer removing the rest of the dialysis supplies, cleaning the room as best I could, hauling all of her craft supplies back to this house yet again, and organziing them into labeled containers so that she could access them easily. It was definitely a labor of love — I'm telling you, this woman had enough craft supplies to fill that room 10 times. She loved the result, but I'm not sure she even used it until about two months before she died. That summer, she got really into it and started making all sorts of things with plans to take them to the shop to sell for fall and the holidays. It breaks my heart to think she had no idea that she would not live to see that time of year.

She painted and sewed and had a hot-glue gun running daily. The room became her happy place again in those final days, which was nice, because she wasn't very happy about much of anything else that summer.

And on the day she died, my dad and I rushed home to try to clean up a bit so we could get her home. And that's when the room became storage. Everything that was out of place in the rest of the house just got tossed in there in a fit of desperation. Her walker. Her clothes. My gardening supplies that were in the kitchen. The dog's old bed. The vacuum cleaner. A coffee table we no longer used. Amazon boxes. Anything that would be in the way, that would prevent her from getting inside or prevent relatives from visiting got tossed into that room, and that's where it sat until this past month when I started cleaning it up for its next role.

Going through it all, I felt like some sort of archeologist. I'd been taking out bits of the craft stuff here and there to sell at the shop, but I'd barely scratched the surface. There were still medical supplies tucked here and there, and even some of my grandfather's office items were still sitting in drawers, plus that diploma I mentioned is still on the wall. I even found my grandmother's death certificate from 1997 and pictures of my cousins and me when we were all little. It was like with each item I moved, I was peeling back another layer of my life. Another layer of family members long gone and the memories they left behind…

And this is what kept me up a few nights ago. I was thinking about all the time I've spent in that room and all of the purposes it's served over the years. I'm sure it also served several purposes before I was born, and it will serve several more in the future. It's even served hypothetical purposes that never materialized. When my mom started the home dialysis, I always assumed she'd die in that room as morbid as it is to utter out loud. One of my favorite songs is "Cleopatra" by the Lumineers, and there are lyrics:

Now a nurse in white shoes
Leads me back to my guestroom
It's a bed and a bathroom
And a place for the end

I couldn't get those lines out of my head at that time, but of course, it didn't happen that way. And when every house I tried to buy fell through for one reason another, my parents finally offered to give me this house if I fixed their old one up to their liking, so that I could get back to that adoption thing. I always pictured that room as a nursery in that scenario, but COVID hit, my mom got really really sick, and the world had other plans.

Who knows? Maybe prayers will be answered, and it will still become a nursery one day. Maybe my hard work will pay off, and I'll hang my UGA diploma next to my grandfather's. Maybe I'll move away one day and never step foot in there again.

What I do know is that it's a nice, cozy spot to do my homework, watch TV at night, or sleep on a mattress on the floor with my elderly disbaled dog, and that's good enough for right now.