At first, I was glad to have someone sit in the kitchen while I did the dinner dishes. I always felt abandoned when the family went off to watch television or go to their rooms after dinner. That lasted about a week. Now, as Mrs. Huntington’s caregiver, I am surprised at how annoying it is to be watched constantly. She never lets me out of her sight.
When she gets up in the morning at the first light of day, she expects me to get up and put out her breakfast. Then she expects me to sit next to her all day while she snoozes or asks me the same question over and over again. If I get up, I have about four minutes until she comes looking for me.
I think she can’t remember she lives here and thinks she is visiting for the day. She takes it as an affront if I go do something, like the laundry. Heaven forbid I should go lie back down in bed. A hostess would never leave their guest to sit alone.
When she finds me, she isn’t satisfied to know and then go back and sit down. If I am doing something at my desk in my bedroom, she will sit on the bed and watch me. If I am out on the porch, she will come out and sit next to me. If I am in the kitchen, she will come and sit at the table and watch me. Perplexed, she will ask me, “What are you doing?”
I feel her eyes on me all the time. It makes a tickle on the back of my neck. I wish I had a secret ability to make myself invisible. Sometimes I will glance her direction to see if she is still staring and I am rewarded with the haunting hollow stare of pale blue eyes. The black pupils are trained on me.
I try not to assume she is judging me. That makes my nerves go into over-drive. Surely, at this point with her memory, she is like the dogs that watch me all the time. No judgement, just distracted by movement. I know better though. She has always been judgmental. As though the words are streaming past on a digital ticker tape above her head, I know what she is thinking about her daughter-in-law:
Look at how fat she is. How did she let herself get that way?
Isn’t she going to start cooking? A person could starve around here.
Isn’t she going to say something to those kids? She’s isn’t a very good mother.
When is she going to do the dishes? She doesn’t do anything. She’s lazy.
I know that these thoughts are punctuated with her usual questions of ‘where’s Joe?’ and ‘How did he die?’ But, I also know, the judgy thoughts are there too.
Honestly, the judgmental thoughts don’t bother me. I know who I am and I do a great job. The harder issue is never being alone. As an introvert, being around other people can be draining. I need to be alone to repair the energy drain. I need time to day dream and relive conversations. I need time without having to monitor my relativity to another human. That’s tough when another human stares at you every waking minute of your life. True, there are times she will look away for a minute, but her ability to sense movement rivals a reptile, even when she is asleep. If I get up, BAM, the eyes are on me.
Mrs. Huntington has always had a little issue with OCD. Nicky calls it the ‘Black Hole of Information.’ She zeroes in on it. She would have made a great investigative reporter. Whatever you tell her, she searches for what you are not telling her. This now applies to my every move. Whatever I am doing is suspect and she must fully know what I am up to.
Earlier, about eleven thirty, I got up and came in the kitchen. I figured I would do some writing. Then I saw the dishes and thought I should wash them now to clear out the sink. Here she comes, three minutes in. She sat at the table.
I push back the mental grumbling for being under surveillance and asked her, “Whatcha doing?”
“I came in here to see if there is anything to eat.”
Its only been two hours since we had breakfast. “It’s kind of early. That will be a long stretch until dinner at seven tonight. Are you hungry?”
“No,” then she pauses, “I just came in here to see what you’re doing.” BAM!
“Just washing dishes,” I say. Then I got a text that someone needed me to send them a file. I turn off the water, go to the table and open my computer.
After a few minutes where she kept trying to sneak peeks at my screen, she smirks and says, “Don’t we have anything to eat?”
I give up. Crap. Apparently she thinks I should be doing something productive and she doesn’t see this as anything but playing. “Yeah, I’ll set lunch out.”
I’m actually surprised she didn’t just ask what I was doing on the computer. She has before and I tell her I am writing, which gets me a look like I’m an idiot time-waster.
I have to guard my reaction. If she suspects irritation, the next line of questioning is, “Do I bother you?”
(Smiling to throw her off the scent) “No, you don’t bother me.” Yes, I want to scream sometimes.
“I can go to a nursing home,” she says with a slight hint of sarcasm and a smirk.
“Why would you want to go there?” They won’t sit with you like I do.
“Would you really send me to a nursing home?”
“You can live here or there. It’s your choice.” At least, until I have a nervous breakdown.
After lunch, I pull my computer out and start clicking away. I can tell this bothers her. She would rather I sit next to her in the recliner. She goes back and forth between the living room and the table several times. Finally she lands in her recliner and watches me from the other room.
I’ve written and published two novels and a college textbook. I remember the days when the struggle was to write with the kids flocking around me or arguing with each other. That seems like cake now. Being stared at and constantly judged is a whole new level of distraction that sucks the creativity out of me.