Dire Straits

No care for the caregivers

Peter Holzhauer, Bush. 2007, gelatin silver print. 8 x 10”. Courtesy of the artist.

My mother calls me at home in San Francisco, as I work on my computer in my kitchen. I live alone in a spacious one-bedroom. People visit and crane their heads, looking for my roommates. My monthly rent is more than I’ve ever paid, but only $300 more than I formerly paid to live with three twentysomethings—a bartender/performance artist, a banker/drag queen, and a student. I decided to move out when I found our fridge filled with sickly, shriveled houseflies. They moved slowly in the cold, among the leftovers. I realized they must have been born there, and that baby flies are maggots. I was 39 years old and feared celebrating my 40th birthday there. So I moved.

My mom calls from the lanai of her own home in Florida. She lives there with her husband. Because she is a graveyard-shift nurse and her husband suffers from a disease that interrupts his sleep with jolts of pain, their bedroom goes mostly unused. They take turns sleeping on the puffy, fake-leather couches in the living room. They sleep before the blaring television, always tuned to Fox News though neither is a Republican. The television doesn’t seem to bother them, nor do the cups of coffee they drink like water throughout the day.

My mother tells me that they’ve moved the futon from the spare room into the living room and are trying to sleep together again, there on the floor between the couches and the TV. Her husband’s disease—his spinal cord is pocked with holes and stuffed with cysts—makes it hard for him to get out of a normal bed, but a futon on the floor is manageable. They haven’t slept together in a very long time and seem to be excited, though he has already rolled off the futon once, bruising himself.

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