You try to make sure and leave the assisted living center before 7:00 p.m., otherwise your Japanese mother has a mood crash and initiates a hostile litany of grievances against your stroke-addled father, which—even though she occasionally makes a good point—is still difficult for you to stomach.
Nonetheless, you sometimes don’t manage to make it out in time, and once she starts in, it becomes difficult to extricate yourself. As soon as your mother sighs loudly and asks, “Why I have to live such horrible life?” you know you’ve waited too long.
You’ve been spending the entirety of your summer off from college teaching sleeping on a foam pad on your parents’ living room floor, despite your spinal stenosis, as you painstakingly attempt to sift through the Stage 4 hoarding situation at their house. One of the epicenters of hoarding is in your childhood bedroom, which your father has transformed into a classic hamster’s nest: old bills dating back to the 1970’s mixed in with junk mail mixed in with sensitive financial and legal documents mixed in with cracked eight-track tapes mixed in with books and newspapers mixed in with gun magazines mixed in with empty prescription bottles mixed in with stale chocolate mixed in with used urinary pads mixed in with discount-bin video cassette tapes mixed in with pamphlets for injectable erectile dysfunction meds—all stuffed into precariously-stacked and collapsing cardboard flats of Ramen noodle containers.
It’s upsetting and disturbing, and you feel like an archaeologist searching for the K-Pg boundary demarcating the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Not to mention you’ve already discovered five loaded handguns haphazardly hidden throughout the room. Sometimes, you consider bringing up the presence of the loaded handguns with your parents when you join them for dinner at their assisted living center, but afterwards, they invariably begin fighting about the Fat Juice, which is what your Japanese mother calls the vanilla Ensure they both like. Back in their apartment after dinner, your father will usually suggest that everyone have a cold drink, which is his way of saying that he wants a Fat Juice.
“No!” your mother tells him. “You drinking my Fat Juice like water! So expensive! And then you going to go to bathroom on new mattress your daughter bought for us.”
“It’s the only kind of cold drink that’s any good,” your father says, plaintively.
“Let him have a Fat Juice,” you say, since you’ve been bankrolling the Fat Juice supply. “I’m happy to buy you both as much Fat Juice as you want.”
“You shut up,” your mother says to you. “Don’t try stick your nose in our business.” She opens the refrigerator and after carefully eyeing the contents, eventually decides to offer a half-empty, flat diet ginger ale to your father. “Here, you finish this first,” she says.
“I don’t like that!” your father yells.
“Then you don’t get cold drink!” your mother yells back.
“Good!” your father yells. He rolls his wheelchair into the bedroom and stares out the window.
“Your father, he drinking up all my Fat Juice,” your mother says to you, sotto voce. “And then last night, do you know what happen? I been waiting all day to drink my Fat Juice and he drinking drinking glub glub glub three or four! But I been saving mine until end of day to enjoy, and then I ask him if he want half of my Fat Juice, and you know what he say? He say no, he don’t want any. What kind of stink person going to act that way?”
You wait until your mother has to go to the bathroom, then you quietly slip your father a Fat Juice and wheel him back into the living room.