By Angela Lam Turpin
I am a caregiver. Not by choice, but by fate.
Nineteen years ago my son was born with multiple disabilities. My husband and I chose to care for him at home. We have struggled over the years to find adequate health care, education, and respite services for him and our family. Most days we are grateful. Some days we are frustrated. A few days we despair. A couple of days we hope.
My short story, “Hope in the Laundry Room,” from my short story collection, THE HUMAN ACT, published by All Things That Matter Press was inspired by the long-term caregiving of my son.
Tracy, the mysterious girl in the black gabardine suit, brings her clothes to the Laundromat during the week while her disabled son is at school. Since she works, she loads the washers on her break at ten-thirty and returns to place them into the dryers at noon and takes them home with her at two-thirty. Her life is circumscribed by a strict routine which creates an artificial order to the chaos of her life.
Although I am not Tracy and Tracy is not me, I understand Tracy’s dilemma of living her life around the edges of her son and his needs. Days are organized around my son Gabriel’s schedule. Job opportunities are accepted or declined based on whether or not the job will provide the necessary income and work hours to accommodate my son’s needs and school schedule.
Vacations are planned with my son’s limitations taken into account. We have to drive, not fly. We have to stay in a hotel in a single room with someone sharing a bed so that he will not get up and wander around during the night. We have to pack and prepare meals to accommodate his gluten-free diet. We have to find family friendly bathrooms to change his diaper. Nothing is spontaneous. Everything must be planned. Any deviation in the plan can result in a disaster.
But that’s where the similarities between Tracy and I end. While Tracy confronts the possibility of romance and companionship with the narrator who is intrigued by Tracy and her son, I am entrenched in the daily life of marriage with a partner who has shared the same struggles as a caregiver from the very beginning. My husband and I take shifts, caring for a young man who seldom sleeps, constantly eats, and only wants to listen to music.
The challenge to keep a romantic, long-term relationship alive and well is complicated as we enter middle age. Who will care for us when we can no longer care for ourselves? Who will take care of our son once we are gone?
By writing fiction, I can explore those possibilities without fear. I can step into another person’s shoes, similar to mine yet different, and take a chance where before I couldn’t. I can find answers to questions I’ve asked but have been afraid to answer. And, ultimately, I can find the hope and the strength to carry on.
Audio Book: http://tinyurl.com/khmepfy