"Nice hat," some asshole jabs. It is a nice hat. Or was. Italian leather outside,
warm wool inside. Ear flaps that snap at the top. The rim has come loose again and
hangs over half my forehead.
The hat was a gift from my wife. I was never a hat person, but in cold weather,
it's essential. After a year or two, the lining around the rim began to give, the stitching
loose. The lining hung down along half of my forehead.
"Can someone mend my hat?" I'd ask each day as I came home. Someone was
my mother–in–law, who had come to live with us. But someone tended to be deaf when
she didn't want to hear, blind when she didn't want to see, mute when you wanted to hear
from her, and loud as Lenin on a soapbox when you didn't want to hear from her. Weeks
went by, and the stitches in my hat continued to deteriorate.
My fifteen year old daughter is doing the dishes downstairs. No one even asked
her to. The normal routine is for her grandmother to tell her to do them, for her to refuse,
and for a bitter bickering to fill the house. This is strange, her doing the dishes without
being asked, something we may have once considered a miracle. But not really. It's
clear. Most miracles, when seen up close, come with an explanation. Directions in
Like Ikea instructions assembled by the writers for Jeopardy.
"The result is that she does the dishes without your asking her."
"What is, she fears the death of her grandmother?"
"Right you are!"
Daughter's having a cup of hot chocolate, made sweeter with condensed milk. I
sit down next to her. "Feel like Cinderella sometimes?"
"We all feel like Cinderella sometimes," I say. "And we want appreciation for
things that no one notices." I noticed Nicole doing the dishes on purpose. But how many
times had I not? How many times had a dinner gone unthanked, a workday or paycheck
unacknowledged? A clean toilet or bathtub or swept kitchen? An application completed
or phone call made on another's behalf?
"Like my hat," I say. "I never even noticed that she fixed it. I noticed when it
was messed up. I griped about it for weeks: 'when will someone find time to mend my
hat.' One day, Mom asked, 'did you notice my mother fixed your hat?' And I hadn't."
She looks down at her iPod, not really looking at it. "But we can't say thank you
for everything. Then it doesn't mean anything anymore."
"True. But we should realize, when we're feeling pity for ourselves because no
one notices what we're doing, that others are doing for us, too. We tend to see the things
we lack more than the things we have."
At the bar, Don is telling me about his step son. Thirty four years old and just returned
home after a divorce and layoff. The bastard thinks he's entitled, thinks he owns the
place, uses their stuff, takes their clothes for his own, eats their food, never a thank you,
no appreciation. He acts like he's in charge of a place when he's really the beggar
allowed in by the grace of the owner. The dog is more welcome.
"Sounds like my mother in law," I say.
My mother-in-law is likely to cause a run-in with the law. We fight all the time.
We can't stand each other. We live together like a family, but we're always picking at
each other, complaining, looking for reasons to bitch and jab. It's been going on so long,
it's the new norm. I hate it.
I'm watching a cartoon on Netflix with my six-year old son: Spiderman and his
Amazing Friends. I used to watch this when I was a kid with my brother. My son and
brother, at that same age, could have passed for twins. They both love Spiderman, his
ability to swing across air along, webs stuck to the sky itself. I was always fascinated
with Spiderman (and superheroes in general) too. That people with such extraordinary
powers would want to keep them a secret. Would stitch together flamboyant costumes
and strut around like the city was a runway for the gods.
In this cartoon, Aunt Mae makes some food for Peter and his friends. Alex begins
to cry. He's never cried during a spider man cartoon before. It's those same instructions
in reverse that has my daughter doing the dishes again. Grandmother is not dong well.
At the bar, Don tells me about the blow-out he had with his step-son. The brat's
an asshole. He plans to move out. But the girl he was going to move in with is already the
butt of his new gripes and insults. Don can't imagine the girl actually letting the sponge
move in with him. I can't either. He needs to get a job and get his own place.
Another visit, another stout. I got into the habit of visiting for a drink or two after
work as a way to avoid the long-term guest staying at our home. Now that the queen is
gone, it's a hard habit to break. I imagine my mother-in-law waiting for me at home as I
drink, imagine the things she is doing wrong, like spoiling the kids with too many toys,
feeding the dog too much people food, and warming a full kettle of water when she only
needs one cup.
Don and I are sitting at the bar and who walks in? Don's step-son. I pick a fight
with him to teach him a lesson, and because I'm drunk. I attack him because I can't pick
a fight with my mother-in-law. I get my ass kicked and have to go in for stitches. Doctor
says it will mend in a matter of days. Some things take longer, and more than stitches, to
My mother–in–law isn't really dead yet, but this story is true. She has stage-four
cancer and will soon be ashes in a jar. Nothing will bring her back or change what our
relationship was. She won't become a better person or more loveable by dying. We're
all headed to the same place, all in line for death. Mother in law, then my remaining
grandparents, parents, myself, my brother, my wife, my children. One of us may duck
the line or cut ahead. But we're all stitched together in the inevitable.
Perhaps it's time to start focusing on what we have instead of what we lack.
I've worn my hat all day and nothing seemed any different. When I get home, my
wife looks at me. "Did you notice anything different?"
"Did you get a haircut?"
"I mended your hat."
I take it off, look at the inside. She had, and like before, I hadn't even noticed.
Nicole is doing the dishes. Alex is watching Spiderman on the iPad. I hang my
hat on the hook and take off my coat and hang it in the closet next to my mother-in-law's
old coat. "Thank you," I say to Nataliya, focused on what we have instead of what we