Tag Archives: family

1962

Standard

It happened a long, long time ago. But it is also happening this very minute, like time travel. And I cannot make it stop.

I am 8 years old.

I smell the bacon as I pull on my dress.

I hate this dress. It’s ugly and it leaves scratches on my side. But she likes it.

I go into the kitchen. She is angry. I must have done something wrong. But I’m afraid to say anything.

She makes us eat breakfast every morning. I am queasy in the mornings and I hate breakfast. But she is a good mother and we are lucky. She wasn’t so lucky. She won’t talk about her childhood. She says it makes her sad.

She turns the eggs in the skillet. One of the yolks breaks. She sets down three perfect eggs, one for her, one for my brother and one for my father. She gives me the broken one. Now I know I have done something wrong.

My father comes to the table. He is angry, too. He and my mother don’t look at each other.

My brother doesn’t notice that anything is wrong. She speaks tenderly to him. He is the best thing in her life. I am just there to help with the housework. I wish I knew what made the difference.

So I ask her. She stammers and I never really get an answer. It’s a question I will ask her again when I am older.

“I was always afraid that you would be smarter than me,” she will say. “But I realized that since I am older than you, I will always know more than you.”

She doesn’t love me because I am smart? What do I do about that? I thought I was supposed to be smart. They fuss at me when I don’t make all A’s, even though they are happy with my brother’s B’s and C’s.

I already know I am not pretty. She is always telling me how pretty my friends are. She tells them how nice they look and she laughs with them. I wish she would laugh with me like that. But I am a disappointment.

I think if I were not around my parents would be happy. My brother is their true child. I wonder if I was adopted. That would explain why they don’t like me.

Maybe I can smother myself. I crawl into bed and put a pillow over my face. But I can’t do it. The air feels so good when I breathe it in. I would hate to die by drowning.

My mother comes into the room. “What are you doing in bed? Get up. You’re burning up.” My hair is wet from sweat. She thinks I went to bed because I am lazy.

She tells me to fold the laundry. I don’t know why she gives me this chore. I never do it right and she always complains. I’d rather be outdoors with the other children. But after this she is going shopping and I have to go with her. Dad is watching the game on TV and I will bother him. My brother gets to stay home and play outside. I do not understand this.

I hate shopping. It is boring. The store smells bad. But she loves it. I walk between the racks of clothing. I like the way the fabric feels. If I squeeze myself into the middle of a bunch of dresses it feels like a hug. Someone tells me to stop and behave myself.

My head hurts and I am tired. I just want to go home. But I don’t even know where home is anymore.

Advertisements

mindvideo

Standard

I’m so distracted I lost a shirt and my cup of coffee between the kitchen and the living room. I started a home project and couldn’t focus on what I was doing. So I’m just going to write it out.

My mother is dying. Conversations with family members invariably turn to memories of her.

Mine seem to be different from everyone else’s.

Utter one of her several bynames, and mindvideo from my vast collection queues up, my mother’s face distorted in anger, spewing criticism and humiliation.

This morning I am trying to see if I can edit those old tapes. I’ve never done this before and I can only make a start. But I figure anything I try can only make things better. And I have to trust the process.

Someone posts a photo of Mom on Facebook, remembering her with tenderness.

I see a woman about to explode with rage.

I step into the photo. Mom holds it together until she and I are alone. Then I will witness a barrage of frustration and vitriol. Granted, it’s not all about me. Maybe none of it is about me. But it will wound and deplete me all the same.

I’m trolling my mind for times when she and I laughed together. Those are the easiest ones to find. And the one that shows up is 50 years old. As other loves entered my life and vied for my attention, the laughter began to die. But in 1969, I was her best friend.

My father was 6 feet tall. Mom was 5’4″. When Dad was happy he’d come into the kitchen, where she and I were preparing supper. He’d hug her and then lift her straight up off the floor. He’d bounce her in his arms and she’d complain that he was hurting her boobies. But they’d both be laughing and I would be, too.

Mom loved to laugh and laughed easily, as did my father, when they weren’t fighting, which was often. When the two of them were laughing together, I knew my brother and I could relax for a few hours and they would be sweet to us and to each other.

Today I will play this mindvideo over and over to see if I can find footage before and after it, to look for details, like the pan of potatoes I was peeling or the dishes she was washing in the sink of our tiny kitchen. I will remember that I went to pick okra from the garden, washing and slicing it, dredging it in cornmeal and frying it in a cast iron skillet.

My mother is happy because I am helping her and I am good company and we are going to have a fine meal very soon.

As I write this, I’m aware that my palms are sweating and my heart is racing. I really don’t want to dig this deep. My friend, pain, is a festering abscess and I’d rather run in the other direction. But the only way to heal is to open the wound. And I’d rather face pain than live with bad memories.

It was only in the last couple of years that this type of abuse had witnesses. By then it was dismissed as a symptom of her dementia. No one believed me when I complained because she was consistently charming and kind to others. By the time I was 8 I was convinced I was just not worth loving.

What I do know is that hurt people hurt people and my mom’s story is full of pain. And through our family’s generations we have changed that trajectory. My grandson is proof of that.

This is limbic memory and no amount of positive thinking is going to change it. So I’m just letting the truth emerge as it will. And when it shows up, it looks like confusion, pain, anger, distraction, depression.

So I write. If the gods are with me, the stories emerge. I’m trying not to judge them as they do. What’s new for me is it no longer matters if anyone believes them. I know what happened.

My goal here is to tell my truth as I know it and to encourage others to tell theirs. It serves me nothing to perpetuate the myths of my family. If I do, I will never heal. And maybe through my healing, others will as well.

In one of my last conversations with my mother, I lay all my cards on the table. I like to think that I made amends to her but the only thing I remember is her saying, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

That’s what this is all about. I’m sure gonna try.

elijah

Standard

One of my best friends turned 13 today. He also happens to be my grandson.

I once said to him, “We have the best conversations.”

“We DO!” he agreed, grinning.

Yesterday we discussed the fine points of finding a clean restroom while on the road. I explained how I manage to avoid touching the seat and he told me about a retail chain where the facilities are always pristine.

“Do you realize,” he said, “that we just had a 30-minute conversation about toilets? And that we didn’t say anything disgusting or offensive?”

We marveled at that, as we frequently do when our queries and conjectures take us deep into the mysteries of the universe.

I called his phone this morning and sang “Happy Birthday” in a voicemail. He called me back to give me times and directions for the day.

The last thing he said to me was, “I can’t wait to see you.”

I feel like I’m the one having a birthday.

Happy day, beautiful boy.

angry

Standard

I’m angry, OK?
It’s the second stage of loss and grief in the Kubler-Ross model. I get that.
Thank God for that woman. She gave me a flow chart for feeling like a maniac.

In fact, I’m so angry that I just Googled it: “I’m so angry.”

I got some hits (ha, about a gazillion. There are lots of other angry people on the World Wide Web.)

Actually, my first Google search was “Help me to forgive.”
I’ve been seeing this meme on Facebook that says, if I want to be a big girl, I have to forgive.  Or something like that.

So that search took me to tinybuddha.com and “How to Forgive Someone When It’s Hard.”
When you land on the page, the subtitle reads “30 Tips to Let Go of Anger.”

By the time I read the first two screens I was more pissed off than ever.
Hence the second search.

And that took me back to tinybuddha.com: “20 Things to Do When You’re Feeling Angry with Someone.”

Part one of the lesson here, Grasshopper, is that you need to be all the way angry before you can forgive.
Part two of the lesson is what I call shaking hands with the Devil and introducing yourself.  It’s sort of taking the emotion out of the emotion, if you like.
Part three involves working with the other party.  This is about navigating relationships.  It gets really tricky here if the person you feel angry about is not open to honest communication.
It concludes in part four, which is the learning part.  It’s here where, if there’s a relationship stalemate, you choose to end it.

So this is really a pretty helpful deconstruction of the second stage of grief by tinybuddha.com.

But it’s still grief and, as such, needs to be recognized.

Anger is a God-given emotion.  It serves a useful purpose.
A workshop I attended once showed me it’s a consequence of pain, part of our fight/flight response, the thing that has helped us evolve as a species.

I have to remember that I won’t always be angry.  Next I get to bargain.  And I’m good at that.
Then depression: I’m really, really good at that.
But at the end is acceptance.  And that’s where I was headed to begin with.

I just need to remember that I’m not there yet.  Right now I’m just where I am.  I’m angry. And it’s OK.

Bill

Standard
Bill

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. ~ I John 4:18.

In J school we were taught not to bury the lead. But this is my blog and I can do what I want to because I am a grownup.

I remember a sermon decades ago; the minister was saying that John was the Love Apostle and in his gospel account of Jesus’ life, John was just getting warmed up.

The intro in my Bible to I John says his gospel and three books were all written around the same time and that II John was written to a Chosen Lady, who may have been a person or who may have been the Church.

Times were tough and there was a lot of double-speak in the fellowship because, well, you could get killed just for knowing who Jesus was.

So when in I John 2:10 he says, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light,” he was probably talking about the disciples, but for me this verse is about the other child of my parents, Bill.

He was named for my dad’s dad, William, and for my dad’s favorite ball player, Stan Musial. He showed up in our family a week before Christmas on December 17. His birthday was like the pre-party for Santa. I’m trying to remember if Bill ever had a gift that wasn’t wrapped in red or green.

I was not yet 2 when Bill was placed in the car seat (yes, we had them then) next to me in the back of our ’53 Plymouth. I wasn’t sure what he was or why he was there, and I promptly smacked him on the head.

What ensued was a lot of yelling and crying from the front seat of the car. I have been viewed with suspicion and alarm by my parents ever since, and rightly so.

Bill and I haven’t been a big part of each other’s life for the last 30+ years. We’ve made up for it over the past three weeks, I think.

What has been remarkable has been our ability to work in tandem. On July 21 and 22 when my dad and mom respectively went to the ER, we chose to trust each other, in spite of what we’d been repeatedly told was the truth about us.

For myself, I sent up a short prayer right about then to God, asking Him to please help me to keep my gnarly ego quiet. If I could play nice, that most certainly would attest to the power of prayer.

I tell folks (when I can remember to do so) that in every tragedy lies a blessing. We may not see where the blessing falls, but if you’re lucky you can get some on your shoes.

So my blessing today is that I know Bill has my back. I hope he knows that I have his. I love him. And I am in the Light.

lovebirds

Standard

Last night my daughter called. There doesn’t seem to be a flat rock in the middle of our lives where we can just sit in the sun and be still for a while.

“It’s an icky place to be,” I said.

“It’s icky,” she replied.

I woke this morning with a familiar flutter in my chest, about two degrees of stress away from a panic attack. It sort of feels like too much caffeine, only I haven’t had any yet.

Last Sunday afternoon my brother called. Mom was afraid and had called the police. Dad was angry and combative.  About six hours later he was admitted to a hospital room.

On Monday Dad’s nurse called me to come get Mom. About five hours later she was admitted to a room around the corner from Dad.

They both have some form of dementia. It doesn’t matter which kind, they’re impaired. Their bodies have outlived their minds and that just doesn’t seem fair.

On Wednesday I went to their house to remove anything that burglars might want and to bag up what might need laundering. I filled the hatch of my car with boxes of files, anything that looked like an important document. I left the four leaf bags full of laundry on the living room floor. I put two leaf bags full of ruined bedding in the trash.

On Thursday I went back and removed boxes of photos, more documents, stacks of mail, folios of papers: my dad’s military records, my mom’s notebooks.

I went home and began looking for the money. A memory care facility for both of them is going to be expensive.

By Saturday afternoon I had it all sorted. I had discarded enough paper to fill the garbage cart: junk mail, magazines, empty envelopes. Mom’s carefully collected recipes are on the kitchen table. Boxes of cancelled checks and insurance policies and medical records litter the living room floor.

My parents never owned a computer. My dad has an Underwood typewriter that uses a ribbon. Among his stuff I found a box of typewriter erasers and brushes and several packs of carbon paper.

As I type this I am thinking that some of my readers will not know what these things are, and I can feel them Googling now.

st.francis

Grammy & Grampy are both patients in the hospital. Both have dementia. She doesn’t remember why they are there, and she keeps trying to take him home. Doc says they are trying to keep the #lovebirds together. ❤️

“Have they ever been apart?” my brother asked.

“In the ’60s Dad went on active duty for two weeks,” I replied.

I took my parents some clothing during visiting hours. They were sitting in the hall with another patient, in chairs lined against the wall across from the nurses’ station.

Mom now talks of nothing else but caring for Dad. His welfare is her only need.

She asked me to help her find a place for them to live. When she began to weep, I cradled her. She rested her head on my shoulder like a little girl and quieted. Her body felt like delicate glass that might shatter at any second.

Gently prodding Dad awake, she said, “Look who’s here.”

Dad slowly brought me into focus and smiled. He was too groggy to speak, but he winked at me. To this day it thrills me when he does that.

Mom rose from her chair to wipe his lips with a corner of his blanket. She smoothed his hair and kissed him on the mouth.

“We want to keep the lovebirds together,” their doctor said.

Yes. As long as we can. #lovebirds

waiting

Standard

I wait in the silence
that echoes her leaving
the thread on the cushion
the light on the wall

I fade from the moment
and sharpen the corners
and tread on the threshold
and clumsily falter

Those places avoided
left gaping and dusky
now sit on the hour
like stones on a moth

But love idly murmurs
some word that has meaning
finds patience in waiting
while I wait for you.

tribute

Standard

You sleep on the sofa because you put the sheets in the dryer this morning before work.  Tonight you’re too tired to put them back on the bed.

You go to work with bronchitis because you used all your sick days nursing your kid through his cold.

You went to your kid’s soccer game last night instead of going to the grocery store.

So you’re drinking your coffee black this morning because you gave the rest of the milk to your kid at breakfast.

There’s a 33% chance that you spend more than half of your paycheck on rent.

You pay on average a third of your income on child care. In New York, Minnesota and Massachusetts, if your child is 3 or under, it’s more than half.

This is because you’re paid less than single dads or married men with the same education. If you were paid fairly, your income would increase by 17 percent and your poverty rate would fall by half.

You’re a single mom.

Some folks say, well, you’d be making more money if you’d opted not to have a child.

Some of these same folks want to limit your birth control options.

It’s tough for you. But your love, unlike money, can buy happiness, and it comes to you through hugs and butterfly kisses and nite-nite prayers.

I’m proud of you.

Watching Pablo .aug16

Standard
Pablo's first portrait - by his new mom.

Pablo’s first portrait – by his new mom.

My post will be short today. Most of my observations simply seem too brutal to record.

Rachel had the day off yesterday and I signed up for extra work, so she had the bulk of Pablo’s care. In my trips up and down the stairs, I could see evidence of her determined attempts to get Pablo to eat or drink. It has been odd, seeing bowls of lamb, beef, egg, kibble all about the house, untouched.

Last night after work I went to a movie with a dear friend, who has been reading my blog daily. She told me how much she appreciated my writing, the wonder of being so present and available to Pablo.

I was a little surprised but very happy; I actually began these posts because I had nowhere to go with my sadness, except to write about it. The people who are in sympathy with me were doing their best to be about the business of their day. I expect we will come together with it all very soon.

I am leaving shortly to check Elijah out of school early and take him to his mom’s place of work. I was struck with the timing of it, how easy Pablo made it for us by hanging on until Friday, so Elijah could have the weekend to process and be near his mom.

In the meantime, I am trying to be about the business of my day, and to stay in the present moment. And that is enough for now.

Watching Pablo .aug15

Standard

August 15, 2013

The ingredients of life, of actually living and breathing, are remarkable when that life begins to ebb.  Daily I read anecdotes about the determination of ordinary individuals.  But watching Pablo has been nothing less than astonishing.

The morning is downright brisk.  It is, after all, August, and 60 degrees is chilly in our part of the summertime world.

Elijah has to be at school at the godless hour of 7 am, so last night his mom nudged him upstairs pretty early.  I lingered on the sofa to finish a row of knitting.

I noticed Pablo teetering at the foot of the stairs, looking up at the activity on the landing. My heart stung for a minute: Pablo sleeps upstairs at night.

As I was mulling over whether or not to get him up those stairs and how best to do that, I saw Pablo manage the first step, and then the next.  I walked over to stand behind him and marveled as he made the long climb to the top to Elijah’s dark room.

“Pablo!” Elijah cheered.

Rachel, kneeling by his bed, cried, “You made it!”

She kissed her son good night and bustled about, making certain that Pablo’s food and water were available in the hall and then she took herself to bed.  I knew she was exhausted; I doubt she’s slept much since we left the vet’s office.

I went to my room to wind down.  About 11 pm I heard Pablo coughing.  I found him in the living room, facing the side porch door at an odd angle.  It’s not a door we use much, and I wondered if he thought it was the front door.

I spoke to him and he walked toward me.  I let him out for a pee and settled myself on the sofa for the rest of the night.  I knew he wouldn’t try to go back up the stairs.

Pablo began his ritual of endlessly pacing to and fro.  As I coaxed him to lie down. I remembered times on that very sofa when he would plop his big head on my knee, eyes dancing, whole body wagging, begging for attention.

I remembered his colossal farts that would cause me to shove him away with my toe and sometimes drive me from the room. I remembered him pulling on the leash on walks and standing over Daisy, Rachel’s first dog.  I would loop those memories until I stopped weeping, until he finally settled near me and I drifted off to sleep.

I woke to the sound of Elijah coming downstairs, dressed for school. I walked into the kitchen to see his mom dressed for work.  She must have picked up a shift; ordinarily she doesn’t work on Thursdays.

I went upstairs, checked messages and made coffee.  After my first cup I came down to check on things.

Pablo was at the front door, looking outside at Vincent, who was looking back at him.  The three of us slowly greeted the morning on the porch.

The yard was alive with sound:  street traffic, leaves swishing around in the breeze, the skitter of Vincent’s claws up the crape myrtle in pursuit of an imaginary squirrel.

Pablo in the light.

Pablo in the light.

Pablo’s legs are so shaky he stumbles over twigs in the grass.  But his expression is more alert than I’ve seen in days.  This is the first time he has been outdoors for longer than five minutes in a long while.

I’ve inexplicably become patient in 48 hours.  I sit as I once did behind a camera, waiting for the image to arrive in my viewfinder.  I’m calling on all the pet whispering in my lexicon — I don’t want to rush him, but I don’t want him to feel he must remain outside to watch over me.

I follow him at a distance, noticing life, new growth on the lilac I planted in June, liriope suddenly in bloom, a bluejay feather in the grass, fresh critter tunnels in the dirt.

I am still in my nightgown.  I step inside to grab a throw from the couch, a notebook and a pen.  My laptop, phone and coffee cup are upstairs, but I do not want to leave Pablo to go get them.

I pull a rocker to the edge of the porch and sit down to write.  Pablo slowly sinks into a patch of Bermuda.  His head follows the vehicles as they transit the street.  I can see his sides heaving as he draws in the cool fresh air.  His entire body lurches forward with each breath.  But he is no longer gasping.

Vincent has grown tired of looking for moles and wants to go back inside.  My nose is cold and I need to check with my editors.  I pause in my journal to look at Pablo.  He turns his head and looks toward me.  There is relief and peace in his face.  I pull my wrap a little closer.  Vincent sits down at my feet.

We can stay here a while longer.

 

epilogue

 

The last time we saw Pablo was at the vet’s office.  Rachel and I took him; Elijah stayed behind with his father. The clinic doctors and staff are tender souls and gave us all the time we needed. 

Pablo’s spirit seemed to whisper out of his body.  Today it lingers near the door of Rachel’s house, in eternal vigilance over the kind woman who rescued him from a bitter existence and loved him every moment of her life. 

This record is a tribute to that love.

 

The CatWirks, © 2013, “Watching Pablo”