Friday, January 05, 2018

Watering the Winter Garden


It was the last morning of the year when I saw him. I was stopped at a red light on the access road. He was hunched over his cane, hobbling slowly on the median extending along the intersecting street. He moved slowly, so carefully. He looked like a winter garden, beaten down, without promise, cold. I was warm as I watched him. My car was warm — my seat heaters were doing their job. As I watched him I thought about that bit of absurdity. What a luxury I have with heated seats in my car while that guy is begging for food.

There but for the grace of God.

He had a rough-cut piece of cardboard in one hand and his cane in the other, balancing between his message and his steps.

I pulled $20.00 from my wallet as the light turned green. Then I remembered there was a McDonalds farther up the road.

My friendly neighborhood Facebook site has several lengthy conversation threads about the homeless people who frequent the freeway intersections. Many lack compassion and are in fact angry. I understand, I do. There are people who systematically work the streets as a job, driven there by a “boss” or driving there themselves. And many people think that homeless people are simply lazy or homeless by choice, or druggies who choose to be that way. As if being homeless is a preferred option, as if addiction isn’t real. They say that if you give the beggars a handout or food, that you are part of the problem, that you are a fool. Sigh. There are so many issues to consider before condemning. Mental illness and addiction being two -- being flat out of luck is another.

I would rather be a fool than heartless.

I drove to McDonalds, ordered a breakfast meal and a large cup of coffee with several creams and sugars.

When I returned and approached the man, I could see him better. His coat was adequate but his jeans were thin. His face was dirty, his eyes dark. I rolled down my window, said, “I got you a hot meal and some coffee.” His tired eyes lit up a bit, a momentary spark, as he reached for the bag my hands held out for him. He juggled his cane, sign and the bag and then took the cup of coffee. His hands were stained and shaking. I gave him ten dollars and told him to take care of himself. He thanked me. He didn’t preach to me, he didn’t ask me for a cigarette, he just stood there, holding the warm food and coffee, holding the ten dollars, and he looked at me and said, thank you.

It’s not much, what I did. But it was something. I believe we all must do at least something, where we can and when we can. Everyone has a garden inside of them. We all need nourishment, from food as well as kindness.

Two days later, two homeless men died from exposure to the frigid temperatures Houston is experiencing. I hope those two men knew kindness before they died.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Agony of Consequence

I didn’t know him. Before Monday morning, I wasn’t aware of him at all. Right now, I am grieving him, grieving for my friends who lost him. When I heard the news, I saw a blue and golden globe rising. But that is just me inserting myself into the story.

Our decisions are fragile. My God, so delicate. And they are where you will find the divine knot of the folded hands of prayerful Mothers.

Their songs are the same:  Please, God, not my child.  

This is a horrible story, I know that. I'm sure you know that.

The other guy was a little punk, not worth more than the dirt on the road, or so he thought. He had something to prove though. Fuck them all, he thought. Who cares? He can’t remember the last time he gave a shit, you know? So now he has a gun in one hand, and in the other he's holding a mixture of something called nothing to lose and something to prove.

If you believe your life means nothing, how can anyone expect you to value any other life? I mean, come on. Don’t be so fucking stupid. Is that what he heard in his mind? You’re so fucking stupid?

I wonder if he trembled when he aimed at the truck. I wonder if beads of sweat formed on his brow as he held the power in his hands, as his anger sprouted and irritated his young body. Maybe he pissed his pants at the immediate scent and sound of gunshot, at the finality and the reality that followed the angry split second it took him to pull the trigger. HE CRACKED OPEN THE WORLD. He pulled that trigger four times. Was he surprised that this time he really did it? Maybe he wanted to vomit. Maybe he regretted it and wondered what the hell he just did. What have I done?


No doubt, something in his mind told him there was no going back.

I imagine that the boys in the truck screamed in fear, yelled at the driver to GO GO GO? Did Tyrese reach his hand across his back when he realized he was shot? Did each young man whose life split apart in that instant gasp in fear and wish he could just be home with his mom?

Being a man was suddenly so far away for those boys. They huddled and cried, disbelieved. No, no way. This is not happening. HOW IS THIS HAPPENING? They ducked and scrambled as their ears cracked with the sound. Each boy looked, searched, screamed. But for one. One slumped. One wondered, with desperate and panicked thoughts: Am I bleeding? Am I shot? Oh God. I've been shot. Surely the tears came then. Surely his heart broke at that moment. Knowing what we know now, surely we all wish we could have been there to hold him, comfort him.


His loved ones and friends were unaware they would soon be obsessively searching their day for what they were doing at that moment. They'd repeat over and over again their last conversation with Tyrese, and they'd scramble for their last laughter shared. They would search for and imagine the exact moment they would eventually define as the line between his life and death. As the line between their life, before and after his. They will never know for sure.

And so it was, just a week before Christmas, a Sunday evening on a quiet dirt road beneath a darkening sky in East Texas, that an edgy 17-year old crossed paths with a truck full of young men --  one in particular an 18-year old just days after his birthday, eager for life, a hometown football kid, along for the ride, sitting in the back seat.

One is dead. One has been arrested. All are forever changed. Fragile decisions, tragic consequences.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Particularly Good

Yesterday I posted on Facebook (which years ago I let seduce me from this blog even though all I give in return is short descriptions of a moment here and there, farts of inspiration and nothing of real thought-filled follow-through). Ahem. Sunday evening I posted on Facebook that it had been a particularly good weekend. This evening, during my somewhat daily meditational drift while watching the sprinkler in the back yard, I thought about what made me say particularly good, and I realized that it was -- to me -- the perfect balance of planned and unplanned. Enough structure for the framework but plenty of room to ad lib.

Meet a friend for hours of  horse talk, champagne and bacon (with blue cheese!) on a Friday afternoon? Particularly good, I thought, as we sat on the patio and bantered about the hunter/jumper show circuit, old barns vs. new barns, Pennsylvania and New York barns vs. Kentucky and Tennessee barns. Versus Texas barns (An obvious loss) The ceiling fans were high above and slow-moving but the breeze curled across our patio table and the temperature was in the low 80s and I could have sat there all afternoon. But, structure.

I was sitting for two dogs this weekend, one at my house and one at a friend's house. I was also looking after my great niece, the five-year old, that evening. I told her we needed to go feed my friend's dog (structure) but to put on her bathing suit because we could go swimming while there (ad lib). And she swam and searched for lizards and helped me water my friend's back yard, and swam some more. Then we went home and strung beaded bracelets and necklaces (structure).

I told her we would bake cupcakes on Saturday (structure) and when she woke up five minutes after I did at the crack of dawn that morning, we took off to the grocery store for what ended up being way too many jars of sprinkles but she is five and, well, who gives a shit how many jars of sprinkles I have in my pantry? (Ad lib) She picked out pink ones and red ones and silver ones and rainbow ones and her excitement each time I said, "Okay, put it in the cart," thrilled me to my core. (Benefit of ad-libbing).

Saturday rolled lazily and happily into Sunday. I dropped my nephew and his daughter at the museum (structure) in the late morning, rang up a friend and met her at her house to help her with a marketing task (ad lib). We wrapped that up in no time, popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and sat on her balcony and talked and talked while people walked their dogs on the sidewalk below and bees buzzed around the white flowers on her Basil plant.

Then it was time to pick up my nephew and the five-year old. We headed home to coloring and more jewelry making and a short nap taken by my exhausted nephew. Sunday evening, my house was filled with much silliness and giggles, alphabet singing, counting, and reading of everyone's friend, Dr. Seuss. As I sat on the couch after dinner and listened to my nephew negotiate with his daughter the optimal number of cupcakes to be consumed after dinner, (she's skilled, so she won and got to eat two but only the top part with the icing. Because, sprinkles) I closed my eyes and thought,  particularly good.




Friday, February 12, 2016

Comfort this child

Walking from the parking lot into the restaurant, I did a double take at one of the two women walking towards the door. She looked like Jessie, with her graying hair pulled back neatly and her red jacket over her dress. She walked like Jessie too, a slow but sure pace. I stayed at the door and watched her, smiling. I held the door open for the two women, telling the one that she looked just like my dear friend. She smiled and her smile was bright and beautiful. I told her as much and then said, "You look like my friend. I lost her last year but seeing your smile just now made me so happy and I just had to hold the door open for you." 

She said, "Come here child and let me give you a hug." 

While holding me in her arms she prayed, "Bless this beautiful child Lord, and give comfort to her."

We pulled back from each other and I said, "He just did."

I love people. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Showing Up

If he hadn't been late to pick me up from work, I wouldn't have walked through the field. I wouldn't have seen the Dandelions and I wouldn't have thought about wishes. He was late though, and I did walk through the field and I did think about wishes. I plucked a full white puff from the ground, made a wish and blew with all my might to be sure the wish came true. 

The wish I made was a simple one, and not for me. It was a wish for Jessie, that she was doing well at that moment, and happy, at peace. That's what I wanted, doing well, happy, at peace. 

He was all apologies when I got into the car. Not a problem, I told him, it was a nice walk and I made a wish for Jessie. I reached for my phone to call her. No answer. I called her cell phone. No answer. Perhaps, I thought, she's in the bathroom. I heard the whisper from the wind; she always has her cell phone with her. In a sock, with her cash, pinned to her bra. 

Sadly, and regretfully, I did not pay attention to that whisper. 

Jessie's biggest fear was that she would fall and be unable to get up. It happened before. She'd call me, 911, a neighbor. We'd get her up. She had a caregiver, provided by her insurance, but the caregivers -- all of them -- were for the most part without any use to her. They did not cook, didn't clean very well, occasionally stole from her, didn't show up or showed up late without calling. Jessie would get to know and like the individual, would help with bus money or groceries when needed, but would sadly realize she was being taken advantage of and call the Nursing company to request a different caregiver. Another equally desperate but uninterested one would show up in a week or so. The Nursing company knew me all too well. I'd call, complain, explain, take numbers, get promises and then dammit I'd have to call again because nothing would change. 

Her daughter and I had fought before. What was best for Jessie had to be what was most convenient for her daughter. It was never in Jessie's best interest. Many a facility, nurse, insurance agent got familiar with me, as Jessie would say "please talk to my real daughter." I fought and negotiated on her behalf. Her daughter was always too busy. 

The problem was that Jessie's daughter was angry.  Her daughter was angry that she was adopted by a "maid." Her daughter was ashamed of Jessie. I was proud of Jessie and her daughter was not. We were, to the word, at odds. I loved Jessie; her daughter resented. I bought for Jessie, her daughter stole. I gave, her daughter took. 

Her daughter broke her heart. I loved her heart. 

When her daughter called the next morning, she was matter of fact. She "just" wanted me to know that Jessie died that morning. The caregiver found her.  

Heartbroken as I was, I didn't believe her daughter for a minute. I knew then as I know now in my heart that Jessie died the day before. The day she did not answer the phone. The day when, again, a caregiver did not show up. 

I went to her house that afternoon, as soon as I could compose myself and drive there. The house was full, her daughter holding court seemingly drinking the attention, dry eyed and laughing. The caregiver came in, they hugged, and she said that Jessie was fine when she had seen her Monday night, but this morning, she found her in the bathroom slumped over. This morning was Wednesday. That caregiver never showed up for work on Tuesday. I gave her a look of pain, anger and knowing better. I locked eyes with her and quieted her. But I bit my tongue. 

My lifelong friend died alone with her biggest fear, that of falling. Because someone did not take their job seriously enough to show up. I cut through their laughter and I said goodbye. Jessie's daughter said she had something for me and left the room. She returned and handed me a watch, said that Jessie was wearing it when she died. She said Jessie had always had it and was sure that she would want me to have something. The watch was a Timex Day Glo that my friend had given Jessie a few months beforehand. 

I spoke at Jessie's funeral service. She was there before me in a beautiful pink casket. I held hands with and cried with her sister, brothers, fellow church goers, auxillary group, nuns, friends and cousins, Aunts, nieces, nephews. All of them spoke of Jessie's love for me, of our friendship. I quietly tucked into her casket, under her right arm, a gold rose that my father had given me years ago and a silver earring with my grandmother's initials engraved. My grandmother adored Jessie and the feeling was mutual. My father and Jessie had the same heart. It was fitting, if not exactly orthodox. 

Standing at the podium, above Jessie's earthly body, with broken heart, shaking hands and steady voice, I read Maya Angelou's poem, "When Great Trees Fall." 

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.


When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.


When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their

nurture,

now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance,
fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of
dark, cold

caves.


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.
When I finished, I took a deep breath. And the people there applauded. The words reached them and they clapped and stood and rejoiced! They knew me and they knew our love, my sweet Jessie and me. I was hugged and kissed and asked to send those words to this one and that one. 
I felt that I did Jessie right that day. I loved her sister and her brothers, I cried with the best of them. I followed the hearse to the gravesite and was pulled to the front row by her sister. I dropped roses on her casket and I sadly, desperately, said goodbye. 
I stayed there at her grave because I had nowhere to go without her. I stayed and cried and then I walked away. But I keep my dear friend right in my heart, where she has always been. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Rising

I can't write unless or, I don't know, until my head listens to itself or my heart or the subtle scratching at the door that says to line up my words and march them through my fingers and out into the fresh air. When I don't write it's as if I'm sitting a child in the corner and ignoring her completely. For days, weeks, or in this case over a year. Poor ignored child sitting in the corner. Let's get her out, shall we?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Giving Thanks

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the weather in Houston went down to temps we usually don't have here (I read that the last time we had had temps that low that early was in 1909). Even though I am loathe to wear more than long-sleeve t-shirts and at most a down vest in the winter, meaning I can't stand sweaters or coats, I did happily pull on my boots that first morning of cold air. Two nights in a row, we reached freezing temps. And then? Back to the typical high 40s to low 70s. The boots went back in the closet.

Just a few days after that brief freeze, the magic appeared. We had an explosion of  Fall colors. EVERYWHERE. Trees up and down my street were glowing golden yellow and orange. My drive to work was dotted with deep reds and golds. That brief freeze gave Houston the gift of Fall, actual Fall during the Fall season. (Occasionally, we get some Fall color in January but it is a dizzying punch in the gut to have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and then, Fall colors.) I have been so happy walking my streets, driving the roads, so happy with the colors filling my eyes. I just stare at the deep yellow leaves and take a deep breath, give pause and appreciation for this unexpected delightful beauty.

This year, this glorious year, Thanksgiving day was surrounded by the colors of nature in change, the colors I love, the signs of transition from one season to the next. I see it as a special gift and I'm so happy to be experiencing and enjoying it.

I might not be equally happy when it comes time to raking the yard, but a little effort is not much to pay for a whole lot of beauty.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Yesterday's News

I think that like many people, I was shocked on Sunday to learn that Philip Seymour Hoffman died. All avenues of media went into a frenzy. In the bathroom, needle in his arm, empty heroin bags nearby, the whole ugly mess of his death. Why is it always in the bathroom? For as much as anyone can like another without knowing them, I liked Mr. Hoffman. I lost him in movies to his characters and I think that is the coolest thing about being in the audience, to lose the star in the movie because he or she is that great an actor. I read his interviews and was sure to check out talk shows where he was the guest. Beyond that though, I didn't seek him, didn't google him, didn't do more than appreciate what he gave. 

But to be clear, I was a fan.

And Sunday, the news of his death. I've watched interviews where he spoke proudly of being 23 years sober. I did not know that he went into rehab recently, that he'd fallen off the wagon, as they say. I did not know the devil was after him again.

I do know that this has nothing to do with me, not a single thing. But. BUT. Sunday afternoon on Facebook, someone I know posted sadness at Mr. Hoffman's death. I read the comments and about seven comments down was this: Pure STUPIDITY. The comment was in reference to the overdose and I took offense.  I commented right below that addiction has nothing to do with intelligence or lack thereof.  Plenty of people liked my comment and that felt good.

I want to tell you why it felt good and what my connection is to Mr. Philip Seymour Hoffman.

When I was nine years old, I was already loving a drug and alcohol addict, though her path had just begun. She was my hero. I remember the smell of her hair and the shape of her young arms. I knew the way her jeans hung low from her hips, the curve of the belt that held her jeans on her body. I watched her every gentle move with animals and I spied on her when she stole our parents' cigarettes. She wasn't an addict then, not yet, but the spark was lit and the flame was beginning to take hold. Her unraveling would go on for years.

I can tell you something about addiction. It is constant. It is a monster, a hungry beast that is never sated. We, we humans, are frail and beautiful beings. We can love and hate, heal and destroy. We are tender and mortal and yet powerful beings, but we are no match for addiction. Addiction will feed itself at the risk of life. Addiction is so fucking strong, such a cruel and savage beast, it will convince the brain to believe that whatever it wants is absolutely necessary for the body; it will incorporate whatever substance into the mind and body's sense of normal and, subsequently, the body and mind become dependent. And must have more.

Addiction might be a habit but it's not a decision or a choice. It's an override of the power to choose, a block to reason.

Yeah, I've seen addiction at work. I've seen it steal, starve, threaten, point a gun, destroy friends, family, neighbors and strangers. I've seen addiction reduce a healthy, vibrant being to a sickly and ashen shell. I've seen heroes fall and young dreams fail. I've seen addiction take everything and everyone in its path down a swirling tunnel of destructive hell. Ruined lives, ruined connections, destroyed trust, tortured hearts, wrecked cars, destroyed beauty, and destroyed minds.

Addiction has nothing at all to do with intelligence. It does not give a flying fuck if you are rich, poor, smart or otherwise. Not if you are male, female, a child or adult. Not what country you live in, neighborhood you live in or car you sleep in. Addiction does not care about your popularity, your net worth or your children. It doesn't care about your house, your promises, your confidence or your job. Not if you are an Oscar winner or struggling to get a spot in the school play. Addiction does not discriminate.

So, yeah, that's why it felt good to have the support on my comment to the person who could only summon up the word stupidity. At least in that conversation thread, more people were area of what addiction is than were not. I did click on the person who made the comment though and on his page I learned that he has lost friends to overdoses. It is a very real and current issue in his life. He is hurt and angry and I understand that. I hope that he can reach out past the anger for some comprehension. Without understanding the disease, he'll never be able to forgive the behavior.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day Care

A few years ago, a friend and I volunteered to pick up some dogs from a boarding facility and transport them to an adoption location for a local rescue organization's adoption day. When we arrived at the boarding facility, a woman named Jamie greeted us with a megawatt smile and such warmth and joy, such friendliness and gratitude, that I felt immediate comfort around her. She was hopeful and enthusiastic about her babies getting adopted that day. These two are my babies, she said as she helped us load the dogs and their crates, loving on them and wishing them luck for a forever home.

I would soon learn that all dogs are Jamie's babies. She's an animal lover to her core and she's a natural with dogs.

I began to take Dixie in a couple times a week for doggie day care on days I wanted to give Cheyenne a break from Dixie. Dix took to Jamie immediately and I knew that she was in good hands with Jamie. Jamie and I became friends. Sometimes I would bring her coffee and we would chat for a while when I dropped off Dixie. Jamie shared her dream of opening her own doggy day care place one day. She had big ideas, big dreams. I couldn't help but get caught up in her excitement when she spoke. She wanted to help the rescue organizations, so she wanted ample space for kennels. She wanted to work with the rescued dogs and get them socialized and trained and ready for adoption. And she wanted a certain kind of kennel that by design was environmentally safer for the dogs, keeping them healthier through lack of exposure to any illnesses. She wanted a veterinarian to open shop there. She wanted to provide a neighborhood doggy day care center with plenty of land for dogs to run and play during the day while their owners went to work. I could see her dream unfolding as she spoke.

Jamie opened that place late 2012. It has a reception area, a lounge area with couches and a television, where you can wait while your dog is seen by the vet. It has a huge room in the center that is divided into three large enclosures with short walls of varying height. This is the indoor play area separated into play rooms for, you probably guessed it, large, medium and small dogs. When she opened, I gave her a large poster of a black and white photo of Cheyenne. That hangs in the kitchen and always brings a smile to my face when I see it.

Dixie loves going to doggy day care. She cannot wait to get out of the car when we pull into the parking lot, and then she can't wait to get in the door. Jamie spoils her rotten and I love knowing that. She lets Dixie roam around like she owns the place. One other dog gets to do that as well, and that is Rufus, a big sweet boy whom Dixie adores.

All of this to say that when Jamie texted me this photo last week of Dixie and Rufus relaxing in the lounge area, I was not at all surprised.

Monday, January 27, 2014

This day

When I woke this morning, I reached over to pet Dixie and she immediately jumped off the bed, ever eager as she is to get outside and see what's there and assess if anything is out of place because if there is, by gosh, she's going to bark and bark at whatever it is until she is satisfied that her world is right again. I rolled my eyes, looked at the clock then pulled the covers over my head. I thought of how Cheyenne would always flip over on her back in the mornings, presenting her belly for a nice rub. She'd sometimes fall back asleep and then I would fall back asleep. I wished for that this morning. Just for a moment. A small wish, self-serving. I wanted to sleep deeply and undisturbed.

Six years. It's been six years since my mother passed. A day in the calendar, just a date. I don't mean to even be aware of it but here it is. I miss her. Six years have done nothing to lessen that. I miss her wit and the shape of her hands. I miss her smile and her wisdom, her hand writing and opinions. I miss borrowing her shoes and the way my name sounded in her voice. I miss her being here, alive, present.

Dixie insisted that I get up, and for much of the morning I moped around the house beneath the weight of my sadness and that made me even more sad because it was pathetic. It's not as if this date is a surprise to me and it's not as if she was here yesterday. Then again, I can't control how I feel and I cannot control wanting to crawl under the covers on this day. What I can control though is the mess that I let my house get over the weekend. Dixie dragged dirt and sticks inside, the clean laundry was overflowing, the kitchen, oh dear the kitchen was a disaster of messy counters, a dishwasher that was full of clean dishes and a sink that was full of dirty dishes. So I got busy. And while that didn't make me feel good, it did make me stop moping.

I miss my mom. I will always miss her. There's less struggle inside me trying to resolve the woman I knew and loved with the woman who was angry, confused and unraveled by dementia. I counted on time to help me there and it has and for that I am relieved. Still, today, by the date, is a sad one for me. It is a marker of how much time has passed, the worst of anniversaries.