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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Early Sunday morning, I took Dixie to the dog park. For a while there were no other dogs there. It was just Dixie and her very long shadow waiting patiently and keeping a lookout for a new butt to sniff.
I've had a little secret for a long time. My mother gave it to me when I was in high school. Betty Groth did not like to pay full price and, consequently, nor do I. She was a bargainer and she knew a good deal when she found one. She liked good quality for a reasonable price. And she took a particular thrill when she compared what she paid for an item to the price for that item at another store. She knew where to shop when she wanted or needed to update her wardrobe. First, she subscribed to Vogue Magazine, and read that thing cover to cover. She followed styles, avoided trends, and always dressed conservatively but with a bit of flair all her own. She had style. She would go to Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue and walk through the stores pricing items that she got her attention or that she'd seen in Vogue. Then, she'd go to Loehmann's and head to the Back Room.
If you're not familiar with Loehmann's, the store is a discounted designer clothing store, which Frieda Loehmann started way back in 1921 in Brooklyn, NY. And last Thursday, all Loehmann's stores in the country started liquidation sales because they are going out of business. Bankruptcy, weak internet presence, stiff competition, blahblahblah. The news hit me hard.
For the longest time, there was just one Loehmann's in Houston. It was across town but worth the drive. My mother began taking me there when I was beginning high school. At first I hated it. You see, Loehmann's has one dressing room. One big room, lined with mirrors and hooks. You tried on clothes after taking your clothes off in front of everyone. The horror for my teenage privacy needs! At least Mom was in another dressing room. The Back Room, where the high end designer clothes were kept and where you just hung up your items on a peg and stripped down right there among the racks of clothes, was where Mom found her best bargains. It was separated from the rest of the store by thick blue floor-to-ceiling curtains. For a while, I was too young to go back there. Such a mystery it was! Until, at least, she made friends with a sales woman back there who made an exception as long as I stayed with my mother. You'd think I was five.
When Loehmann's opened a second Houston location, they did so right at the freeway exit one would take to get to our house. I remember how excited my mother and I were. By then, I was out and on my own but we'd still go there together and she'd still head to the Back Room where prices were prohibitive for me but still a great deal for her. This location did not have curtains blocking the Back Room, nor did it have a separate dressing room. I can still hear her calling me over to ask my opinion of a dress or a suit. I have many memories of she and I in Loehmann's.
The dress my mother wore to the inauguration of George Bush was a dress she bought at Loehmann's. That was a great day we shared.
I shop at Loehmann's regularly, most recently over Christmas where I got a load of clothes for my nephew for not a load of money. (Their men's department is quite small but good.) Because my mother shopped there for so many years, she earned the Black Diamond membership, which translated to 10% off purchase total, including sales. The membership number is our old home phone number. I've enjoyed that 10% discount for years.
I'm going to stop in the original Houston store this weekend, just to take a stroll through the racks of clothes, to remember the years of shared shopping with my mother. Years where she taught me about good fit, good quality and good prices. I will miss Loehmann's, miss walking into the store and remembering my mother, miss saying our old phone number out loud. I'll also miss the great deals that I would get there. But, most of all, I will miss experiencing what my mother gave me long ago.
Are you familiar with the Brave Girls Club? It's a website of pure positive, it's support and encouragement for women and the tag line is Let's be good to each other. I don't visit the website often but I do receive daily emails from the group. The emails are accessible in their language and tone, conversational and uplifting. This isn't Dr. Phil stuff, it's the stuff of dialog between you and a good friend.
There has been an inner turmoil brewing in me for quite some time and while I created it, heard it, worked it over and over, I haven't moved it forward to any conclusion or action. Yesterday, I took a baby step of action. It was good and it felt good and right. And then this morning, I got this email from Brave Girls Club and hello? Exactly what I needed to read.
Dear Extraordinary Girl,
Something wonderful happens to us as we are paying more attention to our souls, and at first it might not seem like such a wonderful thing. It's the day that we get flat out, undeniably SICK AND TIRED of the way things are.
If you find yourself in this place, lovely friend, take heart and know that this is the catalyst for deep and meaningful change and for the resolve it will take to get from where you don't want to be to exactly where you want to be, and never go back.
There must come a day when ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, when all of the excuses finally lose their power. There must come a day when things are so far from the path that feels like yours that you will do anything to get on the right path. THIS is a very good day, a day that deserves a thankful heart and serious consideration, attention and some of your undivided time.
So if you are sick and tired of the way things are, this is the doorway to the way things are meant to be. We must step out of what we don't want to be able to step into what we do want. It is SO WORTH IT.
Keep going, beautiful girl. You are going to get there. You are going to be ok. Everything is going to work out and this will be worth every tear you cry, every mile you walk, every hurdle you overcome.