Saturday, April 30, 2005
"Why is it," she asks me, "that men look distinguished when they start to go grey?" She moves her eyes but not her head towards the silent husband to her left.
"Not sure, Georgi," I say. Going grey isn't something I spend my time pondering. I am so blond that I figure I'll just go clear rather than grey because grey would actually be more color than I have right now.
"Well, when I get there, it's one of the things I'm going to ask him."
She goes into a story about a natural dye she's found "under ten dollars, less than ten minutes and I do it at home. Perfect." Although I hear her, I've been snagged by her comment. Gets where? Ask who? And then I realize that she means heaven and God. And I smile because conversation with her is refreshing. She's forever slipping in gems like that and it never fails to make me happy.
Friday, April 29, 2005
not a mother
not a wife
not very patient with some people
very patient with others
and losing patience with a few
very weary of promises
searching for solutions
wondering where the past three months have gone
wondering if I'm qualified for any of this
nervous every time my phone rings
still holding on to some wishes I'm not ready to make
frustrated, desperate, worried, stressed
wearing pink and black
recently manicured and pedicured
wondering what's for lunch
laughing that spell check just suggested "Pedigreed" in lieu of "Pedicured"
Work - these words
of - necessary preposition, but you knew that
Self-Indulgence - to gratify one's taste or desire
That should somewhat explain the name of this blog. External inspiration pushing the internal need to write.
I believe that all blogs are self-indulgent, but think of the environment and all the trees we're saving by not feverishly penning our thoughts in journal after journal. In the end, all that self-indulgence makes us an environmentally generous lot.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Every now and then there are people and conversations that - for a moment - take me away from that missing and desperation. Tonight was that way. Tonight was dinner with two friends, and the conversation political. Tonight was about the Pope and President Bush and, well, entirely different conversations than I've had lately. Which is good, I'll take it. But at the same time, there is an energy expense to these conversations and I put forth that energy so that I can join in all the due passion and opinion. And it feels good to argue (debate) something that is not emotional. But it's energy spent and that is from a supply that I don't really have. I'm drained. And vulnerable.
When this evening was over, I got into my car and remembered like a punch in the stomach that I am alone. As soon as I shut the door, I was aware of it in that way that silence is sometimes louder than sound. My world settled gently but painfully around me. I sat in the car tonight and looked at a photograph of my father. He's wearing his red sport coat, holding a glass of wine, looking right into the camera with his beautiful blue eyes. And a tear dropped from my eye. It was time to go home. Time to return to what I am struggling to accept is now my familiar, which is a world without his presence, but one all about when he was once present. I turned the key in the ignition and the radio gave me this:
I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again.
Yeah, I always thought that I'd see him again.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Being at the cabin is like spending time with my father. If I could. I feel him here, see him here, see results of his work and his heart and his dreams here. This place is saturated with him and that's perfect. I have 20 years of memories here. I recall him at every spot. In the kitchen preparing his oysters, on the porch admiring the land, at the bar preparing his martini, downstairs in his workshop, outside setting out the sprinklers, taking the golf cart out for a 'cocktail cruise' with Mom, preparing the rods to go fishing, cooking the fish from the day's catch. And sitting in his chair at the dining table. So many dinners I had beside him at the table. So many mornings we sat across from each other, drinking our coffee and reading the newspaper while everyone else was sleeping. I'd look up at him sitting across from me and smile at him because those quiet morning hours we shared were so precious to me, the time that I had with him before the house came to life with the family and conversation. I look at that chair now and though it is empty, his was such a presence that I feel him there. I miss him so much it chokes my heart and yet when I look at this chair, I can breathe again. How I wish he was sitting in it right now. How I do wish that.
It's a nice mile walk around the island. This morning's surprise cool temperature and breeze made it all the nicer. The Cottonwood and Sycamore trees are fully loaded with their new green leaves and the wind blowing through them sounds like a distant crowd clapping. It's a treat to hear. But the best part, the very best part, is making this little walk around the island in my pajamas.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Sharon [from outside on the porch to me in the kitchen]: Alison, do you have a pencil?
Me: There's one right here but you have to sharpen it. [Then looking at Eddie] Eddie, will you sharpen it, please? I don't think there's a sharpener, but you can use a knife.
Eddie: Wait, I think I have a pencil in my backpack.
So, Eddie goes upstairs and looks for a pencil and Sharon comes inside and is looking around the cabin for a pencil but in odd places, places that a pencil would never be, say, in the area beneath the stairs where toys and puzzles are kept. And I'm looking at her with a look on my face that reveals that my mind is saying what the heck are you looking there for?
Sharon: Did you look on the clipboard I brought down, I think I have a pencil on that.
Me [admittedly a bit flustered]: Well, why did you ask me for a pencil then?
Sharon: I don't need a pencil, I thought you did. I'm looking for a tennis ball.
I'm not at all sure how that happened but I am quite sure that I'm sitting here right now with my own little preview of what life will be like when my hearing goes out. I think it just might have its moments of amusement. And as far as inventory goes, we do have pencils. And tennis balls.
Lord knows that I put my parents through some interesting, if not extremely troublesome times. I shaved my head, and dyed orange what hair was left remaining - and still insisted on joining them at the head table at the oh-so-conservative country club. I lied not only to avoid any repercussions I might receive from telling the truth, but also when it was simply convenient. I wrecked cars, stole their credit cards, hid less than stellar report cards as well as the bills of the credit cards I stole. I experimented with my sexuality. I experimented with drugs when their entire (and very expensive) plan for me was one that they hoped would avoid just that. And that's glossing over it. Trust me, I really was trouble. For years. We had our fights, be sure of that, but they loved me and guided me through the time. And over time I mended my ways and I grew up. They did a good job.
So now Mom's being trouble, so to speak. She's not shaving her head or hiding bills but she could wreck her car, and she is not being responsible. The role of parent and child have reversed a bit. It's challenging, and the specifics are different, but it's really no different, is it? It's a lifetime promise. Every day I think about it and I realize that the details are unique, but the challenge to be there is not. I believe that it is my turn. I do believe that. Mom and Dad must have been so sick of me, so exasperated. They had to have wanted to quit. Had to have. But they did not. And neither will I. I hope and pray that I do as good a job with Mom as my parents did with me. That I can be wise and patient, loving, guiding, tolerant, understanding. If ever there was a time in my life (so far) that I needed to benefit from my father's teachings and their life-long patience with me, it is now.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Now, let me tell you that that sign could have said, "Alison, do not put a period where I have put a comma." And that's because I spent a long time last night in prayer. I prayed out loud and I had a lot to say and ask and believe and be reminded of. I prayed for her, for him, for them, for me, for guidance. And I rolled it upwards. And this morning in that sign, I received an answer and in my very own language. In the US, the punctuation mark used to end a sentence is a period; but in the UK, that punctuation mark is called a full stop. Makes sense. A comma though, a comma is a pause, a mark of separation between clauses. So, with that in mind, what the sign said to me is "Do not stop where God has placed a pause."
What's my answer? It's not quitting time, no matter how tired I am. I'm battle weary, yes, but that's the time to call upon my real strength, my courage, the bravery my father so often told me to have. I do not know the answers but I am reminded that they sometimes do not come to us all neat and pre-packaged in the form of knowedge or lessons learned. The answers aren't out there in neat bundles awaiting us to find them like Easter Eggs tucked in the grass. We have to live the questions. Day by day, bit by bit. Over time the answers will form and we will find resolution and solution. This is life.
Last night, when talking to my brother on the phone, he said that earlier in the evening he was reminded of, and it felt good to hear, "This too shall pass.” And that's the truth, it will. What I need is this time of pause and reflection, a time to gather my strength and focus. A time of prayer. This is not a time for me to throw my hands up in the air in exasperation, not a time to turn away, and not a time to think of myself. There’s a reason why it’s said that the darkest hour is before the light. It's okay to pause; it's not okay to stop.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
We want to do the right thing, say the right thing, and be the right people. We keep a watch on what is going on and we strive for harmony within the family. We work to keep my niece and nephew focused on their school, on their futures, on their in-home behavior and chores, on making good decisions. We try to help them with their grief. We try to inspire them, be positive, and help them through the very difficult things that they face in their home life. We struggle for time, understanding, patience. We strive to put some order in their lives.
We work with my mother, though it’s a challenge of such magnitude that what most often results is us developing our skills at keeping our mouths shut. We worry. We grapple with so many emotions and concerns, it’s near impossible to organize our conversations. Her age, her approach to grief, her depression, her drinking, her memory, her health, her diet, her refusal to get anything at all done. We are worried sick about all of it. And we divide our days and find time and step in and get so much done for her. We grocery shop, make phone calls, encourage, ask questions, clean her house, cook dinner, keep company, take to lunch or dinner. We try to nudge her into a life rather than an existence. And we try not to piss her off because she doesn’t welcome any of this. Not only does she not welcome it, she doesn’t think it necessary. We are stepping onto her turf and that’s threatening to her, very threatening. Her attitude and the way she lives her life are threatening to us. And emotionally devastating. There’s anger, sadness, confusion, frustration, exasperation, and desperation. Her footprints are all over our love for her. We grab at ideas and work through them and inevitably hit a block. Namely, her. What to do, what to do?
What we do is soldier forward every day. Our enemy is a powerful combination of circumstance and illness and stubbornness. It’s a battle we never knew we’d be facing; we would have enlisted but in all honesty we were drafted. So each and every day, we keep a look out. We remove obstacles. We pray.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Saturday, April 16, 2005
There is someone in my life who should know this, and at one time must have known this. But she no longer does. No longer recognizes and no longer expresses. And that hurts. It may sound like something trivial to write about, as if I’m whining because I have not heard thank you when I wanted to. But that’s not it. With recognition and appreciation, with just that, we can do so much. It’s fuel for us to continue. It makes us feel that we belong, that we have value. Without it, the gestures become work, the attitude resentment. What slays me is not so much that gratitude isn’t expressed, but my efforts are not recognized. And not only mine. A certain someone is doling out a lot of pain with failure to recognize what many of us do for her. I want to remind her of the basics: Say please, and say thank you. Isn't that what you taught me, way back when?
Friday, April 15, 2005
- the first organ transplant took place
- the first Peanuts cartoon strip was printed
- the Korean War began
- Senator Joseph McCarthy began the Communist Witch Hunt
- Truman was President
They had their whole life together ahead of them, their promises to each other, their dreams, their future spread out before them wide and waiting for them to inscribe their lives upon it.
I have a laminated pressing from the April 16, 1950, edition of the New York Herald Tribune. The wedding at Christ Church, Staten Island, her from Dongan Hills, him of Union City. Their marriage got all sorts of press, my favorite heading "Union City Man’s Bride" above a stunning photo of my mother, the same photo that hangs in my hallway. She carried a cascade of Eucharist lilies and stephanotis. I do not even know what stephanotis is. I will find out. There are articles of her bridal shower, articles of his marrying her, her marrying him. All news and celebration. All promise and joy.
Twelve years before I was born.
It’s difficult to imagine your parents’ lives, difficult to imagine that they had a life before you. Because you lose your point of reference. At my own age, I’ve known them all my life. And yet they had their life and their lives together, long before me. Such a partnership I cannot really imagine, though I lived with it. I remember one particularly difficult time in the book of our family – I think that all three children were being out of line - I mouthed off at something to my mother, and my father told me in no uncertain terms that it was not acceptable to talk to her that way, not only because she was my mother, but because she was his wife. And they were a team. They loved us, but they were a team, and we their children were not to cross either one. He drew the line there and I saw it and respected it from that day on. What he said was cross me, but not her. I admire that, and haven't forgotten it.
I asked my mother once, just after a post-college break-up, how she did it, how she managed to be and stay married, what her secret was. She smile at me and thought a while before answering. She told me that while she was sure that I expected her and wanted her to say it was all about their love for each other, that she couldn’t say it was that. What she did say was that while you can’t have it without love, in fact the reason why they kept their marriage alive was due to respect. Obviously, I’ve not forgotten that either.
They were (and are) so different, those two. He of the sea and the fields, of interest in all walks of life; her of tennis and art, volunteerism and social placing. Both valued education and both possessing business minds admired by others, both successful in their own right. Together they were partners. He saw her dreams and met them, she accommodated his.
Great strength existed in their marriage. Agreements and sacrifices that I’m aware of, and many, many more that they kept to themselves. Theirs was a partnership indeed. He once told me that she was the greatest business asset he could have ever married. It wasn’t always great – not even near – or even always good. But it was theirs and theirs alone. They got married and they promised. And they kept their promises. He didn’t walk, neither did she. I’ve seen more than a few times when either could have and no one would have blamed them. I’ve seen times when their marriage was as fragile as a hummingbird’s wings – but I never doubted because beneath those wings was a structure of steel. I’ve witnessed the partnership tested but never the love or the vows.
Their marriage reached past space, past time, past existence. Which is why I’m thinking tonight, Happy Anniversary to the two people who made me different in an all too common world of divorce. And I say thank you for staying together when you didn’t have to, maybe even at times didn’t want to. But you did. And what a lesson that is.
On their anniversary, I always used to send them each a card and thank them. Today, she’ll get roses. Not for the 55th but for the 54 that went beforehand. Troubled times not forgotten, God blessed their union. And God blessed us, their children, by allowing us to witness such a pairing. We are cooking at their house this evening. We will all miss him tonight, but no one as much as she.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
I don't know, I was stunned and that brought the laughter. That's obviously why the clip was shown. But if Kansas is the state since that was the question, then what does that make Kentucky, a country?
Monday, April 11, 2005
There's no wrap-up I have in mind to this. It's just my thoughts. And in particular, it's thoughts that I want to share with my brother and sister-in-law. They are struggling right now. To them, I say this: let the winds blow, we cannot control them. And I also say this: I love you.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Just a nice one all the way around. Let Sunday slip into Monday, I'm ready.
Things they understand:
- Come here
- Fetch it up
- Are you hungry?
- Get out of there
- Don't get dirty
- Don't leave the porch
- We're tired of throwing the ball now; give it a rest
- Go to sleep
- Oh no, it's way too early to get up
- Don't pee in the house (that one is for Dad's dog)
- There are plenty of balls and toys around, you don't need that exact one that's in the armadillo hole
- Cows are our friends
- Cow poop is not food
- When you're looking for your ball, look under the couch
- This thing that you have about being over-protective, it's okay at 5:00 in the evening but really not so okay at 5:00 in the morning
- When you drink water, there's no need to push your entire face in the bowl and then walk around the kitchen dripping everywhere
- Leave that O'Possum alone
Saturday, April 09, 2005
- Tom Petty & the Heart Breakers on the CD player
- Fantastic breeze moving through the house
- Artichokes steaming on the stove
- Halibut and Red Snapper for dinner - Sharon is getting busy on prepping it all right now
- Wind chimes fixed
- Kitchen lighting replaced, repaired and cleaned
- Lawn watered
- All three dogs ate dinner tonight and not a one threw up
- My brother and sister-in-law have returned from Hawaii and I've spoken with them and it was good to hear their voices and know they are home. I missed them.
- Spoke with Mom and my niece - all is well in Houston
- Having extra clothes at the cabin. Because sometimes the dogs drop the darn tennis ball into the armadillo hole beneath the stairs and they cannot get it so I have to crawl under the stairs and put my entire arm down that hole (eeeuwwwwww!) and retrieve it since we cannot find another ball and all three of them are whining all about it. And let me tell you, when you get down under there and put your arm down in it, you get dirty. Extra clothes are a good thing.
- We have perfectly allotted our champagne and wine for this trip
- The baby pool on the porch that the dogs keep jumping into and turning about in and cooling off in -- it cost $5.00 last summer and that's as almost free as you can get. It means that they don't have to have baths tonight. Tomorrow before we get on the road though, well, that's a different story.
- That armadillo hole, for one
- We have not perfectly allotted our cigarettes for this trip. I say we but the truth is that I did not.
- Tomorrow is Sunday, which means we'll have to leave.
- Very nice when the scales are so lopsided toward the good side. *grin*
This morning is fantastically typical of a Springtime morning at the cabin. The doors and windows are open. The house seems to breathe the breeze in and out. Birds are chattering above here and there, the occasional blackbird shattering the music with a squawk. The sun is warm and filtering through the trees. Everything is soft and gentle, like a fond memory.
There are five of us here: My friend Sharon and me, her dog, my dog and my Dad's dog. The dogs are in the house, in the yard, up and down the stairs, out the back door, running down the porch, in the side door, through the house, and out again. Happy. Very happy. And Sharon and I -- not as happy since the dogs woke us at 6:30 -- we have fallen into our typical routines. Hers of a project and mine of the computer. Her project is fixing the bamboo windchime that I bought for my father. When we arrived last night, the whole thing was on the ground, the twine apparently not able to survive the sun and a few rains. She's got the fishing line out now, the thickest I've seen. I sit at the bar, laptop before me, coffee and ashtray to my left, recording it all. Typical stuff, comfortable stuff.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Our conversation last night went straight to my heart, because I’ve been teetering with hope again, have reacquainted myself with it. Because I believe in hope. Even when it’s dark in my world and I feel alone and, well, hopeless, I still know that hope is there and it’s my choice to embrace it or follow it. I want hope, and it’s my choice. Totally up to me.
She reminded me of this last night because while I’ve been understandably wrapped up in the loss, dynamics and responsibilities of my own world, the world has of course continued to spin in all of our lives. And for her, a nine-year relationship came to an end, to her surprise. Well, perhaps not an end, but it is going through enough to threaten the foundation of her world because it took such a hard turn and she's left to evaluate every single thing. And that’s shattering. I’ve known her for years, sometimes closely and sometimes at a distance. But sitting across from her last night, although we never spoke of it, I learned that we both believe in the value of peace of mind. Serenity, happiness, peace of mind, hope. Related feelings. We both believe that it’s a reasonable goal, and that we are responsible for it, not any other person, here or gone. It doesn’t happen; we have to work for it. It’s not handed to us, we have to go in search of it. For me, on a small but powerful level, it’s pausing to feel a soft breeze, or to warm myself in a spot of sun. But it’s also larger. It’s allowing the differences between each other, parent-to-child or lover-to-lover. Really accepting our approaches to life, grief, sadness, happiness, struggles, goals, self-definition, hardships, and gifts. I think that through the years and through these life-changing surprises that we did not want, we both have realized that we have to release ourselves from the hold that fear has on us, we cannot focus on how things did not go as we wanted or assumed they would, but rather let God guide us and let peace seep into us. Give up the resistance and embrace acceptance.
In spite of everything, I know just how lucky I am. I am lucky to have my family and my friends. I am lucky to have one-on-one, very compassionate nights like last night. Because it doesn’t always happen that way – when two people have two very real needs to speak and be heard and understood and loved, and they both manage to give and get that, that’s a good connection, a good night. And, speaking for myself, it feels good to be able to get AND to give. Because I can do that. I can listen and love and care and focus on another’s life. I can do it. And my goodness, I say that it feels good to do it. It feels very good.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Stranger walking past me in office building hallway: Hello
And of course I just cringed. What was that about? There are so many options, Hello, Hi, Good Morning, or even a silent nod would have been acceptable, and yet what came from my mouth was "How." What's that, me practicing the Native American Indian tongue learned in elementary school? Where did my brain go when all it had to do was say Hello? *Sigh*
Ten things that bring a smile this morning:
1. Waking up before my alarm clock
2. Watching the sun rise
3. Seeing the bright green leaves glow in the sunshine
4. Feeling on my skin the cool temperature outside
5. Reading today's paper – because Thursday has the Preview and Neighborhood sections
6. Remembering that I packed today’s lunch last night, so I don’t have to think about it this morning
7. Seeing the Mexican Heather and Confederate Jasmine along my fence, robust and healthy and smelling divine
8. Enjoying the perfect cup of coffee that I somehow managed to make
9. Looking forward to having dinner with a dear friend this evening
10. Thinking about how tomorrow I’ll be heading to the cabin for the weekend
10. Thinking about how tomorrow I’ll be heading to the cabin for the weekend*
* The last one warrants repeating since it brings a particularly grand smile to my face. That and the use of color!
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Monday night I began the task of organizing and categorizing my father’s photographs. Photographic documentation of a life. And hefty evidence of the way standard photograph sizes have changed over the years. Sometime in the mid-70s, for instance, they stopped being square. I have 4” x 4” boxes filled with square black and whites; 3” x 3” color photos; Polaroids, etc. and many, many envelopes, filled with 3” x 5” and 4” x 6” photos. This collection is for the most part grouped into several enormous cardboard boxes of certain time periods, say snaps of his childhood, or early in his marriage to Mom, or family trips, Christmases and other family events that bring out the camera, and then hunting and fishing photos throughout.
The particular box I started going through last night was heavily populated with boat and fishing images. Except for the large cardboard envelope that held my parents’ wedding and honeymoon images, as well as newspaper clippings regarding their nuptials, clippings I've never seen before. And black & white photos of my parents ice-skating, and of my mother hunting with my father – both taken when they were in their 20s, long before we came along. Both looking very much like LL Bean ads from time gone by.
My father wanted to organize these images – along with boxes and boxes of slides in slide carousels - together with me. Possibly put them on video, or at least transfer them to CDs. It was to be our project, but it was a project we never started. So when I started it Monday, I realized that I have a certain handicap by doing this task alone. There’s so much there to learn and there’s no way to get the answers. Who is that? Where is this? What year was that? What’s the story behind this photo? Um, why are you wearing your hat like that? It’s the million words behind the photographs, it’s the stories I can't have.
Monday, April 04, 2005
What marks this weekend as a bit different is that this one was her first real sampling of the upcoming Summer. What do you do in the summer? You swim. And did she ever get to swim. On Saturday at my parents' house, and on Sunday at friends. Big weekend for her. Now, bless her, she's suffering from her tail. It's limp, and that's an odd sight. It's not jutting outward or wagging back and forth or thumping against the walls, table, floor. It's not happy to greet me. Instead, her tail is hanging down, straight down, and very still. She will not sit down. And she was in obvious pain when I ran my hands down her tail this morning.
A couple years ago, I flipped out when this happened and I had her at the emergency vet before you could say this will cost you $400.00 and they won't have a clue what's wrong with her. But today, due to my friends at the AKC, I have gained valuable knowledge. 1) it has a name: Cold Water Tail; 2) it's a fairly common occurrence in sporting dogs; and 3) it's described to me as a painful but benign affliction following swimming in cold water. Not much is known about it other than x-rays tend to confirm swollen muscles at the base of the tail, and that the recovery time is 2-3 days before the tail is in full wagging, swinging, thumping force again.
I feel so bad for her that I want to buy her stuffed animals and ice cream on the way home. I won't, but I want to. She'll get Greenies though, you can count on that.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Taking care of the family's grocery shopping
Lunch with my nephew
Laughter with my friends
More laughter with friends
Tossing the ball in the pool for the dogs
Lots of time spent outside
More laughter with friends
One good movie
and this Sunday night, one sleepy me, one sleepy dog and one early hour bedtime.