Thursday, August 31, 2006
I sit on her bed, hold her hand. She curves her fingers around my own, a light grip, but holding on. We talk. Or I talk. She asks questions and I answer in detail trying to give her part of my day, part of the outside world which she can only view from her bedroom window. She's clear-headed tonight, following my words, asking more questions. Her other hand carelessly petting Cheyenne's back. Here we are, relaxed and talking, as if we had mixed up a batch of twilight for ourselves, listening to the cicadas on a lazy summer evening.
Her eyes grow heavy and she tells me she's tired. I rest my head on her leg, tell her I'll stay with her a while. Cheyenne sighs. I close my eyes.
Hours later I awake, realizing without opening my eyes that I'm in her bed, in my father's spot, my head upon his pillow. I can feel him here, right here. Reaching over to her, I find her hand and hold it in mine. For one moment, we are together, him, her, me. For one moment he is here, and he never left because I now fill this space where he once was and we glide together through the night. I don't dare open my eyes, the moment so shimmering and rare, listening to rhythm of her breathing, feeling the warmth of his presence, feeling the life of my heart beat. Three people connected through his pillow, through our hands, and through my heart. Him. Her. Me.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Her textbook sits on my lap right now. I asked to see it over two hours ago and find myself unable to return it. Totaling 1,838 pages, this tome is organized with the reader in mind. The first part is the stories themselves. Short stories by Sherwood Anderson, Ambrose Bierce, Isabel Allende, Henry James, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Guy De Maupassant, Joyce Carol Oates, Octavio Paz, Vonnegut and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. To name a few. The second part, and this is the brilliance of this book, is the writers talking about their writing, their stories, and their story. So, for instance, in the second half of the book, is a piece from James Baldwin about dreaming up stories from the moment he learned to read. His fantasies were dismissed as unrestrained observation. He goes on to say that he learned that the things that helped him and the things that hurt him could not be divorced from each other, and that is what made him start writing his unrestrained observations.
Guy De Maupassant says that each of us forms for himself [or herself] an organic illusion of the world, which is the illusion poetic, or sentimental, or joyous, or melancholy, or unclean, or dismal, according to his nature. In other words, the particular way we see the world is our particular individual illusion, and for writers, he goes on to say, their only mission is to reproduce their particular illusion.
What is he saying, that their are no truths, only illusions that are organic in nature? I wish I could sit in that class when this is discussed.
I could stay up the entire night, and the next several to be sure, reading the voices of these writers. It's like conversation, this second half. Page after page of writers talking about writing. For me, that's pure heaven.
Do you think that My Aunt took it would be an acceptable answer when asked tomorrow where her textbook is?
It was a lined piece of paper from a weekly planner, on one side across the top the printed words, Things to do, and on the other side: Who should I see, call, write or thank today? Picking up the newspapers and walking back to the house, I thought about it. Who should I see? I shut the door behind me and decided I should see my niece. Even though we had dinner together last night, and she chatted in the kitchen with me while I cooked, I wanted to see her again this morning, before I left for work and she for school. She's a steady character, that girl, and I enjoy her company immensely. I also like to get her day started on the right foot. I prepared a plate of fruit for her and one for my mother, poured juice for both, punctuated her plate with a powdered donut and waited for her sleepy face to come downstairs. It's a nice way to start the day, having breakfast with my niece.
On my way to work, I wondered who should I call? I called my Aunt Mary, my Father's sister. She's the funny one, the one who laughs at inappropriate times. She makes uptight people very uncomfortable. I love that about her. She's a bit unorganized, tends to be anxious at times but she has enthusiasm and love to spare. She shines. When she heard my voice, I could hear her happiness. When I say to her that I miss my father, and she says back to me that she misses her brother, it feels good inside that we have each other. She doesn't say it sadly, she says it with her trademark enthusiasm, Oh boy, I do too. Her voice feels good to me.
Who should I write and who should I thank? I need to write the City of Houston and explain to them that I am not guilty for that speeding ticket in a construction zone, and ask them for a trial by jury but postponed from the date they've offered since I will not be in Houston on that day. Ahem.
Who should I thank? I thank God. No matter how difficult the struggles, how sharp the sadness, there are so many gifts that have been bestowed upon me. I've had much opportunity lately to pass on those gifts to those in need, opportunity to give compassion and understanding, to share stories and provide support. I thank God for giving me challenges so that I might face them and learn from them, become stronger and yet remain gentle. Things are far from good these days, but I am able to be a friend, and I have hope. I thank God for giving me those.
Who should you see, call, write or thank today?
Saturday, August 26, 2006
1) Pluto's being stripped of planetary status. This disturbs me in more than my imagining all the text books having to be edited and the little songs created to aid in remembering the planetary system that will have to be revised to remove the letter, P. It disturbs me that we can have a do-over of this magnitude. To me, Pluto will always be a planet. I can only hope that, like Vanessa Williams, Pluto finds success elsewhere after being stripped from its status.
2) McDonalds is putting toy Hummers in its Happy Meals. Is Hummer trying to recruit its potential buyers at an early age like Philip Morris did with the coolness of Joe Camel? Or is McDonalds trying to recruit kids to their Happy Meals by using Hummer as a carrot? It turns my stomach to think that little Johnny wants to drive the same gas-guzzler that mommy drives. The H3 that Daddy gave her, the one parked next to the H2. It pisses me off that there are not comparatively sized GI-Joes. Either way, these two getting in bed together is two times wrong on both sides.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
My score: Yes - 10, No - 1, Sometimes - 1.
My Diagnosis: Depression. Further classification: Situational depression, also known as Reactive depression. No surprise there, but sort of a defeated, failed feeling wihin. My doctor speaks of my diagnostic score, his plan to address my problems. I view this as a test I have failed.
My mother suffered from severe depression for most of her life. When I was 12, I thought it meant that she was just really really sad, and I developed and embraced a fierce anger at her for not being able to shake it. For years I held onto that anger; I did not understand then that it wasn't a mood and it wasn't in her control. I later learned that depression is a cruel and dark mix of hopelessness and guilt. Lack of energy, inability to feel, or even care about, pleasure. I did not know that depression takes memory and tumbles it with concentration and asks you to get up in the morning and deal with a different world than what you left when you fell asleep. I did not know then how crippling it could be. I didn't understand that depression robs you of your hope, your poetry, your dreams, that depression can happily smother you with its humidity.
Whole years of her life could be considered major depressive episodes. Whole years I heard her voice, saw her shape in bed, visited her in the hospital(s) and begged her to at least, at the very least, talk to me. There were years she could not do that much.
Today, in my diagnosis, I understand her. Finally. Today, in my diagnosis, a bit of light shines on those years.
In her case, they call it major depression. She was valium/lithium medicated. Serious but necessary drugs. In my case, situational seems safe. It seems very here-and-now, so of the moment, like fashion.
The symptoms are the same, whether situational, major or just run of the mill depression, but in varying degrees of intensity. And the treatment is the same, also in varying degrees of intensity. The difference is that with situational depression, when the situation is resolved or passes, it follows that so too the depression. The drawback is that, as in many behaviors or reactions, future situations are likely to trigger the return of my depression. I hear this and imagine my depression waiting, hungry and calmly plotting the perfect time to pounce.
In a big way I'm relieved that, forgive the pun, it's not just in my head. I understand now what the gaps are about, the guilt, the confusion, the self-hate and desperation. I also feel sad that there's an officially recognized crack in my paint.
I have this much more in common with my mother at a time her wisdom is out of reach. Today on the phone she tells me that she is depressed. As if I won a ribbon, I tell her that I too am depressed. She doesn't buy into the camraderie, says she wants to die. I close my eyes and spin in blue-ish black swirls to nowhere.
Now that I know, I am able take measures to help myself. It's milligrams and therapy, a prescriptive first step. And all that. Still, things were a lot easier when I could simply say that I had the blues, and you would say, Yeah, me too. We would call in sick and chase our blues away, with the sun shining down on our innocense and stolen freedom.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006
I can name the bad habits of escape I choose. Another white t-shirt, really? Another pair of shoes? Do they comfort me, do I sleep with them? No. Do they make anything at all better? No. Does the control I feel to choose feel good to me? Absolutely. Life happens to you. What you do with it is your choice. Same for a drink too many or an hour too late. Same for the focus at work. Work as escape. Tricky stuff. I've got my finger on it. Funny how the mind works. To say I can't save her so I spend money is to spew the ridiculous. To say I want, need, crave some control. Not so ridiculous.
What of the guilt of wanting five minutes alone? What of the guilt in taking that? The berating and horrible inner voice. Why does self-hate appear as control falls? And why the need to control when I know full well that we cannot control what goes on around us, only how we react, only the path?
I'm tired. I'm tired of worry and I'm tired of details. I'm tired of my dreams and I'm tired of my actions. I'm tired of spoon-feeding and the role reversal. I'm tired of not feeling strong, hopeful, positive. I'm tired of waking up and finding this sadness still with me. I'm tired of this realization that the more I fight it, the harder its grip.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Done. It should be so easy now.
Now the gaps are in her memory. Deep pot holes in her thinking. Don't forget to bring the paintings with us. Dinner is in the morning and the guests should be here by now. I have to get ready. When are we leaving? I tell her the time is 3:30 in the morning and we're not going anywhere. She looks at me and orders a coke. With ice, please.
Now the gaps are in my thoughts. The word is right there and I can't remember it much less reach it. Cope. I cannot find my planner, so write numbers and notes on pieces of paper and forget them in the kitchen because I don't pass by that counter on my way out the door. I forget my lunch in her fridge. I forget that I was going to pick up those pants and that top when I was at my house over the weekend. I forget the brown shoes. During the weekend, I forget to meet my niece for dinner at 6:00. At the office, I forget to join that conference call at 10:00. During the day, I forget to make the doctor appointments I promised myself five weeks ago I'd make. Where would I borrow the time, from my job or her?
I take time away and forget to return. I spend time there and forget to take a break. The woman behind the counter at the Starbucks by Mom's house tells me that even she has to have a cup of coffee before she goes to work. Mind the gap.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Cheyenne plops her head on the side of the bed. Mom looks at me, says, She can come up.
As if she understood, Cheyenne leaps onto the bed, worms her way between us and circles once before plopping down beside Mom and resting her head on Mom's legs. Mom places her hand on Cheyenne's back and rubs her. At this, Cheyenne stretches up to Mom's face and returns the affection with appreciative licks.
Mom laughs. She smiles and she laughs!
In my mind, the comfort of simple things. Coffee percolating. Warm cinnamon rolls in the kitchen. Watermelon. Ice melting in a glass of lemonade on a summer's day. Licking the icing from the spoon. This moment.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Slowly, the thought takes form. She's calling me. Suddenly, I know where I am and who that was.
Flying down the stairs, I'm coming Mom.
Are you okay? What can I get you?
She's trying to get out of her bed, You can get Alison. She's upstairs. I'm ready to go home now.
There is no panic, she recognizes me as someone she knows, just not as her daughter.
Mom, you are home. This is your home.
She looks up at me and shakes her head. You keep saying that, but it's not. This is not my house, this is not my bed. Please get Alison and tell her I'm ready to leave now.
I sit beside her on the bed, point out familiar things, show her the sweaters in her dresser, the painting she painted, hanging on the wall beside her bed. She eyes them with recognition.
Then she shakes her head again, says, I don't know how you got these things here but this is not my home. If you won't call Alison, I'll call a taxi to take me home.
She starts to cry, tells me how sad she is, asks me again to please get Alison. I tell her she needs to get some rest, that Alison will be here in the morning. She rolls on her side, her back to me, falls back asleep with tears in her eyes. I sit with her while she waits for me.
When I imagined it, when I bothered to think about it, I pictured dementia as something in total. I didn't realize the gaps, the recognition of the wallpaper but not the wall, the face but not the daughter.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Friday travelers trying to get home are an impatient lot. I've seen people roll their eyes in self-important impatience when a mother stopped in the aisle to pick up her child's dropped stuffed animal. But before this soldier, no one waiting to get to their seat so much as batted at eyelash for the delay the shows of respect were causing them in getting to their seat. In fact, the people seemed to be lining up just for the turn to acknowledge him.
Before he took his seat beside mine on the flight from Dallas to Houston, he'd already traveled 22 hours. From Iraq to Kuwait, Kuwait to Bangladesch, and Bangladesh to Shannon, Ireland. Then from Shannon to Gander, Newfoundland, Gander to Dallas, and, finally, on this leg home.
He shows me photos of the base, photos of he and friends swimming in the Persian Gulf on a two-day break. He talks of temperatures so hot that his eyes dry, says it's hard to breathe air that hot when you're not used to it. He talks of sand storms so strong and skies so red he can't see his hands before his face.
He tells me he appreciates when people thank him, shake his hand, pat him on the back. He says he knows that a lot of people are against this war, and some people tell him so, but even they say thank you. He says that means a lot. He says that no one he knows over there has experienced backlash from any civilian, and that they all appreciate it, they all appreciate that they're not treated as the soldiers in Vietnam were when they returned home.
For us, we're just going to work. There's plenty of us who don't think we should be there either. But we have to do our jobs and this is where we were sent to do them.
In two weeks, he heads back to Iraq for two more months. Then, his tour of duty will be over. His first name is Bill. He's a fourth generation Texan, born in an eponymous hill country town his Great Grandfather founded. After nine months in Iraq, he was going home to a wife he's been married to for ten months, and a baby girl due in two days. He is 25 years old.
In baggage claim, he drops his backpack and is enveloped by his parents, dressed head-to-toe in red, white and blue.
Grabbing my bag from the carousel, I turn back for one last look.
Godspeed, Bill. Godspeed.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
I heard that look, wanted to seal the moment around us and stay that way forever. I wrapped it over me as if she'd handed me a blanket to shelter the cold, while I shook all over from the honesty that I recognized. I closed my eyes and let the drugs take over. Magic. My friend.
I locked her eyes to mine, made a show of closing my hand around the trinkets, and put them in my pocket. She watched my hands, said something about my never remembering the other gifts I'd gotten that night, only hers. It was a challenge. Though lost in the music, I heard her, knew she was right.
Some expression in your eyes
overtook me by surprise
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
My friend says to me, My mom has now been gone for longer than I knew her alive.
She shakes her head at the puzzle of time.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I look at the calendar with a watchful eye these days. No one told me there would come a time when I would read the dates beyond the presence of today while fearing the pain of tomorrow. Saturday was her birthday. I wonder. Do I celebrate or mourn? She would have been 43. Soon, very soon, she will be gone for longer than I knew her.
on the radio
I shake my head at the puzzle of time.
We danced across our nights together. Siouxsie Sioux got us moving, The Cult and English Beat. We sat beneath wide trees in the dark with our feet in a warm lake, and pulled mussels from a shell to the music of Squeeze blaring from my car parked on the street. We sat in my car with the music in our ears, the burning ends of our cigarettes making glowing lines from our lips along the path to the ashtray. Our anger and energy bursted with Bauhaus and The Replacements. Our angst and depression cut open with This Mortal Coil and Joy Division. The volume going higher with Au Pairs.
And so it came to be our song
and so on through all summer long
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
We ate powdered donuts and drank coffee in the mornings at her place. Taking a bite from my donut, I throw the Classifieds to the floor. Circled jobs discarded. We bemoan our unemployment and lack of money. We answer our sorrow by skating Allen Parkway, winding through downtown, dipping our hair in the cool water of the fountains, and drinking wine at La Carafe. She shares her memories, Patsy Cline on the jukebox.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
There were rivers and rope swings between us, curves and promises. Long roads with words. So many words between us, so many songs. There were moments I'd watch her living, moments I'd sit back and love watching her life. And moments I'd sit still after she'd swim to shore, and I'd hold my breath while watching the water dry from her body, feeling like I was spying but knowing I was protecting. Drop by drop, the round bits of water losing their space of presence on her skin while she slept. There were moments like that where she'd sleep in peace. And I'd challenge the world to be quiet.
So I turn to the sounds in my car
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This is another year. Another blank page. Every August is this way. She calls me away in August and October. She does it through the music. What I wanted then was to know I would know her now.
She left. This life. And me. She got what she wanted. And she wanted it, to be sure. She wanted out. Every time I hang my clothes in a hotel closet I know it. She wanted out. Ten years later, it haunts me.
There's a band playing on the radio
and it's drowning the sound of my tears
on the radio
and so on through all summer long
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
In a silver box with papers guiding my role as Godmother to my niece and nephew, there are two other things: a plastic cheeseburger and a pink flamingo. They are the only gifts I remember from that year. She was right.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Then the uninvited thought tackles me. She can't feel this grace in that room in which she slumbers. I shake it out of my head, take a sip of my drink, and wait for a pause in the on-ramp of our conversation.
Nothing. My mouth hangs open awaiting my turn to speak... and... nothing.
Earlier today, I feed her rice, half dropping on her chest. She looks at me with ridiculous trust as I pick the yellow grains from the napkin I'd placed on her chest. It occurs to me the spoon might be a better choice.
She thinks my father is here. Here, as in alive. Here as in 1980. I indulge the murky thrill of pretending. I float in the pool, green and blue surrounding me. The absurdity feels warm, feels good. It doesn't last long. In soft and shapeless words that I have to figure out, she sighs, I just don't know why he hasn't come to visit me.
Winnie the Pooh says, But it's still... gulp... very important. Tigger says that people will come from miles around, just to run away.
I smile at the memory. T-I-Double-Guh-er
Yesterday at Apple Valley's equivalent to Starbucks, I picked up a book, featured on the counter. The Little Engine that Could. Glancing upon it, I'm back on my Grandmother's lap, being taught not only the next level of my reading but the lesson of the little train's perseverance. I think I can, I think I can.
Chug chug chug, puff puff puff.
Featured on the cover were the words, Now with a new artist. I flipped throught the book and recognized nothing beyond the shape of the words and the slant of the hill. Why? Why a new artist? That's as if featuring the Mona Lisa with a banner stating, New & Improved - New Artist.
Puff puff puff.
Tonight I am wandering the world, looking for a moment lost.
You said you wanted to know. That's it, this is what it's like.
What I need right now is for Winnie-the-Pooh to come over and say, Could we skip dinner, and have breakfast instead?
Silly old bear.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
This morning I took a run along a ski trail circling a lake with my name in it. Saw a rabbit with a brown back who also saw me and scampered deeper into the woods. I heard twittering birds and felt long golden rays breaking through the branches above. Mist in a meadow. Tall furry trees with wide limbs like open benches I could have crawled onto and day-dreamed. And bright green leaves shimmering with dew, competing for attention with showly thistle of purple. In the air a scent of trees and flowers unfamiliar but friendly. In the air a new light around every corner, calling me onward.
I have two women on my mind. Neither will ever see what I saw today. One is in my memory; the other my prayers.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The whole Twin Cities thing was lost on me from the start. I loaded myself with maps and directions, and when I saw the 7th Street exit, I took it. Just as I was told to do when I confirmed my directions at the rental car counter, just to be sure I knew where I was going. When I took the exit, I chuckled to myself that I'm used to big Texas maps where everything is much more spread out, because this exit seemed to come along a lot sooner than I had expected, though 7th Street oddly seemed to stretch longer than it appeared on my map. Still, I found 5th Avenue and turned right. As I had been told. When I hit a dead end in a fairly industrial area on the Mississippi, I asked of a man in a parking lot, Excuse me, can you tell me where the Guthrie Theatre is?
He stopped to get a better look at me. It's in Minneapolis. You're in St. Paul.
I need to stop thinking that just because I can find the shortest routes in Houston blind-folded, and drive across Texas without so much as a missed farm road, it does not mean I can find my way around in any other city even when armed with maps and directions. Well, okay then, but in my meager defense, why do both cities have a 7th Street exit off of M55?
Oh, right, twins...
Eventually, I found what I was looking for. The new Guthrie Theatre, an architectural wonder by French Architect Jean Novel, completed just six weeks ago. I'd read about in Time Magazine and was intrigued, but did not know then I'd have the opportunity to see it so soon, on an unexpected side tour from St. Paul.
When a screeching alarm went off in the building and I heard two attendees say to each other they weren't sure what they were supposed to do when that happened, and then get into the elevator, I took the stairs down and walked along the Mississippi River to (safely) catch the view from there.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Cheyenne and I went two miles this morning instead of my typical lazy one mile as of late, and sporadic at that. And we ran this morning. Cheyenne? She turned her head back to me. Want to run? She didn't bother responding but excitedly shot off as a brown blur in front of me.
Down along the edge of the bayou, grapevines swung in the growing light. Brown water swirled and flowed. The winding path and familiar Oak trees stretched out ahead of me. The dawning light fell over and across me. Every moment knocked softly on my heart.
Today is the first day of August. Today is another day in the chain. Today is a day that I won't let my life interfere with my life.