Friday, March 31, 2006
And me, driving along with my jaw agape, trying to pay attention so that I don't get lost, and wondering how in the world I'm going to concentrate once I get to our office.
But I find a way.
For lunch, we go to a restaurant situated on an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay. Crab Cakes all around. Outside the windows, a pink blur of cherry blossoms. Beyond them, a lone sculler on the water.
I'm not used to this, but I could get there.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
It's a lovely room with a view out my windows of an expanse of hills dotted with trees. There is fruit in a basket on the dresser, and the bathroom is about the size of a one-bedroom apartment. The bathtub rivals what I have at home. Down the hall from me is a cozy restaurant for guests of this floor. Yesterday morning, I was delighted to discover that I did not have to go to the main restaurant off the lobby, that I could find Starbucks coffee flowing freely there, and many local and national newspapers available for me. Just because I have a room at the top.
The QVC studio park is just down the road from here, so I imagine this floor was designed in mind of all the celebrities in town to promote their goods, all the celebrities whose framed photos line the halls, with cheesy signatures in black Sharpie pen thanking the hotel.
I haven't spotted any celebrities, but life at the top is still pretty good.
I suppose I should tell you that the top floor is the fifth floor. Still though, it's a floor above the preferred guest floor, and it did require inserting my key in the elevator slot to gain access.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
At the Alamo Car Rental near the Philadelphia airport, those yellow signs on the doors that say Caution, doors open out, are there for a reason. They do open out and the fact that you're standing right there and they will open into you, well that's why the signs are on the door. That's why the signs are bright yellow. I rolled my eyes, felt my face burn a bit with new reddish color, and asked myself to pay attention.
But I didn't listen.
This state has turnpikes. Every time I come here, those turnpikes get a good laugh at me. I always miss my exit. And then we're together for another 26 miles of rolling hills and old stone farm houses and barns painted red. Lovely, but this is not a vacation in Amish country. There's not a single place to turn around for 26 miles, meaning that I'm 52 miles out of my way. Mistakes on the turnpike are costly; you'll end up two area codes past your destination. At the toll booth in Reading (read that as Redding because the people who named half the places here apparently did not know how to spell), I looked at the friendly face in the toll booth and said I think I'm lost and need to turn around. He asked where I was going and when I told him, he laughed his response, Oh, you are lost. Thank you. And what did I do? I got right back onto the road in the direction I was previously headed and drove on for 13 more miles.
Thirteen miles down the road, I repeated the same toll booth conversation, and endured the same laughing response.
But I found the hotel. On the same avenue it always is, just beyond the same intersection.
In the bar last night, over beers with my British colleague, we discussed this Pennsylvania-induced inability to pay attention to signs. He had two hours sleep in the 20 hours of travel he made from Buenos Aires to here yesterday. On a napkin, from memory, he wrote directions for me to get to the office in the morning, and then tapped into his vision of me ending up in Boston, put his hand on mine and said, I think I'll cancel the hotel shuttle and just ride with you. That way you'll know where you're going.
I should have known yesterday morning that when Gate 36 followed Gate 38, it would portend to the kind of day where a British citizen on two hours of sleep has to give me directions to a place I've already been. Many times. In my own country no less.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Lately, I've not spent too much time within the walls that mean mortgage and taxes for me, at the address to which my bills are delivered - beyond very necessary sleep, a few hours here and there of equally necessary down time, a shower, a nap, and a place to hang my dry cleaning. In the past month, Augusta has been here, Shannon has been here, Gaye has been here. That translates to two of my dearest friends (from Vermont and New Jersey), and my boss (from London), respectively. Their suitcases and toiletries were here, but we were not. We were here, there and everywhere. We were at Cafe Adobe drinking margaritas, Star Pizza keeping an eye on the girls running circles around the waiters, Ninfa's on a Sunday afternoon, Downing Street, Chaise Lounge drinking champagne splits after a late flight arrival, the Rodeo on a Saturday that had to include new boots, Cyclone Anais because we could watch the basketball, El Tiempo, and Cahills watching basketball and talking about babies both born and unborn. And a fish fry that could have fed twenty but instead on which the six of us feasted towards gluttony. Did I mention that I've had a few margaritas, a lot of dinners out, and a few late hours the past four weeks?
I've introduced and re-introduced, Didn't you two meet last time she was in town? We have laughed and melded and shared stories that made sure that none of us needed to open a compact of blusher. The hours have been painfully late even where the night was designed for the opposite, even when we stayed home and chatted and looked up at the clock and she gasped, Oh no, it's 1:30! As if it were a spill we could wipe up, and not three hours of sleep we lost and would search for the next day and somehow find and then discard over a company-sponsored happy hour because my boss was in town. She yawned and looked at me in a begging sort of Oh no kind of way when we received the email announcement that the happy hour was scheduled, and in her honor.
A friend told me once that you cannot un-ring a bell. I'd never heard that before, but think that lately I am holding hands with the familiar of that one. Some things build momentum on their own and when it's there, it's undeniable.
It's not as if you can put them back on a plane, or try to reclaim the night before. You go on. In this Lazy Susan of juggling visitors and friends and work and sleep and family, one day at a time is not only applicable but necessary. A good night's sleep, as in eight hours, or even six if you're one of those lucky few... who needs that when there's so much discovery and reunion going on?
How do you say one day at a time when you're on a schedule that is all about airport arrivals and departures?
Where am I right now? I'm at home. My mortgage-taxes-and-mail home. Where Cheyenne lets me pay for her life while ruling the rhythm of the house. Right now, save for Cheyenne stretched out along the length of the couch and snoring, it's the echoes I hear of who was so recently here. And the circular hum of the clothes dryer. I'm tired and want to freeze the clock for a day or two. Or a week.
And yet tomorrow, it's my turn to travel. I'll be in Philadelphia and Annapolis for the rest of the week. My bag is packed, but my head is still spinning from my recent yesterdays, from the past four weeks of friends and sharing and laughing. From being honored, and humbled. From being happy and excited to learn again that though our lives are different, it's our hearts that keep us connected. From being surprised that, although I lost my father and feel that I'm still climbing out of the hell that has made this my worst year professionally, somehow my performance review was glowing.
I've been reminded that though nothing remains the same, the physical is familiar. Faces and mannerisms are familiar. Voices and dreams always. There is a braided line between that says to me when I am with them, This is home.
I've been reminded that I am never alone in whatever place or situation I find myself. It's not the walls or the familiarity of photos and stuff gathered through the years that makes this place my home, it's faces, the recognition, the tempo of the present, the promise of the future, the warmth of a shared past. No matter where you kick your shoes off, if the right people are there, well, pillows be damned, you're home.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Flash card antebellum as a carefulness of clergyman. Sweetly and Laundromat. Weak and foreseeable, in peril. Wretched Latino as oriental grandfather clock sidekick. Top heavy convenient and consolidate the diamond anniversary. Suburbia is a castaway, flying.
My eye dances a bit when reading, like a paper cup bobbing along the surface water roll of the rapids. I stare at the words and create meaning where there is none intended. I want to write them out by hand and discover the curves and lines. Strung together, they have a scent of belonging, a warmth of reunion, the magic of an almost full moon.
Hold on a minute. What this says is that I am that much closer to the edge. As in the edge of my sanity. Because before I just now shook my head and snapped out of it, I was actually becoming a bit smitten with my spam mail.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Um yeah. That was in my in box this morning.
If you read it enough times, you'll think you're reciting the Bard and you'll start looking for the meaning. Praise eggshell.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
- Chase Bank is looking for me to confirm my account information.
- Walter wants me to sample some "love drugs" for free.
- EuroMillions Lottery notifies me that I have won a lottery in The Netherlands. As a matter of fact, they notified me three times and the last one was URGENT.
- http (that's it, just http) wants my bank account number so that money I won in a (different) lottery can be wired to my account immediately.
- JP Morgan Chase wants me to update my online login and password.
- Chase Manhattan Bank is offering me $20.00 to fill out a survey.
- Oh look, I've won yet another lottery. Someone named Virgil (seriously) has sent me a "personal" email to let me know.
- And - can you believe my luck? - LuckyDay has notified me that my email ID has won (yet another) lottery, this one 500,000 USD.
To think that just yesterday I was fantasizing about winning the lottery. And look at me today, I've won four of them. How many people can say that? The dangers of Walter aside, I'm one lucky gal.
Monday, March 20, 2006
The visitor from the Garden State who says Pennsylvania but decided yesterday that she really liked the way "the east" sounded
I called Mom after I dropped Shannon off at the airport late yesterday afternoon. Mom said that it was good to see her on Friday, and she was glad to hear Shannon was back in town already. Then she invited us over for a drink.
Mom, I just took her to the airport. She's heading home now.
Oh, maybe next time then.
And in that kind of instant, I was snapped back home. Friday had been a vacation for me, not so much because I had taken the day off work but because I took my friend, my niece and my Mom to lunch and at that lunch, Mom rejoined the world and it was great to have her back, around and in the present. It was great that Shannon got to be part of that, but also that I got to be part of it. There's a line in a Robert Earl Keen song that nails how I felt, Feels so good, feelin' good again. I'll not soon forget that lunch.
There's a lot from the weekend I won't forget. But mostly how good the feeling when a friend says she wants to see you and spend time with you. And you pick a date and she buys a plane ticket and before you know it, she's spending a long weekend where you live. And over your morning coffee, you look up from your section of the paper and smile at her sitting across from you at the dining table and reading her own section of the paper, and you think to yourself how happy you are that the two of you are friends and she's right here with you. And because the two of you went to the rodeo the day before, you think that it feels as good and comfortable as a great pair of cowboy boots you've had for a while and worn in just right. That right there, that's a good feeling.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Odd. I wonder who would buy something like that.
She answers immediately: Murderers would.
You know, it's all part of their routine, how they fit in. They buy photos like that, and put them in frames in their house so that people will think it's their family.
Putting the photo back in its place and moving on, I look back at her and say, I don't think they go to that much trouble.
Well, some probably just buy the frames and leave the picture that comes in the frame.
No, I really don't think they go to that much trouble.
Well, I don't know any but I think that's what they do.
When we got into the car, I was still laughing, and I promised her that her little theory would end up here. She's a smart girl, graduated from Carnegie Melon and went on to get her Masters Degree in Environmental Science from UT. But now I think that she has perhaps watched the Robin Williams movie, One Hour Photo, one too many times.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Cheyenne spent the better part of Sunday at the doors to the washer and dryer, sniffing the space between door and floor, pacing, and occasionally staring at the door with her head cocked in confusion. When I investigated, I heard the young birds chirping their hunger, crawled on top of the dryer to look at the back, and could see the shadow of the nest in the dryer vent hose. I sat there enjoying the sweat sound of those young birds until I recalled that I had a washing machine full of wet towels and wondered what I was going to do with that, because to use my dryer would mean killing baby birds and there is absolutely no room on my conscience for that.
On Monday, I hauled the damp load of towels and all my other laundry to the dry cleaner. When Evelyn asked why I was bringing my wash and fold to her and I explained about the nest and not wanting to harm the birds, she smiled at me but also raised her eyebrows in a way that said she thought I was a bit misguided. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled at her, and said that it was good for the birds and good for her business.
Sometimes, doing what you believe is the right thing does not exclude you from having to pay for it.
But this isn't one of those times.
Last night when I picked up my clothes, Evelyn smiled at me, said, I gave you fifteen percent off because you take care of the birds.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
I forget that while I sleep, life goes on, growing, developing, spreading, until at just the right moment, it reveals itself in these glorious colors and shapes of change. Just a few short weeks ago, everything laid flat against brown and grey. Now the colors around me are young and radiant and my path is shaped by new green leaves seemingly crawling all over the branches. It's as if I walk through a thousand miracles, as if every little hope and dream suddenly breathes.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
My mind spins whenever I walk into his shop, it’s like walking through the little woodworking shops in Puerto Escondido, the proud craftsmanship, the iron work, the musty smell of sawdust on the floor, and, sadly, the frustration of forever being told manana, after being promised today.
In the last week of December, I ordered from Pedro (and paid half the total for) a custom Queen bed for my guestroom. I’ve gathered in that room all the bits and pieces, crosses and candles, platters, vases, altars and books I’ve collected over the years in Mexico, and I wanted a bed that looked as if it belonged there. To put a sleigh bed of mahogany or cherry in there would match like brown shoes and a black purse. Not what I wanted.
Leaving the shop that December day, I couldn’t wait until January 12th. It had taken me five years to make up my mind as to what I wanted, and the 12th of January was the day Pedro p romised delivery. I couldn't wait. That’s a day that came and went without a bed. Over the next two months of equal results with his promises, I learned that while Pedro is quite skilled at iron work and woodwork, he is not at all skilled at the business of doing business. He’s not skilled in planning, juggling or delivery. He also doesn’t return phone calls if he knows you’re upset with him for promising a delivery on any of the days that you stayed home from work to meet him at your house, and when you realized he was not coming, you drove to his shop and were told he was in San Antonio. Or Dallas. Or just left the shop for a delivery, or lunch or whatever.
It went on and on, each day a different story, including the time he said the bed was finished but he had accidentally made it full size, and then the time he called to admit that he'd not yet started the bed.
My friend Shannon is visiting next week and I wanted to provide her with a complete room in the guestroom, not just a closet and bathroom upstairs, and a bed on the sofabed downstairs. As the date got closer and closer, and Pedro and my new bed seemed to fade ever thinner, I found myself leaving messages along the lines of my having been left with no choice but to call an attorney. I even went to Star Furniture to see what they had to offer but that put me back in the brown shoes and black purse scenario.
On Friday though, almost two months after the initial delivery promise, and six hours after he called to say he was on his way, Pedro did finally pull up the driveway with my bed in the back of his truck. Having it in my house now, and the fact that he knocked $100.00 off the price, made it a bit easier to forgive and forget. Still, in the future, I think I'll stick with cash and carry from the shop.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Well, because that's where she wants to go.
Which was a bit hard to accept for my Mexican Food and Margarita Purist friends. But they got over it.
There were coloring books, sippy cups, margaritas and beer. There were friends and flowers. There was a round table of tickling. There was a fountain, and curiosity, and squeals of laughter. There was a plate of barely touched cheese quesadillas because who the heck can eat dinner when there are so many people to tickle with a leaf?
Suffice to say that Mom and Dad got to enjoy a couple margaritas while the rest of us clowned for the girls' attention. When it was time for the little family to leave, we said good-bye, and as we watched them walk out the door, we laughed in that sort of wicked way you laugh when you get someone else's kids worked up into such a frenzy that they're combustible, and you know the evening will be a long one, but it's not your problem because they're not your kids.
Then we ordered another round of margaritas.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I think that's what it is like for her. Knowing it was there, knowing it's in bits and pieces now, but not remembering what it was when it stood. Her life.
Dinner tonight was going to be a simple thing. It's Wednesday, Prime Rib Night at the club. I wanted to go back, wanted to be in the dining room with the piano player and Mom's memories. I invited Sharon; Mom asked Catherine. I thought it might be a memorable evening.
She looks at me, head bobbing with the scotch and martini(s), says, My daughter wants to take me to New York City. I have no idea why she wants to take me there. New York is mine. Her father didn't know. SHE doesn't know. Why would she want to take me there? She doesn't know.
She speaks to me, of me. The trip my gift to her for Christmas. We're supposed to leave in two weeks. I know tonight that it's too much for her. We won't be going.
A broken heart looks out at me from a pair of watery eyes. It's the first time she doesn't recognize me. But it won't be the last, I know, and it's not the last tonight.
I want to die. He just rolled over and died on me. I WANT to die.
Catherine holds her hand to her head, index finger out, forefingers and thumb tucked in, as if she's shooting herself. Sharon kicks me under the table.
She forks a piece of air, brings it to her mouth, shakes her head at the emptiness. I cut her meat for her, pick up the spilled carrots from the tablecloth, pick up the roll that fell to the floor. I shake my head, it's always butter side down.
I know it's a matter of minutes before she tells me I never cared about her, and then elaborates that no one ever cared for her. Like the steady ticking of the clock in the hallway, I can rely on it. Three, two, one, she's off: No one gives a shit about me.
I tell her it's time to go. She tells me she doesn't understand what I'm talking about. I motion to Isaac to bring the check. He tells me he'll take care of it, and he brings a wheelchair, whispers, It's okay, Alison, your mother is an exceptional woman. We have so many happy memories of her and your father. It will be an hour later when I call him to thank him and he tells me again about the happy memories, that I realize he is sincere.
It takes Isaac, a waiter, my niece, myself and a wheelchair to get her to the car. The waiter leaves the scene. Isaac and I put her in the car. She shoots me an eye, tells me she doesn't understand who I am or why I'm doing this to her. I see the fear in her eyes.
At home, we walk her through the door but she doesn't understand, and in not understanding, doesn't trust, and in not trusting, defends herself by gripping the wall with everything she has so that we cannot get her inside.
I don't know why you're doing this to me.
Mom, it's Alison. I love you. This is your house and I'm going to put you to bed.
She screams that she has to go to the bathroom and I walk her there. I help her with her clothes and she looks me in the eye, says, I want to die. I can't do anything on my own, I can't even stand. I don't want to be here anymore.
As if this were an argument. As if it were simply a matter of convincing me. If she ever had to convince me of anything, this is not it. I get it. She's done. No matter how much she's had to drink tonight, these words she speaks are her truth.
We all know it.
Nonetheless, I gently explain to her that she's still here and I love her and am going to put her nightgown on and put her to bed. This, she accepts.
As I tuck her in, she looks me in the eye, desperate and sad, whispers, I just want to die.
With my hand on her forehead, I kiss her on her cheek and speak into her flesh, I know you do, Mom, I know you do.
I turn off the light, sit beside her on the bed until her breathing steadies, again kiss her and pause there for a moment. I know she can't hear me but still, I love you, Mom.
The building across the main road from me is being demolished. Something new will soon take its place. Driving by it tonight, I think that's what she feels like. She doesn't want to keep up with the present. Without my father, her life is demolished. Looking at the rubble there, bits of what was once solid, I understand her. Completely.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
A month ago I had surgery on my wrist and elbow. Yesterday the Explanation of Benefits arrived in the mail. Over nineteen thousand dollars for the hospital, anesthesiologist, surgeon, and x-ray and lab services. And that was outpatient surgery.
My part? $50.00
Monday, March 06, 2006
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
I sit at the picnic table on the back porch of my mother's house. It's quiet, foreign without Thunder wiggling up to me with a soggy ball in his mouth. In the yard, two balls and a training dummy, I suppose where he left them. The yard seems unnecessary without him, the pool lonely. The scene is off balance without my father and his dog.
Inside on the coffee table, the brown leather box from the funeral home, an envelope filled with condolence cards, and a notebook. This grouping has been right here for over a year. No odder than his urn sitting on the bar beside the football with J&B on it that she wanted to keep displayed for Superbowl. I lift the lid of the box, pull out the guest book and open it up to the first page of signatures. There are signatures of friends I don't remember seeing that day, signatures of people who used to work with him, signatures of those his life touched, colleagues of mine, so many people. I read each name, drag my finger along the movement of the signatures of a few, slowly along the curls and lines. I turn each page until the the ink is gone.
They were there, I know it because my hand and eye are here now.
I open the notebook, look at the writing that's my own. I remember sitting at one end of the table, my brother sitting at the other. Leadership shifting in an instant. A list of things that must be done. Call the funeral home, call the church. A long list of family and friends and either my brother's or my own initials beside each name, indicating which of us would make that call. A list of decisions we were incapable of making but somehow did. And in the back of the notebook, my obsessive jotting of every call received until it became too much because the phone lines kept ringing and ringing until we were answering questions but I'm not sure we were speaking anymore.
I brought a red rose home with me that night when I went to retrieve some clothes. That rose is on my bookcase still.
Sometime last year I wrote this
I thought my questions would always go to you. I thought the answers would always be in your familiar voice. Does that now have to be untrue? The questions don't hang in mid-air unanswered; they hang unasked. It's up to me, isn't it? You'd say that. I can hear you telling me, Take care of yourself, Alison. You have to take care of yourself. One of the most soothing things I can do when I miss you is to wrap myself in memories of you, bring them up and let them bubble over. In my heart, I go to you. In my heart, your voice answers.
At lunch yesterday I realized that it was the last day of February and I smiled at having made it to an imaginary but very real goal line I placed there. I remember at the end of January, sitting on the edge of the month dreading its inevitable arrival. But really, every day we can choose, and the beginning of February was no different. Some things are not meant to be handled or forced to fit. Be gentle. Be brave. Be quiet. The present isn't as frightening a place as the imagination of it can be.
I dreamed I was sliding down an enormous silver slide. It wasn't fun, it was terrifying. When I got to the bottom and the slide leveled off, I slowed, and landed on my feet in warm sand. I stood there looking at my pink toenails peeking through the sandy mound, surprised that I hadn't hurt myself. This first year was like that, fearful, falling, steadying, landing. I read somewhere that it is important to have a vision that is not clouded with fear. It's taken a year to address the fear of going through life without him. I'm still working on the vision. There is no model for grief, no best practice for facing the firsts. It's delicate, and it's hard work. But you can land on your feet.