Good-Byes

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When god closes a door,

She opens a window…

My friend is moving. I figured I could bypass the grief of her moving by not visiting her shell of a house one last time. She and her husband have moved much of their belongings already to the other half of the house where her daughter moved with her husband and two children. My husband says, “Be happy for her.” 

And I am. I try not to cry over her loss. No more three hour visits that pass like 5 minutes sitting happily down by the creek or nestled next to the fire.  When Raymond left he said, “Come back, You need closure.” 

So I did, one more time. And I will see my friend too, one more time in the home she has always been in, close to me. The next time will be in a new state, 5 hours away.  So visits which weren’t that often anyway, maybe every 3 months or so, yet still precious to me, will become yearly. Who knows, maybe more. 

God opens windows if one notices. My friend Sue, died two years ago. She was only 67 and these days that’s not old. Nancy came into my path during that time. A sister-in-law who lived in California moved close and we connected after all these years too. So yes, I’m grateful, and happy. I do notice that after the death of my dearest friend, god, the universe, opened her windows and gave me more gifts. And Nancy has not died, she can be with her daughter and family, enjoying those grand-children every single day. Yet the tears I’ve been holding finally fall.

She gave me a very old frame while cleaning out her house. I will make her a mosaic for the next time we visit in the new home. And during all those hours making the piece, I will feel her close-by, with me.

I don’t have a lot of friends, but one of the closest, Mary, told me once, “All’s you need is one.” So when I’m down and thinking about those who just seem to draw others to them, I remember, ‘All’s you need is one.’ 

I want to add, the loss of Sue and Nancy move me so because they are the only two women friends I became intimate with that also suffered sexual abuse as children. Yet they worked as I did to raise functional families. So they know, really know, how hard that is, and what a toll childhood sexual abuse takes on one’s entire being. The loss is substantial. Yet because of them, I know how it feels to truly love.  

I ask why? Why have both women come into my life only in the last five years or so? Why so late in my life, and why such brief friendships, then taken away? And I say say, “Thank you.” Thank you for the gift of knowing them and feeling what love and being loved feels like.  

CHAPTER 19: SUGAR PLUMS

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Stevie and I were excited; a mammoth understatement. I was nine and Stevie, only six. Though Dad had died the year before, kids recoup, and Mom agreed to our usual tradition. We were allowed to sleep on the couch, end to end, one night before Christmas watching the tree lights with “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.” 

In the sunken living room, called that because it took two steps down to get into it from the dining room, the Christmas tree stood in all its splendor, smack dab in the middle of the gigantic picture window that looked out over the flower garden and driveway. The thick, floor-length curtains were closed, keeping out the dark chill, but the room sparkled with glowing colors from the fat bulbs twirled round and round the tree. Tinsel sprinkling from branches swayed lightly against the tops of presents.

 We knew there’d be more. Santa hadn’t come yet, Christmas was a week away, but we were thrilled as each day brought us closer. And now, to our delight, we were to sleep right by the tree, Stevie curled up at the other end with the pillow he brought from his bed and me at my end, both with our own blankets. The long couch cradled us comfortably; I didn’t even feel his feet. And the tree! So pretty! How could sleep arrive when I was so full of excitement over the coming holiday, thinking of each gift I’d made for every brother and my mother?

 After inspecting the pretty packages one more time under the tree—we’d already memorized to whom, from whom—we hopped back under our covers. Nothing new, we knew them by heart, heavy, light, shakes or not. The only thing left to discover was when they were opened, the culmination of all the weeks leading up to the big day. It’s no wonder we didn’t drift off to sleep till well after the rest of the household.

 Stevie fell asleep before I did. Except for the tree lights, all the other lights were off and everyone had gone to bed: Mom, Tommy, Don, Danny, Seth, Chet, and Paul. “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Tommy, the eldest at twenty, and the brother I looked up to most, was home from college on Christmas break. We were all together! Somehow, finally, my mind fell into happy Toyland slumber.

 Something woke me. It was dark, the tree lights were off, but something wasn’t right. Something was very wrong, but felt so good, confusion anesthetizing all ability to speak or move. My child’s mind couldn’t make sense of what felt so dreamy tingly down there but seemed so abhorrent. Was that my adored, eldest, most loved brother’s head between my legs, sucking and licking my peeing spot? Not a sound was heard. Santa spoke not a word either, but this wasn’t Santa. It was so quiet, and though bewildered, I didn’t cry out; my body became mesmerized by the very pleasing sensations yet disoriented into petrified stiffness. Then his head just disappeared. Up the chimney he arose? He must have crawled off.

 Stevie and I awoke the next morning, hungry for cereal as if nothing had happened, full of kid energy for the day. But something had happened. Something had permanently altered within me, dimmed, unsure of myself or the world around me, my mother and the brothers I loved so dearly. They were my world, but it all shattered. I shattered. A cataclysmic shift, an avalanche had occurred with the nighttime brother, inside my belly where the edges no longer met, couldn’t meet, there would be no more crossing, no making sense of it and no telling. He made sure of that. 

Tommy changed. With the morning light, I lost my brother. Malice and anger filled the eyes where love had once been. I knew not to tell from the frightful mix of menace and hate, and I didn’t. What could I say? What words would I use to describe what my little girl brain couldn’t comprehend anyway? And maybe what I perceived to be as hate was fear, apprehension of my telling, not that it made any difference. 

Being the oldest carried weight in the family. We looked up to him, the only one besides me to have his own room, the first to do things like dating, working, then going away to college. I only wanted to please him, to make him love me still, though he didn’t anymore, or didn’t seem to.

I tiptoed around “it,” afraid of waking the beast because Tommy could get very angry. He had snapped at me before just for tugging at his sleeve during a phone call. Though in his defense, the phone call had been of utmost importance for a student home on holiday. It had been to his new love at college who later became his wife. But the sinister being in the house that morning was not Tommy, the brother I would do anything for. He had become something else.

 The earth split; his eyes pierced me with a spear of hatred, but only me. I fell through the crack, falling, falling, then steadied when his voice softened with apparent kindness, sweetly toned toward Stevie, until Stevie left to get dressed. Then the thing, posing as Tommy, turned again towards me, reeking of malevolence which shed off his body like dried snake skin. The hissing, threatening eyes never matched the syrupy smooth words.

This dissonance of tone and action became a pattern, a way of life; the beast changed colors like a chameleon, but also changed shape depending on people and circumstance. I never got a hold of the real Tom again. Others did, but not me, and no one else noticed the schism or the way he played it to perfection.

 A child grows though, and the sister he had power over and controlled by the use of psychological force found a partner outside of the so called “family.” His sweetness became so thick it couldn’t be stirred and sat in my stomach like cold hard stone. Samuel came with me to Tom’s house in the city for fancy dinners he and Tara cooked, elaborate and expensive. But it was too late. No longer a child, in my early twenties, I watched him. I observed it all, sensing the phoniness, feeling it, seeing it, yet never knowing how to make it real between us again. 

Being the eldest, starting college when Dad was still alive, he received a solid start financially. He passed each hurdle, every year in college, one after the next. The entire family flew to New York City to see him graduate cum laude at the Waldorf Astoria, a huge undertaking for Mom. The expense of flight tickets and hotel costs for all eight of us must have been substantial for a woman recently widowed. But he was her firstborn and Dad would have been proud too. Tom followed Dad’s footsteps into the legal arena. 

He continued on to law school, graduated, then passed the Bar and was invited into a prestigious law firm where he later became partner. The rest of us struggled with college and several didn’t make it, some only through a semester or two, one not managing life at all. But Tom succeeded with honors and aplomb.

 A person could go insane with these thoughts, secrets, and memories. I try to imagine myself at twenty going after a younger sister sexually, or any child. I just can’t. Is it possible males aren’t accountable because they have such irresistible urges? Or because our double standard doesn’t hold them accountable?

 Tom and I attempted to talk about the past on the phone in my late thirties. To explain, he said, “I was so young then.”

 Not ready for excuses and a long way from forgiveness, I screamed into the phone, “You were twenty, home from college, you could have been prosecuted!” 

Crushing the receiver down so hard it rattled the wall, I rushed outside for air and release, whacking at a tree with a bat till some calm returned and the red blackness of rage lifted. We didn’t discuss it again.

 Years passed and we attended some of the same functions, a funeral, a wedding, but I wouldn’t talk to him, I couldn’t. The fight for my life continued. And there was no winning against an intelligent person slyly looking out for himself, only the loss of my own dignity and worth. Tom belittled me with comments interspersed so cagily that no one else in the family noticed, but the effects of his disguised put-downs on me were disastrous. His method reduced his crime to less than nothing; if I’m looked down upon as inconsequential, a sister unworthy of love or respect, then what he had done was no big deal.

 And in my family system, it seemed to work. His diabolical, unrelenting manipulations hurt more than all else endured. I was stomped upon so repeatedly I couldn’t get up, yet did anyway, bruised but persistent. I felt trapped alive in a coffin with nails hammered down, scraping and clawing for a way out, fighting for a life with my head up and heart full.

 He garnered sympathy from other family members because of the way I treated him, ignoring him, stepping away from his attempts to hug me as if he were dangerous. In the reception area at Shasta’s wedding, we gathered, sipping drinks, several siblings and their wives. He moved back from the group so I felt comfortable. It may have been the first time I allowed for the possibility that he possessed genuine empathy, not selfishness, but hope springs eternal. The deferential movement made him look magnanimous, more likely the goal.

 There was a point, as I approached fifty, when we tried again to reconcile. We met at the old building where I took pottery courses.

 He helped move my stuff that needed glazing to the back room and told me, “I used to teach a class here,” paused, then added as if with humility, “Just one though.” 

And I thought, So you surpass me once again, here at a place where I found joy, my hands happy in the wet earth with women who laugh and play with me.

 Our plan was to go have coffee together. I hopped into his little sports car and we zipped off to a coffee shop closer to his neighborhood. Though he owned a snazzy, expensive car, it was messy, with paper coffee cups strewn about, food wrappers, and books he moved so I could sit. We were lucky to have made it alive. I didn’t realize how nervous he was and we almost creamed into another car. Shaky, questioning doing this, we got out and he helped me negotiate our way into the place he frequented.

 He seemed generous and expansive in his willingness to buy our coffee. “Want a pastry?” he asked, a little too eagerly.

 “No, coffee will do,” I replied. We sat and chatted for half an hour or so before running out of banter.  At my request, we didn’t talk about the past. I had wanted to begin where we were now, yet what he did seemed like it had happened yesterday. Why? I want to know why? There’s no hope for a connected, close relationship. 

The ride back was calmer and without incident. He dropped me off. I watched him go, but felt empty.

 Sometimes I feel pity. I replayed what he said once when we tried to reconnect, something about having the sister he wanted. I immediately thought, That’s not your choice, it’s mine. You lost that right to choose; it’s my choice now, under my control and you’re not ready, you may never be ready. Remorse means true sorrow, not concern over what your law partners, friends, and family would think if they knew what you did. You worry about you and your reputation, not me. And family members do know and don’t seem to care.

 I don’t see him anymore since Mom’s gone. There were occasional get-togethers for brunch at her apartment and then times during her decline when we’d be together, sometimes for long periods in the hospital and that last night of her life. It seemed okay, like no rift existed, and during these emergencies, when life or death decisions had to be made, Tom was the steady voice of reason while my anxiety over losing her made me frantic. And though my biggest fights with her were about Tom and her wish for our reconciliation, there’s sadness in the loss of hope for closure for us both. 

She was right all along, and not just for his sake. A victim as a child, I then became a victim of rage. I have luckily lived long enough to quell the fires and know what a peaceful moment is. And through meditation, my broken brain mends. Life is for giving, yet some things are unforgivable. Still I try. I forgave Tom for using my child’s body for lustful sexual pleasure. Harder is what came after. Dismissing me like I no longer mattered or existed killed something in me, or quieted it for a very long time. She, the essence of me I barely know, slowly comes out, showing her face in small doses to those I love and trust, a select few. 

During my sessions with Raymond, I relayed my perceptions of Tom’s treatment towards me. 

Raymond said, “If it’s true, that’s psychological abuse.”

 If? 

Though I’ve thought of ways to torture and dismember Tom, and more him than anyone else, it’s in the past. I do not wish revenge, just peace. Though rage sputtered into ash, it reignites. I dance with her ghost shells, blowing away the swirling smoke, tamping it down, remembering its unwanted vapory clutches.

I impulsively sent a Christmas card to Tom the year after Mom’s death, the first in over thirty years, and a birthday card the summer after. And the very last communication since was a phone call where I apologized for ostracizing him, for not letting go sooner. I felt peace, felt all ties, even unholy ones, unravel, dissolve, evaporate. After fifty years, I have myself back again. I did what I had to do, what he does is up to him. The craving for a family will never go away, but lessens with time and the acceptance of what is and was. I long for a family, any family, just not mine. 

THE CREEK IN SPRING

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My son, 28, calls from London yesterday. I tell my husband afterwards, ‘We are lucky our sons still want to keep in touch so regularly.’

He calls weekly and has since he left home, all through his college days and beyond. He has never come back to live, just to visit. And Shane, now 33, lives close-by and calls more often on his way to work in the city, brightening my day every time. His excitement over fire fighter duties and training, all done on a volunteer basis, fill me with pride and excite me too, though much of it is more dangerous than I’d ever tackle.

So Cory calls and gives us an update of his latest adventures having just returned from a short vacation with his new wife, and a college friend who traveled there to visit them from America. Let’s see, they hit the set where the Harry Potter movie was made, then rode under the English Channel to Paris by train. They rented an apartment for several days near another couple he met last time he backpacked Europe.

They adventured into Disney Land and elsewhere to see the sites. I love hearing about his exploits and find them enthralling vicariously. I won’t fly because I developed phobias during nursing school late in life. No elevators and no planes, thank you very much. I surely would open the emergency door and jump out.

And I’m not sorrowful about this. Cory then asks, ‘So, what’s up with you?’

‘Well, your father just got his bottom set of new teeth!’ I responded thinking how lame, we are excited about dentures? God, fuck, dam, how’d we’d get so old? Yet it is the most exciting thing that happened that day. It will be really great not to have to cook chopped up food for a change.

But I added, ‘Yesterday we spent the afternoon down by the creek.’

Now I know a 28 year old is just being polite listening to what makes us happy. And being creek-side did really make me so happy, intensely content, so content deep within where feelings gone dormant in winter are erupting once again.

I do find it exciting sitting in the warm March sun though the air is still bitter, in the twenties; geese honking and flying all around us as they love our creek in the spring just as much as we do, using it as respite in their travels. The ducks too. And otters or muskrats, long brown and skinny, running over the thin ice that formed over night, playing and chasing each other.

As we sit in the mixture of the sun’s warmth with sharp cold air amidst the ‘excitement’ around us, ice sheeting melts and pops up and down in the water like icebergs, making scraping and gurgling noises, then flowing swiftly down towards the falls. Before the return trip up the meadow to the house, the frozen broken icy surface has disappeared into the dark murky current.

We plod our way back through the mud and snow, filled with the promise of spring, the warmth of sun soaked into our faces, and a settling deep inside that I hold onto, nurturing my winter weary spirit.

THE BUTTERFLY SAGA CONTINUES…

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Pieces sharp and jagged come together in wholeness. There is no right or wrong, and no mistakes. My dear husband has learned not to suggest things. It’s a place all my own. I am too receptive to others ideas and because of his suggestion found myself filling in the edges too neatly and too proper. That is his need for perfect neatness, not mine. There is a rawness about me, the same wild that calls me outside into nature. 

It didn’t feel right and I’d lost some joy in my studio. But I remembered. It’s the feeling, my feeling, go with how I feel. When I’m in the ‘zone’ times passes quickly and with great contentment. 

CHAPTER 18: GROCERIES

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I came in breathless from carrying bags, plopping them on the little island in the kitchen. Her favorite psychologist, Dr. Laura, was on the radio telling people how to live their lives. The so-called doctor had some bizarre answers too. The little light over the stove gave a soft yellow glow to the pottery bowl hanging lopsided from a macramé hanger, filled with salt and a miniature spoon.

“Hi,” she said, moving toward the bags to inspect whether or not I’d brought what she requested. She’d reached a point where she was unable to go with me or ride the small bus with the other seniors in the complex because the electric wheelchair, along with her weight, made it too heavy for the lift. She could no longer negotiate a plain wheelchair even for the purposes of just getting on and off the bus. That loss hit her hard. She had been quite the speed demon with an electric shopping cart.

Watching Mom in one of busiest grocery stores in the area was a sight to behold. Stand back; she took no prisoners. I cannot believe she didn’t hospitalize someone with her speed cart. She focused on finding each item as if other shoppers were mere apparitions, brushing by so fast that they must have felt her tailwind on their behinds. I stood in horror, relieved when she gave me other things to find in the store, because my stomach couldn’t stand the lurching excitement of so many near-collisions.

The muumuu of the day was a silky number with gold, brown, and black stripes, like a tiger. Somehow she made a shapeless dress look stylish, adding a hand-strung necklace and chunky bracelet, her fingernails freshly polished and neatly filed. As she worked the walker sideways towards the island, a little sweaty from the effort of dragging the oxygen tube behind her, I absorbed the scent of Mom, Lair du Temps. It was distinctly her. The gift set I bought at Christmastime with perfume, powder and lotion had been a success.

“Let’s see, did you get the capers?” she asked, because unloading each item and quizzing me was especially enjoyable since she couldn’t shop anymore herself.

But I was tired and grumpy, hating the inquisition each time, and snapped at her, “Go sit down while I unload.”

She moved away, trying to act happy, but I’d hurt her and knew it. When I acted up as a child, she’d say to me, “There’s a girl with a curl in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid.” I knew which girl I was being then.

Once I finished, she risked returning to the kitchen. I sat down on a high stool on the other side of the island. We chatted about things, mostly her asking the questions.

“How’s Samuel?” she asked.

“He’s fine,” I answered, not one to elaborate much.

Though exasperated by my one word answers, she kept trying. Then she added, “Can we sit down?” Her breathing became labored as she took the tube from her nose and placed the nosepiece directly over her mouth, pulling in as much oxygen as possible. Just standing for short periods became difficult; obesity and twenty years of her four-pack a day Benson & Hedges habit had taken their toll. She had emphysema. She perspired even more as she pushed the walker slowly towards the couch. I focused on her face, hoping she sucked in enough of that precious gas so her face wouldn’t tinge blue like it did at the craft store.

On one of our outings, she happily picked out stretchy necklace cord for the beads collected from her broken jewelry. She would make them into new pieces of jewelry, like the necklace she wore. It was the last time I’d take her out in the car and we argued.

“I’m all right,” she said as I opened the car door for her, wondering how I’d call 911 without a cell phone, having to ask the cashier to call, picturing an ambulance coming to the Beads & Buttons craft store.

“Mom, you can hardly breathe. You’re sweating and you’re blue!” I sniped.

Her face seemed to splinter, brokenhearted; she was at my mercy and gave up, knowing I meant it. All I felt was mean but it was the last time I took her shopping or out to lunch, though I did do dental or doctor appointments when Don couldn’t. I felt guilty, again, a common theme. Krista took her out now and then. I’m sure Krista believed me to be a lazy, thoughtless, reprehensible daughter—because I sure did.

I never said, but thought, “But do you know, Mom, how much it takes to load the walker, unload it, bring it around, open doors, then do it all over again on the way out?”

I’d done it every week for many of the ten years she lived there. It was worth it, we had fun, but that day was the last; it had become too much. I wimped out after seeing what a toll that last shopping trip took on her. I couldn’t stand to see her like that, though I could break her heart, let her down, disappoint, and ground her.

“How’s Cory?” she asked. She needed to hear stories other than what her friends talked about, which too often centered around disease and dying. Moments of clarity cropped up like white flags of surrender amidst my chronic anger. I realized she’d made all new friends in the big city of Chester, but they were old like her, and she slowly lost them to sickness and death. My heart ached for the reality of where she really lived. Beautiful, brand new, with a pool she adored down the hallway, but her new friends became sick as she knew she would…and they died.

“Oh he’s great,” I said.

And he was. My youngest had graduated valedictorian though I don’t remember him reading one book except for pleasure. Shane had to work harder, studying late into the night, but also graduated with honors and scholarships.

She was proud of them, and me, and tried to relay it, exclaiming, “You were always like a tiger with those boys.” 

I wondered what she meant, and after hearing that description more than once, I asked her to explain—not something we usually did, go deeper.

“You mean I jumped on you if you tried to tell me anything about how to raise my kids?” I asked.

But I already knew the answer—I had, and with vehemence. I wouldn’t allow her any chance to have a voice, or any opinion at all, not about my kids. She had plenty of opinions, and in spades, especially about me, but about raising my kids? None she dared speak of. She kept them to herself, except this newly repeated theme, “You were always like a tiger.”

No way was I going to pass on to my children the neglect I felt I’d endured. I worked diligently and persistently to keep both sons safe and their feelings about themselves intact. I didn’t always succeed. During my biggest downfalls, I glimpsed how it felt living with the knowledge of not protecting one’s child, living with it for life. That’s a burden too, a terrible one. But I didn’t know this then. I knew mostly anger and I blamed her.

“No, you were a great and wonderful mother, always doing what was needed no matter who you had to fight or confront,” she said without pause or question.

And I knew she meant every word. But it surprised me. It was mostly her I fought. Things were slowly changing between us. These compliments, once rare, came more frequently. It could be out of need as her body broke down, or maybe when finality stares you in the face, you want to say the things that haven’t been spoken before it’s too late. I felt I had the upper hand and didn’t want it, or partly did, but feared abusing it. Or maybe for the first time, I felt on equal footing and didn’t know how to proceed or how to handle that feeling.

I didn’t want her to be so sick but liked this new, softer side that gave compliments.

During one visit, while unpacking groceries, before she needed oxygen and the hated electric wheelchair that no skilled driver could master, when she could still get on her scooter without the O2 canisters, she had something big to discuss. I hated it when something “big” was coming. It didn’t work out; any discussions other than the kids, the weather, or food led to trouble.

She prefaced it by saying with too much drama, “I want to talk to you about something.”

My gut curdled as if I’d guzzled a glass of milk with lemon. Oh my God, no, I thought. Keep it on topics that are safe and we are sure of. I dreaded her next words.

“Why can’t you and Tom…” she said, and kept talking, but I didn’t hear the rest.

Tom was the first son, my oldest brother. I’d been the recipient of her advocating for Tom at other times, too many of them, but every time she spoke his name, fury erupted as if a molten iron block landed in my belly.

“Why can’t you forgive Tom?” she repeated, noting my blank look and shocked, frozen mouth.

She was almost in tears and shaking with emotion, and over Tom? What about me?

“He’s fun,” she explained. I understood the much needed comic relief and his ability to make her laugh about her infirmities, but I felt furious as if my insides exploded. 

Is he some kind of baby needing his mother to make peace with me? I wondered, enraged, because speech escaped me, though I did manage to spit out something nasty. It wouldn’t be the last time she’d attempt to make peace between Tom and me.

I stormed out spewing words like daggers through lips pressed tight, but never the words that needed to be said—what her son had done.

I muttered, “I got to go” and left.

CHAPTER 17: MOM

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There’s a hole now that she’s gone. No one loves you like a mother, even mine, maybe especially mine. We lived close by all my life except for brief periods like college, Army commitments, and for a short while after marrying Samuel when we moved to the Adirondacks. But that only lasted a few months—not a lot of ways to survive in the Adirondacks unless you trap animals, fish, cut down trees, or are on welfare. We moved back and stayed put.

We’d always been close emotionally too, so close I’d describe our connection as a bug living off a large animal. I was the bug. But I did learn to break away, live my life, bring up a family, and stop leaning on her for gifts. Her charitable spirit held trappings of other things—being bought, being owned, selling out. I learned to live with what we had, which wasn’t much, but more than enough because it belonged to us. I didn’t owe, and especially not to Mom.

At eighty, keeping a home became too much. Don managed to excite her into selling it for a move to the city and a brand new senior living complex, still under construction. The big seller: an indoor pool right down the hallway from her new apartment, so her 6 a.m. swims at the high school across from her house could continue with the added convenience of not even having to brave the elements to get there.

Luckily Don had the presence of mind to look out for her that way. I didn’t. I struggled running my own life. At that time I felt caught once again in the middle of a bad depression, this time from quitting my first nursing job, one I somehow managed to feel fired from. It became a depression of clinical proportions that took therapy and a year to get out of. But I managed to give my two cents‟ worth of demands to Don.

“Make sure it has a pool,” I offered, my only tidbit of advice in the life of Mom, all the concern, trouble, and work falling on Don’s shoulders once again, the only one who seemed willing and able.

Mom and I took a drive to see the construction in progress. She tried mustering enthusiasm for the big move, but it meant leaving friends and a lifetime of connections behind, along with a household of stuff. There wasn’t much to see from the car, and still a lot of work to be done. We looked at each other, and then back out the car windows at the large piles of muddy dirt, the heavy equipment quiet under thick clouds on a grey Sunday, but we didn’t say anything. Driving there made it more real. A large pond had been dug greeting those at the entrance gate off the busy highway, and a white picket fence surrounded the complex, pond, and gazebo.

“Mom, you’re being put out to pasture,” I said. My attempt at humor sounded tinny in the tight space of the car, hanging in the air like a bad fart. Her barely-there smile faded, fake and forced.

She began planning and shopping for furniture. I’d stop for a visit and find her and Don bent over graph paper discussing room dimensions, what fit where, the size of a new couch, bedroom set, dinette set, the shopping to be done, thrillingly endless: towels, linens, and on and on. He did the math, I helped her shop. We were like kids in a candy store. For two foodies, shopping came just slightly below eating on the “fun things to do” list.

I prodded her into buying a thirty dollar lamp shade that happened to match the flowery new bedspread. She put it in the cart, giggling. At that point she still walked, bent over the top of the cart for support. It made the best story to tell and laugh about, our weakness for simple pleasures, and what her daughter talked her into. We split the cost of a plastic talking hot dog that opened its bun, offering trays for assorted toppings, and sent the contraption to my brother Seth in California.

She decided on a first floor apartment so she could have her flowers. There would be a tiny patio large enough for an outdoor furniture set and gobs of flower pots filled to the brim with whatever plants she could get her hands on. She bought three chairs with comfortable padding and a small circular glass-topped table to go between two of them. The padding was pink, not bright pink or horrid pink, but a splash of muted flowery colors that resembled the bedroom left behind. Mom leaned towards the feminine side more than me. Anything pink, lacy, or involving curls and frills turned me off, but not her. I must have made a disappointing daughter after so many boys, once old enough to pick out my own clothes. All tomboy.

With all the angst between us, the patio was where we put down our swords and enjoyed time together. The water I’d spray in her pots would ooze out on our hot bare feet, cooling them along with our tempers. Many, many happy times were spent resting there after groceries were put away, chatting, or just quiet, breathing in the fresh air of spring, summer, or fall. And the endless supply of bubble-blowing wands, with a quart or two of sudsy liquid in bright colored bottles tucked under the table, kept us surrounded by sparkling floating orbs, tinted by sunrays as they wafted out from the patio into the glare.

She blew and blew until the time came when the list of losses included her breath. But Don’s daughter Krista found a battery- operated bubble-blowing wand that needed no blowing, so our porch delight and laughter continued. Even during my deepest depressions, I could relax with Mom on her porch and find respite.

Though she had a car for a while, I drove when we went out. We shopped, shopped, shopped, and then had lunch. We ate at countless restaurants we’d never been to and had fun. Mom made it fun. How she did that despite a daughter that often showed up angry, sad, or tired, and despite a failing body of her own that eventually needed a scooter, then wheelchair equipped with oxygen, I don’t know. But she did. She knew how to have fun, life-loving and adventurous, a hellion. She and her sister, Aunt Jean, loved nothing better than to hop in the car at the sound of a siren and chase it down, following the fire truck to the fire. But that had been before all Mom’s babies. And I learned from her how to love the feel of dropping on a hill in a car. While most people brake on a hill, fearful of feeling out of control, I take my foot off the gas and let the car go on its own, the weight building momentum like a roller coaster. In her day, she may have slipped the car in neutral to add to the effect.

There came a time when she couldn’t go out unless she absolutely had to for medical appointments. I brought groceries and lunch to her, or she cooked for us, tempering the tendency to embellish foods to the point where I wouldn’t eat them, instead sticking to basics like simple grilled chicken and vegetables. Often I stopped on the way after therapy, bringing lunch from a nearby restaurant. One most memorable: Chinese food served in pineapples. She never forgot that day, our heads bent over the carved-out fruit on the glass-topped table, worth the struggle to the patio with her walker where we ate al fresco. Autumn beckoned. The hot sun mixed with the bite of its approach. The quiet brought by fall was interrupted only by our laughter as we poked chicken out of pineapples in the cool shade of her porch.           

MARCH MADNESS

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I always thought the term ‘March Madness’ had to do with the insanity of spring’s arrival. But no, it has to do with basketball. But I still associate it with my poor brain and the chemicals going haywire. One day I’m bouncing off the walls with joy and happiness, and so much energy with too many ideas and not knowing what to do first— so there I sit paralyzed with choice; and the next day being unable to sleep the night before, dragging myself around depressed by the dirty snowbanks.

Just give me equilibrium please. Patterns of sleep and mental thoughts stabilizing. This happens every year yet confounds me.

I came across an article that means so much to me I want to share it. I have a family member related to me by marriage and it doesn’t matter that I mention who, just that we interact a great deal and no matter how hard I seem to try, we butt heads and hurt each other deeply. This article came when I needed to hear it. It’s not about her, and all the traits I think she is lacking, and how much she hurts me, and on, and on and on. It is about me. Only I can change me. I’m the only one who controls me. (Or do I?) I react in ways I’m not proud of, nor am even aware of it till long past the event. So I work at it.

The only thing you ever need to know.