The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.As ever,Dian
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.As ever,Dian
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
How does some one become a lesbian anyway? Who would choose to be that different, to face family scorn, god’s wrath, employment discrimination, and safety concerns all in the same package?
Alex, heterosexual small business owner, wife to Mike and mother to Andy and Amy, decided she would like Lily-the-Lesbian as soon as she pulled into Lily’s driveway and saw her garden. It was late May and Alex-the-Gardener had noticed the pink impatients confidently planted in front of two large leaf sorrels—the edible kind with the vibrant green colors that worked so well as a backdrop.
Lily opened the front door, smiled, and extended her hand to Alex. Alex reciprocated, scanning the room to see if her friend Willa had already arrived and surprised at how attractive and “normal” Lily looked. She stepped into the peach-creamed colored rectangle of a small hallway, its walls covered with photo frames and little arty doo-dads.
Where Alex was cute and solid and preppy-- remnants still from her high school days as a cheerleader and second runner up Prom Queen--Lily was tall and slim and graceful. In her mind Alex dubbed her a ‘designer bohemian’, dressed in a long sleeved tie-dye shirt that dropped to just above her hips and was perfect with her fitted jeans.
This night a group of eight women were discussing Jody Poucolt’s My Sister’s Keeper. Alex noticed how confidently Lily offered her opinions, how thoughtfully she listened to everyone else, and how her easy going persona seemed to energize the room. She especially liked what Lily, a college instructor in English and Ethics, had to say about responsibility and obligation. As a wife and mother, that struck a chord in Alex.
“I mean how do you know when or why you just have to put yourself first?” she had asked the group.
And Lily had said, “When you’re drowning, you know.”
Everyone there liked Lily, Alex could see that. She was the kind of friend that Alex wanted. It wasn’t as though Alex lacked friends—she had been voted Personality Plus in high school afterall—but the truth was that for more than a year she had become generally bored with the elements of her daily life. It was difficult for her to face, but she was not happy.
On the third week of Bag Ladies, as the group was dispersing, Alex asked Lily to dinner. Since she was not sure if Lily--who she now knew taught college lit, volunteered on two non-profit boards, vacationed in France and owned a timeshare in Virgin Gorda--would accept her invitation, approaching her at all had required the effort of a small act of Congress. Alex wasn’t shy: she was a bona fide extrovert with a wicked sense of humor, but she often retreated rather than risk either embarrassement or vulnerability. This time, however, she had promised herself to push through and try. What could she lose by trying?
“Lily” Alex said, “Would you have any interest in getting together sometime?”
Lily smiled. “Sure”, she said.
Alex was prepared. “What about the fondue special at Marsh’s Landing? It’s right on the beach and not usually crowded”
“Sure”, Lily said.
Alex was suddenly not prepared. She stuttered, “Friday night?”
“Sure” Lily said.
Alex smiled. So did Lily.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sandwiched in between that call and that card, Lily had reluctantly taken six weeks of disability leave from her teaching position at Amherst College. She saw a therapist twice a week, joined a new book club, took her graduate students on a ski trip to Switzerland, adopted another dog, and lost 30 pounds--her already slim 5 foot 6 inch frame rejecting most of her now ill fitting clothes. She also began writing again, arranged playtimes with her 3 year old niece Amanda, and remodeled the back porch of her sweet one level six room ranch house on Tupelo Road. Several times a week, for 29 weeks, she forced herself to the gym and gratefully accepted the invitations and protection that her friends and colleagues regularly provided.
Lily did all this earnestly and compulsively, some mornings dragging herself from bed without a thought to what would come, and others relying on Zoloft to propel her to campus where she would teach her English Lit and Advance Placement classes, fervishly hoping she could maintain the Coolest Instructor award the kids had ceremoneously given her one year.
There were some moments when the thought of Alex simply wrapped itself around Lily’s legs and held her captive, her whole body firmly implanted on a ground of mush and misery. She was given no warning when that would happen: one time she had been at Wendy’s place with a group of friends, having burgers on the grill, another alone in her office grading papers, another walking Louie around the park. Th trigger, as she came to call it--could be a sound, a song, the movement of someone’s hands, the flicker of the light bulb, it could be anything for god sakes, and it would surge her back to her life with Alex.
“Oh God”, her friend Wendy said, “It took me three years to lose that feeling after Doug left me. You can’t really eat when your stomach feels that way”.
“Three years?” Lily had said. “Three years?”
“Sometimes”, Wendy’s voice dropped just above a whisper. “Lily, you’ll survive. You’ll love again. I know you will. This woman really did a number on you”.
“It’s ridiculous,”,Lily responded. “I’m mourning what I hoped for, not even what I ever really had, for Chrisssakes,.I can’t seem to keep my footing, Wendy, no matter what I do or don’t do. If this is love…”
Lily’s eyes filled and glissened like glass.
“I know”, Wendy said, “I know”.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"But Lily, it never did get better."
Lily put the letter down. She straightened her back and positioned her feet just so, remembering her how hard she worked at her posture in parochial school after Sister Agnes told her she would spend time in purgatory if she did not sit properly at Mass. She sat the way she was taught, now, perfectly aligned in the service of the Lord, waiting for the start of the organ pipes and the blessing of the Sacrament to tell her what the holy hell she should be feeling.
She then walked to the kitchen, put on the kettle and prepared a cup of tea, wrapping her both hands and fingers around the cup as if its warmth would protect her. She then walked back to the couch, sat down with the overstuffed purple satin pillow behind her, and continued reading:
"You know how I try not to dwell on emotions I refuse to face. But when I started feeling really sick, I needed you here. I’d go for tests and chemo and Mike and I would sit down with the doctors and all I could think is, 'I need Lily.'"
"When Dr. Chambliss told me I had progressed to stage 3, I broke down. Mike took me to the Easy Street Diner—remember that place? It’s where you and I couldn’t stop laughing when you dropped your nachos and they splattered all over that nerdy guy’s new shoes—the kind with those gross little tassles on them? Anyway, Mike was as shell-shocked as I was but he tried to comfort me, he really tried, and I tried to comfort him too, but before the bill came I put my face in my hands and all I could say was, “Mike, I need to call Lily.” His face turned white. He dropped me home and came back a few hours later. He looked worse than when we first heard my diagnosis. He didn’t say anything for days. We’d make small talk at dinner and go to Andy’s games together, but I knew he was trying to protect himself. I wanted to reassure him, to help him be safe, but I couldn’t.
Lily would shut it down so air tight there would be no way to come up for air and no choice but to hope that they would both re-emerge in some semblance of whole.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
“I told Mike, Lily. I had to. He pulled it out of me and couldn’t lie. I told him yes, I loved you too. I told him. I hoped we could figure it out but he exploded, Lily. He threw the oriental lamp against the wall and stormed out. I won’t say what he called me. I didn’t dare call you, it was so violent. I was scared. He came back three hours later and he told me, then and there, I’d better choose. He said he would file for divorce the next day if I ever saw you again”.
Alex was crying. Lily was stunned. She was not surprised— after all, who could blame her?-- this decent woman, a wedding band, a mother with these precious children-- her sexuality and passion and love and loyalty all misfiring at the same time? And yet, she could not believe Alex did not talk to her before she did this—didn’t she know hell would break loose?
“I told him I had to see you in person, Lily, I insisted on that”.
“Why?” Lily had asked. She could barely speak. She could barely breathe.
“I owe you that much”. Alex paused. It was a long pause, the kind when you wonder if the world might end then and there. “I will miss you”. she said.
The last four words, spoken like slow-motion animation, tipped it and turned it over and upside down, an emotional frying pan spattering hot oil everywhere. Lily was devastated. Four words, “I will miss you”. The dye was cast, the deal was done—she had no part in a decision already made and an acceptance already firmly rooted deep within her—a worse-case burden that she knew even years ago she would carry for the rest of her life.
“Let’s say goodbye now, Alex”, Lily had said.
There was a pause. Probably more words were spoken, Lily thought, but they were meaningless. She remembered only the last sentence,
“You can call me at work, Lily, anytime, you know”.
There should have been so much to say. So much had been said already. So many times they had tried to make sense of what was improbably and impossibly true. But not this time.
Lily held the phone to her chest until the shrill beep beep beep finally stopped. She placed the receiver, still off the hook, on the coffee table, stood up, and shut the living room blinds. She lay on the couch buried under a green chenille blanket until 18 hours later, when she forced herself to stand, walk down the hall into the bathroom, and scrub and shower clean as a glorious future encased in a present past violently swirled down the drain.
Friday, November 23, 2007
No humorous today: my Thanksgiving post is based on how quickly and unexpectedly things can change. I'm taking the opportunity to offer my very own advice about thanks-giving.If the shoe fits and the wind blows in any or all of these, please considering moving quickly. Move Quickly. It's the little putting-offs that causes big regrets.
1. Make the Call I have 3 people I think about often. And yet, sometimes months and years go by and I do nothing. This Thanksgiving I will make the call.
2. Write a Love Letter It's a lost art. And it's a keep sake. Sit down and in your own way say "I love you" in bold letters. And then address an envelope and mail it.
3. Apologize I've made two apologies this year (both rebuffed--happy endings aren't sure things but the effort still counts). I owe one more. Throw pride in the waste basket. Life's too short.
4. Say Thanks Mom, thanks for the way you brought me up. jb, thanks for supporting me while I write. Gary, thanks for pulling me out of all those jams. I have a hundred 'thank yous' due. I'm starting today, one by one.
5. Take a walk It's a beautiful world out there. I snub nature at my own peril. How dare I get so immersed in my petty chores and endless responsibilities that I bypass the comfort and beauty of the natural order of things.
6. Remember Let those memories wrap their arms around you. Cry, honor, feel, visualize the people and events that have shaped you. Let your memories breathe.
7. Pull your documents together Wills, bills, insurance policies, IRA's: make it easy just in case your best friend jb is going through your papers and files, stunned and heartbroken, trying to put your affairs in order.
8. Be impeccable with your words This comes from The Four Agreements. Don't lie. Don't hide. Mean what you say. Keep your promises. Don't be sloppy with what you say and how you say it.
9. Touch We human beings need a minimum of 8 hugs a day to be happy and healthy. Make sure you get your quota. And make sure that's also true for the people around you.
10. Count Your Stars I dated a guy who did this all the time: he'd look up and count every star he had going for him. One by one. I learned this habit from him. It's a good one.
12. Be Conscious Since I'm alive and upright, I owe it to myself to keep my my five senses sharp. Keep your eyes and ears and heart wide open, all the time.
13. Never Cut What Can Be Untied I try to live by this principle. Remember it and you'll avoid alot of problems.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Today in America is Thanksgiving. Though much of the folklore is myth, this tradition dates back to 1620, when the first Pilgrims landed at what is now called Plymouth Rock, where those that survived treacherously arrived by boat from England to escape religious persecution.
Here's the actual scoop on what was and what wasn't part of the Pilgrim's thankful tables:
1. Foods Available to the Pilgrims for their 1621 Thanksgiving:
FISH: cod, bass, herring, shad, bluefish, and lots of eel.
SEAFOOD: clams, lobsters, mussels, and very small quantities of oysters
BIRDS: wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge, and other miscellaneous waterfowl; they were also known to have occasionally eaten eagles (which "tasted like mutton" according to Winslow in 1623.)
OTHER MEAT: venison (deer), possibly some salt pork or chicken.
GRAIN: wheat flour, Indian corn and corn meal; barley (mainly for beer-making).
FRUITS: raspberries, strawberries, grapes, plums, cherries, blueberries, gooseberries (these would have been dried, as none would have been in season).
VEGETABLES: small quantity of peas, squashes (including pumpkins), beans
NUTS: walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, ground nuts
HERBS and SEASONINGS: onions, leeks, strawberry leaves, currants, sorrel, yarrow, carvel, brooklime, liverwort, watercress, and flax; from England they brought seeds and probably planted radishes, lettuce, carrots, onions, and cabbage. Olive oil in small quantities may have been brought over, though the Pilgrims had to sell most of their oil and butter before sailing, in order to stay on budget.
OTHER: maple syrup, honey; small quantities of butter, Holland cheese; and eggs.
2. Some perhaps startling omissions from the authentic Thanksgiving menu
Ham. (The Pilgrims most likely did not have pigs with them).
Sweet Potatoes-Potatoes-Yams. (These had not yet been introduced to New England).
Corn on the cob. (Indian corn was only good for making cornmeal, not eating on the cob).
Popcorn. (Contrary to popular folklore, popcorn was not introduced at the 1621 Thanksgiving. Indian corn could only be half-popped, and this wouldn't have tasted very good.)
Cranberry sauce. (Cranberries were available, but sugar was not.)
Pumpkin Pie: (They probably made a pumpkin pudding of sorts, sweetened by honey or syrup, which would be like the filling of a pumpkin pie, but there would be no crust or whipped topping.)
3. Here at # 9, mist and fog lingered all day. The snow earlier in the week has mostly melted, and almost every store and business was closed shut. It's a quiet day, all in all. By choice our Thanksgiving was exactly that.
4. jb's colleagues sent her a small lamp in memory of her mother's death. We've set it on the front table, along with the beautiful plant our friend dropped off, and today we have set up a small shrine. If you look closely, you will also see Birdie and Frank the Dinosaur, which somehow is fitting.
5. I started the fire early this morning and it's been going all day. Nothing better....
7. Our menu today was roast beef, roasted potatoes, creamed onions, green beans and carrots. And gravy. I have finally learned to make decent gravy.
8. This is the smallest Thanksgiving table I've ever sat at: three of us. And yet, I'm relieved it was so simple and easy-going.
9. Here's a major reason for my motivation to keep it simple: the drama of getting my knee surgery in place and approved by insurance is almost over. Surgery will take place in eight days, a week from Friday. Not a day too soon. It's been a bear.
10. I can't say this has been an easy going time, so I won't. But I am aware of many many things to give thanks for. The first: three women who make my life worth living, make me laugh, bring me joy, and would take the same bullet for me I would for them. They know who they are....
11. And two men: one loves my daughter so much I will be forever grateful to him, and the other--well, the other is Mr. Ryan.
12. The Sky: I often look up at the blue blue sky and I am just totally amazed at the beauty of the Earth. How can this be anything but a miracle?
13. Words: I not only have words and more words in my life these days, but I also have people in my life who love words as much as I do. And colors. I have Colors and Words. And for that I am deeply thankful.
HAPPY GIVING-THANKS DAY
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Hearing about the kids was too much too much. Lily remembered the last time she saw them: it was a bleak drenched Friday afternoon and Andy, then 10, was playing Davy Crockett in his school play. Lily had winced at his raccoon hat and the thought that the hide of some skinned animal was on his head, some fluffy soft disgusting tail blowing every which way every time he moved, and Andy moved. He had forgotten one of his lines mid way through, but in or out of character he had charmed the audience into accepting the gibberish he skillfully substituted. Andy, with his wry wit and wide heart,-- was a good boy, a good sport, a son and brother any one would be proud of. Lily considered him her friend and he was good at that too. .
And, Amy—she was 9 going on 16, that afternoon at the Why Not Diner begging her mother for the right to wear eye shadow even as she complained and whined about the gross looking sweet potato fries in front of her, smothering them in ketchup, then, as they celebrated Andy’s theatrical debut.
So here it is so far. I am sooooo glad we have firewood nearby. There will be a fire at # 9 before the sun sets.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Three men pass by and stop directly beside my booth. They are standing next to me having an animated conversation about something. None of them notices me.
After several minutes, I look up. They do not look down. Finally, I ask if they would mind moving. I smile and point to my laptop.
They are polite and accomodating. As they inch past me, one of the men says, "Oh, you must be working with numbers".
I smile again. "No, I am writing".
"Huh?" They look at me with less understanding, wondering why then I have asked them to move.
Only a guy would assume it's about working with numbers. A woman, I wisely believe, would simply know better.....
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Lily’s cheeks gave way to rising flaming anger. This was TOO much. “Found what I hoped for? How exactly, Alex? How exactly would I do that? I’ve had to settle too, you son of a bitch, and maybe it would be easier for me to read your obituary than this apology. You should know this Alex”
And yet, Lily read on.
A year ago.I got the diagnosis. I’ll spare the details but it’s touch and go. I’ve reeled and thrown dishes and grieved and prayed. I’ve done everything I can and know it’s hands greater than mine. I’ve soul searched and taken inventory, rearranged my time and sorted my priorities. Paula will help Mike with the kids, although Andy is 17 and Amy’s 16—remember when they used indelible magic markers on every sheet and pillow case in the house to make a Buddist temple in the living room—it’s pretty much the same madness now except it’s more about cars and clothes and midnight curiews. Bottom line: In case I die, I’ve taken care of everything.. Except this.
Lily was convulsing. Unbelieveable. There was more to read but she couldn’t. She just sat on the couch, shook her head left to right, left to right, and sobbed, the kind where you can’t caught your breath, your face is soaked, and you know you’ll be avoiding people for a day or more simply because your red hollow eyes tell far too much already.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The last few weeks have been a torrential, tumultuous rainfall of missteps, loss, challenges and adjustments.
And yet, here I am, a limping Hop-A-Long Cassidy, in my writing room, sipping coffee, finally working (on my own terms of course), and trying my damnest to juggle and smile my way through thorns and thickets. (I am very dramatic today). And here I am appreciating my 91 year old mother in the sweetest deepest of ways. Here I am feeling more deep love.
This week's Thursday 13 is a review of the bright light and dark side of just that.
2. I tell her about her fall in July and broken hip and weeks in rehab and I end by explaining that she is here with us to take a few weeks to determine the place she will be safest and happiest. A few night's ago, when she asked these questions, I said, "Mom, I think you've had a bad dream. In the dark, she looks at me, smiles, and says, "kj, this is no dream!" We both laugh and I watch her put her head on the pillow, now content.
3. One night my mother wakes as usual but this time she is fully aware of where she is, where she was, what has happened. She is not happy about it at all. She firmly says, "Why is God treating me like the devil's mother-in-law?"
"Mom", I ask. "Did you make that term up?"
She laughs. "I think so". Her green eyes sparkle when she laughs
4. My mother is playing Crazy 8's every chance she gets. We've hired two homemakers to relieve me a few hours a day and on weekends, and she's turned them both into card sharks.
5. This is very similiar to having small children at home. I have to plan my errands, work, and social time in advance and with coverage. No spontaniety for me these days.
6. We have looked at 3 places for my Mom to move to. All are within 15 minutes of me. None is perfect.
Place # 1: Nursing home, too few activities, too much downtime, plenty of hugs, responsive and wonderful aides, consistently above average because it's where my Mom has been the last three month.s
Place # 2: Nursing home, double the activities, not sure about hugs, tiny teeny rooms the size of large closets, highly recommended all around.
Place# 3: Assisted Living Center, memory unit with triple the activities, no hugs (that I could see), private lovely room, questionable aides, I felt more negatives than positives.
7. I'm getting used to my Mother being here. I hate not having more free time, but you know, I'm amazed how nice she is. And how patient I am.
8. We've finally come up with chores she can do. She's insisted on helping out, and it's been hard to know what to say to that, given that she is still abit unstable and needs a walker. However, she is now setting the table, washing and wiping the dishes (I had to let go of using the dishwasher..) and folding clothes on the couch.
9. Never ever underestimate how important it is for an older person to feel productive.
10. I am regularly cooking again. More meat than I'm accustomed too, but hey, I hope I stay in this groove.
11. My dear jb, who has just lost her mother and is facing her own version of major surgery, is so sweet to my Mother, it almost makes me cry.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Her first thought was “Never!”, this hysterical exclamation shouted in her head with a high heel thump, followed by a more reasoned, “No, No, No, it’s a joke”.
But there was the envelope, the kind usually reserved for international mail, with seven 39 cent stamps in the right hand corner, her wide scribbly name and address dead center, and a return address that stopped her cold. Cold as in frozen. Frozen as in hypothermia. Hypothermia as in chilling vulnerability.
The letter inside was written on eight pristine pieces of white linen paper, the handwriting less circular and more controlled, as though the writer was trying to reign in her thoughts by lassoing her words.
For years I’ve thought about this letter. I owed you an explanation you never got and I will understand if you have no interest or need for one now. But I hope you will hear me out. I have been carrying these words for seven years now, and it is only because I because I may die that I find the need and the courage to tell you the truth.
Lilly remembered the time she was hit in the face with a random soccer ball. It knocked her to the ground so fast it was minutes later before she felt the force of the impact. This is how she felt now, a full body reflex so sudden and violent she barely had time to feel the sucker punch, before she felt the rush of tears. She acted instinctively fast to protect the letter from getting irrepairably smudged, and that reflexive act was her second surprise.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
SO. Not an easy time, right? But wait: there's more!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Doubt thou that the stars are on fire;
Doubt thou that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt that I love.
It is not your job to make something happen--
Universal forces are in place for all of that.
Your work is to simply determine what you want."
Esther & Jerry Hicks, compliments of Jessie.