Monday, July 24, 2017

Racing Heart

My Facebook pals know I'm embarking on an adventure that started with my apartment complex's small swimming pool.  I hardly used it last year: it was out my comfort zone.  But this year I find myself there doing the sidestroke, a modified backstroke, a bit of the crawl.  I LOVE to swim.  Except for hiking somewhere beautiful and hard, which I'm not in shape to do, it's the only physical activity that makes me believe in an endorphin rush.  I seem to spend two hours there, partly to get hot enough to go in and partly to get dry enough that I won't take a nose dive when I put my flipflops back on.  I've also done some stretching exercises my brother showed me and which ended up in a bloody knee and bruised bone.  These improve my Achilles, which have gotten a bit tight, and my balance.

I love it so much, in fact, that I desperately want to join a gym when the pool closes.  My Facebook peeps can tell you that I've had to face up to the fact that I leave my comfort zone so little that a membership would be wasted money.  I had an epiphany about that, one of the easiest and hardest to put into practice: I have to leave my comfort zone -- my apartment, silence -- once a day in order to prove I'll use a gym membership.

This has had unexpected consequences.  I don't quite feel like our pool is out of my comfort zone, for one.  Nor is visiting my brother and sister-in-law.  So what constitutes leaving comfort zone?

I'm beginning to see it's a wider variety of things besides running long put-off chores.  Today I called a dear friend in Brooklyn.  I'm terrible at making phone calls, but I decided it was a good time to do it.  We had a lovely conversation, as though I last saw her a few days ago, and she ended the conversation by saying, "I love you."

I love you.  I don't hear that nearly enough, especially with my parents dead.  You could have knocked me over with a petunia.

Here's what I'm realizing about comfort zones: anything that makes one's heart race with fear, makes one's knees jello-y, makes one feel like taking a Klonopin -- going through with the moment at hand is leaving one's comfort zone.  People who work at home probably don't go out every day; there are things at home that make plenty shaky.  Writing my other blog or working on my novel; pitching myself for social media services; walking Daisy; having friends over; trying on clothes; taking a shower -- these all make the list at one time or another.  As do making phone calls.

The third piece of this comfort zone-swimming conundrum is what swimming makes me feel like afterwards.  I've just spent an hour or so gently stroking up and down the pool, losing myself in the motion, pushing my heart beat a little, leaving walking a few steps off the ground and tired from the sun and the swim.  Very calm.  Very aware the chlorine can screw up my hair, skin and bathing suit, which all go into the shower soon after getting home.  A lot of you know showering is hard for me.

Do I ruin all that by eating a pizza?  I know if I eat too many refined carbohydrates, I won't swim the next day.  I'll crash and burn.  I like the levitation too much to risk food.  I ate badly on Saturday, when I met an old friend for lunch, and I see from my notebook that I did not swim.  I napped.  I missed one of our 60 days of sun and heat for the sake of a pancake.

And yes, I've started writing what I eat down, how I pushed at my boundaries, whether I swam or not.  This morning I started with a sentence about why I might be in a bad mood.

It's the boundaries that matter more than what I do.  I thought I'd go to the bank today but I really wasn't in the mood.  And that's OK.  I was much more attracted to taking stuff to the thrift store and buying smoked pork chops at the Pig Store.  The Pig Store was closed, which means I won't put pork chops and collard greens in my crock pot tomorrow.  I had a feeling I wouldn't get around to chopping vegetables, either.  That left me without enough salad makings if I didn't go to the store.

I'm just saying, our best laid plans for boundaries are subject to other people's rules, but those rules forced me to go get a basket of fruit and vegetables so that I won't miss pool time tomorrow.

This morning I read an article called "Why we need to celebrate small acts of 'boring self-care'."  It was written by a woman who had suffered from unspecified mental illness and endometriosis.  Small tasks -- making the bed, doing the dishes or laundry -- were so hard for her that she's launched a #BoringSelfCare that's now all over Twitter and, I believe (the website isn't coming up for me for some reason, Instagram where she may post her illustrations of her small (to the world) achievements.  I like what people say on Twitter a lot.  They're another form of kin.  There needs to be a movement that recognizes that semi-agoraphobes, socially anxious, Klonopin-sucking folks exist and contribute and grow.

I hope I'm growing a teeny bit these days.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Letter to My Mother on Mother's Day

Dear Mom:

For most of my life, you have been or would be proud of me.  You didn't always understand what I was doing, but you were proud nonetheless.  I had forward motion.

For the last few months I haven't had the forward motion.  I don't think you'd be entirely proud of me right now.  I'm stuck, Mom.  Hitting 60 has been a horrible billboard that I have played grasshopper rather than ant.  I have a lot of junk to show for it but no retirement plan & unsure even if my taxes have included social security.  I'm scared, Mom.  I had parents who were mostly there to pick me up from a bad fall but no one, now, to help me into old age.  I am struggling with a decision that I will try to support myself until 78 (I gave myself three more years, which is a relief), then pack up everything & take a long chemical ride home to you & Daddy.

If there is a home to go to.  I doubt it, but I want it very, very badly.  I want to see you & Dad, Uncle Norbie, Uncle Connie & Aunt Claire.  I want to tell Dick I forgive him.  I want to lie down in the grass with all our youthful dogs and roll around in a crowd of tongues.

I, who cannot use the phone, called Tom this morning.  His voice, Mom -- it was like being home.  I'm not sure what prompted me to do it.  Maybe Mother's Day.  We both need a mom on Mother's Day.  It was a good chat.  I told him about my 18-year-plan & he was appalled.  But I don't think he would really want an old me on his hands.

It's hard living under a death sentence.  It makes living impossible for me.

And yet, of course, I do live.  I'm abstinent in my fashion.  This could lead to weight loss, perish the thought (perish me).  I planted a half dozen iris last fall & am amazed that at least two of them have the slender, arrowhead buds that will take another few weeks to bloom.  I didn't plant two of them correctly.  They need deeper pots. One didn't make it.  But I did it.  I planted iris, our favorite flower, & I didn't fail even if I didn't quite succeed.

Brenda, you'll be happy to know, was able to did up bulbs at the Lake, so the legacy lives on: Chicago to Ashland to Portland to Missoula to Flathead.  I wonder if our poppies are still blooming.

You would hate what the world has come to, Mom.  We have a president who laughs about grabbing pussies, who abides by no laws, who has made jeering at people & Kentucky Fried Chicken and steak with ketchup socially acceptable.  His supporters are just plain icky.  I feel like the last person in America who knows how to set a dinner table and make conversation, although I avoid the latter as much as possible.  Thank you for civilizing us, Mom.  I had the family over not so long ago & was staggered when I cleaned up.  Only Jim & I had used our napkins.  Only three of us had used dinner forks.  I know Jim doesn't think it's important but you put him on automatic pilot.  It helps our solidarity,

You & Daddy would laugh that Jim, Brenda & I are planning to travel together.  Jim & I: can you see what that would have been like 20 years ago?  We want to take a short trip this summer & a trip to someplace tropical where your water babies can do what we do best: swim & eat cookies.  Jim asked what I wanted for my birthday in December & it struck me on the way home what I wanted: time with him.  I want to rent a boat & drive fast around the Lake to our old haunts & swim at Bird Island & have ham sandwiches & chocolate chip cookies, the quintessential Flathead lunch for kids who'd been in the sun & water so long that we.they were shaking with hunger.  It's hard to find time with Jim, especially in the summer.  His bio-sister has now bought a house next to her cousin so I'm gonna have to lay the guilt on to get my day.  It's time to spread the other half of your & Dad's ashes, so maybe I can add that to my arsenal as well.

Since Jim got his bio siblings, I had my DNA tested this winter.  At 60 I wanted to know.  You'll be happy: I came out almost half German, half Dutch.  I like the Dutch part but not so happy about the German.  There's a snick of Irish in there but not as much as I thought or Dad once told me.

Daisy will be 14 in July -- can you believe that?  I have a picture of you holding her at four weeks when you picked her out of the litter.  "She's the calm one," you said.
 Hahahahahahahaha!  No one is scared of her any more.  Partly that's because we're back in gun-&-Lab country, but how dangerous could this white faced, gamy-legged creature be?  Fourteen is beating the odds & I feel very much like Daisy & I are walking down a long dark set of stairs now.  I don't know when they'll end, but they are the last stairs she'll walk.  I told Tom that the pre-grief is the worst of it & he agreed.  When the Time comes, it will be for Daisy's sake.  She has no idea that the weakness in her back legs & her long, long naps are harbingers, although I think she's aware that not being able to jump in the car or, sometimes, on my bed are...strange.  She is used to doing these things.  Why can't she now?  I'm anxious about swimming season.

I don't think a day goes by that I don't cry about it.  Lately, I've cried every day missing you & Dad.  I often wake up thinking I'm my Martha's Court bedroom & that you'll be there when I get up, probably nagging about something or being insultingly sunny.  It's very brief but very real, especially after another stormy night of anti-depressant-fueled dreams that are always about people who hurt me.

It's no wonder napping is my favorite activity.  I dream less.

Everything is up in the air -- no, that's not right.  It's like the world, my friends, the family are all twirling plates, busy twirling.  I'm standing among them stock-still.  No motion, no direction, watching my and Daisy's life spin themselves out on some Fate's spindle.  This conversation is about the most active thing I've done in months.  I don't know how to live, Mom.  Right now I don't even know if I want to except that I'm paralyzed by 78, by time ticking 18 years away with nothing to show for it.

What are you telling me that I can't hear?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Letter to a Critically Ill Friend Who Has No Fight Left

Dear M:

I don't know, quite, how you are physically feeling.  I say "quite" because I've had excruciating but brief experiences with ventilators for surgery, and long and worse experiences with nasal-gastric tubes after surgery.  I know what it is to keep on only because of my dog.  I know a little about wanting to die but my body itself has never taken me to that brink.

That is a betrayal indeed.  It's bad enough that mood disorders threaten the ice we skate on, but to have one's body, in the prime of life, exhaust itself and one's spirits, is beyond understanding.

You say you have no will to fight after this intensive bout of a week.  You're allowed that statement and that feeling.  You're physically and spiritually exhausted -- or perhaps bankrupt is a better word.  At a negative balance.  No one but you can state your feelings in this critical time.

But here is what I would say in a poem if I had the calm and wherewith all to write a poem:

There is a murre squawking over the division of the remains of a perch.  The murre is drab under the tarnished sky; the perch is the color of sand.  The tide is rising and the murre, arguing with a plover, will have to win or lose this argument quickly or the perch will be submerged & sucked back to see.

You are on a rock, watching this.  Behind you, on the hill leading to the car park, sheep sorrel is in pathetic bloom but there are wild roses enough to think of coming back to pick the hips for jelly, for tea.  The roses are massy and cheerful beyond countenance, but you will stop on your climb back up the asphalt path to study them, then to study one.
It is a pale, pale pink, almost white; a clean bell to crawl into but for the shaggy gold stamen that promises everything and wants only one: the pollen of another wild rose.  You will wonder if it's doomed to wither unfertilized or if bees have been ineluctably drawn to that fat wreath of pollen and the nearly invisible stigma where its life might begin another season.

It is windy.  It's always windy on the Cape.

But it hasn't rained.

There are other visitors here: locals out for a stroll, a very few tourists narrating their iPhone videos.  "This is the dramatic scenery of Cape..." And his wife fills in, "...Kiwanda" to finish the panoramic shot.

They haven't read, or haven't understood that what lies before them shouldn't exist.  Only Haystack Rock, stern and dark as a priest in the confessional, keeps the storms from gobbling the beach and the soft stone around you.  It's big, Haystack.  But big enough to preserve the place you sit since Mesolithic times?

I tell you now, here, that is when sheep were domesticated, and goats.  The ice was receding from Sweden and Denmark, making way for pastry and Hans Christian Anderson.  Jericho was thriving.  The Sahara was as wet and fertile as the Rogue Valley.

I'm a handy one at quick research and a pocketful of unrelated facts.

But imagine: trading deer meat for two sheep.  The warmth, the softening of the lanolin in a hardscrabble life.  Practicing the trombone in the rock tower soldier's keep in Jericho.

Every epoch has its new pleasures and discoveries and unwitting consequences.

Which is why you will study the pink-fading-to-white rose: are there bees enough to have made love to this particular, unremarkable rose that only you will know with such intimacy that you will never forget it?

Somethings are beyond the camera lens.  Beyond words.  This is communion.  It will become a part of you.  It will grow in you,  It will die with you.  You are its witness even though its purpose is only to receive the pollen of the last rose visited.  In this, the rose is at odds with itself: the survival of color and perfume, the survival of having been scrutinized among all its sisters, loved so well for a few moments that it will stain your eyelids as you fall asleep tonight,

This is a true story that hasn't been lived yet.

You will leave knowing the murre has eaten, that drab holds wild roses, wild thoughts, the wilderness of you.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


So my upstairs neighbor is screaming obscenities about shutting the fuck up, possibly to his upstairs neighbors, changing my mind about which list to start first.

I wanted to start with my favorite things -- I've been so wrapped up in politics that I want to remind myself of the good & the silly -- but X Man upstairs ruined that moment for the moment. So here is

Things I Hate

  1. Neighbors screaming.
  2. Awful music pouring out of cars.
  3. People posting their agenda on my Facebook wall.
  4. The woman on Twitter who says American women's rights are luxury problems (which is why women in so many Third World countries marched yesterday: ever hear of the slippery slope???)
  5. Worrying about money.
  6. Worrying about friends too far away to help gracefully.
  7. Not having my friends all in one place.
  8. Myself, when I'm not careful about food.
  9. The repeating cast of characters in my dreams.  I think they come back because I actually suffer some PTSD around them.
  10. Wondering why I had two bosses I loathed & whether they were crazy or I was.
  11. Children bouncing on ceilings.
  12. Being left out of things that are important to me.
  13. Introversion.  Depression.  Agoraphobia.  For anyone who suffers from them.
  14. The salt tracked into my apartment over the winter months.
  15. Inertia.
  16. Fear of writing.
  17. The noise of jet skis, snow mobiles, four-wheelers.
  18. Not being able to talk to my father.
  19. Stains.
  20. January.
  21. How often I have to clean the bathroom.
  22. Reaching out to someone to repair a friendship, thinking we have done so only to never hear from the person again.
Silly Things That Make Me Laugh
  1. My underwear drawer.  My brother busts his gut when I talk about what I've recently added to it.  Today there is an empty, open bottle of almond extract, left-over grated orange rind & a coffee bag in it, Jim.  I smell like a fucking Christmas cookie.
  2. Daisy rolling in the grass.
  3. Wondering every time a bell fell off my Christmas tree if an angel had died.
  4. How songs transmogrify in my head.  "I Have Confidence," from The Sound of Music, is really easy to turn into a song of sadism when it's on your brain for 16 hours.
  5. The recent of a weary business man reading the newspaper on a subway platform.  Below him is a weary business rat reading the newspaper on the little shelf just above the tracks.
  6. The scene in Patton when the general turns to his bull terrier & says, "You're not William.  You're Willie."
  7. I had a double-header of Christmas awe & shock last month.  I gave my secret shoe whore nephew a pair of Ralph Lauren blue suede bucks with lime green soles.  He was over the moon for them in absolute surprise.  My other nephew, who is an out-of-the-closet shoe whore, was flabbergasted.  We didn't know whose face to watch.
  8. Taking lint out of the dryer.
  9. Cartoons & pictures by & about introverts.  Yesterday a woman carried a sign saying, "Even introverts march."
  10. My love of polishing silver.

My Favorite Things
  1. The Alaskan socks that couldn't fit in ANY boot that my father gave me.  I can walk outside in these suckers & they don't itch.  Must be full of seal lanolin or something. 
  2. My apartment.  It's still so novel it's like playing house.
  3. Taking pictures.  I'm lonely for taking pictures.
  4. Le Pens.
  5. The reader who responded to my Christmas post yesterday (who inspired me to write a new post, although I decided to avoid politics) saying she had mascara running down her face.
  6. When Daisy lays down with me and flops her head on my thigh.
  7. Being butt-to-butt with Daisy.
  8. The 9-month-old black Mastiff, Cora, who barks for me every time she walks by my apartment.
  9. Being asked out to lunch.
  10. Certain recipes that are a lot of chopping but are healthy & amazing.  Always worth the effort I don't want to put into them.
  11. Starting to read a book & knowing it's THE book.
  12. The book conversation I had on Facebook last night,
  13. Bach.
  14. Roku.
  15. Being clean.  Clean sheets.  A clean kitchen. Note to self: Should do that more often.
  16. Planning & giving dinner parties.
  17. Getting a new piece of one of the three china sets I own, or a new crystal glass/goblet (My china matches, my crystal doesn't.  I like it that way.)
  18. My friend Tom.
  19. My friends F, C, K, E, C, S, L, S, A, G, A, S. D.  D features highly on the list.  We get it.
  20. Bill Maher.
  21. Online jigsaw puzzles.
  22. The bulbs I tossed in glasses of water that are now in bloom.
  23. Sofa pillows.

This Week's Bucket List (Gulp!)
  1. Groceries, green & clean.
  2. Go to Radius & get painting.
  3. Recycling.
  4. Try once again to choose photos for bathroom.
  5. Dry cleaning.
  6. Gas up car.
  7. Deal with health insurance.
  8. Call shrink.
  9. Try once again to get stains out of various things.
  10. Write blog for Psychology Today.
  11. Get some art supplies for spice jars & garden tins.
  12. Send paperwork for my brother's military records.
The Bucket List I Should Be Paying Attention to:
  1. Preamble or first chapter or whatever you want to call it of the novel I need to write.
  2. Put shims under my filing cabinet & put files in.
  3. Sort receipts for taxes.
  4. Start short story I have in mind.  I wonder if I could write two stories a month & sell them for, say, $2.00 to interested parties?  I don't think I'm young or good enough any more to find paying lit mags that would accept my junk.
  5. Gather & approach possible clients.
  6. What I eat.
  7. Reading the Mahabharata.
  8. Reading Middlemarch.
  9. Editing partial memoir manuscript.
  10. Walking.  Walking Daisy.
  11. Get help with laptop.  Get help hanging what-not shelves.  Get help assembling cube thingy.
  12. Get help.
  13. Write & ask for return of my share of the china a former friend & I were collecting.

Things That Weird Me Out:
  1. Taking the National Geographic DNA test & finding out I'm half German, half Dutch.  I don't mind the Dutch part but the German -- ?  So common, for one thing.  So...culpable.  So Not Irish, so Not Polish.
  2. My brother's bio-relatives.  I think he likes them more than me.  He knows more about himself than I can.
  3. Daisy is 13-and-a-half.
  4. How the dishwasher kind of collects dirt so that I have to clean what I wash AND clean the dish washer.
  5. Killing my chives because they got flattened when I watered them.  Buck up, kids!
  6. How much I care about What Happened in November.
  7. How tired I get after a social encounter.  It took me three weeks to get over Christmas -- & I'm German, for God's sake.
  8. Not being able to find words.  I needed the word "filibuster" last night in order to have an amazing conversation with myself.  It came to me this morning.
  9. Mushrooms.  Sardines.  Anchovies.  Fish with tentacles people expect me to eat.
  10. Being single.
  11. Once they were my best friends but we lost touch...
  12. Getting obsessed.

Things I Wish I Weren't:
  1. Barely middle class.
  2. Jealous.
  3. Angry at myself.  Angry at not doing, accomplishing as much as I should have in 60 years.
  4. Scared & mournful about Daisy.
  5. Scared of writing.
  6. Scared of leaving the house.
  7. Scared of asking for help.
  8. Scared of my moods.  Scared a mood will grow like a fungus & the next thing will be punching myself in the face.
  9. Snacky at night,
  10. Exercise-hating.
  11. Needy.
  12. Obsessed with failure.
  13. Stuck in Montana for the foreseeable future.
  14. Expecting thanks & praise.
  15. Insecure about whether my family & friends really like me or just feel sorry for me.
  16. A procrastinator.
  17. Self-absorbed.
So there you have it.  No mascara damage I think & at least I did this, today, when the sky & the ground are exactly the same colors.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Letter, 2016

I never do this.  It's against my principals.  Christmas is Victorian in origin and should remain that way, including paper cards, with stamps, with a short note.  I get bogged down trying to read the annual Christmas letters that come my way, partly because they're so grateful and partly because they read like a slide show: we did this and then we did this, and then this happened...

Oh, yeah.  I forgot about the "we" thing.  "We," in this blog, is Daisy and me.

Still, I haven't written Christmas cards in two years and my handwriting isn't up to what it was after the 40th time I've said something.  So here goes.

In October, 2014, I decided to move from Brooklyn Heights and my dark, dusty apartment, back to my hometown of Missoula.  Actually, I'd been waiting for years to move in with a friend in Seattle and raise ducks and maybe a monkey, but I almost never heard from him any more, I was done with New York, my father was weakening and my sister-in-law finally blurted out, "Just come home.  You can wait for the Mr. Seattle here as easily as in New York and in more comfort."

So I went back to Brooklyn, packed up 4200 books and Brenda and Kimberly -- my sister-in-law and youngest niece -- flew out to help with the last packing and drive me and Daisy home.  It was Kimberly's first trip to New York.  I got the best seats I could for Cabaret, which Alan Cumming was reprising, took them through Little Italy and Chinatown, and then pretty much left them to do their thing while I tied up loose ends.

We took the scenic route home, mostly to avoid the November weather due to hit the Great Lakes but I finally got to see Lansing, PA, and listen to school kids scold my sister-in-law as she took pictures of them.  Since they were unhappy about that, and it's really not OK to do it, I took pictures of their laundry hanging out to dry.  So Brenda has kids happily playing and I have photos of their knickers.

We landed in Missoula and I waited for a good used car to become available.  I began to develop crippling social anxiety and mild agoraphobia as I lived in the basement of Jim's house.  I was hoping to move into a cottage which was at the end of a domino chain that didn't happen and in June my father died.

Dark, dark days.  Jim, Brenda and my shrink decided I should continue living with them until after the memorial in September.

It was a solemn occasion because Dad had a military interment.  He was a retired colonel so an officer of equal or greater rank was not hanging around wondering when the next old geezer would die.  I asked an acquaintance from high school, a recently retired Army general, if she would come out to present the flag.  She didn't hesitate to help out and it meant a great deal to me that she was there.  She presented the flag to Jim, who then turned, went down on his knees and presented it to me.

Our friend and former pastor gave a knock-out eulogy that started with, "Whenever I talked to Leonard, I felt like I should go home and read a book."  He went on to discuss Daddy and their long friendship and then his wife (this is part of the group at the "alternative Catholic community" in Missoula which I call "Our Lady of Off-Off Broadway) read the time to dance/time to mourn section of Ecclesiastes.  Jim and I took Dad on his last walk to his niche which is engraved with "Learn, love, laugh," and tucked him safely in. 

Then we all had enormous swigs of Bushmills.

The next night we had a party.  Jim and Brenda thought I was nuts for renting a karaoke, but you don't know what laughter is until my two nephews sing, pitch-perfect, one in falsetto, the other in a forced baritone, "The Music of the Night."  We danced, we sang, we ate hors d'ouerves, My nephew- in-law mimed cool jazz piano playing until we nearly passed out and it all ended with my youngest nephew Satchmo-ing Dad's favorite song, "What a Wonderful World."

Dad had an honorary chair with his favorite baseball cap on it: "Whatever."  It was cathartic. gave new meaning to Ecclesiastes literal meaning.  It was as much about having the whole family together for the first time in years as it was about grieving with laughter.

Soon after I began looking for an apartment.  September is a dismal time to look for a place to live so I decided to rent in a complex that's on the pricey side but has "amenities" (Work-out room, pool, club house.) It's like playing house for me: a garbage disposal!  A washer & dryer!  A patio!  I use the "master en suite" (I watch too much HGTV) as my office so I have lots of light and all my books together.  I fell in love with having plants on the patio and now have seedlings I'm growing in those clear plastic clam shells that pastries (shhhh'hhh) & pre-cut fruit come in.  The chives are growing like mad.  & friends from New York so sympathized with my mourning over the last of the flowers that they sent me a hibiscus tree.

I also potted iris and just before the snows came in earnest, made condominiums of boxes filled with straw, dead leaves, and paper and put them in my OUTSIDE STORAGE UNIT.  

I'm playing house, you see.

I was a busy girl going through boxes that came from New York, Arizona, Missoula storage and Oregon.  There were moments of tears in the unpacking -- finding that my mother had packed up her big jewelry box that Dad brought back from R&R in Japan during the Korean War & finding my own smaller version he'd gotten in case he ever had a daughter.  There were other such moments.  I'd gotten pictures on the walls when it was time to put up my first very own full-size Christmas tree.  I gave a lot of ornaments away, things I felt Mom and Dad would approve of going to more appreciative homes.  And I gave a lot of other treasures away -- Southwestern pottery which I have no taste for but was treasured by a friend, 1960s sterling serving ware to my 1960s architecture & design-obsessed nephew, ornate beer steins my connoisseur-nephew found fascinating.  It felt good to see these things go to the right homes.

But January of this year issued in a new project that hit me like a jackhammer: going through (and I'm not kidding here) boxes of photos and family papers dating back to the 1860s, and a history going back another 230 years. 

I'd been impatient with my grandmother when she died.  I was absorbed in myself and my life in New York when my grandfather and aunts and uncles died.  All the missed opportunities to talk to them on top of Dad's death and the side of Mom I appreciated most, the collector of china and student of dinner parties and a comfortable home, was too much.  I plunged into a 6-week depression that was the worst in 30 years.  I cried.  I slept.  I punched myself in the face,  My sister-in-law sailed in to make sure I got my meds & saw my shrinks because I couldn't leave the house.  At one point I was down to instant potatoes for food.

I snapped out of it in a sweat of anxiety when I realized by license plate tabs had to be renewed & I had one day left.  It was March 31st, a preternaturally spring day.  I put on a silk sari skirt & sweater & went downtown, stumbling from place to place before I found the right office.  I was shaking & dry-mouthed but I was legal & I'd done it myself.  I began to get better,

It was also around that time that my friend in Seattle began to get interested in living together.  I didn't and don't feel the timing was right.  I can't put Daisy through another move.  I have a novel that's writing itself in my stomach.  I really hadn't, in the weird limbo of staying with Jim for a year & then going through the massive task of moving, begun to get to know Missoula or even, except for a dinner party I gave & which everyone loved, reconnected with old friends.  I needed to give Missoula a year of not being agoraphobic & that was the least of my reasons for not wanting to move so soon.

We began talking about property in the Bitterroot or up the Flathead or in Missoula.  We Zilllowed Spokane.  In late July I went out for a needed vacation & we laughed & laughed -- but the pressure was on.  He was extending his teeny house.  Spaces were referred to as mine.  I repeated my reasons for not relocating 500 miles and we had a pleasant time in which I saw close-up some things that would bother me.

I also got to see four of my seven cousins, the children of my father's youngest brother.  It will be one of the highlights of my year.  I had missed the funerals of their parents, both of whom I was quite close to.  These are women I have aspired to be like, envied for being "real" Kuffels (all blond, all dimpled, all with the musical Kuffel laugh -- traits that my other set of cousins share exactly).  But that day when we were all staring at our 60s, the old shyness and need to over-exert dropped away.  One cousin said, as soon as we sat down, "So tell us about the Kuffels" -- I have the genealogy another cousin did that dates us to Napoleonic times in the Polish diaspora of Lvov and Prussia -- and my first question was, "How many times a day do you almost call your dad to ask a question?"  We all laughed at that, and I laughed when another cousin turned to me and said in a low voice, "Is there a Twelve Step program for china?"  I have three sets.  I understand.  I went home and boxed up our grandmother's crystal for her.  It was heaven.  I've been hinting in Christmas cards that we should all run away for a Girls' Thing.

I was sad, too, to be asked about my middle uncle and his four daughters.  They remember meeting them once -- and I remember that meeting like glass wind chimes, all those musical laughs going up and down a middle register that never hits an annoying whinny of giggling.  There was a disruption between the two families that was partially corrected when my uncles got together, but never a mending, never the chance for those eleven wonderful people to get to know each other.  

And I was happy that my uncle had told my cousins how my father helped out the family while my uncle was in medical school.  I was even more pleased that they didn't know that when my uncle was in practice, he offered to pay for my father to take any residency he wanted.  It was a moment in which a story was completed, showing a kind of fraternal humility that made me, for one, understand better the family culture our fathers had.  I wished my other cousins would have been there to hear those stories of sacrifice and help that were bone-deep appreciated between the three and not just the two brothers.

Ten months after the Great Depression and five months after that lunch I can be weepy and grateful and a little wiser but it somehow doesn't plunge me into a terrible day of regret.  I feel like I got to see my aunt and uncle through my cousins and that they, my aunt and uncle, understood why I wasn't there to say goodbye at the right time.

Goodbyes abounded this year: coming to terms with Daddy's death, feeling my mother as I transform her things into mine, Daisy's five-month battle with terrible bladder infections that started with a careless veterinarian and almost killed her, and then vistibule which looks terrifyingly like a stroke and that made it impossible for her to roll in the grass, let alone pee without falling over.  Twice in four months I thought Jim was taking me to the 24-hour emergency clinic (a Missoula amenity that does NOT need quotation marks: they see the sickest animals and have to be at the top of their game) to have her put down.  A year after my father died, I didn't know how I would survive it.

She's much better now, although at 13, she's a much weaker swimmer, has no interest in -- gasp! -- playing fetch (and everyone in New York knows how astonishing that is), and has a permanently slightly cocked head that makes her look like she's perpetually considering and judging the situation.

I'm grateful every time she eats and every time she hops into bed with me.

The last goodbye might be a real and living one.  Finally, my friend in Seattle got it that I'm not packing up and moving.  I feel horribly that he had to come to grips with this on his own and after so many cloud dreams of his own.  That landing in reality, taking place as I begin to get to know people and hang out with old friends who are genuinely happy I'm back, was a hard smack and no bounce.  He's cut me out of his life and I've lost a good friend.  I had responded that we're family -- I'd come out for Easter and he'd come out here for the Fourth of July, that my not moving to Seattle wasn't in the least personal except that there are deeply personal things I need to do in Missoula.  This, alas, did not get through.

Part of me wants to write a really nasty letter but the bigger part of me knows that the friendship had changed inexorably, that it was predicated on co-habitation and not on mutual delight.  I am trying not to ascribe blame in these statements.  What I can say, at the recently ripe age of 60, is that there is no such thing as a best friend in my life.  I have an oldest friend to whom I can say anything.  I have a second oldest friend, ditto.  I have a friend I was in love with and could be if I let myself that I fancy with via pretty constant email.  But I can't say any of these really wonderful people are my Best Friend.

Which is good, albeit dateless on Saturday nights.  

I named this blog for a Joni Mitchell song about waiting for The One to come as promised.  This morning I'm thinking of another lyric from the same album:

Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you

Ah, but what is found!  My brother and I are friends for the first time in our lives.  I want to wiggle out of my skin when my nieces and nephews get together.  I think of that lunch with my cousins every day with delight and love.  My sister-in-law and I have become very close, although no longer living there can impose a distance on us that we really shouldn't indulge in.

The new year?  I expect to be jailed for using my First Amendment rights the Great Pumpkin is intently eroding.  I hope to get this novel under my belt.  I can't wait to start eating an entirely healthy diet again.  I want to become more myself, and become more so I can give it away and not feel empty after.  I want to put reindeer horns on a bouncy Daisy next Christmas.  And I want everyone who reads this to know I love you, love you for reading it, love you for being you, love you for having been there when the chips were down, love you through blood and honey.

Merry Christmas.
  Let me know what you want for your new year.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Curse of the Strawberry Moon

Last night was my and my brother Jim's second visit to the Emergency Animal Clinic this month, this time at 1 a.m.  Daisy had been playful and enjoying life all day but started whimpering around 10.  I thought she had to go out.  I thought her staggering was the urgency of needing to go out.  After she did her business, however, she kept staggering on the trajectory of "out".  I went after her with cookies but immediately realized something was terribly wrong.  She could barely walk, had no sense of direction and fell down in our 20-yard odyssey back to our own patio.  I called my brother because I can't lift her into my high-slung Ford Escape and told him Daisy had had a stroke and I needed help.

He was here in 20 minutes and we bundled her off.

Turns out she's having a vestibular episode, which old dogs are prone to.  The very kind vet explained this as I sat on the floor with Daisy in my lap (she adores her Uncle Jimmie, but when times are tough she needs her Mama).  Vestibular disorder affects the inner ear so the animal (including humans) have horrible vertigo, explaining why she threw up on the way back from her business walk earlier.  It passes within two weeks.  He gave her a shot to settle her stomach and another, at my request, to sedate her because she was panting and shaking so much.  We went home and Jim settled her into her bed and warned me she was out but a wreck.  She was: sleeping but still shaking.  Twenty minutes later, the full effect of the sedative had taken over and the shaking passed.  She looked like a stuffed animal.

She had seemed better at the vet's but this morning's walk was careening, she didn't want water and later came into my room and wanted to get in bed with me.  I hauled her up, slid way down  and whenever she whimpered, I'd wake enough to scratch her butt, which soothed her into calm something.

I just lifted her off the bed because I didn't want her to fall off in the quest of finding me.  She's in her bed in my office, limp as vermicelli.  It pains me to watch her walk a bit, then come to a standstill, tilted to the right, unable to make her body do what she wants.  She's probably more embarrassed and scared than she is in pain.

Luckily we only have to get through seven more days of this wretched month.

A recap:

Memorial Day: Home alone with a big resentment on my chest, Daisy begins to experience rolling shivers.  It's not right.  She's been diagnosed with failing kidneys, put on a kibble she hates, has to go out multiple times a night and now this awful shivering.  I think she is dying.  I call my brother.  If I have to put her down, I need my big brother.  The wonderful Emergency Animal Clinic does tests that should have been done by her regular clinic and announces her kidneys are fine but that she has a roaring bladder infection.  He puts her on antibiotics and pain meds for the sore back he's also found and we switch vets the next day.

June 2: Daisy iss been improving.  We are coming from a walk and I see we can't go inside from the patio because the sprinklers are on.  Then I notice a loud buzzing that, yes, is coming from our apartment complex and then the wail of fire engines.  I carabiner Daisy to a railing and go inside -- an alarm that could shatter all my crystal is going off and water is pouring into my apartment.  The upstairs neighbors sprinkler system had gone off and that sprinkler was  water sluicing from their window and deck.  The firemen are right behind me and snatch up my computer components and carry it into the living room and tarp everything they can.

Daisy and I are homeless.  We head to Jim's while they dry the apartment with enormous hot fans for four days and stay on because I can't move with so much recently behind me.  Also, Daisy loves rolling in their grass.

June 3: Jim calls me early in the morning to tell me Daisy can't walk.  He'd coaxed her out to pee that morning from the basement door and, fuck it all, gave her an ibuprofin for the pain, which I approve of even if we shouldn't give her Motrin.  When I go upstairs, she's gimpy and tender but mobile.  We see her new vet that day and he goes after her pains and problems aggressively, taking x-rays that show no masses & no arthritis, doubling down on antibiotics and on pain meds.  I want to marry him.
She starts feeling better immediately, is eager to eat the new kibble they've prescribed and is thrilled to go swimming at Flathead, screaming for me to throw the stick.

(Daisy does NOT believe I can swim.  As soon as I get up to my crotch in the freezing water, she keeps coming after me to do what I call Tunnels of Love, in this case swimming through my legs and circling back to do it again.  She is herding me to shore.  It's hilarious.  I am disappointed that I don't take the plunge.  As a kid, no matter what the weather, we were in the water on Memorial Day weekend and it's a week later & I'm too much of a weenie to go all the way in.  I am old.)

June 7: Daisy and I move home.  Dust everywhere.  Shattered glass from a picture knocked down in a bathroom, shelves moved from the hall into the living room, the hutch moved into the living room, my computer on the table in the living room.  A load of laundry forgotten in the washer for a week to re-wash.  No towels.  Can't log in on my lap top because the router is in the living room.  For insurance purposes, I need receipts for everything so after a visit to Best Buy to make sure my tower/hard drive are OK, I book the Geek Squad to come in and reconnect all the rest of my lap top in case parts of it were drowned -- the tower was farthest from the stream three feet away.  Everything checks out and they even bundle all the cables so that they aren't tripping me when I stand up.

Can they fold fitted sheets too?  If so, I want to marry them.

The apartment complex sends in guys to move the heavy furniture back into place.  Later they come in to replace a bunch of light bulbs the Great Deluge ruined as well as a socket plate the huge fans yanked from the walls.  I clean and mourn my periwinkle pansies that have died.  Daisy and I settle in and she lays in the sun while I combine what plants survived into two pots.  This working with flowers feels...affirming.

June 12: The Pulse Massacre.  Flags are at half-mast even in het Missoula.  I trade emails of horror with a client and decide to write an article in his name based on a list of facts I drew up for his website. I lose myself in writing over the course of two days.  I'd look up from it and four hours would be gone.  Daisy cracks me up on each walk by throwing herself on the grass to "rrrolll, rroll, rroll in de hay" although she doesn't catch the reference to Young Frankenstein.  Oh well.  I do.  I am writing journalism and I am Woman and I am Strong.  I have a novel to write.

Which brings us to last night.  And this afternoon.  Daisy is now a failed croissant in her bed, not moving.

*  * *

On Saturday, the 18th, my sister-in-law celebrates her one-year anniversary for heart valve replacement by climbing the M, a gleaming white M on a barren mountain above the University of Montana.  Everyone in the family except me (I spent the afternoon making the coconut cake she wants to end the day on) joins her.  My niece comes back to their house with their new dog, a five-ish-month-old what looks to be an English spaniel.  My niece lost her beloved dog last year and is having some buyer's remorse over the puppy.  He's all over Daisy, who in her uninterested dotage and former role as dog boarder, permits anything another dog throws at her.  She considers this one of her jobs, along with keeping me from drowning, running after thrown objects and rolling in the grass.  

This encourages the pup to try out fancier moves, such as humping.  I had just warned my niece that his squatting days wouldn't last forever and that, even though she was sure neutering would take care of it, he'd get into humping at some point.  Whereupon he began humping Daisy madly.  I made the mistake of cheering him on and got into trouble with everyone.

I'm sorry about that, Beloved Niece.

(Both male and female dogs hump.  Daisy humped Boomer and Hero whenever she could, as well as the odd fireman and a friend of mine she was clearly in love with.  I walked a dog who hated everyone except his owners, groomer, Daisy and Hero.  He LOVED me, and would attach himself to my leg as soon as I walked in the door.  The same with Grace, my best friends' Lab puppy.  She clamped on to me like a vise and left claw marks and dirt on my legs after.  It was an act of love and delight.  Dogs hump for reasons of which sexuality is the least.  Mostly it's a way of getting the humpee's attention, an invitation to play.  
I walked a dog who ran into his apartment and humped his big squishy bed: I think it felt good.  Dogs don't always like being humped, especially males, but it's a matter of hauling them off and redirecting their play energy.  I'm just sayin'.)

Everyone was in the kind of mood that showed us off at our worst that night.  I was glad to go home to get away from the simmering emotional noise.

Chatting with my sister-in-law today, I realized two things about all this dogginess.  My niece had gotten her Dog of all Dogs when Dog was a year or so old.  She hasn't done puppy.  When Daisy was a very young puppy, she was vicious.  It really wasn't until she got into the dog run in Brooklyn and played, got nibbled, gotten in trouble and made friends that she calmed down enough t risk petting her.  One of her first friends, older than she, humped her regularly, a sign, I think, of ownership since we were at her apartment and throwing her toys for Daisy.  But there was also a big white Lab in the dog run that Daisy humped so much that we wept with laughter.  Little Daisy began at his butt and humped all the way up to his head.  Then she'd turn around and hump him all the way from his head to his butt.  Again and again.  He knew this was puppy stuff and let her.

Beloved niece's Dog of all Dogs had a terrible and lingering death.  Beloved me had a puppy with a terrible and lingering puppyhood.  Now I'm experiencing the beginnings of what Beloved Niece went through and I'm not good at it.  It makes my hysterical.  As a confirmed pessimist, each visit to the Emergency Clinic has been, I believed and will believe, Daisy's last car ride.

Beloved Niece was much more optimistic and accepting when Dog of all Dogs could no longer swim, no longer run, no longer walk much.  I think of Daisy as a puppy and when these losses, so far temporarily, occur, I see it as the end.

It also occurred to me that my father experienced very little of the degradations of dying.  Losing his sight could have been one but he forged on with what vision he had left, his books on tape, his music and his incredible memory.  He died of an aneurysm, immediate and painless.  What other failing of old age, my brother dealt with.  My brother found him dead (on June 26th, just to round out this mense horribilis) and that has been very hard on him.  

Daisy is my turn, challenging my mindset, my patience, my experience.  I'm so glad, in retrospect, that Dad made me put my dog, a black Lab named Jan who was dying of kidney failure, down by myself when I was 18.  I remind myself I've done this before and survived it.  This series of crises and recoveries is what I owe her and owe my brother for taking care of Dad, and Dad, whose decline last year I squirreled up & hid from as much as I could.

The Strawberry moon has swelled and diminished in the last three weeks.  It's payback time for me, to the cycles of life and the lives I didn't, perhaps, honor as much as I should have. 

But I will need you a lot, Jim.  Even at our ages, big brothers do certain Things for little sister.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Letter to My Mother on Mother's Day

Dear Mom:

Is there a heaven?  Are you with Daddy now?  Have you come together as lovers again or as the sometimes-adversarial roommates of my most conscious years?  Yes, I figured that out.  For whatever reason, you pretty much left marriage -- although not the money, not the security -- as you took each step further in.
You didn't want to be Mrs. Lieutenant Kuffel and then you began, as I left toddlerhood, around the time everyone at St. Pat's knew you had cancer before you did, to really loathe being Mrs. Doctor Kuffel.  I saw the gleam in your eye when Dad lost his sight and you finally had the power in the marriage, at least insofar as being the sole means of transportation was power.  You never really understood that Daddy lived on his own planet and was serene there with his Ellington and Chopin, fights and football, history and science.  It drove you crazy, that serenity and noise, but you didn't understand that as much as he missed driving and other stuff, he was untouchable.

And yet you loved each other.

When Aunt Claire died, I described heaven to Colleen as a nightclub with red pleather banquettes.  That's where she reunited with Uncle Connie.  In that deep gravelly voice I love so much, Colleen said, "He was mixing martinis while he waited for her."

A comforting, pretty scene.  Was there such a one for you and Dad?  Was he mixing you a Manhattan?  Were you restored to your best youth so that after that drink and a smooch, you could fling yourselves into "Elmer's Tune"?

What the fuck happens when you die, Mom?  I need to know, even though Frank, in his eulogy for Dad, said his spirit had joined the stars, that we had to let go to let that fully happen.  Those words brought me the first peace I felt after Daddy died and they're appropriate to Dad, aren't they?  He'd like whizzing around the star nurseries and undiscovered galaxies.  You?  Not so much.  I want to know where you went, where Frank would have consigned you in his eulogy.  You were Frank's tool at St. Anthony's and Christ the King; that's what he focused on.  But I have to ask: is that all you were, a sideman to Vatican II?  Or did you have galactic clouds of your own to fly up to?

That's what's on my mind this Mother's Day, a year since I've written you, a year since I've blogged here.

I can feel you in a new way, living with your treasures.  Thank you for packing up your jewelry box for me -- I sobbed when I parted the packing in that box and discovered it.  Thank you for remembering the cherub candle sticks.  I used them on the Christmas table with sprigs of pine and small white and red carnations.  Jim remembered them as well.

I have felt you the last couple of days as switching out winter for summer clothes turned into cleaning the big closet in my office, throwing things away, packing up Grandma's crystal for Kaylie or bagging things for my favorite charity shop.  You approved heartily and kind of kept me going because it was such a Mom task.

I have a little more to do but am ready to move on to the next projects I need to finish before I try to start writing my novel.  If there are any plots hanging around where you are, could you send me one? I'll think of you as I write a version of Dick and the women in his life.  He loved you as much as he could but he was pissed off that you added Jim and me to your love.

And that's one thing that Jim and I, at least, never doubted amidst your abandonment of the marriage, We knew you loved us, and that you loved us for what and who we were.  You weren't disappointed in the whole of us, although I'm sure my smoking disappointed you and maybe my weight gain. Thank you from all of us who so tangibly felt your love -- Jim, Lisa, Tom, Michele, Jerilyn, Patrice, Rob.  Lisa always says you were the only person who had unconditional love.

Oh, you'd adore Rob!  He has inherited so much of his taste from you!

And Kaylie is graduating with her Master's Degree next Sunday.  Lisa and Dustin have moved to Big Fork, so they're theoretically nearby, although we haven't seen each other since Dad's memorial.

I think you wouldn't have understood parts of the memorial but you would have loved seeing all of us together, eating, laughing, drinking, singing, dancing and loving each other.  Only Jennifer was missing among the grandchildren, but that will have to wait for the novel I'm asking you to find a plot for.

Daisy will be 13 in two months.  She's starting to age now and has kidney failure we can control with kibble.  Jim thinks she has a year left.  I know he's right but Mom -- I can't lose her.  There will be no memorial for her, no eulogy, and yet she has shared 90 percent of my life and been the one I came home to from the other ten.  No one else I've hacked and cried over while writing this had Daisy's claim for Being There.

I'll try to visit Lisa this summer, Mom.  She took good care of your treasures and she's a good egg. I'm trying to pass on some of the family stories and I'll try to be better at that.  When I was organizing photos, I marveled over the pictures of you with Jim and Dick as babies and little boys.  It was good for Jim to see those pictures and all the mother's day cards he made and you saved.

Funny: I haven't asked where Dick is.  I don't feel at like doing so either.  This has nothing to do with hell: I just lack curiosity.  Or maybe it's that I lack missing the comfort and the ease and having things in common.

Speaking of which, I've been filling out the other two sets of china -- Grandma Kuffel's and the tea set I bought in London.  You'd get a kick out of that, I think.  You'd definitely have my apartment sorted out down to the last picture hook.  You'd drive me bonkers but I'd love you for it, and love you for looking around and saying, "It's very you, Francie.  Very homey.  Very pretty."

And I think those things are the only things I've ever wanted.