February 9, 2015
On the day of my mother’s memorial service, I placed a photograph of her at the Quaker Meeting House where we held the service, and then later back at my house, where family and friends gathered for comfort and remembrance. The next day, I looked at the photograph and noticed the imprint of lips on the frame’s glass, right over my mother’s lips. A kiss. “Look,” I said to my boyfriend, “someone kissed my mother’s picture.” “It was you,” he said, perhaps recognizing the lips, or just knowing how often I had been kissing my mother and how I continued to long to kiss her now that she was gone.
I was never big on kissing. Wipe your mouth. Dry your lips. These were the instructions given by me as a child to my mother and father, or anyone else who wanted to kiss me. And it always seemed like a lot of people wanted to kiss me. I tolerated the kisses, but barely. Hello. Good-bye. Good night. Thank you.
My first real kiss from a boy was the stuff of my nightmares. Forget “Dry your lips,” I wish he had just kept his mouth closed. It was like falling into a well. Worse. When I picture it, I think of him as an open-mouthed hippopotamus, all tongue and teeth and wetness. That’s a story for another time, but to any boy who ever kissed me, it was not you. It happened in South Carolina and I never saw him again after he told me that Southern girls were faster and more fun. I did eventually come to enjoy kissing boys, but it took a while.
When my own children were born, I understood the animalistic fervor to want to kiss them constantly. I called my mother from the hospital after my first child was born and, through hormone-enhanced sobs, told her, “Now I know how much you love me.” I understood why hamsters ate their babies. While there is probably some scientific explanation as to why they really do it, I always think of those mommy and daddy hamsters as just getting carried away. My children were so delicious I just wanted to eat them up.
When my mother became sick, and language was no longer our primary means to communicate, I began to use touch to communicate my love for her. I tickled her and stroked her and kissed her. When she could no longer speak, she would touch my hair, pull my face towards hers and we would kiss. In her last months of life, she got more kisses from me than I had given her in 50 years before.
On my mother’s last day, I once again lay down next to her, but she was so fragile, I could not stay there long. I sat next to her on the bed and I kissed her face and her hands, her closed eyes and her cheeks. She was wearing a hospital gown, and the gown gapped slightly, exposing a small triangle of her skin right above her heart and slightly below her shoulder. I placed my lips on this smooth skin, untouched by age or illness, and I kissed her there.
In the week that followed her passing, I became obsessed by that kiss. I kept thinking about that spot, above her heart and below her shoulder. I had not just kissed her. I think I licked her. I had nestled my face into that spot and wanted to bite her. I wanted to swallow her up. It was primal and it shocked me. What was it about this spot? Why was it different from her hands, her lips, her cheeks, her closed eyes?
I paced around my room until my eyes fell on a life-sized baby doll that I had found in my mother’s apartment months before and had once brought to the nursing home. I picked up the doll and held it the way a mother holds her child, and its little plastic mouth settled right in that spot, above my heart and just below my shoulder. And then I knew. I had come full circle. The place where I had felt most safe and loved as an infant, in my mother’s arms, with my nose and mouth pressed to her skin, just above her heart and below her shoulder, that place was calling me back to say good-bye. Good-bye, good night, my sweet, beautiful mother. And thank you for loving me so well.
February 2, 2015
For days they warned us
That the snow would fall
That the winds would blow
That the world would come to an end.
Their stupid forecasts
Kept us at home
To keep us safe
But they kept us away
And finally the snow did fall
And the winds did blow
But not so much
And the world did not come to an end
Except it did.
Because the phone rang
And the doctor said you were gone
You had slipped away
As the snow came down
And the winds blew
And our tears fell.
They say more snow is coming
It is so cold
And I cannot have your arms around me
I cannot put my arms around you
But you will be my blanket
I will wrap you around me
every day of my life
and I will be warm
and I will be loved
we will be loved
January 18, 2015
I didn’t want to tell you
I didn’t want to burden you
And thought that I should be strong enough
But I’m not
Because this is too much to carry
And so I’m going to tell you
how hard it is
To lie down next to my mother
To know her pain
To hear her try to speak and not be understood
To not know if she will hear my words.
And so we look into each other’s eyes
And my eyes say I love you I love you I love you
And I imagine her eyes saying those words back to me
But what I really hear is Help me. Save me. I am suffering.
And I am helpless
And she is helpless
And I search for something to soothe her.
I cover her with kisses
And tickle her arms knowing that my tickles will never be
as good as my mother’s
Because my mother is the best tickler in the world.
I put on music
Opera which my parents tortured me with as a child
And I beg please Pavarotti sing my mother to sleep
And finally my mother sleeps
And I snuggle up next to her with the rails of her bed digging into my back
I feel so small squeezed into this little space beside her
And I cry and cry
Not wanting my mother to go
but so desperately wanting her to be free
To be free from pain in her body and her mind and her heart
this life that is not a life
October 18, 2014
So much has happened in the past four months, I have hardly had time to process it all. Instead, the thoughts are crowding my brain, bumping into each other, making so much noise that they wake me up at night, interrupt me at work, and threaten to ambush me at any time, leaving me with not one moment to rest. What I wrote about last time, my mother’s diagnosis of cancer, is only part of the story. The other part is everything else, everything else that really matters.
My mother is very beautiful. She has always been beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was annoying when you’re her awkward, less beautiful teenage daughter, but I’m over that now. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I made up my mind that the last part of her life would be beautiful. That she would come to live with me and she would be surrounded by her loving family, and that would bring her comfort and make her feel safe. That is not what happened, but we had our moments. My mother and I had conversations I will never forget, filled with tears and hugs and kisses and sweet words. My mother forgot those conversations within three minutes. Still, there is a part of me that believes, that knows, she felt them and the love seeped into her mind and her heart and if she could not recall the moment, she could at least recall the feeling.
It’s a blessing, some people say, of my mother’s lack of short-term memory, of her inability to remember she has cancer. It is not a blessing. It is not a blessing to feel sick, to feel weak and confused and not remember why. It is not a blessing to wake up in your daughter’s home and not know where you are, to believe you’re already in a nursing home, or worse, being held prisoner. It is not a blessing to not remember that your brother or your daughter or granddaughter or grandson or niece or friend spent the day with you. It is not a blessing to be losing your mind and to know that it is happening.
And so, I am sitting here feeling all the ugliness of cancer and dementia and loss in so many forms and my mother, my beautiful mother who I felt was leaving me a long time ago, offers me a gift in a moment of my complete despair.
I visited my mother at the nursing home, after I had been away for a few days. I found her lying in her bed, very sick, nearly unconscious, hooked up to oxygen and looking like she was dying. I crawled into bed with her and, silently I wept. I had not cried in front of my mother in a very long time. I had shed some tears when we told her she had cancer, but she quickly forgot, so I could not stay in my sadness. But this time, because I thought my mother was asleep, I allowed myself to weep, and soon I was trying to stifle my sobs, gulping them down so as not to wake her, but she woke. My mother put her arms around me and held me and told me not to cry. She told me that we would be together again some day. She told me that we had so many blessings in our life, so much joy, but that we also had to have some pain. She told me that we had to take what was ugly and make it beautiful and that we could do that by loving each other. To have my mother back, to have her comfort me and hold me and love me, like a mother holds and loves her child, was a blessing, and it was beautiful and it was only a moment but it was everything.
August 9, 2014
This is how it happens. You are doing something ordinary. Maybe something you do every day. You just got out of the shower. Or maybe you’re vacuuming. Or you’re at work and answer your cell phone, not recognizing the number. I was at the grocery store, but not in the produce aisle where most things happen. I was at the deli counter and I was ordering cheddar cheese. I don’t often get cheese from the deli because I am not a good wrapper. None of us are good wrappers. We are careless, so within two days of buying deli cheese, it dries out and turns into hard pieces of plastic that break when you try to make a sandwich. We do better with Kraft singles. I know, it’s probably not even real cheese, but it lasts forever. So I was ordering cheese, trying to be a better mother, with plans for better wrapping when the phone rang. I had just asked for a half pound of cheddar when I got a call from my mother’s doctor and heard the news that would change everything. It was at that moment that I knew there would be too much sadness. More sadness than I thought I could bear, so I said what we say when we hear this kind of news. I said, “No,” as if that was going to stop what’s happening from happening and, of course, it doesn’t. I was alone at the deli, surrounded by people, and I was crying and trying to understand what the doctor was telling me and the man behind the counter said, “Would you like New York or Vermont cheddar?” and I looked at him with tears in my eyes and I said, “Vermont, please.” That was such an easy question with such an easy answer.
I don’t remember much after that. I walked around the store and wondered how I would get home. I did not go home. I went straight to my boyfriend’s home instead and when he opened the door, he found me crying, unable to speak, until I stumbled through words that made little sense because I could not say the truth. “I can’t say it. I can’t say it. I can’t tell her” because I knew I had to tell my sister but I also knew the words would not come out. And so my boyfriend did everything right. He listened and he held me and then he called my sister’s home and was able to talk to her husband who then would say the words that no one wants to say. I could only speak to my sister after she knew, because I could not say the words that would break our hearts.
Since then, I have learned to say them. Sometimes I can say them so casually that you would think I am telling you it might rain tomorrow. And sometimes the words get trapped in my throat and I start to cry and eventually I will whisper that my beloved mother has cancer.
January 27, 2014
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” is uttered by Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth. I don’t think I read that one, but the line is sure ringing in my head right now. I am sure there are some good lawyers out there. My dad is a lawyer, and he is one of my favorite people in the world, but truth be told, he should not have been a lawyer. He should have been an actor. He is handsome, with a deep resonant voice, and a french accent. He is debonair. And he’s funny. I bet he was great in court, but he should have been Perry Mason. If he had starred on LA Law, it would still be on. But I digress…
Here’s a joke… How many lawyers does it take to write a check? Answer: None. They only know how to cash them. Ba-dum-bum.
I know, it’s not funny. True story, I went to court in August 2012, because I was owed 5 months of child support. One year and a new judge later, an order was signed requiring ex-man to place into escrow 6 months of child support in case (haha) he did not send a check each month. Finally, in October 2013, 14 months after I went to court, the escrow was placed in an account with ex-man’s ex-lawyer, who had been acting as the well-paid escrow agent for the horse trust fund. Shockingly, for two months in November and December 2013, I actually received support checks directly from ex-man. This has not happened once in two and a half years. I should have made copies and framed them. Now, it is the end of January, with no child support received, so I requested a check from escrow agent. He won’t write it. He won’t write a child support check for a woman with three children because ex-man’s new lawyer and my lawyer have not been able to settle on how escrow man is going to be paid, and this man won’t work for free, so he has said, repeatedly, ad nauseam. Does anyone think he is really not going to get paid? But he will not write that check. Admittedly, I was given the option to have him get paid out of my son’s summer program escrow fund, but I refused. No one is touching that money. I mean, really, you’re asking my son to pay escrow agent? Quick, how long does it take you to write a check? An hour? Here’s $450.
So, yeah, maybe Dick was right.
December 15, 2013
First of all, I am generally not a miserable person. Really, I’m not. I’m quite cheerful, content, even happy much of the time. Earthworms in my garden, sunshine on my face, the dogs being silly, my kids being nice to each other, that’s really all it takes. Sure, sure, you’re saying, she’s weeping all over this blog. It’s in the name of the blog, for Lord’s sake! And that is true, I do a lot of weeping here. And, aside from here, I have wept in some rather unorthodox places. There’s my car, for example, but who hasn’t wept in their car? I used to cry in my car all the time. Sometimes I would be crying, driving along, and I would catch someone looking at me and I would think, “Please save me. Motion to me to pull over. Hold up a sign that says, Are you okay? and I will shake my head No, and you can rescue me.” That never happened.
I have wept in the produce aisle at the A&P, more than once. I have wept there with a friend and I have wept alone. One day, a produce man said to me, “Smile, you look so sad.” And I replied, “I am sad,” and I started to cry. The poor man followed me through the store, trying to comfort me, which made me cry more because I could not bear a stranger being kind to me. I have cried in the post office, embarrassing my son. I have cried while I’m running. I have cried at the hair salon, the dentist, and the Lexus repair shop. All right, so sue me, I cry a lot. Actually, don’t sue me, I’m already in court almost every month with ex-man.
My point is that lately I am feeling rather miserable, and I do not like it one bit, but misery sure has a way of sucking me in. It’s seductive. Let me give you a few pointers if you’d like to join me there.
Think about death. Don’t worry. I don’t think about my own death, I worry about everyone else’s. I’d say I’m healthy as a horse, but if you’ve ever had a horse, you know that would not be saying much. Let’s just say that I’m very healthy and plan on living until 120 and I have the same expectation for my parents. Some may say that I’m in denial, but we all know I have a lot of experience with that.
Mostly, I worry about my pets dying. You see, I got my pets all within a rather short span of years, and now they range in age of about 6-11 years old. My dog, Frisco, has lymphoma. My vet calls it “indolent” form, so that’s like lazy lymphoma. That’s lymphoma that can’t be bothered to get up off the couch to kill you, but you never know when one day it might. His lymph node in his neck is getting bigger and I think something terrible is just around the corner. My other dog, Zoey, is lumpy. She has been lumpy for years and every once in a while, we take out a lump and test it, and so far they are all benign, but one day they might not be. So I think about them dying. My cat, Simba, is looking skinny. Skinny is bad. Skinny could mean something is wrong. When I am sad or stressed, I tend to get skinny. Maybe Simba is sad. Or maybe Simba is sick. Before you go jumping all over me about bringing these animals to the vet, did I tell you how much I spent at the vet in the past year? I can’t tell you. It’s embarrassing, but it is approaching, hold on, I’m counting,.. five figures, not including horse vets. Back to my death watch… My cat, Mimzy is obese. He supplements his diet beyond the Fancy Feast and Iams. I had to stop filling the bird feeder because I felt like an accomplice to a serial killer, but that has not stopped him. He’s so fat, I worry he will wind up diabetic. My vet says he’s not that bad, but Mimzy does have a heart murmer so I worry about the strain of carrying around all that weight. And please don’t get on me about Mimzy being a girlie name. “Mimzy” is what happens when you let your kids name your cat. He’s very masculine and can handle it just fine.
Pets never live long enough. That fact makes me want to not love them, but I do. Sometimes I think loving anyone is a set-up. It is a set-up for sadness and loss. Of course, somewhere in between is joy, and warmth, and laughter, and comfort. I will remind myself of that when I am ready to stop being miserable.
November 17, 2013
It’s time to clean out my basement. Not the basement in the house I live in now. My old basement in the house I left behind when my three children and I moved out two years ago. My old house where my old husband lives with his new girlfriend and the five Russians in the basement. She may not know about those Russians, and he may not remember them, but I do and they scare me still.
Back in 2006, on my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday, my husband was drunk. A birthday celebration with cake and presents ended with the children disappearing into their rooms, with him becoming belligerent and threatening. Ended with tears and angry words, and the word “divorce” tossed into the air like a live grenade. My birthday girl could be heard crying in her room and my husband stumbled upstairs to make promises he would never keep.
The next morning, he declared that he would stop drinking. The weekend unrolled, with the children and I tiptoeing around my husband as he appeared restless and agitated. At that point, I had no idea the extent to which he had been drinking in the past months. I later learned how masterful he was at hiding it, and how truly easy I was to fool, especially within my nest of denial.
Because I did not know how much he had been drinking all those months, I did not know that what I was seeing was delirium tremens, or DTs. As the weekend progressed, so did his symptoms. His hands were shaking and he was sweating. He seemed disoriented and was hostile to any advice or help I offered. He insisted that these were signs of cirrhosis and that he had a letter from the doctor telling him as much. In fact, no such letter existed, but warnings to him had apparently been given about his risk. Doctor-patient confidentiality had precluded me from knowing his true condition. I kept an eye on him, suggesting several times that he should call his doctor and he refused.
He stayed home from work that Monday, and some of his symptoms seemed to lessen. That night he woke me in the middle of the night, shoving me, saying that he saw someone on top of me. I told him he was dreaming, and fell back into a light sleep. A little later, I woke up and heard him downstairs. I found him walking around the house with the fireplace poker in his hand, saying that he heard noises. I offered to sit with him and watch tv and eventually we went back to bed. Again, he insisted he heard someone in the house and he went downstairs, grabbed the poker and walked around the house. I waited for him in the family room, where, upon his return, he told me that there were five Russians in the basement and they were there to kidnap me.
For nearly two hours, my husband made me sit in the family room, as he whispered to me of the Russians’ plans. Of course, I tried to tell him that the only person in the basement was our housekeeper, asleep in her room. I tried to tell him that we should call the police for help, but he would not let me. All the while that I tried to reason with him, (an impossible task, as he was psychotic), I thought of my children sleeping in their beds upstairs. I thought of what would happen if his hallucinations led him upstairs, with that poker in his hand. I made contingency plans in my head for such a scenario and knew I might not be able to protect my children from his insanity. He would not let me leave the room, except for a moment, when he told me to grab his jacket from the office. He watched me, not giving me the opportunity to pick up the phone and call for help. Wild-eyed, he told me that if the lights flickered, we had to run out the back door. His panic grew, and he grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the sliding glass doors, his hand grasping the door handle, ready to run. He had on his shoes and a jacket, but I was only in my nightgown. I imagined us running through the backyard and into the woods. I imagined him pulling me behind him, brambles tearing at my nightgown and sticks and stones bloodying my feet. I imagined my children upstairs, waking to find me gone. I imagined my neighbors’ dog waking, barking at the noise outside and I imagined my neighbors’ confusion at finding us. I imagined being rescued, but only for a moment, because I realized that I would have to rescue us.
I told my husband that I thought he was going to have a stroke and that I had to call 911. He told me no. I told him he was going to have a heart attack and I had to call 911. He told me no. I told him that if he died, the Russians would get me. Finally, he gave me permission to call, with strict instructions. No sirens, no lights, be quiet. The police had to call me when they arrived and ask permission to come to the door. They were told to come around the back, because if the Russians heard them, there would be trouble.
The police never did look in the basement. My husband would not let them. He only agreed to go to the hospital if I rode in the ambulance with him. He was still afraid of the Russians. I don’t remember much after that. I don’t know if I wore my nightgown to the hospital. I don’t remember if I kissed my children good-bye. I remember all of us leaving through the back door, at my husband’s insistence. I remember wet grass. I know I rode in the ambulance and I remember lights and colors, voices and movement, but that’s all.
I do remember the Russians and I wonder if being kidnapped by them could have been any more frightening than the years that would follow that night.
* Delirium tremens is very dangerous, and, if untreated, can have a mortality rate of up to 35%. To learn more: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm
October 28, 2013
I have a court date the day before Thanksgiving. The day before my whole family comes to my house to celebrate Thanksgiving and my father’s 90th birthday. This is typical. Not quite as ironic as my Valentine’s Day in divorce court, but still… Did I mention that I have to be deposed on Election Day? This deposition will not get in the way of my voting, but it does get in the way of my plans to spend the day with my kids, who happen to have a day off from school on a day I am not working. My plan was to either visit colleges or simply spend some time with my kids, whom I miss terribly. You see, I’m exhausted, and when I come home from a day of work, I am sometimes too tired to eat, and my kids are busy with homework, and the house has golden retriever tumbleweeds floating down the hallways, and there is no milk. And none of that is really what is exhausting me. I’m exhausted because I know that ex-man will never stop trying to break me. I’ve stopped trying to make sense of a man who destroyed his own life and now wants to take down the very people who tried to help him. I’ve stopped trying to understand how a man can deliberately and methodically try to take everything away from his own children, and then turn around and buy them dinner. What I want to understand is how our court system can allow this to go on, and on, and on.
I hate resentment and I am full of it. It eats away at me, does nothing to the object of my resentment (ex-man and the legal system), and makes me less available to the people I love and who love me, and less available to myself. So what’s a girl to do? How can I not feel angry when ex-man is now dragging me back to court because he wants to have his support obligations reduced? This is the man who has not paid one on-time support check without court intervention, despite having millions of dollars of assets. This is the man whose support obligations for the children end when they each will still have two more years of college. Does anyone imagine that when my kids complete their sophomore year of college, I will say to them, “Adios, fare thee well. Good luck out there in the world, being on your own.” Of course not.
On Thanksgiving, I will have to clear off my dining room table which has been littered for years with legal and financial documents related to my never-ending court dates. Because ex-man wants his financial obligations reduced, I have to provide every bank statement, credit card statement, tax return, paycheck, life insurance policy, loan application, etc… since the 2011 date of our divorce decision and order, the one with which he has never complied. But wait there’s more: a list of all gifts I have received, including giftor’s name and address, value, and date received. Forgive me if I call to ask how much you spent on that sweater you gave me for my birthday 2 years ago. I have to provide a list of my furniture; my latest purchases from Ikea are sure to impress. I’m supposed to provide a copy of my parents’ wills, or wills of anyone else who might be leaving me something, so you might want to write me out of yours, if you’d like to keep it private. And they want my passport., which is fine because I’m not going anywhere. And there’s more but I’m too tired to tell you about it.
My blood pressure is rising right at this very moment. And I want to cry. I have no secrets. Truly. Except perhaps the true depth of my sorrow. Having to take the time to dig up, gather, and reproduce copies of every piece of paper related to my life since 2011 makes me want to weep. I would rather have the FBI come into my house and raid it, take my computer, turn my underwear drawer upside down and dump it on the floor, sweep everything off my desk and dining room table, shake out my cereal boxes and flour bin, and rifle through my file cabinet in search of evidence. Evidence of what? Evidence that I need less? They will not find it. I need more but I accept less. I accepted the binding arbitration decision. I accepted that it was unappealable. I accepted that my children’s father’s financial obligation to them would end before their childhood was over. I accepted that I would be the only parent that would love and care for our children, the only one there for the challenges and joys of raising them. What I cannot accept is that ex-man’s actions take me away from my children, make me less available, make me less of a person, and less of a parent when they still need me oh so very much.
August 7, 2013
Last week, my subconscious ran a preview for Shark Week. It came in the form of a dream, and let me tell you, my dreams are not that complicated to analyze. And just when I think, yeah, I’m doing fine, I’ve got this all figured out, my subconscious slams me in the head with a dream to tell me, “You’re messed up.”
So I happened to know that there was going to be a shark feeding frenzy. Have you ever seen a shark feeding frenzy? Terrifying. I saw a picture of one in the encyclopedia when I was 9 and apparently, I never got over it. So, anyhow, I also happened to know that my ex-husband was going to be going snorkling near the feeding frenzy. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Great. Good riddance,” but I was thinking, “Snorkling? He doesn’t even know how to swim!” And then I was thinking, “I have to save him.” This, as you may know, was the theme of much of my marriage. I had to save him, and Lord knows I tried, but you know how that went… So I called him, and called him, and called him, to warn him not to go snorkling with the sharks, but he would not answer my calls, so finally I called his house phone and his girlfriend picked up. His 30 year old girlfriend who could be his daughter, but that’s another story, and I told her to tell ex-man to not go snorkling with sharks. And while I had her on the phone, I told her that since I was saving his life ONCE AGAIN, could she please tell him to pay the child support ON TIME. Got that settled, however, despite the feeding frenzy, the kids and I were going boating. In a tiny boat that sharks could bite into bits. I was ignoring my knowledge of the imminent feeding frenzy, and we were going boating. Sure, I went the extra mile to protect ex-man. In fact, I was so busy trying to save his life that it never occurred to me that my kids and I were in danger. Finally, it hit me. PROTECT YOURSELF. PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN!. And I cancelled our boat trip. Then I woke up.
That’s messed up. That was pretty much my life when I was married to ex-man. I kept trying to save ex-man, all the while, not even being aware of the danger I was putting myself and children in. So that was then. Why this dream now? Because it’s SHARK WEEK!
Ex-man is back in the picture. He’s been gone for years, 4 miles away, except for texts here and there. Now he’s back, asking to see the children. Of course, they were a little excited. a little curious, and I was a little scared. Scared because my kids, after having pieces of their hearts stomped on and left by the side of the road like they didn’t matter, are doing okay, and I don’t want him to hurt them again. So when my middle one asked what I thought about them seeing their dad, I told her the truth. I told her that I felt like I was letting them go swimming in the ocean, where there was a riptide. Where there was an undertow. But I had to let them go. I had to let them go, even though we know there are sharks out there. So I’ll be standing on the shore, and when they are in danger, when they get pulled under, when they are drowning, I will swim out there and I will save them.