I’ve never been very good at mapping things out. I’ve never in my life made one, single plan. When something happened to me, I went through it, assumed that was the way it was supposed to be for a while, and then pressed on. Things never really resonated much with me. I didn’t take much time to stop and ponder, I was too busy running.
I drove from Columbus to Cleveland this morning in the pouring rain, the rain drenching the air, my view, everything around me as the navy blue-black night before me turned slowly to morning.
I looked up and caught a glimpse of her ambling across the bridge, holding an umbrella snugly above her head, a stark, black silhouette against the brilliant golden star fire on the horizon, streaked with red.
I turned up the radio and let up on the gas.
I wanted to slow down time. I wanted to watch her make her way.
But I needed to get where I was going and so did she.
The phone was ringing as we walked through the door. I saw on the caller i.d. that it was my mother but I couldn't pick it up. Earlier this morning we took our oldest cat Woody to the vet and had him put to sleep. I wasn't in the mood to talk. I was in the mood to nap. I fell onto one couch and The Skimmer fell onto the other. Our youngest cat Jack jumped up with The Skimmer and curled up beside him.
Lying with my eyes closed, I thought about the day we brought Woody home, a few weeks after we had moved into our first house. After a few minutes I said, "Skimmer? Twenty years goes by awfully fast."
The phone rang. It was my mom again.
"I'd better get this. Something might have happened."
Her voice was hesitant at first because she knew we were thinking of doing what we ended up doing today. I told her that we did it. She was quiet on the other end of the line as I told her that the vet said the reason Woody would stand up, very slowly, and freeze in position for five to ten minutes at a time was probably because he was disoriented, confused. At his age, his behavior was indicative of a neurological problem, which could also be the reason he wouldn't use the litter box anymore. I've been thinking this last year that he was just old and ornery and wanted to go where he wanted to go, dammit. But, now I think he just didn't know where to go. And that I may have let this situation go on too long.
I didn't tell her that afterwards The Skimmer and I sat silently on a park bench surrounded by mums and pink impatiens until we figured there was nothing else to do but drive home. I didn't tell her that because I didn't want to cry so instead I sighed and said, "How was H's game?"
"Well, on a happier note."
H, my 13 year old niece, who has been playing baseball with the boys since she was six, played her last game of the season today. Another team already had first place locked up and H's team was playing for second place. In this league, they still only play seven innings. They had been losing the entire game, and at the bottom of the seventh the bases were loaded when H got up to bat. As she walked past my mom and to the plate, my mom said to her, "Dig deep, H! You can do it."
H stepped up to home plate, took a deep breath, crouched down and got into position.
My heart skipped a beat, "What happened?"
"Very first pitch, she connected and hit that ball a country mile."
I started laughing and burst into tears.
My mom started crying, "She hit a grand slam to win that game!"
"Oh my God. What did she do?"
"She ran around the bases pumping her arms in the air, smiling from ear to ear."
"I'm crying my eyes out now! Oh my God, Oh my God. What did the team do?"
"They came barreling out of the dugout yelling and screaming and when she touched home they all jumped on her and they ended up in a big mound rolling around. Just ecstatic!"
"Oh my God. How is she?! She has to be so happy, so happy."
"She's in heaven. Just in heaven."
"Oh, I can't believe it. No, I can believe it. Tell her how proud I am of her and tell her how much I love her."
We hung up and I've been laughing and crying on and off ever since. Thinking about the passage of time, the joy and the sadness, and that I wish my stepfather was still here and could have seen that game.
In my mother's grieving, in her fury, she lashed out to me about the people who had stopped calling, the people who'd avoid her at the grocery store, on the street -- the people who'd glance her way then quickly head in the other direction. She lashed out at all the people who seemed not to care... anymore.
I tried to reassure her that people cared that her husband had died. That maybe they cared too much. They just didn't know how to behave. They didn't know what to do, what to say. It's too big. Too scary.
It's been a week since I got the news that Al Weisel passed away. And I still can't believe it. I simply cannot believe it. And I've thought about him every day, even when I wrote about not winning a writing contest. Even when I learned more about how to write about my life by not thinking it's all that interesting. Even when The Skimmer and I were talking about my new header design and I thought maybe the cute cartoon woman who has no feet should be bigger. And he said, "You always have an opinion!" And I said, "Well, of course I do!" And he said, "Whatever!" And I said, "Whatever!" And then I thought, Don't be such a touchy creative type! But I didn't say it out loud.
I thought about Al this morning as I was pouring a cup of coffee, thinking about how he much he drank tea. The way I think of my stepfather when I'm filling up my gas tank, remembering the times I drove him crazy when I was a teenager and would forget to put the gas cap back on after I had pumped the gas. He had to replace it a million times.
I've been thinking of my mother's father, who died when she was just 15, when I've clicked over to Dr. X's blog lately.
What if that's him? Did he look like that? Did he feel taken advantage of? Did anyone care? Wonder what he'd think of me?
I'll never know what he'd think of me. But all I can do is think of him. It's the only thing left to do.
On Christmas Eve 2008 my stepfather was at hospice. And we had that talk. That talk, that time together that makes you want to rip your hair out wondering if it's better that he had time for that talk at all because he was suffering so much.
From his bed, he told all of us that he'd given it a lot of thought. And he knew that to be remembered is really the only thing that really mattered.
Remembering comes at strange times. But it's a part of all of our days. While pouring coffee. While filling up the gas tank. While clicking around the blogosphere. And no one else knows that we're doing it.
But we are doing it. We're remembering. We just don't know how to behave. We just care too much to talk about it very often.
I’ll think of something I need to find and when I try to find it I can’t, even though I was sure it was in that drawer or that box or that bin hidden under all the other bins that had been stacked on top of it over the years. I’ll ruffle through that drawer, box and bin and then go back through them all again before giving up, only to find exactly what I had been searching for in the most unexpected place a few weeks later while searching for something new that I’m having a hard time finding, knowing I never would have put it in a drawer or a box or a bin.
What I’ve come to believe, besides the fact that I should label everything, is that I’ll find what I need to find. Eventually.
Even those things that can’t be stored in any drawer or box or bin. Or maybe especially those kinds of things.
Like my mind.
I lost it over a year ago.
And not having one made it really hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with me.
I should have expected that. Patti's good at helping you find your way.
She had been to Angela Graham's art gallery in Hastings, Nebraska and loved what she saw there. Including, and especially, a Red Stapler she found on Graham’s desk.
Patti found art in an unexpected place.
I haven’t found art anywhere in forever! Not in Hastings, Nebraska. Not in Cleveland, Ohio. Nowhere.
Then again, I haven’t been looking. And I didn’t even know I hadn’t been looking. And those rare times where I think I might have looked, I didn’t care. I didn’t know I had lost the ability and the desire to look for joy in unexpected places until I discovered that Patti had found that Red Stapler with all its heaviness and rounded lines and color.
While I can’t get back a lot of what I’ve lost over the last year or so, I’m going work to get back what I can. I am setting that new found, little piece of my mind to noticing and appreciating the magic around me. The heaviness or lightness of things, the rounded or straight lines of things, and the purple, blue, red, green, yellow and orange color of things. The ahoy natural wonder of things!
I bought this at the grocery store on Wednesday.
Has twice as many islands as any other brand!
Found art? Magic? Debatable. Hey, it's a start. It made me laugh. And it made me remember Paul Newman. There's magic in that.
And! I'll always know exactly where I put it. In the refrigerator. Well, right now it’s on my scanner, but I am going to put it back into the refrigerator. I’m almost sure of it.
My stepfather B died in January and since then I've only had a couple of dreams about him. I had a few dreams about him before he died. In one, the faces of all the cancer patients I had observed at the Taussig Cancer Center were backing up, coming closer; fragmented, colorful images swirling out of control. There was no theme to it except for scary disorientation. Which fit. I had that dream the night before he died. And while I had a laser sharp focus at that point, everything was tumbling forward faster and faster, out of our control. There was nothing more to be done.
After my stepfather died, we were sitting with the man who runs the funeral home, making decisions. I wanted no part of it. Not because I was sad or in denial that he had passed away -- although I'm sure I was in shock -- but because I couldn't shake the feeling of knowing what B would say. How ridiculous all of it was. He would have been the last person sitting in a room like that listening to a man trying his best to speak in a soothing tone, describing the price differences between caskets. And since B couldn't be the last person, I had to take his place.
During the calling hours whenever I'd walk near the casket, my overriding feeling was to tell him, "These people have no idea what's going on. This is a bad party. Let's you and me get out of here!"
Yeah, he and I got it. They didn't.
In the first dream I had about him after he died, I was at a business luncheon. A large gathering where I was admiring the speaker's orange and brown dress thinking I'd like it better in black and white, while I organized flowers at the end of a long table.
The speaker was talking about where the dead go. She was never specific as to their destination but from what she was saying she had a definite opinion that they leave to go somewhere else. I looked over to the center of the room and B was sitting there listening to her. And as I arranged the white roses, I thought, Well, she has no idea what she's talking about! There he is. He's right here! He's not gone anywhere.
Back in November, my stepfather had a stroke and had to have emergency surgery. After his surgery, I was able to visit him in the intensive care unit. I stood by his bed side. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes. And all I could say to him was, "This stinks, B." He smiled groggily at me then reached up and squeezed my cheeks softly between his thumb and four fingers then he fell back to sleep. I watched as he winced, rolling his shoulders into the pillow. Although he never complained about his pain, he felt it most acutely in his shoulders over the months. And I knew that he must have been in a lot of pain if he felt it even in a post-surgery, drugged up state.
That night, when I got home from the hospital, I wrote to a friend, "I just want to steal him away so nothing else can happen to him."
By this time, I'd come to think that all the hospital visits, all the doctors and all the tests were ridiculous because I knew where it all was headed and the best of the best could continue to do their best and it would all end up meaning absolutely nothing except more pain, more fear and more false hope.
I awoke this morning from a dream. We were at B's calling hours with a roomful of people I used to work with. I sat in a chair near the casket, watching as people paid their respects. B was animated in this dream. He was wincing and rolling his shoulders. No one else seemed to notice. People were talking about him as if he couldn't hear them; as if he wasn't there. After someone had said something particularly ridiculous, he rolled his eyes, sighed and said, "Jesus Christ."
I said to him, "I know B. This just stinks."
Suddenly, I was standing next to my old boss as he talked on the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"I'm calling Elaine. She'll order the food."
And I thought, Here we go again, everyone trying to make the best of a bad party.
You could be at your vanity on a beautiful spring morning, getting ready for the day, look down and notice that your coffee cup is less than half full, and decide to go downstairs to get more. On the way down the stairs you might stop and stare at your empty hands, turn, run back up the stairs to get the coffee cup that is still sitting next to the sink, exactly where you left it when you noticed it was half empty and decided to fill it up.
Later, you might reach into the shower and turn on the water, noticing that you need to get a new bottle of shampoo out of the closet. You could turn to get the shampoo right that instant -- you could -- but instead you might let your mind drift to the time a few months earlier when you were at the store and decided to buy two bottles of shampoo instead of just one. This then leads to thoughts of buying in bulk. At stores like Sam's Club and Costco. Which leads to thoughts of Seinfeld and a carriage ride that is ruined because Rusty was fed the ginormous can of baked beans that Kramer bought at the wholesale club. You might then smile at your silly Seinfeld memory, then brush your teeth. When you're done brushing your teeth, you might get into the shower. After a few minutes you might want to wash your hair. But can't. Because the second bottle of shampoo that you were so organized to buy months ago is still in the closet. Far, far out of your reach.
Shower complete, you might be back at your vanity blow drying your hair, worrying about your memory. You suddenly remember what you forgot this very day one year ago. Your stepfather's birthday. You remember that you didn't remember that you completely forgot until the morning of April 17th. You remember calling the florist and having them deliver a peace lily to his office. Hoping he'd get the joke. You remember his phone call later that afternoon thanking you for the plant, and telling you not to worry that you forgot. Joking that he'd rather forget too.
All dressed, you go out into the backyard and snip every daffodil you have, low on the stem. You come back inside and rummage through the junk drawer until you find the blue ribbon that you are sure you put inside the drawer last time you used it. You find it. It's a miracle. You then tie the blue ribbon into a big, drapey bow around the beautiful bouquet of white and gold daffodils.
Forty-five minutes later at the cemetery, you insert the daffodil bouquet into the vase your mother has just spent a half hour working into the ground. You talk about the cards you would give him year after year on his birthday. With sentiments like...
You are so old, the candles on your birthday cake raised earth's temperature by 3 degrees.
You are so old, when you were a kid rainbows were black and white.
You are so old, you walked into an antique shop and they sold you.
You smile, thinking after he'd read the cards, he'd say, "Ha, ha. Very funny! You're a laugh a minute."
You stare at the flowers, at the ground, at the sky, at the headstones in the distance and the ones near his grave. Then decide it's time to leave.
Walking away, you realize you forgot to say Happy Birthday. So you turn back towards him and say it quietly, thinking how much he'd love it that you remembered.