Sunday, August 19, 2012


Tina, who works with me, called yesterday to say that her father had died. Just dropped in front of them all while they were in the yard. They'd done CPR and he'd been alive when they took him to the hospital, but Tina was calling at 10am, from the hospital, and he wasn't alive then. Later she texted me, around 5, and was only leaving the hospital then. I obsessed on that all day--on what had transpired to keep her at the hospital for seven hours after she knew he was dead. I calibrated it to Dad's death, Tom's death. (This is Tom, to the left, in the yard of his home in Ireland, a few weeks before that horrible day. Too young for a cane, but he'd rejected physical therapy after a hip replacement. Too young to be dead, too, but I'm starting to understand and even accept that endings just come when they do.) I didn't want to spend Saturday doing this--I had things to get done--but all day I clocked through the day Dad died, like a film in the VCR. Had I overlooked something that should have kept me with him for seven hours instead of one? Maybe Tina's family stayed with her father until he was ready to be moved to the funeral home. Maybe he didn't have to have an autopsy. Maybe they simply sat with him after he was dead longer than we did.... My God, did we leave too soon? Dad hated being alone--hated it more than anything. Nobody rushed us out: we just couldn't stand around him staring down at him any longer than we did.

I see how this goes for me now, when the facts of a death--so mundane, so common to us all--trigger the reel. I'm both dreading and anticipating the funeral: dreading the reality of Tina's loss; anticipating the excuse to visit with my own. (I lie when Liam asks from the other room, "Who are you talking to, Mom?" "Just myself," I tell him. I remember my mother saying the same to me when I was a child, and now I understand: she had an entire community of beloveds on the other side of the wall, and part of her went with them.)


So much has changed in life since I last posted here in 2009. New job, and new life in Georgia.  A horrible year last year--a real crusher. But we survived, and above obsession notwithstanding; we're solid again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Putting on the face

A friend's wife took a tumble outside her office in Manhattan. Hit the marbled sidewalk at Rock Plaza with her forehead, and came home with stitches through her eyebrow. A few days later, she sent him to the local drugstore to pick up this green pancake makeup that her doctor had told her would neutralize the purple of the bruise, so that when she put regular makeup over it, nobody would know she looked like a train wreck underneath. He goes to the drugstore and finds that there's actually a slot on the makeup wall for green pancake. And it's all sold out.

Ah, Westport.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By the pound

Food and fat--is there a more tedious topic??

I'm back on Weight Watchers--firmly on it. Nothing tempts me. Pangs of hunger comfort me. It's been a month now, and it's true that I feel better eating well. True that I have more energy. True that thin people live longer, and with two kids you'd think attaining longevity would be a very simple everyday priority. But the time will come, as it always does, when I stop losing--for weeks on end--and when that happens, this simple, clean engagement will be harder to maintain. I'll begin to feel as if I am pulling on a rope for every ounce I toss off, and that if I let go even for a second, the scale will fly back to its original spot. It will feel as if the body wants one thing, and I want another. So I will try to prod it--punish it--by exercising more and eating less. And less. Until one day I see stars in the shower, and I let go of the rope.

A person gets tired of a cycle like this. Weight is such a public battle. You estimate the makeup of an overweight person a whole lot faster than you can a wife beater, or a pedophile. It's humiliating. And so pedestrian an issue to be the number one struggle of a life. But there you go. No body, no life.

I'm going to try love this time. Loving the body, as a favorite pair of jeans. Give it the time it needs, as a mother to a child. Let's see how that goes, when the clouds roll in.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Social contract

My brother lives a derailed life--derailed by his own hand, though I suppose you could trace it all back to some dysfunctions he suffered as a child. Dyslexia. Encopresis. I think people have suffered worse and still lived an honorable life. But we are not all the same.

Now he has five children, a trail of crimes he's never been nailed for, and a broken marriage. And so he has betaken himself and his children next door to my parents' house, and there they have been since June. His children are waiting on the road now for the school bus; they've been registered for schools--fantastic schools in a community my brother will never, ever be able to afford to live in off the sweat of his brow; they can only attend these schools if somebody else sustains them. Despite the story he's told my folks, all signs are that this is a visit without end.

There are a lot of things that confound and anger me about this whole scene, but there's one piece in particular that I'll share. Years ago, when I was unemployed and then underemployed and scrambling to keep things going, there were things I simply could not bring myself to do. It was a point of pride--a point of shame. I accepted unemployment payments as long as I was allowed (though that first call killed me); I'd paid into it, and so many of my former colleagues were in the same boat, so it became a sort of new normal for our times. What I couldn't do, though, was ask the local YMCA to let us in for free. I wouldn't tell the schools that I couldn't afford to buy the supplies, or send the checks for the field trips, or pay for school lunches. I wouldn't file for food stamps or Medicaid. I wouldn't. I would not allow my children to be raised up on charity. Our circumstances were temporary, and I would not formalize a temporary circumstance. To be precise, I was too proud to give anyone the opportunity to look at us through different eyes. Do you know what I mean?

It also meant that, for a period of time, none of us had health insurance. I paid for any care out of pocket. Looking back, that's the only choice I regret; that was a risky choice. A stupid choice.

My brother has embraced all of the benefits offered to people with no income. His children went to the YMCA camp for free all summer--swam and did crafts and played with other children. They had had their teeth repaired, their eyes checked and glasses acquired, their orthodontia covered--all courtesy of you and me. Their food is paid for by you and me. My yougest niece will attend the same preschool Liam attended--only I worked overtime stocking shelves at Borders to pay for it, but my brother will do nothing and my niece will attend for free.

So there's the knee-jerk pissed-off-ness about the sheer inequity of circumstance, though I know I could have dove into the pool of freebies just like anybody else with a hard-luck tale to tell.
My brother is the welfare mother. He has no shame--indeed, he has a sense of entitlement. And all the stories I ever told myself about the welfare mother--institutional racism, the long-term disabled, generational poverty, etc.--don't apply to my brother. Which makes me question everything about my position on social programs. My loser brother could turn me into a fricking Republican.

Not really.

The conflicting part is that my nieces and nephews are faring far better with a parent who embraces poverty than my own children fared with a mother who wouldn't go near it. And if you think about it, which set of kids really felt poor when they were poor? Not his.


Liam broke his wrist on Saturday; a pile of shit on top of a display fell on him when we were school shopping at Staples. My brother, it occurs to me, would sue the store.

Off to the orthopedic guy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How it might look

I can't believe I was writing about moving three months ago. How does it still feel like a new and unfamiliar notion to me--something I'm sharing only now for the first time? It speaks to how many issues there are attached to the decision, and how conflicted I am.

I've found this adorable little red house in the woods. Cheapish, relatively speaking, for reasons I'll share. The main house was built in 1760, and the most recent owners, now deceased, added a pole barn to it in 1990, making it a livable size for a family of 3. It seems structurally sound, though the addition has its flaws--like the uneven floors between new and old. Amateur mistake. The floorplan is quirky; it'd take some thought to figure out how to overcome the feeling that it's really two houses with no relationship but a point of contact. Liam doesn't like the third bedroom--the one that would be his; it's under the eaves, and he thinks it's spooky. (There is that old-house energy in the old part. No question. You can almost feel the families that moved through it over the centuries. People with names like Lewis and Issac and Abel. I love this stuff. Got the history of ownership from the historical society.) Oh, and there's no kitchen. Literally. Somebody ripped out whatever kitchen there had been in the original house, and they put in the plumbing and electric for the kitchen in the new part of the house. But they ran out of steam or interest, or cash. I've lived in in-progress homes all my life in a family of builders. Can manage that.

The town has 3-acre zoning, and this property--most of it wild--is heavy with old trees, and the air is moist from the wetlands and the reservoir. I feel at peace there--something I haven't felt in years--though I'm privately wondering if I have the guts to take on the isolation. And the high taxes. What's the worst that could happen? I lose my job? Foreclosure? Hightail to a rental? People survive those things. I cast backwards in my life and think my greatest mistakes have always been acts of ommission. Acts of caution. This time I'm mining for courage.