Special treasures

The washcloth I used to wipe the tears from her eyes last week was the same one I used to wash off the makeup from my face last night.

It was a wedding gift; a peach towel set. So special that it was rarely used for the first fifteen years. Why do we do that? Set aside clothes too special to wear until they no longer fit, or are out of style. The crystal wine goblets, the fancy china, the expensive dry clean only clothes, the silverware set from great-grandma… Why do we wait for a tomorrow that never comes today? Why are the best things just uselessly taking up space? What would happen if we used it? Are we so afraid that which was once special will become ordinary?

Who even gave us the wedding gift anyway? That memory long forgotten. Even our wedding attendants long gone, dead or otherwise. At the time it seemed like our friendship would last forever. Once it also seemed that our love would always stay young just like we were.

But now I use that washcloth to wipe the tears off my daughter’s face. Tears from love that was there for but a moment and is gone. Tears on a washcloth given to us by a guest long forgotten. If I don’t remember who gave the gift, do they ever give it a thought?

I thought I would remember every detail of our wedding day forever. But everything not written down gets washed away from our memory by time. Even as I write this, will this post be remembered? It’s nothing special. Will anyone even care that once I received a wedding gift that I thought was too special to use everyday? It was waiting for over a decade in the back of the closet for that perfect guest who never showed up.

Time stops for no one. It doesn’t even slow down to let us savor our best moments a few minutes longer. Sometimes we don’t even realize they were our best days until they are gone. If only I’d known that would be the last good visit before grandma died. I would have enjoyed it more. We would have eaten off of the fancy china and I would’ve worn my dry clean only dress.

Someday I should pull out the fancy china and crystal wine glasses that have been on display but never once been used.

Who cares if the special washcloth is used for makeup and tears? Life is meant to be lived today not just in wait for a tomorrow which might never show up.

Admitting questions

When my daughter was admitted into residential they asked her a lot of questions. One of them was if anyone she knew committed suicide. She said ‘yes’.

It brings us back to a year and a couple days ago. A friend from our theatre group decided to end his life. I had known him a couple of years by that time. Since I’d known him he was in dialysis. He even had a kidney transplant that failed before I met him. Every week he would go to dialysis for 30 hours. He couldn’t work. He lived by himself. He didn’t have a girlfriend, wife, kids, or barely any family. He didn’t have much of a support system from what I saw.

He wasn’t good looking. He wasn’t popular. Most people thought he was weird. He was kind, but I got the impression that most people didn’t really like him. He wasn’t even a good actor. He never got any good parts.

One day he posted on Facebook that he was trying to find a good home for his pets because he decided to discontinue dialysis. Some people tried to talk him out of it. Others tried to convert him because he didn’t have faith in any God or creed. I have to pose the question if it really was suicide. Technically, I suppose it was because he decided to discontinue the treatment that was keeping him alive.

I know he was suffering greatly. He had lost hope. There wasn’t a cure just spending the rest of his life tied to a dialysis machine. Could anyone blame him for his decision? Maybe I would’ve chosen the same thing if I was in his situation. But who really wants to think about that? We just want to judge. As an adult I can understand and reason. But maybe the young folks in the theatre who didn’t fully understand his suffering might think that suicide is a good solution for dealing with pain.

I felt sorry for the man and about the situation he found himself in. He passed away right before the lock down started. Because of COVID we didn’t even have the chance to say good-bye. His funeral was cancelled. In most respects, he was forgotten until a couple days ago when he was remembered as the man that committed suicide.

I seem to find myself in a moral dilemma. Is suicide okay in some scenarios and not others? What about emotional pain and suffering? I have a friend that decided to stop Chemo because it greatly affects her quality of life. Is it okay to discontinue life extending treatment if the quality of life it gives you is horrible? We are not going to escape this life alive.

Are we going to cut off the elderly from our lives because they could die of COVID? Just for them to die in a nursing home alone without their family. Is it worth it? We are making those level of decisions right now. Is the emotional pain of being separated from loved ones worth an extra year of life?

I would have to say that the answer to these questions should come down to individual choice. I don’t have to agree with it. But as far as my family is concerned I would like to have some say.

NOLA

We drove across a bridge for a half an hour and entered a whole new world called New Orleans. We saw many different things we don’t see at home like houses on stilts, moss covered trees, and interesting looking boats. I remember feeling a certain kind of melancholy, a homesickness of sorts, that happens when I’ve reached a place far from home. It’s hard to believe that I never left my country.

The city of New Orleans itself was bustling, busy, and congested loop of bridges and old style European houses. To be honest, the city made me feel rather trapped. All the houses were so close together. Plus there were so many people. (Although everyone was saying how dead the city was because of COVID). We stayed at an AirBnB in the French Quarter. It was a good place for adventure. The place we stayed was over a hundred years old.

The entrance of our apartment.

We unlocked the gated door after parking in the fenced in driveway. I’m not used to gates for doors.

The yard also hosted a grapefruit tree which Paul and I went round and round upon. Was it an orange tree? Or a lemon? Paul finally asked the owners and they told him to help himself. He said it was the best grapefruit he ever ate.

The city was also very pet friendly. A lot of people walked with dogs and there were cats everywhere. Several people had signs to not feed the animals. One of those signs was at our AirBnB.

We even got a wake up call from a cat in the morning which was the only thing that reminded me of home.

When we arrived in the city, we had our hottest day of the trip which was 75 degrees. It was incredibly humid but felt different than our high humidity days at home which doesn’t even make sense. By the time we left the high temps were in the mid 50’s.

We spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter. We checked out quite a few shops and bought souvenirs for the kids. We even checked out a shop that sold Mardi Gras type costumes. I would’ve loved to have bought one, but they were quite expensive and people would look at me as if I totally lost my mind if I dressed that way at home. I did buy some beads with rubber duckies on them which were super cute. People in New Orleans dressed with such flair.

We spent a good chunk of time walking on Bourbon St. Since we were one of the few tourists, we got targeted more often by beggars and scam artists. We had about 3 people ask us a day where we got our shoes. They bet if they guess right, you have to give them money and they get mad if you don’t. Then they tell you that you got your shoes on Bourbon St. Thankfully I heard about the scam online before we left.

I did have a guy put beads around my neck and ask for money. We did give him a couple bucks and I also gave him my leftover food which was appreciated.

Just keep walking…

Bourbon St. was creepy at night. But it was the most happening street with restaurants and live music outside. What really really bothered me is that we got approached at night by young kids asking for money. We were approached first by two pre-teen girls, then a little later by little boys alone. They had to be anywhere between 8 to 10 years old. I couldn’t imagine the life of those children or the things that probably do or could happen to them out in the streets. Personally I would not feel safe alone there at night.

Paul really loved the food in New Orleans. Almost every night he ate raw oysters. We tried different Cajun and Creole dishes and ate po’ boys and gumbo. I liked the fried alligator. It tasted like chicken.

One of the major problems of the city was that bathrooms were hard to come by. I saw several people unzip and pull up to the wall in broad daylight. The city has serious drug and alcohol problems which I guess probably isn’t unusual for a big city. We got offered edibles countless times. We saw a man having an angry conversation with himself. We saw another too drunk to stand although he was trying. We came across a scene where someone on a bike had a close call with a car. The lady was screaming expletives at the man holding up traffic. It was a great place to visit, but I would never want to live there.

We walked around Jackson Square and walked inside of the oldest continuous Catholic church in the USA. It was very beautiful and ornate as expected. One thing I wasn’t expecting was that there were fortune tellers right outside of the church. I didn’t understand it because in my mind they blatantly didn’t belong there. It was like accepting a one way ticket straight to hell and I’m not even Catholic.

We were hoping to take a paddle wheeler ride but the day we were hoping to go it was very windy with a high of 55. For some reason they cancelled the tours for that day so we went to the aquarium instead.

By far our favorite thing to do near New Orleans was to go on the Airboat Adventures tour in Lafitte. Thankfully we were able to see some alligators in the wild. Apparently the tour the day before did not have any alligator sightings.

Without wildlife it was absolutely stunning too.
The mossy trees which are homes for spiders and snakes plus can hide a few alligators.
I thought this bad boy was going to crawl up into the boat.

One of the other things we enjoyed was visiting the Oak Alley Plantation. This was a sugar cane plantation with hundreds of slaves. We saw the slave quarters. It’s really hard to think that people were forced to do such brutal work in the heat with inadequate food and housing. We got a tour of the plantation house which was rather awkward. The tour guide was a black man and three other black people were on the tour with Paul and I. I felt horrible sadness for the way black people were treated as slaves. There even was a job for a child slave to pull a rope for the fan over the massive table. I couldn’t imagine a child having to do that. Sometimes history isn’t pretty.

The trees in front of the plantation house are several hundred years old and were planted when they were adult trees to show off the wealth of the owners. The trees created good air flow in the summer for the huge house.

Oak Alley Plantation

One of the other things I really enjoyed doing in NOLA was taking a cemetery walk. Unfortunately I didn’t realize the cemetery was closed for renovations before I bought the tickets. I was hoping to spend all of our time in the cemetery on the tour because it was so fascinating. Instead we walked outside the closed gates and spent the rest of the tour looking at mansions of the rich and famous in the Garden District.

All of the cemeteries we saw in New Orleans and surrounding areas had raised tombs because of hurricanes and flooding. I wondered how it all worked because there seemed to be a lot more people that lived in the city than tombs. What I found out was that more than one person can be buried in the tomb. When someone dies they put the body in a casket in the tomb. After a year or two the bones are removed, placed in the back, and it is ready for the next person. Hopefully there is not a plague or pandemic where multiple people need to use the tomb at once. The tomb can be used for multiple generations of family or sometimes clubs get together and purchase a tomb for burial of its members.

Sometimes the tombs are abandoned or fall into disrepair. We purchased the tour through Save Our Cemeteries which uses most of the money from tours to upkeep tombs. They go through great lengths to try to find the owners of the tombs, but if it is found to be abandoned the tombs can be sold. From what I gather, a lot of people choose cremation.

I wasn’t planning on ending this post with death and despair, but here we are. New Orleans is a great city to visit, but again I wouldn’t want to live there.

Willing to listen

It was hard to work for the census because at times I knew I was causing others pain with the questions I was asking.

I had to deal with loss rather frequently. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke to people who lost someone close to them. I felt callous and impersonal about it sometimes. I know you told me that your dad died, but did he die before or after the census date.

I spoke to a man who lost his wife this year. He was out in the yard with his children when I pulled up. When did your wife die? Was it before or after the census date? I always felt a bit awful about it.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me that I could turn my car around in the driveway and drive out instead of backing out. His driveway was on a hill. He said his wife left the house to go to work one icy morning and slid into a tree. He told me not to worry, she did not die in the driveway. She died after a long battle with leukemia.

I felt sad for his loss. I felt bad for his children. So I took a few extra minutes to listen. I told him I was sorry for his loss. I could tell it meant a lot to him. Sometimes people just need someone who is willing to listen.

The ultimatum, part 2

I think things got worse after his mother died from cancer.

Or maybe that’s when I noticed it more.

He was a happy drunk before. Or should I say it enhanced his good moods and his bad. It’s hard to be upset with someone who is spilling forth good things about you. You are so wonderful. You are so beautiful. I’m so happy I married you. Yeah, tell me that when you are sober I’d laugh.

After his mom died it wasn’t fun anymore.

He didn’t have any family left. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No one. He never had a dad or siblings. His step-dad Darryl started dating online a month after his mother died. Paul felt like he helped Darryl out more than Darryl helped him through the grieving process. The rest of the extended family were the wedding funeral types. Our teenage kids met most of them the first time at their grandma’s funeral.

He started drinking more than his usual routine. A typical summer Tuesday he went out with friends and had maybe half a dozen drinks. Wednesday and Thursday a bottle of wine. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he drank two bottles of wine. Monday he took the night off to prove he didn’t need to drink every night.

He was drinking somewhere around 40 drinks a week. Special occasions, hanging out with friends, or really bad days warranted a couple more drinks. So he had anywhere between 30 to 50+ drinks a week.

The year his mother died was a really rough year. I don’t think he cared anymore. His only parent was gone. He slowly watched her die. He coped with the loss by drinking more.

He said he wasn’t going to stop drinking until the doctor told him to. That year his liver numbers were a little high. It was just a fluke thing he said because he was out drinking with his friends the night before.

He wasn’t worried but I was.

The first fire

I never heard my mom cry like that before. It was the deep howling sorrow that was saved for behind closed doors. I could almost peak out the window she was staring out of if I stood on my tiptoes. The night sky a glowing orange haze in a hue I never saw outside before. Together we watched her childhood home burn down.

I went with my mom once to see her old house the year before when I was 3. I’m not sure how I remember it. Strong emotions of my mother typically elicited sparks of memories in me. There was a long dark inside staircase that went upstairs to the main floor of the house. There was a bright average sized kitchen with a window above the sink that I could imagine her mother standing at with her back to me. I never saw my grandmother’s face before but I was told my mother looked just like her.

We had to walk up one step to go into the living room from the kitchen. I found that rather strange. I saw the bedroom my mom shared with her sister Jan. It looked as small as a closet. I imagined my mother playing in that room with her one doll. Mom always said that Aunt Jan was messy and my mom was the clean one. They seemed to have switched roles. Aunt Jan never entertains because people get her house dirty. My mom never has people over because she is embarrassed by her clutter and hoarding.

I wonder now if she imagined her mother was still alive inside of that house cooking supper, washing dishes, or just living a normal life every time she used to walk by. That was the only house she remembered her mother living in. Her mother died and her family moved far away, but she remained in that small town.

My mom more often than not on nice days took us for walks by her old childhood home. Every day the memory of her mother was still alive inside of that house. I’m sure she thought of that when she took us on walks to visit her husband’s mother.

Until one day the house burned down and even those memories faded away. She couldn’t imagine her mother happy inside the house when the house was no longer there. It was almost like she lost her mother again.

The new normal

I’m doing okay with this isolation. It’s not that I don’t like isolation, I like having a choice. I was supposed to be on a beach in Florida right now.

Things are breaking down. The DVD player broke that I watch my exercise videos on since the gym closed. Thankfully my ancient laptop has a DVD player. Our main TV died. I don’t think it responded well to the surge of overuse. Or maybe it didn’t like being the bearer of bad news. Or maybe it got a virus. Oh wait, that only happens to computers.

We dug out some puzzles. After sorting the pieces of three puzzles in a row on the same day, all three were missing multiple edge pieces so I threw them out. Then Clara and I opened a brand new puzzle still in its plastic wrap and that was missing an edge piece too. We searched and searched but all I found was some dried up dog puke behind the couch. Now I remember why I hate puzzles. I had to walk away for a few days. The last remaining shred of my sanity was on the line. Seriously!!?! A brand new puzzle had 4 pieces missing.

This corona virus is the new crisis in my life right now. It’s not that bad really after the last couple months of crap going on. Being lonely and bored has been an adjustment. It’s hard to sit still and not to feel like I should be rushing around doing something. I almost feel guilty about sitting around while essential employees are working hard with people getting sick and dying.

I worry somewhat about my loved ones getting sick. I realize that my husband and most of my best friends are over 50. Having my mom, husband, and close friends all be older than me is slapping me in the face hard right now. It’s forcing me to look at death. Thankfully at this time all my friends and family are healthy.

My daughter Arabella got her old job back at the grocery store. The last couple weeks its been like the day before Thanksgiving there. They recruited her hard. They gave her a raise and put her back in the bakery packaging products and washing dishes. They told her customers would probably be rude to her. Arabella was happy about this. At Culver’s she used to run orders out to people’s cars. People treated her kindly and gave her tips whereas they chewed other employees out except for the ones with special needs. Then she started worrying that the customers thought she had special needs because they treated her differently than everyone else.

Our foreign exchange students are still here. They could stay if their host and real family still wants them to as long as school is in session. Online schooling is scheduled to start on Monday. They both realize they could be stuck here beyond the time they planned to go home. Estelle is feeling homesick and Clara was also crying about it this week. They are keeping a journal of their experiences and hopefully some day it will make for an interesting historical book.

It seems like all of our plans have been washed away. The trips we were planning are gone now. Financial security. Gone. Paul and I are working on starting a new business soon. How will that go in this economy? My structure and routine are gone. The gym is closed. I won’t even be able to see my daughter graduate from college.

I worry about death more. I even worried about what it would be like to become very sick from the virus. After running outside I felt a little wheezy from seasonal allergies. I wondered what it would be like not being able to breathe. My workouts are lackluster. Why bother? The races I might sign up for this summer might not even happen this year.

I have to hope that soon we will get through this and it will be on to the next crisis.

A candle lit for you

I lit a candle for you today.

I didn’t get the chance to know you very well.

Today was the day your family set aside to remember you.

But it has been cancelled now.

The rain falls to the ground in a downpour.

Soon it will melt the snow away.

Spring, they say.

But it is still so cold.

The water spills forth and floods the earth.

Will anyone cry that much for you?

I feel sad for you today.

I remember the little of your life you shown me.

Yours wasn’t the first death this year.

I fear it won’t be the last.

But today I lit a candle for you.

Losing my reality

I felt good for about a half a day this week. I told my husband to enjoy it while it lasts.

It’s been a rough last couple of weeks. It’s that time of year again where I am reminded of the anniversaries of the deaths of three loved ones. I especially remember my grandma who seems so far removed from me now that it is hard to believe she even existed.

In this past week I’ve heard about the deaths of the wife of a friend and the daughter of an acquaintance. Both died unexpectedly, tragically. They were both young, upper 20’s and lower 30’s. They both left behind families, very young children.

Then there was an acquaintance this week who told everyone via Facebook he was going to stop kidney dialysis. He is in his 30’s, had a failed transplant, has no family, and can barely make ends meet because of this. I have to question, is it suicide? I want him to want to live, but would I make a different choice in his circumstances?

Death is in the air and the sorrow of it is making me sad. So I gladly breathed in a reprieve from the anxiety I was feeling if but for a few hours. I thought just maybe I would sleep for the night but to no avail. It’s been almost 3 weeks now since I slept a full night. The exhaustion of it is almost relaxing to me.

I can’t relax. Depression is the closest thing to relaxing I do. My body resists all attempts to relax me. I sometimes wonder if local anesthesia doesn’t work for me because my body literally fights off all attempts of relaxation. Maybe it is just a crazy thought.

I was in hypervigilant mode for two weeks. It was awful. One day my daughter came up behind me unaware to hug me. I freaked out and screamed at her to get away from me. Later I talked to her in a general way about the trauma I experienced as a child and explained to her how startled I was by her unexpected touch. Even my husband tried to comfort me by touch and I told him not to touch me.

I tried to explain to my daughter why I had a hard time with touch and she got mad at me. She told me I was overexagerating and that her life is just as hard as my life was. I tried to give her the kind of life I wanted as a child and it is painful to hear her say that. It’s hard to have compassion for the trivial things.

Sometimes my autistic brother would attack us while we were sleeping. Is it any wonder that I cannot find sleep? My brother beat me on the daily and I was not protected or comforted.

Being physically abused wasn’t the worst. Even my dad’s verbal abuse wasn’t that bad. Being called stupid frequently didn’t end my world. What really hurt was the psychological terror. My dad seemed to have this innate ability to know what our deepest fears were. When we were little he would force us to do things we were afraid of. Then he would laugh at us when we showed fear.

My dad would torment us in the presence of our siblings. We weren’t allowed to be angry or cry, then we would get it worse. In fact, the more we laughed and taunted our frightened sibling, the better it would be for us. Compassion or kindness was punished.

We were terrified of my dad. My dad was especially abusive when our mom was not around. I don’t even think she knew about most of the abuse. At best, he would ignore us and watch TV. Sometimes my mom threatened to leave my dad. We were so terrified of being alone with my dad that it was my brother Mark’s job to beg her not to leave.

I built this wall of strength around myself. My dad robbed me of compassion, tears, and anything perceived as weakness. I can do anger, but I cannot cry. My mom cried and  was too weak to stand up to my dad or my violent brother.

But yet I am weak, yet I am vulnerable. In the whole healing process, I’ve lost a part of my knowledge of normal and real. Is this normal or is this normal to me? Am I not safe or do I just think I am not safe? Am I reading people right?

For example, I told you about the old man at the gym who complimented me on my running and looks. Perhaps it is creepy, perhaps he is just a lonely old man. He seems to know my patterns now. I saw him watch me when I was in my exercise class. When I am running, he gets on the treadmill next to me and starts talking to me.

I always wanted a dad who paid attention to me. I am starving for that. I am so hungry I might ingest things that aren’t safe for me to take in. Because of my hunger I reach for anything offered and I seem to no longer be able to distinguish if it is good for me.

I’ve seem to have lost some of my discernment.

That’s probably why I wasn’t prepared for what happened next…

 

 

Going home

Today my mom and I went to see Matt for his birthday. He spends the day at a program for autistic children and adults. While we were there, Matt’s caregiver asked him to tell us about his special morning in a high pitched sing song voice reserved for a small child. Everyone was optimistic and cheerful, except me.

I felt such sadness I could cry. My brother should be meeting up with his friends for his birthday, or maybe going out to eat with his wife and children after driving home from a long day of work. His normal isn’t right.

I feel such grief every time I see someone with a developmental disability, especially my brother, that I don’t want to be there. I feel guilty for visiting out of obligation. Visiting makes me think about the families and all of their lost dreams. He shouldn’t be putting stickers on a chart for good behavior, he is a grown man. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

I feel tired today. I slept good last night. But the night before was restless with nightmares. I was triggered by the developmentally disabled girl backstage. I heard people ask her sister what was wrong with her. I remembered all the times I was asked that about my brother. I got sick of explaining after awhile. They never asked about me.

Then I dropped my mom off at home. I went in and said hi to my dad. He didn’t get many birthday cards or calls this year. I wonder if it will be his last. He looks so old and weak. He rarely leaves the house. No one really cares about him much anymore, certainly not my mother. I want to reach out and help him. But he was a very cruel father. Why should I care? Why is it so painful to see the consequences of his bad choices when I was one of the people he hurt?

I walked through the house. There are still clothes from the 1980’s hanging in the closets. Hoarders. Piles of mail on the table. The same linoleum lies on the floor from my childhood worn with holes in it. Bags full of food line the floor. Dirty dishes clutter the counters. Nothing must be thrown away, but much more to be collected.

I feel depressed. But writing about it makes me feel better. I am starting to process how I feel and why I feel the way I do. I feel sad that my family is broken and nothing I do can fix it.

On the way back home, I drove through town and did not avoid it by driving through the outskirts. I drove by my Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold’s house. I drove past the area where my grandparents lived. I remembered how the town looked when I was a child. It was alive then with parades and festivals. But now it is a ghost town. Small town businesses closed. New houses stand where old homes once stood.

Everything has changed. But I still remember how it used to be back when my aunt, uncle, and grandparents were still alive. The town was alive then and that’s how I want to remember it with my loved ones alive in it. But that is not how it is anymore.

That is what it is like going home. The broken things still have not been fixed. The town and relatives that made my life magical as a child are no longer there. Emptiness.

Writing helps me process the way I feel. I think I understand why it is so hard to go home. Maybe you would feel the same way.