Stumbled upon these amazing photographs on my tumblr dash and initially thought they were photographs from the WPA during the Great Depression. They have that Dorothea Lange feel. Such an incredible story, wanted to share:
” . . . it just wasn’t the same Cabbagetown that it was. It disappeared. Where did it go?” ~ Oraien Catledge
Oraien Catledge first stumbled upon Cabbagetown while sitting on his couch one evening in the fall of 1978. He was flipping through the local news channels when he came across a town meeting in which citizens were discussing the fate of their community. The nearly 100-year-old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills had closed their doors for the last time, and a lot of the locals – vestiges of an honest-to-goodness factory town that stood in the mills’ shadows – were destitute. Many of the people living in Cabbagetown in the late ’70s were direct descendents of the laborers imported from Appalachia to work at the mills since their construction in 1881. But much of the property would soon be up for sale to the rest of the city, and it seemed that the tight-knit community would unravel. “As they used to say, that was preee-sactly the moment that I learned about Cabbagetown,” Catledge chuckles through a bushy, snowy white mustache.
Catledge, 81, is an Oxford, Miss., native who moved to Atlanta in 1969 while working as a regional consultant for the American Association for the Blind. “I wasn’t a photographer back then and I knew nothing about photography, but I had an urge to do something creative,” he says. “I tried painting but the canvases just wouldn’t dry fast enough, so I went out and I got a camera.”
Catledge is legally blind, but dismisses his condition as a disadvantage. In a soft, grandfatherly voice, he says, “Oh … I can see a lot better than most people think I can.”
Soon after seeing the televised town meeting, Catledge set out in search of Cabbagetown, camera in hand, and by 1980 was documenting the fast-disappearing community. Over the next 20 years, he spent many of his weekends and free moments in the impoverished neighborhood, photographing the people, faces, and mostly the children, living in the crumbling houses and buildings.
The resulting body of work is a collection of approximately 50,000 negatives. The images present accidental landscapes disguised as portraits, as scene after scene of children and adults personifies the dilapidated surroundings. These stark black-and-white and rich sepia-toned photos are imbued with a quality that transcends time, capturing an era that feels much further away than the late ’70s and early ’80s. Much like Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl photos or Walker Evans’ Great Depression imagery, Catledge’s photographs embody the suffering and celebrations of a poor, undereducated white haven on the brink of disappearance.
Should I cut myself open and pour my heart on these pages? Or should I sit here and do nothing, nobody’s asking anything of me after all.
Should I jump off the cliff that has my heart beating so and develop my wings on the way down? Or should I step back from the edge, and let the others deal with this thing called courage.
Should I stare back at the existential abyss that haunts me so and try desperately to grab from it a sense of self? Or should I keep walking half-asleep, only half-looking at it every now and then in times in which I can’t help doing anything but?
Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?
Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
~ Raymond Carver
Let me destroy everything that I’ve written
that doesn’t have to do with the way you walk like you’re trying to hold
the sky up with your palms.
I’ve been listening to the rain for the past couple of days, have
been listening to songs that sound like what the rain would say if she
spoke English instead of Morse code, and if my
translations are correct, all she wants is for us to stand beneath her
with our mouths open, mouthing — kiss me.
I love like a leaky faucet or I love like a dam breaking.
There is nothing in between.
When I met you, the little Dutch boy pulled his finger
out of my chest and suddenly, everything inside of me spilled out at once.
I puddled an ocean, rounded the corner on Third Ave all the way uptown
to Grand Central like a flash storm, and
I couldn’t touch a thing without inflicting
water damage, without you breaking apart every molecule
that I had ever known.
“How do I start this day, I who am unsure of how my life has happened or how to proceed amid this warm and steady sweetness?” ~ Albert Garcia, from “August Morning”
Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and cool, no humidity, 71°.
I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to say. I just don’t know. Part of me wants to write nonsense, cover subjects that require little thought, and truthfully, little active participation on the part of my little grey cells. But another part of me is quite introspective today, but I’m not entirely sure that I can go there.
Two choices. Two paths. The one less traveled by, and all of that, but I don’t know if I want to go down either. I feel a bit like Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which path to take. He doesn’t really answer her, just tells her that she’ll arrive somewhere.
Today when I was outside with Tillie I found a fallen bird’s nest, and it made me inexplicably sad. I mean, I looked it over, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. I had to hope that the nestlings were already long gone, that the feral cats that live in the bushes in the park next door didn’t find the nest and its inhabitants. Yes, it’s in a cat’s true nature to hunt, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.
Each year a bird builds a nest in our mailbox. The mail carrier and I have a tacit agreement: I don’t remove the nest, and he puts the mail off to the side away from the nest. But one year we had a substitute carrier, and when I went out to get the mail, I found the nest removed from the mailbox.
“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
My love of songbirds comes from Mari, from whom I learned which birds like which seeds. In the house that she used to share with her ex-husband there was a picture of Mari standing in a rubber rain coat and galoshes in a downpour. She was filling her bird feeders. Nothing deterred her from this daily routine.
Because her house was situated a bit off the beaten path and near water, she had phenomenal luck with hummingbirds. I put up hummingbird feeders but was only successful in creating a habitat for fire ants. I’ve never been able to attract any hummers to my yard; although now that I have so much more shade, perhaps I’d have better luck in growing hardy fuchsia plants, which are like beacons for hummingbirds. They don’t like really hot, humid weather, and every year I would hang several baskets only to have them wilt and die by mid summer.
I used to do so much more in the yard when Mari was around. Her love of gardening and birding was infectious, and we would spend hours roaming around garden centers buying pants and feeders. Even though I had planned to fill my planters this year with colorful annuals, I never got around to doing so.
My relationship with Mari enriched my life in countless ways. I miss that kind of friendship.
“Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars and all roses are as white as my pain.” ~ Federico García Lorca
You know what else I miss terribly? Teaching literature. It’s been so very long since I stood in front of a class filled with people who were eager to discuss a new poem, a new short story. I feel as if my mind is atrophying from a lack of outside stimulation. The creative mind is emboldened, nurtured by like minds. I remember one student in a section of American literature who began the class very quietly. Within a few weeks, he was volunteering to read poems aloud, and I could always count on him to add something meaningful to the discussion. In my mind, I can still see his face over a decade later.
Should I go back to school? I know. You’re wondering where that came from? To be honest, it has never left. It is always there, right next to the haunting knowledge that I will never have another child. The two things have carved out niches of emptiness in my soul that will never be filled. I can subsume them, and very often I can make it through a few days without thinking of one or the other or both, but never for very long.
It’s my ongoing inability to separate, to forsake that which is no longer a part of my life. I do not carry my heart on my sleeve—I carry my entire soul there, the esse that is me, omnipresent, looming just within reach, a tether that will never be long enough for complete separation.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I warned you from the outset that this post could go either way, and now it’s obvious as to which path I chose.
In a symphony, the whole truly is the sum of its parts. A viola chord slightly off, or a cymbal a millisecond to soon—this things bear weight. Nothing is innocuous. Consider Mozart or Beethoven, who heard the sounds of these individual instruments within their minds, who heard the collective and the individual, who translated these imaginings into sounds of such pure beauty.
Now, consider Clarence Clemons and his impeccable saxophone solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” The sound is raw and deep and it cuts straight to the soul.
The sounds are antithetical, yet not. Clemons’s rendering when he played was filled with the same kind of passion that is often associated with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. So, too, the individual. We are capable of such beauty, and we are capable of such destruction. We can be rough and raw in our dealings with others, and completely tender in our interactions with a small child. Both the darkness and the light exist, and both carry weight.
“When I think I see clearly and, therefore, think about thinking about, let me be in the dark, measure and strain . . . And when I think it’s okay to sleep or that memory’s a comfort less malicious than happiness, give me the courage to deal these cards to the wind and keep walking.” ~ Ralph Angel, from “At the Seams”
Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and still fewer dwell at either extreme, but some of us move back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter.
I can only tell you this: If I do not speak about these things, I will break. No, I am not a prodigy like Mozart who heard fully realized pieces of such immense splendor that they needed little rearrangement. But I do bear within myself a constant stream of thoughts and words, and sometimes the weight of these things threatens to drown me.
It’s as if somewhere an instrument is slightly out of tune, and I can sense this discord, and when this happens, the melody is simply impossible to realize, but time and life are fickle, always conspiring to steal bits and pieces from our lives unless we grasp what matters most firmly and refuse to relent.
As I sit here with the waning rays of the late afternoon sun bathing my face, I will leave you with this final metaphor, as this post has been rife with bad ones, so why not one more? Wood, specifically a newly felled tree. At first glance something of such mass would appear to bear so much weight that sinking beneath the water seems the only possible action. But when these logs are pushed into the water, they float. They are filled with air pockets. Borne by the current, they travel to their destination. Water, wood, and air come together in a perfect symbiosis.
Yes? See? Well, of course that’s ignoring that the log used to be a tree hanging out with a bunch of other trees before someone with a chainsaw decided its fate. And that bird’s nest used to sit in a tree before a predator knocked it to the ground.
More later. Peace.
Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Amelia,” just beautiful
I Like the Wind
We are at or near that approximate line
where a stiff breeze becomes
or lapses from a considerable wind,
and I like it here, the chimney smokes
right-angled from west to east but still
for brief intact stretches
the plush animal tails of their fires.
I like how the stiffness rouses the birds
right up until what’s considerable sends them
to shelter. I like how the morning’s rain,
having wakened the soil’s raw materials, sends
a root smell into the air around us,
which the pine trees sway stately within.
I like how the sun strains not
to go down, how the horizon tugs gently at it,
and how the distant grain elevator’s shadow
ripples over the stubble of the field.
I like the bird feeder’s slant
and the dribble of its seeds. I like the cat’s
sleepiness as the breeze then the wind
then the breeze keeps combing her fur.
I like the body of the mouse at her feet.
I like the way the apple core I tossed away
has browned so quickly. It is much to be admired,
as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck
in its direction, and the workings of her
black nostrils, too.
I like the sound of the southbound truck
blowing by headed east. I like the fact
that the dog is not barking. I like the ark
of the house afloat on the sea of March,
and the swells of the crop hills bedizened
with cedillas of old snow. I like old snow.
I like my lungs and their conversions
to the gospel of spring. I like the wing
of the magpie outheld as he probes beneath it
for fleas or lice. That’s especially nice,
the last sun pinkening his underfeathers
as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes,
which I like to do, in the face of it,
this stiff breeze that was,
when I closed them, a considerable wind.
“Change, when it comes, cracks everything open.” ~ Dorothy Allison
Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and warm, mid 70’s.
I had a very weird spike in my stats yesterday, with over 1300 hits in one day. I have no idea as to why.
So . . . the past three days have been so incredibly stressful that I couldn’t sit still long enough to write, so I immersed myself in chores long overdue: cleaning out the Rodeo completely, cleaning the leather seats, putting protectant on the dash, cleaning the windows, using a wisk broom to clean up most of the stuff on the carpeting, scrubbing (really scrubbing) the wheel rims.
Of course I overdid it, leaving my back screaming at me, and having sore muscles in places that I had forgotten I had muscles. But at least I was able to sleep.
The cause of my misery? Corey forgot his Merchant Mariner’s Document. Very important. Late Sunday/early Monday he called me very upset because they were threatening to put him off the ship. On Monday, I called around and no one overnights to Lithuania, the fastest would be Wednesday sometime, no guaranteed delivery time. So I decided to use UPS as I thought that it might be cheaper than Fed Ex. I never even thought of the USPS; isn’t that terrible?
Okay, this next part is my own stupidity: Who knew that you were supposed to lie about the value of the items that you’re shipping overseas? I didn’t. As a result, the package, which weighed 1.6 pounds, cost $233 to send two-day to Lithuania; add to that the number of phone calls that Corey has made at roughly $4/minute, and the bills just keep expanding. I beat myself up pretty bad over shipping error, but at least I knew that Corey would have what he needed well before the anticipated Saturday departure date for the Ship.
“What is there then that can be taken as true? Perhaps only this one thing, that nothing at all is certain.” ~ René Descartes
Corey called me yesterday while I was at ODU waiting for Brett. I was in the middle of cleaning the car, and he told me that he was sitting in a hotel. They had put him off the ship and given him a ticket home. What???
He told them that the package was due to arrive on Wednesday, only not actually, as the tracking showed that there had been an unexplained delay . . . I got in touch with the captain, who said to send him the tracking number and he would take care of it. Did taking care of it mean that they would let Corey wait, or did it mean that they were sending him home anyway, and they would reroute the package? Sending him home will cost the company another $1300; even I can see that they would save money by putting him in a hotel for possibly another night, but no. What the hell?
I have no idea.
So the last I heard, Corey was due home at 11:27 tonight. I’ve been unable to get in touch with him, with anyone, so I don’t know if he’s on an airplane halfway across the Atlantic, or if he’s sitting in a hotel in Lithuania. I don’t know anything except that if he is indeed on an airplane flying over the Atlantic, then when he arrives, he is in going to be in bad shape.
I don’t know how it is that we went over our checklists so many times, and neither of us remembered the damned MMD. How did that happen? Why did that happen? Are we cursed?
“We are less permanent than thought” ~ Basil Bunting, from “Villon”
Was it too much to hope that our luck had really changed, that we might actually be making headway towards getting back on a normal path? I suppose so.
I broke out in hives on both Sunday and Monday nights. That hasn’t happened in a long time. And in spite of my attempts, I don’t think there’s enough manual labor in the world—little of which I am capable of performing, I have to add—that would tamp this stress and worry. And trust me when I say that this is not helping with my attempts to cut most of the sugar from my diet. On Monday morning around 8 when I got up to let the dogs out, I found myself standing in front of the fridge with a fork, eating Pepperidge Farm Coconut Cake straight from the box (thanks, Mom).
To be honest, I feel quite like an old watch spring that has been too tightly wound, as if at any second the winding will stop and I will spring backwards and kind of bob back and forth. And while I have slept from exhaustion, the dreams have been bad. Take last night, I dreamt that one of my former students had put a hit out on me, and several different people were making attempts to fulfill the contract, not just one contract killer, but three. All of this happened at the local grade school. Guns were involved. It was not pretty.
“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
So that’s life at the moment. Too full, too intense, too much on the razor’s edge. Fast or feast, but not like this. Not like this. I should be reveling in the warmer weather and the sunshine. I should be appreciating the fresh air that I’m pushing into my lungs and savoring the feeling of having a vehicle that is sort of mine, again.
But I cannot, and that sucks.
Eamonn just called, and he won’t be home for a while, so I don’t have to rush through this post as I had originally thought. So in a lame attempt to try to still the madness of my mind, I thought that I would just throw out some randomness:
What is going on with all of these words on Tumblr, WordPress, and wherever else that are highlighted all by themselves? Who asked for you Enhance, anyway? It’s like fairies are dusting everything with link dust, and I don’t like it. Let me add my own links and emphasis, thank you.
Is my hair thinning? I don’t want to be one of those old ladies whose parts are about an inch wide. Yuck.
The soundtrack from A Knight’s Tale is awesome, and I had forgotten that tidbit until I unearthed the CD recently: “Low Rider” and other classics.
Alexis called me last night to complain that she had to buy a bra as big as her head because of her expanding chest size. She wanted to know if I got that big when I was pregnant. Nope, not even close, and truly thankful for that. I hate to wear a bra. I gave them up in the 8th grade, and concede only when going to work, which is not any more.
I still haven’t done the taxes or FAFSAs. Had planned to do so this Sunday, but well, you know where that went.
I used to give up chocolate for Lent, not for religious reasons, but because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I never once made it all the way through.
Did you know there is a show on SciFi called “Face Off”? It features contestants who want to make it big in character special effects. They do things like prosthetics, masks, latex, body paint, whatever. I mention this only because I caught a few minutes of one episode solely because of one of the judges. I couldn’t change the channel because this guy looked like he was wearing some kind of special effects make-up, but turns out it was just his face. Weird.
“You hold a grudge for years.
With such heaviness, how can you be modest?
With such attachments, do you expect to arrive anywhere?” ~ Rumi
Here is some more nothing fluff:
Today I used my last $10 to put gas in the Rodeo. I got exactly 2.7 gallons. What the hell? The gauge didn’t budge. Okay, maybe it budged a millimeter, but definitely not more.
My ex takes up way too much space in my dreams; admittedly, the dreams in which he appears are almost always violent, but still . . .
I probably read more poetry now on a regular basis than I did while I was an undergrad, grad, or instructor. I find that a bit odd.
Man I hate Fox Noise.
Eamonn wants to move to France. Brett wants to move to New Zealand or Australia. I want to move to Ireland. Alexis wants to move into a house. Corey does not want to move. This scenario could become problematic at some point.
I wonder if published and/or famous writers are as tortured as those of us who remain wannabes? I wonder if Tolkien ever sat around thinking, “What’s the point? No one is going to read this anyway.”
I wonder when I’ll get motivated enough to get off my ass and do something.
Did I mention that I hate everything?
I think I’ll go take a muscle relaxer and take the dog for a walk—no worries, they affect me not at all other than to make the spasms stop, so I won’t be walking into street signs; that’s the kind of thing that I do all by myself, without any pharmaceuticals.
Seemed like a good day for black and white, especially the “Not for Human Consumption” sign. Kind of like my mood and this post.
More later. Peace.
Music by Cary Brothers, “Take Your Time” (this might be a repeat, oh well . . .)
When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark
seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees
thick with many lights.
I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.
And as I watched, all the lights of heaven
faded to make a single thing, a fire
burning through the cool firs.
Then it wasn’t possible any longer
to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.
Are there souls that need
death’s presence, as I require protection?
I think if I speak long enough
I will answer that question, I will see
whatever they see, a ladder
reaching through the firs, whatever
calls them to exchange their lives—
Think what I understand already.
I woke up ignorant in a forest;
only a moment ago, I didn’t know my voice
if one were given to me
would be so full of grief, my sentences
like cries strung together.
I didn’t even know I felt grief
until that word came, until I felt
rain streaming from me.
From The Cycle “Windows of My Studio,” Joseph Sudek (1954)
“I have always spent most of my time staring out the window, noting what is there, daydreaming or brooding. Most of the so-called imaginative life is encompassed by these three activities that blend so seamlessly together, not unlike reading the dictionary . . .” ~ Joyce Carol Oates
Thursday afternoon. Clear and cold.
To say that this week has been unproductive would be the height of understatement. The headache from hell continues to march on within my skull relentlessly. I saw my headache doctor on Monday, and he finally admitted that he can do nothing for me. Next step, a referral to a neurologist. Meanwhile, I am on a series of steroids (hooray, not) and all of the attendant side-effects: bloating, water retention, increased appetite, and my personal favorite: headaches.
I decided to try to post today for two reasons: It’s been over almost a week since I last posted, and when I sat down to begin, the pain had subsided a bit, as it always does—here and then gone, assault and then retreat—much like the incoming and outgoing tides. I have no control over when the next onslaught will come; none of my pain medications are working, alone or in combination; and this particular battle is leaving me weak and mostly bed-ridden.
A situation I truly abhor. Of course, whenever I am phsically incapacitated like this, my thoughts always turn to the Social Security judge who said that my pain was not beyond normal parameters, and that I could hold down one of my former positions, say sales manager or marketing director. That man holds a very special place in my heart.
I was able to read a book on Tuesday as the pain was mostly dull, and reading did not seem to exacerbate anything, but sitting in front of the computer screen is still not the best situation, and since I am my own worst enemy, I got up from the computer this afternoon after only a few minutes to take care of a few things around the house, like the dishes and laundry. I wanted to take advantage of the lull. Of course this means that now that I am back at the keyboard, the tide is coming in once again, and rather quickly, too, I might add.
“When Heraclitus said that everything passes steadily along, he was not inciting us to make the best of the moment, an idea unseemly to his placid mind, but to pay attention to the pace of things. Each has its own rhythm: the nap of a dog, the procession of the equinoxes, the dances of Lydia, the majestically slow beat of the drums at Dodona, the swift runners at Olympia.” ~ Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays
Eamonn stopped by for one of his 15-minute visits this afternoon, and he brought his friend Sean with him. Sean enlisted in the Army right after high school graduation, and he is due to go back to Iraq in the spring. Fortunately, he does not have a combat position. He told me that he has been asked to go out on missions, but he has the option to decline, and he has chosen to take that option; however, he says that the other people call him a girl, and various other military slurs for coward. (I did not comment on the whole sexism thing as I just wasn’t up to it.)
I told Sean that there is nothing wrong with wanting to stay out of combat. His current position is a very necessary one, and he is serving his country in his own way. Actually, I was a bit surprised that he enlisted in the first place; in the past, he has displayed a terrible temper (he and Eamonn got into a fist-fight in middle school, and both were suspended) and lack of self-control, but the military seems to have helped him. Having said that, I am awfully glad that Eamonn did not enlist with him.
Truthfully, who among us would want a son or daughter in the army at this very precarious time in our country’s history? I’m just not that person, not when it comes to my kids. Oddly enough though, I once thought of joining the military and said quite boastfully to my friends that I would willingly go into combat if I had to, and I think that I really meant it—at the time.
When you think about it, isn’t it kind of amazing how many vastly different people we are during a lifetime? A would-be warrior here, a want-to-be politician there . . . and then looking back, thinking how odd life would have been if we had walked that path.
“Illusions are important. What you foresee or what you remember can be as important as what really happens.” ~ Javier Marias
I’m not ready to write about last Saturday yet. It’s a subject that is fraught with emotion, and I know that I am not able to deal with all of the thoughts that are around inside my brain regarding yet another senseless American tragedy and what it means to me, to this country, to both sides of the ongoing fray.
Perhaps tomorrow. We’ll see.
Brett went back to ODU this past Monday, and I don’t think that winter break could have ended soon enough for him. I was starting to notice a definite downswing in his overall mood, and I am fairly certain that it was caused in part because he found himself at loose ends without classes and the company of his friends.
On other fronts, I went a few days without calling my mother because of my own maladies, which means that when I did call her I got the expected “I could have been dead over here” complaint. I knew that it was only a matter of time before she returned fully to form once I moved back home. All of the kindness and intimacy that passed between us during those months in which I took care of her have already been put on the back burner, only to be replaced by the same old refrains.
I wish that I could say that I am surprised, but I am so not. I was, however, surprised by my mother’s response to my offer to drive her to Roanoke to see her sister whose condition is worsening quickly. My mother wanted none of it as it would upset her too much. I suppose I should have remember her reaction to her older sister’s death a few years ago: My mother wouldn’t even attend the funeral as it would be too upsetting . . . for her.
She has declared that she will never go to another funeral. Her assertion bothers me, although I am not exactly certain as to why it would or should.
“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Victor Frankel
I suppose that that’s her prerogative (Bobby Brown totally ruined that word for me) choice, so I should respect it, but it rankles me for lots of reasons: Funerals, obviously, are for those left behind; the dearly departed participate only corporeally. Usually, those attending are family and friends, perhaps coworkers, all of whom are brought together for their own various reasons: grief, love, fear, loneliness, guilt, and occasionally (but, it is to be hoped, rarely) joy.
I don’t know much about funeral customs in other religions and cultures, but the oddly termed post-funeral reception that I have attended many times is probably the most honest part of the entire process. At the service, the deceased is remembered, sometimes lauded. At the reception, after a few glasses of whatever, the stories begin to be told, and those who did not know the deceased quite as well as others get an earful.
They hear about exploits better forgotten, family events at which the departed individual acted particularly rude or obnoxious or funny, and sometimes, little tidbits from the workplace are revealed, tidbits that no one in the family had heard about before this gathering. Truth is part of grief in an odd but integral way, and I think that that’s the part with which my mother is most uncomfortable: the moments in which truth comes out and is bandied about like some kind of Jello salad with miniature marshmallows making its way from person to person: Not everyone necessarily wants it, but most will sample it to be polite, and a few will secretly enjoy it. My mother, on the other hand, refuses to partake.
Hell, what do I know . . .
“Imagine if all the tumult of the body were to quiet down, along with our busy thoughts. Imagine if all things that are perishable grew still.” ~ St. Augustine
I’m sorry that this post is so disjointed; it seems to be going all over the place without any clear focus, which is probably exactly what is really happening (and not just imagined) as that is exactly how my mind feels. Example: I walked from the bedroom to the dining room to do something. I stood there for a few minutes trying to remember what I had come to do. I walked back to the bedroom. Several hours later I remembered that I had gone to the dining room to get a piece of chocolate.
Okay. I probably/definitely did not need the chocolate because of a) the migraine, and b) the calories. But how discouraging . . . to decide that a piece of chocolate would be nice only to forget immediately after taking a few steps only to remember once the desire was no longer there.
It’s especially frustrating for the dogs who jump off the bed to follow me to the kitchen in the hopes of getting something, anything for their efforts only to be thwarted by my abysmal lack of linear thought.
More sooner rather than later (I hope). Peace.
Music by Natalie Walker, “By and By”
Lines for Winter for Ros Krauss
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
“What you thought you came for is only a shell, a husk of meaning from which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled . . . the purpose is beyond the end you figured and is altered in fulfillment.” ~ T.S. Eliot
I finally did something that I should have done weeks ago: I went to see Jennifer, Alexis’s friend who is dying of cancer. On Sunday evening, Alexis called and asked me to drive her to urgent care the next morning because she had a sore throat that was not getting better. I drove her there and then took her home so that she could take a shower. She wanted me to drive her to the hospital so that she could spend some time with Jennifer.
Turns out Alexis has some kind of bacterial infection, and the doctor put her on antibiotics. After I took Brett to school, I went back to Alexis’s apartment and drove her to the hospital. Jennifer was readmitted on Friday night. She was having terrible pains in her legs and could not walk. Turns out, Jennifer got blood clots in both legs, and the clots traveled to her lungs; one lung is now full of fluid.
When I heard this, I was infuriated. Blood clots are preventable. Most of the time when a patient is going to be in bed for an extended period, the doctors will order these special hose for the patient to wear to prevent blood clots. Jennifer was sent home from the hospital without the hose, and none of the home health nurses bothered to make sure that she got them.
Things like this make me want to go postal. I just want to find someone and scream at them, point out their stupidity, their carelessness, but it’s not my place. But I mean geez, the leg hose are pretty much common knowledge. Why didn’t Jennifer receive any?
“Why always expect a definite stance, clear ideas, meaningful words? I feel as if I should spout fire in response to all the questions which were ever put, or not put, to me.” ~ E.M. Cioran from “On the Heights of Despair”
So I steeled myself and went inside the hospital with Alexis. I don’t think that Alexis expected me to go inside, just to drop her off.
When we got to Jennifer’s room, she was sound asleep, that deep, heavy morphine sleep. I took one look at her and knew, knew down to the marrow in my bones that Jennifer does not have long to live. Her head is swollen and full of fluid. The shunt that was inserted in the beginning cannot keep up with the production of fluid. Her skin has a yellow tint to it, and her cheeks are puffy and turgid.
I sat in the chair next to her for a few minutes, and then I stroked her hair and kissed her cheek, a finger kiss because I did not want to wake her. Then I went down to the first floor and into the small chapel. One of my long-standing habits is to go into the chapel at DePaul Hospital whenever I am in the building. It’s something that I have done for years, regardless of the condition of my faith.
It’s a small, circular room with a vaulted ceiling, and it almost always brings me a sense of peace, but not on Monday. I wept hot, bitter tears, tears for Jennifer, tears for her son, tears for Alexis. And I know that the tears were also for Caitlin and my father.
I said aloud to no one in particular, “I don’t understand.” And that, my friends, is the crux of it: I do not understand.
I’m telling the wrong lies,
they are not even useful.
The right lies would at least
be keys, they would open the door. ~ Margaret Atwood from “Hesitations Outside the Door”
Death, that I understand. We are mortal creatures, here for a limited time, dying from our first breaths. It’s a process that cannot be defied, no matter how much people try to stave off the inevitable. Sickness, to some extent I understand. People get sick. They contract diseases. They develop syndromes. They are born with genetic defects. These things, too, are a fact of life.
What I do not understand is the lot, how the die is cast, as it were. What I do not understand is the suffering, the immense, soul-breaking suffering.
Do not tell me that there is a plan, or that there is a reason. Do not approach me with platitudes that do nothing but sugar-coat reality. Do not attempt to comfort me with words of reassurance that Jennifer will go to a better place.
Don’t. Please just don’t.
I am too bitter and angry to hear anything but the resounding madness (from the Middle English madnesse: frenzy, rage, and ultimately, insanity) that hums continuously within my head. I have moved past my inherent ability to be rational and calm. Within me I recognize a feral animal that has resided here before. It is a beast that will not be tamed by reason or rationality. It will remain inside, roaring silently in its fury, until it has spent itself.
That is the unfortunate truth.
Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.” ~ Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Shore
Beyond my own confrontation with things that have lain dormant and the collision with things that are now, there is the truth: Jennifer is dying, will most probably die much sooner than anyone expects. Her friends do not want to hear this. Her brother does not want this to be the reality. The one person who recognizes the truth for what it is—and I am hard-pressed to acknowledge this—is Jennifer’s father, a man who has been absent from her life for many years, a man who now looks on and sees only his baby girl.
I ran into Jennifer’s father as I was leaving the hospital. The tears were fresh on my face, and I wondered whether I should say anything to him, but he saw me and began to talk. He had a dim memory from Alexis that something similar had happened in our family. That is how long Jennifer and Alexis have been friends.
We spoke about how sweet and kind Jennifer is, and he told me that she is uncomfortable with all of the kindness she has been receiving. He reminded her that if the situation were different, she would be the first one in line to help. He spoke of the relationship between our daughters, how it has endured after all of the others have moved on, moved away.
So I stood there under a brilliant autumn sky, and spoke with this man about his daughter’s coming death. He is the one who has been placed in the position to make the decision, the one that no parent should ever have to make. I think that he wanted reassurance that he would not be vilified for making the decision.
I could not give him that reassurance. I told him honestly that no matter what he decided, he was going to be the villain, that most people would not understand, but I also told him that if he loved Jennifer, he would remember that she is the one who is suffering, that those who look on are suffering in their own right, but their pain should not override hers.
“He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Enchanted Study in Black and White by Dmitry Budonov
Having never met this man, I knew him intimately in a way that I did not want. I knew his suffering, and I knew his anguish. When we parted, he thanked me for talking to him and told me to drive carefully. I realized that the next time that I will see him will probably be at Jennifer’s funeral.
I got in the car and allowed myself to weep once more. I looked out and saw him standing outside the entrance to the hospital, the same half-smoked, unlit cigarette in his hand, a look of anticipation on his face, as if fate itself were hurrying to meet him. And beneath that look lay another face: that of a man so wearied by life that it took everything within him to turn back and walk through the glass doors.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I did what I do whan I am most upset: I drove. And then when it was time, I picked up Brett from school. Yesterday, Alexis told me that Jennifer was feeling much better, that she ate her lunch and even complained about the food.
We all take what we can get, even the most minute, seemingly insignificant moments, and we place our hopes on them with every ounce of will left us.
“I believe fervently in the nature, in truth and imagination, I believe in the blood, in life, words, and motivations.” ~ Gael Garcia Bernal
Well, my computer is still broken. The part that Corey ordered did not fix the problem. Of course it didn’t because it cost less than $20. As is usually the case, the part that I probably need to fix the problem will cost much more. I don’t know for sure, though, because Corey cannot find the part I need (CPU fan) anywhere.
Surprised? Not really.
It’s Wednesday afternoon. The heat wave finally broke, and temperatures here are hovering around 90° F, about normal for this time of the year. Speaking of which, how did it get to be the end of July? The fact that I am constantly surprised by how late it has gotten never ceases to surprise me, but you would think that I would have grown accustomed to the incongruity of time passages by now.
Anyway . . . the sun is shining with a few puffy clouds scattered about in the sky. The Jack Russells are currently asleep beneath the chair in which I sit, so I suppose that all should be right with the world, but it is not.
This past Sunday night, Alexis called me to let me know that one of her best friends, Jennifer, with whom she works at the thrift store, had been admitted to the hospital. Alexis said that the doctors had found three brain tumors in Jen’s brain. I had to wait to write about this as it really threw me.
“It is dark inside the body, and wet,
and double-hearted. There are so many ways
to go, and not see, and lose
the feeling of the thread…
and never reach the fabled center.” ~ Larissa Szporluk
Of course, this is not about me and my reactions, but at the mention of brain tumors in a young woman of 26, I found myself once again railing at the injustices of fate. Jennifer has a five-year-old son named Reilly, who she absolutely adores. She is a single mother who works hard. She is also one of the nicest people I have ever met.
When Alexis was much younger, I was a bit wary of Jennifer because he family is so dysfunctional, but I realized that it doesn’t really matter what kind of family you come from as it matter more what you do with yourself on your own. I mean, I always thought that I would never have any problems with Alexis because we have tried so hard to give her a normal upbringing, whatever that is. I mean, a home, food on the table, values—but that did not stop her from unexpectedly running wild in high school and causing me endless heartache at the time.
So I suppose that what I am saying is that I initially misjudged Jennifer. Now she is faced with a great unknown, and her biggest concern is not her own health, but her son’s reaction. Then earlier today, Alexis phoned me to tell me that the latest tests show five tumors, not three: three in her brain, two on her spine.
Five tumors. Twenty-six-years old. A five-year-old son. No health insurance. To try to pinpoint the worst aspect of this situation is fruitless. It’s all bad, horribly, terribly bad.
“Come stand with me
under the summer shower –
healed of world-madnesses” ~ Paul Reps
Alexis has been taking Reilly to school in the morning before work and picking him up after. Jennifer’s younger brother is taking care of Reilly in the evenings. I told Jennifer that Reilly can come over here anytime someone is needed.
In the meantime, Alexis has diligently informed all of their mutual friends and kept them up to date. One of Jennifer’s dearest friends drove into town this morning.
No word yet on when the big operation will take place. No idea on whether or not any or all of the tumors are removable as the neurosurgeon won’t know until he cuts her open. And then, of course, the wait for the biopsy results on each tumor. There was some confusion today about what kind of operation she was being taken in for, but I told Alexis that if the estimated time is only an hour, then it’s not the big operation; more probably, the doctors are inserting a shunt to drain of some of the fluid build-up in Jennifer’s brain.
That I have this knowledge in my long-term memory is both a blessing and a curse. I can sit her on the sidelines and inform Jennifer and her friends and family about some of the things to expect. I can try to explain some of the tests to Jennifer so that she isn’t so stressed. But in the back of my mind, all I can think about is the day of Caitlin’s surgery, the hours and hours of waiting, taking Valium and hiding in a room away from all of the well-meaning people who had come to the hospital to support us. And more hours of waiting, only to be told the news and the prognosis.
Five tumors. One tumor. Five times the chance of something going wrong.
Corey reminds me that Jennifer is a woman, much stronger than an infant. But by the time the tumors were found, she was already in a much-weakened state. You see, Jennifer has been sick for months. She has gone to a few doctors about her headaches. One told her that she was depressed and needed to eat bananas. None of them did a CT Scan or an MRI. She also went to an oral surgeon to remove an infected tooth, which everyone thought might be the main cause of her health problems as she had put off getting the tooth fixed because of the lack of insurance.
Eat bananas. I am reminded of other callous remarks tossed out so nonchalantly years ago by doctors denuded of compassion, and how I had enough rage to kill someone. There is rage again.
“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.” ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
There is rage at fate and rage at life. Rage at injustice and those things over which was have no control. But mostly, for me at least, there is a sense of emotional rage at the fact that on top of everything else, Jennifer is lying in ICU wondering and fretting over how she will ever pay for her hospital stay, her medicine, her operations.
This young woman, who works for less than $9 an hour, who has no benefits, no sick leave, nothing, earns no money each day that she is out of work. Her job is not guaranteed, but I believe that the people for whom she works will hold her job. But the reality is not when Jennifer will be able to go back to work, but if. And then what? What does she do to exist if she is unable to work. She has no long-term disability coverage as I do. And as much as I bitch about how my coverage is menial, at least it is something.
It’s hard not to be angry at the world, not to want to call someone and just scream at them. Perhaps a Republican Senator who cannot wait to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform. After all, healthcare is provided for members of Congress, as well as their families. It is not provided for people like Jennifer, people on the fringes of society who are not layabouts, drug addicts, or welfare moms who are supposedly living on the comfort of unemployment and government assistance, or whatever other derogatory term is being bandied about.
Jennifer is one of those individuals who does not rely on other people or the government to provide for her, and look at where she is now. Try telling her and people like her how tax cuts for the wealthy are going to help.
I’m sorry. This wasn’t meant to be a tirade on politics, but it’s hard not to think about the bigger picture when someone you know is being engulfed by it. Jennifer isn’t just a statistic; she is not someone who falls into category A or category B on some political demographic chart used to measure the invisible part of American society—the part that drives ten-year-old cars that are falling apart and are glad just to have transportation, the segment that lives in questionable neighborhoods because the rent is more affordable but pizza deliveries are not available because of the danger, or the people who spend money not on nights out on the town or designer shoes.
Jennifer is a member of that group of single, working women who must budget one-fourth of her take-home pay for her son’s daycare in lieu of trying to get health insurance for herself and her son. And now she is part of that group that has the uninsurable pre-existing condition, that label that makes obtaining health insurance well-nigh impossible.
So yes. There is rage.
And so we all wait, each of us in our own fashion. We wonder what news the days will bring, and we try not to think of possibilities.
More later. Peace.
Music by Sia, “I Go to Sleep” (originally by The Kinks)