“We all live in a house of fire. No fire department to call. No way out. Just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns down the house . . . with us trapped, locked in it.” ~ Tennessee Williams

 

“Untitled,” by Galina Lukianova

   

“I believe fervently in the nature, in truth and imagination, I believe in the blood, in life, words, and motivations.” ~ Gael Garcia Bernal
Dandelion, by Fastily on WikiCommons

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
Black and White Sunset by Sean K (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

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
Black and White Study by RandyA38 (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

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
Tree Black and White Relief by doortoriver (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

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) 

“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” ~ Carl Schurz

Sun Reflected in Frosty River

 

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on the Road

Well, we survived Thanksgiving and my mother’s lovely running critical commentary throughout dinner. Had a bit of a snafu though: Alexis overslept because her electricity went out during the night, so her alarm did not go off, and as a result, the turkey went into the oven rather late. Since it was a 20-pound turkey, we didn’t eat dinner until 8 p.m., which doesn’t really bother most of us because we tend to eat late, but my mother was beside herself.

I called her at 2:30 to tell her that everything was going to be late and suggested that she eat a small meal, but that didn’t stop the bitching. “What do you mean . . . why? . . . how did her electricity go out in the middle of the night . . . I’ve never heard of such a thing . . . I can’t believe this . . .” Unfortunately, we could not cook the turkey here as we are still without natural gas, and our oven is a beautiful, large gas oven that is sitting unused, but that my friends, is a different saga.

This couple couldn't take the time to put on clothes

So the waiting became too much for eldest son as he had an urgent need to get to his girlfriend’s house; we sent him on his way with our blessings and suggested that he check back in later, although he didn’t.  In spite of the delay, dinner was delicious, not way too much food as it used to be, and we had open-faced hot turkey sandwiches on Friday night for dinner.

The madness that is Black Friday did not leave the country unscathed. No stampedes at Wal Marts this year because the stores allowed shoppers into the building; the catch was that no one was allowed to touch the early bird specials until 5 a.m. Everything was on pallets and covered with plastic. I know about this not because I was there (Wal Mart the day after Thanksgiving? me? shudder), but because Alexis’s friend Jennifer went and was out by 5:40 a.m. in time to go to work. Amazing.

I didn’t read any stories about fights in the aisles or mayhem, and the American consumer seemed to be more willing to part with dwindling cash, somewhat. Preliminary data show that shoppers deposited almost $41.2 billion into retail coffers (oh to have just .001 percent of that), this according to the National Retail Federation.  But the madness that normally plagues the pages of the news seemed to be less this year.

There was a shooting in which a man killed his adult sisters and a 6-year-old cousin on Thanksgiving day; another man locked his children in the trunk of his Trans Am while he ran into a sporting goods store (“They like to play in the trunk”). However, the most horrific thing that happened over the holiday weekend state side was the shooting of four Seattle police officers in a coffee shop early Sunday morning. The officers were sitting at a table with their laptops preparing their day when 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons walked in and opened fire. No other patrons were shot, only the officers. For more details on this story, click here.

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” ~ Taisen Deshimaru

A Salvation Army Kettle

Oh, and one more on holiday cheer and good will towards all: In Toledo, Ohio, a man grabbed a Salvation Army kettle full of donations and pushed the bell ringer to the ground. Supposedly the man said, “I can’t stand you and your bell-ringing. I hate Christmas.” Clearly, this year’s winner for the Ebenezer Scrooge award. Personally, I love to see the kettles, but I miss seeing real Salvation Army members ringing the bells. I always try to put something in at least a few kettles each year.

And by the way, the rumor that bell-ringers receive part of the kettle coffers is absolutely false. Bell-ringing is done by civic organizations, scout troops, schools, etc, but the Salvation Army does employ people from shelters to be bell-ringers. These needy individuals receive minimum wage to stand out in the cold, snow, and rain collecting donations that are used to fund the Salvation Army’ s many charitable programs, including shelters, meal programs, after-school programs, to name but a few.

“You’re the love of my life
And the breath in my prayers
Take my hand, lead me there” ~ Dave Matthews Band

So with the one holiday over and the big one looming, Corey and I are in a kind of stasis. The bills continue to pile up, and the money continues to be non-existent. We have a huge payment due to the power company in just a few days, and absolutely no way to pay it. It’s hard to think about putting up Christmas lights when there might not be electricity to power them.

So that’s what I mean about stasis. We cannot really do anything as far as decorating until the living room undergoes a major clearing, but that is dependent upon painting the bedroom, and I had forgotten that one of the reasons that we didn’t move  the very heavy bureau into the bedroom before this is that the bedroom needs to be carpeted. Once that huge dresser is in place, it’s going to be very hard to move it. So do we wait to paint until we can carpet so that we move everything once? Do we move everything twice? And who is this we I speak of, Kemosabe . . .

I must admit that my recent renewed addiction to home renovation shows is not helping with my complete dissatisfaction with the state of our house. There are so many things that we could do to make the house better, less cluttered, easier to get around in if we just had a little cash. Having said that, using cash for renovations has to take a backseat to using it for bills, so once again, the infamous Catch 22 comes into play.

Oh well, moving along . . .

“We clasp the hands of those that go before us, and the hands of those who come after us.” ~ Wendell Berry

Brett's Hands

I have been thinking of hands lately. Don’t ask my why, but  I have. Hands that are moving through the air. Sunlight glowing through hands. Babies’ hands. My children’s hands, which are very much like my own. I have very long fingers, which was great when it came to playing the piano, and all three of my children have long thin fingers.

I remember my father’s hands. He had a degenerative condition in his right hand that caused the muscle to atrophy, so much so that he had to use his left hand to turn the ignition in his 1966 Ford Falcon.  I remember more than once looking at my father’s hands, so bent and worn with age and work, and being just amazed at how much those hands had accomplished over the years.

I really don’t remember anything that my father couldn’t do when he tried. He built things around the house, sewed things, fixed things, worked on his car (all of the time), and maintained the engines on those huge cargo ships that traveled all over the world. I know that my father was very good at his job because he had ship captains who routinely requested him.

In the end, when he was in the hospital, it was his hands that I watched. So small and shrunken, they knitted the sheets to and fro. This man who was never really still his entire life was working even in the midst of his morphine dreams. Watching that automatic movement day after day almost broke me.

But my thoughts about hands are not all painful. In my mind’s eye I see a pre-school craft project that Alexis made: a piece of muslin with small green handprints in a circle, forming a wreath. I still have that. Brett’s hands, specifically his thumb, which he sucked when he was a baby. I never really fretted that he sucked his thumb because I knew that he would stop when he was ready. Nine-year-old Eamonn’s long fingers scooped around a basketball, his slightly crooked smile as he stood for his team picture.

These memories are good memories. I can take the memory of my father’s hands when it is balanced against these memories from my children’s earlier days.

My hands when I had long manicured nails

I look down at my own hands as they skate aross the keys: long, thin fingers, the one vein on each hand that has always been prominent, cuticles a bit ragged from worrying them unconsciously. These hands have touched piano keys and computer keys; they have brushed my daughter’s long hair and finger-combed my son’s waves. These hands have held four babies, cupped their small heads and massaged their backs. These hands have polished a thousand pieces of furniture and cleaned thousands of dishes. They have planted countless flowers and strung colored lights year after year.

These hands are my strength and my weakness: For everything that these hands have allowed me to do, they have also felt the pain of being idle at times when doing something, anything, would have helped.

These hands stroked the soft dark hair on my daughter’s head as she lay dying in my arms, but these hands could not stop death. These hands held my father’s small, curled hands as he lay sleeping in a hospital bed, but these hands could not keep the pain at bay nor force death to wait.

These hands have held newborn babies, and puppies seconds from their mother’s womb. They have stroked the flanks of a chestnut mare and loosened the bolts in an engine. They have turned the pages of thousands of books and held countless cups of tea and coffee. Each morning, these hands move across a face that belies its age, while fingers probe for wrinkles that have yet to appear. These hands stroke Corey’s cheek when he is asleep, and rub the belly of my fat, spoiled dog as he lays snoring by my side.

Everything that is or has been me is within these hands, and when I hold them up to my eyes when the summer sun beats down relentlessly, my fingers seem to glow with life, and I am reminded of that scene in the old movie Ladyhawke when Isabeau raises her hands to the morning sun just before she transforms into the hawk.

I have my father’s hands. My desire is that when I am in the dusk of my life, my hands will have created more than they have destroyed, that they will have caressed more than they have repelled, that they will have calmed more than they have worried, and that they will have written a million words, filled with the myriad sides of myself, my life, and those who have used their own hands to help me, guide me, hold me, and teach me along the way.

More later. Peace.

This video of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s “Falling Slowly” somehow seemed appropriate.

 

 

Spring Cleaning in December

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Something

I’ll Take The Eight Maids-a-Milking, Alex

eight-maids-a-milking
Eight Maids-a-Milking

I take back what I said about some of the gifts from the Twelve Days of Christmas the other day. If someone gave me eight maids-a-milking right now, I’d grab them in a heartbeat, take aways their milking pails, and quickly install them in my home to help with the purging of my living room and dining room of years of clutter and foreign objects.

This weekend, we finally decided to tackle the self-made art nouveau statue that had taken on a life of its own in the dining room, which led to a massive cleaning effort. We began in a two-foot circumference and started spreading outward. The motivation must have been catchy because soon my youngest son had moved into his bedroom and begun to dust and clean, really clean—egads! He filled, at last count, four garbage bags (I’m not sure of the contents). He finished his bedroom, and it looks really good.

We have yet to finish the big project that we are working on, so I am trying not to be too envious of him and to remind myself that he had much less square footage. I’m taking a break in my cleaning to write my blog, which at this point is turning out to be a less than literary post anyway. I think that my mind has turned to mush, that or the dust is beginning to absorb the little bit of grey matter that is still functioning.

Moving on, I tackled the living room closet, which is every bit as scary as you might imagine. I found at least one plastic storage tub’s worth of books to put in storage and another box of books for giveaway. I worked my way from the front door towards the dining room, and Corey started to pack everything on top of the buffet in preparation of moving that gargantuan piece of furniture to my mother’s garage (our perpetual storage place) for Alexis, and believe it or not, we agreed on a plan to set up the new dining room set that has been in boxes in the storage shed for at least a year. How do you spell h-a-l-l-e-l-u-j=a=h? We might actually be able to sit down as a family for a meal on a weeknight. I haven’t experienced such a thing in years . . .

We discovered several DVD’s and video games (discovered as in unearthed), found some missing tools. I came upon some kind of volt regulator thingy that Corey claims he had been looking for and why didn’t I tell him that it was in the closet and he had looked in the closet several times and never found it there and if I knew it was there why didn’t I tell him it was there . . . hell, I didn’t even know what the damned thing was.

Now that You Have it, What Do You Do With It?

 stack-of-books

We’ve managed to put together a nice pile of stuff to donate, and another small pile of electronics and games that we may be able to take to the pawn shop and make a small profit on because every bit helps. I like to donate my old books that I know that I won’t read again and that have already been through the exchange system between my mother-in-law and myself or whoever else wants to borrow or trade. I don’t think that books should ever be thrown out unless they have dry rot or meal worms or they have that old moldy smell. Books should be recycled whenever possible. I would donate these books to someplace that wouldn’t sell them if I knew of such a place, perhaps a women’s shelter. Maybe I’ll look into that. That would be better than a thrift store.

One year we had a huge yard sale, and I had saved up all of my old books, thinking that they would sell quickly. I only sold two books, both by Stephen King from my much earlier Stephen King phase, and I gave away a few more. We ended up packing up several boxes of books and taking them to the thrift store and donating them. I really wish that people would read more. Ah me. We made a total of $22 on the yard sale, and I have concluded that yard sales are much more trouble than they are ever worth.

But I digress . . . After two days, the cleaning is down to the nitty gritty. I still need to pack my china, which I am saving for tomorrow morning when I am fresh. I think that if I tried to do it tonight being this bodily tired and emotionally weary, there is too great of a risk of breakage (mine and the china’s), and we’re talking the good china here, the stuff I really like. Corey has one more pile of miscellaneous junk to go through and shred, and then we are done. After we move out the buffet and set up the furniture, then the fun really begins: Christmas tree and decorations!

Haul Out the Holly . . . and the spackle and the paint

Well, I’m running late this year, but definitely earlier than last year, and the best part is that once the decorations come down in January, I’ll have a decluttered dining room. Granted, it still won’t be painted, and the new floor won’t be down, but hey, we’ll be one step closer. I think that getting over this major hump of decluttering will help both Corey and me to get over some kind of mental block that we’ve had as far as the house is concerned. Do you know how when you let something go, and then it starts to bother you, it begins to loom over everything? It starts to grow and grow, becoming insurmountable, so you put if off longer because it seems undoable, and the longer you put it off, the more it seems impossible to do. A classic Catch 22 situation—that’s what our living room/dining room clutter had become.

I’m hoping that now that we have almost conquered it, and once we decorate for the holidays, it will become a work-in-progress once more, the one that just needs to be primed and painted, the one that just needs to have the rest of the old carpeting pulled up, the one that needs to have the new molding installed, the one that needs the new flooring installed. Not that much really, huh? I won’t even mention the bedroom furniture that is still in the boxes in the living room along with the paint that we had mixed back in the spring to paint the master bedroom and how that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe we can do that for Mother’s Day 2009?

I really have learned how to lower my expectations. It makes it so much easier that way. It’s also more rewarding once something finally does get done, such a sense of achievement! Whoo hoo! Look at me! I cleaned my dining room.

So, my anticipated timeline is that by Tuesday, we’ll have the tree up, and by the end of the week, I should have my shopping done and the presents wrapped. Oh, and somewhere in there, I’ll do my Christmas cards, and keep my daily blogs written. All righty then. We’ll check back in a few days and see how far I’ve gotten on that delusion, shall we?xmas-tree-ornament

A little update, my daughter came by, and she and my eldest son rummaged through the total of six bags that Brett ended up amassing. Together they scavanged two Game Boys and a couple of games, some Sharpies, a mini etch-a-sketch, a hat, pajama pants, a baseball cap, and lord knows what else. (I would have snatched up the Sharpies first if I had seen them. He wasn’t actually throwing them out; his sister actually just pointed to them and said, “you don’t need those, do you?”)

So I’m calling it a night. I actually slept last night, and I kind of liked it. I’m going to try to repeat it again tonight. I’m hoping that it’s habit forming. More later. Peace.