“Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder?” ~ Iris Murdoch, from The Sea

Barely There

                             

“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

Bare Branches

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”  

Waning Sun through Trees

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”

Ghost Trees (b&w) by John Morgan

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

Black on Blue in Black and White

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.  

This is what we do.  

More later. Peace.  

Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Save You”  

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“It was thus I learned, after having been so many years treated for disorders which I never had, that my incurable disease, without being mortal, would last as long as myself.” ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

From Andrew Moore: Making History (Selected Photographs 1980-2010) 
                       
“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.” ~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from “Kindness”
Waiting Room, Detroit, Michigan, by Andrew Moore

Saturday afternoon. The hurricane passed us and left beautiful weather: sunny and mild. Simply lovely. 

I feel like a slug today—no energy, one of those fat and ugly and my mother dresses me funny days. I suppose that I should be happy since just three days ago I wasn’t able to get out of bed. This episode of uncategorized malaise didn’t last too long, or rather, not as long as they usually last. Probably karmic payback for even thinking that I might be feeling well enough to consider going back to work. 

Not too much happening today. Corey was supposed to work the second shift (3 to 11 p.m.), but the ship left port early, which means that this is the fourth shift since this past Monday that has been cancelled. Thankfully, the duty sergeant called Corey in for the third shift tonight. If I think about the ramifications of the constant up and down too much, I might go mad. 

Can one go madder? Mad. Madder. Maddest. But would it be more mad, and is that even possible? 

I really should be polishing furniture, but motivating myself enough to do so doesn’t seem within the realm of possibilities today. Instead of furniture polishing, I did a bit more in Eamonn’s room, which means that I pulled seven pairs of shoes out from beneath the futon. Obviously Eamonn does not care about these shoes, or he would have taken them with him, that, or he has forgotten about them. 

Whatever the case, I am taking advantage of his absence to get rid of all but two pair, one of which Corey likes, and another pair of Nike Airs. Neither pair appears to have been worn more than a few times—treads in almost perfect shape and leather barely showing signs of wear. Have I mentioned lately how spoiled my children are? On the plus side, I know for certain that I did not buy all of these shoes for him, with the exception of the cleats that he had to have for football; ask me how long he played football? 

Other than a bit of light sorting, I find myself confounded because the Internet isn’t working reliably, or the router isn’t working, or something isn’t working, which means that this post, like the previous one, will appear sometime in the future. When exactly is indeterminable. (Point of fact, I’m writing on one day and posting whenever the Internet connection magically reappears: This post was written on Saturday, but posted on Sunday, backdated. Confused? I am.) 

Last night I spent about four hours praying to the gods that be to allow my computer to work long enough to create backup files. I put some data on flash drives, some on Corey’s computer, and some on this computer in Eamonn’s room (how long does it continue to be Eamonn’s room after he has vacated the premises?). I decided to risk the odds and back up several things simultaneously. Luckily, my computer remained working long enough to perform the backup, which relieves me of one headache—the thought of having to pay the Geeks to recover and reload my data. 

I’m pretty sure that I have everything that I need, as in documents, images, music, and fonts. At this point, I’m just grateful that I was indeed able to create backups as the thought of losing over two years worth of data made me physically nauseous. 

“You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough.” ~ William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”
Peacock Alley, Detroit, by Andrew Moore

In other news . . . Alexis’s friend Jennifer reconsidered her options and has decided to undergo radiation treatments. I haven’t had an update lately, but I believe that Jennifer, her brother, and her son have settled into some kind of routine. I do know that a home-health nurse visits daily, and her son Reilly will be starting kindergarten on Tuesday. 

Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes. I passed them along to Jennifer via Alexis. 

Alexis has pulled back somewhat from the situation with Jennifer, which I had expected to happen eventually. I know from experience that being involved 24/7 in something as stressful as watching someone you love die takes a very heavy toll. At times, Jennifer was arguing with Alexis, and I tried to point out that such a thing is predictable: the caregivers are always the ones to bear the brunt of the afflicted individual’s misplaced anger. I mean after all, is there an actual correct, acceptable way to rale at fate? 

Another negative aspect is that Alexis has been getting grief from work in that the other women with whom she works at the thrift store felt that Alexis was getting special treatment, which she was because of the circumstances. Rob, the store manager, knows how close Jennifer and Alexis are, and in the past few months he has actually asked Alexis to leave work and spend time with Jennifer. I admire Rob for his insight, and the fact that he is directing Alexis should be more than enough for her co-workers. 

Why do women have to be so damned bitchy? Why can’t empathy sustain itself in a closed environment? I mean, everyone with whom Alexis works claims to love and care about Jennifer, yet they complain and accuse Alexis of coming and going as she pleases. Alexis did not ask for special treatment, but she received it nonetheless. Therefore, Alexis is the enemy. The stress coming at her from so many different directions is having a major impact on my daughter’s already precarious psyche. 

I have little patience with selfish, shallow individuals, and unfortunately, women who work together can be the least sympathetic when it comes to a female co-worker. I hate to say that because it sounds sexist, but experience has shown me just how much like high school the workplace can be: the groups that gather together to talk about other people, the constantly-changing alliances, the petty jealousies. 

“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” ~ Maya Angelou
 Cuba 2009, by Andrew Moore

                     

I remember from my women’s studies curriculum reading about the phenomenon called the queen bee syndrome, a term coined when women began to move into more managerial positions. The basic premise is that once a woman is in power, she will do everything she can to ensure that no other women attain as much power, like the sole queen bee in a hive. I would like to think that woman have moved beyond this line of thinking, that woman can advocate for one another without fearing healthy competition. Some women can. Some women cannot. A lot depends upon the individual woman’s self-esteem. 

Those women with lower self-esteem feel too threatened by other women to allow for their basic humanity to reveal itself. And I suppose that I am generalizing, but I think that education and intellect play a large part. By that I mean that a female manager who supervises another woman who might have more education or be more savvy (education not equating with intelligence) may be more easily threatened and therefore be more critical of said employee. 

It all goes back to socialization. Like it or not, women feel less threatened by men in the workplace (as far as jealousy) because there is that innate socialization to expect men to advance faster. But take two women who for all intents and purposes are equal in the hierarchy, have essentially the same background and the same experience, and chances are good that the two women will engage in some pretty vicious backbiting. 

Yes, yes. Times have changed, but the change has been slow, and the evolution is still creaking along. Parity is not the standard. 

Not really sure what sent me off on that tangent,just felt the need to vent a bit, which leads me to this: Are people inherently good or inherently evil? 

A question for another day, perhaps, but know this: My answer constantly changes. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Dar Williams, “Blue Light of the Flame” 

                                                 
All images by American photographer Andrew Moore: “Moore distills the spirit of this message in his haunting large-scale images of decay and renewal. From Cuba to Russia to Detroit, Moore seeks out disused, wrecked buildings and captures the moment that nature stakes her claim on their ravaged grandeur.”

“Life is a journey. Time is a river. The door is ajar” ~ Jim Butcher

“Flight of Swans,” by Frank Weston Benson (1951)

                            

“Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again . . .” ~ Frank O’Hara

Well, hey. How have you been? Long time no words between us . . . 

"The Reader," Frank Weston Benson (1910)

First, my computer died, an unanticipated immediate death, requiring the ordering of parts and much finger crossing. Said computer is still sitting forlorn in the corner of the bedroom, collecting dust and serving as a clothes stand. Ah, such is life. 

Then I appropriated Corey’s computer, which is no easy feat. Adjusted myself to his scratchy mouse and a different corner of the house, this one an apparent heat sink of a spot as all afternoon heat collects in this corner. Not to mention that his computer’s speakers sound tinny, an observation that made Corey reply haughtily, “Well, we can’t all have Bose speakers.” What? Was it something I said? 

Then, the Internet was shut off, so between the breakage, moving, and lack of payment, my posting has been, shall we say, bereft? 

In such a short space of time, summer is waning right outside my door. Oh, it’s still beastly hot, but leaves are beginning to appear on the surface of the pool. Speaking of which, my forays into the pool this summer have been few, not because I have developed an aversion to floating about on water but because the interminable headaches make it hard to be in the heat and bright sun. Tillie the Black Lab has been sure to jump into the pool as much as possible, and I’m sure that it’s only to make me feel better. 

“She would never change, but one day at the touch of a fingertip, she would fall.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir
"Lily Pond," Frank Weston Benson (1923)

As I said in my brief post yesterday, I found my blog’s theme changed when I was finally able to log in. How disconcerting. Apparently, WordPress is updating some themes and deleting others. Mine, which I mistakenly believed was Pressrow, was Cutline, which (as Isaak Mak pointed out—thanks), has been morphed into Coraline. Progress is fine, but change is not always necessarily good. It took me almost two years to switch from the first theme that I had, and now I am breaking in a new theme again. 

Granted for some people this would not present a problem, but I had everything where I wanted it, all of the widgets lined along the right side, a new header photo. Part of the problem, you see, is that I’m still not on my own computer, the repository of my vast folder of images, so I had to search for another image for my header last night. I settled on the one above, but it doesn’t seem quite right. And this blasted typeface seems incredibly big. I wonder if it is or if my eyes are rebelling? 

It seems the family is experiencing its share of computer problems. Brett is supposed to submit a Writing Sample Placement Test to ODU before he can register for his freshman English class. He is most unhappy at this proposition as he believes that having survived several years of IB English should make him qualified to take freshman composition. I agree, but as I explained, everyone has to do it unless they tested out, which he did not. 

To date, he has tried to take this test four times. He has written the essay two times. When he hits submit, the essay disappears, and he is locked out. The last time he wrote the essay I reminded him to copy it and paste it into a blank document so that he wouldn’t have to write it again. Brett, like his mother, becomes stymied by those things he deems unnecessary, this test being one of them. Multiply the process by four, and the result is a very unhappy son. 

Meanwhile, the router, the thingy that connects all of the computers in the house to the Internet and to each other, yep that thingy—continues to go in and out. 

“I want to write like August, to swim in it like a pool and forget the clock hands moving across summer’s face.” ~ Terresa Wellborn
"Rainy Day," Frank Weston Benson (1906)

 What else is new on the home front? I would love to be able to say that I’ve been commissioned to write a screenplay, that Corey has been given his own boat, that my children are all content, that the dogs do not have fleas . . . I would love to be able to say these things, but we all know that I would be lying. 

I’ve been commissioned to do nothing, so I’m thinking about selling Avon online as a way to make a spare bit of cash. Of course, I have to check with my disability people to see if I’m even allowed to do such a thing. Corey still has no boat to call his own, and he is working tirelessly at his port security job. 

Alexis is frayed and exhausted from trying to take care of Jennifer’s paperwork, and son, and still be a good friend. She seems on the verge of tears most of the time, and her visits are just brief enough to drop off her laundry, which Corey has volunteered to do for her so that she has one less thing to worry about. 

Jennifer is home from the hospital, and now, I suppose, we are all in wait mode. Alexis and Jennifer’s brother Christopher are trying to enroll Reilly in the grade school that is just around the corner from my house, which would allow me to walk over and pick him up from school any time needed, and Lex’s Aunt Ann has volunteered to be on the emergency list for Reilly as well. 

I wish that I could say that the outlook is good, that Jennifer is rallying, and the doctors have predicted good things . . . If wishes were fishes . . . 

“I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer . . . It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips.” ~ Violette Leduc 
"Dog River, Alabama," Frank Weston Benson (1930)

Everything that I have written so far has been much ado about nothing. I realize that. I also realize that I am once again standing too close to a precipice to peer over the side. Too many things are stirring in the cosmos. Too many things are unsettled and being bandied about like a badminton shuttle (I’m certain that’s spelled correctly, but it looks funny). 

My dreams of late have been filled with babies and confrontation, heated arguments with people in charge, those unknown faces of people who hold power over me. I wake up frantic and in pain after averting physical fights. Last night there was a knife, a group of teenagers who were shooting automatic weapons on a side street in Downtown Norfolk, and a long walk down an alley. I don’t need psychoanalysis to tell me what that means. 

The end of summer used to have a curious coda to it: When I was teaching at ODU, August became a month of frenzied activity, getting ready for school, buying new clothes for everyone, trying to fit in as many activities as possible. Now, it is merely muggy and long. A part of me even misses the chaos of buying school supplies for Eamonn and Brett, the lists, the rush from store to store to find three-prong folders with pockets because all of the stores only have the ones with pockets. Buying a certain kind of pen for Brett, and another for Eamonn. 

Corey, the boys, and I would try to fit in a trip to Busch Gardens, and maybe a trip to the Outer Banks. Those were heady summer days. It all seems to very far away. 

“When you start to live outside of yourself, it all seems dangerous.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
"Red and Gold," Frank Weston Benson (1915)

Now, here with two-thirds of the year gone, I think back to the plans I made at the beginning of the new year, my resolution to myself that this would be the year that I finally did something, that I would make the telephone calls, that I would release the flow of words that are dammed within. 

I have done nothing. I have moved through eight months without gaining any forward motion. If I were to disappear tomorrow, there would be nothing to show the world that I was here except as a mother, as someone’s spouse. My sense of self, though, that would disappear in an instant with me. 

All of the worlds within my mind, all of the stories left untold, all of the lines left unwritten—they would cease to exist, and the fault would be mine alone, a result of my continual, ongoing paralysis of spirit. 

Self-pity is heinous on a bright August afternoon. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Powderfinger, “Nobody Sees”