Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

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Note: this entry was originally posted in January. I am reposting parts 1-3 since so much time has passed between those entries and part 4, which I will post tomorrow.

Part 2: Anamchara, My Soul Friend

The first time I met Kathleen was right after we had moved to Alexandria, Virginia. I had asked for and received a transfer within the government services firm that I was working for right after graduate school. I was trying to climb the corporate ladder and didn’t feel that I could go much further in Virginia Beach; I also didn’t feel that Paul  was matching my plans to grow, so rightly or wrongly, I put his back against the wall and told him that I was accepting the transfer—with or without him. He came with me, but it created the first rift in our marriage.

I was given the position of Senior Technical Editor for an Operations System and told that I would be working as a proposal development specialist. The first proposal that I was assigned to was an Army proposal; I don’t remember exactly what the proposal was for, but I was introduced to the person who had been working on it before me, Kathleen Roulet. She had a large smile and a firm handshake, and she seemed to be all business. Quite frankly, I was intimidated by her at first. Actually I was intimidated by most of the women in the operations center: They were a much different breed from the Virginia Beach office. It was the time of dress for success. Business suits, pumps, brief cases. Women were dressing like men in order to be taken as seriously as men. I had a lot to learn.

Within days I realized that I was going to have to overhaul my appearance completely or be eaten alive. Fortunately, Kathleen had been asked to help me on the proposal. Luckily for me, she was actually the least intimidating person around. She had an easy laugh, a quick wit, and she knew everyone. I had my role model.

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Kathleen’s Princess Tiara

As it turns out, between the two of us, Kathleen and I were two of the more powerful women in the Operations System. Unfortunately, a few months after my arrivel her group was moved to the other end of the complex, and we were working in two separate buildings on different projects, so for a few months, we didn’t have that much contact.

I was stuck with Marine Engineers who didn’t believe that women knew math. Kathleen was stuck working for a retired military officer who called her “princess.” He honestly could not understand why she might be offended by being called princess in staff meetings. It was both infuriating and hilarious in an odd sort of way. We commiserated.

In October, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. It was a surprise. It was also a bit unsettling as I was just establishing my position. I was working 12 hours a day regularly, and often on weekends. I kept up with the frenetic pace as long as I could.

In the spring, there was some reshuffling, and another operations center was formed. They were sent to the other end of the complex where Kathleen’s group had been sent, and I was sent with it. My former boss was promoted to a Division General Manager. He did not keep me with him. I was not happy with the reshuffling, but at least I would be just down the hall from Kathleen. Between my pregnancy and the reshuffling, we became much closer. Kathleen and I spent a lot of time together at work and after work. When she wasn’t dating anyone, she would come by and have dinner with Paul and me.

One Friday in July, I went on a cleaning binge in the office kitchen. That night, I went into labor at home. I was on maternity leave for eight weeks. Kathleen brought me Speedy Little Devils in the hospital (cookies made with chocolate, peanut butter and other wonderful things). I found a wonderful woman just four doors down from my townhouse to watch Alexis while I was at work, and I returned to work full time when my leave was up. It was a time when women were trying to do it all: work full time, be super moms, keep their houses in perfect order, still be wonderful wives and great in bed.

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Trivial Pursuit

A few weeks after going back to work, Paul and I had gotten access to a beach house in Rehobeth for a really incredible price at the last minute, and we asked Kathleen to come along. It wasn’t going to be a romantic weekend. We were taking Alexis; she was about 7 weeks old. We just wanted to get out of town for the weekend. The three of us played Trivial Pursuit. Alexis slept in her travel crib.

Kathleen and I drank lots of wine, and Paul drank beer. The three of us decided that we were going to stay up all night playing the game as an endurance test to see who caved first.  At some point, Paul got up to go to the bathroom. After about half an hour, Kathleen and I realized that he hadn’t come back. We went in the bedroom where we found him asleep on the bed next to Alexis’s crib.

Kathleen and I laughed our asses off. Those were great times.

We used to do some pretty interesting things. Like the time she received a micro-cassette from a guy she had been dating. The only problem was that she did not have a micro-cassette tape. No problem. I proceeded to try to break into filing cabinets at work with a paper clip. It looks so much easier in the movies. We gave up, and she went and bought one at Radio Shack.

We regularly went out to lunch. She was my therapist, and I was hers. There was nothing that we couldn’t say to each other, and many things that we wouldn’t say to anyone else. Our jobs were so stress-intensive that often we felt as if we were carrying around boxes of nitroglycerine (figuratively), and someone was just waiting for us to drop it. It was a very cutthroat industry, and we were very high profile. It didn’t help that I had the ear of the Division General Manager. People did not like that.

At the Christmas party that year the band was the Beach Boys. Our group of ladies took off our shoes and danced on the tables while we drank champagne.  Yes, I started it. By then, I had moved beyond the Marine Engineers. I had a window office next to the boss, and people from corporate knew me on a first name basis. But I was really starting to get tired. My old boss still wanted me on the line as his ears, and I was being pulled in too many directions.

One of the few times I can remember really just relaxing was when Kathleen and I packed a small picnic and rode the metro to Arlington Cemetery, and then walked to the Reflecting Pool. I believe that it was Memorial Day. The symphony was playing, and it was a free concert. I’m almost positive that John Denver was singing that night as well.

When Alexis turned one, Paul and I decided to move back to Norfolk so that she would be able to grow up near her grandparents. I also did not want to be working 12 to 16 hour days any more. I wanted to spend more time with my daughter. My mother came up and drove home with Alexis. Paul drove a U-Haul truck home with our furniture, and I spent the last week at Kathleen’s home finishing up paperwork and my last week of work.

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Angel in Irish Cemetery

I knew that Kathleen and I would see each other again, and we did. I drove up for her birthday in November. She came down for visits, and like I said, she came down for my baby shower for Caitlin.

Through the years, we have stayed in touch by phone and letter, e-mails and cards. We used to meet in Williamsburg once a year for a big shopping trip, but then that kind of faded away. But I have always known that Kathleen is truly what is called in Irish Gaelic anamchara: a soul friend. I have only had to call her, and she has always been there for me, an open heart, a warm shoulder. She has never turned me away. I have never felt her presence lacking in my life, though the years have spread out, and miles have expanded the distance. The circumstances have changed and changed again. The players have entered and left and some are gone for good. Kathleen, since the day she first took residence in my heart, has never left, and I know that she never will.

There are many things in life of which you cannot be certain, many things you pray will abide with you but do not. There are many places in this world that  life may take you, and many places that you wish you had never seen. There are moments you embed in your memory as being irreplaceable, and moments in time that you wish you could draw a curtain over and never look upon in memory ever again for as long as you draw breath. And there are people who have held you like angels even from hundreds of miles away, knowing that if they loosen their wings even a fraction, you will fall. That is what Kathleen is and has been for me, and will be for me ever more.
 
 end of part two.

There will be more to come. Peace.

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Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

Note: this entry was originally posted in January. I am reposting parts 1-3 since so much time has passed between those entries and part 4, which I will post tomorrow.

Part One: Young and Seemingly Immortal

This is the story of three friendships, four little girls, and a box of many beautiful dresses.  It spans over two decades, four cities, and touches countless individuals. Two of the key people in this story are gone now, taken too soon by similar circumstances. One was my daughter, and one was my friend. Both live on in the memory of the dresses. This is the story of  lives left in pieces of fabric from those dresses and how one person has pieced the story together with words, and another person has sewn the story together with thread and fabric, and how both have lost sleep, time, and ultimately, pieces of themselves. This is memento mori and memento amor.

This is the tale of how two women have attempted to complete a Viking story that began long ago.

I once had a very dear friend named Pat Swann. Pat had long brown hair and a big smile. Pat and I first met when we were working at our part-time jobs in a steak house in Norfolk, Virginia. She had worked there for a while, and she took me under her wing and helped me out when I first started. She took karate classes in college, and on the night before her wedding, she threw her fiance over her shoulder with one hand. We all laughed until we cried. Pat had the ability to make people laugh effortlessly. She was incredibly intelligent, hard-working, and did not suffer fools gladly.

I was the maid of honor at her wedding, which was a lovely outdoor affair on her in-law’s land, and she reciprocated the honor at my first wedding. I remember that she had just given birth to her first daughter two months before my wedding, and she was worried about how she would look, but she absolutely glowed. And I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else standing beside me on that day.

Before I got married and went to graduate school at Virginia Tech, Pat and I car pooled to Old Dominion University where she was working on dual degrees in German and Education, and I was working on my bachelor’s in English. During these years we became very close, and when I married my first husband, Pat and her husband Winn were among our best friends. My ex-husband used to go running with Winn, and then we would have cookouts at their townhouse in Virginia Beach. We had parties at our small apartment, and Pat and Winn were always there.

When Paul and I moved to northern Virginia for my big corporate job transfer, we made a few friends, one of whom is integral to this story, but Pat and I remained close. So it was only natural that she was very excited when I became pregnant with my first child. She had already had her two daughters, beautiful girls; one looked more like Pat, and one looked more like Win, which is how it often happens in families with more than one child. Pat was tremendously helpful in calming my first-time mother fears, and she donated a lot of things to the cause because Paul and I were really just starting out.

Pat and Winn and their two daughters eventually bought a bigger house in an older suburban area of Virginia Beach, and when we moved back from Alexandria, we continued with our visits and family parties. We bought or own house in the suburbs of Norfolk and settled into our own version of the predictable “American Dream.”

Unfortunately while we were away, Pat had been diagnosed with a brain tumor; luckily, it was operable, and she seemed to bounce back fairly well. I’ll say this about her, she was one of those people who, even though she had a cutting wit, was genuinely cheerful. I remember that she smiled a lot, and she had a chipped tooth right in the front that she never got fixed, even though she could have, because she felt like she wouldn’t be herself if she changed it. That was Pat: unpretentious, genuine.

The first chance we had to visit her after her illness, I brought her a silk scarf to wear where her hair had fallen out. She protested that it was much too fancy for her. Plain cotton bandanas were just fine. After all, she was certain that her hair would grow back, and she was right. Almost all of it did grow back except for a few places near the front. It was darker, but it was there.

After the incident with her tumor, Pat, who had planned to teach full-time once her girls were older, stayed at home for a while, substituting on occasion, and it seemed that she and Winn had a really good life. Of course there were the usual problems for a family of four with one income, but overall, I always looked on them as an incredibly well-suited couple. Pat’s near-fatal experience had seemed to bring them even closer, and for all appearances, they really were a typical family of four living in the suburbs.

white-and-lavendar-smocked-dressWhen Alexis turned around three, Pat brought out all of these lovely dresses that her daughters had worn when they were younger. Most were presents from her mother-in-law. They were beautiful smocked dresses, with lace around the sleeves, and Peter Pan collars. So many dresses in so many colors. Pat offered them to me, and of course, I accepted. I was actually a little naive, though, because it never occurred to me that she might be offering to sell me the dresses, which she was, but I didn’t find that out until much later, and I was chagrined by my thoughtlessness.

Pat, being the generous person that she was, never said anything to me. She just let me take the armload of dresses home. Most looked as if they had only been worn once or twice. They were very feminine dresses, pale greens, pinks, small floral prints with white pinafores. Alexis looked beautiful in them. She always liked to wear dresses and to be dressed up, that is until the second grade when she had an incident on the playground that caused her dress to flip over and her underwear to show. After that, she didn’t want to wear dresses any more. I didn’t find this out until years later.

But as usual, I am digressing.

My mother and I also bought Alexis dresses, even though she didn’t really need them, and my mother-in-law made her some beautiful dresses as well. So by the time I gave birth to Caitlin when Alexis was four, the collection of dresses was really quite overwhelming, and far too much for one little girl. And again, many of them still looked as if they had only been worn once or twice because in fact, they had.

I have so many pictures of Alexis in these different dresses with her long hair, light brown, pulled back with bows, a big smile on her face. We used to have her portrait made at least twice a year so that we could give pictures to all of the family. She was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and it was obvious in how much attention she was paid. She wasn’t a brat, but she was precocious. She was a very petite child, although her birth weight was average. And her coloring favored her father: she was fairer than I, and interestingly, as she got older, we noticed that she had two different eye colors: one was more green, and one was more grey/blue.

Caitlin was her opposite. Eager to be born, I had to go on bedrest with my second pregnancy, and Caitlin arrived three weeks early. She was a bigger baby, and she was born with a head full of almost black hair and dark eyes. She had very chubby arms and legs in comparison to Alexis’s very skinny ones. Like Pat and Winn’s two daughters, ours were opposites: one looking more like her father, and one looking more like her mother, at least in coloring.blue-smocked-dress1

My friend Kathleen came down from northern Virginia for my baby shower for Caitlin, which we had to have at my house because of my bedrest. It was at this shower that I received the cradle that I had really wanted so that I could put my baby girl at the foot of my bed and rock her to sleep at night. Pat was at my shower as well. I remember wearing an electric blue maternity dress that my mother-in-law had made for me. I felt wonderful, very much at peace with myself and the world. I experienced none of the fears I had had with my first pregnancy. In fact, it was probably the most at peace I have ever felt in my entire life.

At the time, both Paul and I worked at the medical school in Norfolk, and everyone in his office gave him a huge baby shower. I remember this because Paul came home with so many presents, including more dresses. I remember this beautiful sleeveless, baby blue one with smocking on the front. Funny the things you remember after so long.

end of part 1

Everything Old is New Again

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Kitty Hawk Sunset (L. Liwag)

The Water of Life

“Eternity begins and ends with the ocean’s tides” (anonymous)

I’ve lived near the ocean for most of my life, so of course, I tend to take it for granted. I remember when I was in graduate school at Virginia Tech, I brought my office mate home with me. She was from Wisconsin and had never seen the ocean, so we made a point of driving her to Virginia Beach to see the coastline. I remember how amazed she was to see the vast expanse of water, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the shoreline, even the seagulls and the sandpipers darting in and out of the water. It was nice for me to see something that I took for granted through the newness of her eyes.

Another time, a friend of mine came into town and wanted to see the Navy ships in person. She had been working on Navy contracts for years, but had never actually seen a real ship. We went on the Naval base and drove by the ships. She was amazed by their size, and fortunately, one of the carriers was in port. Again, living near Naval bases, I have always taken these behemoths for granted. They are quite amazing when seen up close, and she was very impressed to see something that she had only seen in pictures on the contracts for which she had been working for several years.

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By the Sea (L. Liwag)

Nothing ever makes you look at your surroundings better than when you have the chance to introduce them to someone new. I remember the first time that I took Corey to the Outer Banks with the boys when they were much younger. We climbed the big dune and watched people hang gliding. Even though I had been there before, it was a new experience because I was there with Corey and the boys, and it was really wonderful. It was one of the first trips that we took together, the four of us, and we had such a terrific time. The Outer Banks are only about an hour and a half from Norfolk (depending upon traffic), so it makes for an easy day trip.

On the way to Kitty Hawk and Hatteras, there are several farmer’s markets, which makes the trip even better, especially if it’s the season for ripe peaches. Once in Kitty Hawk, visitors can go to the Wright Brothers Memorial, which is what we did on that first trip together. We also visited the Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s nice to be a tourist once in a while, because I had never visited these places before, so it was brand new for me too. Corey, the boys and I made several more day trips to the Outer Banks on the spur of the moment, and we always enjoyed ourselves immensely.

I remember another trip that I took to the Outer Banks in October, a long time ago, and it was an Indian summer weekend, absolutely beautiful—high 70’s during the day, mid 50’s at night, beautiful sunsets. I was having one of those bad falls, and the trip really rejuvenated me. There were no tourists around, so we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. Nothing is more calming than the beach in the fall and winter. It’s my favorite time to walk on the beach because hardly anyone is around. If you get up around dawn, the sunrises are spectacular, and the only sounds you hear are the birds.

I have always said that if I had the money and the opportunity, I would have two houses: one in the mountains and one at the beach. I would not necessarily spend time at the beach house in the summer. More than likely, I would spend more time at the beach house in the spring and fall when fewer people are around, when the beach is still home to locals, walking their dogs, and strolling in the surf at sunrise and sundown.

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Adirondack Chairs (L. Liwag)

The beach in the winter has always struck me as the perfect place in which to write, but never having had a house on the beach, I wouldn’t know. I think that looking out on the water would provide a glorious backdrop for creative thinking. I have a few CD’s that have sounds of the ocean that I have used for meditation before, and they are very relaxing. In those two hankie movies, it seems that the setting is always a beach house with empty Adirondack chairs. I wonder why . . .

I still have dreams of moving to the islands one day and keeping a home in the mountains. I know that with the economy the way that it is, the probability of this ever happening is growing more remote with every passing day. Besides, what would I do in the islands anyway?

I had originally thought that I might like to open a book shop. After all, there really aren’t very many book stores in the islands. I think that Grand Cayman got a book store, but a small shop near where the cruise ships dock would probably do fairly well, but the more I thought about it, the more that it seemed like work. I still like the idea of opening a small bar right on the beach. Since I don’t drink, this would probably work out for me.

I could sell cold cervezas from a bucket to tourists. It wouldn’t be hard work, and I could sit under an umbrella. More than likely, though, if I ever do make it to the islands, I would just sit under an umbrella with a laptop and write, which sounds like a much better idea. I have no grand designs. Corey can work out of just about any port. The boys will be in college. I don’t think that the dogs will mind where we go. Tillie will like the beach and the water. The polar bear might not be agreeable to it, though.

Who knows? Landscapes change. The ways in which we view them change as well. We see them with different eyes each time we look at them anew, depending upon the circumstances. I just know that I am no longer anxious to spend my life in a place in which people drive Hummers through the suburbs, trample people to death in Wal Marts, shoot each other in Toys R Us, market Botox for women in their 30’s, think nothing of talking about trillions of dollars as if it were Monopoly money, promote DVDs of young college aged females getting drunk and taking off their clothes while obviously too impaired to know what they are doing, and on and on and on and on.

Sorry, don’t let me rain on your parade, but my Obama Hope high has worn off, and I’m deep into my What’s Wrong With These People phase, precipitated by the madness of a Utah state senator wanting to mandate that stores say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” because “this is a Christian nation,” let’s not even begin to discuss just the Jewish population that he is ignoring not to mention every other religion, the horror of Black Friday, and the inflatable lawn ornaments that have sprung up all over my neighborhood.

I think that I need to go lie down with a good book. More later. Peace.

Wait a Minute, Haven’t We Seen Him Before?

Best Seen, Heard, and Read

Hampton Roads Talks About Race Before Virginia Beach Rally

I thought that this was an interesting extra piece that The Virginian-Pilot did in the long wait before Senator Obama took the stage at his appearance in Virginia Beach yesterday. For me, his race has always just been an afterthought, truthfully. I have always been drawn to his intelligence, his insight, and his abilities as a speaker. Even though he is not as experienced as some of the other Democrats he faced, I believe that his other qualities will serve him well. The fact that he happens to be half black is about as meaningful to me as the fact that I am half Filipino. Oh well.

However, I do not kid myself. I realize that I am not like most people, or some people or a lot of people. But it was nice to see this piece, so I thought that I would share it with you. 

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Just a Funny Aside

Last night, a phone number showed up on the caller ID that looked vaguely familiar, so I answered it. Turns out it was someone from the Barack Obama Headquarters wanting to speak with Corey to see if he wanted to volunteer his time. I politely told the woman that he already volunteered his time and that, in fact, we both did and that we would be in the following evening to work the phones. Corey said, “what do you want to bet she calls back and wants to speak to you?” About a minute later the phone rings, and sure enough, same thing. I said, “Hi. Just talked to you. We’ll both be in tomorrow night.”

I know that it’s not nice to screw around with phone bank people, but really, it was during the beginning of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” so you understand.

Joe the Plumber, Again?

I really didn’t think this guy would have a shelf-life of more than a couple of days, but it seems that Sarah Palin isn’t the only one with pit bull tendencies. I almost felt sorry for John McCain yesterday when he called out for Joe the Plumber, and the bald-headed nonplumber didn’t respond from the crowd. I said almost.

Seems someone forgot to let Joe know that he was supposed to be there. He was probably at home shaving his head. Personally, I think that he’s losing some brain cells every time he cleans that dome because he certainly isn’t getting any smarter with each appearance, but that’s just my opinion.

Seems Joe has gotten himself a publicist, is looking for a book deal,* a country record deal, and has absolutely no qualms about answering off-the-cuff political policy questions on camera. I’m sorry, but perhaps everyone else knows something about this man that I don’t. When he first arrived mise en scène, McCain heralded him as an everyman (21 times an everyman) who would be devastated by Obama’s tax plan and be unable to buy the business he so wanted to buy. Well a reveal of the facts showed that Samuel J. Wurzelbacher never had the money to buy any business and, in fact, would benefit from Obama’s tax plan.

Never let a fact stop McCain. He has trotted Joe the Plumber around the nation, and JTP has eagerly joined the campaign trail, and now, like Palin, answers his own questions sans handlers. Take this exchange in Ohio just a few days ago: A Jewish McCain supporter asked him during an election rally in Ohio if he believed that ‘a vote for Obama is a vote for the death of Israel.’ JTP replied: “I’ll go ahead and agree with you on that.” In response to Joe’s insightful commentary, the McCain campaign issued a statement saying “while he’s clearly his own man, so far Joe has offered some penetrating and clear analysis that cuts to the core of many of the concerns that people have with Barack Obama’s statements and policies” (Haaretz.com).

They’re kidding, right? They’re not kidding? Holy smokes, Batman. Someone needs to send out the Bat signal because Gotham has gone bonkers. Relying on the “penetrating and clear analysis” of Joe the Plumber”? I think that Bill Kristol may have had something when he suggested (strongly) that McCain fire his campaign. Well, at least someone at Fox (yes Fox) skewered Joe the Plumber for his nincompoop comments. Shepard Smith, in what turned out to be one of the best “you’ve gotta be kidding me” moments of the campaign hammered the pseudo plumber, and then finally gave up and closed the interview with a disclaimer. I won’t even try to summarize because it’s something best viewed in person:

 

 

On that note, more later. Peace.

*By the way, what to you want to bet JTP does get a book deal, and the rest of us working writers keep struggling for years just to get noticed? Ah, the ironies of life . . .