Tag Archives: friendship

Of Hats and Flasks and Hearts Tied Up with String

I heard them before I saw them. A murmured, “Dad, there’s Denise.” It didn’t register. I continued to stare blankly at a rack of men’s crewneck sweatshirts. I was in Target, and my youngest son was shopping. He’d been trying on knitted hats in there for the better part of two decades, maybe three, I don’t know. I’d lost track of time. So. Many. Hats. I felt desolate, saw only darkness. Would’ve shot off a flare if I’d had one handy. It was a bleak and humorless existence. I had to pee, and my feet had swelled from standing so long. I was cursing myself for having never gotten into the habit of sporting a hip flask. Every hat looked the same; I could’ve sworn he was fucking with me. Just as I felt myself slip further into the maw of boredom, I heard them calling my name. Repeatedly. Pulling me back from the point of no return. Dazed, I looked up.

There they were, CAF’s family. It was a shock, and I gasped. Loudly. Embarrassingly. The kind of gasp you see a heroine in a shitty movie do. Oh, why don’t I carry a flask? CAF’s widower and her eldest child were smiling broadly at me. It felt like old times, kind of… Yet, what was this? There, hidden just slightly out of view, was her youngest. There was the boy who was too young to remember the catastrophic Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection in CAF – the event that began the end of her life. This had not been my first time seeing the family. At the end of August, CAF’s widower and her eldest son showed up at a memorial service for a family member of my husband’s. It was kind of them to come, but as I hadn’t expected them nor seen them in years, and as I was at a memorial service, it became too much. I burst into tears and ran outside. My sons were quickly behind me, making sure all was well. It wasn’t, and I felt fragile, like my heart, badly tied up with string, just had its knot come undone.

This time was different. It was friendlier, happier, and because her youngest boy was there. He didn’t remember me, and most likely no longer remembers his mother – but oh! how darling he was! His face, so like hers – only in miniature. I asked if I could hug him. His father said yes; the boy remained quiet but gave me a gentle squeeze back – more out of politeness than anything else. He was painfully shy, as anyone would be who’s lived through what he has. He didn’t look at me accusatorially, none of them did. I suppose it’s just me. All I felt was guilt; the self-whispers of “murderer” and “killer” going round in my head. Her children never denounced me – never pointed at me and asked, “WHY DID YOU KILL OUR MOTHER?! WHY?!”

I’m sure it was later explained to the wee one that I was his mother’s closest friend. That I was the there the day she passed, the one who held her hand as she died. Hopefully it was not explained that I had to be the one to convince his father to pull life support…

Seeing CAF’s husband is getting easier, and I’m glad her eldest boy remembered me. I still haven’t seen her daughter, who supposedly looks and acts just like CAF. I don’t know whether she’d remember me. They are a beautiful family, and I’m glad to see them happy. I hope at some point to put this all behind me, but for now, it’s just pain and self-recrimination. Whether my part in this all was “merciful” or not, it left its mark – one I’ll never heal from.

Last night as I decorated the interior of my house for the holidays, I came across several Christmas pieces CAF had given me over the years. Strangely, 3 of them are angels. I cry every year…

Ho, ho, fucking ho.

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Ushering Ants

The other day I came up the hall to find a line of ants marching at eye-level on the wall in the foyer. As there is neither food nor water in the foyer, I found this interesting. They came in under the front door, crawled up the closet, moseyed around the corner to some shelves, turned around and left. This went on for a day or two – with me cautioning my family to “Watch out for the ants! Don’t lean on the wall, you might squash one!” This was met with the usual “Uh huh.”

One night as I came up the hall, I stopped and watched their journey. Something about the procession was soothing – the way the ones coming greeted those who were leaving. My husband walked up behind me and muttered, “Would you like me to get you an ant farm? Then you can watch them all the time – and they won’t be loose – in our house.”

It didn’t bother me that the ants were loose, because I knew they’d do what ants always do – leave. There was no reason to be alarmed or kill them – and it was certainly not an infestation. It was only about 20 of the wee fellows – coming and going.

For those of you who know me, the fact I allowed the ants to come and go as they pleased will not surprise you. For those who don’t know me, I’ll explain. I’m vegetarian. I kill nothing. I’m kind and compassionate to everything — even people who hurt me and (as I’m told) “don’t deserve kindness or compassion… or your friendship – because they’re playing games with you, they’re cowardly, and they’re an asshole.” 

Today I woke to find 3 ants aimlessly wandering the kitchen tiles. These I had to usher out. Not for my sake, mind you, but theirs. That’s a dangerous place to wander – a lot more risk of being smashed than when they’re eye-level on a wall. I didn’t want that on my conscience. I put each of them outside to join a line of ants marching by my rose and wisteria bushes. There was much antennae-waving before they got in line and crawled up the branches with the rest of their cohorts. It made me smile, that welcoming back into the fold – like old friends reuniting.

I often find beauty and smiles in places others don’t. But lately I’ve not seen a lot of beauty or smiles. And lately I’m the ant wandering out in the open on the kitchen tiles – exposed, vulnerable – with people and forces coming along trying to smash me. The past few weeks have been especially hard. The day after my return from a glorious birthday trip to NYC, we unexpectedly lost a family member. It was devastating – and it fell to me to tell my children and husband. The grief overwhelmed. To add to this, the following week, I had to put our beloved dog down. She had been part of our family since 1997. This was all so much death – so much grief, in so short a time. I needed to unplug and get away from people – especially those who didn’t have my best interests at heart. I needed to talk to real friends – old friends – the ones who’d always be with me, no matter what. These friends hurt when I hurt – and I’m hurting now. They’ve been kind enough to get behind me, trying to usher me on, and when I rise slowly to the surface again, I know I’ll be greeted with much antennae-waving by them. I’m blessed.

Waiting.

It was 7 years ago today that I took her life. In so many ways it seems like it was just yesterday. I can practically smell the sterilized hospital. Hear the click of shoes, the hum of voices. Feel the resignation in the room. I still have the lump in my throat and the heavy weight on my heart. The heart is such a weak little organ, after all.

I know exactly where I was at this moment that day. What I was doing. Can retrace my steps from the moment I woke up. It’s funny because usually I’m such a dumbass, I can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, if I had anything. But that day, and my actions, and their effect are indelibly etched in my brain. The doctors buzzed about. The nurses swarmed. And I waited. Waited for the end to come. Waited for yet another thing to make me feel like a piece of shit.

I seem to wait for things a lot – I’ve realized that in the last 7 years. I have done a bit of growing. I know I spend far too much time dwelling on the past. But I also spend too much time waiting.

I wait for people – even ones not worth waiting for.

I wait for literary agents to respond to queries about my manuscript.

I wait for my sudden longings to put fingers to keyboard or brush to canvas and create. 

I wait for calls, texts, emails.

I wait at traffic lights.

I wait for the dermatologist to tell me I have skin cancer. Again.

I wait to catch a glimpse of my sweet boy on campus before he spots me and heads to my car.

I wait for my eldest to come home from college, so I can hold him close and see him tucked safely in bed at night.

But today I only wait for that fateful hour to start, where I can count down the 38 minutes it took for me to watch my friend die. How unlucky was she at the end – alone, but for me in the room? We waited together.

Heart Fail-her

When I met her in high school, she was the freckled girl with the broad smile and convertible red Mercedes – always fun and lively. I had no idea that before my 40th birthday, I’d take her life.

In school she was a grade younger than me. We met when my friend Wendy brought her into our fold. It was a wild night, one Millicent and I both remember… CAF, as I’ll call her, handled our teen girl craziness with aplomb.

After high school, when most of my friends went away to college, CAF and I remained in San Diego to study. We hung out quite a bit and, one fateful night, met the two men we’d eventually marry. They were best friends. This could, on occasion, be a real pain in the ass.

Five years before CAF gave birth to her first child, I had mine. CAF and her husband were (for the most part) supportive of this change in group dynamics.

Three months after CAF became pregnant with her first child, I became pregnant with my second. It was nice to go through it together. CAF went on to have two more children. It was shortly after the birth of her third that our lives were forever altered.

I was at the office. I worked full-time back then. I was Director of Administration for a real estate development firm here in San Diego. The call came through from my husband saying CAF was in the hospital. She’d had a heart attack. As CAF was a year and a half younger than me, I had a hard time believing this. She was 33. She’d been taken to the hospital closest to her house. I rushed there and heard the impossible news: Not only had she suffered a heart attack but the hospital (once they’d harvested her artery) realized they were way out of their league. They needed to ship her to a hospital that specialized in her type of rare cases. Rare cases?! We were baffled.

It turns out CAF suffered what is called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, a rare condition that occurs after the birth of several children. This was three months after the birth of her last child. All arteries leading to the entire left side of her heart were shredded. She had also suffered a stroke.

She was flown to a sister hospital, which was unable to do more than poke at her. They, too, were out of their league. Next she was flown downtown. We all drove down separately, a somber, disbelieving group. After many hours, they came out to tell us that they’d put CAF into a medically induced coma. They would put an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) in to replace the left side of her heart. We could go in and see her if we wished. I waited until her husband had already left the room before I went in. CAF was suddenly the Bionic Woman, lying there with a metal rod sticking out of her head, and her entire chest cavity cut open, covered only by what appeared to be Saran Wrap. This image still haunts me. I saw the inner workings of the human body. I wish I could forget it.

Because she was a strong woman, she came through that all right and was put on the heart transplant list. In the years she had with us post-LVAD, she learned to adapt to life with the heavy outer battery pack strapped to her waist. The thing weighed 4 pounds and the power cord went in through a hole in her side. We always had to carry a spare battery when we left the house in case of emergencies. At night CAF was plugged into a power source, not the batteries. CAF forever wore the scars of her trauma, a slice from her neck all the way down to her left foot. When I’d remark on how brave or strong she was, she’d say she was just grateful to be able to raise her children, to get to know her baby and have him know his mommy…

The rhythmic ‘whoosh whoosh whoosh’ of her blood being pumped by the LVAD was jarring at first but then became a pleasant aspect of life with CAF. We made plans to celebrate our 40th birthdays in Paris. Just us two. It was something to cling to. CAF was a brilliant interior decorator and her house was always ready for Architectural Digest. Whereas mine looked like a bomb had exploded… Sometimes she’d remark upon this but not with as much frequency as she had before her LVAD. Perhaps we both realized what was important?

CAF and I routinely hung out, as usual. Dinners, drinks, movies, shopping. If it wasn’t just us, it was my family of four and her family of five. This would be the last time my husband and I would share similar friends.

One day years later, the call came that CAF had been put in hospital with severe pain. When I called to check up on her, she said she had been in pain and feverish for a few weeks but waited until her insurance could cover it before going into the hospital. She couldn’t afford to go sooner… By then, her appendix had burst, blowing away a good part of her intestines. This was indeed a setback. Her pain and fever increased. They loaded her up on antibiotics to make sure bacteria wouldn’t affect her heart. After testing the appendix, they found something alarming: it was riddled with cancer. She couldn’t catch a break. They needed to take her off the heart transplant list now that she had this disease. It had spread to her lymph nodes and, as such, she would now be incapable of taking the immunosuppressant necessary to prepare her for a transplant. Had she taken the medicine, the cancer would have run riot. As it was, the cancer was a wait-and-see measure. This particular kind goes away when the affected host organ is removed. And so it did.

It was several years later that CAF suffered a massive stroke. She was wheelchair bound and needed to learn to speak and eat all over again. She would grow frustrated, as you can imagine, yet still had a twinkle in her eye when we’d sit and watch movies together. She was still in there. She lost energy quickly, however, and I guess I didn’t want to think that another stroke was imminent. Months later, it came.

There were no more cognitive moments for CAF. She’d suffered this stroke while asleep. It was one of her children who’d found her. CAF had always doted on her children. That it was one of them who discovered her makes the story that much more brutal. Every day for weeks (maybe a month? maybe more?), I’d go down to the hospital, Red Bull in hand, and sit for hours at her bedside. Sometimes her husband was there, sometimes he’d just left. When we’d pass, he was always positive. He believed each day that CAF had blinked in response to something he’d said or squeezed his hand. This always puzzled me as I never got responses. Never.

One day as I was leaving, I was waylaid in the corridor by a nurse and the lead cardiologist. They explained the facts: CAF was brain-dead. She wasn’t in there anymore. They’d tried explaining to her husband but he wouldn’t listen. He clung to the belief that he’d have his wife and the mother of his very young children back. According to her medical team, she would never come back, and he needed to pull her life support and move on. Could I please explain that to him? they asked. I said, “No. I’m vegetarian. I don’t even kill ants or gnats.” I wouldn’t be the one to tell him he needed to kill his wife. I wouldn’t tell him he had to kill my friend. They, however, were adamant. I was the only one they could prevail upon, the only one he’d listen to. CAF’s biological family was scattered and didn’t get on with her husband.  They stopped coming after the first day. They knew what we’d failed to acknowledge. There was no coming back. And his family seldom came to the hospital. It was just the two of us every day.

On the agreed upon date, I brought CAF’s husband into the hospital conference room to meet the team of cardiologists, neurosurgeons and neurologists. There they explained the facts to him. He turned to me in a state of denial and I did what needed to be done. He took my advice. I felt like the Grim Reaper.

Days leading up to it, he’d bring the 3 kids in to “Say bye to mommy.” It was horrible to witness. On the 3rd day of this trauma, the head on a ceramic angel sitting on a nearby table fell off of its own accord, rolled across the tabletop and hit the floor. I told him then it was enough. Just pick a damn day and stop bringing the kids in! They’d said their goodbyes. They needn’t be permanently scarred anymore than necessary.

It was decided we wouldn’t let her go on Memorial Day because he’d always remember that. He chose June 1st. We went and picked out her coffin together. We picked out her plot together. It was very near her mom’s…

The day dawned brutally hot. I remember worrying about after school care for my kids as I drove to the hospital. Who’d watch them? I knew I’d be in no shape to care for them. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. Friends and family are exceptionally kind in circumstances such as this. CAF’s husband was there waiting for me along with his mother. No one from CAF’s family was there. The doctors came in, the nurses were unobtrusive. The machine was turned off, stopping the rhythmic ‘whoosh whoosh whoosh’ that had been such a part of our lives for years. It took about two minutes before CAF’s husband fled. The sounds of her body gasping was more than he could bear. His mother ran out to care for him. I continued to sit there, holding her hand and talking to her in my stupid inconsequential way that I’d always done. Blathering away. Saying nothing of import. I told her I was sorry that I’d done this to her. I told her I loved her. And I told her I’d wait a good while in the room after she’d gone so she’d know I was there. When I looked up, I realized even the nurses had fled. I was alone. It took a long time…

I came home, went to my room, drank four beers in rapid succession, and fielded texts and calls from my best friends. By the time Andy phoned, I was fairly incoherent. I get the feeling he’d been rehearsing his comfort speech all day, bless him. It didn’t help but whenever I think of that day, I think of him trying so hard to spare me what I wouldn’t spare myself. What I still haven’t. I think of him standing in the hallway outside a convention in Las Vegas telling me I did a good thing. If anyone could get through to me, it would have been him. It didn’t work. I haven’t been the same since that day, as you can imagine. I refer to it as “The Day I Killed CAF”. I think of it in no other way than I killed her. I convinced her husband to do it and I alone remained to watch her final gasp. I figure when I make it to the other side, the enormity of my transgression will be too great to get me a pardon. I’ll have to come back in my next life as a downtrodden soul… Or perhaps a factory farm animal.

I think I’ve referenced the memorial service for CAF in another blog post on here. It is one of the few times I can honestly say I was proud of myself. There were well over 100 people in attendance at the church, CAF was very loved and respected for not only her interior design work but also for having fought so hard for so long. I stood before them and talked about my friend. I dug my fingernails into my palms to prevent myself from crying, and I concentrated on the lovely caws coming from the crows just outside the door. People still remark on how I stood there tear-free. They’ve no idea how those crows saved me.

I was talking with Wendy and Millicent this morning on Facebook about our old fun times. It made me cringe, reminding me of my deed. CAF’s birthday is fast approaching. I never do well this time of year. I need to go visit her grave but the thought of doing so makes me physically sick. And it’s worse because I’m the only one who does visit. Two years after her death, it had to be me that reported to the maintenance crew that her grave had started to slide down the hill due to heavy winter rains. I haven’t been out there in years. I know I should go…

One of the things I’d told CAF as she passed was that I’d make sure her children were all right. I failed her in that as much as I failed her as a friend. Thankfully, my assistance wasn’t needed for more than 3 or 4 months after her death. CAF’s husband met a charming woman with 4 kids and they were married soon after. I like to think CAF played a part in that. The family continues to do well.

My guilt remains.

Stumbling, Fumbling Towards Perspective

I’ll let you in on a little secret; I don’t always like being right.

There are moments when I relish it, of course. Those tend to be when The Husband and I have had a discussion about something, and the following day I bring it up and he doesn’t remember ever having spoken to me about it. Whereas I can sit there and tell  him in no uncertain terms where we were standing, who was wearing what, what commercial was blaring in the background, and even what direction the goldfish were swimming, he will not recall the conversation. He’ll stare vacantly and shake his head. As I start to squawk and gesticulate wildly, all pretense of patience flying the coop, he’ll remain mild-mannered and somewhat curious about the floor show I’m putting on. When he eventually relents (out of a desire for peace, not a sudden flash of memory), I count it as a little victory. Go me.

But I digress. The times where I wish I hadn’t been right, those are onerous little buggers. I don’t relish those moments. I don’t toss them into my mental Rolodex of woohoos! They are the sad sighs, the hunched shoulders, the rapid texts to friends – in other words, signs of the forlorn. They are more painful – and vexatious to the extreme. I’m a pessimist, I know this will come as a stunning blow to those of you who have never read more than a few lines of my writing, or who have never met me in person… I have always been a pessimist, and, one day, I will die still having been a pessimist. The glass is half empty, and it’s fucking ugly, too.

Again, I digress. A few months back, as I do, I predicted a couple things would happen. I wasn’t looking forward to these events – they weren’t celebratory, like the “epic collapse” of the Red Sox this year. No, I just felt they were inevitable, and, in my Eeyore-esque fashion, predicted their dismal arrival. One of the issues was part of a cycle, a cycle I had continuously fed into. It’s one of my many flaws, feeding into cycles. In January of 2009, I put a stop to feeding into one. I have not relented. I’m quite proud of myself (quick, make a note that I said that). I won’t lie. It hasn’t been easy. Many times I have longed to continue the binge feeding of that particular cycle – but enough was enough.

This time, the same is true. I’ve reached a saturation point. This will not continue. I have sought and found perspective. I know, that sounds so lofty, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t an easy find, mind you. Nothing with me ever is. It was rather a clumsy meandering.  I sort of tripped and landed painfully on top of perspective. But that bitch is mine now. At least this cycle stops here.

The other issue? That’ll take work. I’m great at work though. I like having that purpose, that thing to strive towards. A goal, as enticing as a box of Godiva truffles after a month-long diet. It’s a renewed sense of me and my capabilities.

In the end, being emotionally and mentally cruel to yourself is counterproductive for the whole growing and learning thing which constitutes our lives. Yes, yes, yes, I’ve heard. It’s also cruelty if you allow others to dump their problems on you. You’ve got to stop it. It’s not about who said what, or who did what. It’s about how much more you’re going to take before you’ve reached your saturation point. It’s about cutting the bullshit out of your life – and the bullshitters. Huddle and cuddle with those who’ll help you burrow into your soul. Those who’ll tolerate your silly little ways and love you just the way you are. Ditch the haters. Wish them luck and then back the fuck away from them. We’re all on a little march towards enlightenment. I’ve decided I’m only going to march with those who don’t give me flat tires along the way.

Here, Take My Shoulder. I Have 2

You know that moment (or moments) in your life when you feel you just can’t take any more bad news or bad luck? You’ve hit the wall? You’ve had enough? You’ve reached your bullshit-threshold? You have actually thought of crotch-punching the next person who smiles at you?

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there – I’m pretty sure. People who haven’t must have an extraordinary amount of patience or good luck; perhaps a combination of both. I don’t even know the meaning of those words. I get road rage and have been known to honk furiously if the person in front of me is too busy fluffing her hair to notice the light’s turned green. MOVE YOUR ASS!

In any event, I’ve had many instances in my life when I just wished the world would swallow me up. When I longed to dig a hole and bury myself – which, actually, is impossible – I’d have to ask for help and I’ve no friends willing to bury me.  That’s what this post is about.

“If you could pick one flaw of mine that you think I should fix, what would it be?” I asked that in a handwritten survey I gave to my closest friends in high school. The only response that has stuck with me all these years came from my friend Annie, who replied with, “You’re too quick to temper.” I don’t remember any of the other ones. Not one. Hers I thought was hilarious. I’m pretty sure I disregarded the rest. I didn’t like to be told I had no self-esteem. Oh, yeah? The sky is blue, the grass is green, blah blah blah. But this? Fantastic. I have a temper? Not just a temper but a QUICK temper. What can I say? 1/2 German + 1/2 Italian = 1 Hothead

At that age I had already developed the habit of wanting to fix certain flaws in my make-up but was unable to figure out just what it was that needed fixing or how to go about doing so. I relied on my friends – and such wonderful friends they are. Over the years, I have witnessed death and dying. I came to a point where I dubbed myself The Grim Reaper. And, like all humans, I have experienced crushing heartache. Yet it was my collection of friends who have repeatedly picked me up, held me aloft, and propelled me forward – as I do for them.

Friendships that we cultivate in our lives are crucial to our emotional (and physical) well-being. I have discussed this before.  It’s healthier to reach out, socialize, lean on the shoulders of ones who love you than to bottle it up and cope on your own. Everyone knows this. Yet sometimes it’s easier to crawl into your shell, dig a hole and hide. I know. I’m the crawler/digger/hider type. My friends new and old? They’re the phoning, emailing, texting, show-up-on-your-doorstep-because-you-ignored-their-calls type, and I love them to bits. They are too marvelous for words.

My point is, if you’re going through something, reach out. Your friends are there and want to help. It is our empathy towards others that makes us astounding beings – this empathy we so conveniently use to put ourselves above the animal kingdom, while overlooking examples of compassion from within it. Every being with a normal sense of compassion wants to ease the suffering of those around it. Sometimes you can’t. All you can do is lend them an ear and some strength. Be there until they can get through the moment, break through the bubble of their misery and realize, outside it, there’s a whole world of possibilities. You never know when one gesture of yours would a difference.

“Pushing Jelly Up a Hill”

“If you find it that horrible to do paintings for other people, why don’t you ever do any for you?”

I don’t recall saying I found it horrible. I may have said I found myself horrible during the process of painting a gift for someone. There’s the added pressure (self-imposed) of making sure you’re not handing over something that will insult the other person. “Here, it’s your birthday, have this ugly purple blob of paint.” Wouldn’t it be awful to see the look upon their faces as they think, “Um, what the fuck?” Not that any of my friends would behave that way, it’s just the way my mind works. It’s part of my damaged bits.

OK, fine, I may slightly recall saying I found it horrible… But by the same token, I don’t care to do any for myself. I began one last year that I haven’t touched in at least six months. It’s a large monstrosity that keeps getting moved about my house because my college son needs the space in his room when he visits, and, in my infinite wisdom, I chose to begin a painting that’s massive. The canvas is behind me as I type this – shouting, “You’re a bit of a failure as a painter, too!”

My last painting was a gift. I had written about it previously.  I finally completed it, and, stupidly cut it close. I’d decided I would hand-deliver it to my friend when I met her in NYC last month. The problem began when I decided this shortly before my trip. As it was oil, with thick strokes, it took that much longer to dry. The subject was a beloved pet, and, as such, it should actually resemble the creature. You can’t fudge something like you can when it’s a landscape. The eyes kind of need to go in the proper spot. Bushes? Meh, you can move those around. Eyes? Not so much. Days before I was to leave, I decided the bird’s beak wasn’t quite right, so I picked up the painting, and stuck my finger directly into his wing feathers. What? Why were they still wet? NIGHTMARE! I won’t go into details but by the time I got done messing with the bird’s beak, the painting sat on the floor in my room with direct sunlight and a fan blaring down on it for days.

It all worked out in the end – which is such a rare occurrence for me. I packed it in a shoe box and, days later, had the extreme pleasure for only the third time in my life of hand-delivering one of my paintings.

So why, then, don’t I paint more? I’d imagine for the same reason I don’t work on my manuscripts more. I begin, see my work, get disgusted, and stop. When I paint for others, it has a purpose. To please them. To let them know for that amount of time I was thinking of them, they’re important to me, and I’m grateful to be a tiny part of their lives.

This large canvas behind me is for me. It seems like a strange gesture to paint something for me. What is the point of letting me know I was thinking of me when I spend far too much of my time contemplating me as it is? It’s absurd, when you think about it. I’m not too terribly grateful to be a part of my life.

Oh, don’t worry. I’ll finish the canvas because I feel it’s important for my boys to see that their mother is capable of finishing things still. The first manuscript that took 5 years (the one resting comfortably with my agent?) hasn’t completely broken me.

I’ll finish the painting because I want my youngest son to have a reminder of our wonderful Scotland trip.

I’ll finish the goddamn thing so I have a piece to hang in that weird half-wall space in my living room.

I’ll finish the bloody canvas because  I don’t want my Del Mar painting (which is everybody’s favorite) to be my last big work. It touches me that so many of my friends like that one. It’s the most important piece I’ve ever done. Completed and shipped in 2009, it was the one I had most wanted to hand-deliver. Ironically, the person who always droned on about how I needed to “compartmentalize” and how getting me to do so was a bit like pushing jelly up a hill, would be proud to know I’ve succeeded in some small measure since that day. You see, I no longer have anything to compartmentalize. My compartments are empty. Clearly, the only time I’ve ever traveled light…

I will finish this fucking painting so I have something to stuff in one of my compartments, how’s that?

Impenetrable

And so it passed:

The birthday of the friend I watched die. It was last week. I didn’t go to her grave this year. I’ve stopped doing that. The last time I’d gone, her grave had slid down the hill because of torrential rains. I had to report that to the office there at the cemetery. Of course it would be me. Her own family doesn’t visit her grave.

And so it passed:

Without me shedding a tear. I think my son expected it. He watched me a few times that day waiting for that or for me to withdraw into myself. I didn’t. I had an art project, a gift, that was occupying my time. I was busy agonizing whether the portrait I was doing actually looked like this person it was meant to or whether it looked like I painted it with my toes whilst high on crack. That was easier to focus on than to remember the shuddering sounds of a body shutting down against its will. It’s a long process, that shutting down.

And so it passed:

Without me thinking about going in day after day, week after week, to sit there and watch as her husband deluded himself into believing that her eyes were much more lively that day. Couldn’t I see it? Look, she’s responding.

And so it passed:

Without me thinking about those three beautiful children coming in a few days in a row to “say goodbye to Mommy.” The head that had previously resided on the ceramic angel on the table there suddenly snapped off on its own and rolled across the surface and onto the floor during that final goodbye. It needed to be done. And soon.

And so it passed:

Without me dwelling on how those three beautiful children will not remember how warm, funny, gracious and talented their mother was. How much she loved and doted on them.

And so it passed:

Without me damning myself for being there. For being the only one there. For having the courage to remain while everyone else crumbled and left her alone in that room to take her last breath. No one deserves to die alone – let alone someone you love. It’s a final gift to remain there with them.

And so this too shall pass:

My friend told me a few days ago that I’ve done “a damn good job” of “freezing” chambers of my heart, one by one. That I’m in danger of becoming numb. I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about. He’s English. He can’t help it. All I know is that her birthday passed and next week another anniversary of sorts will pass. A time when I walked away from a friendship that cost me more to be in than it gave in return. I gave a final gift then, too. A painting. With the humor the universe possesses, this painting seems to be everyone’s favorite in my catalog of work. No. I won’t make you one. Next week, as my friend says, I shall be “impenetrable.” And he says this with no sense of irony. Personally I think he’s full of crap. I passed a dead bunny in the road yesterday and it made me weep. Poor little fuzz ball.

Forever Friends

Years ago, when my friend was still alive and on a Left Ventricular Assist Device, a study came out saying women need to have regular time with their friends. That it’s healthier for them. This is nothing against spending time with their significant other, just that they need their friends. To laugh with. To share with. The study showed that women who regularly spent time with their friends had lower blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. Therefore, she and I needed to go out more often!

After her 2nd big stroke, when she was learning things all over again, I would go to her house and bring DVDs. It didn’t count as “going out” anymore but it was still girl time and, it mattered. Her husband knew it did. He’d bring us food and beer and then he’d wander off to care for the kids while we sat, giggled, and yammered about how horrible the movie was. I have a book she gave me a few years earlier of quotes of friendship. We’d been friends since 10th grade. On the opening page she wrote, “For my forever friend. Thank you.” Four years on I’d be the only one in the room as they unplugged her life support.

Women are emotional creatures. I tell that to my sons all the time. This is usually after I’ve burst into tears about something they consider so slight that they’re now staring at me as if I’ve gone mad. Women need other women if just to have them tell us, “That’s what I do!” Our friendships mean much more than just someone to go shopping with. For many of us, your friends were there with you through grade school (think roller skates, clip-on bears, and Dittos for you aging ladies like me), middle school (wooden clogs!), high school (Madonna…), and college (finally getting to drink – legally!). Your friendships last from school crushes to divorces. Your friends are your friends, no matter what. No matter how much she hates your significant other, she’ll still be your friend, and she’ll be there to help you put your life back together again when your relationships, finances, or physical health crumbles.

Time with your friends gets more precious as you get older. You get married, you have kids, you move away. But one things remains the same, your friends are there for you. Whether via text, telephone, email, Skype! They’re there. No matter how crappy things are. Women need other women to socialize with – particularly during times of stress. According to the study (seen here ), our brains react to stress differently than our male counterparts. “It seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

So, pick up that phone and schedule some time with your friends this weekend. Tell your significant other it’s for your own health. If they don’t like it, have them drop me a line…

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” ~ Aristotle

Chivalry is Alive and Well…and Living in Scotland?

I know, I know. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re already aware that I have a certain partiality towards Scotland. However, I’ve a tale to back me up.

Three years ago I took my youngest child with me to Britain. He’d always wanted to go and, as he pointed out to me several times, his older brother had already been there with me twice. This fact galled him and clearly (according to him) smacked of favoritism. Well, naturally, I felt a need to return and what better use of our mileage awards than a San Diego – New York – London – Glasgow – London – Los Angeles – San Diego series of free flights?

I should mention here that I hate flying. Hate. It scares the hell out of me.

That night as we flew, I watched our progress on the cartoon map and tried not to vomit in fear as the plane made odd “YOU WILL DIE!” sounds as we got over the deepest, darkest section of the North Atlantic. Hey, thanks for that graphic, American Airlines. I really needed to see that sea canyon at 3 in the morning!

While my panic attack sent warm and fuzzy feelings throughout my body, I envied The Boy, sound asleep, not hearing the “YOU’RE ABOUT TO PLUMMET FROM THE SKY AND DIE!” sounds the plane kept making. I was the only one awake outside of the cabin crew. I’d had 2 pints of Guinness at JFK before taking off (pre-medication), and 2 beers on the flight. As I hadn’t slept the night before (due to the “YOU’RE CERTAIN TO DIE ON THE FLIGHT!” thoughts), I was getting just a little slap-happy. But, hey, we’d almost made it over the scary SEA CANYON OF DOOM.

By the time we landed in London, I was bone-deep tired. I had been awake 40 hours straight. Tea had little effect and my patience had long since waned with people invading my space and serving me food that could best be described as flavorless gruel. The layover was an hour or maybe two. By the time we landed in Glasgow and I collected my brand new luggage, it looked like it had been dragged behind the plane. Fabulous. There was concern on the part of the rental car staff that my luggage wouldn’t fit in the trunk. By this point, there was also concern I may punch someone for no particular reason. My son, however, smiled happily beside me – well-rested and fed, looking forward to our adventure.

Ah, Glasgow. You’re a lovely, lovely place. Surely (even though it was pissing down rain) I could safely navigate our way up to Loch Lomond and our destination of Luss without incident. It had only been 43 hours without sleep… Easy peasy. I flipped on my UK cell phone (which I bought ahead of time) and took off. The Boy laughed delightedly. He was loving the scenery. I wanted to get out and randomly kick a tree…

Our hotel was beautiful. It sits directly on Loch Lomond and is the only building you can see from your room.

We had decided at this point that we should eat. We traipsed down to the restaurant and presumably ate something. I say presumably because I have no clear recollection of this time. According to my son, I would burst out giggling for no reason while we were at the table. My giggles turned to guffaws. In due course, I was out of control. As tears of laughter streamed down my face, my son eyeballed my orange juice and wondered if I’d spiked it. The lack of sleep had gotten to me. People were looking…

After this humiliating event, we headed out for fresh air. At the time, my judgment may have been somewhat askew because I kept thinking surely what someone who hasn’t slept in almost 48 hours needs is a nice, long walk… And so we walked. We walked and walked and walked. I had at least stopped laughing uncontrollably by the time we got to the old cemetery.

 

By this point, there was a very real fear the caretakers of the cemetery would see me and think I’d crawled my way out from under one of their stones. So we headed back to our hotel and, I’m told, had dinner. This too, apparently, was such a mortifying affair that The Boy signaled for the check. Sleep deprivation. Good times!

My friend Murdo called right around this time. Murdo, as you can tell from the name, is Scottish and was born on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He’s a darling man who has always tolerated my silliness. We’d been friends for ten years by this point. He, his wife, and two children lived not very far from my hotel. His call was to make sure we’d arrived without incident. I like to think I handled myself coherently, but if I had, Murdo kept banging on about how I needed to “go to sleep” “get some sleep” and “go to bed” for no apparent reason. Clearly he’d forgotten my need to immediately acclimate to my current time zone. We didn’t go to bed until nearly 11 PM.

I called Murdo the next day and, being the kind soul that he is, he offered me his satellite navigation device. I can’t remember the name Murdo had given his sat nav, but I’m going with “Morag”…

The Boy and I set off to Murdo’s to pick up Morag. He had given me directions on how to get there – something about turning at the roundabout, but I couldn’t remember whether it was the second or third. I figured I’d better call him. In the UK, as in many US states, you’ll get a ticket for driving while talking on your mobile. I, in my infinite judgment, hadn’t purchased the hands-free gadget that goes with the phone. Therefore, I decided to pull over and call him. The road I was on, the A-82, is the main thoroughfare south to Glasgow and north to the Highlands. It didn’t seem like the smartest place to pull over. I therefore turned off on a tiny B road – the B832, which heads west to Helensburgh on the Firth of Clyde. It was an empty 2-lane country road. After several miles I came to a turnout with a barely perceptible slope and a cattle gate, which led to an open field. This seemed like the best place to park. I wouldn’t be in anybody’s way. I even checked – the ground was gravel, not dirt. There was no way in hell I would be caught pulling into dirt after all the rain Scotland had that summer. Oh, no sir. I was far too clever for that…

The directions to Murdo’s house were given to me (again) in a manner tantamount to, “Hadn’t I already told you this, woman?” Ha, silly Murdo. I’ve navigated my way around Scotland, England and Wales twice before. Don’t patronize me. I got off the phone, put the sedan in reverse, stepped on the gas, and sat there. Yes, sat there. You see, my gentle slope had turned into the SLOPE OF DESPAIR and the gravel that I had congratulated myself on finding had transformed into the GRAVEL PIT FROM HELL. I got out of the car and stared at my tires. Uhhh. Sunk…in mud. The Boy gaped at me from the back seat. Well, there was nothing to be done than to call Murdo and make him come help me. I plucked up the courage and called him back.

He sat there listening for several minutes without saying anything. I wasn’t sure if he’d put the phone down and run away, but no, he was there, listening intently. Finally he snorted, “Are ye sure ye’re stuck?” Now, I’m no NASCAR or F1 driver, nor (and this may come as a shock to you) am I an auto-mechanic, but I can tell when a car isn’t moving. Yes, I was sure I was stuck. I got out of the car and stared at the tires once more to tell him how many inches the front end had sunk. He sighed and made a show of what a ridiculous creature I was. By this point, any feelings of remorse I had for disturbing him had fled.

It was then, as I was plotting revenge on my dear friend, that I heard a car approaching. I was standing there, phone to my ear, vehicle in no apparent distress, when this car passed me. I barely spared it a glance. It was a small, older car – cream in color. Moments later I heard it reversing. I told Murdo as much. He perked up at this point – I’m not sure, he may have been hoping he was off the hook for my rescue. All of a sudden, out of the passenger side, came BOUNDING a man. He was around my age – wearing a black sweater and camouflage trousers. As he BOUNDED at me, I whispered to Murdo, “The car’s pulled over. There’s two men – one is BOUNDING towards me!” Murdo’s interest again skyrocketed. I think by now he was hoping I’d be butchered. The Bounder, as I’ve come to call him, shouted, “Hello! D’ye need any help?” Perhaps it was his camouflage pants that made me think serial killer, perhaps it was my inherent lack of faith in humanity, who knows? But I stood there, debating how to answer. Murdo, in the meantime, began asking me questions about The Bounder (for later recognition in a police line-up?).

I explained to The Bounder that I had intentionally chosen to pull over on this driveway because it barely sloped and was gravel. How had he known I needed assistance? Why had he bounded out to help like someone had just released the rabbit at the greyhound track? I’ll never know. He smiled at my son, surveyed the scene, and asked questions. He was handsome with dark hair and a broad smile. As I answered as truthfully as possible, I could hear Murdo’s ringing laughter screaming through the phone. The Bounder heard it as well. I explained it was my friend who just lived down the road in Balloch and who may be slightly unhinged (just to be safe). As he went back to his car and began giving instructions to the driver to park and UNHITCH THEIR BOAT, I thanked him profusely. He waved me off and set to work. By now, their car and boat were completely blocking one lane of traffic. Ugh, could this be any more humiliating than having a hot Scot rescue me? Why yes, it could…

Moments later, this heretofore empty country road became gridlocked as cars attempted to pass them and the boat. The Scots took it all in stride and continued to wave my fussing off. Murdo continued to howl with laughter. It was around this time I decided I could hang up on him. I could deal with that embarrassment later. The Boy, in the meantime, had gotten out of the car to survey my shame. He may have laughed, I’m not sure. To be honest, I hadn’t truly forgiven him for sleeping on the plane, the fiend. While The Bounder worked, and traffic piled up, other Scottish men got out of their cars to come over and chat to the red-faced, red-haired Yank who’d pulled onto a gravel drive. Oh, what a sight. I then addressed the assembled throng, explaining that I had felt gravel had been a perfectly acceptable place to park! “Oh, aye, it would be any other time but we’ve had a stupid amount of rain this year. Don’ worry yer pretty little head.” This was said by a ginger-haired man in a white Range Rover.

Soon I was told to start the engine while The Bounder and his friend stood in front of my now sloping car. They told me to put it into neutral and that they would give it a shove. Moments later I watched in horror as my car rolled forward and proceeded to crush The Bounder and his friend. They stared through the windscreen as I shrieked. Their nonchalance was daunting. Somehow they extricated themselves and The Bounder walked by my window laughing. Plainly Scots have no fear of death. Important safety tip.

Soon the car was free. The Scots waved off any offer of compensation and my undying gratitude. By now, at least 8 carloads of men had stopped to gape and/or offer assistance. I was sent on my way seconds later. As they’d completely blocked up the east-bound lane, I was too humiliated to ask them to move. Nor did I want to stick around for the next several minutes as they re-hitched their boat. I headed west, towards Helensburgh – going in the opposite direction of Murdo. The Boy, in the backseat, mewled about this. Apparently his feelings of security with mommy in a foreign country had disintegrated. I explained, still shamefaced, that I would rather chop off my own arm and beat myself senseless with it, than to drive by The Bounder as he rehitched his boat.

So to The Bounder and his friend and all the Scottish men who stopped to help the red-haired Yank in the black Mercedes 3 years ago on the B832, you’re lovely and prove to me that chivalry is alive and well, and living in Scotland!

*** UPDATE *** I have recalled the nickname of Murdo’s shrill sat nav. It was not “Morag” but “Nagging Nora.” I most humbly apologize to my readers, Murdo, and indeed, Nora.