Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thursday Morning Beach Report/Thursday Night Street Report

If you look closely, you'll see them.
Terns dropping from the sky like paper airplanes.

Gulls with beaks so improbably red, they look like child beauty contestants.

 A congregations of willets, whimbrels, marbled godwits, and an occasional long-billed curlew.

As for the streets of my neighborhood tonight, I saw four rabbits, three people walking their dogs, and a guy changing the light-bulb above his garage. What's happening in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Report from Pillville: The cardiologist, the neurologist, and Rx for mail and paperwork

My mom, center, 15 years or so younger than I am right now. Me, lower right.

My mom will be 90 in September. I've known for sometime now that her junk mail needs to be spirited  away before she sees it. Those of you who might have elderly parents living on their own whom you suppose are doing fine, this is a cautionary tale. Check around for commemorative coin collections the next time you stop over for a cup of tea. Then have a seat while you consider how much coinage was spent on these pieces of junk. In my house here's an entire shelf in a large antique armoire devoted to these scams that prey upon the elderly. I think my mom has forgotten that she's ever purchased these, so we don't have to discuss why she shouldn't purchase any more. Thank god.

The real mail, I assumed, was getting filed in the file box in her room. There isn't much, but I have noted over the past couple of months that the to-be-filed pile was growing. When the late notice came from Master Card, I had the confirmation I needed that my mom was in over her head. "I don't know what these papers are," she said. She can't tell a bank statement from a credit card statement--which is why I'm now in charge of that (lord, help us all.) So I spent a little time filing today. It wasn't hard. I assured her it was all organized. Nothing overdue. Everything put away. "Good," she said. "These papers...I can't...My head is full of other things. I just don't know what things."

"No worries," I said as all of the Committee to Preserve Medicare stuff went into the recycling. Really, I think I should be the one worrying about preserving Medicare--not my mom.

And meanwhile, last week's visit to the cardiologist was uneventful. Her heart is a 90-year-old heart. Not much else to say.

"Any violence?" the neurologist asked me when we went to see him the next day.

"Violence?" I asked. Apparently things can get nasty as cognitive decline sets in. My mom seems to be getting sweeter. She's forgotten a lot, but not how to be nice. Not how to love me. And she loves everyone who visits. She loves their clothes, their pretty hair, their tattoos, their dogs. Everyone, to her, is just the most marvelous guest ever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Morning Beach Report

View past the dunes to the water.
I pick up trash on Mondays. After the weekend goings-on, I can count on a couple of jammed-full grocery sacks.  A lot of it is the same week after week. Beverage containers. Lids. Straws. There are a lot of socks. You know those socks that disappear in the washer? I know where they went. If you're missing one flip-flop, it's on the beach. A tank top? On the beach. Your sunglasses? Beach.

There's always something different though. Something I've never picked up off the sand before. Today it was a tube of denture cream. Well, yeah, I would wouldn't want to lose my choppers in a big wave, would you?

And today there was this.

Judging from the number of flowers I find strewn on the sand, I think there are probably a lot of memorial services with remains scattered here. I have a few questions though about the scenario above. Is the memorial just there temporarily with someone keeping a close eye on the tides? Because if not, that plaque and the plastic angel will eventually become part of the great Pacific garbage patch. Probably not what the bereaved intended. Well it's undisturbed for now. I wish the departed and those he or she left behind peace.

And in the world of birds there was this:

Cormorant/seagull stand-off?
A long line of pelicans, low to the water.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Grief Report: Week 7

Daughter M and Dan in the Library Bar at my MFA graduation Jan. 2010
I'm sitting in this very spot as I write this. The plant in the corner has been replaced by a smaller pot of the same plant and now sits on the end table. M is a slightly older version of her amazing self--but back at home with my mom so I can be here. I have with a glass of white zinfandel instead of my customary lemon martini. Dan, however, is gone, no longer of this world. Part of grieving, I have discovered, is finding more and more places where the person you loved is not.

But I am breathing. Living. Talking. Listening. Relishing. Mourning. Rejoicing.

There's been a nice battery recharge for me here. Connecting with fellow writers, faculty, and mentors--and getting to read from my book. I will return to my reclusive corner of writer-ville, seeking community--wholeheartedly intending to build one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Little Astronaut at the Bottom of a Crater

The first thing I lost was an emaciated dying man. When my boyfriend breathed his final breath as I lay next to him in the hospital bed in the middle of my living room, I held his ruined body, reveling in its terrible beauty, knowing there was nothing do to but let him go.

I imagined my grief to be an ocean in the days immediately after his death—something that I could swim across eventually if I worked at it diligently. A few days after that, a mountain seemed a better metaphor. I had to keep trekking if I was going to survive. There could be no floating, no riding the waves passively, or treading water. It was claw my way upward or plummet.

Dan died on a Friday. Which meant I didn’t go to the train station to pick him up on Saturday afternoon and that he and I did not go to the local farmer’s market on Sunday. But in those first days, I’m not even sure how specifically I considered where he wasn’t or what we weren’t doing together. Mostly I was just lost in the loss. The lack of him was amorphous and huge.

At some point though, days or weeks later, as I drove to the east side of town, I realized I was not driving to the hospital to see him, nor was I turning onto the street that led to the nursing home where he spent a few days before his hospice care was transferred to my house. I wasn’t overseeing medication, or taking his temperature, or making fresh juice, or trying to imagine what I might concoct that would entice his ravaged taste buds. I wasn’t hunting for sweat pants out of season or debating the merits of medical marijuana. Not only was the dying man gone, the sick man, who was frequently a hell of a good time, was gone too.  

Later still, our ritual of evening phone calls reconstituted itself one night as I sat at the dinner table waiting for my mother to finish. I was feeling physically better. Like going for a walk instead of lolling around on the sofa or simply giving up and going to bed at 8 p.m. But my weeknight walks meant talking to Dan. I went for a stroll anyway and played all of the dozen or so voicemails from him I had saved in my phone. All but one were polluted by opiates or pain or fatigue, and the one that wasn’t sent me careening down into a grief that felt more like a crater than a mountain.

Today, exactly six weeks since he died, the crater seems to getting bigger as grief dances me backwards in time. It’s one thing to mourn the loss of a terminally sick person who deserves relief and release; it’s quite another to remember the vibrant lover flirting with you over email or saying sweet things over the phone. It’s unthinkable to wake expecting kisses when the man so generously doling them out is not, and never will be, on his side of the bed. Little by little, it feels as if the robust man I once knew and loved is being reconstructed, shoving that sick guy into the background, and in the process, the loss grows larger, not smaller.

At night I scroll through Dan’s Facebook timeline with pictures of him when he was healthy. I watch videos of him playing music or doing t’ai chi. A sweater of his, buried at the bottom of my drawer since last winter, surfaces. I walk the stretches of beach we walked together before he grew too weak. A bottle of Siracha on my refrigerator door works its way to the front. I lost all of these things to fevers, anemia, dehydration, pain, and out-of-whack electrolytes. In the last months, I was so busy juggling care for that sick guy along with taking care of my 89-year-old mother, that I’d practically forgotten the man I met five years ago on a date. The healthy Dan had already been missing for a long time by the time the sick Dan died.

Lately it seems that every tomato, every strawberry, glass of wine, shot of vodka, every train whistle, every moon, all the songs he once sung to me are swirling molecules of memory reconfiguring a man I haven’t seen for months. Each time a scene takes shape, the slope of the crater gives way and I’m back at the bottom again. I don’t mean to argue that my grief is deeper and wider or even different than anyone else’s. I don’t mean to say that losing someone to a debilitating illness or a terminal disease is any more heart rending than a sudden heart attack or a tragic accident. I’m just telling you this grieving thing isn’t going how I thought it would, and maybe grief—our own or anyone else’s—doesn’t ever go as imagined.

Years ago on a family vacation to Meteor Crater in northern Arizona, I was stunned to be standing or the rim of a hole in the ground that was a mile across and deep enough to hold a 50-story building. It wasn’t what I had expected at all. It might be that a crater is the perfect metaphor for grief. It might be that grief digs deeper and deeper inside of us and that each new revelation of the loss is a subsequent impact, adding depth to the initial event. Yet somehow we go on, survivors who’ve lost lovers and parents and children and friends. We stand at the bottom of our grief, feet solidly on the ground like the barely visible life-sized model of the astronaut at the bottom of Meteor Crater. There we are, waving a seemingly tiny flag, providing scale to the immensity of our loss, which in the end is really about the immensity of love. So much bigger, so much deeper and wider than we ever imagined.

Meteor Crater, Arizona/Summer 2001

Blinded by the Light

Everything felt wrong from the start. The house silent, the sky filled with a strange light, my mother in the kitchen fully dressed at 7:00 a.m. Where was the the click and hiss of the oxygen machine? Where was the narcoleptic woman who so often stands at my kitchen island in some liminal state talking to her dead twin?

No one showed up to t'ai chi chih, and I kept wondering if it was me. Did I have the wrong time or the wrong day? Was I in a gym that looked like my gym, but wasn't.  I went to the beach. So much earlier than usual that things felt off there too. I saw dolphins immediately or I might have turned and run. Then the dead appeared. It's not so unusual to see a dead sea lion washed up on the sand. It happens. This isn't Sea World. But the dead sea turtle was a new experience for me. And what about the two guys clicking away over the bodies with their iPhones. Glad I'm not their Facebook friends.

When I rounded the curve, the tide was way out just like yesterday, and for a moment I toyed with the idea of walking/swimming to the breakwater. Coffee mug. iPhone. Car key. What does one do with these things if you get a spontaneous urge to walk on water? Then he called to me. "Have you ever seen it look like this?" he asked. A guy with a bike and a large backpack lying at his feet. He meant the water. "It's never out this far," he said. I concurred that it seemed a tad unusual, but the ocean does what it does, and it does not adhere to my schedule. I am there at the same time every day while the tides have their own clock. "You see that?" the guy asked pointing to the sun. "Watch this." He strode a few feet away. "Look, it's still in line with me. The real sun doesn't do that. That is military. It's a satellite." 

"Wow," I said. Partially to humor him and partially because everything still felt all wrong, and I didn't have a better explanation.  He went on about polar ice caps and tsunamis and how I should have an inflatable raft.

"Look up," he said. "You're wearing good sunglasses. Look at it." I tugged the brim of my hat down and looked up, afraid I'd end up with an eyepatch like him. Blind because a stranger commanded me to stare into the sun, and I did it. He read my mind then. Touched his temple next to the bad eye and told me he was shot in 1980-something. Showed me his ear and told me he had cochlear implants. Told me about his ADHD and how his smart phone helps him. I told him he seemed to know a lot about a lot of things and then he seemed like he was doing okay. And he was.

"See those people over there," I said. They're looking for beach glass. I had to explain what it was. "I'm going to look, too."

"Don't cut your feet," he said.

I found a couple of pieces, and then I took refuge with the birds. I took a few seconds of video of California Least Terns and Snowy Plovers, but they've disappeared from my photo stream. Odd, isn't it?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Both Sides Now

view from the waves looking back at the sand
Sometimes the ocean deposits perfection right at my feet.

Sometimes there is mystery.

What the heck is this? Anyone?

Sometimes the cutest boat in the whole world shows up just across the water.

And sometimes my 90-year-old mother climbs up on the patio wall to hang on the fence and get a better view. After a martini.

Here in Margaritaville, the nights at home are just as beautiful and mysterious as the mornings on the beach, but not quite as relaxing.  Nope. Sometimes not relaxing at all.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Beach Report/Addendum to the Guy in the Party Hat Cod-Piece

Another Beach walk. Another bag of trash. To follow the thread of this post, you might want to read about the trash I found on Saturday. The comments on that post--on the blog, on Facebook, in person were far less cynical than my own take.


So I had the almost-sex dream last night (scroll down to this morning's post) and then at noon I took a 20-minute walk and filled a grocery bag with trash. This is what I found (among other things).

Paper plate and Trojan wrapper



Hahahahah, Dan. What are you trying to tell me? 

Now excuse me, I think I have to go walk the beach looking for a party hat. Or something.

Oh, and while I do that, might I suggest that you all take a look at this New Yorker story  by David Gilbert. It's about love. It's about co-incidence. It's about risk.

The Guy with the Party Hat Cod-Piece


He was married when I saw him last, but in the dream somehow we were together. 

The room was on an upper floor with a window that looked out over the rooftops. The bed, massive and old, was pushed alongside the window. My room, my bed. But we'd agreed to meet there. 

I bought a kimono for the occasion. Pink. Not usually my color. A muted pattern. I was trying it out to see how I'd look, tags dangling from the sleeves, when he entered. He'd ribbon-tied  a paper plate to his chest, and longer ribbons streamed from his neck, but it was the pointy party hat cod-piece that I couldn't take my eyes off of. 

This guy could be a lot of fun, I thought. Then I woke up.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Herons on the Housetops

Funny how these graceful beautiful birds look so forbidding with their long necks and wings tucked in.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Evening Beach Report

I don't usually walk on the beach in the evenings. But I did tonight. I walked far and picked up a bag of trash.

This is one of the things I found.

I've walked that particular stretch of beach many times with Dan.  But I'm not in the mood to be all woo-woo about finding his name on a discarded cup. Still there it is, just the same.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Which We Meet a Pelican and an Artist

The girl could barely believe her eyes when she saw the artwork emerging from the sand. We watched the artist as he worked with a paintbrush, his fingers, and a small shovel. After we toured the wharf which included viewing jellyfish in the dark and catching a crab smaller than a fly, we met a pelican, who apparently could not fly.

Or maybe, since there is a place that rents fishing poles on the wharf, this pelican prefers making friends with fishermen to plunge diving. He/She did not seem the least bit shy about posing for a photo.

At the end of our morning, the sculpture looked like this:

Two California girls in sunglasses.

Tomorrow is the last day with the girl. She's thinking of another beach day. Tonight she's creating a whole new world with the toys. We found a bag of free form treehouse pieces, and she's adding to the original structure. I can't wait to see what she does with them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just Hanging with the 10-Year-Old and the 90-Year-Old

"Sometimes adults think they can bribe us with sweets," said the 10-year-old as she devoured a cup of cookies and cream ice cream.
Not that I was trying to bribe her. If I wanted to bribe her, I'd bribe her with the promise of playing a board game.
"Oh," I said, "I guess I'll bribe you with green beans then."
"That would never work," she said.
"I was joking," I said. She can be serious, this girl. And she seriously doesn't care for vegetables. But I'm not pushing it. Tonight's dinner was fish, baked potatoes, bok choy, sliced tomatoes, watermelon, and cantaloupe. The girl found out she likes baked potatoes. She was so exited she called her mom. Adorable, right? Then the girl and the 90-year-old debated which was better, sweet potatoes or regular potatoes. They didn't agree.

Last night over dinner, the girl told us that she'd heard being an adult sucked. "Not at all," I said. The 90-year-old agreed.
"You get to be your own boss," my mom told her. And somehow that segued into how she and her twin sister went off to live on their own in Baltimore when they were only 17. Which segued into how they eventually rented a very stylish apartment from a retiring prostitute they knew. Only she couldn't think of the word. "Sex. Girl. Worker," she said.
"Prostitute," I said. The girl took this all in and then we circled back to growing up and going to college and working. Welcome to my dinner table where we have multi-generational discussions about potatoes and prostitutes.

And speaking of circling,  I told the girl I liked the circles she'd made with all the toy animals. It's called "The Night of the Dances" she said, and informed me that the humans are dancing too. They are.

My mom gasped with delight when she saw the toys when I first set them out for the girl. When all of the kids are here, they play in the "family room"/garage so my mother doesn't get to see what's going on out there--and I guess she doesn't remember the toys from when my own girls played with them. Her delight breaks my heart a little. It makes me think of one of the patients in the nursing home where my aunt resided her last couple of years. This lady often carried a baby doll, cradling it as if it was real. My mom stands over the box of figures and furnishings that haven't been incorporated into the girl's scenes, handling them, whispering to herself.

I think this little scene might be her creation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to be the middle child?" the girl asked as we walked to fro-yo.

Fro-yo and girl at twilight
"You have to learn AND you have to teach,"she said. I said I guessed that was an opportunity.
"It's an opportunity, AND it's a problem!" she said and then laughed uproariously.

Well, it's certainly an opportunity to be at Grandma's house by yourself where you can be an only child for a change and take over the kitchen island with a box full of toys that once belonged to your aunts.

This girl is an animal lover, and as you can see, she has been well-loved herself.

She's a good beach walker and treasure hunter too.

And I found the largest heart, so far, for my collection. Yes, I did.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Monkeys, My Circus

What my front hall looked like until just a few minutes ago.
Six people have more that six pairs of shoes.

What a lovely visit it's been. Giraffes have been fed....and we've managed to keep our shirts and our pants.

Wings have been spread.

Goats have been gotten.

There have been castles. There have been bridges.

And speaking of spreading wings and crossing bridges, the little granddaughter is staying a few more days. She's been instructed to take a shower, drink water, eat protein, and be good. And I've got some plans for myself. I think I'll shower, drink water, eat protein, and be good.