It’s a Small Life

This observation isn’t a complaint, just an observation.  I look around at who I spend time with and who I call…  Aside from working hours and relationships, my priorities by way of time and energy is family.  There is no straight answer as to what is going on with my father.  MS, medications, lingering aftermath of a horrible surgery that took place nine months ago…  Not sure.  But we turn inward.

Not the royal we; me and my sisters.  And my dad too.

Not too far from that core are my best friends from high school.  Tink and The Mixologist are in touch as they can manage it between work and their family demands.  Most everyone else is either on a long tether or has slipped away.

I’m grateful for my long-tether friends.  People who don’t hold long weeks of absence against me.  Friends who can start up from six months of radio silence with no feelings and no awkwardness, because none of this is personal.

Even those who have slipped out of orbit entirely.  No negative feelings about this because, for the most part, I think I understand.  We all have our reasons and our methodology for pursuing those reasons.  I can’t be mad about it.

And honestly, if it is going to be a small life, I have no cause to complain about the company.


It’s a Small Life

Do Over

Apparently, I’ve got issues with how it all went down.  I say this because my dreaming self keeps bringing her back.  A few nights ago, it was her choice.  Half of the work had been done.  She’d decided she wanted to go back to the house I identify as my childhood home to die, so my sisters and I had closed down her house in Florida, but there was still the big thing to do: see her through the dying part of the event.  We had this nosy, hoarder neighbor who loved nothing more than stirring shit and being important to the resulting chaos, so she was suddenly in the mix and I was in a panic about having to do it all over again.

The next night, we were in a concert venue with my dad – I have no idea why this particular setting made any sense – and I was trying to talk to her about what we needed in place to do this work, but better this time.  I don’t remember what it was I thought we needed to improve upon the event.  Perhaps to put it off until I am smarter or more competent or at least a little wiser.

Shall we call it unresolved?

Given the parameters, I can’t imagine what it is that could have been done differently.  By anyone.  Maybe you could go back to her going through menopause and keep the hormone replacement therapy far, far away from her.  But I was there for that and she was a terrorist.  The hormones kept the worst of it at bay.  Besides, who knew then?

Once the breast cancer was diagnosed, maybe they could have taken all her lymph nodes?  A radical mastectomy?  There is no reason to believe that the treatment she was given was inappropriate or somehow insufficiently aggressive.  It was a cancer fed by estrogen, they had her on serious estrogen suppressors, they took out the lump and the impacted lymph nodes.  What else were they supposed to do?

When the cancer came back, it wasn’t like it was clearly one thing or another.  It was microscopic scatter-shot, so the markers in her blood went up, but there was nothing on the body-scans.  At least there wasn’t anything until there was around Christmas of 2013.  We can not talk about that adventure at NIH.  Intestinal blockage where they suck the stuff that is blocked out of your nose?  I’ll puke all over the computer just thinking about it.

They took out the blockage and put her on a regular regimen of chemo, and she was fine until she wasn’t.  They thought she had time.  We all thought she had more time.

Right up until her headache on Thanksgiving day, the response to events was exactly where it was supposed to be.  And as the snowball started taking off down hill, there’s still nothing to go back and regret.  When the doctor said “get here,” everyone did.  Everyone, every thing, was exactly in the right place at the right time.

So what better do I want to go back and make happen?  I have no idea.

Do Over

It Takes a Minute

I woke up the other morning from a dream.  I had been traveling with my sisters in the dream after mom’s death, we were in a hotel and I was cutting threads off of something that I had gotten from mom’s house, but in my commitment to the job, I also cut some of the decorative thingies on a wool traveling rug that I value rather highly.  I was upset about this, separated from my sisters, and trying to find them in this rotten little dark motel.  But no phone.

It took me a minute when I woke up.  I had to go through each of the upsetting pieces – destroying something important from mom; losing my sisters; no phone to solve the problem; my mother’s death – one by one, the way you do after a dream, to sort out that the things you didn’t want were a product of your dreaming mind.  I was doing good.  The blanket is alright.  My sisters are where they belong.  I know where my phone is…

But I got to the question of mom’s state.  You know how you dream you are pregnant and you pat down your belly and count the days backwards and remember when it was you last had sex and it takes some time to settle in that you really aren’t pregnant?  It didn’t work like that this time.  She’s still gone.

It Takes a Minute

The Journal

It’s been over a month now.  Doesn’t seem quite possible.  The days lack a common thread running through them to lend the feeling that they all belong in the same year, let alone the same month.  Wake up one day with sisters and nephews and a house with furniture in it, go to bed with the sisters well on their way back to where they belong, the house empty, and a desk clerk at the hotel for company.  How can these things possibly be reconciled?

I’ve been in my journal, or at least I’ve been trying.  The problem is that I want to keep writing about her physicality.  Over and over: her lips, that last breath, the rickety breaths that came before it, dripping water into her mouth, the idea of someone dressing her body, a random fear that they didn’t put her bra on her – really, what self-respecting lady would go into whatever comes next with out the proper foundation garments? What else needs to be remembered, or integrated?

The lined notebook we found with notes about the dog…  where they walked, for how long, water, progress on getting the damn beast to come when called.

Postcards from her grand-kids, adopted and otherwise.  A card from me thanking her for being the one I called at 5 in the morning.

Making her oatmeal from home because it was better than the stuff at the hospital, knowing she’d have a bite or two at most.

Lying to her about her second seizure…  she thought it was because she hadn’t been eating and as long as she thought that, she ate better.  What good would it have been to remind her that the brain tumors weren’t going to let go of her?

Maybe The Boss, but words aren’t big enough for that one.  She made employee of the month last month.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones singing her praises.

There is the last day Mom was there.  The last things she said.  The last thing she responded to, at least when I was the one speaking, was a message from her drama-mamma sister.  I wish I’d had something better for her to squeeze my hand over, but it seemed important to the Aunt and by then, what the living have to live with seemed almost as important as what the dying had to die with.

She wanted to be pretty.  Something about that makes me want to burst into tears all over again.  She wanted her hair to look nice.

And there you have it, cancer embroidering her brain like needlepoint gone horribly wrong, she was down to the rawest, deepest nerves: her mother, her need for approval. How do you make it all fit together?  You can’t.  At the end, we’re as naked as we were at the beginning.

Between, the number of things that can be true all at the same time defies my ability to keep up.  Layers of my mother piled on each other.  A woman who carried a heavy burden of shoulds.  A fighter.  As unlikely as she was to admit it, a woman who worked her whole life to be defined on her own terms, not through her connection to family.  A gifted educator.  A kind woman with an alcoholic’s blackout rages.  The kind of woman who gave up way too much for external approval and didn’t even know what she was losing in the exchange.

So I have what I have: these things that don’t belong together and a desperate need to integrate the last month so the gap between the last day I worked in December and the first day I worked in January doesn’t feel so much like some mad story I just made up.

The Journal


This comes to me while I’m putting a bottle of water into the freezer to chill quickly.  I’m on my way to my storage unit so I can perhaps remove some items with the new perspective gained by going through my mother’s stuff.  Namely “if someone else had to decide what to do with this item I’m hanging on to, would its presence in my storage unit make *any* sense whatsoever?”

Anyway, for whatever reason I was thinking about how refrigerators work.  Cold isn’t a thing.  Heat is a thing.  Refrigerators work by absorbing heat and discarding it.  Cold is essentially an absence.  The space between stars is unimaginably cold because there’s nothing there.

Love is something.  Life is something.  This is why we associate them with heat: instead of absence (which is just as likely as anything else) you get presence.  Metaphorically, the body gets cold because the thing that was the person you knew has abandoned the building.

At least in my experience, grief is an absence too.  I’m naturally absent-minded (or just present-minded for stuff that isn’t immediately obvious to anyone else).  But it’s really bad these days.  I stop sentences in the middle and forget what I was trying to say.  I’ll be in the middle of a conversation and someone has asked me a question and I can’t remember what the question was even though I was watching their mouth as the words came out.

And it isn’t grief for a paragon of motherly integrity.  As discussed elsewhere, the lady had her fractures and a complete blindness to the fact that she wasn’t perfect.  We were in the car two years ago, her bloodwork had come back with the cancer markers on a rising trend.  She said to me “I just want to be your good mom forever,” and I thought “listen lady, you could start by being a good mom now.”

That seems spectacularly unfair in retrospect.

She did what she could with what she had, but she preferred her version of events to the reality.  She didn’t remember or acknowledge the gross failures…  the petty selfishness that was the hallmark of her interaction with the family.  It doesn’t seem fair to recount the minute details, but suffice it to say that she’d prioritize the shine on a Mylar balloon over the emotional wellbeing of those she was supposed to love the most.   Some of the most painful examples are the most petty.  Like, really lady.  What would it have cost you to let the seven year old win in that instance?

Which doesn’t seem to cure the sense of loss – perhaps as much for what she wasn’t as for what she was.  It carries on, this feeling that where there is supposed to be something, there is nothing.  And that nothing is pretty chilly.



I found myself pissed at her today.  There is the hint of a possible reason to be hopeful about a job prospect that would mean a lot by way of stability in my life.  It is the kind of thing I would have called to share with her.  And she would have half listened, more thinking through what she was going to talk about when I paused than really hearing what was going on with me.  She would have taken the first opportunity to interject and then run away with whatever compliment shed last received from a colleague or authority figure, more to remind herself that she was essential where she was than to meet any particular need of mine.

My sisters and I rolled our eyes at her, long distance.  But it was what we did, her and I, finding a sliver common ground in career decisions.  Meeting on the telephone line in an unspoken agreement whereby I called with news and she took over the conversation.

What it lacked in depth, it made up in longevity.

And she wasn’t there for the ritual, damn her.  My sister suggested I start from scratch with one of the lovely women who have offered their maternal urges as a substitute for the mother I was born to.  But the explanations required.  The idea of having to explain why the one sentence relates to stuff that happened 10 years ago, what it means under the surface, and how it fits in to everything else.

I was the weirdo on the subway with my sunglasses on after dark, crying.  Quietly.  They warned me that I would find myself crying at the oddest times, entirely unexpectedly.

All I hear is Anthony Hamilton singing “you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille…”


The Living Dead

My sisters and I have a pact: drastic intervention is authorized if we ever sound like we’re turning into our mother.

So far, it’s just little things.  My eldest sister over uses the word moment.  I’m having a hard time coming up with an example, but when she does it, I cringe a little.  Because mom *really* overused moment.

I’ve heard my middle sister use “whatever whatever” before.  This is verbal DNA transferred directly from my mom, who got it from Mrs. B.

Hopefully, I’ve avoided the verbal tics.  I’m sensitive because I had an ex with the weirdest verbal tic I’ve ever come across.  He’d add “for going” or “for actual going” or “for actual going through” to the conversation and he didn’t know he did it.  I pointed it out, he denied, I started pointing it out every time he did it… he’d deny he’d just said it, but it’s the only time I remember him laughing without bitterness.  He broke the habit.  Eventually. Since then, I’ve tried to maintain awareness and avoid picking up the tics myself.

But never fear, she lives in me in other ways.  Wasting water, for example.  Nothing makes me crazier than letting water run with no purpose.  Fine.  If you’re trying to get the water to run hot.  Leaving it running while you’re brushing your teeth and not using it?  Maddening.

Okay, so I can take a kind of virtuous pride in that one.  Because really, who is justified in just running water because you can.  This next one, however…  it was gross on her and it is gross on me: fishing stuff out of my teeth with little awareness I am doing it.  Seriously.  I gotta fix that because it’s repulsive.

So far, we’ve managed to avoid the big issues.  Inability to see appropriate boundaries or respect them.  Selective memory about our failures.  A marked preference for appearances over reality.  Failure to take ownership.

We’re on the lookout, though.

The Living Dead