Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson and what they said

My children had such different reactions to the news last night that the cop who shot an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Missouri last August will not be indicted. In the wake of the announcement that Darren Wilson will walk free after shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown—who was walking home to his grandmother's house in the middle of the street on an ordinary day—people marched in protest in cities across the country, and in Ferguson, the city burned as police fired tear gas canisters and bullets into the rioting, heartbroken crowd.

My daughter had called me earlier to ask was I listening to the news. She was in a study group meeting, but had stepped out to talk to me. I had not been listening. My cousin from Trinidad had just arrived to spend Thanksgiving with us, and she and I were with my husband and son in the living room catching up. But my girl sounded upset, so we switched on the news to see what was unfolding. "It's so unfair," she said. Her voice quivered with tears, not just from sorrow, but from righteous anger at what she saw as the injustice of it all. "I can't believe you can just shoot an unarmed kid like that and get away with it. I'm so frustrated and I have no idea what to do. But I don't want to just become cynical and hopeless and accept that this just happens."

I wondered why I wasn't more worked up. I thought, for one thing, that it she was undergoing an experience that was appropriate to college; you're supposed to become politicized in college; it's supposed to open your eyes to the injustices of the world. At the same time, there was in fact little she could do in that moment, and while I wasn't sure that I should be trying to cool the fire burning so hot in her, I thought maybe a more philosophical approach might be helpful just then. "I know how you feel," I told her, "and it's so important to be in touch with that and to look for ways to change things. But you have to remember that as awful as things seem, the polar opposite also exists in the world. There is goodness in equal proportion to this madness, and you have to stay conscious of that and look for that too, or the darkness of all this will consume you."

She paused and considered that. "It does help to see it that way," she decided after a while. "I mean, all this has been happening all along; Black boys have been shot and killed for no good reason long before Michael Brown and Ferguson. At least now there is outrage about it. At least more people are standing up and saying it's just plain wrong." We talked for a while more and then she went back into her study group.

"She's upset?" my son said as I put down the phone. He was in the kitchen brewing some oolong tea for himself and his aunt.

"So upset she was crying," I said.

"They're idealistic in college," my cousin said. "It's right that she's upset."

My son shrugged. "That's the difference between my sister and me," he reflected. "I don't get upset anymore. I'm basically just numb. After Trayvon Martin's killer walked free, I just decided, this is the world we live in. Deal with it." As sad as his words made me, I realized that maybe I got numb after Trayvon Martin, too. Because what my boy said made perfect sense to me. But what my girl said was perfect and right, too.




Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking up


The sun was setting as I travelled to the airport last night. From the window of my taxi van, I watched the changing sky over Kingston, a vivid palette of oranges and pinks and gentle lilacs doing a cloud dance against a backdrop of dusky blue. I didn't take out my camera; I just watched and took it in for once. I had snapped a few photos at sundown only days before, when I went with my brother to get my nephew from football practice at his school.

"Don't call it soccer," my nephew, an impassioned player, insists. "Football is the original name of the sport and the most appropriate. It's only you Americans who have co-opted the name, and for a game in which you hardly ever even kick a ball. Americans may call it soccer but the rest of the world calls it football." He's 10 years old with strong opinions and impeccable language skills. I love listening to him opine. He could easily follow his great grandfather into the law, but that's not his plan. Earlier, he had wanted to play professional league football when he grows up. This trip, he announced that now he wants to be a baker.


His school is on a sprawling campus, with huge playing fields and white-painted buildings surrounded by a landscape of blue-green mountains. It was mostly deserted by the time practice was over, but for the few football parents watching their boys splash on the muddy field. There had been a sudden afternoon downpour, which gave everything a washed-clean glow, except for the muddy boys, whose parents dispatched them to change from their soaking practice gear or commanded they strip down to their underwear and wipe themselves down before getting into the Lexuses and BMWs their parents drove. The school isn't cheap.

As I waited in the parking lot with my brother for my nephew to reappear, the sun was going down over the school buildings, and I lifted my phone and snapped a few photos with a plan to Instagram my favorite ones later. Driving home, the twilight sky continued to show off and I kept snapping. It occurred to me then, and again as I drove to the airport, that I grew up with such sunsets, and I took them for granted. Every single day at dusk the sky overhead was a grand opera, and I so often forgot to look up. Weren't all sunsets everywhere like this? Maybe they are, but I still felt as if I was seeing with brand new eyes.


And now I am home. It was wonderful to sleep in my own bed last night, next to my softly snoring husband. It's Saturday morning; the men are watching premier league soccer (um, football) and I am about to head out to meet my friend for an afternoon wander. We haven't done this is so long.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wishing


It's my last day already. I fly back to New York tonight. It's been a good week and a hard one. Best of all were the days sitting next to my mom, reading to her, watching Jeopardy with her, listening to music, our conversation rambling everywhere. Hardest of all were the nights sleeping next to her. My mom was most agitated in the dark, her mind slipping their bounds and roaming freely through visions as real to her as anything, not all of them lovely tea parties. She was all business in the night, talking into the dark room about a letter sent from her sister Maisy's attorneys in Mandeville, and please could I get it down from the shelf because she had to attend to its contents. It was useless to tell her there was no letter, no shelf, that her sister Maisy had died a year ago in America. She would get annoyed with me, and ever more insistent, and at last I just lay silent beside her, unsure what else to do. Her speech was crystal clear during these business imperatives, the muscles of her jaw and tongue snapping to, the memory of her days of managing everything with supreme efficiency conquering the neurological and nervous system impairments.

I hardly slept. Sometimes I got up and went downstairs and sat for an hour in the study, praying that when I went back in she would be asleep. But always, as soon as I touched the bed, her eyes flew open, and the instructions would begin again. She had no memory of these night visions come morning.

I am afraid to be without her in this world; she is my anchor in the most literal sense, but it is so hard to see her so confined in her body, the pain flaring all over, her cheeks trembling with the effort to enunciate her words and make herself understood. She says it is going to be harder when I am gone because she has had my company this week, and now she will be lonely again. The mother who once refrained from saying these things so as to make my leaving her emotionally easier has been replaced by this guileless soul who says exactly what she feels when she can get the words out.

She is confused sometimes. Friends from her school days who have long passed on visit her sometimes, and she takes uncomplicated pleasure in their appearance. One morning she awoke and asked me to call my brother and his best friend, Leslie, both of them doctors who had attended medical school together. Leslie lived with us when we were growing up, and he is like another son to my mom.

She said, "Call the boys; I didn't realize I was having the operation this morning."

"What operation?" I mumbled, barely awake. "You're not having an operation."

"Of course I am. I already had it."

She was so certain, I said nothing. The woman who was on day duty arrived and began to get my mom dressed for the day. After breakfast my mom settled back in her recliner and gazed out at the hills, dozing in and out all morning. She was herself when we talked; she asked about her sisters. She asked if her youngest sisters Fay and Beulah were still with us. I told her yes, but they weren't able to travel anymore, or talk on the phone, and Beulah was having memory problems. That's why she hadn't seen or heard them. Only Grace was still able to travel, and she would be arriving next week. My mother nodded, and said, "I seem to have put the other two on the wrong list," meaning her running tally of who's already passed away. The day went by peacefully. I thought nothing more of her comment about the operation until my brother arrived home from work that evening. As he and I sat on the couch next to her chair, chatting with her, she said suddenly, "Why didn't you tell me about the operation?" My brother paused, looked at me, then he too decided to let it pass.

I hope she had some sort of other dimension spirit operation while she was sleeping, one that will liberate her of pain and ease her loneliness and lift her heart, no matter the state of her body. This, I wish.


Here's a photo of my brother in a pensive mood. I'm grateful for him. He and his wife are doing the caregiving heavy lifting. When I took this picture he had just said that he will be sad when our mother goes but he will be relieved, too, because it is hard to see her like this. But I'm selfish. I can't even imagine being in this world without her physical presence. I'm not ready.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#MyBigBro

My 13-year-old niece ran down the hall laughing and yelling for me to come quickly. Her dad, newly on Instagram, had just asked what a hashtag was.

For those of you in my brother's camp, a hashtag in front of a word or phrase on a social media site (such as Instagam, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) means you can click on that word or phrase and bring up all entries with the same hashtag. So if you tag something #JamaicaVacay for example, you can click or tap on that and bring up every photo, comment, tweet or status update by everyone who ever used that same tag. And no spaces between words when adding hashtags. We had to explain that part to my brother, too, but I have to say he was quite good natured about his children's gleeful ribbing.







Monday, November 17, 2014

Dreaming time


I got to Kingston last night, my mom already in bed when I came, but we sat together in her room, my brother and sister in law, my niece and nephew, and the lovely woman who is on night duty this week, and we chatted and laughed and caught up as my mother dozed in and out under her plush red blanket, and at one point she said clearly and loudly, "It is wonderful to hear all these so loved voices around me," and my 13-year-old niece said, "Wow, Grandma, we heard that!" Because my mom speaks so softly now, and sometimes you're not even sure she's saying words you would recognize if you could only hear them, but that sentence came out strong and contented.

There are new symptoms since she got chikungunya, even though she contracted a fairly light strain of it. Her left shoulder hurts all the time, and she is thinner than she was before, although I did not think that possible. At night, her arms and hands tremble until she falls into a deep sleep, which she did not do for some hours last night. Instead she talked in her almost sleep, and at first I tried to engage her, asking questions, but the caregiver, who sleeps on a futon under the window across from her bed, said kindly, "You need to just let her talk until she's done talking," and so I began to listen instead, not trying too hard to understand, picking out random sentences here and there.

At one point she called for someone in her vision to help her hold a tray: "Come and help me hold this, sweetheart, because my hands are tired. Okay, set it over there." She spoke gently, the way she did to her grandchildren when they were younger and they were helping her set up for one of her famous tea parties with the good china and silver tea service. I imagined a beautiful tray laden with the finger sandwiches of finely grated cheddar and thinly-sliced cucumber, all the crusts cut off, delicate triangles artfully arranged. It made me happier to imagine she was holding an elegant tea party in her dreams, because she was so in her element at such times.

Later, she seemed to be talking about a picture on a wall, and the need to straighten it and put the frame around it just so. And throughout, this sentence, clear and whole, "God has been so good to us. He clears the path for us always and his light shines down," said again and again, her hands rising into the air of their own accord. I just listened, grateful to be there, scared she might die as I lay beside her, and so overcome that my cheek was wet at times, and I tried to just be in the moment, come what may.

Eventually she slept. It's morning now. She has had breakfast of a cheese omelet and ginger tea. She has a little trouble swallowing sometimes. The caregiver who is on day duty this week is patient and gentle with her, such wonderful women my brother and sister in law have found to care for our mother. My mom is dozing now, HGTV's The Property Brothers a soothing backdrop of sound. I am getting ready to do actual work as I don't have the luxury of a week off, but I do have the luxury of sitting next to my mother's chair as I type this, and kissing her forehead whenever she opens her eyes.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

This strong, independent woman is dearly loved


And she'll be back in the fold soon. She's coming to New York for Thanksgiving, taking a break from the rigors of dental school to join in the usual shenanigans. She calls that expression her "resting b**ch face," meaning in repose her face can look stern, even when she's feeling anything but. She says she's had that face since toddlerhood, and it's true! How we adore this child, watcher of every wacky reality show going, now a competent young woman, soon to have a "Dr." in front of her name, even if she did post this cartoon on insta this week:


Oh, I can relate.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The age I am in my head


Anyone out there who hails originally from the Caribbean will know this drill: Whenever the news goes out that you're traveling from America to see the family back home, the messages start pouring in, requests to locate, purchase and transport everything desired for oneself or one's children that cannot be found on island, or that cannot be found for anything resembling an affordable price, things like an X-Box One for a son's Christmas present; or a laptop for a teenager in danger of falling behind in school because the other kids can do research on the internet and she cannot; or a particular kind of undershirt, V-neck, not crew, and only this particular brand. Then there are the gifts for the wonderful women who take care of my mom, and for my niece and nephew and sister in law, which means for the past two nights I have been shopping with my son, my patient cohort, driving me here and there across the city in search of the items on the ever expanding list.

The children of those who hail originally from the Caribbean obviously know this drill, too, because he had not a complaint, and I felt supremely accompanied and supported on my quest as he took my hand and walked me through Costco to where the X-Box Ones were, and then the laptops and tablets, and then we drove to Target where the CD player for my mom's morning music could be found (her sister who lives in Toronto, whose CD player she has been using, will soon be returning to spend a few months with her daughter in Jamaica and will need it back). And so on.

I've enjoyed spending the time with my son. He's the only one in our family with a Costco membership; he does the bulk shopping because he's cost conscious like that. We talked as we shopped and drove around, and he told me about a man who comes to the sports club where he works as an assistant program manager. This man has early onset dementia, and has a constant companion whom he pays extremely well, because he's rather wealthy, thank God; apparently before his brain started to betray him he was a respected and sought-after cardio thoracic surgeon, and did very well for himself financially. My son found it heartbreaking, because even in the months that he's known him he could see the precipitous decline, and, he said, "He's just your age, Mom. Imagine that. A stellar career and then dementia that incapacitates you at your age!"

Here's the odd thing: As my son was talking I was thinking, But how did he become so successful and wealthy in his thirties? He was barely out of medical school. And how absolutely tragic to know yourself as brilliant and then to see your mind slipping away from you day by day, until you can't take care of yourself any more and have to pay someone to make sure you go to the gym and stay otherwise groomed and healthy.

You see what I was doing there? I was imagining this man in his thirties, at the prime of his life, struggling with dementia. It was a good long while before I realized that, wait, my son said he was my age; he was well past his thirties; he was well into his fifties! And that's when I realized that my age in my head is 37, the age I was after both my children had been born, no doubt because I have no desire to be in a world that does not include them. But in my head, I am not the age I am on paper. I didn't even realize it but I don't feel a day older than 37, at least not mentally, though my aches and pains say otherwise. When I told my son we had a laugh, and he said, "That's good, I suppose, that you feel younger than you are," and I confess I wondered for a fleeting moment whether I might have a touch of that dementia, too.





Thursday, November 13, 2014

Love


I was talking on the phone this morning with my cousin Sharon who lives in the Bahamas. That photo of my mother and her grandchildren was taken in 2002 beside Sharon's pool. I've posted it before. It's one of my favorites. That's my daughter at age 7 on the left, my son at age 10 behind, my nieces on the right and on my mother's lap, ages 12 and 2. It was my mother's 80th birthday, and the family had come from far and wide to celebrate her. My cousin, whose house is a work of art, had offered her home for the party, and it was without a doubt one of the most charmed days in the life of our family. So my cousin and I were talking this morning about all manner of things, and then the talk turned to our children, their good hearts, family loyalty, quick sense of fun, and it occurred to us that this great blessing that is our children is the direct result of the great blessing that is our mothers, and their original family of six sisters and three brothers, the aunts and uncles we call The Nine. They passed on their good hearts, family loyalty and quick sense of fun to the next generation and the next. They set a powerful example for us, living their devotion to one another the way they breathed, unquestioned, so that we absorbed it without even understanding that it isn't always thus and how great is this gift they have given us.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The more things change

“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.” 

― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera


And yet I wish I had this day back when my mother was still up and around in her own home in St. Lucia and dispensing her particular brand of gentle wisdom. She was 90 then. Now she will be 93 in two months and cannot move from sitting or lying down unaided. I thought she was frail when I took this photograph. I had no idea. And yet, her spirit remains in full bloom, stirring in her one good eye as she looks at you, her essence eternal and intact. I'm looking forward to being with her again. Three more days.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hello Tuesday


That was the view outside my door. Today is a work day. I am back to being able to focus on one project in earnest, the one I am so loving working on, the ghostwriting gig. I've cleared my desk of everything else and can finally work on it the way I need to, a total immersive experience. I wake up in the morning eager to get back to it, and that is the best feeling. The good news is I have three more projects in the wings, at least one of which is really happening; I got the contract yesterday. The good faeries have been working overtime on my behalf, and I'm grateful.

I'm going to Jamaica in a few days to spend a week with my mom. She sounds ever more frail on the phone, her voice thin and raspy, and every time we talk she says. "I wish you were here." I have been having worry dreams about her every night. This will be my fourth trip to Jamaica this year, plus one trip to Antigua and one to St. Lucia, six times to the Caribbean this year alone—which is more in a year than I have made in the three decades since moving to New York City to go to college. Another perk of working the way I do now.

I went to a party last Friday night for the newest round of people laid off from my old job. The corporate good old boys are choking the life out of that magazine. The shindig was at the same lounge where they held my party. This one was for four editors I used to work with who had been downsized the week before, and many of the folks who'd been previously laid off were in attendance. The former careers and finance editor was philosophical; the two former fashion editors, young and hip and beautiful, were already on to the next thing; but the former health and relationships editor was bitter, because she'd got the call at home on a day off, and then the editor-in-chief passed by her all week and never said another word, not, "Sorry this had to happen," or "Thanks for all your great work over the years"—nothing. She just looked past her as if she was already gone, even though she was in her office still editing copy and closing the book like a pro.

I understood totally how she was feeling, as if all the effort she had put in had never been recognized much less appreciated, but in the face of it I suddenly realized I have finally achieved indifference to the editor-in-chief. I once respected her greatly but can't say I do anymore. Still, the memory of sitting in her office receiving the news that she was laying me off no longer has any sting. In fact, she did me a huge favor. One year later, I can see that.

Here's another picture just for the hey of it: This one of my son and nephews appeared on Facebook yesterday. Those boys have shot up like beautiful weeds.






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