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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Big One


Happy birthday to the love of my life on the big five-oh. For the past 26 years, ever since making his acquaintance in this life, I have loved this man with my whole heart. Truly, I think I loved him before this life; meeting him was like a warm rush of recognition. I wish him everything good on this day and all days. He is worthy of that and more.

That's us the year we met, on our way to the beach in Antigua. Oh yes, he can be sublimely silly, too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where She Goes From Here

I'm beginning to think that most of the people I know are born in October. I find myself saying Happy Birthday to someone all month long. Today is my cousin's birthday, the one who lives in the prison of her addictions, and lately, the deepening fear of what her life will be like when her 91-year-old mother dies and she no longer has a place to live rent- and responsibility-free. I see the panic in her eyes these days. Most of the time, I ache for her, when she isn't causing an ugly commotion in the house, that is. So my prayer for her, on this her 46th birthday, is that this will be the year she climbs out of the suffocating pit of her addiction. This will be the year she decides to give rehab another try. This will be the year she leaves behind the toxic man who has affixed himself to her life so that she can provide him with money and random store bought things, and food and most of all addictive substances, all paid for by her mother. This will be the year she wakes up to her own beauty and worth. This will be the year. I pray.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beautiful Family


The official Obama family portrait by Annie Liebovitz.

Sometimes, I feel again the way I felt on November 5, 2008, that moment of exhilaration and wonder when I woke up and realized that it was not a dream, Barack Obama had indeed been voted the 44th President of the United States. Looking at this photograph, released by the White House today, I am remembering that feeling, and it makes me smile anew.

Click on the photograph. It's definitely worth viewing large.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Daddy and Me


With my dad at Blue Waters, Antigua, after Christmas morning service, 1983. I find, in this age of digital exactness, I am falling in love with the grainy, imperfect images taken back in the day. This was made with a Kodak instant camera, before the company discontinued it. I remember this day well. It was the morning I introduced my parents to my not-yet-husband's mother after church. None of us knew that we would one day be related through marriage and call one another family.

Counting Breaths


This day would have been my dad's 86th birthday. The photo here was taken six months before he died at age 72. The cancer had already spread to his bones; he could no longer walk, but was not yet bedridden. We all knew his time was near, so we gathered to take pictures. I wanted my children, then ages three and one, to have something to remember him by. Turns out they didn't need the pictures. My dad's impish humor and his adoration of his grandchildren remain vivid for them.

I called my mom this morning and wished Daddy happy birthday to her. How blessed we were, we said, to have shared our lives with this great and wonderful man. They had been married for 46 years when he died. In my dad's last days, I wanted to capture the breathtaking love between them. So I wrote the piece that follows. This story was published in a magazine and anthologized a book, and is copyrighted. But I can't plagiarize myself, right?

------

It is a slow, inexorable dance. The conclusion is sure, only the interval is still in question. My father is dying. My mother refuses to lose him. Daddy has fought the internal mutiny of cells for more than a decade, and he is tired now, tired of restraining the invisible march, tired of holding his breath as the doctor shares the newest results of tissue scans, tired of yielding, again and again, to the surgeon's well-meaning knife. And he's exhausted by the way his heart aches at the lines in my mother's face, the tender grooves beside her mouth that belie the determined smile she marshals each time a visitor enters the room.

The cancer is throughout my father's body. It has penetrated the bone, infiltrated skull, ribs, pelvis, toes, and robbed his legs of their ability to propel him forward. Daddy sits in a wheelchair, gaunt, sallow, his preternaturally black hair finally going to gray. His memory skips and falters, and sometimes, in the moment that he awakens, he even thinks he can rise from his bed and walk unaided to the bathroom to perform his morning rituals. But then he tries to move his legs, lying cramped and cold under the sheets, and they betray him. Tears sting his eyes. He averts his face so that my mother won't see. For several moments, he says nothing for fear that his helplessness will cause a ripple in his voice.

I stroke his hair. "To be struck down like this..." he whispers. I just keep stroking his hair.

I worry about my mother. She's talking, walking, moving fast, obsessively focused on caring for my father from morning till night. But sometimes, her stomach knits so severely she is forced to lie still. It is the only pause she permits herself. My father watches her flurry of motion with an intimate grasp of its meaning. He is holding on, I think, waiting for her to accept that he must move on. But my mother will not give in to what she sees as defeat. God, she points out, is in their corner: Daddy will walk again. He will rebuild the muscles in his wasted legs. He will allow God's healing Spirit to storm his body and repair his wounds. He will get, if not well, then better. He cannot give up. She cannot give up.

But lately, there has been so much pain. Flaring, unendurable pain in the joints of his limbs. My mother fumbles with the medicine bottle, her twisted, arthritic fingers fighting the childproof cap. She manages to extract a huge yellow pill. She lifts my father's head, places the painkiller on his tongue and holds the water to his lips. Then she sits at his bedside, counting his breaths, praying silently for the hour it takes for the medication to take effect, for her face to grow fuzzy in his sight as merciful sleep takes hold.

Much later, when he wakes, my mother is in the kitchen preparing a meal. It is her supreme purpose to coax food into my father. She scolds and cajoles him to take feasts as large as my six-foot-two, 240-pound husband regularly consumes. My father's small frame, bird-like appetite, and nausea from the chemotherapy drugs make my mother's task difficult. He complains that he is not hungry. He rebels by pushing the food around his plate, never lifting the fork to his lips. "I am not a child!" he objects finally. "You'd think I was torturing you!" she protests. Once, watching them, I begged them not to argue. They both turned to look at me. A playful light came into my father's eyes, and my mother laughed outright. "Why do you want to begrudge us our fun?" she said. I saw Daddy's hand reach under the table to caress Mommy's knee.

Daddy's only desire, in these months of failing health, is that my mother stay near. In the mornings, when my mother tries to push out of bed to get his 6 a.m. medication and a cup of hot chocolate, he holds on to her. It is far better therapy, he insists with a flash of his old mischief, for them to lie in bed and cuddle. He chuckles as he says it, but he means it fiercely. If my mother goes out, to the grocery store or to get her hair done, my father asks me several times each hour: "Where is Mommy? Isn't she back yet?"

They have been married 46 years. Although they do not say it, they realize that the cherished 50 year mark may not be achieved. My mother will not allow melancholy. She observes that she and Daddy courted for four years before they were married. "This is our 50th year together," she tells him on the morning of their anniversary. My father's mind cavorts in the rooms of memory. His breaths grow full, his chest lifts higher. Robust recollections fill his fragile frame. His groping hand finds my mother's arthritic one and, clasping it, he brings her fingers to his lips and closes his eyes. My father sighs deeply. My mother measures his breath.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nothing moving but the rain

I miss my son. He doesn't call, text or email. Poof. He's just gone. I know he's busy with his life, which is rich and full and lively with new people and ideas and experiences. I have to remember that I never called my parents either when I was in college. I traveled out of state, even out of country and never bothered to mention it to them. I spent weekends in the homes of people they never knew. I went to performances and parties and street fairs and art shows, exploring new neighborhoods, crashing sometimes wherever I happened to be, nights I'm sure they thought I was safe in my dorm room bed. I was completely in and of the moment. Not reckless. But meeting life with arms wide open, heart laughing, face to the sky.

This self-absorption and immediacy of experience is natural and desired when one is in college. I know this, but I can't help it. I still miss my boy.

Nothing moving but the rain. I saw this phrase in a New York Times magazine story about anxious brains. It struck me as summing up everything. It captures the sadness I feel when nothing major is actually wrong, and yet there is a hole at center of me that isn't quite caused by anything, just anxious imaginings, as ephemeral as rain. Maybe missing my son is just the best reason I can come up with for the sadness I feel today. And this too will pass. Like rain.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Nana



Today would have been my mother-in-law's 75th birthday. Here she is in one of my favorite images. This photograph captures the love and protection and 53-year-long romance between her and my father-in-law. She was a strong, prayerful, vigorous and determined soul to the end; she never quit, never let life's punches sit her down, never stopped fighting for those she drew under the umbrella of her care. But I am most taken by the gentleness in her eyes in this picture and the steadiness and contentment in his. You can still see the girl and the boy who fell deeply in love.

My husband and his siblings have been blessed to call this generous and loving woman mother and my children to call her Nana. I miss her so much.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October Boys

We recently found these photos of my son and my husband, taken by a photographer friend who may not want to be named given how poorly these negatives were stored. (Sorry O!) Our boy was about eight months old when he and his dad participated in a shoot for a father's day photo essay in a local paper. Even though the color is faded and speckled, you can still see the loving interaction in these frames. I call the pictures "October boys" because both my men (and my dad, actually; and come to think of it, our photographer friend, too) were born in October.



Monday, October 5, 2009

I Hate Laundry

I hate laundry out of all proportion to the fact of it. All it is, is sorting dirty clothes, putting them in the washer, then the dryer, taking them out, folding them, putting them away. And since this is New York City and we live in an apartment building, it also means several trips up and down in the elevator to and from the laundry room. Simple enough. And yet, I feel a mountain of pent-up resentment when I'm doing laundry. Actually, what I'm really feeling is pent-up anxiety, which I interpret as resentment at the task, because, really, why should one feel anxious about doing laundry? It's not logical. I think it is actually dangerous to my family relationships. I used to hire someone to do it, but recently stopped that to save money. But you know, this might be money that is in the same category as seeing a shrink when you're seriously unbalanced. Laundry seriously unbalances me. As I said, it's not logical. It's not that my family doesn't help. They just don't do it on my schedule. They don't fold and put it away right away. It sits out on chairs and beds for awhile, challenging my sense or order, my sanity, even when neatly folded. On the other hand, if I hire someone to do it, they come in, wash, fold, iron and put away all within a few hours, and I don't have to follow up for days after to make sure everything is completed. I think my usually managed OCD is busting out of the closet on this one.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Love


Eighteen years ago today at 7.01 p.m. my son was born and our lives were deepened by loving him.
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