Thursday, September 26, 2013

I will say this

It has been a long time since I've jumped out of bed in the morning, eager to get dressed and get busy. Could it be that I can now fashion a work life I can wholeheartedly love? I don't yet know what shape my future will take, but right now I'm drinking deep. 

Photos taken at Grandma's house in St. Lucia, 2000.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Late Lunch

“Everyone runs around trying to find a place where they still serve breakfast because eating breakfast, even if it's 5 o'clock in the afternoon, is a sign that the day has just begun and good things can still happen. Having lunch is like throwing in the towel.” 

—Jonathan Goldstein in Lenny Bruce is Dead

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Can you find my girl?

Photo swiped from Facebook. I have no shame.

Much is Afoot

And I am choosing to remain silent lest my words undermine me. I have no idea who reads here, so until certain things are settled, I'm probably going to be posting only pictures for a while. Suffice it to say, the universe is mysterious and sometimes an exacting taskmaster but I am not wandering on the plain alone. Case in point: These two men (shown 21 years ago and now), and also my daughter (who has college homecoming this weekend). They have been unstinting in their support. I particularly enjoyed clearing out my office last Sunday with my son, his capable rooted self, helping me run through the piles and quickly decide what to toss and what to keep, and leavening the whole enterprise with humor. My husband waited in the car in a no parking zone in front of the building, so that all we had to do was exit the front doors with bags in hand, deposit them in the trunk and go home. Easy peasy.

My boy came in and hugged his dad, 
who was on the bed reading his kindle. 
I caught the picture. It reminded me of 
an earlier one taken two decades ago.
Not much has changed.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

My mother

"This does not diminish you in any way, my love."
That was my mother's response to The News. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Anatomy of a Layoff

The community here is a healing place. Thanks for all the supportive comments on the news of my sudden joblessness. They mean more than you can ever know. The euphemism used was: Your position is being eliminated due to corporate restructuring, it pains me to do this, and so on. I kept a pretty good poker face, and I didn't get suckered in to comforting my executioner and making her feel better about the whole thing although I didn't try to make her feel worse either. I didn't ask many questions. I didn't want to sit through what I knew would be platitudes. The decision had been made. I'd had an inkling. Who schedules a meeting for 5 p.m. on a Friday evening? I just said, Okay, so what's the next step here? She gave me the name of the human resources person who was waiting to go through my package with me. I said thank you (reflexively), and left. 

Truth is, it is humiliating to be fired. Or job eliminated. Apparently it's an important distinction, the latter allowing a company to simultaneously release you and hold you blameless. I didn't dissolve. I shut down instead. I told four people what had happened, people I care about beyond the job, and asked them not to say anything till I figured out how I wanted to handle it. Then I went to meet with HR. They had my wrong hire date, I explained the discrepancy, and they're looking into it. 

After meeting with HR, I stood on the sidewalk to hail a cab home. There were none in sight. Then a limo driver I have come to know, a Haitian man who drives some muckety muck at the company, called out to me from across the street. He is often just parked there waiting for his boss and he has driven me home sometimes in the past. Just out of the goodness of his heart and for some extra cash, but even though he has a very fancy big black SUV with tinted windows like the movie stars use, he charges me less than a yellow cab. And yesterday, there he was, hailing me and asking if I needed a ride home. He was like an angel sent to give comfort. For some reason I felt like crying again. Anyway, I rode home from being laid off in grand style. 

I had texted my husband and when I walked into the house, he met me at the door and just enveloped me and I did cry then. It felt good being wrapped in his arms, and safe. And then, strangely, I didn't want to take off my work clothes. For hours I walked around in them, aware that I would not be getting up and getting dressed for work again for some time to come. I feared the lack of structure. I called my kids. No answer. I texted them, "I just got voted off the island," a reference to the reality show Survivor, and to my son, who during a particularly intense period of layoffs used to say to me as I left for work each morning, "Don't get voted off the island today." My kids called me immediately. My daughter said, "Mom, I'm going to get a job and I'll help pay for college!" I told her not to worry, we were going to be fine and would figure everything out. And we will.

My son was just getting out of a movie when he called. He said, "I'm coming straight home." I told him he didn't have to, I was fine, but he insisted. It was touching. I felt mostly numb for the rest of the night. People from work kept calling but I didn't answer. I wasn't ready yet to talk to anyone. I thought, So this is how it feels. I've watched so many get fired over the past eight years. So many. And now I know what they were feeling in the days after the axe fell and they disappeared from my daily life. Mostly I worry about having enough money. I worry about finding a comparable position at my age. I worry about making the right moves. I'm inspired by people like Steve, our friend here, who went through something similar in New York media. And he remade his life in the most wonderful ways. So I also see the potential here. I need to keep focused on that.

I lay awake last night for hours, staring at my thoughts in the dark. Then I made of list of people to call, places to inquire about, actions to take next.  First thing this morning, I called the writer I have worked most closely with, who had called and texted several times last evening. She urged me to take my time and gather information, don't sign anything precipitously, and really figure out what I want to do next. She said, "I know you. Your instinct is going to be to barrel out the gate and find another job, but take a minute with this. Think about what you really want. You're going to be fine and you have every resource I can bring to this to help you." I so appreciated that. She also called another woman, a former colleague, who she said wanted to help me as well. There are people around me offering support, and I don't know if any of it will pan out, but right now it feels good in the face of being unceremoniously let go.

My daughter just called. She said, "You sound so calm." I am trying to model courage for my children, and faith in the future. At this moment, my son and my husband are watching soccer and hooting over a score. It is so good to have our son home. He is not as snippy with me on continued association as he is in short bursts, like visits home from college. Living together again, we're good. And he and his dad are such pals. It's beautiful to see. Life goes on. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday the thirteenth

So I  got laid off from my job today.

On Friday the thirteenth.

I'll be over here trying to wrap my mind around this and make a plan.

See you soon.

Life is

Aunt Grace returned to Toronto this morning. I was already at work when she left. I hear she wept leaving Aunt Winnie, and wept in the elevator going down, great heaving cries that had her fellow passengers very concerned, and was crying as the cab left the curb heading for the airport. Aunt Winnie's home attendant, who helped her to the cab, called me after. She too was sobbing on the phone. "She cried so much," she kept repeating through her own tears. Aunt Grace was crying of course because she is sure she will never see Aunt Winnie alive again. On the other hand, she has been sure of this for some years. Still Aunt Winnie is definitely writing her epilogue. Emaciated and curled small in the bed, she mostly sleeps. Aunt Grace was crying, too, for all her sisters, for Maisy already gone, for my own mother Gloria, confined to her chair in Jamaica, for Beulah in the Bahamas, whose memory grows foggier, and for Fay in New Jersey, barely able to catch her breath, all of them shrinking before her eyes. Grace is such a merry spirit normally. She refuses to be sidelined by any of her own significant ailments. This week, while she was visiting with Winnie, we laughed a lot. But when I wasn't looking, she also cried. It must be so hard to see the women she has loved longest and best slipping away. Grief is the price of love.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never forget

I will never forget how, as the evening of September 11, 2001 fell like a shroud, I went outdoors with my children, down to the courtyard where we could be with other families who had come through that devastating day in the history of the city. My son and his friends played wiffle ball, as overhead, fighter jets patrolled the otherwise empty skies. The rising count of all the firefighters lost when the Twin Towers had crumbled that morning was too much to bear, I couldn't take it in, not until the moment when my son, then 9, left his game and came over to where I sat on a bench. He stood in front of me, his eyes searching. "Are you okay?" I asked him. A silly question. None of us was remotely okay. He didn't answer my query. Instead, he said solemnly, "A lot of heroes died today." I put my arms around him and held on.

A few years later, this was his college essay. 

Intense heat, objects melting at 500o Fahrenheit, danger around every bend. Wait. Over there, that silhouette in the corner. Could it be? Yes, it is a person. The heavy sound of my breath as I run hard, the person over my shoulders. The sweet, cold air of the outside. Finally, safety. This is what I imagine my future will be.

The first stirring of my desire to fight the destructive force of fire came on September 11, 2001. That day dawned bright blue. Against the clear sky, two planes struck the World Trade Center. Only three hours later, the buildings lay in a heap of scorched rubble on the ground. I was nine years old when this happened. I could barely understand the gravity of the situation that faced our nation. Afterwards, people would ask, “How did 9/11 affect you?” I would always shrug and say, “I don’t know.” For a long time, I thought the events had nothing to do with me. I was wrong: 9/11 had left its mark on me, but it remained deep inside, waiting to be uncovered five years later.

By the time I was a freshman in high school, all those lives lost in the blaze of that day had finally brought me to my passion: I wanted to be one of New York’s Bravest, part of the FDNY. At first, I figured I was just going through a phase and I would outgrow it in a couple months. I thought I was just caught up in the glory. Everyone wants to be a hero. All those firefighters running into a building to save people they did not know. But in my mind, I kept rewriting the story: The structures hold. The heroes and the people make it out alive.

In my sophomore year, a friend told me about the FDNY Explorers program. I was instantly in love with the possibilities! I joined the program, which met every Wednesday afternoon for four hours at a firehouse in the Bronx. I got to wear the protective gear, handle the equipment, study how fires move. I learned the techniques of search and rescue, and how to fit through small spaces with bulky equipment and navigate blind in a steam-filled room.

Firefighting is still my passion. Already it has unlocked traits in me I did not know I possessed: discipline, courage, curiosity, teamwork, mastery of fear. I believe firefighting is my calling. I have always been fascinated with the property of fire and how it can both destroy objects, yet also purify some of the most precious metals. As a future firefighter, whether on the front lines or in an emergency room, I know I might not be able to save everyone. That is my true concern. Although I know it is impossible for me to help every single person in trouble, it still scares me that I’ll let a single person go. What overpowers this fear is the belief that I will be able to reach that one woman, that one child, that one old man who needs me because everything around them is burning down.

Tonight, my son begins training as an EMT. I asked for and received his permission to post his essay in honor of the day.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cool Customers (then and now)

Beautiful angels

Aunt Winnie turned 95 on Saturday. Her sister Grace, 87, flew down from Toronto to spend the week with her, and another sister, Fay, 81, plus various cousins, nieces, nephews, grands and great grands were also on hand to celebrate her. Her daughter was there and was very well behaved this year. It was good to see her. Aunt Winnie wasn't having much of the festivities, though. She screwed her eyes shut and seemed to me to be trying to pretend that all the commotion wasn't happening. Her home attendant had drawn on eyebrows and lipstick, which looked garish to me. It made me vaguely uncomfortable through the entire proceedings. I suppose I should focus on the love for Aunt Winnie that brings everyone out for her birthday, and on the fact that she is cause for us to gather and see one another after long stretches of sporadic contact. It was nice to have my son present for the first time in four years, and it's always a special treat to spend time with Aunt Grace, aka Miss Fix-It, aka Martha Stewart, and the only one of the six sisters still capable of traveling. Of the first picture of my aunts below, my niece (who is in the thick of dental school now and couldn't be there) commented on Instagram, "I love how the light came out behind them, like their halos combined. #beautifulangels." Yes.

These lovelies are 94, 95, 87 and 81 years old

Waiting for the party to start. 

My son bore the cake in to Aunt Winnie. 

Aunt Winnie's sisters stayed by her bedside.

Aunt Winnie's great grandsons. The room was packed.

The view from Aunt Winnie's terrace.

Friday, September 6, 2013

First Response

He's now moved back home after graduating college and will start his EMT/paramedic training next week on September 11. If you know him, and know his inspiration to guard life and limb as a first responder and ultimately a firefighter, you'll understand the symbolism of that date.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pod People

Here's a fun photo of my girl and friends that I copped from Facebook today. I have no clue what or where but she looks engaged and fully herself, and I love that and I love her. 

Oh My Heart

It's one of those periods when everything is swimming around in my brain, trying to get out, but there is no way out for those little fish other than through my writing a door for them to swim through. I'll try, even though work awaits me this morning, a story to cut by more than half so it will fit its layout (always a painful task when the writer brilliantly delivered) and another one to edit from scratch. I thought I'd stop by here first, and see if I could summon the words to open that watery door.

So the kids are gone again, though our son comes home later tonight, driving back from track alumni weekend, and then he will be home with us for the meanwhile. Life changes again. It's been just my husband and me for the last week, and it has been a sweet time, easygoing, gentle, full of humor, the light dancing in his eyes the way it can. I think when he was in the cave the week before, when I felt so abandoned, as I do when he disappears, he was working through some thorny family stuff, and he was also preparing himself, maybe not consciously, for his adored daughter leaving yet again. When finally he emerged on the five-hour drive to take our daughter back to school, I had my love back, and I wondered at the duality of marriage, the times when it feels so loving and sure and the times when you think the loneliness of the moment just might crush you. But it never does. 

I think my emotional membranes are too fluid, gossamer thin. I can't keep the moods of those in close proximity outside myself. I absorb them fully, and then think it is my own darkness I am wrestling with, when in fact I have borrowed another's ache, and without true comprehension of its source, and so it feels formless and dangerous, as if I won't survive because I can't identify the threat, which means it might slay me when I'm not paying attention, but I don't know what to pay attention to. I don't think I've explained it very well, but I hope I remember this the next time I am reeling and can find no reason for the sensation of sucking on no air. 

My darling girl called me yesterday. She says she is doing okay, that she finds her room cosy, and classes are going fine so far. And then she asked me, "Have you ever heard of generalized anxiety disorder?" Yes, I said. I have it. "Oh," she breathed. "I read it can run in families." I realized she had been googling her feelings and trying to self-diagnose. I told her my father, the esteemed judge, had also suffered from it, and asked her if she was feeling anxious. "Sometimes when I just wake up," she said. "And I don't really know why I'm anxious."  

She explained that the anxiety wasn't related to tests or schoolwork, it was more a social anxiety. I suddenly remembered feeling this way myself when I was in college. I wished with all my heart I could spare my children ever feeling anything uncomfortable or hard, but of course, we can't do that. We just need to help them understand they are not alone, and they will survive it, and many others are made the same way, and they do wonderful things in the world in spite of it and sometimes because of it. I urged her to get a regular exercise program going for the endorphins, and to find a therapist on campus she could talk to regularly to help process what she is feeling. She said she would if she felt she needed to, but she was okay right now. So I encouraged her to process her thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, she has a few really good ones, and of course I am always here if she ever wants to talk something through. 

I'm a big believer in therapy. I was lucky in that the therapist I saw in my twenties and thirties was one of the best. The cognitive behavioral therapist I went to more recently helped a lot, too. It's healing to have a place where one can comb through the detritus of one's conscious and unconscious life, shine a light on what is most frightening, and realize that illuminated like that, the shadows disappear, terror dissipates. I spoke to my friend who is a therapist and who knows and loves my girl. She suggested that what she is feeling is in part developmental, related to recent changes in her life. She agreed that my girl would find comfort in talking things through with a therapist, but that this would be most helpful if she was ready to seek this out herself. She offered me a couple of names should my girl want to speak to one. I'm keeping those names in my pocket, at the ready. A good therapist can be a powerful adjunct to living. 

Back when I first became a mother, someone told me that having children is like giving your heart permission to walk around outside your body. As the years pass, I understand more deeply what she meant. 

He starts his EMT/ paramedic training on September 11. If you know his story, you'll appreciate the symbolism.