Saturday, October 15, 2011

Joie de Jo?

English Jo is having a baby, a little nerdy baby with surely extraordinary musical abilities and terrible eyesight and a penchant for Americanisms with a London accent. This is such a good thing.

And yet with other friends of mine, the moment they become parents I tend to clam up and disappear. We all know I like kiddos; in fact, I usually prefer them to the bitter, non-curious, shut-off adults I run into much more frequently. I like watching a baby see things and hear things and touch things for the first time, because I want to remember that the world is always new to someone and there are good things in it.

When L. Bloom was new
But, there's also a part of me that feels I will never be a mother, never create a stable little nuclear family with a steady life mate and a mortgage and milk money on the table. I will sustain myself, not out of self-preservation so much as a keen sense of how much I would hurt others if I let myself fade. I will not be so irresponsible as to let someone love me, or create life with that person, or raise a child in such close vicinity to this omnipresent aura of poison that either follows me or is me. And so watching my friends creating their families, my brothers even, feels a little like a sick voyeurism and only makes me long for something I must not allow myself to have.

Turns out, however, that I still haven't learned one of the simplest and most repetitive lessons in life; I cannot control the feelings and thoughts of others. Influence, yes. Control... not even a little. Hell, most of my battles stem from my need and failures to control myself!

So a man grows attached to me. He doesn't know the depths of the shitstorm I carry around in my head, but he also doesn't mind that I'm dealing with one. He laughs with me and at me and worries when I have some small thing he can carry. He talks about "what we'll do for the holidays" in July... "When we move in together..." Not if. When. "We will have to figure that out," he says, like a man buying a slanting, leaky house with every penny he has in the world, simply determined to make it shine. And he has me thinking...

Monday, October 10, 2011

fragile stuff

Faded Roses, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Elizabeth was the kind of girl who would silently hold a grudge for a good long while if you, say, didn't say "please," when asking her to pass the potatoes. It wouldn't be the kind of grudge that turns into a vendetta, just a strong demerit in her overall tally of your trustworthiness and respectability. So, yes, she would take it personally if you forgot her birthday. She would find a way to mention it in passing to send a shock of shame through you on the sly.

I've been trained, therefore, to start feeling guilty right around the beginning of September. I start thinking of sending her a card or a little gift - maybe a cookbook - and then I think of how she doesn't accumulate crap, really. She has maybe a dozen shirts and washes and wears them carefully. She purges her kitchen, her library and her office regularly, gleaning only the necessary pieces. Every space she rules is elegantly composed and purposeful. How do you give a gift to a woman who has chosen every small detail of her life?

Well, almost. She did not choose to get pregnant while she was here in Boston and had several credits to finish up on her Master's degree. She didn't exactly choose to move in with her in-laws in Santa Barbara. She didn't choose to have her sweet cat served up as lunch to the local coyote. She most definitely did not choose cervical cancer.

I suppose that by now we know that I have the fairly human need to distance myself from things that hurt. I practically shunned my friends from St. Bonaventure after Shane died. I can't bear to speak about my mother's mother, or even go into the part of my parents' basement where I cried myself nauseous after returning from the ER. And here I am again, in full ability to communicate with people I respect and love, who supported me in my intellectual growth and personal flounderings, but I do not want to talk about jLiz. I won't forget her; no, I will curl myself around my guilt for every birthday I missed, for the times I didn't call, for not knowing how bad it all was. I'll cultivate and feed that guilt and make very sure it continues to sink its teeth deeper into my flesh.

I asked the Current Man in My Life if he noticed that I know a lot of dead people. Then I immediately said, "well of course you have. I keep inviting them over." How can I know what I'm doing and not stop it?

A few weeks ago, Labor Day actually, I snuck home on an overpriced flight to see family. Remember when this was a terrible idea for my sanity? Well, clearly, I'm old. And things have changed. Possibly it's this sense of entropy... that if I don't take every moment I can to see my nieces and nephew and brothers and parents, they will wither away and fade from me. The human body, it appears, is made of nothing terribly permanent. We are composed of fragile stuff.

And so I got on that flight on a whim, asking my roommate to throw a few things in my backpack and meet me at work so I could make the trip. My Uncle Maui was home on what he called his "Aloha Means Goodbye Tour." My grandmother Biv is 93 years old and pretty much takes it personally that we allowed her to get so old and worn out. She doesn't want to make it to 94. Uncle Maui spent days with her, just letting her bitch and watching her nod off while reading, sitting by her while she slept. He got infuriated and bored and fell in love with her - all the truest familial feelings a person can have. And he said goodbye.

I didn't see her at all because his time with her seemed too precious. I didn't want to interfere with this capsuled moment that I wish I'd had with Shane or Elizabeth or... well let's not list. But on the flight back I found myself thinking of her hands, my mother rubbing lotion into the soft, lax skin. She likes rose scents and rosy hues, and the backs of her hands are so much like rose petals after they droop on the stem. Soft, too soft, and fragile. The coils of your fingerprint seem to bite into that thin and tender petal and it wants to rip or fall.

I am so painfully aware of the ephemeral. I am aching for the strong people who, ultimately, fade and rip and fall limp in scattered petals.

Clearly, shoving this awareness into a tiny Box of Awful To Hide Away... well, it's not working. Not only that, it's created a sort of mottled lens through which I obliquely see the world, one that I know is beautiful and captivating but have not felt I could bear to see at full strength. I'm vowing, again, to be alive, in full knowledge of the complicated contract we sign when we decide to be hurt, overjoyed, ignored and thrilled and disappointed. I'm vowing to allow all things, again; to be a cog in the machine in faith that it will produce incredible joy alongside the suffering.

I will try, anyway, and I will tell you about it. Maybe you will hear me.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Groundhog Day - do not repeat

5:38 am: Nightmare about my parents’ toilet being set across from the front door of the house without walls or doors. I’m stuck there in the middle of being very sick and the doorbell is ringing. Alarm wakes me and I run to the bathroom.

6:20 am: Showered, teeth brushed, puffy eye noted, hot compress deliberated. I decide I don’t have time. We just got a buttload of snow and I already know my commute will be slow. Throw on undies, bra, dress, take ibuprofen, sit on my bed to put on tights. Everything hurts. I get the bad foot in one leg of the tights and the pain is exhausting. I lay back in my bed and set the alarm for eight minutes, thinking maybe the drugs will have started working. Note that my stomach is iffy and blame it on the meds. Ignore everything, close my eyes…

6:30 am: C’mon, Jo, keep moving keep moving keep moving… Mrs. Not My Boss has been watching every little move, every minute I’m late, every put-off phone call. Get up and go, dammit. Tights are on… knee-high socks over them. Holy hell the pain… Eight more minutes.

10:20 am: Panic.

10:30 am: No longer snowing, not really raining… My coat isn’t quite waterproof and through the foot and a half of snow there are about two inches of slush against the sidewalk. I didn’t bring a purse, knowing it would throw my balance off. I can’t go down St. Paul Street because I know I’ll slip down the hill. Catching myself from slipping every three feet. My back hates me.

10:40 am: Call my manager from the T stop, tell her voicemail I’m on my way. Don’t have any story to tell, other than my body continually telling me I shouldn’t be awake today, which doesn’t seem valid.

11:10 am: Train finally arrives. My phone has been in my pocket but it’s wet when I take it out to tap my T pass. Ugh.

The train is blissfully empty. I sit across from a dad in a kind of Indiana Jones-esque hat and a curly-haired blond kid, about seven, in full snow gear. The father has just said, “record store.”
Kid: What’s that?
Dad: What’s what?
Kid: A record store?
Dad: It’s a place to buy records.
Kid: Yeah, but what’s a record?
Dad: It’s like CD’s, but before CD’s. For decades it was records.
Kid: Are there CD stores?
Dad: Umm.. I guess not really. I mean, a few.
Kid: Why are there CD stores?
Dad: For people who still have stereos, I guess.
Kid: Oh.
Dad: I’ll show you a music store, okay? There’s one in Cambridge.
Kid: Okay.
11:20 am: Arrive at Park Street station. The acrid scent of oily smoke rises from the Red Line stairways. Several stairways are blocked off by big yellow expandable gates. I head down the stairs to yet more smoke, crowds of bewildered passengers, and an Ashmont train that’s been stopped several yards back from its usual position. In front of it, a blazing light and the source of the smoke: the third rail is somehow exposed in three blindingly bright places, flickering and sparking against the water continually dripping from the masses of snow above.

Three men in T uniform stand with hands on their hips and clearly have no idea how to handle the situation. One man, the brightest, I believe, turns around to tell passengers that this train won’t open its doors here, and he doubts they’ll let the Alewife train stop either. Find alternative routes.

I head up the stairs and call my co-worker, tell her the train is en fuego and I’ll slide down the hill from Government Center, knowing… God, knowing how much that’ll hurt and how likely I am to fall and kill myself.

11:44 am: I arrive at work, near tears, stomach wobbling, sharp pains shooting through my back and leg. My feet are soaked as the waterproof function of my boots has apparently given up. My co-worker is on the phone but gives me a thumbs-up to acknowledge my arrival. I sit and contemplate coffee. Stomach won’t allow it. Headache seems to be begging for it. Should eat something… get up to grab saltines and ginger ale from the stash we keep for chemo patients. I’m likely going to hell.

12:00 pm: Answer several emails, get responses letting me know that all has been sorted before I got to work today. I’m on the edge of tears and put on the internet radio just in time to cover a slight sob.

12:04 pm: Mrs. Not My Boss takes a look in our cubicle and says, “Anyone in here in the mood for Viva Burrito? They’re delivering…” She takes one look at my face and has her answer, strides down the corridor to more likely punters.

12:30 pm: Still haven’t spotted my boss to tell her I’m at work. Trying to get my brain to function against rising nausea. Co-worker also not healthy, and she hasn’t been for at least a week. I fear I’ll have to withstand nausea as long as she has and wonder at her fortitude. In the meantime I open up my timesheet to make sure I record that I got here at 11 effing forty. Don’t allow myself to check my paycheck to see how much Earned Time I have because I know it’s depressing.

At some point I get up from my chair and return to notice that the edge of the seat is soaked. Looking at my dress there is an equator of soaking material, about a foot and a half of skirt that ought to be wrung out. Yet another opinionated co-worker says I should find an air dryer. We don’t have them on our floor and we all contemplate that absurdity.

1:13 pm: Mexican food arrives. I take two tums, one green and one pink, hoping it will settle my stomach but truly doubting it. Answer some phone calls and make a few more, covering my nose to keep the scent of seasoned beef at bay.

1:15 pm: Run out of the clinic past desks with open dishes on them on all sides, hand over my mouth and nose. I use the outside bathroom, hoping for something vile to come out of me the usual way and praying not to puke. Spend an extra minute washing at the sink, letting the scent of the soap fill my nostrils. I come out and sit in the hallway, looking out the glass wall at Beacon Hill and the continual snow and sleet. I breathe deeply. A man with a hospital pass sits next to me. Really, dude? This hallway is empty and you sit here? Well, at least he doesn’t smell like refried beans.

I think I’ve gotten control over my stomach. I head back in. Head to my desk. Co-worker is trudging along with OR calls and doctors invading our space. I mention something about Mexican food sucking ass when you’re nauseous, and then suddenly I’m running for the bathroom.

Pink and green spots. The ginger ale isn’t as vile coming up as I thought it might be. Maybe it’s the Tums. I’m crying and puking, yet detached somewhere, thinking these things.

1:26 pm: Shaking and crying and trying to get a grip, chills rolling through my body… Co-worker has quietly ordered me to go home, bless her. I write an email.
To: Manager
From: Jo
Subject: Puked. Going home
1:28 pm: Mrs. Not My Boss strolls by.
Mrs. NMB: Oh no, Jo, are you not feeling well?
Jo: (still can’t stop crying) I’m sick.
Mrs. NMB: You should go home.
Jo: I’m trying.
Mrs. NMB: You really shouldn’t be here if you’re sick.
Jo: (closing computer programs and putting away patient files) I don’t know how I’m getting home… (thinking of hellish train ride, envisioning puking on the exposed third rail. Then envisioning cabbie on the horrendous roads, sliding into a triple-car pile up.
Mrs. NMB: Just take a cab, why don’t you?
Jo: (bites tongue, wanting to say, “I’d love to, but since I won’t get paid for today I have to watch my wallet a bit, don’t I?” Still gulping back tears, because puking makes me think of my grandmother who died after I watched her puke for eight hours straight.)
I’m so embarrassed… I don’t want to be crying.
Mrs. NMB: Just go. Take a cab. Go down to the cab stand.
She wanders away. I zip up and head out.
Co-worker: (sees me through the glass and looks alarmed) Your purse??
Jo: (shaking head.)
Co-worker: Oh yeah, you fall over.
Jo: (Nodding head.)
Co-worker: Go!
1:35 pm: The cabs are hidden behind an eight-foot mound of plowed snow. There’s no access except to walk into the middle of the busiest intersection of the hospital straight at traffic. I slip. I catch myself. A little self-pitying sob escapes me as a lance of pain shoots through my back. The cab at the front of the queue is a small SUV type with snow tires, at least. Clean, no smoky smells. Bless this cab. After what feels like hours he drops me across from my apartment at a driveway that’s been cleared so I don’t have to step through five feet of snow. The meter reads $12 something. I give him a twenty and thank him for driving on the shittiest day Boston ever made.

1:58 pm: Changed into pj’s, tell roommate I’m sick and quarantining myself, gingerly put myself to bed. I want my mommy and Pirates of Penzance. She always made us watch it when we were sick in case we were faking. She thought it was punishment but we all secretly loved it. I’m falling asleep while trying to remember things you’re supposed to do when you’re sick. Jell-o? Fluids? Should I check for fever? Pull the trash can closer to the bedside and pray I don’t need it…

10:40 pm: Awoken by roommate making toast. Analyze stomach ickiness to be low, but definitely not hungry. Get up, pee, take pain pills for back, face down on the pillow and I’m out.