Wednesday, September 14, 2011

lifted pain

When it comes right down to it there is little in this life we have control over. For instance I can control what I put on the page but I can't control other peoples perception of what I write. There are no keys for inflection on the key board. I wish I could say life was beautiful all the time but in reality it's been pretty ugly. A month ago when I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis all I could see was either a life full of extreme pain or a brief healthy existence followed by a long drawn out ugly painful horrific death leaving my family scarred and my daughter alone. Terrified and huddling against the dark I made the choice to take the medicine. My body has responded well and though I run the risk of lung, liver and kidney damage, and have a 2% risk of lymphoma, the initial response has given the doctor an optimistic hope that we can get my auto immune disease to go into remission. I have been able to move better and my appetite has returned. I no longer have to save up my energy for one event or chore scheduled for that day. Now I can do the dishes, crochet, laundry, and write all in one day without feeling wrung out and demolished. The worry that the medication will damage me is a distant worry that I constantly have to hand over to God. It sneaks up on me every day niggling at the back of my mind like a rat. But I pray a lot more now.

With my vigor returned it is my hope to begin my old yogalates routine. Of course that means cleaning up the living room first. Reclaiming my house from the clutter that tends to accumulate is not easy. I'm in that stage where the mess simply seems to migrate from this room to that room without really shrinking but shrink it does. Vacuuming is enjoyable again and the routine of life feels fulfilling instead of like a death march, a struggle against the feeling that my joints are ripping themselves apart and the depression over having to move like an eighty year old woman instead of like a thirty year old woman. With the increased activity I'm having trouble hydrating. It seems I cant get enough to drink but I have a Britta filter and pink lemonade mix. I also have a juicer and I intend to add soup to the menu at least once a week.

I need to learn to cook for one because Kay eats so little and I cook so much one dish can end up feeding us for a week. I have tried a few new recipes that turned out nice but made way too much. I'm amazed I can stand at the stove and cook for long amounts of time without wilting into a puddle and crying after. The pain is nearly completely gone. I'm making lunch for Cassandra every day though she says she doens't have time for the elaborate lunches I want to make for her. She is stuck on turkey and cheese sandwiches and a soy based mayo that doesn't have any egg (I'm allergic). She also likes Activia yogurt... go figure. I am hoping to start making smoothies for breakfast. I have all kinds of breakfast stuff but she has only wanted one thing so far. I'm going to try getting up earlier to get her fed something more substantial that just... dry cereal.

The book is nearly done. One more run at the ending and we should be celebrating my success by this time next year. I hope everyone out there will lift a glass in my honor when the good news breaks.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Little Mermaid


I’ve been thinking a lot about the little mermaid. Not the beautiful Disney version where everyone lives happily ever after and the crawling evil of the sea witch is destroyed in a gruesome fireworks display. No the one I’m thinking about is the original. Her story brushes my mind literally every step I take these days. It takes conscious effort to shove off the fairy tale and focus on the task at hand, walking, though typing is fast becoming the next task too painful to undertake.
See in the original fairy tale, the little mermaid is in fact smaller than her sisters and doesn’t really fit in. She tries to be fairly normal, trying to go about her fishy life, when a storm and ship wreck brings her to the surface and face to face with the man of her dreams. She is so smitten that she would give up her world and change, even lose her life for the chance to be with him. After mooning about for a day she goes to the sea witch, in this tale a benign sea sprite who weaves spells for a living. The story gives the impression she predates the mermaid populace. She listens to the girl’s plea and tells her that giving her legs is possible but that it comes with a heavy price. She warns her not only would she give up her voice but each step the girl takes would be as if she walked on knives.
“I don’t care. I have to try.” She says.
Of course we all know the rest of the story. The witch tells her the spell will last only three days and that if she cannot gain his love by then she will lose her life and become sea foam. The girl agrees and the deed is done. She is washed ashore to find that the prince already enamored of some girl who found him on the beach just as he was waking up. Though he finds the mermaid and she suffers three days walking on knives (and in some renditions bleeding profusely) she is unable to convince him of anything and throws herself into the ocean at the end of the third day and turns to sea foam.
I’m hoping our comparisons end with her walking on knives. Something has invaded my joints with a savage pain. I’m taking two Aleve in the morning hobbling like an eighty year old granny through the day and then downing six Advil at once in order to sleep 6 hours. It wears off at 4 am so I am forced to rise painfully from bed and hobble around finding things I can do with minimal moving until the Aleve decides it is going to work. Every step feels like I’m walking on broken bone. It is beginning in my fingers and soon typing will be a problem. If this is the same thing my maternal grandmother had I can well understand why she stayed drunk. I’ve determined not to EVER run out of pain killer again because after suffering through two days of no painkiller I downed a glass of rum with a brandy chaser. It didn’t kill the pain so much as made it so I no longer cared and sleepy enough to skim sleep until morning. I promptly eased to the store and bought large quantities of painkiller.
I’ve had time to examine the story of the little mermaid closer. Not the original text but the essence of the story. What possessed her to think she could convince him who she was without a way to communicate? How did she cope with the pain? The sea witch gave her every reason to quit, to go home, to find a nice merman to marry and get on with living life as what she was. Why pursue the path of greatest destruction? These questions are not unfamiliar. She believed she could find a way to win his heart no matter the obstacle. She knew the risks and would cope with anything in any way she had to in order to achieve her goal, the goal she believed with all her heart was right. Why would she settle for a life spent trying to live up to others expectations of her when she knew in her heart she was capable of so very much more? Why go back to a people who considered her a misfit when the possibility of the greatest love ever told hung before her? True she might come to ruin, she might even die but she couldn’t bring herself to go back, to settle for a life under others. She couldn’t when the chance of a lifetime was just beyond her fingertips.
I know this feeling. I know it all too well. It is not feeling you follow to get rich or be popular it is the feeling you follow because there is no other choice. In your heart you know there is no other option for you no matter what others tell you. The witch tells her all the limitations she will face just making the choice to go to land and as bad as it is even the wise sprite cannot imagine the extra challenges the mermaid will face once she is there. Yet the little mermaid holds her head up and walks and fights alone to the last. She refuses to give up until she is at last out of time, energy, and options. I imagine when she finally surrenders to the sea she is glad she doesn’t have to go home to the doubters, doesn’t have to feel like a failure, doesn’t have to fight anymore. I imagine her only regret is that she didn’t fight harder.
It is a practical story that applies to all sorts of troubles, battling illness, being picked on in school, reaching for a dream no one believes in but you. The witch could be parents, teachers, coworkers, friends, family or boss warning you of the dangers so you don’t go into battle unarmed and unprepared. The prince could be anything deeply desired. The pain of walking is the painful growth done the journey progresses. The loss of voice is the inability to tell others and for others to understand fully what it is you are going through. The other woman is the final and last hurtle you have to get over before achieving your goal. She is the challenge that will either make you or break you but you must face her none the less. You may win or you may lose but there is always a release at the end. Sometimes it’s hard to see it that way, sometimes you’d rather die than go back to the way things were. Sometimes you'd rather die than let things change. That is when you must remind yourself that things will never be the same as they were. In the end the mermaid becomes sea foam and most think it is a sad ending because they see this change as a death. I choose to see it as what it is.
In the end the little mermaid becomes a part of something far bigger than her pain. She becomes a part of the element that is so dear to her that even her love for the prince cannot overshadow. The ocean is something larger than her troubles and she floats away on the waves dissolving into that cosmic peace of being a part of something bigger than just you. Some choose faith, some choose charity, some choose outreach but it is always good to be a part of something bigger, stronger than you. Being a mother, part of a tiny life that is just beginning, gives me the drive to go and do though every step is like walking on knives and there is no way to explain the devastation that has gone on in my life to others. Being part of a service project through the school gives me the sense that somehow I make a difference.
I may rewrite the little mermaid someday in order to reflect what I see in her story, to tell her universal truths to those who need to hear it. But for today I will take it one painful step at a time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

fighting the good fight


I’ve gone from financial devastation to physical ruin. I’m beginning to feel poisoned. A glimmer of hope in the form of insurance cards was put in the mail yesterday. We shall see how well things go after I procure a doctors appointment. She may take one look at me and prescribe cyanide and the BIG SLEEP.  
Everything hurts. It hurts to lift my arms. It hurts to lie down. It hurts to stand up. It hurts to walk. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to eat. Sneezes feel like I am ripping myself in half. I refuse to cough. My muscles feel bruised and things are swelling. My skin is red and puffy and things are oozing or sloughing or itching! And then when we do get to see our Clay, we have to endure the emotional knifing that is goodbye.
Still I get up. Still I smile and hold my daughter and hope that it’s enough to keep her from harm. My prayers are breathless desperate pleas in the dark of night as I lay exhausted and spent and aching. I lug library books from one room to the next and write the titles down every night because it is good for Kay to be a part of the reading program. I get us to events at the libraries, though it half kills me. We join the moms club in order to keep up her social life and mine, thought there is precious little of it. It pains me that there are moments I have to tell her to entertain herself because mommy has to pay bills, mommy has to do dishes, mommy has to balance the check book, mommy’s busy trying to keep the boat afloat so we don’t drown.  My daughter has taken up chores to be near me. She empties the silver ware from the basket in the dishwasher. She helps rinse the dishes with a hand scrubber of her own. She puts liners in the trash cans when I empty them. She feeds and waters Dobby, our dog. She turns on the water so I can water the tomatoes, the only things that seem to grow here. Maybe this fall we will do carrots or maybe we will lose the house. I don’t know. I can’t see past lunch, past the next event, past the next moment.
She comes with me and my brother to the house he is house sitting. We harvest the garden and are allowed to bring home the produce. I am looking for a cucumber sandwich recipe I had once that was a delicately flavored cream on soft bread. The birds are getting the tomatoes but the cucumbers are plentiful. The bell peppers will be ripe in few days and maybe Monday there will be strawberries. They have a rope hanging from a tree that Kay swings on and sings an off key lilting version of the Indiana Jones theme song. She lights up my heart and I can only hope some of the things we get to do light up hers. She loved the chickens at the library’s animal day. She loves the swimming trips to the local pools. She dives off the diving board in the deep end now while I bob by the side goggles on so we can see each other under the water. She is so beautiful.
Nothing makes up for the one we are missing. Clay is off being a supervisor doing amazing things that we all knew he was capable of. I worry less about him now but miss him more. “We are proud of you, more than you know.” I say over the phone. My voice breaks as I explain our troubles or as I tell him Kay was chosen for the special program at a blue ribbon school. She is on her way to success.
My heart is like fine powder, pulverized into near nothingness. I collect the pieces and sift them into a glass bottle and wait for it to mend. Things won’t always be thus, you know. Things will get better somehow. God will find another blessing to give us or another opportunity to send our way. It’s a matter of timing maybe, the right moment, the proper place. It will all happen as it is supposed to. I tell myself these things and read the little scriptures I’ve written and hung everywhere. I try to keep my spirits up. It is getting harder. I am more afraid now than ever but I cannot let it beat me. Not pain or fear or want or strife will take from me what is mine by right. I must endure. There is no other option.
Clay is on his own up there. A gas leak in the guest house meant he needed his own apartment and so we found one. He bikes to work. My brave soldier boy fighting a different kind of war. There is no telling if we will ever end up like a normal family or if this is it. ‘For better or worse richer or poorer sickness and health’ but to that we have added together or apart. We are as we have always been, apart. When he went to college we were separated, when I went to college, when I moved, and then a glimmer of hope. One semester we spent as neighbors ready to make the commitment and discover what life held for us but his sinister mother plotted his downfall and so like Romeo and Juliet we were once again at a distance from each other. My mother worried for me. I worried for him. I’ve spent over half my life fighting to be with him. Over half my life.
I’ve fought all my life for everything I have and still I have no way of hanging on to what is supposed to be mine. I look at my daughter and know that she is with me temporarily. I wanted so much to give her a less complicated life. But perhaps it is the complications that make us more interesting. Maybe it is the sweet agony we must endure from time to time to be worthwhile people over all. I wish I knew. I wish I could say yes this is the way it is and that is how we must face it but there is no right or wrong way to handle it you just get up each morning and pray you don’t fall down and charge through half blind. These dark woods will end somewhere. Maybe a clearing maybe a meadow maybe a desert or an ocean but they can’t go on forever at some point there has to be a fulfillment of at least one of our hopes. Right?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

bitter droughts and fond farewells

Clay is outside teaching Kay K. how to play baseball. Today is Clay’s last day. 

“Did you ever think it would end up like this?” I ask the woman in the mirror looking so tired and frumpy she can’t figure out what end of the hair brush to use. “The good, the bad, the ugly, until death do us part. That’s what we said right?” That’s what we meant anyway. My book is over half way finished. Will it be enough? Aunt P in Dallas says there’s a job for sure. But he’ll need a car and then there’s rent to consider. I’m afraid he won’t be able to send anything home. I don’t need much but a cushion would help. Aunt P is a better help than his family was letting him sit and stew alone in the guest room where half his stuff remains. “Through thick and thin? Or was it sickness and health?” I can’t remember my vows anymore, so many lay broken pieced back together with tears and determination. Broken hearts are useless things so despite the cracks and holes I patch mine up again after each tiny betrayal and hope things get better. They do. The sun shines again. The weather is fine if dry. The Earth is like my soul flourishing even though the sky with holds the Rain. It isn’t doing it on purpose. The conditions just aren’t right. That’s all. Trees birth leaves, birds sing, there must be Water somewhere. I see it in his eyes knowing he has to say good bye. Not knowing when, if ever, he’ll be back. This is not sad, not heart rending, this is exhaustion. The struggle is too much and the gargantuan efforts are not enough. We pass the time with books we think we want to read, movies we think we want to see but even the stories have turned to Dust. Everything is so Dry. The dirt, the sky, the air, my mouth, my heart. It is a Paper world we are living in. That sound the wind makes isn’t the throaty howl of storm or the whisper of Life, of God. No, it is the dry rasp of Paper.  Paper is what we lack. “What is needed for life in this world is Paper,” they say but then they say you have too much Paper and we cannot give you life at all. What little we have is too much and we do not Qualify. The Paper is green like Life and it purchases all the trappings of Life. It is not Life and gives not Life. What the earth needs is Water. I remember the storms of childhood. Rain, like the kisses of the Father, splashing all over my child-face as I giggle and twirl, soak my clothes and drip from my hair and my cup runs over with it. Now in the Drought both inside and out I hear the Storm far off in the distance like the siren call of some exotic bird, harsh and beautiful. There is a longing I cannot escape or explain. It writhes Fierce and fiery inside my heart. It cannot be tamed, only quenched but there is no Water. 

I look again in the mirror and see the face looking back at me. Was there beauty at one time? I was told once that there was but I cannot see it. A friend said my beauty rivaled Princess Leia once. Perhaps in the turn of the head or the twist of the neck there hangs a grace long disused? The woman I look at has long suffered this Drought and as much as it showed through in youth now it is worn in ever crease of her face and every hair of her head. “When will it end?” she asks. “I don’t know.” I answer. “But hear the Storm? It is coming.” We know there will be relief soon but our strength, sinewy and tough, is Drying up in this environment of Want. Still the thrill of the Storm prickles across the skin like electricity. “God will bring you plenty” says the preacher from the screen. He speaks true. I’ve seen miracles of plenty dropped from the sky or raised out of the ground like manna. It is coming soon.

Kay’s ball rolls into the street she stands on the lawn her hands to her cheeks. “Oh no!” she frets. Clay walks out to get it, holding her hand. She darts after it and back to the safety of the Dry withered grass. Her bones are his, long and thin. Her muscles, like mine, form shape and content and substance. Shape and height perfectly melded together in harmony to create such a tough yet delicate little child. I see her growth but what of her heart? Did we take enough care with it? Did we teach her to endure? Will she be able to avoid the pitfalls we tread so readily into? Never was I so frightened as the day I had to shove her out into the world with nothing between her and it. No longer can I stand between her and this world, a shield of flesh and blood, a cage of iron-like bone. I touch her face and brush her hair and wonder what wounds she will have to live through, what scars she will have to carry. My Petal is no longer protected. Neither can I protect Clay from his past, from the hurts that fester under the surface. Time has come for him. 

Tomorrow I will have to remind Kay to say goodbye. “Daddy is leaving today, remember?” Remember. Remember the hurt you must face today, for face it you must. Don’t cry or you’ll miss it. Don’t laugh because it isn’t funny. Face it head on for face it we must. I can’t cry because I can’t afford to lose the Water in this drought. 

Daddy gives her last bath. Daddy reads to her the last story. Daddy tells her I love you one more time. I cannot afford to feel this. I watch as though through glass. I hold her little frame to me and tell her things are fine. She knows he needs to work. She knows work is good. These happenings shape her view of the world. I have no control over these happenings. They speed by and I try to give her some perspective like films over a lens to change the color. I try to explain without scaring her. She is not afraid. I am. I see the dwindling resources, the time flying by. I shop at small dollar places to cheapen our expenses. I know what to buy here and buy there and I know which route takes the least amount of time and which the least amount of gas. There is so much to buy for a household, for the three… for the two of us. This Drought demands more of us than we can give, more than we have.

Yet we give more. 

Yet we trudge on.

Breathe. 

The Rain is coming.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

writer's song

A symmetry boggles over a snag.
within it's means to converse with nag
in times of trouble sourly sag
the tempest rage at the quarterly jag.
In this life I have been hated by many peoples. I've come to realize I no longer have time to waste wondering if charity and generosity is in fact charity and generosity. If it isn't then they should not have claimed it as such. I no longer care not out of a cold heart but out of a tougher exterior. I learned at five what it was to be hated and despised. Now as my life reaches it's mid way point and I begin at last a novel I feel confident in, that I simply no longer spare thought to those little devises of people who seek something in return other than what I already am. Those that seek my enslavement will not get it but I will pour out my gratitude as water on thirsty plants. With this alone must they be satisfied and many, I've learned, are not. Too many give in order to be recognized as saints and martyrs, they seek control, accolades, status. Too many give with hearts closed to the joy the act alone can give. I never realized just how much a simple act can do. Not until I wrote this:


A month ago, sitting in my living room at five AM, I listened to the television preacher talk about tithing. I believe in signs and after a month of all the preachers talking about meditation on the word found this time to do it. They rarely all talked about the same thing at once. Now it had happened again.
“Tithing?” I think. “God, I have just enough money to last the year. If I give up a single cent I’ll be broke before I can blink. How am I supposed to give back?” The darker worry pushed through. What if the money runs out before I’m published? The message was clear. Tithe. The method was not. Then the school councilor asked my mother for my help stuffing backpacks. So every Friday I’m here to help. I’m here to tithe the only thing I can. My time.
Karen, the secretary, smiles and greets me enthusiastically. She prints out my name tag. She thanks me for helping out. I walk around the desk and grab the bin of backpacks. I walk them down the hall. The chatter of students and teachers mingles as I pass.
The empty science lab shuts out the noise and I begin stacking the back packs according to the number printed on the side. No names are involved. The backpacks, like over sized corn husks, swing from bin to table and three stacks begin to take shape. One, two, three is missing; I’ve never seen all thirty at once. Several are missing. I count, stack them together with a shushing sound, the canvas rubbing the plastic. The bin empties. Time for phase two.
Banana boxes, stacked in the corner, contain hope. I lift the lid on the first box with the sigh of cardboard. Inside rest treasures shielded by clear plastic ice bags with goofy looking polar bears. Food. I’ve come across bags with broken contents that have leaked and soured before. I hope there isn’t one this week. The bags aren’t heavy. They seem small. Milk, juice, macaroni, oatmeal and a couple of fruit cups catch my eye. I know there are other things in the bag but I try not to look too hard. I might cry. I listen instead to the crackle of the thick plastic as I lay the bags on a table. I see only the bright colors of what’s inside. Will it be enough?
I stop after the table is laden. Then I begin stuffing the backpacks. I unzip the first one and smell stale cigarette smoke. How many packs do they buy, I wonder and shove the thought away as I slide the contents in. Number one begins a line on the floor. The next one smells like sweat, this one has three cookies worth of crumbs rattling in the front pocket. Line one fills out. The spots where backpacks are missing are taken up by the contents they would have contained. All ten spots are filled. I return to the tower of cardboard, dry like leaves, the plastic a strange wet contrast. I repeat the process. I need to tell them this backpack has a hole. Line two is done. I empty the last of the boxes and move on to line three.
The routine differs this time. I lift the first backpack and hear a jingle. Giving the backpack a shake I hear the music of money. My practiced hand tells me the bag is heavier than usual. The front pocket reveals hidden treasure. Inside is a jumble of bright colors and sounds. A carnival. A wooden yoyo, a toy truck, and a plastic frog clack together. A school note with its printed letters shifts with a rasp hiding other things. Under all the joy is a mix of coins. I stare. Is this horde special? The child in me wants to handle the toys, count the coins, read the note but the adult in me knows this would be an invasion of privacy. I zip the pocket shut, sealing away the wealth this child has hidden or forgotten. Will it be there next week?
The sounds of my work, soothing and sad, return to their norm. The shush of canvas, the buzz of zippers, the crunch of the plastic and my footsteps on the tile all blend together as I work. I’m done in twenty minutes, long before the deadline, all the backpacks and naked bags sitting in three straight lines ready for delivery. I lift the empty bin and stare at my work. I followed the directions given me on that first day. Karen thanks me with a warmth I feel is undeserved. After all, I’m only tithing. 
I wrote this piece not wanting recognition because to me it is a small thing I do.  I've never seen nor will I see the children these gifts go to. This work, this tithing, I feel is so small so weak a gesture. I wish to do more but at the same time I know these things must be done with slow deliberation else they fail and be discarded by the wayside; good works stillborn in the hands of those who moved too swiftly into the meat of charity. 
I'm not a saint nor will I ever earn such a lofty title. I want this piece to be seen by others so they know there is hope. I want them to see and know that charity starts with that one small step. In these the most oppressive of times there is something we can do. There is a tiny difference we can make. All is not lost when we use our hands, our backs, our strength to pass along a kindness. No more hate need pass the lintel of your door. I know I've shut mine to it at last.