balance :: flow

I was sad to hear about Whitney Houston’s death, but my feeling watching the 4-hour televised funeral was more than sadness. It registered more as a reminder and an awakening.

(To read the entire post, visit Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series.)

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dance :: rhythm

It was 5 a.m. when the phone rang, waking me from my sleep. The voice on the other end was weak.

“Come downstairs,” she whispered.

Since moving in with my ailing mother, her middle-of-the-night hypoglycemic attacks have become a common occurrence. At the sound of the phone, I stumbled into a familiar routine. When I reached her bedroom, I found my 71-year-old mother sitting on her bed, slightly bent over and sweating profusely. She reached for an all-too-familiar lifeline – two glucose tablets, some orange juice and a towel. We sat and waited. It passed.

I climbed back into bed at 5:30, slipping in next to a snoring husband and a preschooler too young to honor the boundaries of my side of the family bed. I lay there thinking, If I could just close my eyes for a few minutes until…the alarm abruptly rang at 6, signaling the official beginning of my day.

We sold our house and moved in with Ma the year after she was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease. I remember visiting her in the hospital after one of her falls. She lay on the hospital bed in the intensive care unit talking about the messages written on the bulletin board in her room. The problem was that these messages were only visible to her. I watched as her doctors moved together like couples in a ballroom. I knew what the next step would be.

“Does your mom have psychotic episodes often?” one of the doctors asked.

“No,” I snapped. “She’s just very sensitive to all of the medicine she’s taking.”

The doctors paired off again. The nephrologist pivoted, turning her attention to me. With her best I really don’t have time for this tone she explained, “Since she has been falling, we don’t think she should live alone. You should either make arrangements to move in together or consider having her stay in a facility.”

I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t. My mother’s fragile body gave her no warning of when her spongy lets would mislead her again, beckoning her to take that next step, only to leave her curled up on the floor. I was terrified that the next fall would kill her. But living in a nursing home would almost certainly kill her spirit. She was too vibrant and too brilliant for that fate.

“Will I ever get to be by myself?” she asked.

“Of course,” I quickly replied. But I could tell she wasn’t convinced.

Okay, we’ll move, I thought, resigned.

“Okay, that’ll be fine,” she said, resigned.

I worked hard to convince myself of the benefits.

Sure with my husband and two sons, there would be five of us packed into her beautiful, child-unfriendly house built for two, but we’ll figure it out. Moving in will be practical, I told myself. I’ll be able to help her. I’ll save money and in one year we’ll move into a place big enough for all of us to live comfortably. Besides, families have been caring for aging parents and young children for generations, long before the 20th century labeled us the “sandwich” generation.

It turns out I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I wasn’t entirely right either.

Read more…

us :: them

Ma’s walker barely fit in the cramped office. I searched the charity administrator’s face for frown lines scrunched with judgment. I listened carefully to her voice for a condescending tone. I was preparing for battle, one to match my inner turmoil. But her eyes were compassionate. There would be no war.

As my mother spoke, my mind trailed off into the stories I wanted to tell — how just a few years ago I owned a small retail store. How responsible I was when I paid off my mortgage and paid the down payment for my mother’s house.  Or my son’s trust fund that I’d managed for the past 10 years. I wanted her to know that we weren’t one of “them.”

Instead we told stories of a 75-year-old retiree, of bills that exceed a fixed income, and of cancer, dialysis and impossible choices – choosing between refilling cancer medication or paying a utility bill; too-high health insurance deductible or too-high premiums; between a daughter spending her time earning a paycheck or caring for her mother and children.

We told the stories of the masses, the working poor…them and us.

She carefully listened to our stories, the burdens we lay at her feet and the question laid on her heart — Can you help us?

fall :: uplift

Autumn has always been my favorite season. I love the colors of autumn — oranges that morph into burnt siennas, then browns, burgundys and olive greens — those colors that will create a beautiful picture regardless of the subject matter, just because of the way they blend. I’ve done the “touristy” thing of riding along the mountainside to see the changing of the leaves. But driving by at 55mph, or 25mph for that matter, I was never able to see the depth of the leaves’ beauty as I was today — standing completely still.

A tree caught my eye today that I’m sure I’ve looked at before but never saw. Its leaves were taking a bow as if in praise that I finally noticed their brilliance; taking a bow not in defeat of their lives about to change forms, but as if they had performed the final scene of a play and the curtain was about to close; taking a bow and waiting for my applause.

Today I did applaud. I applauded the leaves’ brilliance. I applauded their strength in the face of change. I applauded their fall to Earth as they released their beauty. I applauded their grace as they effortlessly swayed to the rhythm of the breeze that only they could hear — the breeze that blows by us but through their souls.

(Originally published in e-Artella #4, entitled “Autumn.”)

longing :: belonging

Although South First Road was a dead-end street, it was alive with families and kids – all boys except for me.

When I looked at my boy friends, I saw racing partners rather than potential life partners. We played hard and whatever they could do, I could…almost do, especially when it snowed.

Usually when the snow fell, we’d ride our sleds down the hill, our bottoms balanced squarely in the middle of the wooden planks. This particular winter, once the street had been worn to the perfect mixture of ice and snow, the boys upped the ante.

I watched as Alvin surveyed the road. He ran holding the sled away from his body. A second later, the red metal was sliding down the street, with Alvin’s body prone, his head and legs tilted upward.

Then it was my turn.

I ran home as soon as I felt my mouth hit the sled’s metal front. The blood scared me more than the impact. My lip ached, I was scared and what I needed was a hug.

Instead Daddy took a quick, unimpressed look at me.

“Oh, you’re alright. You’re tough.”

Yeah, I’m tough, just like the boys, I thought.

I was tough just like the boy Daddy almost had; the one whose cry was stilled at birth, the one no one ever spoke about.

acceptance :: action

I was one of the chosen. I bore my soul in a letter and I had been selected to bear it in a book. The perks? The experience promised to be series of firsts – the first time I would travel to this quaint New England town; a place of instant comfort, with its neighborhood bookstore and elegant restaurants.

It would also be the first time I’d see my words in print and the first night I’d sleep in the beautifully staged room of a bed and breakfast inn.

I was excited but preoccupied. My little boy was turning 7 and his birthday party was on Saturday afternoon, the same Saturday I was to leave the suburbs of Boston.

I had counted the number of RSVPs. Nineteen squealing kids would soon be sliding and diving into a pool of plastic, primary-colored balls. As many sets of parents would congregate, smile and secretly pray that their children wouldn’t fall victim to an invisible strain of something.

Even with all of the planning, I had still missed something. I didn’t count on what it would take for me to actually attend the party.

My bus was leaving the station at 7:30 in the morning then heading to the airport. At 6:30, I turned the pages of the phone book. The taxi dispatcher answered. I made my request.

“I need a taxi to take me to the bus station. Yes, this morning,” I explained.

“Ma’am, we don’t have a taxi that can take you. Both our taxies are heading to the airport.”

I quickly looked for the other number – the only other number – and got a similar response. I should have called ahead.

Well, I’ve got two legs. I’ll just walk.

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ashes :: dust

I smelled a familiar scent today, a scent that ushered me aboard a time machine and skidded to a stop in 1989.

The planes and cars have taken everyone back home. But I’m already at home, trying to make sense of having found Daddy dead on the bathroom floor.

I strain to reconstruct his voice, but I can’t hear it. I read a note but can’t remember the way he held the pen when he wrote it. Time has passed, but didn’t keep its promise to heal. It only diluted the memories, all but one.

I get a whiff of dusty mortar most likely coming from the work boots on the stoop leading to the garage – the same place he left them. This is the scent that has been with me since childhood. Yet the scene is unfamiliar.

I don’t see him sitting in his chair, legs crossed at the ankle and television remote in hand. I can’t call him from work for a soap opera update. I can only sniff and fill my lungs with the dust he left behind.