Monthly Archives: August 2009

Even technology goofs

I didn’t really have time to blog today, but maybe those of you who have read it will read this-and understand why I haven’t replied to your email. I can’t get into my email!!! I get that “website not available” error.

So, I’ll try again…again and maybe whatever the pr0blem is will be corrected.

In the meantime, I had a great weekend at my writing retreat and plan to post some things this week. Mostly, I’m making art for the show in 4 weeks. It’s September 19th, for those of you in the Weaverville area (near Asheville, NC.) who might want to visit. It’s a one day show and I will be posting photos afterwards.

Talk to you all soon. If the virtual dimension allows.

Katie

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Left out

I had to pull off the road recently, trying to get a signal on my cell phone. The local community center has a great pull off spot, under a big Maple, where I could sit in the shade. There was a house just across the road.  As I waited, I watched the kids nearby playing on the ball field. Nearby, another group of kids played on the freshly mowed grass outside, near their parents. It’s a nice little community center, with lots of trees, a large ball field, a building that houses nice rest rooms, meeting rooms and hosts a breakfast every Saturday morning.

As I watched the kids near me playing-yelling, running after each other, laughing, I noticed a movement across the road at the house. I turned and saw a little dog, some kind of terrier or Scotty mix. He was tied up near the porch, straining against his leash. He watched the children, running, laughing, and ignoring him altogether. He whimpered just a little, but mainly he strained to watch them. The tree I was parked under, a big maple, was between his line of sight and the children, allowing him glimpses of running children, just out of reach.

I watched a while, and saw his eyes light up, his tail start wagging, and his little body wiggle uncontrollably when the children got close. They did not stray past the tree, of course, that would have put them too near the road. But the clear summer air carried their shouts the 50 or so feet to the little dog and he heard them even when he couldn’t see them.

I imagined him thinking, “I wanna play! Let me play, too! Come get me! Please, come get me!”

If I had known the children or the parents or had I thought anyone was home (I saw no cars) I might have walked across the street and asked if Little Dog could come out to play. As it was, I felt near tears when I finally got the call I had pulled over for and had to leave.

I have seen that little dog over and over, and wonder if he has anyone to play with, or if anyone realizes he wants someone to play with. I can feel his yearning, see his symbolic nose pressed against the windowpane. It is too hard, sometimes, to be an empathetic person. I remember my own times of being left out, of course, of being ignored and passed by and all that. But for him, watching those children run and play and being so close to a dog’s idea of heaven and not being able to …get to it…must have been agony.

This is a reminder to all of you with dogs and cats and children and whatever- Everyone wants to be included. Look around. Invite someone over to play.

Mama. Family.

This is one of the things I wrote when my mother was dying. It feels awkward to say any more than that.

Nov 5, 2007

My mother is sleeping now. Her soft snores assure me the morphine is working. She goes in and out. We talk to her when she’s conscious, talk among ourselves when she drifts away. The only sound is the steady patapatapata of the machine hooked up to her hand and nose. They oxygen tube is wound around her ears so she can breathe; the gastro tube is taped to her nose, goes down her throat, and slowly drains the bile her body cannot expel normally.

Her intestines, the doctor said, are twisted and a toxic build-up in her system has created this crisis. He doubts she would survive surgery and even if she did, the result would be a few more days in a morphine-based coma. Less morphine would leave her in agony. Right now, after deciding to forgo surgery, we are simply trying to manage pain so her final hours are as comfortable as possible. She made it clear long ago she wanted no heroic measures.  Her kidneys have begun to fail, her intestines cannot rid her body of waste, and her heart is beginning to falter. Her breathing has slowed to less than half its normal rate. We are here on deathwatch. Anything we wanted to say should have already been said.

I was here last week and the week before. I missed a few weeks – moving and then a chest cold – but I have tried to visit regularly for the past couple of years. I’ve been writing her story – at her request – and reading to her when I visit. She refers to me as her daughter, Kathy “the writer.” I appreciate that she doesn’t think of me as a failure – I do – but as something she dreamed of for herself all her life. For this, I am grateful. My love of books and writing were a gift from her and I will forever credit her with that. It has often been my only lifeline – this act of putting words on paper. Stringing words into sentences the way I string beads into necklaces.

Maybe I can eventually get the sentences to form the story she has been trying to tell me all my life. Maybe even after she’s gone she will still talk to me the way her parents communicate with me now. They fill my dreams with stories and even asnwer questions. Whatever I do with the rest of my life ,nothing will ever be more important than finishing her story.

 

 

WAITING

The dry hospital air

Makes her thin skin itch.

 She moves her hand,

Bound with tubes,

Toward her face, her hip .

We gently move it away from tubes and bandages,

murmuring encouragement .

My brother rubs lotion on her skin,

I think of butterfly wings.

 Morphine pulls her back into that soft, dark place

Of painless dreams and peace.

 Those of us at her bedside

talk of things that don’t matter,

Our eyes never resting on anyone’s face.

We’re trying  to ignore so much,

Huge things, past hurts, regrets, painful memories.

We hold her hand, smooth her fine hair,

Wish for a peaceful end. Final peace for her Release for us.

We are a large family. Not close.

 Too much pain,  too much damage.

 Being here is beyond awkward.

 There are some not strong enough to be here at all.

 I do not judge them. I am here for her. Only her.

Because I let my anxiety explode

recently at someone who pushed

against my fragile bounderies

I vow to keep my own council,

For her. Hearing is the last thing to go.

So now my face is smooth, my manner calm.

I am as cordial and polite as I would be with strangers.

 They mostly are, in fact, strangers. Mama would be appalled.

She’s your sister She’s your niece He’s your brother.

 And on and on. She’s right.

I care as far as my heart can stretch.

They are related to me by accident of birth.

 Too many experiences,

 Too many reprisals,

Too much damn drama.

My own life has drained patience from me,

My own pain fills me up; there is no room for theirs.

So many of us in one room poisons the air with sadness.

We are all old now,  hard lives etched on our faces.

 The damage of lives mired in sorrow and desperation

Reduces the memories of goodness, bright days, personal achievements

To mere moments – moments long gone and tarnished.

I was young once- bright, energetic, even beautiful.

I still have bright days,

And I guard them as jealously as any miser guards his gold.

 My brothers and sisters must have secret caches

Of happiness that they dip into,

count out in the personal darkness of their lives.

I hope so.

Johnny

Remember when I said we should take the time to make our real heroes famous? People who live their life in such a way that they will be remembered when they’re gone-and not just for being really, really pretty, or handsome.

This is for my brother, Johnny. He served in Vietnam and that alone makes him a hero in my eyes. Since he retired from the military he has been at loose ends, I think. He has been spending a lot of time inspecting the world under the twin microscopes of politics and religion. Sigh. We who love him get exasperated because he wants to fix the world and we know it can’t be done-not by one man and not in one lifetime. However, we love him and remind ourselves that, like most of us, he is complicated.

He is also generous to a fault. I’ve been cornered by poor choices, despaired of ever finding my way out, and wondered if there was really a reason to even try. Johnny talked me down off the ledge. He has seen people murdered and mutilated and knew there was no sane reason for it. He carries horrific scenes in his head that flash at inopportune moments; he doesn’t sleep well. But when his daughter calls and needs to talk about her son, her job or her own fears and frustrations, he’s there for her, as he has been her entire life. Never, she once told me, did she fear telling her Dad anything. She knew that no matter what happened in her life, her Dad would be there for her, without judgment. Oh she knew, she laughingly told me once, when she’d done something stupid that he would acknowledge the choice had been poor, but his main concern was-what would she do about it? And whatever she decided, with his help in identifying the choices, she knew he would help her. And now, with her own child, she continues to share with her Dad, my brother, the events of her life. I think that’s a good statement about a man who makes us crazy when he wants to argue about the Religious Right.

I could tell you a lot of stuff about Johnny’s life that has added to his anger at the injustice and cruelty in the world but I’m not going to open up his heart for public view. It isn’t necessary. If people look closely at the things he gets angry about, it says a lot about the man. He hates it when corporations make decisions that add to their bottom line but heap extra work without extra pay on people who are already doing the best they can. He hates it when people look past problems they could fix and wait for a Holy Spirit to fix it for them. He believes fiercely in independence and self-actualization and gets angry when he realizes some people are afraid of all that responsibility.

My brother, Johnny, has helped family members not only by loaning them money (for which he is almost never repaid) but also by offering suggestions when they ask for them. He helped me find a car when I lost my third job in three years, my car breaking down on the same day. I had lost my roommate, the air conditioner in my house broke during a heat wave (I slept in the yard for 2 weeks), and when we were told the company was going into Chapter 11 they also didn’t have our paychecks. I felt my back breaking under the strain of unpaid bills; uncertainty in the future and how the hell was I going to look for another job without a car? Johnny helped me. It wasn’t just the money. He stayed calm about the situation (which was a pretty good trick; Johnny’s famous for getting really worked up about stuff!) he told me I could get through it. His certainty helped me find my own strength. It didn’t happen in  a day-I still lost my house, my furniture, my pets…but I managed to keep a tiny bit of sanity and determination and he helped me feed them and make them grow. He helped me help myself.

One of my nieces was sick-really sick-and he planted a garden for her. He went over and worked it regularly even though she had two children and a husband who could have, and should have, helped.

He visited our mother regularly and took her fresh fruit. He fixed things at her house and kept up the yard. There were other children who lived nearby but Johnny was the one my mother counted on to get things done.

He has taken in stray cats and their kittens, taken them to the vet, and found them homes. He has made friends in almost every part of the country and they will all tell you Johnny is exasperating about politics and religion but you will never meet anyone more generous, or kinder. My brother also believes in love. Romantic, flowers and everything love. He is almost naive in his attitude toward it and his heart has been broken more than I believe has been fair. Still, unlike many of us (including me) he believes in love and its power.

We shake our heads because we want Johnny to stop arguing about things we think don’t really matter in the long run. People will always pray for guidance but then won’t take it if it seems like too much trouble. People will always let someone else make their decisions for them and then complain about the results. It seems to be something in human nature. We, as a species, are very sheep like and are easily led. That mindset doesn’t encourage independence. It’s good to have a community attitude but we still need to see our own choices for what they are. Johnny clenches his fists when he realizes most of us aren’t that mature.

We love Johnny and wish he wouldn’t argue so much. Then, when I think about it long enough, I realize we want him to stop making us all so uncomfortable. Be the kind, generous person we know he is – all the time. We want to make him less complicated. But then he wouldn’t be Johnny, would he? And what would that make us? We have a tough time accepting everything about a person and in the end, if you really love someone; you love the whole person, warts and all. No one is one way all the time. That’s TV. Characters on TV always react the way the character is written, we know what they’re going to do or say, and that makes them attractive to us. They’re easy to understand, easy to accept. Maybe that’s one reason people spend so much time in front of that damn box. It’s a whole lot easier than interacting with real people.

And Johnny is a real person. A real, breathing, watching. listening, moving, laughing, talking, yelling, crying, loving person.

I am so lucky to have him in my life. I’m offering this inadequate portrait of my brother because I want the world to know he is out there, and that he has been a part of more than his own life, he has been an active, productive part of the human community.

Thank you, Johnny.