Monday, January 30, 2012

Taking a very deep breath

I have not been gifted with the gift of hospitality. My mother had it. My sister has it. I do not. If I had family in the area then it probably would have happened more frequently because of family birthdays and holidays. But I don’t. And I haven’t.

I am guessing that I can probably count on one hand the number of times we have invited another couple to a meal at our house, and maybe on two hands the number of times I have other women at the house for lunch.

However, I recognize the need to show hospitality, and I recognize the need to step out of my comfort zone. And I have made a New Years’ resolution to try to do this at least once a month.

So, I am just not very comfortable doing this. But I am doing it today.

Part of the problem is that I embarrassed for two reasons: (1) the way my house looks because of structural defects and (2) the way my house looks because I am a lousy (wondering now what the difference is between "lousy" as in "very bad" and "lousy" as in "covered with lice") housekeeper. I can’t do anything about the structural defects of my house that are embarrassing -- ceiling that sags in parts, chunks missing from the old, tired, and very worn-out linoleum, hideous paneling. But I can do something about being a lousy housekeeper. Over the weekend, I did manage to sweep down the draping cobwebs, and wipe up the thick layer of dust covering everything, and actually mop the floor and vacuum. I have spruced it up as best I can.

In about 40 minutes, a woman from church is coming for lunch. I can do this, I am telling myself. I can do this.

And 10 minutes ago, I let the cat in, who proceeded to throw up in about 5 different places in the kitchen and under the table.

Oy vey.

So, now the kitchen floor is even cleaner.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poop 101

We have had the contents of our septic tank sucked out 4 times since we moved here in 1981. Without fail, the men who show up with their tank trunk to cart off the contents have been very pleasant and cheerful. Perhaps part of it has to do with the amount they charge for this service, but even so, they seem genuinely to enjoy their job – or at least not to mind it.

It invariably seems that the tank needs to be pumped out in the winter, and poor Richard has usually spent several hours in the freezing cold trying to figure out if the reason the toilet is not flushing correctly is that the tank full or if it because the line leading out of the tank is frozen. He has some handy dandy gadgets to achieve this, including a snake thingy that attaches to his drill and a device that fits on the hose to shoot water at high-pressure down the pipe, but today, he couldn’t get it flowing again.

As I got in my car at 8 am to drive to town, he said, “I’ve used up all my tricks. This is beyond me,” and by the time I returned home 1 hour later, the poopologist with the truck and a tank on the back had arrived and was backing up the driveway.

He was a delightful man. He gave us a very humorous lecture – Poop 101 he called it – on how the process works and how to keep the bacteria happy that are vital to the tank functioning properly. I listened for a bit with a grin on my face and then went inside to commence work. I have a feeling he kept up a steady stream of humorous conversation the entire time he was here. Richard came in with a smile on his face just having paid him almost $200.

It is possible that this guy who spends his living hauling… uhhh… stuff may have had other dreams for his life when he was younger. His dad owned the business – in fact, the first time we needed the services of the “septic system sucker" he came with his dad, but I know he doesn’t take his work home with him in a brief case, I doubt that he has a stress-induced ulcer, and I imagine he sleeps pretty good at night.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gettin’ the heck out of Dodge

To balance what will be sad memories tomorrow, we have decided to go to Springfield to play a bit. It seemed like a good idea earlier in the week when the temperatures were hovering near 50.

I got up this morning before "dawn had cracked" and let the cat out at about 5:30. As soon as I opened the back door and felt the blast of frigid air and saw the dusting of snow on the ground, I thought to myself, “you are not going to be out there very long.…” She hesitated a moment on the porch, and I suggested she might want to come back in the house, but as a cat will do, she bolted.

I was right of course. It takes me 19 steps to go from the back door to the computer in my office, and within 10 seconds or so of sitting down and starting to work, she was up on the bird feeder outside the window meowing at me to let her in. I couldn't see her, because it was still very dark, but I could hear the pitiful wail.

I am very glad we no longer have to take care of animals. Shortly after we moved here, we had a lot of chickens and ducks and raised rabbits for a while, and I can remember having to go out on bitter cold mornings and dump the ice out of their frozen bowls. On mornings like this I am also glad I don’t work out of the home. In later years, when I was the janitor at the post office, part of my job was to shovel snow, so both of us would have to go in very early to clear the walks in front of the building and put salt down.

Trying not to remember the details of last January 13 just seems to intensify them. When we got the call at 11:45 that our son had “taken a turn for the worse,” I left the house immediately and drove back to the nursing home. I was there in about 3 minutes. His room was at the end of the hall, right by an entrance with two sets of double doors. They made quite a racket when they were opened. I went through the first set and through the glass of the second set I could see a clot of people standing at the nurses station at the end of the hall. As I opened the second set of doors, they all turned and looked at me.

I knew right then that he had died. The nursing home social worker was with them, and she started moving toward me, surprisingly fast for a large woman. I hesitated for a second outside his door, which was shut, and started to go in and she shook her head at me. I guess she thought they were still trying to revive him. She reached me and put her arms around me, and then at that moment the door opened and the nurse practitioner and the RN and some others came out of room.

I looked at him lying there in the bed. His eyes were half open and his mouth was slightly open. He hadn’t just taken a turn for the worse. He was dead.

I closed his eyes and shut his mouth. I kissed him on the forehead. He was still warm and his skin was pliable, and his hand felt soft when I picked up, but very heavy. His face was very peaceful, and rightly so: newly dead people look so peaceful because all the muscles in their faces have relaxed.

I sat down by the bed and started to make phone calls. A minute or two later, Richard walked in the room. He looked at Nathaniel, and just for a second, he thought Nathaniel was asleep.

Looking back on January 13, 2011, I see details in slow motion and then they speed up almost like time-lapse photography. I continued to make phone calls. The CNAs came in to wash his body. People from hospice came in. The funeral home arrived to take his body. They wheeled him out. Judy and Charlie came.

We don’t know for sure what caused him to die when he did. It happened very quickly: He was working on the laptop and stopped to go to the bathroom. He got pale and clammy, and they helped him get to the bed. He was worried about his cellphone getting knocked on the floor so they put it on the table. As they helped him lay down, his eyes rolled back and his pupils became fixed and dilated and he died. My friend, who is a nurse practitioner, guessed that the massive tumor in his gut compressed the vagus nerve and shut his body down.

And tomorrow we will have Italian food at a good restaurant. We will see a movie that got good reviews, and we will take some time to reflect on our son. One thing that I am most thankful for is that we had almost a year to mend fences with him and bandage over some old wounds, so that we were on good terms when he left his body behind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Catching up

I've missed you. It's been more than a year.
You don't love me, don't call me, don't need me, don't pay me…
You've a heart of stone. You look terrible.
 I love this line that Faye Dunaway delivers as “Vicky” in the original Thomas Crown Affair, as she gets off the plane and greets the investigators, having been summoned to catch the oh-so-clever mastermind behind the bank robbery. The remake of the movie was not bad, but why mess with a classic? The original is right up there near the top of the list of my favorite all-time movies.

I think if my blog could talk it probably would be saying something similar.

I have been neglecting it lately. I admire people who can mange to write something interesting every day or nearly every day.

Except I don’t think I look all that terrible. Last week I actually went in to see my new beautician to have my hair trimmed before it got out of control after the last amazing haircut she gave me. I think I used to frustrate my old beautician (who retired) because I would wait sometimes a year between appointments, and in the meantime, I would hack at my bangs and the front part of my hair with scissors to keep it out of my eyes, while the rest of it kept on growing, and thus destroying her careful layering around my face.

I tend to write marvelous things when I wake up at 4 a.m. and lay there waiting a while before I disturb my husband’s sleep by starting work, but by the time I do fire up the computer, I have switched gears and am thinking about organizing my day and which manuscripts I am going to work on first.

I don't want to write about the grieving process all of the time, but it is unavoidable at the moment. 
January 13 is looming in our minds.

Friday the 13th.

Not all anniversaries are cause for celebration.

Last week we ate at one of the sub-sandwich shops that are springing up in our towns. Coming in right behind us was a young mother with her little boy – maybe 3 years old. He knew the routine. As she told them what she wanted on her sandwich, he went over to the high chairs and began trying to drag one over to the table where they would eat. She sat across from him. The little guy was loud and laughing and playing an eating game with her. We smiled and laughed at him, remembering our own son when he was that age. We were not able to take him into a restaurant until he was about 4 years old – he was just too loud and disruptive as a “toddler.”

There was a memorable trip with my parents when he was about 18 months. We moved from Los Angeles to Oregon and my mom and dad came along to help us with him. When we stopped to eat, one of us inevitably ended up gobbling down his or her food and taking him out to the car so the other diners in the restaurant could have their meal in peace. 

And then after we stopped laughing and talking about it, I sat there crying quietly and eating my Southwestern wrap – fortunately there was only one other person in the restaurant who could see me, I am not sure she noticed.

There was so much I wanted to say to that young woman.

Friday, January 06, 2012

What was lost is found...

 Last September (can it really be that long ago!) I was in a blue funk and feeling a bit frantic as well because I had misplaced three journals. I know that keeping the journals served a very useful purpose: they allowed me a safe way to express anger and frustration about things my husband and our son were doing without harming them in the process.

But did I really want to keep them?

Should something happen to me, did I want to leave them behind for Richard to find and read (assuming he could read my handwriting)?

I didn't think so.

After several intensive searches of the various bookshelves throughout the house and under the clothes in the drawers of my dresser, I was not able to find them anywhere. I never totally stopped looking for them, but I decided not to invest any more time in the search.

Richard said not to worry about it. As soon as I stopped looking, they would turn up. Things have a way of doing that, he said.
It has been rather warm here, and last night I was looking for an extra large t-shirt to wear instead of my flannel pajama top, and so I started rooting around in the bottom drawer of my dresser where I keep the t-shirts that are too large for me to wear in public. 

There they were.

I stared at them in disbelief. On the one hand I am relieved that I found them, but on the other hand, I am bewildered at how I could have searched the drawers of my dresser a bunch of times and not searched that drawer. I know I searched the top and middle drawers, but why didn’t I search the bottom drawers? It doesn’t make any sense at all. None.

Maybe it was act of God

Now that I have them, I am reluctant to toss them out. I suspect that tucked away in the pages will be memories of our son that I do not want to throw away. I may have to use the snap-off razor knife to surgically remove the bad and keep the good.