Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘dying’

Killing Me Softly

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People ask what prompted me to write a 430-page novel where I kill off the protagonist, the antagonist, the villain, many secondary characters, and a big ol’ list of walk-ons. Over and over again. Well, to answer the question, I have had the kind of experiences that prompted me to write that novel – a nasty, in your face, go to hell novel where someone gets killed off every 30 pages of the manuscript. You are laughing. I can hear you. Right now you are laughing because you are imagining me doing this. Yes, someone gets killed off every 30 pages in the manuscript.

A pivotal experience kicking up this urge to smack a character started kindly enough. I was explaining to a friend about my first husband. Saying the usual stuff.

“We married young.”

“The marriage went as far as it could go.”

“He is basically a good man and we had a lot of fun for a while.”

Truth be told, I was a tad relieved when my first husband moved to Chicago after we divorced. I felt a sense of freedom and let’s get on with life. The divorce happened in the middle of my master’s program at a state university. So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and took out a loan to get through the last year. It wasn’t too horrible sleeping on a friend’s pullout sofa. What is it about that bar in the middle of the mattress? And why did I always creep towards the bottom of the bed to get my feet tangled up in the metal frame? I learned to like cereal – I will never love it. I reframed the first union as “a starter marriage,” one that should be respected, where I learned many skills essential to my second marriage. Overall I felt really good about the first marriage until the day when I learned how he explained the end of the marriage.

He said I had died. Yes, I had died.

At a coffee shop, I ran into one of his business colleagues. She looked stunned. She stammered. I kept talking until I ran out of words. She was quiet. We looked at each other. She didn’t blink so I didn’t either.

“What’s up?” I asked with a wide-eyed smile.

“Uh. You’re still alive.” Her eyes were as round as the saucers under our café au laits.

“Yeah. I think so.” I blinked to show that I was not the Undead (Twilighters will get this reference).

“He told us you died.” Tears filled her eyes.

“What?” Massive blinking on my part.

“D*** told us you died then he moved to Chicago.” She hiccupped spilling tears.

“You’re kidding?” I blinked with my mouth open stopping just before I drooled.

“No.” Both of us sat down. I shrugged, stopped blinking and drank some cold coffee. I shook my head from side to side.

I thought I may need to rethink my understanding of my first marriage. I called Social Security to check if he had accessed any death benefits. I called the advertising agency in Chicago, explained who I was and the first words out of his colleague’s mouth were, “I thought you had died.”

“No. Not yet,” I said into the phone.

I tracked him down to his house in California using the Internet. During a series of phone calls to ad agencies, I explained my live status. One person hung up the phone. Another person dropped the phone. It was hilarious. If I was dead, did I need health insurance? Would I need to pay taxes?

So that is where I get my comfort with a plot full of characters who return from the dead, again and again and again. To tell their story. Yet again.

 

 

“Now?” “No not yet.”

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When anyone asks me to describe my childhood, I have a stock answer. “We had a childhood written by Stephen King starring Cruella DeVille and Captain Ahab.” That usually shuts them up. It’s painful when you don’t have the All-American-Family portrayed by Norman Rockwell. I have the European-Holocaust-AbsentShipCaptain-family portrayed by Bosch and Dali.

My dislike for my mother, Cruella, swarms like a soul-sucking tornado as Mother’s Day approaches. My mother died in 1998. The whole shebang was surreal. Mom had been dying three times a year for a decade. She had deathbeds in Alabama and California; places I could not get to without long expensive plane flights. But I tried. I really tried for the first couple of years. Then I said, “Fuck it.” With an eye on being the good daughter, I lobbied my husband for Mom to come live with us. He said, “No. I am not having that woman who caused you so much pain live with us. I can’t watch her hurt you.” He left the room, slammed every door in the house before driving off in his rusted out Camaro. I sat in our house still rattling with his anger. Okay, that was a resounding no-go.

So time passed; Mom continued to have near death experiences. My sister went to live with her. I sent money secreted from my own account but a few times from the household account. Ten years passed until one day I received a phone call from my sister. “Mom is dying. She’s not going to make it through the night. Get on a plane.” Uh-huh. My sister rambled while I rolled my eyes. I don’t remember why Mom was “dying.”

The next day, I received another phone call. “Mom’s dying. She’s not going to make it … “ I finished the sentence, “Through the night.” My sister yelled until she hung up.

My sister called again on the next day. I looked at the caller ID, answered nonplused, “Don’t tell me. Mom’s dying. She’s not going to make it through the night.” My sister was all kinds of pissed. “Look call me when she’s got one foot through death’s door,” I said and hung up.

The rest of the week passed into the weekend. Monday around a quarter to one, my father called me. We chatted in a weather-report kind of way before he said, “Well she did it.”

“What?”

“Your mother died thirty minutes ago,” he said.

I stood looking at the phone, examining the soft blue hue, feeling the weight of the receiver in my hands, and inside … nothing. Then both of us started laughing. “Oops, I misjudged this,” I said.

“She was dramatic,” he said. We hung up. Big portions of my life began. I felt free. Open to the many different possibilities of living without the specter of her cruelty.

The loss did not hit until ten years later when it was safe to mourn. I was writing a short story based on a fragment of memory – an interaction with Mom where not one character in the story was sympathetic. Mom’s motivations were beyond my understanding but I knew the event happened. I looked for explanations of Mom’s behaviors in books, class notes, newspapers, and family albums. I found them. With that information, her actions, some good but mostly horrific, made sense. Compassion for her battled my history of contempt, grown from the minefield she dug. The confusion caused my gut to knot, my head to pound, and sizzled my dreams to the point of night terrors. When my perceptions of the world have reorganized so I don’t feel like I am peeling off my skin, I’ll tell you.

Mom would say to me, “To know everything is to understand everything.” Maybe she was giving me a way to view her life and behaviors in a larger context.

My therapist would say to me, “All behavior is productive.” Maybe he was asking me to stop with the duality of right and wrong.

They were both right. I weep for my mother, the no-escaping tragic course of her life, the bad turns she took, and the relationships she blew. I weep for myself, the mother I never knew until she died, the things we could not do together, and the long years we spent hating each other. On this Mother’s Day, you can celebrate or feel nothing, mourn or let it go, I will support you either way. Not everyone has a Rockwell family.

Fighting the Flu

rodblogI have been accused of smacking my readers over the head, being preachy and judgmental. I am. Working on it. Trying for more subtlety. But damn me if I don’t think my readers sometimes deserve the full truth. Raw. Blunt.

I hate flu season. Not the disease so much but the season. I hate snow. Not so much the precipitation but that it usually happens around flu season. I hate the wail of an EMS siren. The snow, flu, and EMS created the perfect storm nineteen years ago.

Raleigh’s weather had been bad. Finally the snow melted. The roads were the usual mess. My husband and I had the flu or so we thought. Rod had been ill since Wednesday. He stayed home from work – something he dearly loved to do. We got to spend more time together. My office was on the other side of the duplex.

By Friday afternoon, I was feeling better, seeing a few clients at my home office, and checking on him between clients. He didn’t look good. Green around the gills. Listless and grumpy unlike the teddy bear he had become over our marriage. I was out of graduate school and the pressure was off him as I started to bring in money. We were planning to open a holistic bed and breakfast. A year later, I found a notebook, two inches thick, with specifications of the land that he would have bought, notes on his instructions to real estate agents, and drawings of structures I had okayed as possibilities for our adventure.

When I finished work after 7 that night, I washed my face before checking on him. He was lying in bed. A six foot four unmoving lump. Chest barely rising. Staring at the ceiling.

“I don’t feel so good,” he said.
“You don’t look so good. I’m going to call the doctor.”

I called Rod’s newly assigned doctor. I could tell he was irritated by a call on a Friday night – abrupt, dismissive annoyance traveled over the phone. I told him I was concerned. My husband didn’t complain. Barely went to the doctor. But he was complaining now. He wasn’t quite thirty-one.

“You have to see him. Something’s wrong,” I yelled into the phone.
“I’ll call you in something for the flu,” said the doctor.
“Do you think I should take him to the ER?”
“No. It’s the flu,” he said and hung up.

I promised Rod to be as fast as possible, drove to the pharmacy, and got the anti-nausea med. When I returned it was close to nine. Rod had collapsed in on himself. The skin around his mouth was blue. His eyes were sunken back into his head. He looked like he had lost thirty pounds in an hour.

“I’m taking you to the hospital,” I said.
“No don’t,” he said. His eyes were sad, glittering with tears, but he smiled up at me.
At that moment, through some grace of God, we knew he was dying.
“I’m so scared,” he said. I had to move close to his heart to hear him.
Instead of denying it, I asked Rod, “What do you want to do?”
“I want to be at home,” he said along with the wordless question of could I be there with him.

I don’t remember what we talked about but we talked. He gave me permission to love again. He told me it would be a waste to have learned such a hard-won skill and never use it again. I tried to laugh it off but he put his hand over my mouth for me to kiss. We smiled a little, giggling like the young things we were. Murmuring little love words to each other. Saying our goodbyes.

By midnight, his muscles had started aching from lack of oxygen. At first his body alternated between trembling and stiffening. In an hour, whole body seizures started. I held him. Rocked him. Massaged him. Sang him little songs he loved. Told him not to be afraid. It would be shitty but I would stay with him. Held back all the tears that I nearly drowned in later. When he started blacking out, going minutes without a pulse, I called EMS. I had kept my vow.

A gruff man came in and took over. He was the age I am now. “What’s your husband’s name?” he asked.
“Roderick Eugene. Rod,” I said.
“Rod, I need you to listen to me. Pay attention to me,” he said.
“We can’t get a blood pressure,” said another member of the EMS team. They got busy.

I grabbed our stuff from the bedroom. Threw on some clothes. I was not allowed in the ambulance so I followed them to the Emergency Department in our truck. The wail of the EMS kept my adrenalin up, pushing back the terror, robbing me of breath. EMS pushed his gurney through the doors, sirens still wailing, leaving me to fill out papers. I waited.

The doctor came out to talk to me, a sad man with kind eyes.
“There’s nothing we can do. He has a virus that is causing him to bleed into his heart and lungs,” he said.
I nodded.
“Is there someone you can call? I have to get back in there,” he said looking at the closed doors where my husband lay bleeding out.
I called my friend and colleague, Catherine. She found me staring at the pale green walls, tight and motionless on a plastic molded chair. She wrapped her arms around me but I didn’t cry.
The doctor came back.
“We couldn’t save him.”
Save him from what? I thought.
“We’re going to clean him up and then you can come spend some time with him,” he said.

In a few minutes, a gentle nurse with soft, fat fingers took my hand, leading me to the room. She told me that he would be covered in tubes and hospital regulations would not let them remove them. Lying on the stretcher, Rod was gone. The nurse handed me some scissors and left me alone. After cutting off a swatch of his hair and gathering his wedding and anniversary rings, I left the hospital room.

The ER doctor came out to express his regrets in words somber and heart-felt. I never heard from Rod’s doctor – the one I annoyed with the phone call.

Somehow, I drove home and made the necessary arrangements. People were good to me for a while, more than a while. The ER doctor talked to me periodically. The hospital called with bills. I was clear that Rod had died in the way he wanted – in our love, in our house.

Here’s where I get preachy. Love your partners. If they are ill, fight the doctors to get the needed care. Make a scene. Here’s where I get judgmental. If you don’t love your partners, you won’t be able to be with them when their time comes. So let them go find the partners who will be there in love.

Word Choice and Tramping Avalanche Peak

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I keep thinking about Freedom of Speech – how the world needs words, images, dialogue, differences of opinion to save it. Yes, I know it is a difficult concept and painful reality but I had an experience where words saved me.

A few years ago, I flew half way around the world to meet my college boyfriend in New Zealand. We had talked over college wounds deciding, “We had loved each other the best we could at that age.” Admittedly I had not thought of him much in the past decades but I was excited to further heal the breach with a seminal figure from my past.

It was a long flight to end up living for three weeks on a damp, cold boat with a man of minimal words. Within the first week, he told me I talk too much. Okay. I remembered that talking was not our strong suit. We had explored other things. Hormonal activities that … uh hum, kept my mouth occupied. On the boat, being censured for talking left me feeling lonely and confused. So we got active, tramping the various treks of the South Island.

One tramp was along Avalanche Peak. 2000 meters up. The steep, rocky trek along the peak is named for its many avalanches in winter. We were going in New Zealand’s fall. Websites describe it as ‘tragic’ and ‘dangerous’ and ‘with sheer drops.’ Bill did not tell me any of this. The night before our trek, we had checked into a hotel, ate a hot carb-laden meal, checked our boots and clothes for the morning, and climbed into bed.

As drifted off to sleep, Bill looked at me and said, “You need to gain 10 pounds. You were so pretty in college.”
“Why in God’s name would you say that?”
“Well it’s true.”
“That’s not the point,” I said.
I didn’t get much sleep that night as I stewed on his hurtful words. Hearing the rain beat down and the wind howl. Somehow, I managed to curb my urge to smother him with a pillow as he slept peacefully beside me.

The next day, bleary-eyed, I dressed in fleece tights, double layer waterproof and thermal hiking pants, sock liners and hiking socks, two tops, one silk and one wool, a climbing jacket, scarf, gloves and hat. No way in hell was I talking to him so that left climbing the peak.
We got to the visitor center and the ranger suggested we put off our tramp. It was still raining and they were expecting strong winds further up the peak. I was ready to find a warm fire and have a hot toddy, maybe nap on a sofa away from Mr. Hurtful Words.

“Let’s go check it out,” he said. I didn’t say anything.

The trailhead was a vertical climb, pulling oneself up a streambed. Using the tree roots as handholds.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said mouth open, staring up a small river cascading over a sludge of mud, stones, and hard looking scrub.
Hurtful Words said, “We can always stop. Once at the top, it’s a great view and an easier trek over the other side.”
“Fuck,” I said.
“You know I don’t like swearing,” he said. “I’ll go first.” So he started. All 200 plus pounds of him moving all the footholds and loosening the tree roots so I had to forge another path up the bloody mountain.
“Shit,” I said as my foot slipped and I dropped ten feet.
“Fuck,” I said as a tree root came away in my hand slicing it open through my gloves.
“Damn,” I said as a cascade of pebbles from steps of Hurtful Words thundering on above me pummeled my face.

I used the mantra of “Shit, fuck, damn” to make it up the streambed. Then we emerged into a torrential rain. Blindly I followed him. There were some vague screeches floating in the air – I thought they were from me. When the rain stopped, we reassessed. I was standing on a rim twelve inches wide with a sheer drop on one side and a roll and drop on the other. Great view of death. I sat down tears rolling down my face. Snow started.

“Let’s go back,” I said. The snowflakes grew fatter, colder, harder like pretty hail.
“You can but I want to go on,” he said. I knew he had the car keys so pushing him off the mountain was going to be counterproductive.

We kept putting one foot in front of the other. Abruptly, the snow stopped. Next came the gale force winds that almost pushed me off the mountain. Dropping my center of gravity, I scurried hunched over along the foot-wide ridge. Hearing some swooping and keening sounds again, I moved my eyes without moving my head. Swirling in the air were enormous birds with curved beaks, like out of Jurassic Park.

“They’re called sheep killers,” he said. “They eat the fat on the back of the sheep driving them crazy so the sheep throw themselves off the mountain.”
“Oh shit, shit, shit.” I sat down on the mountain to cry. Hail crashed my face.
“Don’t face into the wind, your tears will freeze on your face and you’ll get frostbite.”
“Fuck you asshole,” I said. All out of niceness. “I don’t think frostbite matters if I die on this godforsaken mountain.”
“You need to eat.” He gave me a gummy worm. I threw it at an approaching bird. Periodically, he gave me gummy worms and I threw them at the birds. They followed but kept their distance. Then came the horizontal sleet.
“I need to get off this fucking mountain,” I yelled into the icy bath.

“It’s approaching whiteout. I can’t see the trail. We should go back,” he said. I couldn’t see a thing. I sat down on the ridge.
“I’m not strong enough. I’m going to die up here. Shit, fuck, damn,” I cried.
“I hate it when you swear,” he said.
“That’s the least of our problems.”
“It isn’t helping.”
“The extreme probability of dying on a fucking mountain makes me want to swear,” I yelled at him.
“We have to start back now,” he said.

I followed him back through the sleet, birds, gale-force winds, snow, and torrential rain, to the streambed. He went down first, backwards. I followed slipping, sliding and swearing. Landing on my ass. Tearing my clothes. Somehow we made it back to the visitor center where, from relief, I promptly threw up gummy worms.

“This was a good day,” he said. “The only thing that spoiled it was your swearing.”
“My words kept me going. Your words last night weren’t so helpful,” I said.

I would not have survived Avalanche Peak without using my words, swear words, to generate the anger and energy for the trek. I will never be sure of the intent behind his words. Words have consequences bringing us together and pushing us apart.

Un-Cursing Myself

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I said aloud, “I am cursed.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Since Thanksgiving things have sucketh mightily as my family says,” I said after a lousy run of luck over the holidays.

My book came out at a weird time before the holidays. It’s not a typical holiday read (a collection of short stories and/or workbook about breasts – yep people will be delighted to have that under their Christmas tree and/or Hanukah bush). Somehow I think even the pagans will have a difficult time justifying it as a Winter Solstice gift. Definitely not a hostess gift.

For a year, I have been limping through my yoga classes, teaching duties, counseling appointments, and onto stage to read my scribblings. I have a Morton’s neuroma, ganglion growth between the toes, necessitating some combination of painful shots, foot binding reminiscent of the Inquisition, and eventual surgery with an awesome recuperation in an attractive surgical boot.

Then there was the massive brouhaha with the heating/air conditioning/duct work/zoning/dampers replacement. I have heat and more than likely a fractured or chipped ulna. For over a month, I have griped about pain in my arm and numbness in my fingers to the point I can’t hold a cup. Probably happened moving carpet from the attic, down through the hole in the closet, down from the second to the first floor, then out the door across the parking lot to the dumpster.

When I tell people, “My right leg and arm are going to be in either a cast or brace of some sort,” they have not exactly been helpful or maybe I’m touchy.
“I can’t drive with my foot in a surgical boot. I have a manual transmission,” I said.
“Wait. It’s your right foot that’s broken?”
“Yes.”
“Well you can’t drive an automatic either.”
“Yeah. Guess you have a point.”
Notice, he didn’t say, “And honey, I would love to drive you around when you need me.” What are friends for – good times it appears.

This morning I had a difficult time getting up. Stuck like a turtle on my back trying to figure out how to use my left arm to roll onto my right side to hoist myself out of bed. The cat watched for a whiie, meowed, sat on my chest for a minute to scamper down my leg knocking my foot against a book. Fat cat. Great, it feels like I have a collapsed lung, broken arm and great shock waves of pain rolled up from my foot into my hip. Tears, lots of them, not such a great way to start the day.

My yoga classes are composed of breathing exercises and standing poses avoiding anything on the ground and my imitation of a turtle stranded on its back.

I could go on with this laundry list of troubles. My shower has a leak that rivals Niagara Falls. My computer is running hot (I need a better porn site). My office is like the Arctic – luckily I hand out blankets as people come in for sessions. My iPod has developed little lines though it and that can’t be good. My Fiat has a poltergeist – the windshield wipers come on whenever. My plans for New Years collapsed along with my engagement. Yick. If I were a horse, I would shout me.

(You might be wondering how I am writing at the moment. One word – oxycodone. When it wears off, I better be at home, in bed, with the remote in my left hand and my foot up).

In my general clumsiness from the foot, arm, and escalating grumpiness, I knocked over a pile of photos. Trying to clump them together with my left hand and right claw, while swearing with pain, I picked up the photo posted here. My second husband took the picture after years of medications, two chemical menopause episodes and an eviscerating surgery a week earlier. I was ecstatic to be home from the hospital. My hair – on my head, eyebrows, eyelashes, everywhere – had fallen out and was beginning to grow in. I had lost twenty pounds. Had absolutely no make-up on. My first husband was telling anyone who would listen that I had died. I was 29.

My friend took the photo.
“You look like Lyle Lovette here,” she said.
“I can live with that,” I said.
“Good bone structure but not your best picture,” she said.
“I didn’t die and that was all I was asking for,” I said in conclusion.
It was a long recovery. Twenty-five years later, I complain about the little, painful, annoying but not lethal, indignities of living. While mechanics, techies, orthopedists, and a pharmacist would be helpful, mostly, I need this picture.

Throughout this new year, I want to remember – with gratitude – I am not cursed.

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