Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘kindness’

An Imperfect Mother

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Most of my readers know about my ambivalent relationship with my mother. She was so many things – ill, sad, and abusive, but also independent, feisty, and in her very peculiar way – loving.

When the memories of her other characteristics threaten to make her unredeemable, I remember this story.

She could see things that other people couldn’t or refused to see. When I was struggling with my weight as a teenager who desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer, she took me to the perfect meal. Weird, huh? A meal.

I had spent my fifteenth summer at a dance camp, and I came home freaked out. A couple of months before going to the dance camp, I had gained the necessary ten pounds to jumpstart a late-onset puberty. Literally, before the weight gain, my body fat was too low to provide the necessary materials for a teenage body and brain. Pleased with my new curves, I went with another girl to our yearly dance intensive.

But throughout the camp, my dancing teachers had complained about my weight gain.

After the first few days, they would take me aside and say things.

“Your dancing weight is 98 to 103 pounds. Do you weigh that now?”

I let the ice cream drip down my hand, onto my toe shoes.

“105 is too much for your height.”

I was 5’6” tall.

“How much do you want to dance professionally? Really? That much. Well, you can’t be a dancer at that weight.”

In an audition, before my fellow dancers and competition, my teacher said, “If you lost some weight, you could make the company.”

When I fell out of a double pirouette, the ballet mistress said, “Maybe you could bind your chest. And your hips.”

I slept the whole way home from camp, too exhausted from writing down every little thing I ate, trying to find my balance (no one explained the needed rebuilding to suit my no longer androgynous body), while every second blocking out the faculty’s hurtful comments. Mom met me at the door, and I burst into tears. All week, I would catch her watching me.

On that next weekend, Mom said she was going to the mall and did I want to come? I must have muttered something because we ended up wandering around until we were standing in the doorway of the mall’s cafeteria. Over my objections, Mom pulled me in. She giggled. I had heard her laugh before, but giggling was new. She tucked my arm under hers. Like girlfriends.

“Let’s have dessert for dinner,” she said. “Pick two.”

She slid me a tray, smiled at me, and went off to pick her desserts. Lost before a line of forbidden desserts, I looked back at her. She was bright enough to keep her overt focus on her choices. Time to choose. Anorexia or dessert. I picked the chocolate cake and Jell-O. She didn’t say anything about my choices. Just paid. It was not a big moment but a decisive one.

I guard that memory. Mom could be so many things, lots of them ugly and painful but every once in a while, she was perfect.

Happy Mother’s Day. Share one precious memory, and we’ll guard them together.

(Image used with permission. By Andrew Giovinazzo.)

Painful Humility

September has been a bad time coming off six months of painkillers. I have headaches, slurred speech, memory problems, weight gain, and general crabbiness. But I have clarity about human fragility.

I admit I am spectacularly judgmental about drug abuse. My mom was a horrible drug abuser and I am terrified of getting addicted. I always said I would never use drugs.

Pain wasn’t too bad until the nerve blocks wore off three days after the each of the initial surgeries in March. EEK. I thought my body was on fire and I would have done anything, well almost anything, to put it out.

The Friday after my arm surgery, in my surgeon’s building, I pleaded for painkillers. The staff was wide-eyed and scared. At one point I was sitting on the waiting room floor, sobbing, covered in body fluids, unable to see beyond my immediate painful reality. A patient handed me a box of Kleenex. An hour later, an unspecified person gave me a prescription for a strong morphine-type drug.

The pharmacist at my neighborhood drug store talked to me about having someone stay with me or at the least, check on me while taking the medication. I nodded at her. Unthinking. Wanting her to scream at her to go away so I could speed home and take the drug. Unable to see any future beyond the agony of that moment. A neighbor came over every two hours and checked on me throughout the weekend. Thank you neighbor. I hope I was civil to you.

Truthfully, I asked her to check on me because I was scared. Scared witless that the doctors would find out and take away my medication. I didn’t care about waking up as long as the opiates made the pain go away.

After about a week, when I could sit upright, I realized I would never go to the bathroom again until I stopped taking the opiates. That was my bottom. So I went off them. Coming off was a very lousy three days. I watched a lot of stupid TV, serial killer shows and sitcoms, but not movies. I could not concentrate on a feature length film. I itched all over. I ate many bags of corn chips and drank a lot of tea. I hate corn chips and tea. Corn chips taste like pasteboard. Tea tastes like my idea of embalming fluid.

During those shitty seventy-two hours, I reassessed my judgments about addiction. Forgave my mom a little more. Was humbled by how easy, how seductive, and how compromising it was and is to get hooked on a painkiller. Imagined ingenious ways to get back at my surgeons.

But chronic pain set in after another series of bloody painful procedures and in office surgeries. I spent the next four months on non-opiate painkiller medications. I am almost off these medications. Tapering off these medications has been another lesson in patience and in compassion for anyone trying to deal with pain. Starting with myself.

When I have more distance from non-opiate painkiller withdrawal, I’ll tell you about it.

I keep hearing my teachers say, “All behavior was productive at one point.” I wish I could have been more understanding with my mother.

Love Is What We Need

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This year has taught me lessons in humility and acceptance.

During this year’s multiple surgeries and procedures, people have gone out of their way to be kind to me.

A person arranged to have my yoga class bring me dinner, sent me notes, dropped by to check on me. What a lovely heart!

I love the person who sent me a Moon Pie for being “wonderful.” Love, love, love her.

Friends have commiserated with me, transported me to and from surgeries and appointments, laughed with me at my crazy outfits as I navigated an arm cast and surgical shoe, and picked me up when I fell over.

People have called to check on me throughout this time. You are my lifelines and I promise to pass this on to other people.

People have stuck by me during the goofiness of my painkiller months. The months were I had to take painkillers to make it through the day – rescheduling clients, putting off reports, and being unable to find names or words. Some days I forgot to shower … oops.

I gave my best reading of my work after falling asleep on a friend’s shoulder. Waking with a start, I stumbled up to the podium, and kind of ad-libbed my way through the piece – but with uncharacteristic animation. Thank you for the applause.

One friend said to forget the written word and just speak from the heart; I was entertaining enough. What a giggle. I’m a card-carrying introvert.

The only comment on my ten-pound weight gain has been, “It fills you out.” Yeah, okay.

The friends who tell me to “Go home, you’re in too much pain” when I limp into the coffee shop have been my tough love and caring ethics committee.

You taught me to take life as it comes and do what I can. Even if it meant sitting upfront at an art opening of my stories matched to images, plotched on Gabapentin and Trammadol, effusively saying, “Welcome to Litmus Gallery. Snacks and wine are in the back.” You came up front to check on me, told me jokes, and repositioned me on the stool when I started to slide off.

It was crazy-feeling for me – I couldn’t imagine how trying it must have been for you. You have come through for me. I am overwhelmed by your sweetness. Thank you.

I could not have survived the carelessness of the medical community without you: the surgeon and wound care specialist have never said how difficult this must be for me after almost six months of digging around in my foot with a scalpel; nurses who did not pass on my requests for pain relief; and doctors who told me not to cry.

I would have ended up in jail without your steadying influence dealing with the clueless: the bloody assholes who use handicapped parking slots for their convenience; people who walk so fast I can’t keep up; and friends who break their promises to help. I know this isn’t personal. This is their stuff.

Good lessons, painful lessons. The lessons keep rolling in. Thank you Universe but I am done. No more. Let’s get on with the living.

I guess I already am.

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