Sunday, September 16, 2012

Short and Painful

This is a first draft of what I hope to work into a memoir someday.  It's abbreviated, and was excruciating to get even these few words down.  **deep breath**   Here goes.

My mother took her own life.  She didn't go the conventional route, however.  She didn't hang herself,  shoot herself, drown, overdose, or walk into traffic.  She starved herself.  And because of that, because everyone could see it coming, everyone in her life is culpable.  She damaged me and lifted me up as best she was able, and without her I am incomplete.

Imagine that you're five years old.  Your entire reward system is food-based.  If you're good you get cake, candy, potato chips.  Food is social, a comfort, because you're an only child, and maybe that's the only way anyone knows how to communicate with you.  Imagine going to the doctor and hearing him tell your mother you're too fat and need to diet.  Imagine the first day of kindergarten when your new school clothes won't zip.  Imagine the name-calling.  Imagine being the heaviest kid in class. always.  And because you're tall ("big-boned"), these things last until you can drive.

Imagine having a father whom you idolize.  He eats WITH you, and he's the best.  He prepares big, greasy breakfasts on Sunday and giant bowls of ice cream for evening TV.  Your mother eats none of this, of course.  There is a picture of you as a toddler, and your mother stands over you in a park wading pool.  She is tall, svelte, the most beautiful mother by far.  Clearly, this is why your father loves her.  When you go out as a family your dad says, doesn't your mom look nice?   When it's her birthday he asks you to go shopping with him.  If you try on the present and it fits, that means it will be too big for her.  Sometimes the three of you will go out for breakfast, and your mother will eat half an egg and two bites of toast.  Sometimes your father expresses concern for her health, but he never encourages her to eat.  Sometimes he admits to you that he is worried about her, but it is never about her eating disorder, just the fact that she smokes.  You're frank with him about her eating habits, but he doesn't listen.  After all, thin is the ideal.

Imagine that your mother eats in secret.  Imagine going to the bathroom of your two-bedroom house in the middle of the night, and your mother is sitting at the kitchen table.  She has a box of powdered sugar and a spoon.  She smiles guiltily and offers you the box.  You get your own spoon and join her.  This is bonding.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Everyday Angels: A Feel-Good Post

     A few months ago I pledged to give myself a break, and in turn all those around me.  This is not my nature.  I work hard, read a lot, and avail myself of new perspectives on a daily basis.  This makes me opinionated and somewhat snobby.  I don't suffer fools easily; it had become a real burden to be around other people.

     So in pursuit of mental health, I pushed those thoughts away and tried to lighten up.  And it worked.

     First, I was able to breathe.  Then I could smile; my face became relaxed.  Strangers approach me now, and not only the ne'er-do-wells (as my father-in-law used to say.)  I became popular with clients at work.  They wrote me letters and posted positive things about me on message boards.  All this served to improve my relationship with my boss.  Nice.

     I've become a tourist in my own city again.  The subway crackhead who bumped me, then said "if I touch you it's OK to touch me back"?  I just laughed.  The recent heat wave?  No problem.  No one looks good in the summer.

     My marriage is more peaceful.  When I'd prefer silence and my husband is raging some political diatribe, I simply listen quietly.  I don't engage, but I don't tune out either.  Works for both of us.

     However, some situations are more challenging.  The woman at the gym who confessed to poisoning her own cat to avoid euthanasia costs?  I still despise her.  And really, I'm OK with that.  But I don't become physically ill (as often) in her presence.

     And there you have it.  Who knows what wonderful things await me?  Maybe I'll update my blog more often.  Maybe I'll churn out a novel.  Or maybe I can just continue to breathe.

Sunday, April 29, 2012



I couldn't write you a rhyming poem, though I tried.
You flatly refused to fit into the meter
And the words didn't mesh at all.
So I gave up,
Without much surprise, really,
For who am I
     To say you were
          Meant to be 

And although I am uneasy with free verse
Because it is so wildly eccentric,
I am forced to admit
That it is perfect
For what I want
To say.
                                                                            up in my head
I do know that there are a few years of memories 
And I won't be letting go of them for awhile.
Laughter, always.
And some tears.  Well,
They couldn't be avoided.
You're my mother, my mentor,
My best friend.  Until you were

And me, with a Mom-shaped hole in my
Existence, waiting to see if the platitudes are accurate.
Time heals all wounds, I was told.
Another lie.  The wound remains, the edges
Cauterized yet gaping.  Grief doesn't

Resolve.  It has become an imaginary
Friend who is with me

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Revolution Starts Now

     Only it's not too revolutionary, more resolution-ary.  If I did that anymore.  Starting in 2012 there are no more short term goals.  It's simple, really.  All I propose to do is be present, be awake, and remember from a safe, comfortable distance.  Maybe I'll get some clarity, some grace, maybe I won't.

     It's a mild winter in Chicago, and it's the middle of January before I see my friend Ann in her fur coat.  For her it's totally practical.  She spends a lot of time shoveling snow for her tenants, plus she has two dogs that demand frequent walks.  Ann is cold at any temperature below 80 degrees, so I'm neutral on her fur coat choice.


      When I first moved to Chicago for grad school, I had a part-time job at a store called Paddor's.  Paddor's had okay clothes and accessories, but they had awesome jackets and coats.  Fur coats! Fur coats of mink, fox, raccoon, even coyote.  Keep in mind I was young and naive and didn't yet know about PETA.  I thought furs were classy, and in the Windy City they'd be practical as well.  Who knew!?  We were encouraged to try on the merchandise so naturally I went for the furs.  I wouldn't have been able to buy one without my enormous discount, and regrettably fur of any type made me look enormous.  FYI: if you're tall with an athletic frame, stick to outerwear that's more flattering, less rugby-player-like.  First fashion lesson learned.

     Fast forward twenty years.  I'm helping my hoarder friend Cynthia clean her home.  It's been in her family for over 100 years, and since her mother passed away several years ago, nothing has been sorted or given away.  Um ... or cleaned.  Add two large, shedding dogs and an ancient Persian with bowel issues and well, you can imagine.  So we went to work, Cynthia and I.  The going was emotional for her, arduous for me.  But we did make headway: 3-4 hours a day on hands and knees, a trip to Home Depot or the Salvation Army, wine at the end.  Her living situation steadily improved.  I must add that this was all quite difficult for her, and I commend her for allowing me control in the beginning.  Cynthia needed only a little support at the outset, then she was off and running.

     Until we found the fur coat.

     It had been her mother's mink coat, found in a forgotten corner of a forgotten closet.  It was moth-eaten and it reeked of cat urine; it fit her perfectly.  Cynthia's face lit up as though all her beloved dead relatives suddenly appeared before her.
     "What about the smell?" I asked.  "What about the holes?"
     "Oh, the dry cleaner will fix everything," she assured me.  "A new lining is all it needs!"

     So we were off to the cleaners.   An elderly Vietnamese man was behind the counter.  He refused to touch the coat until he located some disposable gloves.  Only then did he reluctantly take the coat to the back to assess the damage.  He returned in minutes, coat shoved in plastic, and gloves discarded.
     "Nothing I can do for stink.  Just throw out."
     "Can't you at least replace the lining?"  Cynthia was beginning to well up.
     "THROW OUT"

     And so we left with the bagged coat.  Me: embarrassed. Cynthia: saddened.

     "Is it really that bad?"
     "It's kinda bad, yeah."
     "Even just to walk the dogs?  It's so warm.  Who will ever see me if I just use it to walk the dogs?"

     I thought, "everybody," but kept my mouth shut.  That ratty coat keeps her warm and gives her pleasure like nothing else can.  She wears it still, and each time is like another day with her mother.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Which I Turn 50

I'm no athlete. Never have been, never will be.  That said, I do work out on a regular basis to fight middle-aged gravity-based body changes and to cope with these trying socio-politico-economic times.  Exercise makes me a nicer person, more Mary Tyler Moore-like if you will.    I'm calmer, more articulate, and mostly patient with people on public transportation.  I've gone from a hyperventilating ball of self-consciousness in my teens to distance running in my twenties to step aerobics; well, you get the idea.   I LIKE having a puddle of sweat under my spinning bike.  I LIKE being the only woman in the weight room.  The point is, I'm no stranger to fitness.  However, I witnessed something last week that truly appalled.