memories

I Often Worry

I often worry. No surprise there to anyone who knows me. I worry about all sorts of things, as all people do. I fall into the category of people, though, who worry too much. Way too much. I know this about myself. I try to deal with it.

I know that parents always worry how well a job they are doing raising their children. They worry if they are screwing their kids up somehow. After all, parents have pretty vivid images of how their own parents raised them and it most definitely affects the kind of parent that they want to be. But, often, there is a huge gap between the parent you want to be and the parent you actually are. And that is, of course, because no two people are ever exactly the same; no two children, no two adults, no two families. That whole “Life is a box of chocolates” thing.  The wishing that kids came with individual instruction manuals thing. Hell, the wish that you had come with an instruction manual!

This piece touched me just now because I often worry as well. I think my husband does too. I wonder how my children are going to remember me, my husband, us.  I wonder how our depression will affect them; has affected them. Because it’s certainly affected everything that he and I have done and do. (Damn you, Depression!!)

I’m curious and anxious about what things look like to them, how things feel to them. Very anxious. Very worried.

Anyway, I enjoyed this piece by Lisa Lim about how things seemed to her.

My Mother Would Walk Miles Upon Miles

By Lisa Lim on Mutha Magazine

“I’d ask, “Mommy, why don’t you have any wrinkles?” “Because I don’t think that hard about things,” she’d answer.” Memories of a mother — and her struggles with homelessness, depression, and varicose veins — in comic form.

via My Mother Would Walk Miles Upon Miles — Discover

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Introspective Lesson No. 1

I was going to be a writer when I grew up. I was going to write about everything. I  was going to write about everything I experienced and noticed about the world and its’ occupants. I was going to create compelling stories and powerful essays!
But mostly I was going to write about THEM. I was going to write about all of THEM who thought I wasn’t smart or smart enough. All of THEM who thought I was weird. All of THEM with whom I did not fit in. All of THEM who couldn’t understand me because I was, actually, smarter than them, better than them! They were shallow and cookie-cutter. They were such sheep. Nay, lemmings!  Conformists all. They didn’t realize how incredibly simple minded and crass, ignorant and, yes, shamefully mean, they were. And I was going to reveal it to them. I was going to SHOW THEM ALL.

I was going to shame everyone who made fun of my love of reading, everyone who teased me for being quiet, everyone who called me a bookworm, as if that was somehow a degrading thing, everyone who said I had my head too much in the clouds. I didn’t consider at the time that since they were not avid readers themselves, that this particular form of revenge would be essentially ineffective.  All the stupid, random, bigoted and boorish utterances that fell from their mouths I would document. I had a special fondness for Harriet the Spy.

They would get “theirs” – oh, ho, ho, yes, they would!!! And in doing so, I guess that I was also searching for those who would, in fact, “get” me. Who would understand and appreciate me. I think I wanted to entertain people too, which was strangely contradictory to my mostly shy nature. I also had a special fondness for Carol Burnett and Erma Bombeck.

And, somehow, this writer’s life was going to be an inherently exciting life. Full of travel balanced with hours of fascinating research in really cool libraries. I was, of course!, going to live in a book lined apartment in New York or Paris or anywhere in Germany. I wanted to “make something of myself’ – on my own terms. In other words, with something that I, myself, held in high regard; something creative and interesting and not the same as everyone else around me.

I was different from THEM.

I was therefore BETTER than THEM.

This has always stuck in a nook in my brain, from one of my favorite books:

“But the thing is, you raved and you bitched when you came home about the stupidity of audiences. The goddam ‘unskilled laughter’ coming from the fifth row. And that’s right – that’s right – God knows it’s depressing….But that’s none of your business, really. …An artist’s concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s. You have no right to think about those things, I swear to you.

But I’ll tell you a terrible secret – Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his goddam cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that goddam secret yet? And don’t you know – listen to me, now – don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is?…Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ himself, buddy.

Zooey. Franny and Zooey , J.D. Salinger

I was a snob.

The Time Has Come

Oh, dear God, my daughter has cleavage….  

She’s only in the sixth grade!

No, no, no, no, no! This cannot be happening!! This is not possible!!

Oh, wait….. I forgot…. It is possible. It has happened before and it happened to me.

I was just hoping that my daughter could evade it a little while longer.

It happened to my mother, her Oma. It seems to be one of those genetic things.

(God knows I tried to keep it at bay with only organic, non-hormone laden, milk and eggs in the house. Maybe I wasn’t so diligent with the cheese? The yogurt? She prefers the Yoplait. Maybe that’s what did it?? We don’t eat meat, so that’s ruled out. I wring my hands.)

No, it’s definitely genetic. She’s inherited it now at the tender age of 12, same as myself:  The genetic history of having people assuming you are older than you are at a young age; of being on the receiving end of hurtful, misunderstood, jealousy, even from those you consider good friends; of people forgetting that you have a face and a personality; of people suddenly seeming to believe you are deaf and blind; of some thinking that your IQ has suddenly been sucked out of your brain in order to accommodate the blood flow to your new extremities;  of becoming horribly, uncomfortably, aware that your body now seems to have an effect – a most unwanted, unprepared for – effect on other people. Adults’ eyes widen and all males’ eyes descend involuntarily. Even your friends start making remarks. Clearly, they are uncomfortable, taken by surprise, with the emerging you. Just as you are. Clearly, they notice you – at an age that you really don’t like being noticed. Especially if you tend to be on the shy side.

You have to become more careful with what you wear and how you move. You need to develop a thicker skin and a warier mind. Hard things to do when you still consider yourself just a kid. When you are, in fact, just a kid.

All of this burst into vivid clarity for me yesterday as we were attending a school event her little brother was involved in.  My friend, whose son is my son’s best friend and on his team, greeted my daughter and myself with, “Look how tall she’s gotten! I hardly recognized her – she’s grown so much!!”. “Grown so much” obviously code, I realized, for, “Oh, geez, she has boobs!” when my friend discreetly turned wide, sympathetic, eyes to me and slowly mouthed “WOW”.  Her oldest, high-school-age son, a really good kid, as all her boys are, didn’t notice me catching his eyes being pulled to her chest as she sat on the ground in front of him. I glanced downward to see what he was nervously, fleetingly, looking at with suddenly flushed cheeks. 

Oh, heaven help me! The cleavage!! Distinct, unavoidable, cleavage. Cleavage that, unbeknownst to her, and somehow invisible until that moment to myself, was declaring itself like a debutante at a cotillion to which the general public was invited.

How I longed to be able to get her to sit up straighter, off the ground, in a chair against the wall, how I wished it would have been cold enough to have offered her a jacket to zip up to the neck. I knew that if I called attention to it, the effect it would have on her: Complete mortification. Tears.

 I need to find a way to talk to her about this without eroding any confidence, any innocence, she has. Were she in high school I think this would be somewhat easier, but she just started middle school. She’s still more concerned with cute things like otters and puppies, with colored pencils and candy, with funny movies, braiding her hair, and getting good grades. She hates attention, even falsely-perceived attention. She’s pretty damn paranoid about attention, frankly. There’s those genes again.

How am I going to talk to her about making sure she’s covered up, about why that shirt is maybe a little too tight even though it feels comfortable, about why that neckline isn’t the best for her, about not accepting any boy’s random request to bend down and pick up a pencil for him, and also, about not agreeing to any jumping jack contests with anyone, especially when you are not in the gym but rather, the school cafeteria….About why the hell she has to start considering, now, at twelve, the lurking, insulting, scary, uncomfortable, unwanted, things that other people may be thinking without leaving her with a sense of shame about her body? Without leaving her with a hatred for her body? Without instilling a crippling sense of self that is incorrectly, unjustly, bound to her body?

How do I do that? Because it’s time….

A Goodbye

This morning my husband texted me and asked if I could pick up the mail one last time from his mom’s house.  It was closing day. He and his brother were headed over with the paperwork to finalize the sale with the buyer.

The sun is out for the second time this week and it’s a gorgeous drive over to her neighborhood. I pull into the driveway, park in the dappled shade of mature oak and pine trees, step out into the familiar front yard, but I can’t head over to the jasmine covered mailbox that sits at the curb in front of her house just yet.

Something pulls me to the iron, maroon-red painted gate that spans the walkway between her garage and her house.  I peer into her spacious backyard, a little neglected now, where once there was a pool that my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I stole some moments in when no one was home.  Years ago.  The image of sun-sparks playing on turquoise water and wet skin flashes past for a second. It is quickly replaced by a vision of our dogs, all three of them, sniffling and snuffling through the leaves at the base of the trees along the fence that stands between her yard and the busy street beyond.  

I glance at the small, concrete, covered back patio and see my sister-in-law sitting at the plastic table in shorts and flip-flops, my husband and his brother standing off to the side on a lazy, humid, afternoon, watching the dogs play (I think my in-laws had brought their doberman over to play with our mutts). I remember us commenting on the bird houses that were collected on the wire shelf along the wall; about how she seemed to love them.

I can almost see myself, bald-headed from chemo, posing with her and my two kids and my sister-in-law, in a corner underneath two tall pines in the back. An image of my little 18 month old niece’s sandals barely covering her chubby toes as she sat in a lawn chair her Nana put out especially for her. Chubby little feet brushing green, bristly, grass under a blue sky. 

I look back up the driveway and remember nights parked here after a movie or a dinner, my husband’s cat, TJ, the only one who refused to stay in the house, sitting on the roof of the car. Poking a paw down through the sun roof left open for the moon.

I’m almost stunned by how many memories are flooding into my head.  I think about how many more memories could flood through my husband’s and his brother’s. 

I can’t help but gaze at the spot at her backdoor that led to this moment. The tan doormat with it’s ivy-colored border and it’s floral motif. The water hose still curled like a sleeping snake next to it.  That stupid, vile, ultimately deadly, hose.

My mother-in-law and I always seemed to have a somewhat, shall we say, tense, relationship. I never felt that I was quite what she had in mind for a daughter-in-law. Oh, there are stories, there are examples, there were resentments, misunderstandings, awkwardnesses. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  I know we had two things very much in common: love for her son and love for her grandchildren.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on her, needed her, appreciated her, took her presence, no matter how it could rub me the wrong way or how much mine could do the same to her, for granted. How much I actually loved her until my husband called me from the hospital that day when she was supposed to be coming out of surgery.

It was ripped out of me, how much I felt all of that; violently ripped out as a scream I barely recognized as coming from myself. I couldn’t contain it even if I had tried, couldn’t hide it from the children poking their faces into the refrigerator just feet from me in the kitchen.  We wailed for what seems like hours.  This was not what was supposed to have happened.  This was not how her back surgery was supposed to have gone.

She’s gone. Physically. She’s gone. Her house still stands. But, it is now gone from our life too. No more Christmas mornings there. No more Thanksgivings. Despite the grumblings over things that families grumble over, the unspoken opinions of each other’s decisions or taste or whatever that somehow leak out the sides, despite everything, burn it all away…I’m grateful that love remains.  I’m grateful that the night before her surgery, my last words to her, which I never before had uttered over the 20 years that I knew her, were “I love you”.

I stand in front of her house, wishing I had spoken them more.  I say them aloud now. “I love you. We love you. We miss you”.  

I get into my car and the classical music station that I was listening to pops back on.  The announcer mentions something about the title of the song about to play. What was that? I push the info button (new technology is amazing, I have to say) to double-check the title.

“Hellos and Goodbyes”.

I honestly felt like she was there, telling me something. Reassuring me of something. 

She knows.