Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping Up

The lights. The music. The decorations. I soak it all in, really trying to feel it this time - not just go through the motions. I make a point of sitting by the tree and play as much Christmas music as I can stand. It’s Bing Crosby and The Three Tenors and whatever’s on the radio. It seems more festive this year and earlier. I’m not sure why but it must be a good thing.

It's easier for me these days. Now that the kids are grown and I don't have to shop for 3 young daughters, 5 growing nephews, 2 sweet nieces, 2 aging parents, 3 step-parents,2 picky sisters, one impossible brother, eleven far flung in-laws.....and a Partridge in a pear tree. Life has pared down the shopping list and this is good. It's a bit simpler now that I don't spend half my time cleaning up after everyone and I really can savor it all.

We get into the spirit and start with the twinkle lights outside. We get the tree sooner than we ever have. Eric, and the two daughters who live nearby, plan to decorate it together after dinner, but there is always the awkwardness leftover from the other lives. We become so aware of what we do NOT have. Eric has no ornaments from his prior life and it seems symbolic to him. The youngest daughters are far away. An old friend is seriously ill. For a little while what we’re missing seems bigger than what we do have. We are so aware of what is lost, what is changed.

We forge ahead and trim the tree which looks beautiful. It feels right. As days pass I continue to layer the house with more decorations. The neon green artificial tree in the kitchen, the napkins and tablecloths. I’ve finally thrown away the Santa toilet seat cover and rug so we’re spared that, but we have mistletoe and reindeer and cranberries in jars. The house looks warm and wonderful and we love it. Until we don’t.

Every year there comes a time that, and I’m never quite sure when it will be, claustrophobia sets in. This year it was on December 27th at precisely 9:57 a.m. I look around and feel crowded and annoyed. The red and green hurts my eyes. All of a sudden, it's ugly. Christmas saturation. I start to un-decorate. Out goes the red tablecloth and plaid napkins. Away goes the little tree. The ornamental cranberries are dumped down the drain. The Santa bobble heads depart from the bathroom. Go away Dasher and Donner - we’re sick of you. I feel a little bad until I remember the Christmas tree left for dead in front of someone’s house that we saw on the afternoon of the 25th. Now that’s efficiency.

Our tree can stay until after New Year’s and we’ll pretend to enjoy it, but really we’re dreaming of the gray light of January and paper white Narcissus in clear vases. We’ll cleanse our visual pallette by using white plates, cool and clean. We’ll take away color and feel the rawness of this dormant time until it’s pink tulips and yellow daffodils and Northern California spring once again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Naughty and Nice

Upon reflection, 2009 has had some real surprises. This is a reader participation blog posting. What person or business has been worthy of you? Who hasn’t? I’ll start with mine and you send me your ideas. Anything short of libel will be posted. Have fun.

NICE
Swine Fu Angel
Got vaccines for Eric and me when it was virtually impossible.
Doctors and Nurses at SF General
Yes, we are still grateful to them for saving Eric’s life and all the good work they do every single day under very tough conditions. Carol Raney, for example.
Tyler Florence Store
Holiday Cuisinart catastrophe. Called William Sonoma to ask about part and was told they only can be had online. Undeterred, called the Tyler Florence store and they gave me the number of a place in the City that carries the part. Got it the same day.
Boyle Park Renovation Volunteers
Literally hundreds have participated in the effort. We have already raised over $25,000. Special thanks to web site creator, John Martin ( http://boyleparkrenovation.com/ ), Chris Reiff (pro), Larry Smith, Marie Van Elder, Terrie Coles, David Lee, Julie Chun, Christy Kennett, Beth Koelker and the band, Third Rock. Gratitude also goes to Marin County Supervisors and the Olympic Club for grants.
Lana, Heather and JJ
For great, professional service all year at the tennis club.
Princess Street Starbucks
Nice atmosphere, great service and HOT lattes.
Care Pages
The many people who are thinking good thoughts for Lucy’s friend, Brett Gibbs, who is battling brain cancer.
Blog Helpers
Linda Gordon, Janet Knowlton and Eric have all had contributions.

NAUGHTY
Comcast Digital “Conversion”
If I’d wanted a mother ship and a bunch of blinking black boxes in my house I would have asked for it. Joys have included waiting in line at the cable store, a forty-five minute telephone installation (Comcast now knows where all the TVs in the house are located), bait and switch programming and several home visits to remedy issues. My appointment this morning is ten to twelve......
Big Brother, I mean Facebook
Somehow all my contacts on Facebook downloaded themselves onto my Blackberry. I noticed this when I got a call from a Facebook friend and her photo showed up as the phone was ringing. I also did a little online window shopping which I then emailed to someone. Each exact item I sent showed up in the sidebar ad on my Facebook page in the same size and color from the specific companies I’d researched. A little creepy.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Eric recently got stopped for a moving violation (which he’s fighting, of course) and had the irritating discovery that standing in the long line to have your day in court is just the first step in the process. First, a court date is set for several months out. Then you are required to pay your entire fine up front. If you are cleared (fat chance) when you finally get to court they will reimburse you. Can’t wait to see how long that takes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

OH TIGER

They say a person can’t be too rich or too thin. They are wrong. The “blonde” bombshell, though shrapnel is still flying, has already proven that Tiger Woods is WAY too rich. He likes kinky sex with trashy cocktail waitress types who are not his wife. I can say that because I used to be a cocktail waitress. We understand the concept of infidelity. What is so hard to fathom is the multi-tasking aspect. Men can’t usually do that very well. He either had help keeping all the affairs straight or golf isn’t his only strength. I’ve lost track, now, of the bimbo count but it seems to be around a golfer’s dozen. And the heartbreak. These poor women coming out in a trail of tears talking about how betrayed they feel. How dare he? How could he be seeing someone else? It’s just so unfair. Hello, spare the sob story. Did you forget that he is MARRIED?

There’s a joke going around the internet saying that the difference between Santa Claus and Tiger Woods is that Santa usually sticks to three Ho’s at a time. He obviously has a problem. A number of problems, really. Now we know that he’s a cheater but it’s shocking to learn how cheap he is. One woman who said she’d been with him for a year and a half and had never gotten so much as a birthday card broke it off because when she asked him for a little financial help, Tiger said no can do. The cad.

I could care less about Tiger the brand. I don’t drink Gatorade and I don’t buy golf apparel. What is so sad is the way he thought his billion dollars really made him above it all. He so obviously lost his bearings when he had enough money to buy whatever he wanted - like the proverbial kid in the candy store. Is this what every guy wants? It makes it seem so. It’s confusing because Tiger wasn’t just going for sex with someone strange. He juggled multiple long-term affairs as well as a wife and family and business and sports career. What man, and I use the term loosely, who can have anything he wants would pick that? It’s too much work. There is obviously something very wrong with his psyche, more than you’d find in a normal way too rich guy.

I feel sorry for Tiger and we haven’t even seen the nude photos of him yet. He is not right inside his head or his heart. No matter what happens in the future, unless he’s a sociopath, he will always feel shame and remorse for the way he’s lived. He didn’t just transgress, to use his word. He lost his soul. He gives men and athletes a bad name. Think O.J. It’s such an unfortunate fall to the lowest common denominator. It’s not, as one commentator put it, that he needs to figure out whether he wants to be married or he wants to be a bachelor. He needs to find the place inside that is worth something. The gift of greatness came with such a price. I hope he can heal the hole in one.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Place Cards and Clothes Pins


Setting the table is my favorite aspect of dinner parties and holiday meals. I remember hearing my mother say how silly she thought it was that my grandmother would set the table so early on the day of a dinner party. I have to restrain myself from setting the table a day or two in advance. It’s spiritual for me when I think about who will be coming over and how much they mean to me. I actually use the heirloom flatware and the cloth napkins and best wine goblets. I use chargers and gold-rimmed dessert plates and the antique rooster glasses. If at all possible, I try to use the iridescent, rainbow-colored Tiffany compote dishes Eric brought with him.

Once all the layers of adornment are complete I pull out the place card bag and begin to sort. For twenty-five years I’ve saved the place cards from every momentous dinner we’ve hosted and some that were a little less then memorable. The rectangular farm table seats eight comfortably, although for some Thanksgivings we’ve created extensions. If you have ever had dinner at our house you probably have a place card already in the bag. It’s rare that I don’t assign seating when we have guests. Digging through the bag is like counting the rings on the family tree. The place cards that match show all of us who have dined together on a particular occasion.

It’s bittersweet to start pulling out names from the past - my friend who died, my friend who’s no longer a friend, my ex-husband. My grandparents, who are long gone, but still so close to my heart, are represented. Some of the place cards were handmade by the girls when they were little and could barely write. I’ve saved turkeys shaped like little fingers and colored with crayons. This year I got out place cards for our daughters who are far away at school and couldn’t be with us.

I’m not just sentimental about place cards. Clothes pins, too. My grandparents wrote each of our names on a wooden clothes pin. When we visited they would attach one to each towel. It was fun to run to the bathroom and find our own towel and it felt so welcoming. When I grew up and had company I did the same. I saved the clothes pins and now have a jar in the bathroom filled with them - nieces, nephews, friends from New York, the French students we hosted one time. Little ghosts from visits past, they’re all there.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses


(The Joys of being a Tennis Captain)

It is spring and all is new and possible. Or maybe not. With a slightly pathetic optimism I sign up, yet again - to be tennis captain. The roster swells and players are clamoring for position. “Put me in as many matches as possible. I’ll play with anyone. My schedule is wide open” they say. Looking good so far. We have a team meeting and go over the schedule. There will be twelve matches throughout the season. Six home and six away. Each match fields three doubles teams and two singles positions. We’re short of singles players so I recruit a couple of promising players from the next level down to fill in the empty spots.

The communication is to be via email. I don’t call people. I “group send” all the information anyone could possibly need. I even tell them the time and location of the matches unlike my husband’s captain - a man of few words. When he wants to know availability he sends: "Can U play?” That’s it. When he sends out the lineup he just names the players, not the teams or when and where. I realize I may have spoiled the people on my team. I’ve even been known to send directions to the other clubs, as well as an inspirational quote, but somehow it’s still not enough. I put date, time and location in the SUBJECT HEADING of the email. Immediately I get a response asking if it’s home or away. If I make the mistake of answering that one, the next question follows: what day and time?

It doesn’t take long to notice that the system is breaking down. This particular team consists of quite a few “seasoned” players. Several also play in Super Seniors, which means they are over sixty and some are over seventy. Some of the super seniors are not as tech savvy as I might have hoped. One very good player flat out told me that she doesn’t “do” computers. Another has access to the internet only at the public library, so she checks her email every few days at best. I check mine every few minutes. Hmm. Just a small challenge in communication. I remind myself to call the non-computer user and give plenty of notice to library lady since they happen to be two of the best players.

The season commences and we’re all hopeful, even though the team had two wins and ten losses the year before. Our first match is at the public park we call home. The snack table is lovely but there is a crisis. Parks and Recreation staff has neglected to open the restrooms. You may know how women are about their bathroom time. Near panic ensues, while I make frantic calls to maintenance. After the ladies room is unlocked there is a stream of trips there before we can begin.

As challenging as it is to host a home match, it’s almost impossible to field the away ones. One player has a skin condition and has to be covered from head to toe, including gloves, to shield her from the California sun. Another can’t play in the heat. Some of the away matches are scheduled in the evening when the fading light causes vision problems. Several players don’t want to drive in traffic which makes going north late in the day an impossibility. So far, my scheduling is complicated by sun, heat, traffic and lack of light. Then come the injuries. One knee goes out during the first practice. Another one is demolished in the first match. One of the older players says she’s under doctor’s orders to only play doubles - no singles. Just when I’m out of ideas one of the players (in her late sixties) offered to play singles in an evening, away match battling traffic and bad light. Anything to avoid a default. Bless her.

As the season progresses, I scramble to fill the holes in the lineup, always short at least one singles player. Even though I’ve switched over completely to doubles, which I’m really enjoying, I sacrifice myself, unsuccessfully, a few times for the team. Anything to avoid a default. I put pressure on those playing “up” to fill our singles positions. What do they have to lose? It turns out - a lot. One of our youngest, fastest players loses 0 and 0 in singles to a woman in her seventies. Ouch.

Queries about availability return predictable results. This one will be in Mexico. That one is spending a month in Israel. The other one really doesn’t like anybody very much. Now all of a sudden it seems noone can or will play at all. We are hopeful and I’m trying as hard as I can to bolster morale, but we keep losing.

The day before an important match I get an email from one of the singles players. She says she can’t play because she’s just had her hair Yuko’d so she’s not allowed to sweat or put it in a ponytail or wear a hat. That rules out her playing tennis, but WHAT THE HELL IS YUKO’D HAIR? I don’t really want to know but find out that it’s a Japanese straightening system. Until I have to take myself out of the lineup because of a black widow bite, this is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard. Bar none. Once again, one of the oldies but goodies steps forward and says she’ll play singles. Anything to avoid a default. She is almost seventy and her husband who is in his eighties comes out to cheer her on. She plays beautifully, but loses.

Somehow we get through the season. We have three matches that are extremely close but we do not prevail. The few players left standing at the end seemed to have enjoyed the chance to play. My last match makes me want to quit tennis. Again. To avoid a default I play singles and come out so strong that my teammates think I have it in the bag and leave. I play a woman a level down who doesn’t even know all the rules. No problem. After she beats me in the third set tie-breaker she’s so excited and tells me it’s her first win all year. I would rather have a default. After all my thought and inspiration and effort we come away with the same record as the year before - two wins and ten losses, but some of the nicest women I’ve ever met were on my team.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Too Bitchy for a Blog

It takes all kinds in life. Or does it? Tennis, anyone?

The Cell Phoner
Not too many years ago cell phones were unheard of on a tennis court. For most of the history of tennis, they were yet to be invented. Oh, if it were only that way still. Everyone has an excuse to justify why they can let their phone ring. They need to take calls on the tennis court because they are expecting to hear from their child, the doctor, the gardener etc. A few years ago if you took a call while court side you would have been chastised by the players and rightly so. Now players think nothing of making and receiving calls while on the court. This has not been an improvement in tennis life. Voice mail was invented for a reason. Put the phone on silent and use it.

The Loss Explainer
You shake hands after a match you have won with authority. Your opponent says they would have played better but didn’t sleep well, had food poisoning, a death in the family. It’s always about them and why they played badly, never giving you any credit for playing well. The Excuse maker, slightly different from the Loss Explainer, will start the match telling you why they won’t be playing well, subtly planting the seeds of doubt in the legitimacy of your win. This is also known as the pre-reverse trash talk.

The Score Caller
Etiquette dictates that the server calls out the score before each and every point. Yes, each and every point. Frequently, the opponent feels compelled to call the score. Often this person says it backwards, either because they’re dyslexic or they’re calling it from their own perspective. Confusion reigns supreme when the score is Love Forty and someone across the net says Forty Love. A close relative of the score caller is the Score Asker. The server waits until all the players are settled and ready to start the point. Before the server has a chance to speak, this player asks for the score. Again.

The Pro on the Court
It is so fortunate to be able to play tennis with this type. They always can point out what YOU are doing wrong. They’re full of helpful hints and strategies that can help you improve your game. All those lessons, and that innate skill, have really paid off because now they know what YOU should be doing. Strangely enough, they seem to be best at telling YOU what you’re doing wrong when THEY’VE just blown an easy shot.

The Oblivious One
This player never seems to know what’s going on. They can’t remember the score, when to switch sides or even who’s serving. They don’t pay attention and they definitely don’t listen. If a ball rolls onto the court they don’t see it and can’t understand why the point is being stopped. If they do notice an errant ball it will take a while for them to figure out where it’s supposed to go. There must be some payoff in being so unconscious on the tennis court - it’s just really hard to figure out what.

The One Setter
After four phone calls and three emails to schedule and reschedule, the date and time for the match is finally set. Your opponent arrives and promptly announces that they only have time for one set. This person may also be a serial cancellation player. Frequently these changes tend to be very last minute and often have to do with taking a cat to the vet.

The Quick Server
Everyone’s familiar with this type of player. The opponents are not even close to being ready to receive and the server starts. The receiver might have their back turned and the serve is headed towards them. Sure, the return is lousy when the receiver isn’t ready, but is it really fair? Players who throw balls at you when your back is turned are similar to the Quick Server. Nothing is more startling or annoying than being hit in the back by a ball the opponent is sending over to your side. Thanks a lot.

The Late Arriver
Also known as, MY TIME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR TIME, this player needs no explanation.

The Been Everywhere, Done Everything Player
You compliment your opponent’s backhand and they say they learned it from the pro at the All England Club - stayed on for some lessons after Wimbledon. You comment on the wind and they mention the difference between playing in the Trade winds and the Kona winds. You say you’ve enjoyed some local, professional match and they tell you they have been to the Shanghai Masters and the U.S. Open and the French...Enough said.

The Ball Monitor
There is a place for compulsive and inappropriate ball gathering as a way to slow down the game, catch one’s breath and distract the opponents. In tennis hell. This type will repeatedly stop the action so they can round up the third (or fourth) ball and send it over to the other side of the net even if it disrupts play. This is gamesmanship at the most advanced level.

The Bragger
This player never misses an opportunity to talk about the time their team went to the playoffs, the districts, the sectionals, the nationals. The glory days live forever in their mind. It may have been one team, one time, but you will never hear the end of it. This person is so invested in their success on the court that they’ve been known to call ‘em as they need ‘em - also known as cheating.

The Tantrum Thrower
First the player lets out a strangled cry of frustration, then an all out bellow. The racket flies. The Tantrum Thrower is locked and loaded with their full arsenal of excuses. It’s too windy, too noisy, too sunny. The opponent is driving them crazy with giggles or lobs or drop shots. This player didn’t lose the point or the game or the match. No, they just lost their temper and it’s all the excuse they need.

The Grunter
What was that sound? That one. There it is again - coming from Court Three. It sounds like someone’s having sex over there. Really. It’s a deep, carnal sound. Oh, it’s just a player serving.

The Perfect Lady/Gentleman
A very rare species, indeed, this player is a nice as can be. They show up on time, properly prepared and in good spirits. They appear to be genuinely happy about having the opportunity to be playing the sport of their choice. They don’t complain about the weather or the conditions and they are most agreeable, win or lose. They always give the benefit of the doubt to other player. If you are really lucky and look very hard you may find this unusual sort at tennis courts near you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tennis Star


We play competitive tennis because we love the game so much. Right? We certainly love to win and hate to lose, but lose we must. Every day, everywhere, the game of tennis is a losing proposition for fifty percent of its participants. Half of all those playing must, by definition, come in second which, in tennis, means nothing. Why is it so hard to be in the losing half?

My coach once told me, after another frustrating defeat, that you learn more from your losses than you do from your wins. You betcha. You learn how much you STILL hate to lose. It’s even worse when you’ve been playing particularly well because then you believe that, despite all rational indicators, you are on the brink of becoming a paid professional. Lucrative endorsements will most likely follow. It’s such a small mental leap from adequate mid-level club player to the big time. Other than golfers and possibly aspiring musicians, I don’t think any group is as ill-equipped, in terms of ego, as tennis players.

We hit a shot that makes us happy and we think own it forever more. We beat someone who used to beat us and we’re on the way. We tell the ball where to go and it listens - we’re halfway there. We win a little tournament and we’re hooked. Our rating gets moved up and it’s all over. Our ego is out of control. We bask in compliments about our game. It is so much fun to be good - playing is all we want to do. Winning is addictive and when we are winning we believe we have crossed over a line to somewhere else, somewhere better. Our game is now great and will only improve.

Playing tennis has appeal because it’s got a concrete result, unlike so much else in life. The ball is either in or out, although that can be a debatable point. The serve is good or it isn’t. The momentum can, and often does, change on a dime but in the end, the result can be quantified. So much of what we do with our lives and our time is abstract and subjective. We don’t know whether we’re winning or losing. Often, we don’t even know what want. We are very clear about what we want in tennis. WE WANT TO WIN.

There is such a buzz after a good win, especially a hard fought and difficult victory. You can’t help but feel a little superior - after all, you’re better than the other guys. You revel in the moment and go over the points with your partner. You buy your opponents a round of beer. If you’re a singles player you hope someone has seen your match so you can receive the proper praise. It feels so good to do what you need to do to win, but it feels even better to have your playing noticed.

It has been said that in kids, sports build character but in adults, sports reveal character. What does it say about us when we’re poor losers? We might just want to quit the game, at least until we’ve forgotten how bad it feels to lose. Immediately after the match the adrenaline is still coursing through our system. We’re too mad at ourselves to be depressed yet. There is nothing anyone can say that can be heard at that moment. Once calm, we can quit the game for good. Again. We think about taking up checkers or bowling or an activity in which we might have some skill. We might as well just give our racket away because we sure as hell won’t be needing it anymore. No sir. Why not cede the court to someone who can do it justice?

You have to wonder, when matches are utterly nerve-wracking and competition is so fierce - why we play competitive tennis at all. Feeling like we can’t breathe for the first few games of a match is not that much fun. Losing sleep at night while we replay points in our mind is quite crazy. In the grand scheme of life, how much does tennis really matter? Isn’t there something more noble and philanthropic we should be doing with our time and our money? Something more satisfying?

It may take a day or a week, but we begin to forget how horrible it felt to lose . We have hope again. It might be fun to just get out there and hit. Hitting leads to a social match. It feels so good to be playing. One perfect return down the line or crisp volley or great get can make our day. Our serve is practically perfect. We want spin, we’ve got spin. We try for an angle, it’s magical. The gorgeous lob drops right on the base line. Even the net cord God is with us. The cycle continues as we feel better and better. We are relaxed and focused and well, pretty damn good. We play a match for our team and win. It’s back. It’s all back. The timing, the strokes, the confidence. The joy in the game has returned and it makes us so happy, even smug. Until next time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coco


We recently had the opportunity to travel to Chicago. We were gone for eight days. Eric had business to do, but for me it was a great break from everyday life. We stayed on the 89th floor of the Suisse hotel and had an amazing view of the Chicago River as well as Lake Michigan. I walked up and down Michigan Avenue, swam in the hotel pool, went to the Chicago Art Museum. We had some wonderful dinners. We took the architectural boat tour and absolutely loved Millennium Park. Chicago has the most incredible public art.

It was fun for me to observe a new city. Downtown Chicago is very clean and well-kept. The flower boxes were brimming with seasonal Mums and ornamental kale. People were conservatively dressed in black and gray business attire. I don’t think I saw any tattoos or strange piercing. It was obviously not San Francisco. We only saw a couple dogs in all of downtown, even in the park, and they were very small. It’s probably too cold in winter to walk dogs in the city.

The last two nights we stayed at the Palmer House which is a gorgeous old historic hotel. We ate dinner in their lobby restaurant and I said out loud what I’d been thinking for days. It was so unique and special to be away but not have part of me feel I should be home. For the first time in memory I didn’t need to feel guilt about being away. The nest was empty and there was no need for me to be there. I even briefly contemplated extending the trip and going to Connecticut to visit Allie, but she had weekend plans. All I had at home was a little finch, Coco Chanel, and finches are very low maintenance. It was a wonderful epiphany.

I spoke to Lana the next day. She’d been coming by every couple days to feed the bird. She reported that Coco had pulled out almost all his feathers and the floor around the cage was covered with them. She opined that being alone so much had made him a nervous wreck. I felt terrible but then I got a little mad. This three ounce creature was lonely? We couldn’t leave him without feather pulling and anxious pooping? Bird guilt? Say it isn’t so.

When we got back the next day Coco did indeed look terrible. The songbird was virtually mute. He pulled apart his bed. Nothing looks sillier than a four inch bird with a beak full of cotton. He is an exceptionally interactive finch which I think he got from Eric. He keys into little household sounds like the push buttons on the phone and the timer going off and then imitates them. Sometimes when he’s alone a lot I’ll leave some music on for him. He loves The Doors.

It took a couple weeks but he’s back to his normal self. It’s obvious this little creature can’t be home alone. Arrangements will have to be made the next time we go away. I’m thinking of leaving him with the neighbors who have three kids and a bulldog puppy. We’ll see who has any feathers left at the end of that trip.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Wagon


l992.

One of the beauties of spending time with a two year old is sharing their gift for observation, clarity and simplicity. My daughter, Allie, has taught me this again. At two years, eight months, Allie is sweet and bright and beautiful . She’s got two big sisters to contend with as well as an innate desire to master the world around her.

Some months back Allie and Lana (six) were playing out front. Allie rode in the wagon while Lana pulled it up and down the sidewalk. At one point Lana made a sharp turn and Allie was pitched from the wagon. The injuries were to the soul rather than to the body and after the initial insult, the tears were dried and the game continued. I thought that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

The incident with the wagon keeps recurring whenever the topic of safety is broached. If I’m strapping Allie into her car seat I’ll explain that I’m doing it because I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. She’ll say, “Yeah. Like the wagon.” Or we might be crossing the street and I insist on holding her hand. I tell her that I don’t want her to get hurt and she’ll repeat her mantra, “Like the wagon.” To her, the most devastating thing possible has happened to her. She was jolted out of a wagon and fell twelve inches to the ground. Her mind cannot fathom a greater tragedy. Being hit by a car or some other horror is just too abstract to comprehend. Allie, I have a wish for you. As your mother who loves you infinitely, I hope falling out of that wagon is the worst thing that ever happens to you. But what are a mother’s wishes worth?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reply All

I miss the old days. While I love the benefits of technology, and am somewhat addicted to my instantaneous electronic communication devices, there are glitches in the system. My husband says that computers and cell phones work just well enough that you depend on them, but not quite well enough that you CAN depend on them. iPhones have become ubiquitous among the hip and not so hip, but there have been reliability problems and messages can be pent up in the system. My daughter recently met a guy who called on a Monday night to ask her out. She didn’t get the message until Tuesday morning at which time she returned his call. That message didn’t arrive for a day and a half and so on throughout the week. It took until Friday to get the iPhones synched up for an actual conversation. Carrier pigeon would have been more efficient.

I miss having people call me at home to chat on the phone. I have several older women friends (and one man) who still do and it seems so quaint, reminiscent of an earlier time. Now I am almost universally called on my cell phone and it’s rarely a convenient time to talk. Frequently I’ll let it go to voice mail, but so often I’m having a conversation in a location not conducive to having a telephone conversation. We all are. Movies, hospitals, dressing rooms, toilets in public restrooms, zoos, highways, biways and every mode of public transit but planes. What airplane travel has lost in civility is partially redeemed by the lack of cell phone conversations.

What’s more disturbing to me is that communication itself has become so impersonal. We’re a Twittering, Face-booking, texting, emailing world. I miss actually talking to people. We all have our ways to be reached, but each of us has a preferred route through our personal firewall. A friend recently mentioned that she had repeatedly tried to reach someone through all the usual channels: emails, voice mail, to no avail. She discovered that if she “Face-booked” him there was an immediate response. I have another friend who lives several blocks away from me. I’ve left a couple messages on her cell phone, one suggesting a lunch date and there was no return call. I noticed that every day she posts song lyrics on Face book so people can guess the artist. She has time to do this but not call back and say yes or no to lunch? I can only conclude that it’s a statement on the friendship, but that may be too harsh an assessment. Maybe it’s a statement on what I am hereby calling her PMC - preferred method of communication.

There are so many choices in communication that we can pit one against the other and use them to buy time. If someone I don’t feel like talking to calls me I won’t answer the phone but I know I have to respond in some fashion. To give myself a little space I’ll send a quick email saying I’m swamped, blah, blah. Twitter is the fad of the moment, but texting is absolutely ubiquitous. Even my mother sends texts to the grand kids. You need an account for Twitter - to text all you need is a phone number. I do not text. After my daughter went twelve hundred messages over her limit I kicked her off my plan and cancelled text messaging. People still send me texts sometimes but I answer back with email.

My twenty-something daughters do much of their communication through text messages and it’s brought a very impersonal aspect to the dating life. Some guy she hasn’t heard from for months will send one of them a text message around ten p.m. on a Friday night that says something like, “In ur neighborhood. Want to get a drink?” Excuse me? Even the booty call doesn’t require an actual call anymore? Just a text? They can even text one woman to make plans while they are with another woman. So efficient. Whenever the girls are seeing a new guy I’m always very interested to know whether he just send texts or will go to the “trouble” of making a phone call. I’m sorry. I don’t care how much times have changed. If a guy can’t be bothered to put himself out there to such a small extent, then I don’t feel there is much chance it will develop into a worthwhile relationship. If a man is interested in YOU, he wants to hear you laugh. A little emoticon will not be enough. Trust me on this, girls.

I miss seeing nannies talking to their charges in strollers rather than to their friends on cell phones. What is being done to developing language skills, to manners, to nurturing in our cellular society? I’m so glad there were no cell phones when my kids were little and we were on outings. I was with THEM and talked to them and listened to them. I’m sure my life would have been more enjoyable and interesting, but I’m certain I was a better mother without a cell phone attached to my head. In some ways our culture is so child-centric. We schedule the family meals, vacations, weekend and daily lives around their enrichment activities and sports schedules. We are constantly running ourselves ragged to do FOR them, but what are we doing TO them and ourselves in the process?

I love email, or at least I think I do. My email is right there on my blackberry, the blinking red light signaling new messages. I can do more business in a shorter period of time. I don’t have to be chained to my desk and when I go out somewhere I needn’t wonder whether I’m missing an important message. Now I can react immediately. Instant results are expected. We’ve cut out the thinking time. Read, reply, send. Read, reply, send. Oops. Shit. Did I just hit, “Reply All”? Oh, no. Oh, shit. I did NOT mean to do that. Look, here’s an email coming in. It says, “Did you mean to Reply All?” Crap.

The “Reply All” trigger finger is an emailing etiquette disaster. I should know. I’ve done it twice. The habitual “Reply All” is annoying, inconvenient and sometimes self-serving. You send a group email trying to put together a tennis game and mistakenly neglect to specify, “ Only respond if you can make it.” Replies start to come back. Sore elbow, sore throat, kids home from school, already playing, on Safari in Africa. Just had to throw that in, huh? Stop checking your email and concentrate on those animals.

I must admit this economy (and two kids in expensive colleges) has given me serious vacation envy. My black belt in travel has faded to a dull gray so please forgive me for my lapse. I got a group email from one of my teammates looking for a game. I wrote back something like this: “So sorry I can’t make it. It’s my birthday and I’m in Palm Springs having brunch twenty feet from James Blake and Andy Roddick who are playing a private practice match.” Reply All.

Monday, September 21, 2009

37 Thousand Socks

People talk about the mysteries of sock disappearance but I’ve never heard any explanations. I need an answer. I’m not kidding. Where do they all go? It’s become more important recently as the nest emptying has brought waves of traumatic flashbacks from the parenting years. It’s also starting to seem like a referendum on my relationship and from this, I’m industriously extrapolating the meaning of it all. It makes me feel like a crappy mother and an inadequate wife when the socks keep getting lost.

It started when my first daughter was an infant and had those adorable, fuzzy pink and white socks that were ever so tiny. Inevitably we would be on an outing and one of the baby socks would be dangling off a tiny toe or completely gone, but I couldn’t give up on the socks. I wanted her little feet to be warm, maybe a bit too warm. When Lucy was a newborn she came down with prickly heat because I was overdressing her. It was the damp, cold of early March in Northern California and our house, a onetime summer cabin, was drafty and chilly with only one source of heat. Lucy wore her socks and a onesie and leggings and a t-shirt and a sweater on top of that. She always wore a knit baby cap - never a bare, bald head for my precious baby. The final layer in the baby bundling was the blanket my great aunt made for her out of leftover fabric scraps from the flannel my grandmother had used to make nightgowns for me and my sisters. These cloth bits were perfectly preserved all though my childhood and when I presented the first grand-child and great grandchild, I was given the blanket made for my new daughter. I could look at the blanket and recognize the pattern from my long ago nighties.

When the heat rash was diagnosed, the doctor explained that I only need dress the baby in one more layer than made me comfortable. Since I tend to be cold, that was still a lot. It’s been decades since I’ve been the proud owner of a baby but I still think I know best about how they should be wrapped. It makes me unsettled when I see a baby out somewhere with it’s head or feet uncovered. All those clothes led to issues of laundry. When changing the diaper explosions the mantra was always, “Save the socks.” Our little cottage had no washer or dryer and all the clothes and blankets AND dirty cloth diapers were washed at the local laundromat which doesn’t seem possible by today’s parenting standards. I sometimes walk by there and see the same rolling laundry carts where I used to put Lucy on her back on the flannel patchwork quilt in the early eighties.

More girls followed and I was still a worrier, but the second baby was born in the warm season (due in late August and born in mid-September) and weighed 9 and one half pounds at birth so keeping her warm wasn’t too much of an issue until she had to spend seven weeks in a body cast. The hip dislocation was diagnosed at the end of February, when Lana was four months old. She could only move her arms and head - nothing else. The cast went from under her armpits to her toes with just a small hole for the diaper and the legs were splayed out to the side. It was a challenge. They sent her home from the hospital with instructions to keep her propped up over a baking tray with Saran wrap shoved up the back of the cast so the poop and pee would just run right down the Saran wrap. For seven weeks? Imagine - this is a child who was breast feeding only, no solid food yet. What about her sister? How was I supposed to get this baby around and drop her sister off at pre-school and go to the store? The first day I was so overwhelmed I just sat on the living room floor and looked at her and the baking tray, her baby throat hoarse from crying when they took her away from me for the surgery. I kept trying to tell myself it could have been worse, it was fixable, but I really couldn’t visualize a workable life. Somehow the follow up calls from Children’s Hospital directed me to Marin General, where the nurse angels of mercy explained that the diaper problem could be solved by putting premie diapers in the cast opening and changing her twice as often as usual. There were threats from the orthopedist that if the cast became soiled the skin would decay and we’d have to replace the cast and start the clock ticking again on the process. Trust me, those little diapers were changed and if there was any residual dampness there was always the hair dryer.

Once I could move from the living room I found a car seat she would fit in and realized I could put her in an umbrella stroller. Life was almost back. The next problem was night time. She had to be moved to a different position every four hours so she wouldn’t develop bedsores. I set my alarm for the middle of the night, every night, for almost two months , but of course, since she couldn’t move and it was the damp, cold of early March in a different Northern California house with one source of heat and too little insulation, she really couldn’t stay very warm. A crib sized down blanket was made for her and she did quite well, all things considered, until they cut her with a saw when the cast was removed the same day her sister came down with chicken pox (with complications) and then came down with chicken pox herself (with even more complications) exactly two weeks later.

Sister number three added to the joy and laundry of the household. It started to get away from me. I couldn’t match up anything. I’d fold the laundry and then have this pile of socks that didn’t go together. In frustration, or possibly because I couldn’t convince myself to care that much, I put all the non-matching socks together in a basket. A big basket that got bigger over the years. We’re talking fifty or sixty socks. Once in a while I’d make an attempt to pair them but it was SO boring I’d give up. Buying new pairs would work for a little while but then they, too, would become separated. When the girls complained that they didn’t have any matching socks I’d just direct them to the basket. Over time, like kidnap victims with Stockholm Syndrome, wearing mis-matched socks became their way of life. Lucy’s never cared that much because her frequent refrain as a toddler was, “No socks. No socks” and to this day she will rarely wear them even when most appropriate. She’d rather have purple feet.

Now that Lana and Allie are nineteen and twenty-three they still don’t normally wear socks that actually go together. In fact, it kind of surprises me when they do. They became one hundred percent acculturated, but the trauma spread to their step-father, my husband, a relative newcomer to the un-matched madness. When we met he had the laundry done by professionals and he claims that it was perfection. Nothing went missing and if I slipped some of my clothes in they came back fresh and beautifully folded. Heaven.
When we began to live together I refused to let him near the washer or dryer. I was afraid bad things would happen. I thought he might be a little too spontaneous to be trusted with my clothes and after I recently discovered him using toilet bowl cleaner to take a spot out if his tennis shorts, that theory was confirmed. He was married before and I don’t want to know how laundry was done in that other household. I might not measure up. I have convinced myself that I have so many wonderful qualities that I shine in comparison and how important is it to be good at laundry, anyway? I’m ok. with laundry. Just very bad with socks.

There were a couple subtle complaints, then some whining, then irreparable damage. Every time the pairs don’t come upstairs two by two, exactly matched and perfect, he begins to get nervous. “Don’t worry,” I say. “It’s around. They’ll get together again.” Sometimes they do. Often they don’t and it’s always the special, favorite ones that are missing - the socks with sentimental significance or the only pair that works with particular trousers. There has to be someone to blame. Eric began to suspect Lana of sock thievery. I couldn’t really see it, but I think having an explanation comforted him. She had taken socks from her sisters and her dad and from me.....Why not? She recently moved out of her childhood bedroom in our house. She wasn’t living here since childhood - there was a failure to launch and she lived in two apartments after leaving home, before rebounding.

What I found when Lana moved out this time was shocking. Socks in every place imaginable. Under the sofa, under the sofa cushions, in the space under the dresser drawers, on the floor, under the bed. Socks belonging to me, her Dad, her old boyfriend and to Eric. Lots of athletic socks. I did a wash and presented Eric with a pile, hoping it would solve some of the mystery. It partly did. He had a few happy reunions, but questions remained and this much is true: none of the girls’ childhood pairs were found in the unearthing. The fuzzy baby ones, the purple Barney toddler pairs, the cute ones with grips on the soles. The pumpkin socks for Halloween and festive Christmas footwear, knee highs for soccer, all are forever gone. The pitter patter of little feet is gone, too, as well as the pitter patter of feet getting bigger by the day. It’s just us pittering and pattering and really, it’s o.k. It’s better than o.k. Now we don’t have to guard our sock drawers or the happily anticipated leftovers or the shaving cream, shampoo and last tampon. It creates a bit of a problem for me, though. When a sock goes missing, there is only me to blame.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lessons Learned from the Garden


Sunflowers make me happy and they are so easy to grow. Just add water. Literally, just add water. Nine feet tall with beaming faces twelve inches across. As they mature the sunflower “face” keeps getting bigger and the petals look smaller until the end result is somehow alien. When the giant heads began to droop we cut them off and left them for the birds who picked them clean of seeds with fierce efficiency.

We don’t really care for yellow squash. Our most abundant crop? Yellow squash. Eric did make a delicious squash au gratin which I couldn’t get enough of, but mostly because it was saturated with cheese and buttered bread crumbs. Yellow squash is not like zucchini which you can just slice and cook. It’s more like a pumpkin or a butternut squash with seeds that need scraping. In other words - labor intensive.

Spinach regenerates. Our first crop of spinach was abundant and within a few weeks we’d eaten the whole row. I yanked the plants out by the roots. Wrong, wrong, wrong I was told by a friend. If you just snip it off at the roots it will grow back again. Oops. We planted another row of spinach. None of the seeds germinated.

Tomatoes do not thrive in fog. Not even a specifically designed, genetically enhanced variety named “San Francisco Fog” could thrive in the summer of 2009. I do not thrive in fog. Fifty nine degrees with a heavy marine layer and bitter wind is not my idea of a good time. For weeks it was so cold I had trouble forcing myself to go out back and water the vegetables, but most of all, I missed the morning light. Once or twice this “summer” it cleared before noon and the light was dazzling.

Gardens are great for gift givers. Eric’s summer birthday has provided the opportunity to indulge his two passions - tennis and cooking. He now owns every cookbook from appetizers to Zuni stew and all the cooking accouterment, tennis shorts, socks and bags one could want. It was time for a change. Bring on the hose nozzles, the seed packs and seedlings. Enter absinthe and artichoke plants. Now all we need is for the sun to come out and we’ll go back to the garden.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Police Log

The phone rang at five a.m. Eric answered but the San Francisco police wanted to speak to me. Please, please , please let it be one of the teenagers in trouble with the law - not something worse. Let it be a situation we could fix, not the end of everything as we knew it. Trembling, damn near hyperventilating, I spoke to the officer. They had a subject in custody and she was in possession of my credit card bill. Did I know this person? Was she authorized to have my mail? No and no, but why must they scare the crap out of me by calling so early? Couldn’t it wait until a reasonable hour? The officer, a lieutenant, explained that in order to hold and charge the person they needed my statement. Little did I know that this was but the first ripple after the pebble was tossed into the pond.

We live in a quiet suburb outside a major city. Our house is on a one block street leading nowhere. When these houses were built about sixty years ago each handsome, solid front door had a stylish brass mail slot. The mailman would drop our mail through the slot each day until about fourteen years ago when the carrier took issue with, and maced, our dog. This was followed by a suggestion that we install a mailbox at the end of our very short driveway if we still wanted home delivery. I can’t say that I blame the carrier. Even though our dog was sweet she learned from the Akita next door that when the mailman arrived it was time to join the bark-off. She got so into it that she started pulling the mail with her teeth, while growling and barking, as he was shoving it through the slot. It was actually quite funny to see, but since the carrier had just been bitten rather badly by the idiotic cockapoo who lived around the corner, he was probably justified.

We bought a sweet white, mailbox like you’d see on a country lane and duly installed it on a post at the end of the driveway. It was kind of fun for the kids to put the flag up when we had outgoing mail and people could drop things off for us in the box. Best of all, I no longer had to pick up all the mail that was scattered around the floor by the front door each day.

I’d heard about mail theft in our town for years, but I couldn’t really relate to it. It was always a row of mailboxes that were lined up away from houses and in a busy area on the way out to the beach. But on our little street? How could this be? Reading the police log in the weekly community paper gave me my answer. We don’t have much violent crime here, although there has been the random murder and the very sad occasion when a young mother smothered her little daughter in a local hotel. Most of the reports to the police are fairly benign and some downright amusing. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has noticed this because I recently saw a comedy show in the local plaza and the MC introduced the show by reading highlights from, you guessed it, the police log.

Peppered in with Party Complaints, Advice to Citizens, Juvenile Disturbances and Animal Incidents are the reports of thefts from UNLOCKED cars. You would not believe what people leave in their unlocked cars in this town. Cameras, iPods, iPhones, brief cases, passports, wallets, credit cards, laptops,checkbooks, jewelry, CASH and more CASH. Of course every petty criminal in the tri-county area comes here to steal from unlocked cars. It’s the mother lode. It’s so easy. You don’t even have to smash a window - just go through the neighborhood at night and pocket the goods. What surprises me is that, despite that fact that I’ve been tsk-tsking in amazement about this for years, people don’t really seem to learn. We are not that special, that insulated, that safe. Yes, it’s a wealthy community, and obviously it’s citizens can afford to replace what they’ve lost, but they don’t understand that by making it so easy for outsiders to get a haul of loot, they are making us all less safe. There are more strangers who have no reason, other than criminal, to be here.

Mail theft is apparently quite common as well as lucrative. My credit card number was going to be sold to some overseas operation. Lucky me. Of course it wasn’t just the credit card that was taken, but it took me months to discover what else I was missing and I’m sure I still don’t know about all of my stolen mail. It made me wonder about how many times it had happened and how it could have been done without someone seeing. My early morning phone call was followed up by several calls later that day from the Postal Service and San Francisco police explaining the process and asking for my cooperation in the criminal prosecution. At that point I was more than happy to help. That was before I became part of the arbitrary, inane, bureaucratic machine called the U.S. Postal service.

Our home delivery stopped immediately with no explanation. I went to the post office and stood in line so I could find out why we weren’t getting mail. I spoke to someone who was unfriendly to the point of meanness but finally got my mail. I was assured the delivery would resume. It did for one day. When I went back I was told I needed to spend several hundred dollars to purchase a locked mailbox. They would no longer deliver to the mailbox that we had because there had been theft. I suggested they put the mail through the slot like they used to but that was not an option. Even though mail had been delivered to that door for over fifty years it was no longer possible because when we got the mailbox, at their request, the route was redesigned and it was now designed around the time it took for the carrier to put the mail in the mailbox, not walk up the walk to the house. Even though the houses on both sides of us and almost the entire street had the mail brought right to the front door. Once there has been a change in the route in favor of the post office you can never go back.

I got very agitated with the manager. I could literally feel myself "going postal". I grabbed the mail and left in a fury. There went cute.There went my idea of the sweet country lane. This was the new reality of my suburbs. I refused to buy the box and they refused to deliver. We removed the mail box and knocked the post out with a sledge hammer. I had my lawyer husband talk to the woman in charge of the criminal investigation who spoke to the mean manager. The postal regulations were on his side and they did not have to alter the route. It was explained that I was cooperating with the criminal investigation. It seemed to go unnoticed that I was the victim of the crime. An agreement was made. If we would make the door slot bigger the post office would start to deliver again. Apparently the door slot was too narrow and it took too much time for the carrier to push the mail through. It wasn’t too small before the post office asked us to install the mail box but it was now. My husband said we would capitulate and the mail arrived for several days and stopped again. When I called the manager he said that delivery had ceased because we hadn’t done the retrofit. I explained that it had only been a couple days, we both work and we are not carpenters. We would have to hire someone.

Finally my brother came to the rescue after I begged him. It made me sad to have to cut the door and not be able to use the original brass slot, but he did a nice job and just in time. My husband had decided to get started on it since my brother was late. I texted frantically urging him to hurry. Eric is absolutely brilliant, but he’s not a woodworker. He once asked his cousin, a fine carpenter, how long it would take him to get good at building and the answer was, "Three generations."

The day after Thanksgiving I was showing property to clients when I was pulled over by the cops, flashing lights and all. Mortifying. I didn’t have a current registration sticker. I’d sent it in on time back in August, but it obviously had been stolen with my other mail. Another ripple. I had to go to the DMV, stand in line and pay for a new sticker. More fun. The whole postal incident is pretty much behind me. I was sent some information about how to track the criminal investigation online but I couldn’t understand the instructions and gave up. Other than having to pick up the clutter off the floor by the front door everyday, life is pretty much back to normal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Divorce Blood

Is there something in the blood that causes people to divorce? Is it nature or is it nurture? I wonder. I have been married three times and I come from a line of the multiple married. There have been so many marriages in my family that it is almost impossible to understand. Maybe it’s not just that we are divorcers, but as my father’s cousin put it, ”You Partridges, you’re marriers.” The resultant progeny does not even bear explaining. Throughout my life I’ve had two brothers, one step-brother and a half brother younger than my firstborn. After one murder, one accident and one estrangement, I have one brother left as well as two sisters and an ex-stepsister.

When people ask me how many siblings I have it confounds me. We started out as five and three weeks after my little sister was born my oldest brother was hit by a car and killed. My father left my mother for another woman a couple years later and married someone with two children. Five minus one plus two. My step-brother was killed and shortly thereafter my father left my step-mother. There is a pattern here. I met the half-brother he had with his third wife a few times, but way too much damage had been done and I became estranged from my father, step-mother and little brother when he was three years old. Ironically, after my father got lung cancer and started chemotherapy his third wife kicked him out and he died alone. I can’t say it was an undeserving end for someone who had never been there when anyone needed him.

I made my choices in life and ended up having had three husbands. Three distinct men, intelligent and charming in their own way. There was a musician, a lawyer/surfer/musician and a tennis playing lawyer who surfed in his youth. Divorce is awkward and the transition from one husband to the next has been inconvenient for many, with misplaced friends and ex-in laws all over the place. I could have made better choices, but at the time I didn’t really see how.

Since my maternal grandparents were divorced as well as my parents, there was a certain bounty that resulted. At one point in time I had five living grandmothers. My parents each had a mother and my mother had a step-mother. Both my parents had remarried and their new spouses had mothers. I had my mother’s mother, my father’s mother, my mother’s step-mother, my step-mother’s mother and my step-father’s mother. They had a fine assortment of names too: Alice, Mim, Grandma Dot, Mommy Vining and Edna. Christmas was good at our house.

The numbers really started ratcheting up when I married someone whose parents had also been divorced, as I did in my second marriage. Around this time both of my parents were on their third marriages. I was losing grandmothers by death and divorce and the new ones never really matriculated. My husband’s mother was married three times (twice to my husband’s father) and his father was on his fourth marriage, having married and divorced my husbands’s mother twice. I will explain. My former in-laws married and had three children and then got a divorce. They each married someone else and my husband’s mother had another child. They both got divorced and remarried each other for a few years. It did not last and they divorced again. My ex-father-in-law married a fourth time while his ex-wife (twice over) remained single until she died in her early nineties.

My second husband and I realized that the marriage tally between our four parents totaled thirteen. Three for each of my parents, three for his mother and four for his father. That’s a very odd statistic and rather damning about the long term aspects of the institution, but then something even more unlikely happened.

I ended up having two ex-husbands who married the same woman twice. My first husband was a long term boyfriend, completely unsuitable for marriage or parenthood. Ignoring the many warning signs, young and senselessly optimistic, I believed that love was enough. Once we had a child it became immediately apparent. Love is not nearly enough. Not even close. Some years after we split up my ex-husband married a woman who had put her Mexican prayer doll under the pillow and prayed for a man who had already had a child and didn’t want anymore. Voila. She met Ben who’d had a child with me and that had been a stretch. They got married. I don’t know the details, but they were not married very long when they had it annulled. Not much more time elapsed before they remarried and remain so twenty years later but they don't seem very happy.

My second ex-husband had been married at an early age to the love of his life. Things went seriously awry and they divorced acrimoniously. When they sold the house and divided up their possessions she said she never wanted to have any contact with him. He was devastated and moped around for ages. I met him a couple years later when he was recovering from another mini-heartbreak but claimed he still wasn’t over his wife. Like all the other warning signs, I cast this one aside. I was a waitress, a single Mom with a one year old and he was steady as a rock. We met in the nightclub where we both worked, him still thinking he could avoid being a lawyer, but the realities of family life soon negated that idea. He adopted my daughter and we went on to have two more girls. We had a good life for ten years. The second ten years we were just going through the motions.

Our marriage unraveled for all the usual reasons when our kids were almost grown. After we split up I met Eric playing tennis and we got married two years later. I gained a step-daughter six months older than my youngest daughter. My ex husband found his ex-wife via the internet after twenty something years and discovered she was also in the process of divorcing. When they started dating again her two children, who were in high school and college, had no idea she’d been married before, let alone to her new boyfriend. Some explaining was required. They recently remarried and all seems to be well. My girls really like their step-mother and new “siblings”. For their sake, I hope history does not repeat itself.

All of these changes have made me think a lot about my kids and wonder about this fractured legacy they’ve been handed. It would have been so much better for me to have the right start in life but I didn’t. I had some advantages; an educated family, loving grandparents and nice places to live, but not nearly enough of what I needed. Things were said that should not have been said. Things were done that should not have been done. There were numerous losses. I moved out when I was fifteen. I had to take care of myself when I was way too young. I want so much more for my children and I think they’ve mostly gotten the stability and childhoods they’ve deserved.

None of my daughters has married and my eldest daughter is twenty-seven. By the time I was her age I’d gone down that road twice. This gives me great hope for her. She’s getting ready to meet someone and settle in with them for a domestic life. My wish is for her to meet a true love who is enough of everything that she wants, not just part of it. My relationships have served certain purposes. I went from wild and fun to calm and steady to great love with someone who also had a traumatic childhood. We’ve helped each other deal with our broken places. He gets me like noone ever has. We want to grow old together. This divorce stuff is not in the blood. It is not hereditary or inevitable. My sister is on her second go around but my brother and my other sister are still with their original spouses. So far, in this generation, it’s fifty-fifty. My mother has been with her third husband for thirty years.

Being married is so much more difficult than it appears. When I got married the last time it was to someone so different from my previous partner, yet, certain problems and unhealthy dynamics ended up being remarkably similar. How could this be possible? This led to a sickening realization. Maybe it’s not the ex. Maybe it’s me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Going Public To be Green


When I was born, in the late fifties, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, times were very different. My birth certificate was different. My tiny feet were dipped in ink and footprints were put right on my birth certificate. I’m not sure why-maybe if the infant wandered off she could be identified by her little feet? Fingerprinting the mother made sense. Right thumb. Left thumb. If Mom slipped away she could be identified and hauled back to do her job, but the baby prints must have been done just for cuteness. My prints are less than three inches long, already showing signs of wideness and very high arches. More than half a century later footprints have taken on another meaning-carbon footprints.

Much of what we do now has some meaning, ecologically. Keep the footprint small. Plant trees. Recycle. Reuse. Carry your own bag into stores. Don’t waste. Don’t drink water from plastic bottles which may have been shipped by truck for miles or even worse, flown from a far flung spring. Combine errands. Conserve. Save the planet. Buy carbon offsets to ease your guilt. If we don’t have “green” fatigue, we soon will.

I recently overheard a young mother with two preschoolers talking about the schools she was looking into for her son who will be starting kindergarten soon. She mentioned several private schools that are in towns some distance from our town. Our wealthy, suburban town with award winning public schools. It made me think about the environmental consequences of commuting five year olds. These otherwise green families are driving their SUV’s right by several perfectly good neighborhood schools to crisscross the county for something better. Our town has a choice of five elementary schools. You’d think there would be something for everyone.

The little one is going out on the freeway, possibly getting stuck in traffic, every day in order to attend school. It’s not just the two trips a day one hundred eighty days a year. It’s all extra-curricular activities, meet the teacher nights, concerts and other evening programs. It’s whenever Mom or Dad volunteers in the classroom or drives on a field trip. The child makes friends who live in other communities and there are play dates and birthday parties on the weekends. Does it not, at some point, eclipse the meaning of living in a sweet, small town where you know people and are known by them?

When my children were little and out riding bikes or playing with their friends they knew they couldn’t get away with anything. There was always someone I knew looking after them. I would hear about it if they rode without helmets or took stupid risks. People would tell me about it and I would reciprocate, notifying my friends if I saw their kids do something wrong. My daughters acted like they hated it, but I don’t think they really did .We belonged in our community and there was such an easy spontaneity for them when they rode bikes together and ended up at each other’s houses after school without having to plan it around a car pool schedule.

Wealth has it's privileges. One of the privileges that money affords is choice. I’ve been trying to figure out what drives that choice. One trend I’ve noticed is that as property values here increased substantially more new families buying homes have been employed in the finance sector. These guys are investment bankers, stock and bond traders and private equity investors. Money people. Until recently there was no question that they could afford private school tuition, yet, it seems to go deeper than that. It’s some kind of equation with money that maybe takes a money person to really understand. It’s almost as if it must be worth more because it costs. You get what you pay for? Even though you’ve paid a premium for your house and your property taxes, you are paying tuition for elementary school because you are buying something for your child that will make their way in the world better and the purchase of the that life experience begins at year one.

This could be the flawed reasoning that comes from the darkest fears of parenting. If you control your child’s destiny through these types of choices then he or she will become more than they would have if you’d just rolled along with the tide. As a young parent you just don’t know how little control you have over what lies ahead. Or maybe you have some inkling, and think if you throw money at the problem it will lessen your chances for it all to go wrong. Further along in parenting you realize that the influences on your child, for good and evil, aren’t what you expected them to be. Several coaches and a wonderful babysitter had lasting power. I would beg my kids to drink more water when they were practicing their sport. They waved me away like I knew nothing. Then one day the swim coach told them to hydrate more and it was the law - gospel. The girls had a babysitter who made them promise to never, ever smoke cigarettes. They never did and still talk about the pact they made and how she put the fear of God in them.

There were lots of families with money who chose public schools when my kids were little. The girls had friends whose parents were eminent plastic surgeons, entrepreneurs and real estate investors as well as lawyers and even a few blue collar workers. The insecurity about getting the kids on the right path didn’t seem to start until much later, closer to SAT time. The kids were kids and they went to school and played their sports and didn’t seem to be on a track that would lead them straight to Harvard or Stanford or Columbia, but in fact it did. These products of the local high school are predominantly extremely successful. A number of my daughter’s friends have become doctors, one works for Genentech, someone else for Google. There are some teachers and business people.

I frequently get into conversations with people who have decided that the local high school isn’t good enough for their child, doesn’t have the best curriculum and won’t lead to the better colleges. I cite all my usual anecdotes but recently a father I was talking to just wouldn’t give an inch. About twenty minutes later we converged at the bar while waiting for orders and got to talking again. Somehow it came out that he was trying to get a photography job for a web project at a prominent company. Coincidentally, my daughter is working on that project. My daughter, who went to the not good enough local, public high school, and then to a liberal arts college on The East coast from which she graduated and became immediately employed in the field of her choice. My twenty-seven year old daughter who works for a world-renowned advertising company and makes about twenty percent less than my husband who’s a professional with an advanced degree. The guy was practically begging for her contact information so she could help him out. Even though the irony was completely lost on him, I loved it.

Not everyone will fit at a particular school. Certain students have needs better suited to private school. I understand that. What I don’t understand is rejecting out of hand what you’ve never tried because somehow you’ll be safer, better insulated from the dangers. It’s a perilous journey no matter what, especially for adolescents, and fortunately most of us end up being very lucky, despite our choices.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Obama Victory Garden


Several weeks before the First Lady of the United States started planting her kitchen garden at the White House my husband made a startling pronouncement. “We should plant a garden. A kitchen garden.”, he had said.

The suggestion surprised me, but when I thought it over it made very good sense. Eric loves to cook and one of the aspects of cooking he so cherishes is his trips to the window boxes where we grow herbs for his cooking. A small pleasure but therapeutic and inspirational nonetheless. The garden is like that, only bigger.

We chose a sunny spot in the side yard that had seen several previous iterations that each had something to offer at the time. I was talking to a friend and she asked where we had put our vegetable garden. I told her that it was in the spot where the swing set had been and then the hot tub and finally the trampoline. Oh, yes, I remember all of that she said, nodding. The same spot with so many different uses and associations.

The swing set with it’s white and pink and gray paint. It wasn’t very fancy, someone had given it to us as a hand me down. It squeaked like crazy. The baby seat. The memory of the sweet, sweet faces and chubby little hands almost makes me feel like I can’t breathe. The “train” where the girls would face each other. The constant admonishments to stop pumping so hard - it was starting to shake. Careful, you’ll flip it over.

Time passed, as it always does, and everyone outgrew the swing set which was taken off to the dump. When my parents walked into Costco and bought a new hot tub on an impulse buy (probably thought they were just going out for toilet paper), they offered us their old one. It seemed like such a good idea at the time and only one hundred dollars to have it delivered. It turns out that hot tubs can’t function without what one of the kids called “electricical.” It also turns out that an old house with Zinsco breakers does not have adequate “electricical” to power a hot tub, even a somewhat outdated one. Kaching. The electrician was a lovely man moonlighting from his real job with “Those Darn Accordians”. The house was amped up to 220 Volts or something like that and a cable was run from the house under the yard and popped up in a gray pipe to provide the requisite power.

The hot tub had its positives. I loved sitting in it during a light rain in winter when the leaves were off the trees and you could see the beautiful outline of the bare branches. It provided opportunity to be outside at night when it was dark and cold. The worries were many, however. When we first got the spa Allie was around four and had hair down to her bottom. I read something about a little one having her hair caught in the jets, getting trapped and drowning. I’m sure that is not a very frequent occurrence, but the image the was not good. One more thing to worry about.

There was an “attractive nuisance” aspect to it when Lucy became a teenager and started bringing her friends around just as we were settling into bed. The jets would be on and the kids (whoever they were) would have to talk loudly over the jets, use all the towels and drip everywhere. I tried not to think about what could be happening on the infrequent occasions we were not at home.

There was the maintenance issue which didn’t seem too problematic until we were in San Diego visiting my in-laws, one of whom is a nurse. Apparently, they hadn’t cleaned their hot tub properly and on the long drive back to San Francisco the younger girls developed all over itchy body rashes that turned out to be a nasty condition called hot tub folliculitis. Ugh. Now we had to wonder if we were being diligent enough with the chemicals.

The absolute worse experience we had with our hot tub was the August we went on vacation for several weeks following a rat problem. Before we left for the trip we decided to put out poison which I wasn’t too sure about. My brother, who knows much about much, assured me the nasty creatures would go off in search of water and die. When we got into the spa upon our return there was a horrible smell. We checked the water which looked alright but there was something so, so wrong. Thirteen rats had gone off to look for water and died under the hot tub. It really lost its allure for me after that and we got rid of it. Only a hundred dollars to have it carted away. As they rolled it out on its side over my neighbor’s driveway bits of the pink insulation began falling out with rat crap dropping all over the place.

The trampoline. Another attractive nuisance. Another potential source of danger. Different parents had different policies. My next door neighbor said her little boys were not allowed on it. Period. Some parents didn’t seem to care about anything their kids did. At the time we also had a dog who used the back yard as her bathroom and we were not always so timely about the scooping. The kids’ dad, a lawyer, joked that we should have children from other families sign a waiver that they wouldn’t sue us if they broke their necks OR stepped in dog poop. Funny.

After a time the novelty wore off and it was rare that anyone actually jumped on the trampoline. It became more a place to gather and sunbathe, do homework or host the occasional pajama party. Other than being hideously large and truly ugly, I didn’t really have a problem with it. Over the years sun damaged the stretchy part attached to the springs and bits began to flake off. Unfortunately, one winter we had a flood in the neighborhood and our garage and front and back yards were left covered with smelly mud. Fortunately, the town where we live provided pick up service for all the damaged goods and, without consulting the children, I decided the trampoline was terminally ill and dragged it out to the rubbish pile. There were a few little peeps of discontent, but we all pretty much knew those days were gone.

That was early January 2006. Fast forward to the spring of 2009. There have been some changes in this country. There have been some changes around here. My husband and I divorced. He has remarried his first wife. Eric and I were married two years ago. We have tried “blending” our families with abject failures as well as some successes. Our youngest daughters are now nineteen. We underwent great trauma when Eric had a catastrophic motorcycle accident from which we are both still healing. My chosen profession, residential real estate sales, has gone in the dumper. My plan B, staging homes for sale, has also gone in the dumper. We are still buying this house from my ex-husband and when we finish paying him off it won’t be worth what we agreed to pay. Our two youngest are in expensive colleges in Connecticut and Scotland. Some costly therapy has been necessary.

When Eric and I met we each had apartments and offices where we would go to work. Between us we had two cars and a motorcycle. I had half a house and he had cash in the bank. We have dwindled down to one car. Now he has an office. Mine has been shut down, but we have the garden.

Because of the wars and our reduced economic circumstances, we started to call it the Victory garden. Because of the our new administration and our hope for the future, we now call it the Obama Victory Garden. We have the sweet peas and climbing beans and squash and tomatoes. We have spinach and Swiss chard. We’re hosting a little dinner party on Saturday and Eric will pick something fresh from the garden to serve our guests. The garden is pretty and peaceful. It’s wonderfully relaxing to just look at it. We will have grandchildren in a few years and they may need swings and hot tubs and trampolines but we won’t need to provide them. We have the garden with this strange gray, plastic periscope poking up between the carrots and basil. People always ask about it and I smile to myself and tell them it was the source of electricity for the hot tub we used to have.

Lemon Tree


When the youngest of our three girls became toilet trained it became apparent that one bathroom for a family of five was less than ideal. It was time to expand. The house was fewer than a thousand square feet - three bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, small dining area and living room but it had a big, flat back yard. Right off the back of the house, behind the original kitchen, was a wonderful, mature lemon tree. The girls who were then three, seven and eleven were excited about the prospect of the new house but were distressed that we’d have to cut down the lemon tree in order to expand. I promised we’d plant a new lemon tree to replace the old one. We finally did, but it took fifteen years.

My then husband wasn’t so sure about adding on. He felt we couldn’t afford it, but realized it would be less expensive than moving and finally relented. We cobbled together the financing including a $50,000 advance on the inheritance from his father as well as a home equity line. My brother was a contractor and he would do the work but he wanted me to act as the general and hire all the subs, run the job, order the materials and so on. It would save us a lot of money and he wouldn’t have to bother with all the details. I bought a pair of work boots and took on the job.

After fighting with City Hall and one of the neighbors (all the rest were great) the permits were approved. The project was to take four months and we would live in the house while the work was being done as another way to save on expenses. Demolition began in August and during that time we took a trip to Southern California. The workers ripped out the ceiling in the living room so it could be vaulted and tore out the existing kitchen so we could push out the back of the house. When we got home a week later we had no roof on part of the house and had to wash the dishes in the bathtub. The front coat closet became the pantry. It was a lot like camping. I’m not much of a camper and when I look back on it, I cannot imagine how we managed.

The two older girls went back to school after Labor Day and the little one was in pre-school part time, but mostly she was my “helper”. Every morning the guys arrived bright and early and fired up their power tools. I tried to stay on top of ordering the windows and appliances and lumber so we could stay on schedule. I was barraged with constant questions. I made ten thousand decisions. It was exciting to think that we would have a house with a three hundred square foot kitchen and fireplace - a great room with granite counter tops and ten foot ceilings. I couldn’t wait for the master bedroom upstairs with it’s own bathroom and view of the mountain.

We had a problem with the stairs. Because of the high ceiling in the kitchen there needed to be a fast rise with a short run. Everyone, including the engineer, said it could not be done. We’d have to sacrifice the ceiling height in the kitchen in order to achieve the rise in the space allowed for the run. I would not be swayed off course. Armed with a book on stair design and the Uniform Building Code, I got to work. I realized we could get up high enough if we used three winders which are stairs that turn a corner. It’s not the safest construction because the winders are shaped like triangles and they’re very narrow on the inside, but it was a solution. I drew it out on pattern paper and waited with bated breath while the building inspector looked it over. He deemed it acceptable. Success

Of course, problems arose. My brother began to have a nagging cough and then got really grouchy. My husband and I fought. A lot. By acting as the general manager I had become his employee. Before I would even have so much as a sip of coffee in the morning he would start questioning my decisions and whether the crew was working hard enough. He was the “suit’, the client and he wanted to control how his money would be spent. Even though he knew nothing about design and was partially color blind he wanted to have “input”. He would argue for the sake of arguing and repeatedly say he was not giving me “carte blanche” to make all the decisions. I had to talk him into everything and when it was done he would always say what a good idea it had been.

It’s true, what they say about remodeling and marriages. Cracks develop that might never be repaired even when they’re spackled and taped. My husband and I fought over shades of white. After we divorced some years later I thought about the fact that he’d split up with his first wife shortly after they’d completed building their house. I don’t know that it was even finished when she moved out and refused to see him again for twenty-five years.

In the beginning of October my grandmother got sick and died. We had the family gathering after the service at our house, the construction site. My grandfather had worn a suit for his wife’s funeral but his dress shoes were uncomfortable. When we got home for the get-together he took them off and tossed them in the dumpster saying he’d never have to wear them again. Now that my grandmother was gone he was free to wear sneakers for the rest of his life which is what he did.

By November the house was enclosed after some early rains and battles with blue tarps. My brother was still coughing and moving slowly. We didn’t find out until later that after decades of being a builder he’d become severely allergic to wood dust and his lungs were inflamed. The kitchen started to come together. It would be unfinished but we’d be able to cook Thanksgiving dinner. The counter tops were still plywood and the oven had no fan yet but, by god, we were going to cook a turkey. The cabinets had just been installed and the”client” was insisting the knobs should be six inches up rather than in the lower corners. It went on and on. Everyone went to bed and I sat by myself in the new kitchen the night before Thanksgiving looking around. It was all I’d ever wanted in a kitchen but it meant nothing. It didn’t feel like my house. I was in a strange place with nothing familiar and no memories and oh, what a cost.

By December I was becoming unglued. I couldn’t make any more decisions. I had insomnia, the kids got sick and one day I took them to the pediatrician. When we got back home at eleven a.m. the painter had gotten drunk on champagne he’d found in the frig and started listening to our records while painting the stairs. He was so out of there. We were running out of money and I was exhausted. I pressured the guys to get it done. One day my brother and I had a screaming fight. He accused me of having unrealistic expectations and putting everyone under too much stress. We yelled at each other while the tile guy was working on the upstairs shower. I stormed off in the cold and rain and called my husband crying from a phone booth. He was really nice. Go shopping, he said. Buy yourself something. Christmas came and we were almost through. I was too tired to join the family for a holiday visit with the in-laws in Southern California. I just needed to be alone. The new parts of the house crackled and creaked in the wind.

In January we had the kitchen floor finished. Beautiful, wide-planked, knotty Southern yellow pine. Everyone warned that it would be soft and the floor guys said it would be easy to scratch and dent. As soon as they went out the back door we came in the front with a six week old Lab mix puppy. She scratched the floors immediately and throughout her long and happy life. She’s gone to doggy heaven but the scratches still remind us of her glory days.

The girls were incredibly resilient throughout the construction process. When the walls were being insulated and sheet rocked we stayed in a friend’s cottage for a week. It was all an adventure for them. When we were settled back into the house there were many projects to be completed but what really bothered them (other than the lemon tree) was that the toilet paper holders hadn’t been installed. It was such a small detail compared to the chaos that had surrounded us that I didn’t really think much of it. When we finally bought the damn things and attached them there was great relief. Oh, good, now it feels like home. Now we just need a new lemon tree.

I got distracted and forgot about it. I didn’t fulfill my promise to plant one. Years and years passed. The kitchen is home again and we have memories of birthdays and Christmas parties and quiet dinners. They kids all grew up and we were divorced. I found love again. About a year ago we brought home a Charlie Brown lemon tree; small and scraggly with one huge lemon. It’s struggling. When I think about what we’d had before it seems such a shame, but we have great hopes for it.

My Meltdown


We've all seen it; the overtired toddler who seems to disintegrate before our eyes. They go and go until the tipping point when exhaustion overwhelms and they are no longer able to listen to reason. In 1983, when my daughter, Lucy, was about 15 months old she would fall apart so completely it reminded me of the reports of the nuclear reactor accident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The descriptions of the accident explained a core meltdown, basically an implosion of the radioactive material unto itself. That's what my daughter was doing. She became toxic, radioactive. She was having a core meltdown and I began to use the phrase to describe it. I'd never heard anyone say it before, but other friends with kids began to pickup the term and passed it along. Friends from the East coast went back with the term and it proliferated further. Core meltdown morphed into meltdown as in She's having a meltdown or She's melting down. Wikidpedia currently defines it like this: Meltdown: (tantrum) a particular kind of fit or temper tantrum that occurs in babies and young children. Bingo

Meltdown caught on and spread. There seem to be no references to the term until a year after I began using it. In 1984 “Meltdown” was used as the name of a Christian rock group and later several albums and song titles, a music festival, record label, episodes of television programs and a video game were all called “Meltdown.”

My thought , my image. Years passed and many more headlines appeared using the term about sports teams and other subjects. I felt a little jab each time, like something had been taken from me, but I shrugged it off as the price you pay for being an original thinker. You have an idea and others run with it. It was manageable until the financial crisis of 2008. Suddenly, the term was everywhere. Mortgage meltdown, Wall Street meltdown, banking meltdown and with the presidential election, we had the McCain Meltdown. STOP People, think of something else to say. It's tired and overused and anyway, it's mine. It's my meltdown and you can't have it anymore.

The Accident

Friday afternoon traffic was heading to the bridge. A car was stopped dead in the fast lane and there was no time to react. He tried to brake, went into a skid. My beloved had to figure out in one split second how not to die.

The helmet went through the back windshield first. The driver of the car screamed. His leg broke on the rear quarter panel and the middle of his body hit hard. He bounced off and ended up in the roadway. There were bones sticking through the skin, excruciating pain and blood. The indignities began when the paramedics sliced off his clothing while people, even several people we knew, went whizzing by in the rain. He never lost consciousness and even had the wherewithal to have someone call me. The man said he’d been in an accident and was badly hurt.

I couldn’t move or think. I called my daughter and she appeared. She drove and did my thinking for me. Another call came, more reassuring. He was conscious, joking but his leg was broken. I said to tell him I loved him and I was mad at him for messing up our vacation. I began to breathe again. We stopped by the site of the accident to pick up his wallet. They gave us a bag of bloody clothing, helmet and gloves and we saw the damage to the car and the motorcycle. The accident had backed up traffic and it was so hard getting to him. Everything was in slow motion.

Friday evening in the emergency room was so scary. I couldn’t think about how hospitals have always made me sick and anxious. There was only him. He was alive and I was so relieved and grateful that it was just a broken leg, no head injury. Then they did the abdominal CT scan and everything changed. The mean sounding words and phrases began. They continued for many weeks, aggressive and unwelcome. Emergency surgery, rupture, peritonitis, extreme measures, transfusions. We kept talking about not being out of the woods yet. Just how big were these woods? As my brother pointed out, who would have thought that the broken leg, a compound fracture requiring orthopedic surgery and a titanium rod, would seem so insignificant compared to the internal injuries?

The trauma team did a beautiful job but there were the post operative pains and frustrations: IV’s and wound care and enough medications to slay an elephant, even Thorazine for hiccups. He sold the motorcycle from his hospital bed, never wanted to see it again. No food by mouth until the bowels began to move. The bowels, which had ruptured and been sewn back together, were expected to get back in working order within a week. They did. Then they sent him home and I became nurse 24/7.

An open incision slashed his belly like a canyon and couldn’t be sewn closed due to danger of infection. It needed dressing twice a day. He couldn’t walk, could barely sit up and couldn’t get to the bathroom. A friend noted he had the stamina of an eighty-five year old. He needed me with him constantly so he wouldn’t get discouraged and give up. I was hesitant to leave him at all, so afraid something bad would happen again. I’ve been waiting for this, since my beloved brother was hit by a car and killed when we were small. I knew that if I found real love, and I let myself succumb to it, it would be taken away.

We had the best time we could under the circumstances. He was brave and wonderful, thanked me for everything. We took naps and played cards. When he was able to get around I took him places. I tried to tempt him with food because he’d lost over thirty pounds. We got so much support from calls and emails and visits. We planned a wedding. The cancelled vacation would be the honeymoon.

Complications ensued. We knew something was wrong but kept pretending otherwise. There were fevers and night sweats and finally a CT scan confirmed the infection. There were trips back to the hospital to install the drain. I learned about a medical discipline which was previously unknown to me; interventional radiology. I told friends in an email that changing dressings had become so routine, now I’d added measuring pus output to the daily regimen.

Weeks passed and I drove to the hospital fifteen times. It was so heart wrenching to keep going back there, passing the scene of the accident each time. Tuesday was convict day. They came in for tests in their orange sweat suits, handcuffed to the guards. Soulless creatures lurked the halls. Discarded human beings were scattered about in the lobby. One day there was a man out in front of the hospital who had the shaved, zipper head from recent brain surgery. He sat by himself asleep in a wheel chair in the freezing cold.

It all started to get to me. The patient, as I called him, began to get better. I struggled to keep my composure, going from ecstatic gratitude about his survival to sadness and resentment about my loss. I became uncharacteristically emotional and cried at stupid things. I got tired of hearing the accident story. Friends kept exhorting me to take care of myself but I couldn’t figure out how.

The patient survived. I had to regroup and let go. It became time for him to go back to work even though he was weak and sore. I told him I felt like I was taking him to his first day of school and he wanted to know whether he’d be able to stay home if he cried and clung to my leg. No, he had to go back into the world and so did I.