Two Weddings and No Funeral


My first wedding began with my father and I taking a step down an aisle in a Catholic Church.  It may not show on our faces, but we were both praying that the groom would die before we got to the part where dad would lift my veil and kiss me goodbye.

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He did not.

Over the next 20 years this man cheated on me twelve times.  He was a lawyer, and I wasn’t paying attention.

So, I was ten years single.

And then I met the love of my life.  He is tall, handsome, and wicked smaaht.  We married standing before a rabbi, under a chuppah.

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That was twelve years ago.  We both pay attention and don’t cheat , because we want to be together always, and we both have serious, life-threatening illnesses.  We laugh. We fight. We apologize. There hasn’t been a funeral.  And, although we know that such things happen, we dream that they never involve either of us.










Once I Had a House

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I paid $1,000 for it. It had not a single pane of glass. One working toilet, which sat in the middle of ruins from a fire in the back two rooms of the first two floors.You could see the sky from the basement. Built in 1880, it was ten rooms of heartache.

I had never seen anything so beautiful.

It was surrounded by houses in similar condition, lived in by people who were as besotted as I. They were the most creative and generous people I’ve ever known.

These down-on-their-luck Victorian mansions surrounded a beautiful 30-acre park which had been the Disney World of St.Louis in the mid-to-late 19th Century. Swan boats plied its lake, and trolleys carried people there to see wondrous plants in summer, and skate on winter ice. I want my ashes scattered there, where my heart still lives.

As years passed, this house took shape again as hardwood was shined, bannisters returned to tightened staircases, and walls, bathrooms, paint,water and light loved it back to life. Children grew up there. Thanksgivings and Christmases were grand affairs.
Friends married there, mourned there, laughter and music filled it like grace. The house was featured in magazines and opened to house tours.
Maybe the house loved me back. It certainly helped me grow up, express my creativity, and allow my generosity and bravery to thrive.
Yes, I had a house. And,obviously,it still has me.

why use shampoo when you can use real poo

Let me begin by saying I love my opthamologist.

Not in a carnal, smarmy way. But because he’s smart, conscientious, and looks like he might be 12 years old. He has four children, so that’s probably not the case.

I needed to see him the other day, but he was on vacation. So I saw another doctor. She was very nice, and discovered a problem, so I have an appointment to see the 12-year-old in three weeks.

When you go to the doctor these days, you are given a two or three page report card detailing your visit. When I got home, I sat down, pulled it out of my purse, and started reading it. It had all the blah blah blah about insurance, meds, current diagnosis and What The Hell— a past diagnosis of “pseudophakia”. Falsefakeness? Hell, this was several lies beyond “hypochondria!” This was a diagnosis that shoved me past embarrassment directly into shame.

Of course I rushed directly to that 21st Century fountain of accuracy, and googled it.

To my amazement, I discovered that it meant “having cataracts removed from both eyes and replaced with implanted lenses.” Okay, I had this done several years ago. It was a serious procedure.

Apparently, I was not a hypochondriac. I was the victim of a late-night, sugared up slumber party of eight year old boys charged with naming a medical condition. It could have been worse. I just know the other choices would have included booger, fart, or double dog dare.

Adios, Vatican City

Catholic School in the 1950s was like Torquemada’s Inquisition with flush toilets and a cafeteria. It would spawn a generation of atheists, agnostics and Unitarians whose hatred for the Catholic Church verged on madness. I am one such.

Today’s brand of Catholicism is positively cheery in comparison. Except for the pedophilia.

I entered Catholic school in second grade, after a pretty happy two years in public school. In short order, I was introduced to nuns, priests, sin, confession, crucifixes, holy water and my teacher, Sister Ludmilla. She could whirl from the blackboard, and with astonishing speed, nail a nefarious seven-year-old at the back of the room in the head with an eraser. And so began the saga of my disbelief.

Our schooldays included Mass, morning prayers, catechism, bible history, corporal punishment, the instilling of fear, pagan babies,and the belief in transubstantiation (Google it. You won’t be able to swallow it, either.)

I tried to believe. I really, really tried. For a long time, too.
But I already had a predisposition to the notion of sin and guilt. Me and Catholicism merged to produce an OCD, very sick young woman.

In the end, it was  a shootout between me and  the Vatican.  True, it’s still standing.  But I’m mentally sound, and it’s still sick.  Talk about “jesus wept.”

Child of my Heart

imageIn three days, the child of my heart will be 29 years old. Her mom was and is a brave, determined, independent woman. Standing at the head of the bed in the delivery room, I was beginning to think that none of us would survive the messy, painful, truly laborious process of birth.I didn’t realize then that I would be her second mother. Her other mother and I were and are close friends and near neighbors

After hours of being pushed, wished and feared for, Jennifer emerged face up, with her clear grey eyes wide open. I would never be the same.

Her mother often travelled for business. The two of us would march down the sidewalk between our houses with all the devices it took to live with a baby for a week. The load grew smaller as she grew larger.

I taught her to thrift, taking her to every seedy junk store I haunted. She would choose some piece of crap which I am sure landed in the trash bin at home. Her taste and eye for value improved, and she thrifts to this day.

She threw a tantrum once, when she was about two. I stared down at her whirling, screaming, red-faced little body. Then I stepped over her and walked away. She developed more attractive ways of making her wishes known.

She called crab rangoon, “cranberry goon,” became a vegetarian at seven, cried when she lost at cards, loved to try on hats, and took off her clothes in a department store when she was three because her tights were itchy. Oh, and very briefly, she took dancing. ( middle child in pic.)

Fast forward. Nobody likes millions of baby pics.

She graduated from college with honors, got her Master’s in Public Health, has a wonderful job many states away, and still has my heart in her grasp.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer late last year, she took family leave to be with me after surgery. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

 

207 Lane K

Our tiny family moved to Sunflower, Kansas in 1946. Post-war housing shortages made the town a magnet for veterans. It had row after row of charmless cramped apartments, a drug store, a grocery store, a school and a movie theatre. Gangs of unattended but safe children my age ran the cinder alleys like packs of dogs.  I did the first of a life-long series of dumpster-dives, discovering a treasure-trove of discarded makeup that I’m sure was loaded with lead. It was in Sunflower that I had snowball fights, organized a doll show, wheeled kittens around in baby buggies,and started school.

But Sunflower was also the site of my awful, original sin.
My sister was born in June, two months after my fifth birthday.
I was sent away to stay with my grandmother during my mother’s confinement.  When I came back, puzzled and homesick, I was introduced to a blanket-swaddled, crying, odd-looking creature and there was a crib for her in my parent’s bedroom.

As an adult, I can understand why my shell-shocked parents, caught in the vortex of guilt and confusion in creating a malformed baby suffering from an unknown birth defect syndrome, unintentionally pushed me out of the way to make space for their grief. But in addition to feeling abandoned and frightened, I was furiously, ragingly jealous. As I stood on tip-toe to get a better look as my mother changed my sister’s diaper, I saw the horror of a freshly repaired umbilical hernia. My baby sister had no belly button.  I knew, as only a magic-believing, all-powerful, jealous five-year-old can, that this was all my fault.  In the next few years the disaster I had unleashed continued to unfold.

I knew that her disfigured face, her umbilical hernia, her cleft palate, her congenitally dislocated hip, her years in a body cast, her stumped fingers and her low normal IQ were my jealously come alive. This was surely my original sin.  No one ever told me differently.

All is Well

Six years ago this week a piece of my heart shriveled like a rose too long without water.  My best friend/sister and knower of my dreams died.   She didn’t die quickly.  The small cell carcinoma took small, steady nibbles …her hair, her lung, her ability to cook, and to eat.  She watched comedies on tv to pass the days when she wasn’t having poison drip, drip, dripped into her.  I couldn’t hug her becase her blood counts were so low that it might kill her.  She planned her funeral, asking me to read a poem I had written about her 25 years earlier.  She told me she didn’t know if she was doing this dying correctly. She didn’t understand what people meant when they told her she had to fight this cancer.  I told her that’s just the bullshit people say when they are at a loss for comforting, soft words.

She died in late July.  She was 67 years old.  The line at the wake wound round the block.  She had touched so many lives, and she had embraced mine since we met as locker mates the first day of high school.  We were 14.

The day she died, I had a dream. She and I were in a store that sold antique baby clothes.  I tried to touch her, to speak to her, but she was ahead of me, just out of reach. As she was going out the door, she turned to me and handed me a silver cup engraved with the words “All is Well.”. I sure hope so.