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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thank You For Coughing

Cough, cough, cough. Cough, cough, coughity cough-cough. I am aware of the sounds in the wee hours of the morning, so early that we can really still call it the night. I mumble something along the lines of "are you okay?" and turn over, trying to slip back into my deep, satisfying sleep. Trent has had a cold for about a week now, and it is improving. In typical fashion, it makes its presence known when he tries to sleep. My Gram always said that fevers and other maladies always got worse at night, and my experience has proven this to be true. Maybe it's because our defenses are naturally lowered when we glide into unconsciousness. We aren't awake to fight against whatever pains or ailments are bothering us, so they seem to sneak up on us under cover of the night.

Since I was semi-awake, I decided to step down the hall to the necessary and settle back down for more sleep (after checking to make sure that there was nothing I could do to make things better for Trent). As I was trying to go back to sleep, I realized that I just didn't feel right. I felt sort of weak and thought that maybe I needed to check my blood sugar. This was a good thing because my blood sugar was getting pretty low. I won't get into specifics about the numbers for two reasons. One is that every diabetic starts to feel shaky at a different level of blood sugar. For one person, getting below 100 starts the shaking and sweating, while another may feel that way at 80 or lower. Also, if you read that I was starting to suffer at a reading of xx, you might check your blood sugar and find that it is close to that number. Congratulations, your blood sugar is normal. Normal/feeling-good blood sugar levels for diabetics often come with higher numbers than those of non-diabetics.

The number I saw on my meter, the lowest I have had in more than a year, told me that I needed to ingest some carbohydrates right away. Breakfast was hours away, and my body wasn't going to wait that long. And extremes, both high and low, in blood sugar levels are dangerous. I knew someone who lost consciousness while driving due to low blood sugar. She ran into a signpost, I think, and wasn't injured, but she almost went into a coma.

Trent asked if I was going to make myself some toast, and I told him that if I was being forced to eat carbs, I intended to enjoy them. I was going for the ice cream! There I was, at about four in the morning, shoving spoonful after spoonful of ice cream into my mouth. I ate what seemed to be at least a pint and decided to go to bed because my sugar had come up a few points. I turned to Trent and said, "Thank you so much for coughing! I really mean it. If you hadn't been coughing, I might not have woken and discovered how low my sugar was." Funny thing - after the situation was more stable, his cough went on hiatus for a while.

When we got up a few hours later, my blood sugar was still low. Taking my diabetic medicine was out of the question, and possibly dangerous. I decided to indulge myself with a big bowl of cereal and milk, followed a couple of hours later with toast and my morning pills. We got some things done and decided to lay down for a nap. In fact, Trent dozed off before I even crawled under the covers. Cough, cough, cough. Trent was up again, so I decided to get up as well. We can always go to bed early, right? I decided to check my sugar again, and sure enough, it was running a bit low. I ate some sugary candy and it was still at the same number. I'm just having one of those days, I guess. I'll carbo-load at dinner and have a snack before bed. And before I go to sleep, I'll thank Trent again for saving me by coughing. 



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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Thank you for reading! 


Monday, October 19, 2015

No Pills For That

I realize that I have been away for several days, my dear readers, and I apologize. I have been a bit under the weather. This is not to be confused with being under the radar, which can be good or bad, depending on where you land in the situation. If you are working on a project for which you are not quite qualified but are able to manage without your boss knowing this, you've successfully flown under the radar, and it's a good thing. If you are the other person on the project who is keeping some poor hapless coworker afloat by doing extra work that gets unrecognized, your colleague is flying under the radar, likely causing you to be generally cranky at the state of your working situation, which is bad.

I am striving to get out from under said weather. It hasn't been anything really dreadful, just enough to have several times during the day, for multiple days, where you find yourself saying, "Okay-I have-to-go-to-bed-right-now-or-I'll-throw-up-or-collapse-or-both-thank-you-please." This too shall pass, thank goodness. I'm on the comeback trail. I thought I'd share one of those "I love my doctor!" moments since I am writing so late and want to keep it brief. 

I had a regular quarterly checkup with Doctor Mike on Friday. I actually have to go into the office monthly due to a medication I take to keep me from having dangerous blood clots. That is a simple poke of the finger blood test, and then I am on my way. Once every three months he likes me to come in for blood tests and to have a brief examination to monitor my diabetic condition. I also get a finger poke on these visits, and this time I just knew I was going to fail. I knew that my coagulation time would be too high, and I knew exactly what I had done wrong.

Sure enough, the number was just slightly too high. I explained the situation to the Medical Assistant, who relayed it to Mike. He came in with a little grin on his face. "So, I hear that you accidentally took too much coumadin earlier this week?" The explanation blurted out. "Well, you see, I have been taking all of my night-time pills with my dinner because my stomach is having some problems with pills lately. And on Sunday, we went over to our friends' house for dinner, and I usually just take my diabetic pills during my dinner when I go there, but I was being smart and packed all of my night-time pills and had them with my dinner. And then when I went to bed, I thought, oh, crap, I haven't taken my night-time pills, so I took them again, and so now my level is too high but I will be better, I promise."

Mike has known me for many years, so he didn't laugh at my way-too-long explanation. Instead, he looked at me with a slightly devilish grin and said, "Don't ask me for pills for smart. There's no pills for that." We got a good chuckle out of it and had a good visit. Mike can be hard on me sometimes, and when he loses his good bedside manner, I will tell him that he is being uncool. But he understands me, and I can talk with him about anything and ask any questions, whether they have anything to do with my health or not. It's a great relationship, all things considered.

Mike was in a very good mood because in a few days he will be taking a vacation with his wife. They will fly to Athens and board a cruise ship. He will be going to all of his favorite Greek Islands and cruising the Mediterranean. He's leaving his laptop at home, so there will be no work done while he is traveling. After twenty-nine days at sea, he will land in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and head back home. I couldn't be more pleased for him. He deserves it.

By the way, I call my doctor by his first name because I have known him for years. My family knew him when he was a genius kid who got bored easily and thought of various ways that he and the other neighborhood boys could find some trouble to get into. He seldom got caught, but when things happened, the cry was raised, "Where's Mike?" I'm glad he's smart but easy to talk to. I'm glad he's my doctor. But I wish he'd get to work on creating that pill for smarts.





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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

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Thank you for reading! 


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Mental Pause

If you're a woman, you have probably already figured out what this post is about. If you're a man, you may also have figured it out but think it doesn't pertain to you. Let me simply say this: if you are a man with any female friends, family members, co-workers, or significant others, stick around. You might learn something. It might be something that will help keep you alive. I exaggerate, of course, but it never hurts to be educated and aware.

When I was a mere slip of a girl and had long legs with skinned knees (and was so skinny I had to turn around twice to make a shadow, according to my Gram), my female schoolmates went through two phases of asking questions. The first was usually some variation of, "Are you wearing one?" This question had to do with most girls' first steps toward growing up - wearing a bra. 

It was a great source of fascination and gossip, and even the boys were curious. It was pretty common for the bolder boys to run their fingers briskly down your back or even pat you down to find out if you were one of the bra-wearing girls yet. It occurs to me as I am writing this that a boy caught doing something like this nowadays would receive punishment for unwanted touching or harassing. It would become a National News Story replete with comments that ranged from "boys will be boys" to "if that kid did that to my daughter, I'd make sure he never did it to another girl again!" We were too embarrassed to talk to our parents about it. We just told the boys that they were jerks, to keep their hands to themselves, and to leave us alone. Sometimes it even worked.

In my case, I needed a brassiere at least a year before I had one, and it was a source of great embarrassment to me. Gram got tired of waiting for Alice to get into gear and provide them and simply got me the bras herself, for which I was eternally grateful. I felt like I was growing up and cool. Luckily for me, I had a cousin two years older than me from whom I got some hand-me-downs as well. Carole, if you're reading this, I thank you for those bras that you no longer needed. I especially liked the one with the thin stripes of red and blue. It felt so daring compared to the basic white ones I otherwise wore. Although nobody could see it, it made me feel confident and brave and fashionable.

After just about everyone was wearing a bra, the question changed. "Did you get it?" The playground talk was first about whose mom had told her about what would be happening to her body in the near future, the miracle of menses. Then, of course, we talked about who had reached that milestone. There were also those times of shared sisterhood when we all took care of one another, times when we worked together for the common good of young womanhood. I have never forgotten the day when Donna, the girl who hit all of the womanly milestones long before the rest of us girls, had an accident during class in sixth grade. What was she to do? If she got up from her desk, all of the boys would know that she was (whispered) on her period.  Luckily, we had a female teacher, and the girls quietly let her know what was happening. At lunchtime, she dismissed all of the boys and instructed them to leave the classroom. She also gave Donna her beautiful white sweater to wrap around her waist while she walked the block home from school to get cleaned up and change her clothes. On that day, of all days, I think all of the girls in that class loved and respected our teacher in a way that we never had before. The shared bond of womanhood and protection had brought all of us to a new level together.

When most of the girls I knew finally got IT, we were seriously let down. It was not as much fun as we expected, and it was hard on our bodies. Now that we had it, we sort of dreaded it. No one had told us that in the early years, menstruation was often more painful and energy-sapping than it would probably be in later years. Of course if they had, we'd have been in complete terror of it. Our new monthly visitor sometimes made us feel sick and unable to do things. Some girls felt dirty or smelly or disgusting. The hormonal autobahn on which we were now traveling made all of these wonderful things possible. And there was always the fear that what happened to Donna might happen to us.

As the years pass by, women feel different things about their monthly cycles. There is the terrible fear or the overwhelming joy associated with "being late." There is the frustration of dealing with a male boss who can't understand that sometimes women really are in unbearable pain once every month. There's also the female boss who has never had a cramp or twinge in her life who says her employee should grow up and get to work, it's no big deal, for heaven's sake!

After months, years, and then decades of going through this monthly ritual, whether or not it has been a difficult thing for our bodies to handle, we tend to grow weary of it. We are tired of toting around emergency supplies just in case of a surprise. We are tired of having our clothes ruined by said surprises. We are tired of spending dollars upon dollars for those supplies. We are tired of all of the possible monthly symptoms, from bloat to cramps to wanting to eat everything in the world. We yearn for menopause, or as I have long called it, mental pause.

Well, it appears that I might be entering this unknown country. I call it such because I have no mother figure to guide and escort me. Both of my sisters had to have hysterectomies before reaching this milestone, so I had no way to know the age at which I might take my final bow and leave the cast of this monthly show. But as I said, it seems that the time has finally arrived for me. There are some things that are surprising when you have no woman guide in this territory. The delightful symptoms you never expected or imagined. 

The one symptom I had always heard about was the dreaded Hot Flash. Mmm, not so much for me. When I told my doctor I suspected the beginning of menopause, he asked me if I had hot flashes or night sweats. I informed him that because of my lupus, I had been sweating every night since before I turned thirty. Cross that off the list of indicators! I have noticed, though, that every evening at bedtime it feels as though the temperature in the room is too high. If that's as bad as it gets, no problem.

But there are other symptoms that I had never heard of before. Headaches, nausea, cramping just like you're having PMS or a period, dizziness, and the list goes on. The hormonal autobahn is slowing down and the whole body feels the effects. That includes the brain, my dears, the source of emotional mayhem everywhere. Here's an example of the mental pause madness. I find out that the pharmacy is convinced that they don't cover X. I call them, furious but polite, and tell them that they do indeed cover X. They think that our other insurance is responsible, but that company has told us on no uncertain terms that this is not their responsibilty. I relate this to Pharmacy Person, and start becoming testy. I am put on hold again and told once more that they don't cover it. I start to cry while I ask who is going to pay for this. I am put on hold again and it is determined that they do indeed cover X. I apologize profusely for being mean, even though I wasn't. I search the house for chocolate and salty snacks while saying that if this is what freaking menopause is like, they can keep it.

Some women can and do take advantage of HRT - Hormone Replacement Therapy. This is not an option for me because an influx of hormones could cause a major flare of my lupus. I'd rather be cranky, to be honest. I also remember that when Gram was about eighty years olda doctor asked her if she'd had HRT (she had not) and offered her hormones if she would like them. There was the possibility, the doctor said, that it would make her start to menstruate again. Gram laughed hysterically and asked the doctor why the H--- she thought she'd want that to happen at her age. I tend to agree. 

So I am going to just float along and try not to lose it completely while this pause progresses. I figure if I don't get too stressed out and if I completely quit watching videos featuring any humans or dogs or creatures of any description, or even pretty trees and flowers, I might not have daily weepy meltdowns. And if Trent doesn't point out my emotional state, he might survive it relatively unscathed as well. As long as there's salty snacks. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.




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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Thank you for reading! 




Monday, October 12, 2015

Dog-Eared

We all have different types of relationships with books. And it should be mentioned as I begin writing this post, that I am thinking specifically about actual physical books. They can be paperbacks, hardcovers, leather-or-cloth- bound, heck, even cardboard. But again, I am speaking of actual rather than virtual/electronic books in this post. 

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. I began first grade able to read books entirely by myself. On the second or third day of school, the nun who was the pricipal of the Catholic school I attended came into our classroom and said that everyone who had not been in kindergarten should stand. There were maybe half a dozen of us. The next day, all of the others were gone. I am sure that the only reason I stayed behind was that I was already the best reader in my class. I am not trying to brag; I'm just thrilled that I had those skills and didn't have to be put back. They made up for it by sending me to summer school, at which I learned nothing more valuable than how to make a turkey from a paper plate. 

Through all of both the best and the worst times in my childhood, books were always there for me. I could be unsure of whether I was going to be in trouble for some random thing, but the books were always good to me. In moments, I could find myself in Ancient Greece with the Gods and Heroes. The next day, I might be reading about a dog named Buck or The Velveteen Rabbit, followed by a book about Abraham Lincoln or a spider named Charlotte. I loved all kinds of books and read through more than I could count.

All through school, I still devoured books at every opportunity. I read fiction that was modern and a bit on the older side. I delved into dinosaurs and kids in puberty and Egyptian tombs and the tragic tales of Edwardian era governesses. The library was one of my favorite places in the world. And occasionally, someone would give me a book. Sometimes even two or three. These books were well-loved and respected, and sometimes read over and over again. As I became a highschooler and was able to buy myself books with the money I made babysitting, I enjoyed bookstores even more. I might see a movie or television program that had started as a book, and would eagerly search for the treasured story after riding the bus to the mall or walking to a local shop. 

I remember seeing a program on tv with Gram based on a book called I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven. It remains one of the most starkly beautiful and touching books I have ever read. I remember sitting on the step that led down from the kitchen to the back-door landing, reading the book at every possible moment. As the story came to its sad and lovely end, I had tears streaming down my face and wetting my shirt. Many years later, when Gram was in a nursing home, I purchased a copy of The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. I read voraciouly, finishing the book at about 2:30 in the morning. I don't know if it was book that left me with streaming tears and a dampened shirt again, or if it was an opportunity to release the pain I was feeling at Gram's inevitable passing. But does it really matter?

As I said earlier, books mean different things to different people. Some people don't care much for reading at all, and then there are those of us who love not just reading, but the entire experience of opening a book, whether old or brand-new, and inhaling its intoxicating perfume. I knew a person who never read the same book twice, and also hated to have extra things around her home. She would buy a book, read it once, and give it away. I still can't fully understand that, because giving some of my more treasured books away is like giving away friends and family members.

What prompted me to write this today was a post online from my friend Ed. It was a picture with a literary quote which is immaterial to this particular raving. The picture was of a large, open book. A puppy had fallen asleep with his head and upper body lying on its open pages. Ed's comment was what got me thinking: Do you dog-ear pages too? This was a clever play on words by Ed, whose wittiness is impressive and delightful. The obvious statement to most people is the dog's ears physically on the book. The less obvious, to some, is the treatment of a book's pages. If you dog-ear, you mark your place in the book by folding over a corner of a page. When I realized that I wanted to say more than was appropriate in a comment, tonight's post was born.

I don't dog-ear. I will use my last dollar bill, a receipt, a napkin, heck, I'd even pull a hair out of my head to mark my place in a book. Something that really irks me is when someone disprespects a book that I lend them. If you have purchased a book, you can treat it in any way you wish. I will be careful with your book out of respect for both the book and you. When a book leaves my hands in good shape and comes back to me with dog-eared pages and/or a broken spine, my heart hurts a little and I get more than a bit mad at the borrower on the book's behalf. 

And another thing - a lot of people don't seem to realize what dust jackets are for. A dust jacket is the paper cover placed on a hardcover book. It tells the name of the work within as well as the author's, and often contains artwork that gives a visual impression of the story inside the pages. There is often information about the story and author on the ends of the dust jacket, helping you to know what to expect and whether you might like to purchase it or borrow it from the library. While the pictures and words can help to sell the book, ultimately their purpose is to protect the book's hard cover from wear and soiling. Essentially, it's the dust jacket's job to sacrifice itself to wear and tear to protect the book underneath. Such a noble cause!

I remember when I let a coworker borrow a fascinating non-fiction book I was reading a number of years ago. I was pleasantly surprised that she had expressed interest in the book, because I had never had any indication from Sarah that she was much of a reader. Over the coming days, she told me how fascinated she was with the book. One day she came into the shop at DIA where we were both working, the book clutched to her chest. But the book looked different. It was not wearing a jacket! I asked her what had happened to the jacket and she proudly told me that she took it off to protect it. I told her on no uncertain terms that I would rather the jacket be harmed than the book. She looked like she thought I was having a psychotic episode, but I didn't care.

The increased cost of books and my diminished fun money mean that I don't buy books as often as I used to. But I still love them. I have also discovered the convenience and decreased cost (sometimes free!) of getting books in electronic formats. I still love to reread books from days gone by. Sometimes the pages take me back not only to the story, but to the first time I read them. When I read Stephen King's Misery, for example, I am transported to the warm summer days when I was reading the book in the back yard or on the step or at the kitchen table. Then I turn the page and see where the person who borrowed it let their child dig holes in the pages with a sharp object. There is a sharp, hissing intake of breath at the shock of the violent-looking damage that I had forgotten about. I take a moment to calm myself, and let my imagination melt into the world contained within this book, this friend. We've been together before, and we'll be together again.


p.s. from The Lunatic: There are books and formats out there for everyone. You can remain rooted in facts or science, or be transported by fiction and fantasy. There are many libraries with online lending and many sources for free classics. I hope you'll find something to read and enjoy! Also, if you want to ask any questions about the books I mentioned, feel free!


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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Thank you for reading! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Betrayal

This may prove to be the most difficult blog post I have ever attempted to write. I have wanted to do so from my earliest days of blogging, but I have also been afraid to write these things. Why? A few reasons. I have been afraid of the emotions it would stir up in both me and my sister. I have also been afraid of what would happen if any of the people mentioned (I will not be using any of their names), one of whom is an attorney, read this piece. I have had visions of being taken to court for defamation of character or suffering some other hideous consequence from sharing this awful part of my personal history. In the hopes that fortune really does favor the brave, I have decided to go ahead and write it. Who knows, maybe only my eyes will end up seeing these words.

Since some of you may not know the backstory, here it is in a nutshell. After my father killed my mother and Liz and I spent several months in an orphanage in Chicago, our distant cousin in the Denver area heard about us from his mother. Despite his wife not wanting to have us, he sent for us to come and join his family. In short order, his wife grew tired of Liz and sent her to live with her mother. We called her Gram just like her grandkids did, even though she was not our blood relative. After about two and a half years, the wife decided that I was too bad and too "crazy like my father" for her to deal with, and she sent me off to live with Gram as well. 

As tends to happen, the relationship between Gram and I changed as the years wrought changes us. She was essentially my parent despite the 53-year difference in our ages, and she took care of me. She was the one who yelled at me when I did something wrong, and she was the one who woke up in the night to comfort me when I was sick. As I entered adulthood firmly convinced that being single was what fate had in store for me, our roles began to change. Her body was wearing out, and I tried to take care of her in whatever ways I could. This was a challenge because my body had also begun to weaken from lupus. But we managed to live together in a way that worked for both of us. For years, her children told me that they were glad that I was there; they didn't worry as much about her because she wasn't always alone.

And then Gram's health got much worse. Suddenly I was a pariah and an untrustworthy outsider. Her decline in health at the age of 90 was entirely my fault in their eyes. I was neglecting her. I didn't feed her enough. She was dehydrated and it was all my fault. Little did they know that I got up in the mornings and made her breakfast every day. I did an exercise routine with her every night, trying to keep her arms and chest from being as weak as her arthritis-wracked legs were. I went to the store and bought her adult incontinence supplies so that she could drink enough water and not worry about being able to get to the bathroom quickly enough to prevent an embarrassing accident.

When she went into the hospital, I was told that I couldn't even tell my sister that she was declining, and that she was not allowed to come into the house. They didn't want either one of us stealing any of Gram's things, they told me. Her son told me that he had set up the furniture and other things in certain ways so that he would know if I had moved them to get into her things. I told him that I already had; I needed to strip and remake her bed because she had lost control of her bladder while they were there earlier that dreadful day. He was furious that I had stripped the bed and taken the clean sheets out of her dresser! I can only imagine the horrible things that he would have said about my lazy and slovenly behavior if I had left the wet sheets on the bed. I was a liar and a thief and every other thing you don't want in your home or family.

Every day, there were angry comments and accusations. They couldn't see that it was simply the ravages of time and years of wear on her body that had taken their toll. It had to be someone's fault, so it was mine. I began to look for an apartment because they made it very clear that I was no longer wanted there. I would get up in the morning and pack up some of my things or shove them into trash bags and haul them to the curb. Then I would get dressed and go to work, after which I would go to visit Gram in the nursing home. Sometimes I even went there before and after work. Gram knew how they were treating me. She told me that I needed to protect myself by finding a place to live as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, I kept purging and packing my belongings while her children went through all of her things and began to box up and dispose of her life.

I remember one day hearing them packing things up and saying things like, "Why the hell does she have this?" My heart was breaking at the certain loss of my mother figure and my home. I was not a person who ever prayed for anything because I felt unworthy to ask for assistance from Heaven, if Heaven existed, but I heard an impassioned plea escape my lips. "Lord, whatever you need me to learn from this terrible experience, please let me learn it quickly." As I continued packing up my own life, my heart told me my answer. Even though these people that I considered my family for most of my life were being so indescribably angry and full of hate towards me, I would never hate them back. I would continue to love them as human beings even if they could not treat me like one. This is a philosophy that remains with me to this day. I may not like someone, and I may despise their actions, but I love them as a fellow human being.

When Gram's death loomed closer, they moved her back into her home on a hospital bed. As luck would have it, I had found an apartment and would be able to move into it the next week. Amazingly, I had scheduled a week of vacation three or more months before this, and it happened to be perfectly timed. On a Wednesday, I came home from work to find her three children talking in her bedroom. Gram was lying on the bed with her shirt wide open and her breasts exposed, and nobody was doing anything for her. I was furious. "What the hell is going on here?" I snapped. They replied that she kept undoing it and so they weren't going to try any more.

I calmly buttoned up Gram's shirt out of respect and love. I told her, "Grammie, you need to keep this buttoned up, all right?" She smiled sweetly and nodded, and never unbuttoned it again. I told her that I had found a place to live and that everything would be okay. She smiled a beautiful smile and reached up her hand to stroke my face. "I love you," she said. I told her that I loved her too, not caring whether her children heard me or not. 

When she knew I would be safe, she refused to have oxygen and set about the business of dying. When I came home from work on that Friday, her children were talking about how it was taking her so long to die, as if she was doing it wrong or something. Within a couple of hours of me getting home and telling her that it was okay for her to go, she died. After her body was removed, one of her daughters asked me if I would be afraid to sleep there that night. I replied that I was never afraid to be in that house, and I wasn't going to be that night either. In the night, I swear I heard her footsteps walking through the house. Her steps were sure and there was no dragging of her feet due to the crippling arthritis. I smiled and returned to sleep, knowing that Gram was no longer in pain.

The next day, I started to move my things to my new home. A number of boxes had already been moved to my sister's house to make things easier. I came back from the apartment to get another load and was greeted with the ultimate betrayal. Two of Gram's grandsons were changing the locks less than 24 hours after her death. They weren't even giving me a chance to have access to my own things. I was hurt and ragingly furious. I am pretty sure I used about every curse word in my arsenal at them because of this cruel and insensitive treatment. I called my sister for help and grabbed the most important of the things that were still there.

When my brother-in-law heard how they were treating me, he was furious. Even though we have never been close, he was angry at the unfair treatment I was receiving. He was afraid he would do something reckless, so he called the police to be there and keep things from getting out of hand. One of the cousins was going to appropriate a portable evaporative cooler that my brother-in-law and sister had given Gram, and he made sure to get it out of their possession. I got as much as I could on one trip and left many things behind.

One of my cousins told Liz that she would be dead to him from that day forward. The other told my brother-in-law that if he ever saw him again he would kill him. Neither one of them cared what happened to me. I have wondered a few times who got the benefit of the two televisions and two VCRs that I had bought for Gram and had to leave behind. Who got the dozens of books that I didn't have time to move before I was locked out of my own home? I reminded myself that they were only things. What had really been stolen from me was my family.

At Gram's funeral, Liz and her family and I sat in the back of the church. When Gram's family walked behind her coffin to the front of the chapel, Liz and I stayed behind. My neighbors said, "Go! You two are her family too!" We stayed in the back with the rest of the neighbors in attendance. When the time came for the mourners to pay their respects to the family, the cousin who offered to kill my brother-in-law and his mother turned their heads the other way as we walked by. I laughed out loud because it was childish, and I knew my heart was in its proper place.

At the gravesite, members of the family were taking some of the carnations and baby's breath from the spray on her coffin. I took some home as well and set them to dry in a vase on my dresser. I returned to work a few days later with a broken heart and went about living my life. Most of my family was gone. The one cousin I never expected to do so reached out to me and told me that she had told her father how wrongly he had treated me when he bragged to her about what he'd done to me. After all, she had told him, I essentially lost my mother too. I couldn't see her for years, though, the pain was too strong.

Some days I would be driving somewhere and find myself with tears streaming down my face because of losing Gram and because of the horrible ways her children had behaved. I felt sorry for her because they had been the way they were. One very sad day I was watching tv in my bedroom, eating dinner in front of one of the old movies that living with Gram had enabled me to love. I took my plate to the kitchen and came back to my room to find the flowers from her casket lying on my bed. I wept from the feeling of her being so close but so far away. I wept for the loss of a family that I had loved for decades. And I went on and rebuilt my life and healed the wounds of betrayal.


Postscript: A couple of weeks after Gram's death, I drove down the main street adjoining the street I had lived on. I glanced down toward the house and saw one of the people who had gladly accused me of thievery had violated the rule that all three children would only go into the house together. She was carrying out a laundry basket filled with things that she had taken while the others weren't there. Yet I was the one suspected of being a thief. 



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Monday, October 5, 2015

Honoring My Father - Revamp Series, Number Two

On June 16, 2002, I wrote a blog post titled Honoring My Father. Of all of my blog posts, it was one of the most difficult for me to write. When I made the decision to occasionally rewrite some of my old posts on the premise that my writing skills have improved over the years, I knew that this was one that needed or deserved a second chance. I thank you in advance for indulging me in my efforts to improve on some of my older material.

If you've been with me for a while, you may already know that my feelings about my father are intense and complicated, and for good reason. Even I was surprised when I originally decided to write this post on the eve of Fathers' Day. However, age, experience, and knowledge of events that were previously unknown to me have taught me that most people have redeeming qualities, even my father.

My father was born in a village in western Hungary in 1914. When World War II began, my father joined the Hungarian Army. The Nazis had convinced sympathetic members of the Hungarian government that if they joined forces, the territory lost by Hungary after World War I would be restored to them. We now know that the Nazis had no intention of following through on these promises. It was simply easier to tell lies so that the Hungarians would join and yield rather than fight them. Many Hungarians, I'm sure, still feel the stain of this association which was based on deceit.

I learned in recent years from the International Red Cross that my father was a prisoner of war of the Soviet Union for at least two and a half years. Although he never spoke with any of his children about what happened to him during this time, I am certain that he was very badly treated, to put it mildly. I remember seeing the numbers that were tattooed on his left forearm. Apparently the Nazis weren't the only ones who tattooed people with numbers that replaced their identities as human beings. He also had a bullet in his left upper arm, and I remember sitting on his lap and moving it around a bit with my fingers. Whenever I asked him about these things, he simply answered that some bad men did that to him in the war. Of course I didn't understand what those words really meant when I was just a few years of age, I just accepted his answer.

After his release from the Soviet prison camp, he returned to a homeland that was controlled by the very people who had imprisoned him during those years. The beautiful village where he met and married my mother, and my siblings were born, was controlled by soldiers whose treatment of the locals verged on barbaric. I could tell numerous tales, but will let a few examples suffice. There was no freedom of speech like there is here in the US. Someone with a dissenting opinion and a loud voice might disappear in the night. There is actually a museum in Budapest called the House of Terror that details some of the horrible things these people endured, including torture and death. In my family's village, people hid their daughters in pigpens and sheds in an effort to prevent them being raped by the soldiers.

The soldiers were well fed, but the locals were often hungry. One of my mother's brothers, if I recall correctly, was with a group of boys who could smell the toast the soldiers were making. They asked for a slice and were told that they could only have it if they had a fight. The winner would get the toasted bread. A boy had to fight his best friend to the point of unconsciousness to get an extra bit of food in his stomach. These were the same soldiers who were in a guard shack at the Austrian border with machine guns, ready to kill anyone rather than let them cross the border to gain their freedom.

On October 23, 1956, the Hungarians revolted against the Soviets. Students in Budapest put rocks in the path of tanks so that they would disable the tank treads. They then climbed on the tanks and pulled the soldiers out. In many cases, all that the Hungarians had to fight with were their fists and rocks. It makes me both sad and inspired to know that they so valued their freedom that they were willing to fight with such an absence of weaponry. In a matter of days, the Soviets returned to Hungary with more soldiers and more tanks. They shot tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children, and killed thousands. By November 10, 1956, the revolution had been crushed. Since my father was pro-revolution, he was slated for execution along with my mother and my siblings, who were aged three, five, and six.

Again, I am both inspired and heartbroken by what my family went through. My father had been imprisoned and released to a country that was no longer under its own control. When he tried to help regain his country, he ended up losing it forever. On a night in early November 1956, my family walked in the darkness and crossed the Austrian border. (In retribution, the Soviet soldiers tore down their home.) With the sponsorship of a relative in the US, they made their way to the US and the city of Chicago. They went from a lovely green village surrounded by fields to a city full of buildings, cement, and noise. I will never try to excuse my father's actions. He abused every member of his family and eventually killed my mother. However, learning of some of his country's history and his own experiences help to explain how this man's soul may have been broken. 

I remember very little about my father. Some of the memories are good. When I was about three years old I asked him why he smoked; did he do it because it tasted good? (I knew why he drank beer, I had tasted his many times.) His response was to make me smoke a cigarette. It was a terribly cruel thing to do, but it was a lifetime's worth of smoking prevention for me! He drank hard and always had his cigarettes, and we often didn't have enough to eat because of this. But I've learned that he loved numbers and math. And he hated all forms of prejudice and racism. He always said, "Winter has no season, so you always wear a coat to keep warm."

I don't know if I will ever be able to muster the emotional strength or maturity needed to forgive him for killing my mother and destroying our family. His actions have affected us throughout our lives, changing us in ways both good and bad. I hated him for years but was able at a fairly young age (about fifteen) to let go of the hate, which only hurt me, and replace it with a more neutral feeling. Many people think that the Bible tells us that we are commanded to love our father and our mother, but that is not true. It says we must honor our father and our mother. I will never be able to honor all of his actions, but I honor all of his suffering and the bravery and sacrifices that helped me to be here today. I am here both because of him and in spite of him.




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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Sweetest Dream

I woke up yesterday in a really good mood. Not that I generally wake up feeling like the crankiest person on Earth, mind you. But I woke up smiling and happy. No, we didn't have any big plans for the day or even little ones for that matter. Before we went to bed the previous night, we had discussed whether there was anywhere that we wanted or needed to go the next day. After using quaint phrases like "too broke to pay attention," we came to the conclusion that Nowhere was the name of our destination for the following day. I woke up happy nonetheless.

Why did I wake up smiling? Well, I have written in the past about my tendency to have some horrific nightmares. The previous night, I had the sweetest of dreams. I was in bed and under the covers. Right next to me, also under the covers, was our little dog Paris. Paris crossed the Rainbow Bridge just over three years ago, so seeing her in my dream was a precious moment. She was sprawled out on her side with her hind leg politely moved out of the way so that there was unrestricted access for tummy rubbing. In my dream, Trent asked what was under the covers. I told him it was Paris getting her tummy rubbed.

In my dream, I could even feel the softness of her tummy. I have never felt a dog tummy as soft as hers. Calling it as soft as velvet just doesn't do it justice. Compared to the soft silkiness of her tummy, velvet feels like burlap. Okay, not quite, but you get the picture. When she was a tiny puppy, she didn't want to have her tummy rubbed. I imagine she was thinking about being in a submissive position, a behavior that harkens back to the days when dogs were wolves. After we got her to try it, though, she realized that it was definitely a good thing.

This eight-and-a-half pound poodle was very generous with sharing her tummy. She allowed us to use it as an armrest while watching tv or reading a book. She would place herself next to you so that you could rest your arm on the tummy and have the hand available to stroke her face or neck. So considerate of her! If I went out on a wintry day and came home with cold fingers or ears, she was more than willing to offer her services as a hand- or ear-warmer. And we never could figure out why that cute little belly of hers always smelled like flowers. I'm serious! She could go for a walk and come home stinking to high heaven, but that tummy still smelled fresh and clean. 

Our Paris was a smart one, too. She learned very quickly to use a litter box. If I woke up during the night to use the bathroom, I'd wake her up and put her in the box to go as well. When she was done, she fully expected to be held and given tummy rubs. We always complied. She was trained within days.

Her litter box was always in the bathroom, and that sometimes provided us with a good chuckle. Like a small child, she'd be in the middle of playing and realize that she had to have a tinkle. She'd trot off to the bathroom to take care of business and quickly be right back to where she was in her playtime. The funny thing was that if I was in the bathroom she would come right in and take care of business, so to speak. If she happened to go into the bathroom and Trent was in there? When she caught sight of him you could actually see her change her mind and decide that she didn't need to go right now after all. When she heard him leave, she would go back in, confident that she had her privacy.

When she first joined our family, she liked to sleep under the blankets, down by our feet. If she decided it was too warm under there, or if we called her to come out, we would see little sparks of static as the sheets dragged on her back the whole way up to the head of the bed. One night, when we getting a chuckle out of the light show, I said to Trent, "Wow! I guess the sun does shine out of our dog's backside!" 

We still miss our little girl after three years. It was a special relationship and she was different from any dog I've ever known. The time we have with a special dog or cat or any special creature never seems to be long enough. When they first leave us the pain is very raw and difficult. Time softens the pain, and we are able to remember them without the wrenching pain we once had. We are able to focus on the memories of the happier times, the times that made us laugh and smile. What a wonderful thing that is. May we all be so lucky as to have that effect on someone's life. I hope that we all can become someone's sweetest dream.




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Thank you for reading!