Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Technicolor Dream Coat

I’m not big into things.  Possessions.  Material falderal and knick-knacky trappings.  I like moments.  Memories.  Personal connections.  Those brief intimate interactions between people that are instantly and indelibly captured, imprinted and immediately embossed onto the long-term memory part of the brain.  The Hall of Fame chamber of the brain, I imagine.  I like to think back on those belly laughs, liquids dripping from the nasal passage, wet your pants laughable moments.  Or the crying, flailing, still love me anyway interactions.  The late nights, deep conversations, quiet stillness of shared experience with someone who has made a difference and stayed on, and sometimes not.  That’s what I collect and carry and preserve.  But I do have a few things that have meant a great deal.  They have some symbolic meaning and they generally fit within the typical developmental need for acquisitions to help you through the bad times schema.

Two things in particular have brought me pleasure, calm, and perhaps closure during my divorces.

In 1991, all of 28, while in the process of a divorce, I was far away from home, more in heart than distance.  I had two young children.  Babies.  I was away from them for the first time. Ever. And I knew I would be away from them again.  On a regularly scheduled weekend visitation routine.  I would be sad, and empty and longing each weekend in one way or another for a long time after.  I knew this.  I also knew I had to take care of myself. 

This taking care of myself has been a difficult concept.  It’s been nearly impossible to take care of myself and have children.  Or at least have enough time, energy, financial security, and trust to seriously give myself more than a shower, a fleeting moment, or dinner with friends without thinking of, worrying over, being interrupted by, or needing to attend to my children.  And, that has not ever been a problem for me.  It has been my life.  It has occasionally been inconvenient for brief moments.  It has overwhelmingly been my biggest joy. My greatest accomplishment, my hardest job, and my proudest feat.  With and without a spouse or two…But still, it is important to take care of oneself....

So, back to 1991.  I went to visit my college friend.  The one that has shared quite a few of those body fluid leakage moments.   Laughs, cries, Tab from the nostril, walking home from after-hour clubs wetting my pants with laughter.  Friend.  We talked late into the night about my marriage, my children, my new start.  We cooked. We cried. We laughed.  She gave me time to be me, again.  I went to a few galleries.  I met up with other friends.  I went shopping. Emboldened and ready. I went to Fiorucci.  Fiorucci. New York City. 1991.

I was all of 28, which made it OK to go to Fiorucci shopping.  But I imagine I was more than likely trying to reclaim a little burst of premarital, premotherhood youth in that loud crazy way that one does when they go through a divorce or other such big loss.  We need to do something outlandish, don't we? Symbolic.  So I bought the coat.  THE coat.  The red, shiny, satin, Asian inspired coat with the black fur detachable trim, Detachable for the times I wanted to downplay it or upscale it?  Anyway, I loved that coat.  I felt like a hot siren and a devil may care hellcat.  I might have looked a bit vampy and a Times Square minute away from trashy.  (Remember, It was 1991, Times Square was not cleaned up yet, not completely anyway….)  If I still had that coat, I would wear it, at least inside.  Maybe with my bedroom door closed, just to feel free and spirited and ready for what ever comes next. 

This past year during and following my second divorce and  twenty years of marriage, I have been looking.  For too much really.  For escape.  For sense.  For answers and for clear endings.  I haven’t found much, so I’ve stopped looking.  Just about.  There are occasional lingering thoughts that generally lead me to the wisdom that I made the right choice.  Without question.  Without regret.  I can’t explain or begin to understand a great deal.  I can only care for my son and myself.  I have time for that now, and more trust in myself, and a few more belly laughs to look forward to

So, what does one do to mark this awful but necessary event?  Well, if you’re me, you look for a coat.  The kind that wraps you up and presents you to the world.  Ready to be seen again, fully.  I didn’t go to Fiorucci this time.   I went to Desigual.  I seem to like the Mediterranean inspired, European coat makers.  Italy.  Spain.   Maybe it’s the inspiration of the romance language, the food, the wines, the belief that women should be dressed up in flair and frolic and look-at-me adornment.   I might like coats because they protect and offer warmth, and I am in need of that as well.   It might be the fact that my first memory of being a strong, feminist-embodied being, occurred when, at 4, I stated with command and confidence, “I can put my own coat on!”  as a male family friend attempted to help me put my coat on.  It was the laughter and comments that followed that made this memorable.    “Phil, you’ve got yourself a live wire.  A little feminist on your hands”  Mr. McCabe laughed.  My father rolled his eyes, smiling knowingly, but allowed me the stance and command.   Respect and acquiescence, a gift.  Maybe that's what I am in search of, and have not yet found, a man strong enough to acquiesce and respect me.
I can put on my own sexy, vampy, warm, twirly, spirited technicolor dreamcoat.  Of course, I can take it off just fine too...  I just can’t wait to find out who is big and strong and bold enough to help me take it off and share a few belly laughs with, late nights, deep conversations, quiet stillness, and perhaps a wild coatless romp or two.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's in Your Vial?

A few years ago, my youngest son and I were visiting my mother. And well, you know how that goes with your parents and your children, your children, the very ones that get you realizing why, in the animal kingdom, sometimes it is just plain necessary to eat your young.  And your parents? Well, they sort of created this now frazzled, overwhelmed, neurotic sense of a mess that has become you.   And as yet another sick and cruel joke unfolds...somehow those two groups get along swimmingly, almost laid back, as you stew and groan about how your life would be golden if your parents were that calm with you.  Well, it’s true! snort, huff, cluck, spit.... 

So there we are visiting, and my son is reaching into the icebox, or Frigidaire, I mean freezer, going in for a few ice cubes for the flat, warm soda and there in the back near some spilled coffee grinds, loosely wrapped unidentifiable gray matter, and a few rogue peas from 1987 or so, he spots the latest bit of comic relief.  And there is a lot of comic relief here...let me just say my mother lives in a gated community with street names that are attempting to put on upper crust British airs, but seem more like a Lewis Carroll drug trip.  Mostly because the gated community is also named Leisure Towne and most of the male residents still wear their "leisure suits" (I realize about 50% of the current population does not know what a leisure suit is, and that's a very good thing).  It's also in the flat, sandy back woods of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. Maybe it's just me, but when I'm imagining Coventry Garden, Wiltshire Abbey and Cheshire Court, this is not what I visualize, unless maybe I've just toked from the pipe and the Mad Hatter is hopping by.

The comic relief found in the icebox is the 3 x 1 inch vial nearby that nearly colorless rogue pea.  It's got large bold writing for someone to be able to read from across the street, or me, next year, since my eyesight is going fast.  THE VIAL OF LIFE.  Well, my son finds this pretty amusing and I have to say, the size, the boldness of the writing, the title, the leisure suits, the hookah,  (Well, there really is no hookah and I haven’t inhaled since the Reagan years.) He starts laughing and poking jokes at "G-Ma".  Only he can get away with giving her a gangsta moniker, and make it endearing, because my son and my mother are, you know, chill and fly and maybe phat? word out to my mother.... (I am obviously, so not- phat, or chill, or even fly, or fee fi flo-diddy wot not.) I start to giggle and ask,  “So does everyone in this place have access to that vial?  Or just a few chosen ones?”  I think of "Cocoon" and I think of some other post-apocalyptic flicks. When all these crazed zombies break loose, the chosen septuagenarian’s will survive the apocalypse…. Was this enacted during the Reagan years?  Is that why she’s such a staunch Republican?

I really want to know what this is about.   There is one large pill in it about the size of a pinky, or flash-drive.  Hmmm.  Maybe it is a flash-drive….it could be code, directions for survival against zombies…Maybe it’s like one of those gobstopper pills in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. A simulation of her favorite meal for her last meal experience?   I’ve seen her take a few pills, which one made the cut into the vial of life, I wonder? My mother is not as amused.  She’s maybe too close to the meaning of it all.  She tries to explain.  We are on a bit of a roll.  She explains if there is an emergency when help comes they will go to the freezer and get her vial of life.  “If there is an emergency how will you contact this help if you can’t even get yourself to the vial of life? What good is it if it’s in the freezer?”  I am ever the practical one.  I think she needs to carry it on her at all times.  I start to design a special fishing hat in my head, for your favorite lures, your vials, your beer cans with straws, fashioned, no doubt from a hookah, what else can fit? 

I make light of it mostly because, I don’t believe I have to think of these things yet, in regard to her.  I am holding on tight to the idea that as long as she still drives me crazy, we are not in danger of setting off the fragile balance of nature, of life and death.  I want to believe that she is not nearly ready to consider the need for THE VIAL OF LIFE, because well, that means she might be old enough for death, and I don't want to think about that.  Besides, my father already went and did that, way too early.  Long before he would have been given a vial of life.  And if he had one, his vial of life would have been filled with V.O., not a pill large enough to choke a horse.  

Fast forward a couple of years.  Today, I find myself in Albany with this beautiful, young woman.  Blonde.  Vivacious.  Spirited of nature, big hearted and grounded to the earth like no other.  We sit in this waiting room, cheery and light.  On the counter is a basket.  It is filled to over flowing with - THE VIAL OF LIFE.  Free.  Take One.  I recall my visit with my mother.  I try to explain, cheerily.  But I am quieted, it is hard to tell the story.  It is not so funny, here….in this place.  This cheery place with this beautiful, spirited blonde.  Or the aging wife sitting across from us, quietly holding her husband’s hand.  It is maybe not so cheery for the woman sitting alone, my age, neatly dressed, fidgeting, eyes nervously darting.  It is maybe not so funny for the two women in the back, maybe sisters, or best friends, or partners, tired, wary.   

In Albany, there are buildings and centers designated for this sort of thing.  The Breast Center.  We, on the other hand, live in a small, rural town with a top notch, but very small hospital.  Everyone knows your name, or if your son or daughter ever looked cross-eyed at their son or daughter, if they won a swim meet, or made it in the play, or did not, made the baseball team, won the keg for the running team, and who they went to prom with or if they did not.  Everyone knows if you pay your taxes, or drink too much.  They know of your addictions and flaws.  A few know the real reason you left him and the years of pain behind it.  Some know if you need a ride to the hospital, or a night out, or someone to cry with, or help with your kids, because there is no one else around. Others just speculate and ruminate.  Most are just trying their best, caring for their families and themselves and those around them. It’s a one traffic light town with a one stop medical experience.  We don’t have a breast center, or a heart center, or a children’s hospital.  We definitely don’t have a cancer center either.  It sometimes gives us a false sense of safety. But we like safety any way we can get it. 

I try not to register fear or worry on my face or under my skin.  My beautiful companion will detect it.  We have watched each other closely for almost 22 years now.  Nothing gets by.  We enter the building and it is cheery.  And there are nice people, available, to help and guide you.  There are signs too.  "Cancer Care".  Too many of these, I think, somewhere deep within this registers, it can not be seen on my surface. I wonder if this is a bit ambitious on the sign-makers side.  Or sign-hangers.  I don’t like the possibility.  I suppose no one does, but some will leave today with the diagnosis.  Many more will come already aware.  We are here for a more thorough follow-up.  It doesn’t have to mean anything, I remind myself.   I am here to be her support and calm.  I am here to love her fully, and everything will be OK.  I don’t know how it will go, but I do know it will be OK no matter what.  I suddenly am in touch with that faith, fully, deeply.  We are lucky to leave with nothing serious, no further concerns, a false scare. I am glad for the technology that can quickly confirm.  These quicker confirmations can be life-saving when they do reveal further concerns...cancer.  Care, quickly provided.   We leave, cheerily.  I hug her close.

We have been through too much in a short time.  She has been through perhaps the most.  I have learned the hardest lessons and the most at her side.  I have also learned that I have so little control over so many things.  I have not been able to help at times, or stop bad things from happening, or fix so much.  I have had to just watch and occasionally scream at the moon.  She says, relieved, “I just knew that could not have happened to me, I just could not take that on too, not now.”  I smile and say something about always having a hard time with the saying that God only gives you as much as you can handle.  I whisper, cautiously, “Sometimes I’m not so sure God completely understands my own limitations”.  In the true scheme of things, I see others struggle and suffer with so much, my cares seem almost trivial.  It’s hard to justify or understand at times, just the same.   

As we are approaching the car with a bright beaming smile, that she gives best, she laughs, “If that went any differently, we were about to have to go yell down some churches…”  “And really make a point to show God, exactly what you think of his idea of what you can handle?” I tease.  We are light-hearted, and heart-lifted.  We can make this joke.  She has a strong faith.  She questions and fights and finds the beauty in so much.  And she struggles and seethes and darkly screams at the moon on occasion, or maybe more frequently than that. 

After an incredible brunch that I inhaled, suddenly famished, at our favorite café,  I leave her to her apartment, her senior year, her spirited life.  I drive home and wrestle down a few other fears and worries, some that I cannot alter or touch, they are not mine.  I start to realize, or realize I believe, God does give you only as much as you can handle, but he tends to send back-up, and support and nearly a cavalcade of angels, along with a few stray champions of exactly what is needed.  As long as you are open enough to look.  I don’t mean to minimize in any way the pain and struggles that we all may have.  And I have sometimes been closed to the idea of this God.  Maybe the Universe, energy, the strange occurrences and coincidental connections or happenings, whatever the belief...I have always received help, and support, and more than a couple of stray champions from time to time, and often the kindness of strangers brings me to my knees. 

I think about THE VIAL OF LIFE, metaphorically.  What would I want in mine?  Maybe just a thank you note and directions for a few of my dearest possessions…the hand sewn heart, the wood carved santo, and the hand-painted altar…..those go back to the three very special creators of love and laughter and all around frazzle that have filled my heart…. maybe a flash-drive filled with photos that capture the best parts of the journey and some ass-kicking Zombie destroyer juice, or a honking shot of V.O…..but I have time to think on this….and a little help from my friends.  I am pretty sure of this much; I want it to have a thank you note for much gratitude and I want it filled with love that will overflow when someone comes to open it. 

"Most people don't know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable & fall asleep and miss your life." 
         --sent to me last week from an angel that has covered 36 years of the journey.    

MS- A very special thank you for my wake-up call Right when I needed it, as always.  And back at you in spades. GL