The Lowland

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If you live anywhere in the Midwest and are preparing to get snowed in for the next big winter storm, grab The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri and get ready to hunker down.  Lahiri weaves a beautiful story of intense relationships driven by internal motivations that only you, the reader, are privy to knowing.  The characters struggle with themselves and each other as they deal with feelings of shame and regret, balanced with retribution and love.  

It begins with two boys from the same womb, who develop into two men of different countries, passions, and lives.  As the story moves forward, there are flashes into each of the characters’ history to pivotal moments that explain in just a scene or a few words how early the seeds were sown for the acts of the present.

The characters change in the most subtle and skillful way that as a reader I felt pushed along emotionally right along with them.  I found myself loving the characters, hating them, and then loving them again, all within a few hundred incredibly written pages.   The author brings the reader along with the characters for a journey through life and love. 

I highly recommend this book, not as a distraction from life, but as closer inspection of it through the colorful lens of Jhumpa Lahiri.  

Let me know your thoughts on it!  

Here’s a few links about the book and author. 

http://www.themanbookerprize.com/books/lowland

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-lowland-9781408828113/

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Fear

Afraid to stay too long

I fear your manipulating neediness

Will seep into my bright red coat.

I lean against the wall and try not to breathe

In the smoky smells of poverty, addiction, and desperation.

It is dark in this place but I see you

Sitting there wanting me to stay.   

Damned Union Potholes

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the potholes came together and formed a Union 

after realizing the strength in numbers 

 

Swapping Fortune Cookies

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Part of the fun in eating Chinese food comes at the very end of the meal when a perfectly packaged little mystery, in the form of a fortune cookie, arrives at the table.  

The slender strip of white paper inside could say anything, often with words misspelled or out of order, predicting all sorts of the unknown for its holder.  Every once in a while, there is a message inside that speaks directly to me.  A message that makes me feel as though the wise old fortune-cookie-writing-sage conjured my face, penned a few special words of guidance, and sent the cookie out into the universe, towards my favorite Chinese restaurant. 

Last night was not one of those nights.  I was out with two of my favorite foodies and we had just finished the last morsels of curry covered vegetables, chicken and rice.  We were each leaning back in our chairs to expand our bellies and make more room to breathe.  The food coma was beginning when the attentive waitress saw her opportunity to flip our table for a new set of diners, waiting by the door.  The waitress skillfully swooped in for our empty dishes and left a dish of chilled oranges with three fortune cookies.  She carefully stacked our dishes and quietly walked off with tiny, calculated steps.

My mom grabbed the cookies and began to shuffle them, shell-game style.  There was no telling which cookie started where by the time her work was done. 

“There,” she declared with a flourish.  

“Now pick one,” she said. 

My husband thought for a minute, stared at the cookies and grabbed the one in the middle.  His strategy was unclear.

I felt there could be no way of picking a bad fortune after the randomizing shuffle.  I grabbed the cookie closest to me, knowing it was the right one for me. 

I ripped open the plastic and cracked the cookie in my hand, so as not to lose any of the tasty pieces. 

Inside was the expected slip of paper, waiting to be read.

“You will have a party.”

What? I silently fumed, feeling that I definitely picked the wrong cookie.  I don’t want to have a party- there’s way too much planning and energy involved in having a party.  Going to one, yes, but planning one, no.

“Well,” my husband read, slightly altering the words, “I am welcome in every setting.”  

“And I…” my mom started after cracking open her cookie “will start to manage my business with great skill and organization.” 

“We got this all wrong!  Let’s trade.”  I suggested.

My husband nodded at my mom, and she nodded at me, and we commenced the trade.

As of now, my husband will manage his business with great skill and organization, my mom will throw a party, and I am welcome in all settings.  

If only life could be that simple and fortunes traded at will to those who were better suited, deserving, or more desiring.   What would be worth fighting for if everyone had what they wanted, or thought that they wanted?  The problem is that life is not simple and sometimes we don’t know what we want until we don’t get it or something else comes along.  It is how we break out of what is comfortable and into what stretches and teaches us to be more than we are now.

Perhaps I was meant to get that slip of paper.  

Maybe, I should start planning a party instead of just blogging about how to get out of it. 

More to Life

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Life, for those who are older or disabled, is not meant to merely survive. 

Normal, everyday types of things like bathing and dressing can be more difficult for people living with the challenges brought by age or impairment. However, there are too many people who are just getting by day to day; people who have given up and turned sour towards living.  They are the ones, sometimes self-imposed, who are denied happiness based on the challenges of their minds and/or bodies.   There can be so much more to a day than eating, sleeping, and repeating, or at least there should be if anyone around gives a damn.

To this end, there once was an evil old woman, grown bitter from life.  Her sightless eyes roved around in her evil head as she took the world in through sound and feel.  She sat listening to soap operas and talk shows, preferring the ones where the contestants fought and speculated over which fine fellow might be the “baby daddy.”  She was doing just this one day when there came knock at the door. 

She groaned and ignored the tapping until it came again.  

“Go ‘way,” she yelled, her voice was garbled and weak, not used to speaking during the day.

It was late in the afternoon, but she wore only a short nightgown and slippers.  More knocking brought the old woman to pull herself up from her recliner with no small effort and she shuffled towards the door.  The glass outer door was locked and the heavy inner door was left open to allow natural light into the normally darkened room. 

“Who is it?” the old woman asked, standing behind the heavy inner door.

“Hi, I’m….” a young voice chirped just long enough for the old woman to guess who was on the other side of the glass door.  Before the visitor could state her name, the old woman picked up her cane and used it like an extension of her arm.  She slammed the inner door shut with the rubber tipped end of the cane and settled the matter.

The old woman smiled at her success and turned to shuffle back to her seat, when her daughter came into the room.  She wore a purple track suit with long thick eyelashes and even longer braids, reaching her waist.

“Mama, who was that?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nobody,” the old woman replied innocently. 

Her daughter gave the old woman a look that went unseen, and reopened the door.

A small woman stood on the steps with one arm hugging a clip board to her chest and the other arm was raised about the knock again.  Mentally, the small woman was preparing for the worse: the release of Hell hounds, police intervention, a spray of bullets, or simply to be completely ignored and to have to explain to her Supervisor what happened and have to schedule another visit.

Much to her surprise, the door opened to reveal a younger woman.

“I’m Linda, please come in.  She just accidentally shut the door on you.”

The small woman waiting outside laughed in understanding, “Of course, no problem.  I’m Annie.”

Linda ushered Annie in and directed her to sit on a chair with a towel over the cushion.  Annie cringed inwardly; towels on plush chairs were not good.  They soaked up spills and accidents, covered stains and rips, and were often damp with God-knows-what. 

The only other option was in the small space on the couch between Linda and her evil mother on the couch.  Annie sat on the chair without arguing.

“Tell me what’s going on?” Annie asked after she extracted a pen from a deep coat-pocket and shuffled the papers on her clip board.

“She’s sits here all day, just like this,” Linda referenced how her mother was sitting.  The old woman stared sightlessly down at the ground in shame.

Her daughter continued, “She might be blind, but she doesn’t have to be miserable.  There are things she could do but chooses not to do.” 

Linda gushed unrestrained; she was a newly sprung emotional geyser.  She wanted her mother to hear these things.  Actually, she wanted to shake her mother back into being the person she was before the world went dim for her.  Linda was a grown woman with children of her own, but she still wanted, no needed, her mother.  

The cold, hard edges around the old woman’s heart began to soften.  She heard something in her daughter’s voice that stirred something in her chest, she was needed.  A small flame, as small as the tip of a match, was lit. 

“What do you want me to do?” she growled, cautiously.

“Mama, I want you to get out of this house and do something.  I want you to stop feeling sorry for yourself,” her daughter explained.

 Annie wisely sat back in her seat and felt something sharp poke her rear end, perhaps a rogue spring. 

“I want you to do more than just exist,” Linda concluded her plea.

The old woman took in her daughter’s words like the ground soaks in rain after a summer drought. 

“We could set you up with a day program with other older adults.  They go on trips and have games, lunch is served at noon.  You could go for a few days to see how you like it,” Annie suggested.

“Mama, do you want to try something like that?”

Annie continued, “I could even get transportation arranged.”

The old woman shrugged and turned to her daughter, “I’ll try it.”

Linda sat with her chin in her hands, “Let’s do it before she changes her mind.” 

Annie rose to leave.  She handed a few pieces of paper to Linda, “Here are directions to a few places to check out.  Let me know which one you like and I’ll get her signed up.” 

“I’ll leave out the front door. No need to get up,” Annie said and started for the door.

Linda stood, “Let me walk you out.”

Annie nodded and stepped outside with Linda close behind when a voice rang out from the dim room.

The old woman yelled, “G’bye,” and then a few seconds later, “Thank you.”

 

Vindicated

New doc

same problem

real exam and more tests

thoughtful listening 

new discovery

confirmed suspicions

treatment and vindication

at last 

 

 

Oldies

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Owl-like, the woman blinked at me with big, milky-brown, eyes magnified through thick lenses.   She sat wrapped in a grungy bathrobe with her brown, ashy feet shoved into slippers, soft pink and stained. 

“Are you my new girl?” she asked me.

I ignored the woman calling me a girl, although, she had every right.

“I’ve never met another 104 year old before,” I said opening my mouth and allowing whatever words would form to spill out and into the air. 

“What?” she asked.  Of course she couldn’t hear me, her ears were old and I am soft spoken.  

This should have been my chance to revise my approach, but instead, I asked, “Have you ever met another 104 year old person?”

She blinked at me with her owl-like eyes again, and smiled, exposing a lovely set of dentures.  

“I don’t know, honey.  Have I ever met any 104 year olds?”      

Before I could answer, she clasped her knarled and veiny hands together, and continued.

“No, I don’t believe I have met any other 104 year olds.  I guess I’m the only one,” she proudly declared, and began to giggle.

Her laughter was silly and child-like, unburdened and free from being self-conscious or properly contained. 

The sound of a giggling centenarian is rare and fleeting, like a pair of blue herons flying overhead or a perfect solar eclipse.  It was refreshing and honest, music to a weary soul, on this afternoon. 

It was a simple lesson easily learned; there are some things that a person should never outgrow and some things better left in the past.  

Yes, you, my dear 104 year old woman, really are the only one like you.    

Changes

 

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“You again?” the woman asked in delighted surprise.

The small brown cat reappeared at the window.  She had been missing for a week; her dish untouched and her box left empty.

The cat raised a solitary paw to the glass and opened her mouth, silently mewing a plea for food. 

“Hold on,” the woman said.

She held out her hand like a crossing guard to stop the cat from running off for another week, “Steady, steady, don’t go anywhere now.”        

Crazy cat, the woman thought to herself, where has she been this whole time?  The woman pulled herself up from a wooden rocking chair, tossed the old blanket from her lap to the side, and walked towards the kitchen.

The woman looked back and the cat was watching her, and hopping from side to side in excitement about the possibility of an easy dinner.

With a bowl of kibble in one hand, the woman stepped into a pair of rubber Crocs and slid open the glass door.  A blast of cold air rushed in around her, it smelled clean and hard.  Snow covered the ground beyond the patio and the piled on top of the wooden railing.  It dusted the bright red hummingbird feeder still hanging from a hook, abandoned from the summer.

She set the dish down with the cat wrapping around her ankles in a non-stop figure eight. 

“So you missed me,” she chuckled and rubbed the little cat’s head.

Before she could go back inside, she noticed the outside closet door was ajar.  She slammed it shut and made a mental note to find the key to lock it for the future.

Wait, she stopped herself.  Why was that door open? 

The stray crunched greedy mouthfuls of food behind the woman, eying her with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, as the woman stayed outside longer than usual.

Unable to shake the feeling that something was amiss, the woman reopened the closet door with a gasp.

Only a small dead mouse curled on its side remained where a tangle of two bikes, a grill, lawn chairs, flippers and snorkels, and old tennis rackets should have been crammed.

“Well Brownie,” the woman said, taking a step back.  “This is bad. This is officially not good.”

The cat continued to watch without comment.

                    **************

A key turned in the lock and the door opened. 

“Hello, I’m home,” a man announced, tall and handsome in scrubs.  He dropped a bag from his shoulder onto the ground and kicked off his shoes.

“What in the….” He trailed off as he took in the scene in front of him.

His wife sat on the floor, grinning at him.  The brown cat was now on the wrong side of the sliding glass door.  She was purring on his wife’s lap, lazily stretched out while their sweet house-cat was monitoring the situation from beneath the rocking chair.  

“Some things have happened while you were gone.  We were robbed and your bike is gone. Brownie came back and she wanted to come in. Now she lives with us, ok?”  

Bristles

the sound of his brushing teeth grew closer

swish, swish, swish

with my eyes shut tight, I methodically brushed my own

and waited for the splat of his foamy toothpaste and saliva to hit the sink

‘Sup Doc?

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As I waited for the nurse to call my name, a massive man, spilling over the sides of his electric wheelchair, rolled into the office.  A woman yelled numbers and dates into her purple cell phone.  Two old women sitting side by side were held as a captive audience by a little boy who performed a dance while his mother checked in at the registration desk.

We became an impatient dysfunctional family over the next thirty minutes of waiting.  A show about controlling diabetes with diet came on the tv in the corner.  Those of us watching gave a collective eye roll.  How about something good, like Ellen or that show with Jerry Springer’s body-guard turned host?  The old women kept the bad little boy occupied, the fat man and an old black man struck up a conversation about the bus, and I quietly watched, while the woman on the cell phone continued to yell.

When the nurse called my name, I jumped up and scurried through the door without looking back.  It was time for this baby bird to leave the nest/waiting room and separate from my unhealthy, temporary waiting room family. 

I settled into my room to wait for the doctor, checked my Facebook, emails, and read a little from the book stowed away in my purse.  In fact, I had enough time to run through this routine several times before there was a knock at the door.

What, only twenty minutes waiting in the exam room after waiting in the waiting room for thirty minutes?  This is too good to be true, I thought. 

Not to worry, disappointment was soon to return when a baby faced kid in pressed slacks and a long white coat walked through the door.  I craned my neck, looking behind him, searching for the real doctor who should have followed him.  

Nope, empty hallway, just the baby doc with the sweet boy voice to diagnose and cure all of my womanly ailments.    

“Doc,” I explained, willing to give him the same treatment as a grown-up.  “It’s my heart, its been hurting.”  I grabbed my chest to emphasize the pain and relative location.

Baby Doc cocked his head to the side, like a curious dog, not understanding human-talk. 

 “Do you smoke?” he asked me, as through that was the only likely cause to my complicated complaint.

“No Doc, I stopped a few years back,” and thought, when you were in Kindergarten, finishing silently.

“I’ll have to talk to my staff about this,” he said and left without further ado, such as listening to my chest or asking additional questions.

A-ha, I have stumped Baby Doc, I mused, concerned at how easy it was to do.

After another long period of time elapsed, he returned with another timid knock at the door.  Baby Doc grinned with pleasure at his conclusion as he walked into the room.

“Nothing to be concerned about, we think it’s just anxiety.  So cut down on the caffeine and stress, ok? Well if that’s it, I’ll see you in a few months.  Take care,” he said.

Great, I thought, that was simple. 

Baby Doc left and disappeared down the hallway and through a set of double doors.  I imagined him high-fiving other baby doctors as soon as he was out of sight.  My chest started to hurt again and I rubbed my palm over my heart to work out the pain.  After all, it was all in my head.  I gathered my coat and scarf and followed Baby Doc’s path out the door and down the hallway, past the double doors and to the check-out counter.   

I left with more than a troubled heart; I had a full blown case of anxiety, too, according to Baby Doc.  

When I returned to work, I made my co-workers promise to find Baby Doc and avenge my death if my heart explodes between now and when get an appointment with a real doctor, one who’s completed puberty and med school.   

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