I’ve seen more scars than I care to remember
From women who were once vain about their beauty
Now angry at the ugly marks left by careless surgeons
As they remember their glory days
And forget the reason they went under the knife
Hanging up the phone, the woman grabbed her keys and headed back down the stairs and through the doors.
The voicemail was urgent and said to come quick. They had been there again and this time she was left without power and freezing cold.
Assuming the heat had been accidentally shut off or a bill was unpaid, the woman left to investigate. Twenty minutes later, she arrived and let herself in through a side door.
“Marg, it’s me,” she said and stomped the snow from her boots onto the rug.
“Oh honey, I’m so glad you’re here. They’ve been here again, the little green men,” the woman said gravely.
Feeling her way along the wall towards the sound of the voice, an old woman in dark glasses slowly padded forward in a pair of dirty slippers and wrapped in a threadbare bathrobe.
“Marg,” the woman asked, taking off her gloves, “how do you know they’re green? And how do you know they’ve been here?”
Scanning the apartment, the woman flipped a light switch, flooding the room with light. No men, and certainly no green men, were present.
“I just know it, that’s how. They hide behind the stove and the fridge so I can’t get them. See, they know I’m blind.”
“Marg, you said they took the electricity, what happened?”
“They took it, just like they always do. They’ve been stealing it from me, little bits at a time. Those little green men are mean men. They are bad and mean men,” the old woman declared.
“How did you get the heat back on if they took the electricity?” the visitor asked, her face twisted with concern.
Calmly, the old woman explained, “It wasn’t me. They knew that you would come and turned it back on.”
“Do you see how they torment me? Come on, let’s sit down and I’ll tell you all about them,” the old woman suggested and patted the back of a lumpy looking brown couch.
“Marg, did you take your medication today?” her visitor inquired.
“What medication? I don’t have a health problem; I have a little green man problem.”
She made me pick up her heavy paw to sign her name.
“Girl, you know I can’t see.”
Her aide said, “Diabetes,” and nodded in agreement from her perch in front of the television.
The weight of her hand was like a bag of sand, solid and surprising in its movement.
Her skin was cracked and rough, an ashy black in my smooth brown hand.
“I’m only signing this because you pushin’ the issue,” she declared as she scribbled illegible letters.
Finished, she dropped the pen and looked straight at me with one yellow-grey eye, while the other eye remained tightly shut under a heavy fold of dark skin.
Her sightless gaze pierced me and in the puncture mark she left me with a certainty.
I knew that she saw everything.
Would you like to read a short story about things where they don’t belong, reader?
It’s a truly short story without much of a beginning, middle, or end but it won’t take much of your time. As you will find from reading my blog, eavesdropping almost always pays off.
If you are still reading, you soon will reap the colorful benefits as I did a few hours ago from a bit of “overhearing.”
Ok, if you are still there, it’s time.
Two women spoke to each other quietly across the table when I came into the room and sat down, looking too busy to listen to their chatter.
“She’s doing really well, in fact,” the blond said, shuffling papers from one pile to another.
A brunette sat across the table and flipped through her i-phone and asked, “Anymore gummy bears in her g-tube?” (gastronomy tube, aka “feeding tube”)
“No,” the blond replied. “No more gummy bears, but she did have another incident. She had to have a scoop of kitty litter removed this time. She said she was taking a bath and her cat fell into the tub and that’s how the litter got there.”
“Oh, of course,” the brunette said with a very serious face as she studied the screen of her phone, “that seems quite natural.”
Yes, I thought, natural like flowers in spring and birds in the sky. Gummy bears and kitty litter in one’s g-tube, instead of Ensure or Boost, must be quite natural.
My first dentist always called me ‘sis’.
He was tall with a full head of hair and a perfect smile, of course. His hygienist always took too long with the fluoride treatment. I’m not sure why she felt it was a good idea to leave a child with so many cavities alone in a room with shiny curiosities in every drawer and cabinet. Clearly, with that many holes in my mouth, I did not have a history of good decision making.
Nonetheless, it was not totally on my account that a new family dentist was necessary.
The breaking point was over a bill that was not unlike other bills for cleaning, x-rays and cavities.
“That dentist is ripping us off! How can she have so many cavities, year after year? There’s no way. I’ve seen her brush.”
“Yes, I’ve seen her brush. You’ve seen her brush. That dentist is a hack!”
They went back and forth, egging each other on in their dental self-righteousness. Really, how dare that dentist tell them what they needed to do with their swarmy kids.
My next dentist was deaf.
He confirmed my parents’ worst fears; the first dentist wasn’t ripping them off. I was a bad brusher, a lazy flosser, and a secret late night candy eater.
The chairs in his office faced a wall of glass windows towards the woods where 6 or 7 different types of bird feeders were set up. I watched cardinals, wrens, and finches hop amongst the feeders with an occasional blue jay swooping in to scare off the little birds.
While preparing her tools for a cleaning, his hygienist noticed me watching the birds instead of the tv hung in the corner of the office. “Those are the doctor’s birds,” she said with a smile. “He feeds them the best seed that why they are so bright, that what he tells us anyways,” she finished with a laugh.
One time a deer wandered up while I was in the chair and looked into the window with sad, brown eyes. “Why so many cavities?” she seemed to ask without judgment.
That dentist will always hold a special place in my heart for those birds and that he never caused me to give a shriek of pain that he couldn’t hear.
From there, I went to Aspen Dental for a cheap, fast exam and treatment. Much to my surprise, it was not a nice experience or cheap or fast. No one called me sis or took the time to feed the birds outside. It was like sitting in the BMV waiting to have my license renewed. I was just a number with a set of good teeth to drill and bill.
Now, I’m back to an independent dentist with a no fuss, no muss approach to dentistry. I’m going in tomorrow for a check-up that is just a year overdue. Toothfully, I’ve going in because the old familiar pain is back and I suspect a cavity. It reminds me that I’m alive, even while my teeth are experiencing a slow death. Tooth pain gives me a reason to reflect on dentists of days-gone-by and an even better reason to floss, at least until my new cavity is drilled and filled.
The little woman slipped through the double doors into the restroom. She passed an older black woman, who was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the grout between the floor tiles.
“How you doing today, sugar?” she asked, as she cheerfully scrubbed.
Meanwhile, the little woman sat on the commode with her bony elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. Verging on tears, thoughts of the flashing red light on her telephone that another voicemail had come in and the stack of growing paper on her desk swirled through her mind. It’s too much she thought and tried to calm her racing heart. Taking just one thing at a time would be an easy if she were a dentist pulling teeth; but instead, she was in a field that required a professional level of constant multitasking. A woman had been calling all week asking for updates on something that would take weeks to get into place. In each call, the woman’s voice grew angrier and more desperate. These calls continued and broke the little woman’s reserve down further and further, until she had to escape to the safety of a bathroom stall.
“You sure you’re ok in there?” the woman cleaning asked after she heard a deep sigh from the little woman’s stall. “You sound like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders with the way you’re carrying on.”
“Oh, sorry,” the little woman replied. She wasn’t aware how loudly her worries were escaping from her body despite her best efforts.
Shamefacedly, the little woman emerged from the stall and turned on the faucet to wash her hands. A stranger had heard her sigh and knew more about her current struggle than she knew about herself. She did feel as though the world was on her frail shoulders, and it was heavy.
“Sugar,” the older woman said and stood up with a groan. She leaned against the paper towel dispenser and continued, “Just remember why you are working. Is it for the paycheck or is it to help people?”
The little woman sighed again, this time aware but unable to stop the sound from leaving. “You’re right,” she conceded.
“Mmm…hmm,” the cleaning lady agreed and looked over the rim of her glasses at the little woman. “Course I am.”
She held up her index finger to make a point, “You keep in mind that it’s just a job. It doesn’t define who or what you are in life. It’s just a part of it.”
Gesturing with her hands as she delivered her bathroom sermon/ therapy session, the little woman grimaced when she noticed the long fingernails that curled two inches or more over the tips of the older woman’s fingers. They were 100% natural and a light brown, likely from cleaning materials and god-knows-what else. How she was able to do anything with her hands was a feat and a mystery. The claw-like nails created a self-imposed type of a disability which seemed a shame when many people with unavoidable disabilities would prefer to live otherwise.
“Thanks,” the little woman said backing out of the bathroom, still staring at her nails in disbelief. “Really, I mean it, thanks for talking to me. Sorry to rush out, but I’ve got a call I’ve got to make.”
The little woman held her head higher and felt ready to face the rest of her day as she pushed the doors open to the hallway. The cleaning lady had put things into perspective for her without knowing anything else about her situation. Yet, she had known just what the little woman needed to hear to continue. The little woman mused over these things when she brushed past a co-worker on her way back to her desk. The co-worker said over her shoulder, “Hey, you’re looking brighter than earlier today. Good for you.”
The little woman replied, “I just got a pep talk from the cleaning lady in the bathroom.”
Chortling, the co-worker knew exactly whom the little woman referred to, perhaps having had her own pep talk on another day. She asked what they both had wondered about the woman who had done so much and so little at the same time, as the bathrooms were never very clean. “What about those nails?”
For people living on love in an economy in which love hasn’t been paying well, prospects are not promising in a time of layoffs. Today was the fateful day when my darling man found out that he was to keep his job, while 800 others lost theirs.
On learning the news, we were somber and grateful, sad for the others and happy for ourselves, all at the same time. Swirling around our heads and hearts, these emotions mixed and melded into a sense of guilt that weighed heavier on my man’s shoulders because he was the survivor. I was just there to greet him in the life boat and pull him away from the wreckage, but he was the one to helplessly watch his friends and co-workers be left behind in the choppy seas of unemployment. However, it is because he is a survivor that we will be able to pay our rent, keep the lights on in our small apartment, and put food in our pesky little cat’s dish.
We aren’t the only ones trapped by this sense of guilt and helplessness at the chaos surrounding us. Five minutes of watching, reading or listening to the news tells me this truth and more. It tells me that we are just a microcosm of the society in which we live, a mere reflection of our humanity and current civilization.
The walls are crumbling down around us on many levels with the government on a shut-down since the folks in D.C. can’t get along, killer bees wreaking havoc on the countryside, diseases like measles and rubella breaking out when vaccines are available, and the cruel attempt to provide affordable healthcare to people who need it but are fighting it tooth and nail (in my neck of the woods, anyways).
We have entered a time of chaos.
So what can get us through and give order to our lives? For me, it starts with embracing simplicity, mindfulness, appreciating the little things, and wine. Of course, wine. It helps with living on love and maintaining hopes for the future.
What is going to get you through the jumble or disorderly mass that we call life?
Here are some articles on coping.
photo: The Lorenz Attractor, found on http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/chaos/
Quitting is not just for losers anymore, which runs contrary to the opinion of my dad. No, no, no, I feel comfortable declaring that quitting is for everyone and anyone, without discretion. It’s healthy to quit things and highly recommended by this weathered old traveler of life. I guess I’ve always been a quitter at heart but so often meddlesome family members or friends intervened with their good intentions and well-wishing. “Of course you can’t quit the swim team”, my mom explained after watching me splash and splutter through a meet in which I finished a soggy last. After tripping over every hurdle at a track meet, I dragged my aching body and bruised ego over to my dad, he said “I know you want to quit because that didn’t go so well, but you can’t. You’ve got the stuff winners are made from; you just have to keep at it.” The good advice followed me into adulthood, weighing heavy on my own decisions and happiness. I worked my way up to a good paying job in insurance with benefits, invested in a 401k, went in early and stayed late because that is what potential winners do until they’ve made it, right? “Puney Bones, you can’t quit that job. You’ll never make that kind of money again. You know the kind of people who quit jobs like that don’t you?” my most helpful advisors advised. I heard what they were really saying, and it was loud and clear, quitting is for losers. It was around that time that I decided to officially become a quitter and shed the things that I most hated, as I wish I could have done twenty years earlier. I’m a much better quitter now than I was when I first started, I quit bad friendships and habits, rotten jobs and people. Surprisingly enough, even with all of this quitting and fear of what I might become, I’m not a loser. I’m liberated.