Tribal Women

I am part of an indigenous tribe of women. We have sheltered in place for many years, wisely watching the rise and fall of regimes. We carry the collective memories of being both abused and revered, conversely held in high regard and held down depending on the leadership at the time. We hold this history in our hunched shoulders and in our faces wrinkled from the harsh weather of the environment.

Watching, waiting and holding our ground, we cling together for strength and protection. There is safety in numbers.

We are surrounded by an aggressive group that would like nothing more than to see us disappear but will settle for our constant discomfort. They are The Haves and we are the have-nots, in all lower-case letters.

They have carpet and a regular cleaning service, their desks were ordered new with matching chair and they complain when the software on their laptops has to be upgraded.

Meanwhile, we are lucky if our keyboards have most of the keys. We take out our own trash and sanitize with supplies brought from home.

As the leader of the Have’s explained, “It’s not in the budget for every office to be sparkling clean.”

We nod in acceptance with crystal clear understanding. The meaning is unmistakable. If we could be left alone to do our work and govern ourselves, this arrangement would be agreeable. Not ideal, but agreeable.

There was a relocation one year ago when The Have’s made peace with a warring faction and our office was given up as a sacrificial gift. The masterkey was turned over without so much as a hey-wait-a-minute-there-are-people-in-there type of hesitation.

So, we moved without much of a fight into an office off the main strip, with harsh lighting and scarred tile floors; carrying our folders, office supplies, and wilted plants we shuffled in a single file line down the stairs and through the hallway.

Now we face another potential move. It started a few days ago when a group of prospectors came to the area like locusts on a field intent on greedy destruction. Click clacking down the dim hallway with their high heel and smart phones out, they snapped selfies as they travelled.

Golden sunlight streamed into our office, warming the room. We grew quiet, hearing the footsteps slow as they approached. The click clacking stopped outside of our office and the sleezy introductions ensued. The women alleged they were touring through the area, getting familiar with who was on the floor.

Unsuspectingly, a tribeswoman proudly showed the visitors through the office.

“Oh, these windows,” they gushed.

“Look at this adorable space,” another said in breathy agreement.

A tribeswoman with short hair and orthopedically responsible shoes said, “It’s so far out of the way, I wouldn’t love it so much if it wasn’t for the bathroom.”

The visiting women gasped in unison.

“You have your own bathroom down here?” the woman with the highest heels asked for confirmation as though it was too good to be true.

“Yee-haw, ladies,” she hollered and took off an imaginary hat.

“Looks like we struck gold.”

And suddenly I knew what had to be done.  Our time of watching and waiting was over. It was time to fight. We will not be relocated again. Not for The Have’s. Not for the prospectors. Not for nobody.

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Cancerous Growths

north korea

“Sure, I remember what you told me,” the old man said. 

His name was Tom.  He wore khaki pleated pants and a collared shirt; his clothes were clean and ironed but hung from his body.  They were meant for a bigger man, a man with more meat on his bones and vitality in his heart.   

He dismissed the woman, who also happened to be his wife and caregiver, with a weak wave.  Clearing an area in front of him, he rested his elbows on the cluttered table and held his head between both hands.  Blue veins ran across the back of his hands and down his arms.  Band-aides covered skin tears and puncture wounds, still fresh from the most recent treatment.  

Wanda crept forward silently in her orthopedic shoes and stockinged feet, bringing a grandmotherly smell cloud of light perfume and hairspray and powder.  She placed her hand on his forehead and her rings spun around, getting looser on her fingers as she also started to shrink with age and disease.  Her hand expertly registered two temperatures, fever and not-fever.  His skin felt cool and clammy, somewhere between fever and not-fever. 

“Get off,” he barked, lashing out as any sick animal will do in self-defense and looked up at her.  If he had fangs, he would have bared them at that moment and then scampered off to hide in the forest. Instead he had to settle for snarl of old, dull teeth, brown with coffee stains.  

She yanked her hand back with a “Harumph!” as though bitten by his sharp tone.  

“Do you remember what you told me?” Tom asked. 

Wanda nodded, “Of course.” 

No self-respecting wife would admit to forgetting a directive given to a husband. 

“You told me to cheer up because things could always get worse,” he allowed for a dramatic pause. 

Wanda waited, she was anxious and hopeful that something nice would come out of her husband’s mouth.  Perhaps something about how he appreciated her dedication and excellent nursing skills, and tolerance of his grouchiness and bad attitude. 

“So, I cheered up and sure enough, things got worse.”

Wanda gasped, that was the lifelong advice that she gave to friends and family, strangers and neighbors.  She said it out of habit; it was a reflex in her desire to help, to say something when silence prevailed and there wasn’t anything to say.  Now here it was, regurgitated and bastardized.  The cancer was killing more than her husband, it threatened to destroy the life they built together. 

Unless she could come up with another helpful saying to boost his spirits and refocus his energy.   

She gave a brave smile and wiped a tear from her eye, “No, things could still get worse.  We could be at war with North Korea.”

Cat Hospital

sickness-2.jpg

Our bathroom is now a hospice ward in what is turning out to be a cat hospital. The patients outside of the hospice ward are low acuity; they are working through issues of obesity and anxiety, an over production of hairballs and general sense of neediness.  Patient X is not working through, over, or around any issues.  She exists between life and death, stuck in the moment right after the sun sets and pulls the light from the sky, slowly wasting away in a state of limbo. 

I want Patient X to be comfortable and the environment is important in this goal.  The window is covered; the room stays cool and dark, even during the day.  Patient X no longer needs to keep her days and nights separated.  

Each day, I give her a fresh dish of water and crunchy kibble.  Last week, she moved the bits around with her paw to make it look like she had some interest in it.  Now, it’s all she can do to turn her pink nose up at it and lay back down in her box. 

I then sweep up the loose litter and scoop out the clumps and wet spots, but today, there is nothing to clean out.  There is only a dying cat hiding under a soft towel in a cardboard box, neither eating nor eliminating.  She watches me with dull eyes that sparkled green with curiosity and trouble not long ago; they are much like the changed eyes of my grandfather since the cancer spread through his body.  He, too, is lounging about in limbo, losing time and strength as his body winds down from eighty years of constant life.      

Sickness takes up space, a lot of it, especially where every nook and cranny is already filled with a knickknack or stack of books.  It’s hard to prioritize and harder to understand other than that it happens.  Sickness leads to a sadness that fills up rooms and houses, spills out windows and forces open doors.  When the sadness has no place else to go, it shimmies and shakes its way down the road to the neighbor’s house and lets itself in through the backdoor for a season.   Until then, I guess it’s here to stay.

Tentative

The Cost of Healthcare

blood pressure

“Why don’t you just go to the doctor?” my husband asks after hearing my chest crack and pop.

“It’s complicated,” I moan in pain.

Maybe he doesn’t know about the extent of my white coat syndrome and that merely making an appointment makes my heart race and my palms get sweaty. Or that as a kid, I never went to the doctor outside of ingesting a battery or being covered with purple lesions.  And if we did go, it always resulted in the occurrence of something uncomfortable or more painful than the original issue.

As an adult, there is little difference except that now the pain comes from the initial cost of the copay and then later the portion of the bill not covered through insurance.

“It’s all explained in your insurance policy,” the customer service rep explains. “You know, in the really fine print. You agreed to pay for anything not covered when you signed in to see Dr. Gulash.”

Trickery and crooks! I scream in my mind, and then passively settle on a monthly payment of six months to pay off the balance.  It’s easier than taking a stand and getting sent to collections.   The bitter sting of that bill is still on my mind as I refuse to get the cracking and popping evaluated, not just yet anyway.

Let’s follow the journey of Papa Puney who decided not to wait until there were no other options and his proactive approach to his healthcare.

Papa Puney is fit man in his fifties; he sits in a hard plastic chair at the doctor’s office, off to the side and away from the sick people. There are stacks of germ covered magazines next to a pump bottle of hand sanitizer.  It’s a nice gesture but too little too late for most.

He calmly waits and peruses through emails and Facebook on his phone.   He has been working to lower his blood pressure through diet, exercise and limiting his views on the Donald’s latest tweets.   He moves his upper lip unconsciously and the mustache above it bristles out, not unlike a well groomed porcupine, as he flips through the online posts.

A young woman with dry, dyed black hair pops her head out of the door next to the receptionist’s desk.

“Mr. Papa Puney?”

She holds the door open with shiny, red nails. The man looks up in acknowledgement of his name.

“We’re ready for you now.”

Opening the door wider, she waits for the proactive patient to follow her down a tile hallway that smells of antiseptic cleaner.

The woman chews gum as she leads the man into his own room.   PP feels a seed of irritation begin to grow with each snap and pop of the gum.

“Sit right here and the nurse practitioner will be right in,” she gestured with her hand to another hard backed chair.

“Wait a minute, what about the doctor?”

“Oh, he is too busy to see you today. The NP will be right in,” the woman explains cheerfully and leaves before PP can say anything else.

PP waits and feels his heart rate increasing and the blood pulsing through his veins. PP waits and waits, keeping busy by cruising the internet until he reaches the end of the interwebs and still he waits.

Finally, the door opens and a chubby blonde woman in her early thirties with purple Crocs enters the room.

“Hey there, Bub, what’s going on with this blood pressure of yours?”

“Bub?” PP asks.

He feels a pounding in his head as his blood pressure rises like a tribal drum urging him on to stand and leave. No, this is not going to work.  There are other ways to lower blood pressure.   PP excuses himself from the clinic and takes a trip to Burger King to reassess his health goals and the price of proactivity.

Bub out.

Timely

What Spring Brings

Pleased

There are no leaves on the trees, but the grass already needs to be cut. Daffodils that survived a surprise freeze of early Spring are popping up and joined by red and pink tulips and green hostas.

A barefoot woman stands on the front porch shaking a plastic bag of trail mix. She takes a few steps forward and begins to yell towards a tree in a high pitched voice, usually reserved for things that are small and furry.

“Sneaky, come down here, Sneaky.”

On the street, a man slowly rides by on a bike with a wicker basket. He cranes his neck but only sees tiny green buds beginning to develop on the branches.  There is nothing to match the description of what he imagines to be a Sneaky.

You just never know, he thinks, and holds down the contents of the basket on the front of his bike. It is overflowing with a shrubbery that he acquired from the yard of his out of town neighbors.

“Sneaky, its snack time.”

The woman shakes the bag again and this time a man watches from inside of the house. With one finger, he lifts the blind up a little higher and peers out with a pair of blue eyes.   As much as he wants to look away, he cannot bring himself to do it.  He is running through his options on which family member would sign the involuntary commitment paperwork.

“Trust us, it’s for your own good.”

He envisions the woman being lifted up and carried out by men in matching white scrubs.  He sees her little legs kicking as she squirms to escape and feels a sense of guilt in the pit of his stomach for letting his imagination take his wife away in a straight jacket.

Laughter from the sidewalk brings the man’s focus back.

The woman’s hand is extended with a pile of almonds on her palm from which a little brown squirrel is selecting the best nut.

“Only the best for you, Sneaky.”

She looks back, intuiting that she had an audience of one, and raises one eyebrow.

“Told you so,” she says with a shrug and a smile.

She is most pleased; Sneaky returned as did her creditability, all in few, short minutes.

sg

Make Believe World

bottle

The man walked into the office, dragging his feet and with his head hung low. His clothes were the same ones that he wore the day before but now wrinkled and stinking of smoke.  A woman sat at a desk with pictures of cats around the computer screen.  There were so many different felines, it was hard to imagine that they all belonged to her but not impossible.  Remember the show, Hoarders.

Nodding her head in acknowledgement, the woman sighed.   She looked up at the clock on the wall, as a not to subtle sign of her annoyance.

“I know I’m late,” he said and sat across from the woman.

Like a tidal wave crashing down on the shore, the smell of alcohol hit the woman’s nostrils as the man spoke.  He belched and filled the room with more of his unprocessed booze and bodily fluid smells.

“Huh, huh,” he laughed as the woman inwardly gagged.

The man continued without blinking.

“I went to a hotel party last night and time got away from me. I woke up, looked at my watch….”

He pulled his sleeve back to show his bare wrist where a watch might have been if he wore a watch, demonstrating how it might have happened and went on, “Oh shit, I’ve got to go.  And I came straight here.”

There was no mistaking the pride in his face. Was it because of the good decision that he made on how to spend his day or that he had just awoken in a strange hotel room after a hotel party with a roomful of strangers?

Unable to stand the woman’s silence, he shifted uncomfortably in his chair and stared at a stain on the wall, at his shoes, at the cats; everywhere other than the woman’s face.

“Hey, at least I’m here.”

Would he use that line on an employer if he was an hour and a half late, still reeking of his night of debauchery? Did that work with his parents and the mother of his son?

The woman laughed to hide her sadness, to give her a moment to collect her thoughts, but her eyes still spoke. Disappointment is a powerful emotion that is hard to hide, destructive and unnecessary when it comes about because of unrealistic expectations.

She thought what do you want me to say? That everything is going to be ok? That your addiction isn’t going to destroy what is left of your life?  That you still have to hit rock bottom before committing to change?  There is no rock bottom.  There is just a bottomless pit into which you are falling deeper and deeper unless maybe this will be the day you reach out for a rope to begin the long, hard challenge of climbing back towards the light.

“Yes,” she affirmed the man. “At least you are here.”

Safe

wolves

“C’mon girl,” Mama said over her shoulder as she pushed through the library doors.

A little girl followed in her shadow, wearing a dirty red coat, fastened by two, shiny black buttons in the front. Her hair was separated and twisted into many black snakes that writhed around her head, a tiny Medusa.  She toddled forward, with quick and uneven steps.

Mama dropped down into a chair at a bare table.   She was not a heavy woman, but the weight of her world was sometimes crushing.   Leaving her purse on the floor, she pulled out a folder and opened it.  She started her work by flipping through the paperwork.

Blowing out a sigh, she focused on the first page.

“Girl, you being bad,” Mama reprimanded the child.

She had the special eyes of a mother that saw everything around her, with or without actually looking.  Not once did she raise her head or eyes, yet she saw Girl shredding a Kleenex that she extracted from her purse.  She saw Girl opening drawers and cabinets against the wall, taking off her shoes, and standing in her purse.

Mama continued, flipping through the pages, one after another.

“Girl, I’m warning you.”

She signed by the x’s and filled in the blanks. She was doing was she was supposed to be doing, she supposed.

Meanwhile, a man at the next table watched Girl. His nails were jagged and dirty.  In front of him were a stack of Tom Clancy books and a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew.

He also had a special set of eyes, the kind that noticed everything and waited and planned.

“Pssst….”

He quietly got Girl’s attention. She turned her big, brown innocent eyes in his direction, curious and playful as a kitten in a cardboard box.  The man reached into the pocket of his stained, baggy sweats and pulled out a piece of candy wrapped in gold foil.

With a smile of brown and broken teeth, the man held out the piece of candy. Girl crept forward, cautiously, but with her eyes locked on the prize.

Mama signed the last page and shut the folder with finality.

“Girl, don’t go messin’ with that man.”

In a different world, she would have hissed and bared her teeth at the man.

“C’mon, we’re done.”

The wolves of the past, present and future were held at bay, not meant to meet for another day.

The Static Clinger

cling

We joked that she was a stage five clinger,

right up until they got married.

Now we say that she’s a great wife.

Cling

 

Words of a baffling father

Fragile
Baffling is the father who declares his undying love for his son to every stranger, but neglects to mention how he lost custody and refuses to seek treatment or change. He blames the system that conspires to separate his family and sets his jaw with grim determination in his crusade to right the wrongs done to his clan by others.

He would give anything, including his right hand, to bring his boy home. He explains this to the judge when asked what he has been doing to rehabilitate over the past few months.

“That’s not what I asked,” the judge says.

The baffling father clarifies, “I would climb Mt. Everest or swim in shark infested waters if that would prove my dedication to bringing my boy home.”

The judge shakes his head with sadness. Frustration left him years ago for a level of acceptance just before apathy.  He has seen this case before and will see it again many times before he retires and takes up deep sea fishing in Florida. Sometimes the thought of riding in a boat over the open sea, smelling the salty, fresh air and feeling the spray of warm water and sun on his face is the only thing that gets him from one moment to the next.

“A boy’s place is home with his parents.”

The judge wants to laugh as he scans the room for the boy’s mother, already knowing that she is not to be found. The baffling father is alone in his battle with the state while his partner is out on streets, engaged in a fight of her own and losing on a daily basis to her demons.

These are the same demons that plague the baffling father and the same ones that brought him to this place, alone in a room full of people.

In just a few minutes, the judge sets a date for the next hearing, straightens out a stack of papers and prepares for the next case. He has heard more than enough.

Pleased with the power of his convincing speech, the baffling father discreetly slips out back to the parking lot where a man wearing dark sunglasses waits inside of a blue pick-up truck with tinted windows. The baffling father walks around to the passenger side and hops into the vehicle. An efficient transaction takes place; few words are needed for their business.

He returns inside after all of the morning cases are completed to pick up his paperwork from the clerk, his eyes are glossy and his pupils have taken on a black-hole like appearance, massive and destructive.

Wanda, the clerk, purses her lips as she stamps and staples his papers.

Baffling father excitedly exclaims, “I am so close to getting my son back, I can feel it in the air.”

In truth, he is feeling the benefit of air conditioning on a hot day and the rush of whatever just travelled up his nose or into a vein. Apparently, the combination can feel like the false hope of a man in denial about the reunification process.

Fragile are the hearts and minds held together with a wad of pink bubble gum.

bubble-gum

Party in the Park or Time is Relative

party

Hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled on the grill over a pile of red hot charcoal. Bags of chips lined up on the picnic table like soldiers in a parade.  They fell in order with the potato salad and deviled eggs, between a glass container of sweet relish, ketchup and jar of spicy mustard.  Bottles of soda huddled together on the next table, keeping the patriotic cupcakes and a mountain of cookies in good company.

Red, white, and blue balloons bounced in the wind, tied to the corners of the covered pavilion.

A handful of people in matching red shirts milled around the food, nervously glancing between the dark sky and their watches or phones for the time. Few people wear watches anymore, and even fewer do it for the sake of keeping time any more.  Now watches are used to track steps, count calories and deliver messages; telling time is an afterthought with all of the new more interesting functions and features of other technology today.

In any case, I still wear an old fashioned watch that can only tell the time and date, and occasionally still glows in the dark but will never flash a text message or take an incoming call.  Although, the crystal face is scratched to the point that my mother saw it and gasped that I should be ashamed of wearing that old thing, I still faithfully wear the watch on a daily basis.

I looked at this tried and true keeper of time on my wrist and back at the empty picnic tables with a sinking feeling. The party was five minutes underway and not a single guest had yet to arrive.  Two already texted their lame excuses as to why they would be unable to attend, which left 32 RSVP’d and unaccounted for bodies that should be filling the space under the shelter and starting to eat all of this food.

Clouds gathered overhead and drew closely together, like sheep in a corral chased by a nipping dog. They blocked the bits of blue sky that previously peeked through their fat, fluffy cloud bodies and a light drizzle started to fall against my protests.

I paced and continued to avoid eye contact (chalk it up to social anxiety mixed with preference to avoid conflict/disappointment) with the volunteers who so graciously gave up a Saturday afternoon for this event. It was either going to pour rain or no one was going to come or both.  There were no other options, I catastrophized in my head that which clearly was not a catastrophe.

Then, the sky broke and the sun shone over the first of the party guests who suddenly appeared from around the edge of the park. Party goers began to emerge from every direction carrying umbrellas, babies and one soccer ball.  Someone brought a bag of chips to join with the others on the table and another person produced a bag of grapes from their backpack to share with the others.

Soon everyone was there and I stopped looking at my watch.

Time is relative, especially for a group that doesn’t care much for appointments or punctuality. What matters is the quality of experience, not what time something starts or how long it lasts.  After all, a late start is better than never beginning.

I left the park with a bag of cubed watermelon, a handful of cookies, exhausted and with a full heart.

My party guests showed up.

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