Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

Advertisements

How People Eat

grocery

The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light.  A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line.  They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life.  Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.  

The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget.  At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt.  A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner.  She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.

A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line.  She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.   

Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk.  A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it.  She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way.  Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.  

The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man.  He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart.  Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows.  The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.

An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family.  She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.  

“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy.  I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.

“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.

“Sure am.”

“K, you stop it.  You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.

Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman.  The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man. 

The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation.  She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face. 

This is how people eat.    

Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

A Better Way to Joy Ride

junk yard

Rosa was on the phone when I quietly knocked at the door and walked into the room.  The lights were low and the blinds were down.  It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness in the middle of the day.  The place was wrecked, shoes were haphazardly kicked off in a pile by the door and clothes were crumpled on the floor.  A box of fried chicken was on the table next to a Big Gulp drink with napkins and ketchup packets mixed in with a stack of mail. 

Rosa sat straight up, stiff as a board, in an old brown reclining chair.  She wore a nubby bathrobe and her short, dark hair stuck out in every direction like she was just seriously electrocuted and should be on the way to the hospital instead of sitting in a chair furiously scribbling away at a notebook.    

As I approached, it was clear that she deep into something messy.

“I’ll come back later,” I whispered, not one to interrupt unless it was absolutely necessary, and started to retreat towards the door.  Rosa held up a pudgy finger, indicating for me to wait one minute. 

“Ok, I’ll call back tomorrow and speak with the officer,” she growled into the phone.    

Angrily shaking her head, she looked up at me with one eye to ensure that I hadn’t snuck out as she made final arrangements for her appointment tomorrow.  

Ending the call, she dropped the phone onto the notebook on her lap with a disgusted sigh.

“Sounds like I don’t have a car anymore.” 

She waited with a dramatic pause, gauging my interest.

Unable to resist the bait, I took the hook, line and sinker, and casually asked for clarification.  

“What in the world happened, Rosa?  I didn’t even know that you had a car.”

“First, do you think I can drive right now with my legs like this?”

I scanned her face, she was serious, and then dropped my eyes to her painfully swollen feet and legs poking out from underneath of her long bathroom.   

“No, I don’t.  Shouldn’t those be propped up?”

She ignored the question and continued.

“Well, I didn’t think so either, but I just learned that my car was traveling the wrong way on a one way street back in my home town, crashed into a few parked cars and was then abandoned on a side street and the police wanted to know if it was me.”

“So, you did have a car?”

“You’re really hung up on that, yes, I had a car back home. I left the keys with my roommate for emergencies only and now he is missing and my car is in the junk yard.” 

Her dark eyes flashed with anger, “Excuse, I need to make some more phone calls.”

The next day, her door was open as I passed by in the hallway.  Light streamed in from the windows and the clutter was gone.  Her shoes were lined up, her clothes were put away and there was no trash to be seen.  Her hair was pulled neatly back with a wide headband displaying a pair of very dainty, unpierced ears.  She scrolled through images on her phone and laughed to herself.  Noticing my shadow darkening her door, she waved.

“Hey girl, come on in.  What’s going on today?”

I wanted to ask the same thing of her regarding the grand theft auto situation but held my tongue.

“Wondering about my car?” she asked.

Feigning shock at her mind reading ability, I confirmed her suspicions with a nod and again took the bait.

“What happened?”

She threw her hands up with a smile, “We worked it out.  He knows what he did was wrong, but there’s no use fighting over it or staying mad.  I can’t afford to waste my energy like that, if I didn’t forgive him hate would build up and stay right here,” she lightly pounded at her chest with her fist.

“Right here,” she emphasized.

“It would make me sick when I am in here trying to get better, to be better.”

Unable to stop myself, I gushed with partially informed questions.

“But if you drop it, how will you get him to pay you?  Will insurance cover the damages?  What did you tell the police?  What did he tell you?  How will you get around?”

In the midst of this flurry of questions, there were two questions that I didn’t ask but most wondered about the answers, how and why did you forgive him?

She held her hand up to stop the questions, “I’ll figure that stuff out.  Its going to be ok.”

Reassuringly, she nodded and patted my hand.

“Really, its going to be ok.”

Suddenly, I was left with a sad emptiness where a surrogate anger had rushed out, like water from a broken cup.  There is another way to get better, to be better, and it starts with deciding to put the sword away.  

 

Package Thieves

Theory

The package that should have been on the front porch was missing. 

I passed the mailman in his little truck on the way home, so I knew that I only missed him by minutes.  Yet, it might as well have been a lifetime for whatever had transpired in that time was enough to change the course of Christmas.

It wasn’t the mailman’s fault.  To his credit, he encouraged us to start using a tote placed inconspicuously next to the door during this holly, jolly package stealing season.  Of course, we procrastinated, hence the Leaf Peeper situation, and now this missing package.   

Fortunately, we did have a square shaped, plastic contraption with a lid meant to keep a hose neatly rolled like thread on a spool.  It was close enough to the porch that the mailman might have tucked a package into the box to keep it safe from any number of dangers. 

I flipped the lid open in hopeful anticipation, only to find a knotted bundle of hose.  Still the package was missing.  I felt a sinking feeling, certain that package thieves were responsible, already celebrating their loot as I began to accept the loss.

After the last Amazon fiasco, my husband’s birthday present ended up in a warehouse in China, apparently still there two months later, according to the tracking number.  Now, his Christmas present faced a worse fate as it was carried off by a roving group of punk-grinches.   

“Not again,” I yelled and shook my fists towards the sky in hopes that the Amazon gods would hear my cry and show mercy on the A to Z claim I was about to file.

Sure, I have a tendency to gravitate towards the dramatic, but this was serious.  

I pulled my key out to unlock the door and found it was already unlocked and pushed the door open.

“Hello?”

Lights were on and old-timey country Christmas music played in the background.  My husband appeared, “Looking for this?” he asked.

He held out a raggedy package with a missing corner.  It felt damp like it was used to clear the snow from the mailman’s windshield before being tossed into the back of the truck, but it was intact.  The missing package was found and Christmas was restored.   

Thankfully, the package thief was none other than the intended recipient, my husband, who had no idea how close he was to unwrapping a potato with an IOU pinned to it come December 25th.

package

Toothbrushes and Towels

truffles

Susie and Ned shared everything from friends to the flu, toothbrushes and towels excluded.  They even shared the same cushion on the couch while watching The Voice or napping.  It seemed like things would continue in shared bliss forever, until the truffle incident of 2017.

Susie shuffled around in the kitchen, finishing up the dishes and putting away the leftovers from dinner.  Ned cooked and she cleaned, sometimes vice versa, but that was the division of labor in their house.  It was one of the many agreements that they reached throughout their time together, more often than not, it was a natural and voluntary arrangement.

Opening a cabinet, Susie shoved a can of tomato soup and another can of peas aside.  She glanced over her shoulder to confirm that she was unobserved.  Sure enough, she was alone.  Ned was in the next room watching tv, Susie could hear Alex Trebeck reading off the final Jeopardy clue.

She extracted a small box tied with a ribbon in the very back hidden under a box of white rice.  Carefully, she untied the ribbon and opened the box with a sigh of relief.  Six perfect truffles were in place, flawlessly round and chocolatey, ready to be eaten, one by one. 

Earlier in the week, the truffles arrived in a larger Christmas box mixed in with pears and specialty nuts.  At the first opportunity, Susie snatched the box and stashed it away, to be shared at her discretion.  Now, it was time to sample her goods.  With surgical precision, she pulled a truffle out and held it between her thumb and index finger up to the light and confirmed, “Absolute perfection.”

The box, she returned to its special place in the cabinet, under the rice and behind the tomato soup and peas. Taking a nibble from the side of the truffle, the rich chocolate melted on her tongue.  It was creamy and satisfying with more than three quarters still to slowly enjoy.  

Then a twinge of guilt struck, somewhere between her mouth and stomach, and she remembered that sharing is caring with the man on the sofa.

She walked out to the living room, “Here Ned, try this.” 

She offered him the delicacy without reservations and watched him take it, anxious to try another nibble from the other side.  Ned inspected the truffle.

“There’s a bite out of this,” he declared and popped the entire thing into his mouth.

Susie’s jaw dropped as she watched her husband masticate the rest of the candy.

“What?” he asked with feigned concern.

“It fell into my mouth.”   

Towels, toothbrushes, and truffles; the unsharables list increased by one that day.

Incorrigible

father

The man’s voice is deep and crashes around the room like a rogue wrecking ball.  He is missing most of his teeth which makes conversation difficult, and asking him to repeat his words only results in yelling the same barely decipherable utterances again.  

A bald man with glasses pops his head into the open doorway and asks, “Everything ok in here?”

The man is pacing, he has a large presence and moves with a force that doesn’t stop easily or make detours.  He is a straight through the mountain, never mind the winding road that wraps around it, kind of guy. He stops moving and looks down at the man.

“Shoore ith, thank you ferry mush.”  

The man’s daughter is sitting on a chair, a softer and smaller version of the man.  She holds her purse on her lap and waves the little man away.  She knows how her father must sound from the hallway.

“Everything’s fine, it’s just my daddy acting up.”

The unwanted visitor nods at the seated woman, “You just call if you need anything.”

Something deflates in the visitor’s chest as he walks away, he is disappointed and dissatisfied.  He wants to be helpful and save a damsel in distress, but is once again thwarted by the damsel.  He wonders why no one wants to be saved, particularly by him, for the rest of the day.  

Back in the room, the man is gathering his personal things and dropping them into a plain canvas bag that cinches tight with a draw string.  Once he finishes with that task, he opens a cabinet door and peers inside at an assortment of supplies.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” his daughter asks.

Instead of answering, he goes onto the next cabinet.  He peers inside and is again displeased.  He opens a third cabinet and grunts with delight.  It is filled with an endless supply of Boost drinks in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors.

“Baby, gimme a bag.”  

“Daddy, what are you doing?”

“What? Do you want these?” He generously offers his daughter the cans of chocolate Boost held in both hands.

“No, those are not…

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do,” he says with amazing clarity, reading his daughter’s mind.

He rummages around in the first cabinet, finding a clear bag with a company logo printed across the front of it.  One by one, he unloads the cabinet of its burden and transfers the cans into his bag.   

“Why else would they be here?” he asks with a shrug.  

The woman shakes her head and laughs with a sigh, there is no point in arguing.   

“Right, Daddy.”  

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.

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

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 6,685 hits