Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I before E except after C?

She was right.  I never was an intimate friend of hers.  We had become friendly after a sea change in me in my Senior year of high school.  I had gotten into a competitive college and I let loose a bit from the quiet studious kid others had known through my preceding 3 years.  We joked a bit, wrote some ridiculous school play, and I even got invited to my first high school party at her house April of my senior year.  That summer we hung around a bit too, her at her vacation home and I at the house my parents bought to escape the city.

I remember a particular night, coming down from the city and sitting in the back of her boyfriend’s Pontiac convertible going 80 on the parkway.  Ah, to be 17 again.

We parted ways, her off to a traditional women’s college in the East and I to the Midwest.  We had some further communication the next summer doing what Jersey Shore girls do best after a year of college under their belts:  going to the beach by daylight, working at night, then bars and boyfriends on the weekends.  Ah, to have the drinking age at 18 again. (Yikes , I have children that age!)

I didn’t hear from her again for decades.  I would hear little bits of news through alumni newsletters and a smattering of friends.  She spent nearly 15 years in Italy, married and had a son.  She returned to the US and became a schoolteacher like her mother.

I had heard several years ago that she had opened a Thrift store.  Perfect, I thought as my father had just passed away and I had an entire household to dispose of.  I contacted her, we spoke on the phone and I travelled to near Philadelphia to reconnect and to see if she could use any of my late Dad’s stuff.

We had a pleasant catch up (bitch?) session at a lovely sandwich shop.  But the first indication that something was wrong was the sparkling water.  Odd that an innocent order would in a sense “spark” such concern. 

She ordered a particular brand asking its origin.  When the teenage waitress said she didn’t really know, my friend lambasted her about not knowing her products and how did she get the job there anyway. 

If I could have run, I would have.

I tried to tell my friend to please “let it go,”  but she launched into a speech about the sparkling waters of Italy and how Italian wait staff know their products. I politely excused myself by saying,  “I never drink the stuff,”  to which she inferred that I was some sort of yokel.

She went down from there.  I opened up about my own particular hell that I was going through and she did too. 

The difference was that hers was much worse. 

Over the course of the next few months, and the words of George  W. Bush, I did the “google.”  Sometimes my investigative skills backfire.  I found information I wish I could unsee.

Years passed and I heard from her again  but this time  she asked me for money.  I contacted her family this time to get a better understanding.  Again, I wish I could unhear now.

She was bright, very Intelligent, but totally lacking the Emotional intelligence of a truly mature and mentally stable person.   She had the I before the E from what I had C-een.

My last email to her was begging her to get the help she needed.  She has since blocked me. 

Some say your 50's are a decade of loss.  Death is not the only loss.

We lose many to mental illness too.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cautionary Tails

Every day I look for her obituary. But now I fully expect there will be none.  It has been a month and one half since her death yet I can’t forget it.

She was my academic rival in grammar school. We had first met when she moved into my neighborhood, actually across the street.  We were kindergarten friends with her even attending my fifth birthday party held in the back room of my parents apartment. We started first grade together, sharing Sr. Barbara’s kind words to encourage reading and third grade listening to  Mrs. Gizzi’s war stories of her various surgeries.  She even showed me her glass eye in the palm of her hand. ( She had a retinoblastoma as an infant) Either she or I were the last ones standing after Sr. Gabriel’s “Math Games” where girls were called to stand in the front of the class by a frail old nun with a wicked laugh. “How do you spell “ISOSCELES” L?  “What is a PARALLELOGRAM” J?  “ The formula for the area of a RHOMBUS”? The questions only stopped with the last man standing.

While I enjoyed it, I never quite sensed the terror in my fellow students eyes. 

L went onto the corresponding high school of my grammar school.  She had won the coveted scholarship by scoring 0.2 higher on the qualifying exam.  I in turn went to another slightly more traditional high school just four blocks away. We had nonetheless kept in touch through mutual friends and going to school dances at local boys high schools.

She stayed local after high school whereas I left to find the midwest and the world.

She stayed even more local following the tradition of young adults in my city, living in NJ while working in NY, not unlike previous generations. 

She experienced privilege.  Her parents won a Million dollar lottery in NJ.  Yet like most lottery winners, their fate was far from luck.  Her father died soon thereafter and she and her mother fought viciously over the money, eventually suing each other. 

I remember going to a mutual friend’s wedding and seeing L for the first time in years.  Her face was hardened, steely and her attitude cold. She was stick thin. She was a bridesmaid and her walk up the aisle a swagger and her glaze daggers. She didn’t even glance at her mother seated alone in the back row, but if she had, her stare would have cut deeply.

Year went by.  Marriages, children, houses, etc.  L and I went our ways.  I was still living in Chicago when I heard of her diagnosis. Hearing someone had AIDS in 1992 was not a good thing.  It didn’t hold the promise of a chronic manageable disease it does now. Some hot shot stock trading boyfriend she had. A Bright Lights, Big City story that was a typical as moussed big hair in the late 1980’s. I remember mourning in a way. I would send her Christmas cards from that point on.  I guess I was trying to say that I was out there still thinking of her.  They were never reciprocated.

I would hear about her from time to time.  Her mother had passed away.  She bought a 5 bedroom house in a tony suburb.  Friends had helped her with that house, but she never helped them. There is only so much giving and not receiving a friendship can take.

I contacted her in earnest in 2010 for a mini Grammar school reunion.  I went to see her.  Words could not describe her condition.  Her house was in shambles, her dog, a large bull dog was as obese as she was thin.  My heart sank in disbelief. 

I tried to be encouraging.  I tried to help her understand that there were programs out there for her and her medical needs.  That she should reconnect with others, especially at the reunion.  People understand.  People generally like to help. Hope is allowed.

I left her with the blunt words “Please L, you need to come.”

She never showed.  I got the drunkest I have been in a while, a combination of not eating and enjoying reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in 35 years. 

I called her the following week. “You missed a good show, L, I was plastered and even threw up the next morning. AM was mortified.”  She laughed but never fully explained why she didn’t show.

I saw her once more in 2012.  I was stuck on the NJ turnpike, near the exit for her suburb.  I was alone and for many reasons didn't want to rush home.  “Hey L I am in the area, mind if I stop in?”  I arrived at the house that was even in more disarray that the previous year.  “L you need help.”  When I am nervous I am even more blunt than usual: “You need to get out of here.”  She explained that she was unemployed now, not getting her meds and had trouble with her remaining vision.  Her words were punctuated by her now obsession with her dog who had grown even more obese.

She was concerned about her house. I tried to console, help and encourage as best I can, yet it doesn’t always come out that way: my parting words:  “Fuck this house, burn it down, for chrissakes, it’s just a house.”

I never saw her again.  Phone calls were never returned. Christmas cards were sent but never reciprocated.  Facebook birthday wishes were only answered with  thumbs up message.  She only posted about lost dogs on Facebook. They were cautionary tails. They were not the only ones who were lost.

She died alone.  She was found after four days.  Her dog was with her. I last heard her veterinarian had taken him in.

She had the world at her feet.  She was bright. She had loving parents.  She had good friends. She was educated. She had money.  But it was never enough.  In the end she reaped nothing because she sowed nothing.

Holidays are supposed to be festive, colorful and a family time.  I can not help but to think of L today now that Christmas is over.

Every year for the past 20+ or so I send a mutual friend of L’s and I a Christmas ornament.  I am not even sure how it started.  I try to be relevant.  The year she took her family for a European tour, I sent an glass ornament of multiple suitcases. It’s a silly tradition but it became more necessary this year.  Her friendship is one I never want to forget.  I send the crappy ornaments to connect, to remember and to be remembered.I have also known her since kindergarten.

My friend understands. 

L never did.

May she finally rest in peace.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Gong Show 101

As a child I was a television addict.  There was no “I Love Lucy”, “I Dream of Jeannie” or “Little Rascal” rerun that I didn’t watch.  Summer Time and the TV was easy….   My parents were not financially set enough nor insightful enough to compulsively plan day camps, internships, sleep away camps or classes for us.  My urban neighborhood was my camp and don’t come home until the street lamps were lit.

One of those shows was The Gong Show- an outrageous, slapstick of a contest where contestants vied for ridiculous prizes.  Hosted by Chuck Barris, a dry, short ethnic guy who was the antithesis of the plastic Mitt Romney –type TV game show hosts.

Whenever my Mother saw us watching that show she would yell, “Get that crap off.” “I don’t want you to watch that.”  “He’s dirty.” “I don’t get this.”  You knew she was serious when she would get up ( no remote in those days), leaving the ever present burning cigarette behind, and physically turn off the TV.

It was one of those things that you knew would irk your mother so you did it anyway.  There were many things in my armamentarium and The Gong Show was just one.

But what I did to circumvent her was a valuable lesson in growing up.  She was my obstacle in watching something I really thought was funny. 

I simply went upstairs to watch it in my sister’s room.

No harm no foul.  My mom was not always right.  An early lesson for an adolescent.

Children need to disobey their parents.  In a way, parents want them too.  In small steps.  Baby steps.  When there is still a safety net. Children need to know they can step out of bounds and still play the game safely.

Some would argue vehemently that The Gong Show was obscene.  Morally corrupt. 

I though it was just funny.  Even the episode when Jaye P. Morgan pulled up her shirt.  Your couldn’t get more outrageous on 1970’s daytime TV than that.

But I survived.  Laughed.  Mimicked Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. Made a paper bag to ape the Unknown Comic. Did “The Worm.” But then turned the TV off and went outside to catch butterflies with my best friend Melanie.

It was just TV. 

Rest in peace Gene Patton. You are the Dancing Machine.  Thank you for reminding me NGC.  And please take a lesson from this AHB. But baby steps, please. You will always have a safety net if you ask, but sometimes you have to ask. I am not always a mind reader.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Reeducation of J*

*Or some things highly competitive or Ivy League institutions do not teach you AND you were afraid to ask.

1. Children do not come with instructions.

2.  Depend on men soul-ly not solely.

3.  Trust your gut flora.

4.  Never, never borrow money from friends -and it’s corollary -never let friends borrow money from you.

5. Children are your biggest joy and biggest headache.

6.  Dogs are 8th wonders of the world.

7.  Common sense and IQ are inversely proportional.

8.  A kind word, a smile and a box of chocolate chip cookies are all worth their weight in gold.

9.  Yelling is to anxiety as expletives are to Paxil.

10.  Analogies are no longer on the SAT’s.

11.  Clothes and dishes do not wash themselves.

12.  A perfect house is the sign of a diseased mind or a really good cleaning person.

13.   Die before you get old.

14.  Never pass up a trip to New York City or Tijuana.

15.   Things can't be so bad if you can still laugh.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Keeping the Faith

The venue had the gaudy elegance that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s.  Gilded mirrors, crystal chandeliers and even a grand marble staircase that lead to the cavernous dining hall above. It was reminiscent of my late Aunt’s home where heavy chintzes combined with flowery brocades.  It even had the old smell too.

It was 1975 again.  Only I was not thirteen years old anymore.

I attended a fundraising gala for my old high school.

I had stepped back in time.  My old neighbors were there, a physician’s family whose many children had in turn become physicians themselves.  The daughter, who was being honored that night, was an accomplished breast surgeon, accompanied by her plastic surgeon husband and her internist brother. 

There were nuns from my sister’s high school who politely but vaguely remembered my last name. Chances are they remembered later that evening all the trouble my sister had caused them as she rebelled against their Catholic high school and wanted to graduate in 3 years. She was barely 16 at the time.  My parents thought she was too young.  Conversely, she thought she was too old for the white-gloved patent leather shoe nonsense.  They both won in a sense, she eventually going to a much more highly ranked college and my parents had her home for one more year. The war was ruthless however. 

The collateral damage was that I went to the other Catholic Girls High school just barely six blocks away, rupturing friendships that were almost 9 years in the making.  But books replaced those friendships and I think to this day, I got the better spoils of the battle between my parents and sister.

There were parents of friends who were extraordinarily polite yet had aged so incredibly so. They were the “young” parents of my high school set, but age is now so relative. Now they are now older and frailer. Not even I would be considered a young parent of a high schooler anymore.

The evening was  celebrated with typical benedictions and prayers that I can recall only with prompting.  Even the sign of the cross has become a odd gesture that I had to consciously think about.

I even ran into an old boyfriend there.  In traditional fashion, his daughter attends the same high school as her mother and both grandmothers combined. 

“In my house it’s 1957,” he proudly and paternally boasted as a throwback to the conventional values that persisted in that room, in that parish, in that neighborhood, in that city.

And in 1957. 

The Poppa!  TRADITION! I could hear a fiddler in the background.

Strong-willed daughters will change that heart. They always do.

My parents made the right choice in 1975 having me attend that high school.  It was the best choice they had at the time.  The public high schools may have had the basic academics but racial tensions were still very high. My geographic high school had only two white students.  In contrast, my Catholic high school had only 3 black students in a class of 114.  It was white flight without the movers.

 But as times change,  attitudes do so more slowly.  Over time, the city quietly assembled an Academic High School, even gave it that name, and through much hard work it has become one of the best high school in the state as well as the country. The city gentrified, improved, progressed and finally took advantage of its proximity to  Manhattan. I love going back now to new restaurants, the amazing waterfront and a new vibrancy. And I do go geographically home from time to time.

The most odd scenario of the evening was supposed to be its most engaging,  yet it was its most telling.  The Chairman of the Gala greeted me at the door. 

“”Maureen’ it’s nice to see you.”

“Huh? What?”I  silently gasped. ( My name is not Maureen). I honestly did not know what to say. I was initially upset that maybe the ravages of age had taken too horrible a toll.  I am unrecognizable.  Crap. I have aged, gained weight, looked hagged, etc.  

But that’s me.  Always my fault.  Mea Culpa.

Bless me father for I have……

Not sinned! It took me days to realize I am glad she didn’t recognize me.  I have earned these lines, thicker waist and cropped fingernails by doing things I love. I am raising three beautiful girls as their father has moved a thousand miles away. I care for many patients that others would find loathsome and unprofitable.  I dig gardens, refinish furniture , write awful poetry and browse used book sales for old poetry. I am a dogged researcher and I have the bad eyesight to prove it.  I cook. I eat. I garden.  I cook and eat what I garden.  All well.  Perhaps too well. Oh well.

That lemon of a greeting became my hard (fought) lemonade.

I have learned to finally make that too.

 I am not the obedient, quiet Catholic girl that I once was. Hell, I even wore a plunging dress.

And I even brought a date.

No, I am not the same.  No, I am not 17 anymore.

 I have seen the world, lived the world, tasted the world, been educated in the world and have progressed in the world.

Tom Wolfe famously said “ You can’t go home again.” 

I disagree.

You can, as this gala can attest.

But why would I want to?

Thank you SDA this Thanksgiving. 

You are still teaching me valuable lessons about life. 

Only this lesson is that you can leave it all behind.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Support Can be Beautiful

Don’t find the man of your dreams.  Find one that will support your dreams.
 -Excerpt from a conversation with my daughter August 2014

I read Huffington Post.  Yes, it doesn’t carry the literacy of The New Yorker nor the analysis of The New York Times but it gets the news job done.  It's usually a quick read in the morning before my requisite two cups of coffee.

And it has juicy news.  You know.  The type that you either shake your head at, sends chills down your spine or makes you thank goodness you don’t live in Thailand.

Guilty as charged.

But sometimes it has stories that make you just think.

I was struck by an an article that featured Jeff Bridges the other day. It was not a celebrity tell all (he didn’t impregnate an alien)  but he spoke about his wife and how his career would be nothing if it weren't for her.  It was charming, complimentary and downright cool. He has clearly stood on the shoulder of a giant.

And he is certainly “THE Dude.”

Ah, but Huffington did not disappoint.  The next article I read was on Kendall Jenner.  Topless. Yet again. In Thailand!

Get that girl a parent and a bra and perhaps some Ceftriaxone.

So what two neurons fired to find a connection here?

Bras. Brassieres, Over the shoulder boulder holders, Goody Hoodies, Nork Sacks, Tit pants, Upper Decker Flopper stoppers,  Hooter Holsters,  Cup Cake Wrappers and  Brass Ears (I have no clue what this one means) . Somewhere deep in my psyche,  a 11 year old primordial male neuron fires, sends signals to the motor neurons in my metacarpals, rolls that trackball and can find anything on Sicktionary.

Ah, yes.  The connection.  Yes there is one.

Bras, the really good ones without euphemisms, are very similar to life partners:

Very few of us look good without one. But there are always exceptions.

We need them for more than 18 hours a day.

They lift you, yet separate when you need breathing room.

The good ones cross your heart gently, passionately,  not stomp all over it.

We don't need one when we are younger yet the first ones can be trainers too.

And strong, emotionally athletic ones hold you really close when you are really going over rough terrain.

Victoria, your secret is out.

Because support can be beautiful.  At age 52 I certainly know what Playtex meant physically.  

Now I finally know emotionally too.

And Kendall, Rumor, Rihanna, etc.: Over exposure makes you just another boob.

Equal time:  I guess athletic supporters fill that same role for gentlemen. But where are those advertisements?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Clinician’s Eye

With a clinician’s eye
My plumber has
a variegated mole on his left check
that needs attention

And the neighbor has lost
Perhaps a future along with
too much weight in the 6 months
since I have last seen her

And the rash on the boy
on the cheek
in check-
out line
pairs well  
with his slight wheezing
and shiners

But I keep my tools cast down
to myself

Minding my own clinical business