Monday, December 31, 2012

2012


I frowned with two steps left to descend, already craving coffee with cream, when the flickering flames cast moving shadows on the walls of the living room.  It's not like Mom - who stayed with me after Brother and the Ones departed yesterday - to fail in her shut-down-and-lock-up bedtime routine.

I cocked my head and blinked a couple of times before moving toward the kitchen to start coffee, pausing when Sprout wound around my ankle in a bid for kibble.  I was nudging him away so I could place his full dish on his placemat when I heard retching.

I straightened with increasing concern as he scampered away from the noise.  I hurried up the stairs, calling for Mom and taking a second to panic when her bed remained made and upstairs bathrooms were empty.

Jogging back downstairs, I found her in the powder room on the main floor, inquired after her and waited until she finished to help clean the mess as she returned to my comfy couch - a mere 3 steps away - and covered with the pretty chenille blanket I gave her for Christmas.

She has rested under that blue blanket all day between trips to the bathroom while I watched with concern, taking a short break only to try to nap away a migraine.

"Coke," Aunt instructed when I called her and reported our 12 hour long struggle.  "A spoonful every 15 minutes.  It may come up, but keep having her drink."

So I have dutifully spooned soda between her parched lips, watching twice more as she shuffled to the bathroom to make miserable noises.

I finally sat on the ottoman to pray over her, placing one hand in hers and the other gently on her sore tummy.  Head bowed, I asked God for more comfort and healing and rest.  To take care of Dad - who we miss so much despite his lack of efficacy when dealing with illness.  To care for our loved ones, though we avoided seeing them on Christmas.  To help us in our sadness and illness.

I'm not sorry to see this year end - it's been my most miserable collection of days thus far.  Yet my heart has healed a little bit, I think.  I face 2013 with a new MacBook Air so I can attempt to blog more.  I want to dance - looking terribly, breathlessly silly in my living room with my Xbox for company.  I have good goals at work.

And perhaps January 1 will be free of vomit and migraines.  Here's to hope.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

With Cornflakes On Top

Mom keeps putting her purse in the dining room.  We've not used it otherwise.

We have, however, cooked.  Or rather she has.  Casseroles from my childhood, two of them topped with cornflakes for extra crunchy goodness.  We go fetch a plate when hungry, resettling in our places on comfortable living room furniture rather than setting a table.

The phone woke me this morning - Brother called on his way to work just after 6AM and Mom clomped down the stairs (louder than a herd of reindeer) to wish him a merry Christmas.  I rolled over, patted Chienne as she remained huddled under the covers, and sighed before descending the steps.

I listened to her conversation while making coffee, returning from the kitchen with 2 mugs and the cordless phone.

After hanging up, Mom and I glanced at each other and shrugged.  So I treated it like most other days and turned on the news while we sipped coffee.

"I would like to open a present," she decided.  So I went to fetch one of her packages - decorated in dancing penguins - and bestowed it upon her.  Wrapped in her new chenille blanket, she pursed her lips and selected a gift for me and one for Chienne, who blinked at the gift sleepily before her tail reached maximum wagging speed while she tore paper away from her new toy.

"Thank you," I grinned upon opening my new Xbox.  It is the Disneyland edition with Kinect - suggested by Brother when I decided I wanted to dance around my living room and collect a multitude of points.  Instead of dance-dancing though, I spent a couple of hours puzzling over the admittedly-simple connection and set-up.

"I can probably figure it out when I get there," Little One offered when she and her sister called.

"I'm almost 34 and have a doctorate," I told her sternly while Mom smiled.  "I will do it myself."  And - after a little more time - I announced victory and began to explore Disneyland by flailing my arms like a crazy person.

"Excuse me," I muttered repeatedly as I crashed into animated people, trees and fences.  I dutifully waved at characters and completed tasks - finding Donald's hat and Minnie's autograph book and Ariel's dinglehoppers.

"Oof!" I yelped when I crashed into buildings while flying with Tinkerbell.  Or tumbling down the rabbit hole for Alice.  My avatar went transparent a lot.  A lot.

But Mom giggled and offered advice and encouragement and I laughed breathlessly at the photos of me attempting to navigate my game.

We opened a few more gifts - I'll admit I'm relieved we went easy on our typical holiday excesses.  Instead, we talked and jumped and danced in front of the television and fireplace.

We had egg salad on freshly-baked bread.  Then connecticut beef supper with cornflakes on top.

It was merry.  For which I'm grateful.  And so I'm wishing you much merriment as well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Eve


"Don't forget to bring suits," I told Mom when she indicated her sleigh was filled from floor to ceiling.  "Swim," I clarified.  "Though I guess snow wouldn't hurt either."

My landscape (dirt and trees and bushes, etc.) has - at long last - been coated in a layer of fluffy white.  My house seems to be located just at the edges of the blizzard that pushed through, leaving a friendly couple of inches rather than the daunting feet that fell nearby.

I had prepared, shaking my head at the idea of storing my snowblower in the shed until late December, but pushed it up the hill and through the gate and into the garage where it stood ready to clear sidewalks and driveway.

I emerged into a chilly morning, carefully filled it with gas and coaxed it to start.  Breathless after several minutes of fruitlessly yanking a chain, I sighed and murmured to Dad that I didn't know if I could do this.

Then, with a spark of the motor and cough of smoke, the machine roared to life and puttered happily while I blinked back tears and set to work.

I found myself frowning at my meager pile of gifts on Saturday while Chienne whined impatiently at the door, not awaiting Santa but her grandma and cat.  They arrived and I offered a grinning welcome to Sir Sprout before he sprinted from the much-hated car to house-bound safety.  Then I clung to Mom for a moment, nudging away the sadness this season has brought us.

We unloaded the car, my penguin-paper-wrapped offerings soon disappearing underneath 50+ much larger gifts.  We arranged the baby carriages we had assembled at her house and I'll admit to a bemused shake of head when we arranged dolls and blankets in them.

"I told you I have the welcome letters for our trip, right?" I asked Mom and she nodded, confirming that she had swimsuits to wear in the hotel pool.  She and I are spending Christmas at my house - the first time I've ever been away from home - sans tree or decorations apart from a nativity scene.  (Fear not - the fireplace and pile o' presents add some happiness to the decor.)

Brother will fetch his girls en route to Aunt Katie's and they'll arrive on the 26th.  We'll be here for that day and the next before proceeding to our post-Christmas trip at a not-too-far-away mecca for dolls.  That are girls.  From America.  Going all out, I've reserved two rooms at a nearby hotel with a special doll package.  Doll beds and cupcakes with sprinkles and a free movie and space for each of them to spend with either Grandma and Aunt Katie or Brother and his longtime girlfriend.

I'm actually pretty excited about it.

And will likely post photos.

Until then, I'm wishing you snowblowers that start, laughter with family and friends and a really lovely Christmas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Tale of the Almost-Right Condo

Upon our journey south, we came across the rental office.  I pulled in neatly and we accepted our packet, listening absently to directions before proceeding to our building - named Island Shores - on the beach.

Seeing a sign with a logo matching the one on the rental office, I once again swung Mom's car into a parking lot, waiting for a teenager to move the orange cones which were placed in every parking spot.

"We valet park for the restaurant," he informed us and I nodded, indicating that we had already checked in disregarding my errant thought of 'our building didn't have a restaurant connected to it.'  He glanced at the parking pass I proudly displayed and obediently moved a cone near the front of the building, helpfully pointing out the carts we could use to move our mounds of luggage.

"This cart says Boardwalk," Mom noted when I returned to the car, pushing the wobbly mass of plastic on wheels. 

"Yep," I agreed, barely glancing at it before beginning to move bags and boxes of soda and water onto it, demanding she assist in my efforts.  We finished loading both levels and I pushed it along, Mom trailing behind me as we moved to the elevator. 

I rolled my eyes at the family in front of us - they didn't see the ramp at the rear entrance to the elevator and had tried to lift their loaded cart up a step.  They succeeded in dumping about half the contents on the floor and I sighed at the silliness of people.

We rode the elevator to the fourth floor and began looking for our room - number 454. 

"Katie," Mom offered hesitantly, "all these numbers are four-eights." 

"Go around the other side," I demanded, glaring at her and refusing to admit I'd been wrong.  "We're on the gulf, not the street," I sneered.  She nodded sweetly, moving on toward the edge of the building and turning - hands facing upward in a helpless gesture - and reported there was nowhere else to go.

And the room numbers still started with four-eight.  Not four-five.

"We must be in the next building," I said on a heavily embarrassed sigh, already trying to determine how I could avoid blame for a mistake entirely my fault.  I jerked the cart around so I could return to the elevator while my mother peered around the edge of the building, helpfully pointing out that she didn't see another building.

"Come on," I muttered, speaking both to the elevator and Mom and she came around the corner to wait beside me, grinning widely.

"Do you really think you picked the wrong building?" she inquired.  "Do you want me to call the guy at the office?"

The doors opened and we went inside, laughing quietly at our silliness.  I steeled myself for embarrassment - though Dad would have said I didn't know and would never see those boys again - and determinedly pushed the car out when the elevator stopped.

"Katie," Mom stopped me, hand gentle on my upper arm, "this isn't where we get out."  So I glanced around at the first floor of condos - not the underground entry the represented our escape.  And I pulled the cart back inside the car, glaring around and asking Mom why we'd stopped here when there was nobody waiting.

"I don't know," she offered, waiting politely until the cart was all the way in and pressing the button marked 1 again, looking befuddled when the doors opened again at the same location. 

She glanced at me with a frown and I closed my eyes briefly before suggesting she push the ground floor instead. 

On the short ride down, we started to giggle, quickly becoming hysterical and clinging to the bar on the elevator and handle of the cart. 

I moved quickly, head up and shoulders back, to the car, determined to load our belongings and exit this mistake as gracefully as possible. 

I winced when I saw Mom moving toward the group of boys instead, purse over her shoulder and hands held upward in inquiry.

"What's this place called?" she asked and I cringed, yanking at the handle of the locked door.  "Oh," I heard her say and she called something to me that I completely ignored before walking over, grinning widely. 

"I told them we were in the wrong building," she informed me. 

"Fantastic," I declared, beginning to re-load the car so we could drive next door and restart the proceedings toward our actual room. 


Friday, November 23, 2012

Vestiges

The remaining rays of sunlight glimmered off Mom's knitting needles as they slowly - painstakingly - wove a prayer shawl.

"Do you pray?" I asked, glancing over from the driver's seat before returning my attention to the interstate. 

"I do," she replied and I nodded, leaving her to her work as I tended to my own - moving steadily southward as the sunset faded off to our right. 

"How far are you going?" a colleague asked when I joined a conference call - apologizing for spotty reception somewhere in Mississippi or Alabama.

"Until we hit water," I replied before elaborating with the name of our destination.  The fact is that Mom loves the ocean.  It makes her happy to sit and listen to the waves.  Feel the sand between her toes.  Bask in the sunshine.

And so, on what would have been my parents' 44th anniversary, we did what they had done so many times - loaded the car and proceeded south.

We stopped along the way - tired and wanting to watch the stars dance around.  We arrived, ending up in fits of giggles because I'd parked at the wrong building, loaded a cart and took our ridiculous quantity of belongings to a floor where our condo decidedly was not.

 Mom called Aunt the next morning, fighting back tears and mourning that the ocean was not the same.  There was nowhere she could go to feel truly happy or peaceful anymore.  And I curled on the couch and stared out our 4th floor window at the water in the distance, cursing it for being so calm.  For not smelling of brine.  For containing too many boats. 

"Dad would have brought his binoculars," she noted as we stared at one ship close to shore.  I nodded, continuing to stare as the men aboard worked, wishing with futility that the beach had brought me some peace.

I sighed heavily when I saw the adhesive fish on the shower floor.  We had looked for adhesive ducks for the tub at home - giggling over the episode of Big Bang Theory that had inspired the search.

I had my toenails painted when he was sick.  One of Friend's visits of mercy was marked with manicures and pedicures and I'd just never removed the sparkling gold that had once covered the tips of my toes. 

I remember it chipping when we cared for him in the last days.  I have clipped away most of it as I've sat - mostly quiet - to mourn.


The remainder clings to the very edges of my nails.  It remains out of no profound reason - I simply can't be bothered with much of anything lately.  I work.  I sleep.  I eat.  I avoid thinking and activities that would require it - talking with friends, writing blog posts, answering emails.  The desire to do so lingers - I want to be better and normal and good again. 

But I'm left feeling like I'm clinging to the vestiges of a life I once loved.  And careful examination will release the wisps that I'm so desperately grasping. 


Nonetheless, I very much hope all of you are well. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Interpretation of 'Everyone'


I'm quite content with my new job.  I come home mentally exhausted on some days - matching standards to documents to templates to examples.  I'm learning new subjects.  Meeting new people.  Enjoying the sunshine as it streams in my cubicle.

"Hello, Katie," colleagues say as they peek over my chest-high cubicle wall.  I shift my attention from the television screen I use as a monitor and smile at them, amusing myself with the mental image of gophers popping up to say hello.

"Hi, gopher friend!" I chirp in my mind and begin conversations either friendly or professional.

There is additional noise where I sit, but I've purchased a red iPod nano to help mitigate that distraction.  I downloaded a bunch of music from my iTunes account - some songs I've never found time to hear - and fit the now-more-comfortable headphones into my ears.  So I listen and think and work.

I rose from my chair to embrace a colleage as he came around my gopher-proof wall.  I motioned to the table I'd share if anyone sat near me and I cocked my head inquisitively as he sat and opened his computer.

"How are you?" he asked as he glanced up from his screen.

"OK," I replied with a shrug.  "I was home last week and that was difficult.  But overall?  I'm doing better."

We chatted about work and I made notes on certain items.  Projects that had been mine.  Decisions I'd once made.  And I stared at my replacement - the man who'd been awarded the job I'd so wanted - with a mixture of fondness and sympathy.

"So how's it going?" I asked, feeling separate from what once was.  It feels like a different world when I return to that part of campus.  I frown when former colleagues invade my new space - they don't stay against the wall like good gophers but lumber in and take up space, glancing at my photos and shuffling through papers curiously.

He talked about problems and issues and exhaustion and I nodded in response.

"I'm happy here," I noted though he hasn't asked.

"Everyone wonders what you're doing," he replied, shaking his head.  Rather than taking offense, I grinned.

"I've not communicated my new role very clearly yet," I told him.  "I'm getting settled and rumors are settling out - I think people are figuring it out."

"But you were known globally!" he protested.  "And now you're..."

Which made me laugh.

"And now I'm here, sweetheart," I continued to chuckle as I patted his hand.  "I'm still working in R&D.  I feel like I'm doing more good here, actually - making a difference.  I get to travel with my mom rather than catching planes and taking meetings for work.  I listen to music rather than taking endless conference calls."

I paused.  Thought.

"I loved what I did - what we did as a team.  But I had serious frustrations.  I wasn't completely happy.  Obviously.  I needed a change.  And this has been good."

"But everyone," he began and I finally scowled and interrupted.

"There is no 'everyone!'"  I protested.  "It's like saying 'the business feels this is a priority.'  Complete crap.  Someone - who has a name and a life and hopes and dreams - made a decision.  Or wonders what I'm doing.  And I've realized it really doesn't matter.

"Perhaps," I continued, "you're disappointed that I'm not around to do the work you don't like.  And I can say with utmost sincerity that I don't care.  Perhaps certain teams have expressed disappointment that I no longer answer their questions immediately or scramble to meet their needs.  And because I like and respect you - you, not this elusive 'everyone' - I'm telling you that this was the right move for me.

"So if you, and I paused to call him by name, "are wondering if I've regretted my decision to abandon ship, the answer is no.  Not at all.  I don't want to return to academic research.  And I don't want to go back to that level of management.  Not right now.  Probably not ever.  I need my emotional resources for me and my family.  The business - and nobody in it - is allowed to have them to the extent they were once permitted."

He nodded and I waited for him to indicate he missed working with me.  That my contribution was considerable.  But that acknowledgement did not come and I found it barely stung. 

So I'll say this as a reminder to myself - especially as I seem to find myself here repeatedly - consider the goal.  And weigh that against the cost.  Life is full of options and perhaps some appear unattractive until you're forced to examine them more closely. 

"Is God taking care of you?" Mom asked one night as we cried together over the phone and I told her to trust in Him. 

"He is," I replied.  "He does.  It just takes me some time to accept it sometimes."

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Oncubiquitous

 "It - by nature - metastasizes."

I remember sitting in an elegant auditorium at my post-doctoral institution, listening to a seminar that I hoped would assist in my aquisition of additional funding.  Instead, I frowned as I listened to him speak - showing elaborate drawings of cells breaking free from the primary tumor and exploiting the body's normal functions in an attempt to find a new site to invade. 

"So you can't win," I remember thinking.  "You either die of cancer or you get lucky and die from something else sooner."

And while my oncology knowledge is outdated at best and perhaps not-exactly-correct at worst, I still have this feeling that cancer is always lurking.  Waiting.  Watching.  Tumbling end over end through the blood stream or lymphatic system, searching for a suitable spot.

Likewise, grief infiltrates - curling threadlike tentacles from the television where commercials urge you to seek better treatment for your specific kind of cancer.  Swat absently at you when everything turns pink in October.  Knock you off balance when an admin's husband dies from the same kind of cancer Dad had.  Pummel your heart when a dear friend who'd been viciously protective of me earlier this year deals with his father's diagnosis, surgery and chemotherapy.  Tug at your attention until you're crying while watching Dancing with the Stars because there's a certain performance on Country Night that's a little too poignant. 

I mostly endure.  Approach each day gently and carefully.  Treasure the moments of happiness and laughter and do my best to guard against the terror and sadness even as I acknowledge the futility.

I prayed on Monday morning, hand on Mom's head as she trembled with dread. 

"Help us," I begged God.  "Blanket us with strength and mercy and comfort as we go back to the cancer center.  To the place Daddy went every Thursday so he could try to stay with us.  We miss him a lot.  And I know you're keeping him safe and that you love him.  So love him extra this morning and love us too."  I gulped, took a breath and continued. 

"Bless those who are there today or any day.  Battle the cancer and the side effects and bring those patients and their families comfort and joy and peace.  Give us those things too - Mom and Brother and me.  Amen."

I felt strong until we got there.   Yet once we climbed the stairs and turned left to Pod C, I began to tremble.  I glanced nervously around in the crowded waiting room.  Popping up from the edge of my seat when we were called, I followed Mom to the same spot Dad would sit as they'd check his blood pressure, weight and temperature. 

And I started to cry. 

We went in the same room we'd visited with Daddy.  And I thought about how I hadn't known he was slipping away from us so fast. But I clung to Mom's hand and stared across the room at Brother, focusing on the inhale and exhale.  Mom prompted me to tell a funny story from our trip north and I was interrupted when the oncologist opened the door.

I went still when I saw him - the doctor my parents decided to share - and felt my eyes go wide and heart race.  He sat for a moment, asked questions I can't recall and I frowned when he had Mom leave my side to sit on the table.

"You're doing great," he told her as she perched on the edge.  We'd had to help Daddy with the small step toward the end.  And he couldn't lie back because of all the pressure in his belly. 

"I don't need to see you for another year," he continued as I was plagued by flashes of memory.  Dad's hat that boasted that he was a veteran.  The way he'd recline in the treatment room as they dripped poison into him for hours.  His cheeks would flush.

"The prognosis is excellent," he concluded, turning when I began to sob, clutching Brother's hand helplessly as the grief drowned me.  Why didn't we help Dad earlier?  Why couldn't he be great?  Skip appointments for a year?  Have an excellent prognosis?  It's not fair.  None of this is right and I hate it and I lost control as my emotions rioted for long moments in Exam Room 1.

I faced away from but next to Brother as we stood at the desk to pay and make Mom's next appointment.  I linked my arm through his and stared out the window, struggling for control.  I watched a train go by.  Gazed at the rustling branches of trees and tried to numb myself to what was happening inside.

"We've been waiting for hours," a young woman said behind me.  "My dad was supposed to see the doctor and get treatment, but we're still waiting."  And I held Brother's arm tighter as they told her they were scheduling an ultrasound for him.  They'd try to remove some of the fluid so they could begin treatment again.  And I clenched my teeth and tried to pray as my younger sibling sobbed into my hair. 

"Mom," I gasped and called her again when she didn't answer.  She finally transferred her gaze from the wall to my face. 

"Please," I begged.  "Let them bill us.  Send an appointment card.  Please?"  She nodded.  The familiar office staff nodded.  And the three of us raced down the steps and out the door, my gasping sobs echoing shamefully through the two-story lobby.

We finished most of a box of Kleenex on the drive home, all trembling and exhausted and so terribly sad.  Mom and I napped, fingers linked, and Brother returned the next day.  We had a nice time on Tuesday - looked for furniture for Mom and laughed and ate and I paid $500 for the repairs on the truck Dad bought Brother. 

But Monday was misery. 

And that misery lurks.  Ever present.  Always waiting. 

And my awareness thereof is excruciating. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Cherry on Top











Because I find myself unable to describe my vacation in words. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Window, Gate & Other Entryways

 "If you miss this light, I'm going to kill you," I threatened my mother in Green Bay.

We'd been driving for hours - having forsaken the very idea of a flight - and traveling steadily north before taking a little detour on our way Lake-Michigan-ward.

"There it is," I noted, pointing at the football stadium as we peered out the windows.  "It looks fairly new - did they rebuild it?"

"I don't know," Mom said.  We looked at each other, shrugged, then sat through every flipping traffic light in the city to get back to the interstate.

She gave me a look - that long-suffering maternal one - as we merged back on 43N.  "I asked if you wanted to stop and you said you didn't care."

"I was trying to be a good travel companion!" I cried.  "I didn't know we'd go upwards of an hour out of the way to look at a stupid stadium that looks like any other big building!  And then only stop at ShopKo to look at t-shirts!  They probably have Packers t-shirts at the ShopKo at home!  And you only bought bottles of water anyway!"

That has been, however, our only squabble thus far.

I paired her phone with her car - the former chirps happily every time we enter the vehicle now.  "It is one with the car," I say and we both grin when we answer a call by pressing a button on the steering wheel.  

I giggled almost incessantly on our ferry ride to Washington Island.  Mom white-knuckled it through, trying to keep the large boat from rocking in the rough waters by sheer force of will.  I held her hand and tried to talk to her but continued to laugh each time she'd jump and glare out the windows.

We had coffee and shared a scone and cinnamon roll in Gilles Bay.  We're sharing a room in Egg Harbor - on that overlooks the water from its perch on a bluff.

"It's freezing in here," Mom decided when we arrived so I dutifully turned up the heat until the room was suitably toasty.  In the meantime, I sat on our balcony with my laptop - revising documents and basking in the cool breeze and lingering sunshine.

When we returned from dinner - at the place that has goats on the roof in the summertime - the room was breathtakingly hot.  I opened the balcony door, sleeping about a foot from the opening to catch as much fresh air as possible.

I awakened from a fitful sleep to find Mom throwing open the doors as much as possible.  "It's so hot in here," she muttered, shuffling back to bed and I murmured my agreement, finally relaxing as the room cooled. 

"It's so pretty," I repeated when we stood on the beach covered with stones.

And it is - the two-lane roads and brilliantly-changing leaves and the water that cuddles the land at every corner.

We stood together in the place where she and Daddy visited a couple of years ago, leaning to smooth the rocks with our thumbs before replacing them on the beach as we stood for another moment in the cold rain.

We waddled back across the beach, losing our balance on the slippery stones a couple of times, and returned to the car once again.

"I'm tired," I decided as I drove from the parking lot and back on to one of the island's roads.  "Where's Main Road?" I asked and grinned as Mom smiled back at me.

She soon grew somber though, knowing we had to battle another boat ride.  But we held hands, giggled and distracted each other until that, too, had passed. 


Monday, October 08, 2012

Dashed Hopes (undashed)

I came home early today, leaving my friendly cubicle before 4 and commuting home, going ever-so-slowly through my neighborhood in search of a shy feline with a stripey coat.

"I kind of hate him," I admitted to Friend the other night.  "It's too cold outside so he's brought a mouse inside so that he can torture the poor thing for longer."  Then Sibling came over, suitcases in tow, and beheld the half-eaten body of a dear-departed mouse. 

"I'm dropping it," I wailed as I hurried to the garbage, rodent corpse clutched in a wad of paper towels, bloody tail dangling from the mass.  "Ew, ew, ew..."  After I finished gagging, I cursed the cat - sending him off with a glare and refusing to make eye contact for a full 24 hours afterward.

I've battled to keep him inside though Chienne has joined Team Sprout-ness, dallying as she wanders out the sliding door so he has adequate time to dart past. 

"Yes," I replied to the woman on the phone.  "He's a short-haired tabby.  6 or 7 years old.  Such pretty green eyes."  She dutifully entered my information in a lost pet form and I sighed as I finished the conversation. 

Sir Sprout would abhor the animal shelter so I was sort of pleased he'd not been injured, captured and taken to our (admittedly excellent) local Humane Society. 

But it's so cold at night.  And he'd been gone since Saturday evening, ignoring my calls and avoiding his typical hiding places all day yesterday and today. 

"He only likes the indoor formula of Cat Chow," I wanted to disclose if he'd found a new family.  "He loves to play dot with the laser.  He doesn't trust men easily.  Enjoys catnip and scratching posts but only if they're in places where he feels safe.  And he likes to sleep in the sunshine."

Far less importantly, I kind of met someone.  Who didn't call.  And though I know cell phones should alleviate that particular torture, I still thought he might have tried my land line.  So maybe I'd return home to a found-cat and left-message. 

But it was not to be. 

So I fretted over the cat, knowing I don't want another.  I'm not really a cat person and had Sprout not selected us by hiding in my flower bed, I would have remained with dogs. 

"Sprout?" I called again, opening the sliding door and peering outside.  "Mr. Sprout-sprout?" 

And just as I began to slide the door closed, I frowned.  Because I thought I'd heard him answer.  Not unlike his reply when I'd called a gentle inquiry when a kitten-version of the cat had hidden in my front bushes, seeking a place to live. 

"Sprout?" I tried again, squinting into the darkness and beaming when he leaped up the stairs to the deck and scampered inside. 


He even let me scoop him up to cuddle, rubbing under his chin and smoothing the dirt from his coat before I bent to fill his dish with kibble. 

"I'm glad you came back," I admitted, leaning to pet him again.  "I do love you, my silly Sproutness."

And now we return to our typical inside vs. outside battle routine. 

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Injury Ignored

I know not how I did it.  One moment, I was in my basement, curled on my old couch and reading from the pile of paperbacks littering the floor.  Another, I was dutifully piling said books and loading them on shelves.  Finally, I was frowning down at my ankle, disturbed by the pain it was causing. 

Not wanting my ankle to be sore, I stood on my healthy leg and shook out the sore one.  Rotated it in circles.  Gave a warning glare.  Then cursed at my right ankle when it continued to cause pain to shoot through my leg when asked to bear weight.

Returning to the couch, I propped myself on pillows and blankets, assuming my little nest of healing would work its magic and I'd soon be all better.  However, when trying to climb the stairs, I realized I was decidedly not healed.  And my limping stride up the stairs was surpassed in pace by my elderly, blind canine friend. 

"I'm injured," I explained when she waited for me at the landing.  She wagged her tail sympathetically before wandering to the sliding door and waiting to be let outside.  I hobbled over, shaking my ankle vigorously for good measure, and opened the door, taking a moment to inhale the scents of fall outside. 

I did the same this morning - clipping a leash to Chienne and stepping off the front porch to begin our walk.  I had decided I was going to be all better and my ankle was cooperating beautifully. 

Until it suddenly stopped - a vague ache morphing to sharp pains apropos of nothing.  So I paused for a moment, Chienne obediently glancing backward before sniffing at a tree trunk.

I find myself avoiding those pauses for the most part.  Remaining quietly busy - hosting Sibling before she abandoned the gently rolling hills of the upper Midwest for towering buildings and busy streets in NYC.  Immersing myself in my new team - leading activities to build our interaction skills, drowning in documentation and revisions and lengthy arguments about said changes. 

"I'm happy," I replied when someone from my old team asked during an event I'd organized last week.  "I know it happened almost accidentally and I had panicked moments where I wondered if I was taking a professional step back.  But I do like it.  I can do good things here.  I'm sincerely pleased."

It's effective - this 'pretend it's all fine' strategy.  If I'm busily distracted, I don't worry about Mom or long to talk with Dad.  But when the grief startles me - breaks through the flimsy protective barrier I've built - it's overwhelming. 

I returned from a dinner out one evening, already tapping at my laptop to reply to email as I'd drank but one glass of wine and was in fine shape to continue working, I called Mom - as is my now-daily habit - to check in.

And she wouldn't stop crying.  I prayed.  And talked.  And blinked back my own tears.  Cursed the three hour drive that stood between me being present for her.  So I called Aunt and asked her to go.  Once she was en route, I moved to the recliner Dad gave me - the one I never-ever use - and sat on the edge of the seat. 

And I wept.  Unable to push it down or lock it away, the pain escaped in wretching sobs that had me curled in a ball.  Grief escaped, filling the house with violent expulsions I could neither control or pause. 

I slept afterward, swallowing a tiny tablet that eases anxiety before climbing the stairs to bed.  I lapsed into rest with the sounds of my pitiful moans echoing in my ears. 

"It's all so painfully different," I told Friend when I called one night.

"Yes," she said, voice beautifully familiar and soothing.  A reminder that some people who were part of what was good before are still part of what will come and be good again.  "It's all completely different.  And not all that different at all."

Though I've mangled that quote - let's call it artistic license and crappy memory - it helped.  When I'm ready to acknowledge it, I'll note that the changes have occurred.  That some are lovely and others grotesque.  But - whether noted or ignored - it will be OK.

Though my ankle still hurts. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Goodness List, day 1


  1. I awakened early this morning, a Chienne cuddled against the small of my back.  I patted her, squinted at the clock and decided to get up even though it was barely 4:30.
  2. I did some work - thinking clearly and cleanly.  Making presentations often helps clarify projects in my mind.  Someone once told me that teachers had the best grasp of the material.  Not that I would ever (ever, ever) want to teach, but it's a fair point.
  3. "Oh, look how cute," I murmured, bending to fetch the black-skirt-with-pink-pattern that had fallen behind my drying rack downstairs.  I brushed the dust bunnies free of the hem, struggled into tights and tugged my newfound-treasure over my hips.  
  4. When complimented on my outfit, I grinned and offered that I found the skirt behind my dryer!  It's like new!  Except a little dusty!
  5. I learned something from a colleague with whom I've had a tense relationship.  She is a bit abrasive, but she's hospiced 3 family members to my 1 Daddy.  So she's being kind to me.  And I in return.  It was one of my reservations about taking this job so it's nice that we're peaceful.
  6. I replanted more of Dad's memorial plants.  I finally feel better about all (but 1) of them.  The baskets in which they arrived were (1) not draining properly and I was waterlogging my new flora and (2) sad.  I now have pretty pots shaped like giant tulip blossoms.  They're silly.  But doing an excellent job of guarding the corner of my desk.
  7. Oh, and I'm winning in my battle with the desk-stealing-nemesis.  (In all fairness, I stole the desk.  But he took it back!  And NEVER sits there!  So when he stopped by to introduce himself and ask about his stupid belongings, I sighed, walked 5 steps and pointed to the stuff obviously sitting just across the hall.  I may or may not have muttered 'idiot' under my breath when moving back to my new cubicle home.  He left shortly thereafter.  I believe this means I'm winning.  
  8. I went to lunch when invited today, sitting with my new team.  Adam walked by and waved - I lifted my hand, a little wistful over the easy camaraderie I shared with my former colleagues.  My new group manages a number of loosely-if-at-all-related projects so they don't have the 'all for one' mentality I used to enjoy.  But they're lovely women.  And I can perhaps contribute to building our sense of team.  
  9. I avoided dinner with my former team.  I had brunch with them yesterday and grow weary of saying good-bye to a team which disbanded some time ago.  Yes, I loved working with them.  Yes, I do miss them.  But no, I am not good at keeping in touch.  So let's just make a break and move on, yes?
  10. Instead, I finished some work (and felt proud for not procrastinating) and stopped at Qdoba.  And it was free queso day!  How lovely of Qdoba to give the gift of cheese dip!  They appreciate me. You know who I appreciate?  Qdoba.  With their cilantro and guacamole and free queso.  And friendly employees who are ever-so-efficient.  And consistently high-quality burritos.  
Now I'm exhausted.  I'm still sad.  And a little slow.  And when I looked up at my calendar to check the fiscal week, I saw the photo of my dad and my heart broke a little more.  Because I miss him.  A lot.  

But I'm really (really) trying (very hard) to find the positive.  And - unless you don't count #7 - I didn't even have to use the way the setting sunlight filtered through the red maple leaves as I drove home!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The disjointed, not OK post

I so rarely open my laptop.  Poor, old Nick comes unplugged and goes dead as he rests near the couch, forsaken in favor of iPad or work computer.

In addition, I am loathe to think.  Because life seems painful - new miseries just waiting to be acknowledged.

"Does it bother you?" Pretty Hair asked as we talked over wine after work one day.  I'd disclosed that I lost the promotion not terribly long before Dad died.  That some of my dwindling moments with him were spent weeping over professional crap.

"That he knew?  No.  I believe he knows now - that it's OK and that in the future it will be OK.  I just miss him - want to talk to him to make sure he's doing well in Heaven.  That he likes it there."  Then I crumbled my drink napkin - now sodden with tears - in my trembling hand.

Pretty Hair dabbed at her eyes as well before Sibling arrived, offering hugs and distracting photos of her Jersey condo.

"We did pretty well," Pretty Hair commented.  "I'm in Bern.  Sibling in NYC.  Other friend in LA.  Katie... here."  So I laughed and indicated I don't want to move.  I'm fine where I am.

I did, however, have to move my desk.  Adding insult to injury, someone had already claimed the cubicle I wanted by placing boxes-full-of-binders on the edge of the desk.  I'd moved them with some help from my new team, then apologized when I realized he'd wanted to sit there.

He insisted I move.

Which I guess is fair.  Not a big deal.  That I pretty much hate him is a response out of proportion with the situation.

That he emailed me to ask me to move again yesterday - after I'd relocated a week ago already - made me write a response that replied 'Fuck off, you stupid son of a bitch' to his 'Have an awesome day!' signature.  (I didn't send it.  But I look forward to being obviously bitchy when I do meet him.)

I must regroup.  Bounce back.  Find some sense of happiness and well-being.

But I'm failing miserably.

I sleep until I ache - head and muscles - from lack of use.  I keep buying books I don't finish.  I don't have to travel anymore so there's no break in the monotony.  There is just existing as the weather grows cooler.  Flip a switch from air conditioning to heat.  Revise documents and schedule redundant discussions.  And try to find some modicum of energy to pretend I care.

Sibling needs a place to stay right before her move so I was cleaning up clutter yesterday.  I found a bag, began to empty it, and found myself clutching Dad's Batman pajama pants to my chest, unable to breathe past the grief.

I am not OK.

I know there's a good chance I will be again, but the rush of memories keeps knocking me off balance. Holding his hand at the hospital and whispering that I was scared.  How he'd rest his forehead on my shoulder - exhausted - as we'd help him up to use the bathroom.  Holding Mom's hand as we tried to sleep the night that we lost him.

From my favorite spot on the couch - now littered with extra pillows and fluffy blankets as I rarely move from here - I can see an enlarged photo of Venice at sunrise.  The pastel hues of dawn with the ornate street lamps perched on cobblestones looking out over the lagoon.

I like to think I was happy then - and I was - but there were moments of inexplicable sadness there too. Perhaps I should just accept that I'm a depressed and depressing person.

I answered the phone Mom handed me last time I was home.  "Hello, Aunt," I said.

"I know she's not talking to me," Aunt replied of my mom and I giggled.  "She thinks I don't know that I pissed her off.  But I do know.  I was just trying to help."

"I know," I soothed.  "And I don't think she's angry.  Just tired.  We don't want grief counseling.  Or therapy.  Or suggestions on how to do this, really."

"But she said she's ready to die, Katie," Aunt argued and I shrugged, not mentioning that I'm not sure I disagree with that stance.

"But she's not hastening the process," I replied gently.  "We're not suicidal.  We're sad.  We pray and work and are trying to figure this out.  It's just really very hard right now."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Tale of the Not-So-Good Birthday

"Use this to score two points - or 3 if you're distant.
 Your next clue is there as if you had wished it!"

Per the request I'd received - in writing, no less - from my eldest niece, I developed a treasure hunt that rhymed - as did Smallest's on her recent 5th birthday - but that was "harder." 

And harder it was - it required the puzzle of riddles and obscure but clever hiding spots.  I worked diligently on that project and made the trek to my parents' house to attend an 8th birthday party. 

It started going wrong before I even arrived. 

Mom was ill and while it sounded like a stomach bug to me, I am now shocked from my previous view of health - the 'it'll be fine...' perspective - to the 'Oh, Dear Lord, this could be the end of it all' paranoia that invades oh-so-many of my thoughts.  So I fretted through the drive and coaxed her to take medicine and drink something and rest. 

And then I stood trembling in the hallway, miserably afraid.

The girls arrived just after 6PM, fresh from tumbling class.  Brother had placed a new bicycle on the front porch to greet Little One and he looked shaken and sick as well.  As they came in, he sat in Dad's recliner, leaning back and elevating his feet, neatly exposing the culmination of my treasure hunt with the Stuffies hiding under the chair. 

"Dammit," I muttered when Smallest One scampered over to cuddle her new turtle Stuffie when she saw it.  But I was struggling with a days-old headache and months-old worry.  Little One, sweetheart that she is, decided to tackle the treasure hunt straightaway as the end had just been ruined. 

We'd made it to the tire swing out back and encyclopedias downstairs and the dishwasher soap under the sink.  I left her there - on the floor of the kitchen - as the next clue lead to the recliner that had already been revealed. 

I was speaking softly to Mom as she lay curled in bed, asking if I could bring anything to her, when I heard Little One crying.  So I hurried back down the hall to find her utterly discouraged, unable to decipher the last clue and weeping as if her heart were broken. 

We finished the treasure hunt and I made pigs in blankets per her request.  Mom, unable to get out of bed, ignored Smallest when she demanded Grandma get up and make her pink milk and lay down with her!  Little One curled up quietly in her room, disappointed that Grandma, Aunt and Uncle missed her birthday party.  That the happy birthday song was a bit weak.  The decorations sparse.  The treasure hunt damnably difficult. 

And sometimes I suppose it goes that way. 

"How's work?" Brother asked as we sat together, looking at the photo-topped cake that required an odd-but-edible film atop the frosting. 

"Not great," I replied.

"Me, too," he agreed.  "What are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing," I replied, still staring at the cake that bore a photo of Little One amidst One Direction that I'd created myself. 

"Me neither," he offered.  I glanced up at him and nodded, watching him mimic the gesture. 

And when asked recently for a happy story - in a terribly sweet gesture, really - I blinked back tears.  Because I don't really remember being happy lately.  I cope.  Endure the moments where I must be awake.  Battle back from panic and despair. 

But happiness?  It seems like a distant memory, honestly. 

But at least it's almost bedtime again.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

"Welcome Home, Katie."

"Did I hear you were moving?" a colleague asked outside my office yesterday.  I glanced up, brushing dust from the front of my dress and tucking a lock of hair back in my ponytail.  Nodded and gestured to the recycle bin I was filling with unwanted papers.

"Congratulations on the new job," he offered and I raised my eyebrows while thanking him.  He grinned.  Shrugged.  "It's congratulations or sympathy - which do you want?"

"Neither?" I replied, gesturing him into a chair not covered with the rubble of my former routine.  "No need for more sympathy - thought it's terribly sweet, it's not really helpful.  And I guess congratulations are fine, though this doesn't feel right.  It's just the best choice in a bad situation, I suppose."

He offered his consoling felicitations once again and left me to my work.

It is perhaps not the best of times to clean one's former office when one is feeling somewhat devoid of hope or purpose.  Read: I threw most everything out.

Files and forms.  Notebooks and legal pads.  Folders and binders and receipts and messages scrawled on post-its.  It was time to move and everything-must-go and go quickly, disappearing into the giant blue recycle bin standing sentry at my door.  I didn't read though 99% of the material - I'd not recently used it and had no plans to need it again.  So indiscriminately into the bin it sailed.

Mostly finished, I looked around and sighed.  Then I straightened my spine from its habitual slump of late and picked up a couple of bags and made my way across campus.  I put magnets and photos and random bits of adorable around my new cubicle, located in a bright corner of a huge open space filled with people I don't know.

I returned home early and curled on the couch across the room from Mom.  We mindlessly watched television until 6:00 when I asked if she would accompany me to the office to finish moving my things.

"I hate this halfway point," I complained.  "Life is changing and this isn't what I wanted.  But since I can't stop it, I want to finish the process and adjust."

So in we went, dutifully packing pound upon pound of textbooks and computer peripherals and what was left in the one drawer I'd not cleaned that afternoon.  

We pushed carts across the parking lot, pausing to help each other balance across a couple of the rough spots.  Upon arriving at my new desk, we started to unload, piling certain items on freshly-cleaned shelves and in newly-opened drawers.  We tacked posters and the 8x10 photos I print after trips.  Mom placed a photo of Daddy on the front of an enclosed shelf, positioning a magnet in the corner so he could watch over me while I worked.

"I'll connect everything tomorrow," I decided, tossing monitor, keyboard and mouse into a haphazard pile before turning to watch Mom wipe her brow and nod.

"There's just this stuff left," she informed me and I wiped my brow and nodded in return.  I scooped it up and settled items in their places.

Until there were just two more.  I shook my head over a tiny notepad - an old friend had given it to me and I waited to feel nostalgic or wistful or something.   But I was blank and told Mom she could have thrown it away.

I glanced at the last notepad - a top-bound medium-sized white tablet with faint black lines onto which I'd jotted various items I should remember.  I tapped it on the table at the corner of my cubicle, looking around in growing panic at what had become of me.  No more flurry of global management floors for Katie - I'd rejected 2 offers to stay there in favor of coming here.  To strange people and projects.

Wait, I wanted to cry to the mostly empty room while Mom stacked books I'd decided to bring home.

This isn't how it was supposed to be.

Blinking back tears, I flipped back the pages of the notebook I still clutched and moved to toss it in a nearby recycle bin, pausing when I noticed the message printed neatly on the first sheet of paper.

I nodded at it, clutching it to my chest before placing it carefully on my desk and pressing my hand atop it for a moment of prayer - of thanksgiving and love and hope.

"May I tell you something sad?" I asked Mom about an hour after we returned home, sitting up from where I'd once again curled on the couch.  She nodded and I gulped back tears before starting to speak.

"I threw everything away today," I began.  "Old or new.  Used or not.  Into the recycling bin.  I just wanted to...  I don't know.  Not think about it.  Finish.

"So the only things I saved to write on were spiral notebooks from Barnes & Noble with the colored edges."

I paused to breathe and swallow against tears.  "Right before we left, I was feeling alone and afraid."  I confessed.  "I know I could have stayed where I was but I feel undervalued and ashamed of failing.  So I was looking around at the choice I made and almost couldn't breathe.  And then I found that white notepad.  You must have packed it," I told her and Mom shrugged.

"I flipped it closed right before we left and there was a note from Daddy.  It said 'Welcome Home, Katie.' in his handwriting."  I paused to let a sob escape before I took a breath and continued. "I think he sees us, Mom," I tried to conclude, no longer battling the inevitable tears.  "I think God's letting him tell us that he loves us and is still proud of me."

And then we cried together.

And then today, when I returned to my desk, I carefully removed that sheet from the notepad and pinned it to the wall of my new cubicle.  Smiled at it.  And got to work.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Surreality


"Fine," is the word I have chosen to apply when people inquire after my well-being.  And I am - I sleep and eat and laugh at times.  I work when necessary - scooping my laptop from the floor and tapping out replies to emails.  Using Daddy's phone with its stronger signal to make conference calls that can't be postponed.

But everything feels different. 

Wrong.

Surreal.

My mom had friends when I was little - even before I was born, actually.  Two of them came to visit last week, bringing photos of a 1-year-old Katie in cars and trying to walk and playing with toys and snuggling with her mom.  My favorite, of course, is above - staring at my Daddy in delight.  (Which is now making me cry.  I miss him a whole lot.)

"What?" I asked from the back patio this morning.  Adam had called - as I'd requested - at 6AM on Labor Day to answer an urgent question.  He'd just returned to his hotel in Japan and we'd asked and answered questions about this mess of a project. 

"Are you sure this is what you want?  Moving into a more operational role?"

"Yes," I replied. 

"Because it's not too late.  I can get you out of it.  Or I can continue to push to make it happen.  But you were so good and this is so different..."

I nodded, staring out at Daddy's garages across the humid morning.  This is not what I wanted, I thought silently.  Given my way, my day today would look quite different.  Do I want to abandon global travel?  Work more on execution than owning the strategy?  Will I miss the attention? 

"I'm positive," I stated.  "It's time to do something different."

And different my life has been - I've lived with Mom and my parents' house for the last week.  Yesterday I used a majority of my mental power to help Smallest One make 2s.  She'd been doing them backward so we practiced and cheered and giggled while she grinned with pride.  We made it through the number 10 - quite an accomplishment. 

And perhaps I'll someday return to some sort of accomplishment of my own. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life after Death

"I don't know where to start," one small pupil assigned to my row reported, his eyes meeting mine as I stood behind him.  I cocked my head and considered him for a moment.

"Well," I finally replied, "why don't you start here?" I pointed to a spot on his dry-erase board.  "Then we'll see what happens and go from there?"

***

I haven't the heart to tell stories of late.  I compose posts as I move through my days - sometimes happy, often sad - but I find I'm just holding it together and fear that if I examine anything too closely, I'll see that it's ragged around the edges with cracks spreading rapidly through the interior.  And having not the strength to repair it, my hope is to ignore - inasmuch as that's possible - until I regain my balance.

"Will you hold my hand?" I asked Little One as we sat on the bleachers at the drag races and I began to cry.  She nodded worriedly, lacing her fingers through mine and leaning against my side, our sweat-slick arms sticking together as grief wafted over me like smoke from tires. 

"You dad loved everything about this," Mom had said quietly.  And because I hadn't liked much of anything about it, I didn't really remember it well.  But - sitting there in the bright sunshine and sparing breeze on that Saturday afternoon - I listened to the engines rev and roar, inhaled the fumes of burning rubber, gasoline and nitrous fuels and watched the cars speed in straight lines.  And the urge to turn to my dad and comment - to watch his rapt attention and easy grin - was so powerful that I was lost in a pain so intense that I can't find words to describe it. 

We left his ashes along the return strip.  The cars turn around at the end after racing one way and either drive or are towed back home for rest and repair and the next round.  So we walked to a spot outside the fence and in sight of the finish line and I handed out the small bags I'd filled that morning. 

Brother went first before Smallest asked for her turn.  I filled the gap between their lines of pale powder, taking deep breaths while Little One carefully placed hers, insisting that Mom take the final bag and pour it so that we formed a line there at the grass.  We stood for a moment, staring downward, before returning to the car and moving back toward my house.

***

 "But you love customer presentations," people have protested as I made noises about changing teams and doing something different.

"I really don't," I finally noted, tiring of my nodding in absent agreement and hoping discussions would end faster.  "I loved my job and presentations were part of that.  So I did enjoy them and I tried hard to deliver good ones.  But it's not breaking my heart to walk away."

In a funny twist though, what could be my last major presentation was done via webcast in a studio - with teleprompters and three cameras and all the lighting and sound personnel.  It was a little bizarre, but a nice distraction for that particular day.  It didn't hurt to be concerned with what camera to speak to rather than what in the world I was trying to do with my life now. 

I had discussions with the three potential bosses and picked the one that's most different.  It's still not completely clear that I'll get what I want, but Adam has pulled some strings and tried to clear the way for my escape.  But until then, I'm trying to find energy to do what I've done in my current - somewhat nebulous role. 

It's unpleasant.  But not painfully so.

***

Smallest One turned 5 today - an event in which I fully participated thanks to spending the week at my parents' house.  Mom and I delivered snacks to her classroom.  I wrote out rhyming clues for a treasure hunt so that she could collect presents throughout the house and yard.  We selected a Dora cake (white cake with whipped cream icing) and made dinner for Aunt, Uncle, Brother, Useless Girlfriend and the girls.  We sang and laughed and took photos.  Bought balloons and wore pointy hats and retaped the 'happy birthday' banner when it grew lopsided.

It was lovely - they're charming and beautiful and I'm so glad they're around.  And it feels like home to have a small family party - to grill and smell the lemon Ajax as we do dishes.

"The house smells wrong," Mom told me tearfully when we arrived back here last Sunday though.  Brother had moved in and had parties, made messes, ruined items that weren't his.  But we've cleaned up and taken turns lecturing and trying to offer some understanding.  And I've made it perhaps-too-clear that he is not living here or staying here or driving Dad's cars.

Admittedly though, in trying to help, I've crossed the line as well.  I wept while cleaning out one of Daddy's drawers in an attempt to put away his Army medals.  Mom frowned in disapproval.  I reorganized the linen closet after removing some of his clutter.  Mom snapped at me - just a little - when I lost her toothpaste.  So I'm leaving things alone - trying to create a stable, safe place - until she's ready for something different.

***

"I can't do it," Ethan said after I'd suggested he try something - anything - with his little red marker.  I made my most thoughtful face and tried fruitlessly to remember how I'd learned to write the number 2.

"Aunt Katie?" Smallest One's teacher called from her position in the front of the room.  "Put your hand over his and show him."

"Oh," I breathed, leaning down over little Ethan and curling my fingers around his smaller hand.  "Let's start here," I said softly, "and curve around and down and then come back."

He grinned up at me, ridiculously proud and I cuddled him for a second.

I sighed when we left, admiring a lunchbox with a Nickelodeon boy band on it and waving at some children and offering my hand for too-hard high fives to others.  We gathered up the birthday treat trash and made our retreat while I wished I had someone to take my hand and show me how to do this.  How to go on while making Dad's memory matter but not being incapacitated by grief.

In the absence of that, however, I'll just keep trying something and going from there.  



Friday, August 17, 2012

Fines (and stars)

"I don't think they fine you," I noted when I blew past another toll plaza without stopping to pay.  It was - I'll admit - rather hit and miss as to whether I'd go online and remember to pay afterward. But I did like saving time by not stopping.  And time went on while I drove home and back - all the while a certain state calculated my crimes and I ended up paying a rather hefty (in the hundreds, not thousands) amount to account for my sins.

I couldn't even get all that upset about it.  I knew the rule.  Broke it with said knowledge.  And hoped I'd somehow avoid getting caught. 

I applied a remarkably similar approach to my professional life for most of 2011.  I was frustrated.  Nothing was changing.  We were all talk and so much of that talk felt like lies that I wanted to escape.  So I did.  I "worked" from home.  I took naps.  Did the bare minimum necessary and when even that became onerous, started working on only the projects I wanted, responding to Adam's pleas and threats with stark apathy.

I remember shaking my head at those silly managers one day last summer - I was walking to my car before lunch, having worked a couple or three hours, and was heading home to work no more for the day.  And they weren't doing a single thing to stop me.

Except the annual review of 2011 performance was hardly permissive.  They had to call my year 'uneven' because even when I'm not trying, I do pretty good work.  But I was no longer the passionately dedicated Katie I once was.  And I'd become so annoyed and superior that I wanted them to notice.  And though I'd begged them to notice in so many ways, I was horrified when it became official.  Ashamed and miserable and so very hurt. 

Which is - of course - wildly irrational but pretty predictable if you know me well at all.

So I walked into the reorganization at a distinct disadvantage.  Though I've successfully completed my probationary punishment with flying colors (my parents being unwell and having a clearly-defined goal really helped my focus), I should have realized that my chances at promotion were low.

Brother threatened to beat up the man who rejected me.  And I thanked him and cried while he got increasingly angry, Dad in the process of dying beside us.  That will likely go down as the worst few hours in my life.  And though the job stuff was miniscule in comparison and I was the one who called and insisted on the news, I am angry. 

Not livid.  Just a cold, stern anger.  As I can't find any of the emotion for Dad for leaving me or God for taking him, Mom for needing me and Brother for doing the best he could, I find I'm focusing that rage in the professional context. 

Mom and I came home yesterday and I went to work this afternoon.  I was embraced and soothed and patted comfortingly.  Then I went to take a meeting about what I should do next.

"What do you want to do?" my new pseudo-manager asked (I'm in a sort of limbo right now as my former job no longer exists and I didn't get the new job).  And I opened my mouth, closed it again and stared into space while I considered it.

"I feel devalued," I wanted to say.  "I recognize why you might have chosen who you did - and he's fantastic - but I'm still insulted and unsettled by it for various reasons.  So I want to walk away - to force the realization that I was valuable to this team and you miss what I brought to Industry."

Since I didn't say any of that, he finally mentioned a couple of jobs that he thought might fit.  I nodded and said I'd consider it.  Then he mentioned another job, but said he didn't think I'd like it.  That he didn't want me to take it anyway as he'd rather I stay on his team.  But that manager had said he'd take me in a second if I became available.

So - obviously - that's what I want.  To leave my current team and learn something new.  Change buildings on campus.  Meet new people.  Grow in another direction.  Take advantage of some perks and embrace the disadvantages as completely worthwhile in context.

Plus - perhaps most importantly - there's enough of Daddy in me to want to say 'fuck it' and move on.  Not very far and not moving backward, but making it clear that they have displeased the Katie (and her family).  The thought makes me feel peaceful.  So I'll take a couple days to think and then see what magic I can work.

The last time I felt this peaceful?  Last night - just before dawn when I woke myself coughing.  There was the brightest of stars shining in the window at the head of my bed.  I paused while adjusting my pillows and stared at it, smiling when I recalled Mom asking Dad if he was picking out a star from which to watch over us. 

She came in at that moment, crawling in the other side of the bed with Chienne close behind her. 

"Look, Mom," I said and lifted my hand to point.  "I think I see Daddy's star."  And we smiled at it for a moment before going to sleep. 

So we're going to be fine.  I'm pretty confident. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dad's Eulogy


I have a PhD.  Dad would have wanted you to know that if you didn’t already.  Then he would have taken his wallet out to show you pictures of me and my dog.  Brother and his girls, Little and Smallest One.  He probably didn’t disclose that I struggled a little at the end of my studies and finished my doctorate four months later than I’d planned.  That he and Mom came to bring me presents and buy me dinner for my originally scheduled defense date in July.  That he drove me to Madison and back over Thanksgiving break so I didn’t have to turn in my thesis alone.  Then – after he stood beside me to pay my final fees and hand in hundreds of printed pages – we stopped for a cheeseburger on the drive home.  He said he wanted to go somewhere nicer, but I thought it was perfect – sitting across from my dad – who was so proud of me and loved me so much -  in a booth at a Culver’s on the back roads.    

He drove that trip – as he did most times when he was with me.  I wasn’t great at following all Dad’s driving rules.  Like not driving in the left lane unless you were passing.  Not jerking the wheel when the road curves.  I should follow gravel trucks at a safe distance so as not to risk cracking the windshield.  Not sit so close to the steering wheel in case the airbag went off.  Don’t park too close to the entrance because people can be idiots and open their doors right into the side of your car. 

Despite calling people idiots, Dad had a gentle soul – was protective and kind and funny and smart.  But he’d also shoot at squirrels out back.  Served in Vietnam.  Guarded Mom against any of the people she thought might get her.  He was a car guy and liked doing car stuff that I never really embraced or understood.  I remember being so bored – in garages or at cruise ins or taking a ride just to look around.  Walking through lots at car dealers.  Going to car museums.  And the races – so many races.  I’d look at my mom and think – my goodness, she must love him a lot.  In all honesty, she loved him more than I can begin to understand – and Dad would tell you that I’m pretty smart.  They’ve been married 43 years and she was as devoted to that man – and he to her – as it was possible to be.  They made a home together – at old address here in the Heights then at current address, where Brother and I grew up.

Whenever we’d lose something in that house, we’d go get Dad.  He had this deliberate nature that kept him searching – for my keys, Smallest’s iPod, Brother’s hat.  Little and Smallest both went through a Webkinz phase – those little stuffed animals that linked to an online cartoon version for which you could buy online toys and furniture.  Mom and I started dutifully playing Webkinz games to earn KinzCash for these online animals and when we didn’t earn enough, Dad would go in and play Eager Beaver Adventure Park.  You were supposed to make words from these stacks of letters – a little like Scrabble – but you could only use adjacent letters.  Mom and I could only find words that were too short and the little cartoon beavers would get so mad.  I’d rarely last more than one level.  But Dad would sit and click and think, reporting his earnings and number of letters in his longest word when he’d return from the office.  He was always good at thinking and planning and thinking some more.  And he would have moved Heaven and Earth for his granddaughters – one letter at a time.

Daddy loved Brother and I know they were closer than we were.  Dad worked from home while Brother was small – pouring cereal while we sat at the counter, waving from the front door as we walked to school, working in the garage, running errands.  He and Mom coached sports and beamed with pride at graduation ceremonies and sat in the front pew for Brother’s wedding.  They did projects – Dad and Brother – and my goodness does he love that kid.  When it came time to go for chemotherapy every week, he asked that Brother take him.  I think Daddy drew strength from their bond and defended his youngest child when Mom and I were mean to him.  We'll try to be nicer - we love you lots.

Thanks for coming.  For loving us and loving my dad.  When hospice came last Thursday, Dad sat in his chair and when the pastor asked what she should pray for, Dad said ‘comfort.’  We miss him tremendously right now so I’d ask that you pray we find comfort in knowing how much he loves us.  That he was the most supreme comfort while dwelling with the Lord.  

And clean your cars when you go home tonight – Dad would have liked that. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Deathbed

Yesterday was remarkably peaceful.  I could feel the prayers - love and support and comfort - whisper around me, like fingers against my forehead or arms around my shoulders. 

So I rested.  We gave Dad morphine in the morning after a restless night and we all - Mom, Brother, me, Dad - lapsed into this gentle sleep. 

"Mom's worried that he hasn't moved since we gave him the medicine," Brother said when I awakened this morning.  I nodded and paused to brush my teeth, then moving to the living room to have Mom express her concern directly to me. 

"They'll bring the hospital bed today," I said, settling next to her on the couch in front of the window.  "We'll move him then." 

I joined a teleconference, hopeful that my efforts would assist in landing me the job I covet.  The bed was delivered while I was talking and I finished up my portion and came back inside to look at the adjustable contraption. 

I rested on it when Mom asked if it was comfortable, squirming a bit and pronouncing it fine. 

"Should we give morphine?" I asked before the transport team arrived to help move him.  But we debated, deciding he was so peaceful and the last dose seemed to last for so long, and decided to wait. 

Dad groaned in pain when Mom moved his leg.  He'd let it dangle to the floor from the couch and the adjustment hurt.  But it was nothing compared to the coming onslaught.  Five or six people arrived to help move him onto a 'transport sheet' which would then be used to shift him from couch to bed. 

And my kind, gentle father - rendered even more so by his current condition - called out in misery.  'Ow ow ow,' and 'you're hurting me' and I tried to speak soothingly until I broke down in the face of such suffering. 

"I'm so sorry, Daddy," I sobbed.  "They're almost done - it's almost over."  But I lied - over and over in that 3 minutes - as they continued to roll and nudge and arrange his diseased body.  "Oh, God, help us," I begged and sagged when they finally finished, shivering with reaction and weeping at the side of the bed, holding to the siderails and begging forgiveness from my dad. 

I let them hurt him. 

This man who always protected me - who drove me to turn in my thesis after my committee delayed my defense.  Who drove 6 hours to deliver a snowblower when I called - exasperated - and said I could not clear my sidewalks.  Who held me when I was scolded at my first retail job for sitting down instead of straightening.  Who cheered me on and beamed with pride and loved me too much to leave me in the nursery when I was born.  And ever since. 

Aunt and Cousin came afterward - I had Mom call as I was falling to pieces and had nothing left to comfort her after the trauma of our afternoon.  They came and prayed and cleaned and hugged and patted.  Brother came back from work.  And we all gathered around this bed in the center of the living room and took turns talking softly and crying hard.  Because the end seems to be coming more quickly now.

The evening has turned to shit - literally.  Changing pads and hurting him more as we roll and clean him.  Brother says 'I love you' before we begin each time and it makes me physically ill.  This is not the love you speak of, is it?  The kind that is elemental and disgusting and viciously loyal? 

Trembling once again, I went to the front porch to sit on the steps, Blackberry in hand.  I scrolled through new emails and called the head interviewer when I saw a request for us to speak tomorrow.  He returned my call and I asked him to just tell me the results - 3 good candidates but only 1 job. 

And he didn't pick me.

So I took a breath and gathered my bruised pride and broken heart and returned to the house, the sounds of Dad's restless mumbling emerging from open windows.  I told Mom and Brother and saw Dad frown as he listened.  Then we had to change the linens once more.

I sat to write this post, tapping lightly on the keyboard as I sat in Dad's chair above the head of his deathbed.  I was nearly finished - having finished the first sentence of that last paragraph - when Mom said my name and that Dad was going.

"No," I replied, in my typical state of denial.  "He's just resting."  Still, I rose and sat by his head and prayed yet again.  I've done little but pray and cry today, honestly.

"I think he's gone," Brother whispered after we said Amen.  But I thought I heard him breathing - shallow but peaceful.  But then I couldn't find a pulse.  And even after turning off the waterfall noise we had in the background, I couldn't hear him breathe.

"Is he gone, Katie?" Mom asked, covering him with another prayer shawl.

And I nodded and bent my head to grieve. 



"I'm fine," I said, gulping back tears.  "I prayed about it and it's really OK.  I understand. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Levels of Difficulty

"This will," Friend told me, "be the easiest and hardest thing you've ever done."  And - as she is so much of the time - she's right. 

The love flows - clean and smooth and constant - and there's this acknowledgement of the goodness in the world.  When I link my fingers - stubby fingers on wide palms - with Dad's and note the similarities.  Mom and Brian have more elegant appendages - longer fingers and less pudgy palms - but mine are like Dad's.  And - unlike my younger brother and mother, I don't hurt him when I lift or nudge.  And though I'd always wished for prettier hands, I'm somehow proud of these that I have now - so like my dad's.

"You know that phone commercial?" I asked Dad's sister when she came to see him yesterday.  "It gets terrible signal but is a dog whistle and tells you if your family members are birds?  I get miserable call quality on my phone so Dad's started asking me if he's a bird when I can hear him again."  And a ghost of a smile touched Dad's lips though his eyes remained closed while he sat next to my aunt. 

The girls came yesterday, talking to Brother and his ex-wife on the back porch before moving into the living room on small, quiet feet.  The photos I'd ordered of them with a horse they'd visited on their last trip to me (a post I drafted but didn't publish) had arrived so they each took their envelope and flipped through images. 

Brother had coaxed Dad awake before they entered but he'd fallen asleep again so Mom approached, rubbing arms bruised from his recent hospital stay and asking if the girls could give hugs.  Little One went first, bending at the waist and resting her head on Dad's chest while he wrapped one arm around her.  "I love you," she said when her mother prompted it and Dad immediately murmured he loved her too. 

Smallest One paused in her examination of the new items in the room to scamper over and embrace her grandpa.  Strands of her blonde hair touched his chin as she cuddled for a moment, happy little voice reminding him she loved him as he returned the sentiment.  I watched alone, Brother needing to walk outside and Mom down the hall to gather their composure. 

"Grandma's crying," Smallest told me when I scooped her up and gulped back my own grief. 

"That's OK," I replied.  "She's a little sad right now."  She nodded and considered it for a moment before smiling and lifting her hand from my shoulder to point at the oxygen in the corner and inquiring over its purpose.

"That's in case Grandpa has trouble breathing," I explained and glanced around at the wheelchair and commode, walker and bags of supplies for wounds and the spots on his leg that have opened to leak fluid and wipes and blankets and pillows and cushions. 

I walked in my parents' bedroom - the one I used while growing up - and thought it smelled like death.  But the weather cooled and we opened the windows, blessedly fresh air and sounds of birds and bugs and life streaming inside. 

We sleep and cry and laugh and struggle.  And there are moments where it's almost impossible - clinging to Brother and saying that I absolutely cannot do this after we've taken Dad to the bathroom and he was too weak to stand, sagging in my arms and resting his head on my shoulder. 

But then there's peace - sitting next to him as he perched on the side of the bed, lifting his head to speak to someone and reaching my hand to him, palm cupped to take whatever imaginary items he's offering me.  I brought my hand to my chest afterward, feeling the echo of his fingertips brushing my palm and fought to release him - to allow him to move on from the discomfort and sadness that's here.

But then we giggle - awaken in the morning and gather in the living room - the four of us - and tease Brother about his inability to kill the fly we'd assigned him. 

"I'm like a ninja - lying in wait," he reports then I scoff when the fly lands on his chest and taunts him.  He did eventually get it, not long after I told my mother than Obama is not the anti-Christ.  Dad opened his eyes to frown at Brother and me for not being impressed with Romney and his new VP partner. 

"I won't vote," Brother assured him and he closed his eyes again. 

Thank you for the prayers - in whatever form they take - or thoughts if prayers aren't possible.  This is both startlingly easy and impossibly hard for me and I do deeply appreciate your responses to what I'd written here.