NIGHTMARE

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

It felt good to know who I was.  My job paid enough that I lived in Beverly Hills adjacent.  Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman.  Only ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two hour commutes, I was living easy.  My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and cared for each other.  I was loving it.

When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona meant a two hour commute.  Still, weekend trips were doable.  I had the best of both worlds.

I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church.  The new pianist had a red sports car.  He was cute.  Life was good.

Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night.  The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info.  She jumped up, piled things together and fretted over how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner.  At his desk, Daddy gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.

Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes.  As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving around Southern California to meet with churches that needed financing for construction.  The talk turned to the genealogy Mother was compiling.

I was content.  The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwoods was filled with pictures of my brothers and sister and their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around.  The book shelves were overflowing.  Cozy and lived-in.

Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin.  Mother was still eating tiny bites.

“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born.”  She said.  “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers.  Your father was out working all day.  We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle.”  She sipped her iced tea.  “Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”

A knife-like pain hit my gut. I couldn’t breathe. I flushed hot.

“Well, it scared us to death, of course.  We never did that again.  We held you for every bottle.”  Mother went on cutting and chewing.  Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.

image:google images

image:google images

My head was spinning.  I didn’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings.  I didn’t fit in at school, was afraid to take an art class or join in sports or school clubs.  I could never make Mother happy.  She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do.  I never felt pretty or useful.  I was worthless.  I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation.  The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.

The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred.  One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, tired; Daddy was working; they did the best they could.  The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother.  Life with Mother had always been about her, not me.  I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.

I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose.  I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace the new person I had become.  There was only one way out.  It would take time, but I couldn’t go back.  I would have to forgive.  I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light.  The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.

[3rd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #14]

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Ode to GERD*

image:solonband

image:solonband

Performed daily by Mother

Swallow a pill with a small sip of water and begin at verse 1 –

Mezzo piano:

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Swallow another pill, Go back to the Coda:

BURP.  Cough.  SPIT.  Gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Soar on the refrain, sink into the verse and repeat the chorus with each pill swallowed.

[Caught up in the music, listening ears ponder the birth of the tune and so slide down the dark, damp tunnel of genius for a glimpse at the engine that powers the ditty, where they see……

Tiny troll like creatures grab stomach acid molecules with each swallow, trot through their paces and bounce on the trampoline that is the esophageal sphincter as it malfunctions and force the air and acid upward, where on its collision course with the swallowed water and pill heading downward, they meet and crash!]

FORTISSIMO,     the forces collide, the symphony continues with a bang of

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

BURP, cough, SPIT, gag.

Ad-infinitum

*gastro esophageal reflux disease – commonly known as – Acid Reflux

Security Systems

image:allservicesspecialists

image:allservicesspecialists

The kid that knocked on the front door yesterday afternoon knew his stuff.  The hook to his pitch drew me in immediately.

“If we choose your house as tester for our security system, we won’t charge you for the service.”

I decided to hear him out rather than just give the standard brush off of “no thanks, we’re not interested” used when any door to door or phone salesperson called.

Behind me, mother sat next to the dining room table, her feet soaking in a tub of hot, soapy water, her toes being softened up so that she could cut the nails.  She’d taken off her red twill pants as the pant legs couldn’t be rolled up easily and had draped a dark green bath towel over her bare thighs.  This was her quarterly routine, or maybe bi-annually, if she wasn’t very motivated and the toenails could wait on their trimming.  She’d gotten cold sitting there, watching TV, waiting on the softening process and had just asked me to take her the red sweater she left on her regular chair on the other side of the dining table.  She looked rather festive: red sweater, green towel, bare calves above the blue tub where her feet were covered with bubbles, nail clippers at the ready on the table next to her, her hair freshly washed and curled and styled.

The kid at the door asked if there was somewhere we could sit and talk and I suggested the three foot high wide wall around the porch.  I unlocked the wrought iron security screen door and headed outside.

“What’s going on?”  Mother called, a frown between her eyes.

I waved at her and closed the door behind me and went to sit on the porch wall to listen to a sales pitch.  It was interesting watching and listening to the young guy, early twenties, dark skinned; I would have said black, but his last name was Ramirez, so I guessed he was some combination of Black and Hispanic; he knew his info and did a good job of telling me about it rather than just reciting some script.  He’d break grammar rules every now and then and also threw in some expressions that he was familiar with that definitely placed him in the millennial generation.  It was like watching and interacting with someone who spoke the same language but with a different dialect; after all, I am from a half a century before that generation.

He had several good points and whoever had trained him had a nice grasp of successful sales.  Ask the questions that get the potential buyer to acknowledge their own need and then show them how that need can be fulfilled.  I recognized the technique from my days as a Realtor as one half my brain critiqued his method and ability and the other half thought about what we could get for nothing just for sticking a sign in the yard and the agreement to use our name as a reference.

Mother was elderly; I did need to leave her alone from time to time; she was a worrier over safely as she followed behind me to make sure doors and windows were locked; it was possible that a medical emergency could occur while I was away or even when I was in the house but unaware that she’d fallen in the garden; and yes, we did live just a few houses away from an area that was seeing an increase in crime, so, it was true we would benefit from the security system; and yes, they would cover the monthly monitoring fee, the installation fee and the cost of the wireless equipment.  The only catch was that we would have to pay the monthly fee of $12 a week that the company passed on to the local authorities for ambulance, fire, and police response.  $12 a week.  Didn’t sound like much, $48 a month.  It would be a squeeze to fit it in the budget, but still, it was a great bargain and it should bring Mother some sense of security and alleviate my concern whenever I’m away.  I was sold.  It would be worth the cost.

“I need to discuss this with my Mother before I commit.”  I said.  “This is her house and her money and she needs time to think about this.”  All true, but the reality is I manage the money and the bills and if I felt we could cover something we wanted or needed, Mother generally deferred to my judgment.  Still, I wouldn’t make the decision without talking to her, not to mention I’d learned the cooling off period before signing on the dotted line was generally a wise idea.

We said our goodbyes, he went on to other appointments and agreed to return in a couple of hours and I went back inside.

image:stepbystep

image:stepbystep

“Now tell me what that was all about.”  Mother had just about finished trimming her toenails and was drying her feet and moaning over the pain in her back caused by bending over the tub of water.

I took a deep breath and launched into a detailed description of the system and how we would benefit if anyone broke in or if she had a medical emergency; my mouth moving, words coming out, while my brain was thinking: this thing has to be armed which will confuse Mother and if it goes off and she doesn’t respond to the voice activated intercom call from the monitoring company, they’ll send fire and police out and we’ll be charged if there’s not a real emergency.

“How will we afford it?”  She said, putting her red twill pants and black sandals back on.  “Can’t we get a medical alert for less than that all by itself?”

“Possibly.”  I said as I dumped out the tub of soapy water into the toilet in her bathroom and watched the water slush and gurgle down the drain, a nagging sense of pressure building at adding another bill to the monthly budget.  $12 a week, 52 weeks a year, divided by 12 months and, suddenly that $12 became $52 a month; beyond  our budget; beyond the resources of Mother’s retirement money unless we cut something else out.

Mother’s cane cloncked across the floor as she moved to her regular spot at the dining room table, sat down and unmuted the TV, her attention back on the screen and off any discussion of a security system.

Ok, God.  Do we need this thing?  We’ve lived this long knowing that you’re in control and have got our backs.  Besides, I have no idea how long Mother will live, what her health issues will be.  Do I need to stress over adding another bill to the budget?

image: google images

image source: google images

And just like that, the excitement over the thought of something for not much cost and the building dread over another bill faded away and in its place a peace floated down and reminded me that we’re ok just like we are.  God loves us and watches out for us.  I breathed in and out and smiled and headed to the kitchen to put dinner on the table.  Thank you, God, for cooling off periods.

Juggling

Today my brother got inside one of my rentals in Nashville.  Finally – after weeks of my trying to coordinate schedules between him and the tenant.  He does his best to look after things since I’m not there much these days and I’m grateful for his willingness to help, to be my onsite eyes.  I know it’s a frustration to him to have to work with a constantly moving target and it’s a frustration to the tenant to know that her life will be disrupted for those few minutes.

Two thousand miles to the west, out the curving highway that pushes its way through the verdant, lush, rolling hills of Tennessee, through green valleys and mountains of central Arkansas, across the grass plains of Oklahoma, north and up and over its western mountains, ever gaining height to the magnificent peaks of Colorado; then descending from their heavenly aeries down into the high desert of New Mexico, the summer heat in an impossibly blue sky brewing huge billows of white that erupt in lighting and thunder and water that kisses the sage and pinon pine so that they live another year; the highway rolls on, slowly loosing height in Arizona as it skirts the deep ravine that is the Grand Canyon, moving on to travel south of the lower tip of Nevada to snake below sea level across the California desert until it reaches its destination in the Pomona Valley, once known for its oranges, now a tired city inhabited by ever increasing percentages of Spanish speaking people who work and play and raise their children and survive in a town where the heat of the summer and the decreasing property values hang over the atmosphere.

image:simonsfoundation

image:simonsfoundation

There I live as ringmaster in my little world, playing the juggler, tossing up balls: the rentals, the tenants, my brother, the cost of owning property, the income they bring in; the balls go up and down, each one caught and tossed high again and again, periodically joined by new balls: the washer is on the fritz, up goes a ball; the gate and fence are broken down, up goes a ball; the porch light hangs precariously, its electrical wires exposed to the elements, up goes a ball; the roof is leaking, up goes a ball.  And on and on, the balls go round and round and up and down; my arms tire, my resolve flags, but I summon forth new resolve as the tenants pay the rents and so the circus act continues another month.

Maybe I’ll just chuck the whole thing and let that load slide off my hands to land where it may, affecting what it may, my eyes and mind numbed shut by the daily frustration of managing property; equally difficult whether from a distance or near.  Of course, part of that frustration gag is that the tenant doesn’t tell me when there are problems, which means I can’t stay ahead of the maintenance and cost curve rabbit.  I want her to understand that I don’t want to be a slumlord.  It costs much less to keep it up peeling as we go along than it does to rebuild a portion of the fence.  Is she used to no one caring?  Has she become accustomed to people treating her badly, hitting at her and doing battle with her spears instead of treating her with respect?

And if I just let it all go, there goes any retirement equity right along with it, and then there’s the mortgages to deal with and the resultant cratering of my credit, so no, I don’t drop the balls; I keep on catching them and tossing them heavenward once again, this time with a prayer and a plea: give me strength, God!  I can’t see that my arm muscles are any larger or firmer, but my prayer muscle sure is.

image:confetticouture

image:confetticouture

I’m hit with the thought that recurs with frequency these days: anything worth having takes work.  I’m pretty sure that was one of the first lessons I learned as a kid.  It took work to keep the family fed and the clothes washed and the bathrooms cleaned and the furniture dusted and the beds made and the dishes washed and the car running and the lawns mowed and then there was homework to do and places to be on time because Daddy didn’t like being late and we’d better not hold up the caravan.  All four of us kids had our appointed tasks and we don’t seem to be any the worse for it, now that we’re adults.

What happened to that knowledge?  What changed that there are whole segments of society that believe it’s the job of someone else to meet all their needs?  Did not everyone get the memo that was lived out in our house?

Somewhere along the side of the winding highway that we travel between the cradle and the grave, or perhaps behind the pretty façade of our socially acceptable fashions and haircuts and fast cars and big houses; or possibly lost in the thrill of having the latest technical toy that works at lightning speed so that we’re always entertained; somewhere in all the stuff we find necessary in the 21st Century, that truth was lost: anything worth having takes work.

I admit that I find it just as easy as the next guy or gal to let someone else do the heavy lifting, but a funny thing happens when that becomes my pattern, I get bored.  Dissatisfied.  Unfulfilled.  Depressed.  Lethargic.  Nagged at that this laziness is eating through my soul and will leave me morally and ethically cratered and one day, instead of waking up to a fresh morning, my soul will drift along the ceiling looking down on my wasted form which has turned to dust and is sifting away in the slight movement of the air in my stale bedroom.

So, bring on the balls, let me get juggling.  There are tasks to accomplish; places to go; people to know, cities and towns and countries to see, and life, life is out there for the taking.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

Health, smealth.  There’s always something, right?  You’d think I was getting older, know what I mean?  The simple things, like bending over just aren’t so simple any more, if you catch my drift.  Oh wait, that’s me drifting over to one side trying to get my foot inside my jeans.  And what’s with that third toe?  That little jolt, like an electric shock when my feet hit the floor in the morning?  Seriously, that toenail that always wants to be in-grown, it’s gone its wayward route and will need rescuing, again.

Rescuing billows of stamina and strength are what’s needed for my friends who wear the badge of diabetes and must be vigilant warriors against the onslaught of their own body’s attack.  They fight the battle against sugar as it masquerades, innocent looking; its luscious aromas wafting; its delirium inducing sugar hiding in bread and vegetables, not to mention candies, cakes, pies and donuts.  It’s a choice you have to make, if you have any ailment.

Do you want to feel look or do you want to eat that thing you think you can’t live without?  Green it’s worse that than.  It’s do you want to live by eating the right things bracelets or do you want to lose your toes to gangrene or your eyesight or…?  You pick the worst case, because when the body fails F it gets ugly.

image:google:btccgl

image:google:btccgl

Those years you felt invincible, those years you felt unstoppable, those years you craved excitement, those years have flown and left in their wake: reality.  The reality of lowered expectations; reality of acceptance of limitations; reality of gratefulness for any movement, any progress, any staunching of the drag of gravity that pulls, moment by moment, towards that dust to dust, towards that ashes to ashes.

On the other hand, if the media is to be believed, you don’t have to grow old, you can wave away those wrinkles, those brown spots, that double chin, those sagging jowls.  It only costs money.  And what’s money after all?  Can’t take it with you, right?  While that may make sense for the beautiful people, those stars and celebrities whose persona requires only the best and who have the money it takes to stay beautiful, what about the rest of us?  The common folk, the regular people, the average of us who aren’t living on the street by any means, but who have to budget and conserve for the future and can only splurge once in a while?  What about us?

image:google:makebeautysimple

image:google:make
beautysimple

Shouldn’t there be a beauty to the art of growing old gracefully?  I’ve seen that grace.  Think about Mother Theresa.  She gave her time, her energy, her life to help the less fortunate and the lines on her face were like a map of her devotion.  They grew heavier and deeper and spread until the whole surface was covered.

I saw that grace in my own father, who loved God first and that love spilled out into how he treated my Mother and his kids and grand kids and great and great-great-grand kids – all his progeny.  He wasn’t afraid to love us unconditionally and he kept on doing the right thing as he grew old and knew there would be a limit to what he could do and how long he would be here, yet, even as he accepted that old dried age and dying were a part of life, he never gave in either.  He counted calories and had a goal runner of where he wanted his weight to stay and up until late dark in his eighty-eighth year, he walked three miles a day, lugged the edger and lawn mower around the yard, climbed ladders and hefted power tools and saw weeded the garden.

image:google:nytimes

image:google:nytimes

What about me?  Will I choose to see the value of acceptance balanced against the task of staying fit and on the move?  I tell Mother that if she only sits and never moves, her bones will calcify, she’ll be stuck in one position.  Easy for me to say, but when I’m in pain as she is, will I keep moving?  How long will I buy the best wrinkle creams and do what it takes to keep my hair looking its best?

How can it be that my worth, my value, my importance are tied up in this world when it’s the soul that longs to soar and fly the heights of eternity, free of the shell of wrinkles and pain and limitations?  How can I not see that it is life, it is breath that is important and it is the real interior me that is destined for never dying?  Not this shell, not my hands with spots here and there and veins that stand up where once they were smooth; not the widows peaks under the hair I pull forward on my face to hide my receding hairline, and the spot above my right ear where the hair is not only turning white, it’s so thin I have to cut it just right to camouflage that increasingly bald spot; and not my funky endocrine system with its thyroid disease, its fatigued adrenals and malfunctioning hormones.  These don’t define who I am.  They will all fall away and my eyes will for once and ever clearly see the truth.

image:google-flickr

image:google-flickr

Then I will sing out in chorus with William Wordsworth:      “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: the soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar.  Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”

Siren Call

I’m transfixed by the sight.  They loom over me.  I want to reach out to them but I’m tiny and insignificant with arms too short to traverse the space between us.  They rise over the horizon tall and majestic, varied in hue and shape and size.  There’s an imperiousness to their grandeur and their heft.  They are immobile yet changeable with the shifting cloud’s caress.  Some reflect the dawn’s pale pallet and the end of day’s bright glare while others remain dense and stark, unfazed by any movement of light.

I envision hope and determination and purpose swirling around them not unlike multiple lanes of traffic crisscrossing over and under and around on elevated highway exchanges.  And I’m drawn to them, my spirit and soul pulled closer and closer, wanting to join in, to let the swirling wash over me until I am one with the flow.

My spirit rises with anticipation of their mystery and I feel alive just to be in their shadow.  They call to me with some indefinable promise of unknown adventures; unknown paths to take and challenges to be conquered.

When I see them at night, they confuse the senses.  Their shapes are both intensified and vaguely indefinite against the night’s backdrop.  A backdrop punctuated by neon, taillights, headlights, lamps on tall streetlight poles and the erratic checkerboard of interior lights left burning after the five p.m. exodus has left those tall structures empty.

My memory takes me back to the days I did touch them; the days I stood in their halls and breathed their air; the days I braved the frantic pace that engulfed them in life each morning and the weary escape that left them behind each evening.

I had been drawn in by their promise and it was a full life that took strength and verve if I wanted to scale their heights.  Eventually, though, it all became not much more than office politics.  I felt no further promise there and tired of the heights, I merely wanted to emerge whole.  I left those highrises behind and set out to discover the me I would be apart from them; apart from the siren call of big city living.

image:discoverlosangeles

image:discoverlosangeles

These days my life’s tasks generally take me speeding past those behemoths, those skyscrapers that appear to me to be like sentinels guarding the way.  But I never pass without thinking, I know how you feel, those of you who enter their domain daily; I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there, I’ve lived that life.  I know what it’s like.

The intervening years between then and now have taken me other places and on a different journey and while I wasn’t looking, time ebbed away and now there’s a part of me that feels incapable of scaling their heights once more.  That is, until I see them again and then the old flame ignites.  There’s life here, it signals to me.  There’s excitement and purpose here, it whispers in the rush of air flowing past my speeding car.

But I don’t detour.  I continue along the concrete path that winds past downtown and the business centers, past the shopping centers and the factories and industrial areas and off the freeway’s paved canyon into suburbia’s land of houses and gas stations, churches, schools and grocers on the corner.  Into the land that was my Father and Mother’s life; into the alley behind their house and into their garage and on into their house I go, closing the door behind me.  This is my life now and I determine to continue here, to engage in this journey, this challenge.  But down inside, the flame is still lit and its warmth reminds me that I can be in both worlds.  The choice is mine.  There will be time once this task with Mother ends.  There’s a journey still ahead.

“You made it safe?”  Mother calls from her island of sameness at the dining room table, surrounded by familiar things, some treasured and some worthless yet hoarded rather than tossed out.

“Yes, Mother.  I’m here.”

Together

Mortar and pestle soothe in their tempo

image:selahchurch.blogspot

image:selahchurch.blogspot

Peace           leave angst for rest                 call
the
tap
tap
tap                                of the jiggle

Rough smoothed
scattered   Collected           fractured          Reduced
what’s left is revealed       but dressed.                 Wait – But naked?                                                                                      Old       new
comes the realization and the breath
Flows
Until up ratchet the old man on old trails of old pains
Wait!          I’ll not stay
t he spell is broken                         yet                                                                                      choices remain
A journey = continual spiral        up            DOWN UP                   down
Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies
the music floats
The spirit joins
DOWN up down UP and on and on and on in what seems
Re dundant
For the sight is short
Ah, how sweet is that?
The needed sight is beyond this sight.
The huge sight reaching,       drawing,           calling                 Yes, we can.                   Together