Sunday, September 17, 2017
As we were wheeling Jacob to CAT scan, she looked at Jeremy and me. Do you have other children? she asked. No, I said.
She shook her head back and forth making a tsk tsk sound with her mouth. I don't remember much about her except she was heavyset and hopefully close to retirement. She had large wet eyes lolling with pity. Our plight made her exhausted.
We moved on quickly. We had somewhere to be. Also, the only way through this was through it.
Later, after all of the screaming, crying, testing, surgery, pathology reports, meetings with oncologists and more imaging, we had a lay of the land. Jacob's prognostic indicators were high. His tumor type was exquisitely sensitive to chemotherapy. The neurosurgeon in particular had a lithe way with words.
I carried Jacob's good prognosis through a lot of places. I took it over to that long, ugly hallway where the lady gave her sorry assessment of the three of us. I slapped her again and again with Jacob's good news. I didn't do this for real, but it's vivid in my mind anyway.
Much later, after all was said and done and Jacob had landed on the wrong side of the prognosis, the not a home run side, the sorry side, I realize that the lady was indeed right. But it was not helpful to write Jacob off so early on. She shouldn't have done that.
But yeah, skipping over the optimism, the treatments and the clean scans, she had it correct in the end. She can still go fuck herself because one thing I learned is that hope based on solid evidence is never wasted.
It's odd to think of her now. I imagine her laying her head down one last time, welcoming death, weary from years spent in that hospital, witness to people like us.
It was her time. She's in a better place now. Stuff that people say when someone dies from natural causes at more or less the acceptable time. Things we never hear about Jacob, at least not out loud or within earshot.
From the archives:
The Best Thing Someone Never Said To Me
Friday, September 8, 2017
The table was long, sleek, black and low to the ground. It evoked mid-century optimism by way of IM Pei. Like half the stuff in my own apartment, it was from Ikea. The table was a mess.
Do you mind if I rationalize this table for you? I picked up the expression from my mother-in-law. First her daughters started using it, then it spread to me. It was perfect for the situation at hand.
Sure, he said.
First, I cleared the items from the table. I placed everything on the floor. I then used the all purpose spray I found under the sink and some paper towels I brought over that day.
I went over it a few times until I was satisfied with its matte, clean surface. My handiwork also created a reassuring and invigorating aroma.
I then sat cross legged on the floor doing one of my favorite things. I commenced putting like with like.
I started with the meds. All of the pill bottles went together. Then I dealt with the medicinal and topical creams.
I checked in with him to see if he was due to take anything. He forgot to take one of the meds, so I brought over some water and he did that. I made a mental note that he wasn't great at keeping track of this stuff and needed ample reminders.
Business cards were next. I put them all together, making a private plan to enter the doctor and social worker information into my own phone, surreptitiously, while he was napping. You never know when I might be here flying by the seat of my pants, needing to call one of these professionals on his behalf.
Receipts were arranged in a neat pile.
All of the obvious trash went into a small plastic bag I brought over so I didn't have to get up and down. I gathered the empty Gatorade bottles for recycling.
I put all of the tiny wind up sculptures, the ballpoint pens and post-it note pads together. That was easy.
He had quite a pile of unread New Yorkers and alumni magazines. New Yorker with New Yorker, alumni magazines with alumni magazines. Would he read any of them? I knew better than to ask. We had a silent, tacit agreement that we hoped so.
A lot of his people were sending letters, cards and gifts. I put those together in a sensical fashion.
Now it was time to deal with the marijuana.
There was a pipe or two. Obviously those went together. I gathered up the tiny ziploc bags of smokable weed. I put the stuff together that was meant to be steeped in tea form and drank. There was a viscous liquid in a plastic container with a lid that he said was disgusting but he didn't want discarded. There were these small cubes that you're supposed to eat. People sent him those from places where marijuana was legal.
Everything was sorted into lovely neat piles. The table was clear, clean and waiting. It was time for the finale.
I brought everything from the floor to the table. I arranged the grouped items in a way that had an intrinsic sense of order, paired with a welcoming artistry along a bit of whimsy thrown in.
This scene was repeated again and again on subsequent visits. The activity had little variation in days to come. Sometimes objects joined the group and needed sorting. Someone else took the receipts and filed them elsewhere.
Some items were rendered useless by later circumstances. Some things became more important and were brought closer to him once he started spending more time in the bedroom.
Table management kept me moored. Sometimes he sat with me and chatted. Sometimes he went into another room, at my suggestion, to have private space for an important call. He might be sleeping. Only once did he leave the apartment.
It went on like this, week after week, then day after day until things shifted irretrievably and the table no longer became central for him. After the unthinkable happened, it became moot. Finally, the table left the premises. It was either gifted to someone, or donated. I don't remember which.
From the archives:
The very second you lost me
What I know, what I don't know
Lying In Wait
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Either you're quieter than church or I'm deaf.
Whatever it is, I don't hear a damn thing.
This is like trying to listen for fading tan lines.
Or holding my ear up to a soft pencil drawing.
I wish I could hear something in nothing.
But there's no there.
When there isn't any there there.
From the archives:
The High Cost Of Being Me
Sunday, June 11, 2017
I arrive at the basement laundry room in my building. A young man is finishing up with the washers. Good timing. He'll unload his clothes and then I'll load in mine.
The young man has all of the washers stuffed to capacity. This is not surprising. Young men do tend to overfill machines.
The young man does not do what people usually do when the washers have stopped and someone else is waiting for them. He does not unload all of the machines into baskets, then fill the dryers quickly.
He approaches each washing machine one by one. He takes each item of clothing out of the washer. He painstakingly smooths every wet item. Then he carefully drapes each garment over the bar of the basket.
He does not unload the washers as quickly as possible in a giant heap the way I do.
He does not load the wet things into baskets and then smooth them one at a time. He does this standing at the washer.
When, and only when, one washer is empty, does he move on to the next washer. He repeats this pattern for all of the washers.
When he finally empties a washer, I wheel my cart over and load it up.
It is meditative watching him. I liken it to observing a spider building a web.
It is also infuriating.
I express no impatience until the end. He wedges himself into a corner to slowly unload his last machine, while subsequently blocking the machine he already unloaded. Enough.
Excuse me, I say in a polite but clipped fashion that means business. He moves a tiny bit out of the way. I load my clothes in.
Then he approaches the dryers. I see him taking the previously smoothed and draped wet garments and shake then, smooth them some more before putting each thing, including the socks, into the dryer one at a time.
His methodology has greater implications for me and possibly other residents. People who are quicker about unloading, loading and unloading keep it moving. Now I'll have to wait longer for dryers.
It gets me thinking deeply about the opportunity cost to him. The sheer amount of time spent on each individual garment means less time spent doing other, presumably more important things.
I watch this for a few seconds and then leave.
As I project myself into the future I imagine the trip out of the dryer for each garment. He will need to smooth each one. He will not unload all of the dryers and then do the smoothing, creasing and folding. He will smooth and drape each dry garment in front of each dryer. He will seem not to care that someone else is waiting.
I try to predict if I'll say something to the young man. I'm on a schedule. I don't have all day. I understand the unspoken rules of the laundry room.
A thought pops into my mind.
He can't help what he is doing. If I say something to him it could create enormous anxiety for him. For me, handling my garments less carefully is a comfortable thing. For him, it might be unbearable.
Later on, I go outside to run some errands. I see something that calls to me. Bare branches twist lyrically against an opaque white late afternoon sky. It looks like poetry.
I slip the iPhone out of my pocket and photograph the scene, this way and that. Once I'm sure I have it, I'm on my way.
That evening I scroll through the pictures and though I try to deny it, there's a fatal flaw in every single one. The camera depicts, more clearly than my eye could, an inelegant group of leaves marring an otherwise perfect scene. There's nothing to be done. I delete them.
I get up from the couch and commence the sorting and folding of the clean wash, which has spent most of the day jumbled and wrinkled, but no worse for wear in the laundry bag.
From the archives:
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Kids grow up so fast. In the blink of an eye.
The days are long, the years are short. And so on.
Kids grow up so fast except when they don't.
And when they don't, the years are pretty damn long.
Truisms are truisms, but not for everybody.
From the archives:
The Best Thing Somebody Never Said To Me
Sunday, May 14, 2017
The dry air will greet me on the way inside of the apartment. I will turn on the lights because even though it's midday, it's dark.
The rain boots will come off first. I always go about stocking foot in the house but this time the socks will probably go in the hamper. It's fine. There are plenty more in the drawer.
The coat will hang in the shower. Liberated from this damp garment, I'll move on to my favorite part. I'll place my hat and gloves splayed out on the radiator. Later when it's time to go out again they'll be warm and ready.
I'll open my umbrella and place it, away from the leaky faucet in the tub. I liked leaning it in the hallway outside my apartment until management sent a curt note to everyone that we aren't allowed to do that. Whatever.
From the look of things I will also take stock of my backpack. Water resistant as it is, this has been a major insult. The bag itself will dry effectively near the radiator. Affected contents will be lined up carefully next to the hat and gloves.
They will look like neat casualties but not for long. The radiators here run very hot.
All will be well. The wet chill I feel on the train and walk home is mitigated by the plan. It keeps me contained.
Earlier today, before any of this with the lights, the radiator and the socks, I'll have an appointment. I will arrive a little early and take extra care with my wet things. I'll spy a closet in the waiting room. This one won't be locked and I'll open it to find a sea of hangers and hooks. I will hang my coat and the gloves will go on one hook and the hat on the other. I'll place my wet umbrella in the receptacle provided.
The waiting room will be full of resources to help me manage myself and a nervous system that seems to need some measure of calm protection.
I'll think about leaving the wet boots in the closet, but decide to wear them in. Going about without shoes here will seem both inappropriate and presumptuous.
As I leave the appointment and begin hatching my transition plan, I will see a four year old boy come out of a fancy coffee place with his mom. The mom will be understanding and careful. She'll patiently hold the umbrella perfectly over his head.
The boy will stop upon exiting the shop. He'll look at the rain coming down in torrents, vast bucketfuls sliding off of the high end awning above his head. He will erupt into what could only be called a classic case of screaming and crying.
I will feel a pang for him. Poor little dude, I'll say to myself as I slosh toward the subway.
From the archives:
The New Environs
Emotional Support From The Security Guard
Thursday, May 11, 2017
The first things I wrote were hard. Touching the words would give you splinters. Tumbleweeds blew through. Then the locusts came.
Later everything softened. Think of watercolor. The words became porous. I became that way too. It wasn't like things were necessarily better. But I did have a bigger bank of words and colors for it - for you.
I thought about doing some new writing about what you said and what happened. I didn't. Not everything needs to be written down.
Now you're wondering if it's you. The question hangs out there between us. That's fair. If I were you I'd do that too.
In the end, it doesn't matter. Not really. It is about somebody. But in a way it could be about anyone.
From the archives:
The Hatchet Job