September 19, 2005

You ask why I don't live here -- Honey, how come you don't move?

It's been a hard couple of months.

I found out with two days notice when my mom's surgery was scheduled, and flew down the day before it. I spent a week there, which turned out to not be enough time to spend with her, so I kept my return flight, caught a bit of a break in Brooklyn, and flew back down for another week. The first week was sheer hell. Ever hear of ICU psychosis? In short, it sucks. Some patients who become psychotic in the ICU do you the favor of thinking that aliens are visiting, or other completly nutty things. My mom's psychosis was in the form of pure unrestrained id, combined with delusions about how the nurses were doing things like pouring buckets of ice on her.

While my mom was in the hospital, covered in hideous bruises, seeping fluids from various wounds, and experiencing delirium, I was moving all her personal belongings from her tiny, cramped, weird, pre-fab house in the trailer park outside of Gonzales to the new apartment that she found out about the day after the surgery was scheduled. Let me repeat that. THE DAY AFTER THE SURGERY WAS SCHEDULED. This is low-/fixed-incomed housing, and she'd been on the list for two years, and it's the sort of thing you don't just say "please wait" to. So she had to be moved, surgery be damned. I moved everything I could handle, and some men from her church moved everything big, and then I moved everything left after they moved the furniture. I didn't sleep a lot that week. I drank a lot of bourbon; I drank a lot of coffee; I ate a lot of boudin from the gas station. I came home with indigestion.

The second week in Gonzales was amazing. My mom came home from the hospital a completely different person emotionally than I have ever known. She was sweet and open and available and curious about me, and able to listen when she asked questions, and it was wonderful. It was also, easily, one of the most emotionally intense experiences of my entire lifetime, and I'm simply not over it. I'm really not sure I've even begun digging into everything it meant to me. I was pretty much blown away. We talked about things we've never been able to talk about before; she asked about things she's never even formulated the questions for before now. It was fucking amazing. In between all that, of course, I was nursing her. That was, well, also intense. I'll spare you the details, but I'll remind you that my mom had a colostomy.

The intervening weeks have not all been kind to me. I've been having headaches that come with an extra helping of neurological deficits -- numbness and tingling and sometimes pain all down the left side of my body. I've been off-balance occasionally, just a bit wobbly, and I haven't been able to run for weeks. I've had to withdraw from the 2005 NYC marathon, to my great dismay. Tomorrow morning I'm having an MRI to try to find out what's causing the headaches. Could just be some exacerbation of the migraines I've had for years; could be something freaky that I have been trying not to think too hard about. As I put it to a friend the other day: no matter what's causing the problem, the fact remains that I am having Stupid Bullshit Neurological Symptoms.

The last straw emotionally was the hurricane. New Orleans was never my stomping grounds, but it was a touchstone, a place I took road trips to in college, a place that was important to me. Here's the metareason I am demolished emotionally, though: The running narrative of my life has been my relationship to my Louisiana nativity. When I left Louisiana to go to Yale, I visited just a handful of times over the next ten years. I've already been back more times than that in the two years since my father died. I've undergone a sea change in my thoughts about being from south Louisiana. It's stopped being something I merely tolerate and try to distance from my self-definition, and started being something I embrace and yearn to understand about myself. Last month I stood in my mother's doorway and watched a thunderstorm, and thought on how we just don't have that sort of rain up here in Brooklyn. After the storm I was driving around, and the sun was setting in 360 degrees, the sky full of different shades of clouds and the horizon clipped only by the black silhouettes of swamp trees, oaks and pines and cypress. It was beautiful, and I could finally see that it was beautiful, in a way I never could when I was younger. Now things in south Louisiana are fucked up, and will always be different, there will always be "before Katrina" and "after Katrina," and I don't want them to be. I want a chance to get to know the south I didn't get to know before. I don't want to know a new south, a new New Orleans. I'm pissed, and I'm sad, and I'm bereft.

But I'm also fooling myself, you know? Without a hurricane, New Orleans 2005 still wouldn't be New Orleans 1990; and without cancer, my mom wouldn't be the mom I didn't get when I was a teenager and I wanted and needed her more. You take what you can get. The future starts now.

Posted by Rose at 03:00 PM | Comments (3)

June 19, 2005

Daddy, you been on my mind

My parents used to send me cards for holidays that really got on my nerves. I got one for every birthday and Christmas, and then usually for lesser holidays, like Easter, and Valentine's Day, and they even sometimes sent an out-of-the-blue one. What annoyed me about the cards was that they were so unlike me, and so unlike the relationship I'd had with my parents over the years. So Hallmark. You know the kind I mean. Sometimes rhymed, sometimes free verse, always sappy. I suspected that my mother was buying these and getting my dad to send them; there was never anything written in them but, "Love, Mama and Daddy," in my father's handwriting.

That was what I suspected until my father died. I haven't gotten a single card since. Reframing the whole thing makes it almost impossibly affecting. These cards weren't expressions of my mother's overblown and somewhat scattershot sentimentality, they were my father's attempt to say the sorts of things he was never any good at saying out loud. Things like, "I was thinking about you," and "You've turned out okay."

I wish I could send him a father's day card.

Posted by Rose at 11:34 PM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2005

For your sake I hope heaven and hell are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath

When I went down to Louisiana in April, the first thing my mom and I did was find a place selling boiled crawfish. I bought a few pounds, got some cold beer, and headed home to feast. What I thought was going to be a relaxing first evening with my mom didn't turn out so well, unfortunately. Within two hours of my landing at Ryan Field, I found myself facing my mother asking me whether I believed in God.

Before leaving on the trip I had decided that I would handle any hard conversations that came up in as straightforward and honest and loving a fashion as I could possibly manage. I figured, look: I'm not a kid; my mom's not getting any younger, and she's fucking got CANCER; now is not a time for euphemisms and fibbing and talking around the corners of things. It was easier to take this position in my Brooklyn apartment than it was on my mom's couch in Gonzales.


"Do you believe in God?"
"Well, um, Mama, um. No. No, I don't."
"Aiiigh. You.... You don't believe in God?"
I sipped my beer and ate a couple more crawfish before I answered, and I pitched my voice as comfortingly as I could, and I said something like, "Well, no, but I try very hard to be a good person, Mama."

My mom didn't waste any time at all getting to the heart of what pained her most about my atheism. Her indictment of me was the most poignant thing anyone could possibly have scripted for this moment: "This means you haven't been praying for me!"

Nausea flooded over me as I thought, simply, "I suck." Then I remembered that I had prayed for her, the day I found out she had cancer, but I can't imagine my prayer would have consoled her any, as it began, "Look, I don't believe in you, but my mom does, so if you're there, here's the thing." I could hardly offer that prayer to her as prove of my belief in her God. I was suddenly inspired, though, to say something I am still pretty pleased with.

I apologized to her, implicitly admitting that yes, she was right, I had not been praying for her, although I explained that she hadn't been out of my thoughts since I'd found out about the diagnosis. I added, though, that I knew she had all of her friends, and all of her church congregation, all praying for her, and that I knew they were good people, and that while they believed in God, I believed in them.

That statement gets right to the heart of my own cobbled-together house-brand philosophy. I think it's better to have a lot of people care about you than it is to shout wishes down a well; I know which of those ideas gives me more comfort, certainly.

Unfortunately, my mom didn't hear what I said as being an expression of my personal philosophy. She heard it as the brandished excuse of a lazy heathen. When she fought with me later that week, she threw what I'd said back at me. A version of it, anyway. She claimed I'd said, "You don' need me prayin' for you! You got a lotta other people prayin' for you!"

Fucked. I am so fucked. I don't think she's ever going to hear where I'm coming from on this one. At least she's dropped it for the last few weeks, having decided that she's got more pressing things to deal with than the matter of my eternal damnation.

Posted by Rose at 04:14 PM | Comments (1)

June 16, 2005

I chase my memories alone down through my dreams

It's been a hell of a month, y'all. Anybody still visiting? I'm surely sorry I haven't been posting; it'll take a bit of explaining to even get across how it happened that I've just gone quiet for weeks and weeks.

It wasn't writer's block, not in the normal sense. There were things I meant to write about, that I wanted to write about. Some of those were things I ended up scrawling in my little Moleskine as I rode the train and which aren't actually fit for other people to read, though. Some of the things I sat down to write at the computer ended up being so lengthy and far-ranging and emotional that they were becoming essays more than blog entries, and I just couldn't wrestle them into a more concise format. The biggest problem over the last few weeks, though, has been that I've been overwhelmed. Before I became overwhelmed I hadn't thought of myself as being in a precarious state, but looking back it seems kind of obvious. The addition of some mom-induced anxiety overbalanced me, and I just fell over into a quivering pile of jumpy, irritable, spaced-out insecurity and neurosis.

Well, I took it up as a part-time job, actually. In between I was going to work at Facts on File, and keeping up my running, and doing freelance work, and minding the store, and little bits of everything else. The wretched anxiety was filling up more and more hours of the day, though, so I had to call a halt; a couple of weeks ago I saw a psychiatrist, and she was very helpful. Next week I start seeing the therapist she recommended. I'll get this all straighted out. (I'm not new to the world of helping professionals, so I know the drill. It's actually kind of interesting to have a problem that is so *straightforward*!)

Anyway. That's been the background of the last several weeks. What have some of the details been like? There's been cool shit, I tell you what. I ran Prospect Park for the first time! Twelve minute miles on average, but that included some walking, and it was fucking awesome. I've gone on to keep running the main loop of Prospect Park, and last week I ran the lower loop twice, for a four-mile run. *A four-mile run!* Wow!

On June 5th I ran my first road race, with NYRR. It was a 4.7K race, in honor of their 47th anniversary as a running group. I was slow as hell, as it was the first day of our major heat wave, but I finished, and I was on top of the world. I ran, out in public, with a bib number on my chest, just like a freaking athlete!

I've gotten to do some cooking recently. The supper club I belong to was my baby this month, and I had a meal to feature all the good stuff I brought back from my last trip to Louisiana. I made crawfish etouffee and a chicken and andouille gumbo, and I also served head cheese and some wonderful boudin as appetizers. I had even brought home some pickled quails eggs and some locally smoked beef jerky, and it was all awesome. My friend Mary made delicious bread pudding with bourbon sauce, and my friend Jenny made fabulous pecan praline ice cream, and we had a little taste testing of different bourbons along with our desserts. Oh, that was a fine, fine meal.

I've also been experimenting with putting up liqueurs. So far there is a jar of rhubarb and a jar of strawberry liqueur in the cupboard, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing how I like the results. I became interested last year, and then I read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's lovely blog entry on the topic, and then I saw the site she linked to, and then I've bought a book that Gunther Anderson recommended, and it's just all becoming lots of fun.

As for things that are less fun, well, there's been some of that, too. I've got a lot of work to do with the therapist I'll be seeing, that's for certain. The raw anxiety is calming with the help of the pharmaceutical interventions; I expected that, and it felt appropriate to seek out that help. Now that I'm calmer, I have the opportunity to actually think about what's really upsetting me, and damn, there's some big scary stuff there. The meat of it should get its own entry, since I'd like to address it fully and more thoughtfully, but there are a few aspects I can touch on quickly.

Teaching myself how to interact with my mom through her illness has been a really interesting challenge. I'm learning a lot about myself, and about her, and about how we are very different people, at least in how we face difficulty. I am a person who gathers as much information as possible, and asks every question she can think of, and tries to eke out some semblance of control. My mom just relinquishes control entirely. She dwells in a place of fear and ignorance (real, literal ignorance -- not stupidity, you understand -- actual *choosing to not know things*) that I would find absolutely intolerable. I find it very nearly intolerable just to know that *she* is existing in this place. However, this seems to me to be my chance to learn how to tolerate the intolerable. Her doctors are kind, smart, compassionate people. They are keeping *me* informed, and they are not going to let *her* do (or not do) anything that will harm her. Therefore, her choice to remain personally uniformed, however uncomfortable it makes me, is not harming her, and I need to learn to let go. Can I just tell you that this is easier said than done?

As I deal with my mother's illness, and as I deal with *her* dealing with her illness, I find myself missing my father more and more. I didn't expect this to happen; it never really occurred to me that it might happen until I started noticing it. I'm finding it a little hard to bear some days. Yesterday I had an epiphany; unfortunately, my epiphany has been making me feel like a bit of a bad person. Here goes: if I'd gotten to pick one parent, I'd have picked my father. I think some of my frustration with my mom is because she's not him, which, of course, is not her fault. It's also utterly irrational; he was fifteen years older than her, and had treated his body horribly over the years -- he was lucky to live to 72. So there's no way in hell she was going to die first. It's just, well, sometimes if I'd call and she wasn't home, he and I would have the best talks on the phone. We were getting closer as I was getting older, and some of the stupid, broken, painful crap from when I was younger was getting more distant. And then he had to go and die. He's not here to help with taking care of my difficult, frustrating mom (who's the woman *he chose*, not a woman I'd have chosen), and he's not here to talk to me when I want to talk to him, and dammit it all to hell, I'm 33 years old and I want my damn Daddy.

Posted by Rose at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2005

It may be the whiskey talking, but the whiskey says I miss you every day

Last night I couldn't sleep; I've had a lot of trouble sleeping over the last couple of months. It's a new thing for me, as sleeping has always been one of my favorite hobbies. When all else fails, I give up and sip a little bourbon and try to get some writing done. Fiction has been right-the-fuck out lately, though I very much want to get back to my poor neglected protagonists. Instead I've been writing up anecdotal essays, based on whatever niggles at me that day.

My friend Columbine posted some stuff about flight on his journal, and I got to thinking that he didn't know that I had once wanted to learn to fly a plane, so I wrote up a little piece about that. It mentions my dad, but the act of writing it made me miss him so terribly. He died suddenly two and a half years ago, and my mourning has been haphazard; last night I found myself on the couch sobbing fiercely over all the things I'll never get to talk to him about.


I can't remember if you ever knew this about me. It seems strange that you wouldn't know something about me, but there you go. I have always wanted to learn to fly, although the ambition has dimmed with age. My fervor was greatest as a teenager, when I read books about barnstorming. I wanted to learn to fly maybe some sort of Cessna, although sometimes I thought I wanted to fly an ultralight. The age for a student pilot's license was actually lower than the driver's license age, if I remember correctly (I just tried Googling it, and that seems true, but of course I can't check for what it was in 1986).

I read Richard Bach's book Biplane, and then his other books about flying, and eventually I read his random crappy books about spirit and wonder and soulmates (which contain some truth and a lot of crap); I was probably the only teenaged girl in the world who read those after reading his books about flight.

One day in the Gonzales library I was supposed to be shelving books, and I was instead standing by the book cart pretending to be shelving books while reading a book about planes, and a man asked me if I was interested in flying planes and I started talking to him. I still remember a little bit about him. It's been nearly twenty years, but I'm pretty sure I'm right (and was right then) that he wasn't a pervert. He flew out of the little airstrip near the Kleinpeter dairy, between Bayou Manchac and Baton Rouge. He did sometimes fly Cessnas, but he really loved flying ultralights, and he explained that you trained to fly the ultralights, and that they were one-person machines, and that your first flight was a solo, and I definitely do remember the thrill that gave me, standing there in the stacks thinking about being up in the air alone looking down over the crown cover.

I knew my dad had flown in the navy, but I didn't really know that he hadn't successfully flown in the navy, that he'd washed out of flight school. (I'd later learn why, and it's an interesting story, and much to his credit.) I hadn't told him that I'd been getting interested in flying, but I know that I thought he'd be really excited to find out. He'd be proud and happy and thrilled to find out that his daughter wanted to do one of the things that he'd done.

That guy in the library told me that if I could get to the airstrip regularly, I could trade labor for flight lessons. (He'd offered lessons, and I'd explained that I surely couldn't afford flight lessons, and he'd said many teenagers who wanted to learn to fly couldn't afford to pay, and that barter was common.) I was fucking beside myself. I wasn't afraid to work hard, and that particular kind of working hard was exactly what Richard Bach talked about in his books, the kind of grease-under-fingernails and oil-fumes-up-nostrils labor that I'd been daydreaming about while treading the wall-to-wall carpets of the parish library.

It had been about four years, so I'd forgotten about the fiasco that had ensued when my choir teacher had offered to teach me piano for free. ("We don't need charity.") It didn't occur to me that my father would accuse a stranger in the library of being a child molester. (He wasn't a pervert! He was a PATRON!) And it couldn't cross my mind that my desire to fly would bring up painful memories for my father, whose own flying career had been brought short by his disinclination to fly bombing raids over Korean villages of defenseless women and children.

Daddy said I couldn't do it. Just flat out said no. It was not the kind of no that allowed for any sophistry on my part; it was a very scary kind of no. This was just before the shit really hit the fan; this was while I still thought he'd hung the moon, and while he still thought I was his good little girl. So I didn't argue. I lost the phone number, I "forgot" about the airstrip, and I stopped reading books about flying. In fact, I've never read another book about flight since. I had a driver's license then, so it's been almost nineteen years.

I've had that span of my teenagerhood on my mind a lot lately, so when you posted your links to flight stuff that was what came up unbidden. I do know I could still learn how to fly; I'm a damn good driver, so it doesn't strike me as being impossible, but it has slipped down on my list of things-to-achieve-before-eventually-dying. On the other hand, if I want to do it, I should probably do it sooner rather than later. We shall see.

Posted by Rose at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

April 11, 2005

I set off in search of my forebears, 'cause my forbearance was in need

I may never again hear "Ballad of the Sin Eater" (by my man Ted Leo) without remembering running on my old high school's quarter-mile track in glorious early morning spring sunlight. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

One of the things that helped me stay sane while I was down in Louisiana was exercising; it was such a nice, normal link to my real life back home in Brooklyn. On Wednesday of last week I went to a gym in Gonzales and worked out, because the weather was crappy. On Thursday and Friday, though, I went to the track at East Ascension High School, where I went for the three years before I graduated early.

I was an unwilling athlete in high school, because PE was taught so horribly that it just always made me feel klutzy and awful. I don't actually have particular horror stories about high school gym, but I do remember it with vaguely queasy feelings. Certainly nothing about it felt comforting or calming whatsoever.

Last week, though, that track was my respite. Thursday wasn't really the best run. It was my first outdoor run on a track since I've gotten serious about this (I tried once last year when I'd just gotten started, and ended up mostly walking). A track is not just a very long treadmill! For one thing, it doesn't have a speed control! For another, there is wind! I walked a quarter-mile to warm up, then went out too fast for my first quarter-mile of running, and really just shot my wad—I felt like crap. I ended up having to alternate running and walking laps. So I got in a fair amount of exercise, but it didn't really feel very good at all.

Friday, I went back and it was so incredibly wonderful. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and I was on the track by a little before 8am. The temp was just below 60F, and there were only a couple of other folks out. I walked a lap to warm up, and then started running at an appropriate pace; I then ran my first complete track mile. After a one-lap break, I followed up with my second track mile.

As I finished the mile, halfway through the fourth lap, the devil got in me and I decided to sprint. I know objectively that my sprint is simply not the fastest thing going; I'd be surprised if it averaged out to a six-minute mile. But DAMN! How fun is it to go twice as fast as normal? Pretty fucking fun. That last eighth-mile was a blur of blue sky and green trees and green grass and black track and my earbuds flew out and my legs were flying and my arms were pumping and the air was still so sweet and the sun so brilliant as I came around the last bend. Of course, when I slowed up to walk it all off I thought for a moment I might puke. But I didn't.

I walked another lap and my mind wandered among several strands of thought—chief among them the absolute shining wonder of my not only coming willingly to my high school athletic field, but doing so to find solace and emotional strength.

Posted by Rose at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2005

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Last night I flew into LaGuardia from just about a week in Louisiana. I had expected a hard trip, and the anticipation gave me fits of anxiety for the two weeks leading up to my departure. Despite my preparatory fretting, I really wasn't steeled for what the week was going to be like.

I'm going to be circling back to this topic a lot over the next few weeks, and I think the most economical way to introduce the situation with my mom is to summarize it: I realized this week that I've wanted the same thing from her for over twenty years, and I realized this week that I'm not ever going to get it.

It's not very complicated, and when I write it down in words it sounds so sad and sweet and pathetic: all I've wanted is her attention and approval. When I was a child I thought I had it, and perhaps I even did; Lord knows my mother was proud of her bright, bookish little girl. When I was a pre-teen I began to suspect that it didn't actually run very deep. There was a time when she concentrated on me quite intensely; this coincided with the start of my menstrual periods and lasted about a year.

Because I was now a young woman, it was time for me to put down my books and learn to be a young woman. And what does a young woman need to know? How to be a wife. I was eleven years old. Up until then, my mother had left me alone, and I'd get home from school, homework already finished, and I'd read. Suddenly now I'd get home from school and there'd be this shit for me to do. (I should also add here that my mother is not a very good teacher. She is impatient and perfectionistic, all about product and unclear on process, and profoundly insensitive to emotional nuances. Her lack of teaching skills, coupled with her well-intentioned, yet creepy, wife-building agenda, made these sessions horrific for me.)

I think this may have been when she figured out that she'd gotten a changeling baby, although maybe she already knew back in Arkansas in 1971, when I spat out her breast milk in favor of a bottle. Whenever it was that she came to the realization, it was when I was twelve or so that she gave up on me. Me, I was more than happy to give up on her. She made me nervous and miserable. I knew even then that I didn't like being around an irrational woman given to fits of weird, misplaced sentiment and peculiar, angry outbursts.

Anyway. I'm 33-years-old now, and I kind of thought that things might go differently on this trip. I kind of thought that with all my years of therapy, and with all those years in general, that I might be able to help us forge our relationship into a better state, one of greater closeness, or mutual recognition, or even both. I was pretty fucking full of myself.

In short? It didn't work. It's not going to work. I'll surely write more about the details, but what I'll say now is that I have done my best, and I now understand that I was doing my best twenty years ago, too, and I think perhaps I am simply alien to her in some unfixable way. I don't find that surprising, though of course it is sad. But it is not my fault.

Posted by Rose at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)