“The Quiet Man”
Working hours on the day,
Commute seemed long and drawn.
Intentions dreamt and paved the way,
For moments long past gone.
Laughter lilts and lingers on,
Despite a darker sky.
It’s much less blue than once before,
No reason, sense, or why?
Traveled with, for much the way,
A journey shared in common.
Absence carves a heart dismayed,
Off-stage, but not forgotten.
Occasion brings on thoughts of you,
Long memory’s pure insistence.
A life lived well is never through,
Imbued by love’s persistence.
Quietly, a Quiet Man,
Walks through life majestic.
Laughter lilts and lingers on,
“You Learn Something New Every Day”
On July 26, 2014, I learned something new.
I learned that there is a monster called Intracerebral Hemorrhagic Stroke.
It is possible I had hear of it in passing, but until that day, it lurked elsewhere.
It wasn’t when I went to my father’s apartment because he didn’t show up to the planned picnic.
It wasn’t when I was knocking loudly on his door, or after I heard what I thought was loud snoring.
Or once the door was open and the firefighters and I discovered my father on the floor fighting to breath.
It wasn’t on the ambulance ride to Mass General Hospital, or in the waiting area of the emergency room.
It wasn’t among the myriad texts and conversations with others trying to find out information from me while my phone battery was slowly dying.
But, later on in an exhausted moment, that I learned of the horror of Intracerebral Hemorrhagic Stroke from a young physician who drew the short straw and was tasked with explaining to my Sister and I, that our Father‘s life had been irrevocably changed.
However, that wasn’t the only thing I learned.
I learned that despite the irrevocable change to my Father, that there resided small graces and victories within the experience as it unfolded.
I learned of the extraordinary compassion and care that can be delivered by nurses, doctors, and staff.
I learned of the lengths and actions to which family and friends would go to support us, and my Father.
I learned that it is imperative to create a healthcare proxy and designate people to make decisions about your health if you ever end up in position where you are unable to do so for yourself.
I learned that when you suffer and Intracerebral Hemorrhagic Stroke that if you can survive past 30 days, then the chances of a long hard road to recovery could improve.
On August 23, 2014 I learned something new.
I learned that 29 days can seem like a lifetime, and that nothing is promised.
I learned how fast I could get to a hospital from my home. 15 minutes 20 seconds.
I learned after years of working at a hospital, what it was like to be brought to a family grief room before you could be brought into the room of a dying parent.
I learned that death doesn’t happen like it does in the movies, or in books, that it is actually quite anticlimactic and that sometimes it is unclear when the actual moment of death occurs.
I learned that when an attending physician asks you as a healthcare proxy, what you want to have done for your Father, that all else falls away and you are locked in the eye contact of a moment, and you need to decide hard for the life.
I learned that I could do what needed to be done for my Father, as he had done for us all his life.
I learned that when the dust settled, and the doctors and nurses cleared the bay to give us our last moments with our Father, that it wasn’t the words I love you, or that it’s okay Dad, but just two words forever: Thank you! Thank you!
I learned that in the staged moment of death, that whatever I brought to the table in the way of preconceived notions, it all succumbed to a need to express my sincerest gratitude to my father for so many things, and a simple thank you was all that was needed.
On June 25 2016 I learned something new.
At my son’s pre-school graduation, I learned that Atticus wanted to be a ninja when he grows up.
On December 7, 2018 I learned something new.
When I was cleaning out Atticus’s first grade folder of the weeks completed work, I found a butterfly craft that had a number of paper folds with a question on one side and the answer on the other. As I went around the butterfly wings I saw a familiar question. What do you want to be when you grow up? And I was certain that it was going to say ninja, but when I turned the flap over, it simply read: A Daddy. I feel nothing but the sincerest gratitude that I learned that today.
MOTHER CHRISTMAS VISITS THE CABBAGE PATCH
My Mother was a woman of vernacular. She had ways of saying things and words to say them. Over the course of our lives together, it became apparent that not everyone shared these words and expressions. In conversations with others, I’d often say things that would get puzzled looks, or giggles.
The Boston “dropped R” only enhanced and amplified the effect of conversing with her. You might get something like “Hi! Howahya? You comin ovah tommorah? Jaysus Christ, it’s wicked hawt. Christophah! Christophah! I saw a patient at the hospital last night with a broken leg, bone sticking out. Skeevatsah!”
I grew an appreciation for the cadence and dance of conversing with her over the years. She “nevah” used punctuation, but ended most phrases with a “ya know?” Which was pregnant with reflection, concession, and a hint at sought validation; though mostly rhetorical.
My Mother doted on my sister and I to an extreme. Most especially, at Christmas. We were spoiled. It was her thing. It is one of the lasting memorable characteristics of her personality, along with her speech patterns that I remember fondly.
Well, a story she was particularly fond of retelling, or enjoyed hearing others tell of it, was that of “The Great Cabbage Patch Kid Doll Carnage of 1983”
The Cabbage Patch Doll Craze of 1983 was a national phenomena. My sister had it in her lusty child sights. I didn’t care so much about it, except a passing acknowledgement that it was “a thing”, G.I. Joe was more in my wheelhouse. I really don’t recall how it became known to us, but somehow without internet, the message got out. Stores didn’t have them to keep up with the demand. Clandestine shipments, ravaged shelves, my Mother had contacts everywhere, searching high and low for one of these damn dolls. I repeat, this was before internet, yet she managed a network of contacts through landline telephones, a calendar date book, and the yellow and white pages. I’m pretty sure she also enlisted help from the Hood Milkman, Meyer the owner of the Family Shoe Store where we got our bobos (generic shoes mocking name brands), and the entire St. Francis de Sales Parents Guild Association.
As days fell from the calendar, so did my Mother’s hopes of presenting the perfect Christmas morning for my sister.
She was wicked desperate.
I don’t know how, but one of the many leads she had, developed into her taking a bus to Manhattan with my father sometime in December before Christmas 1983. It was a precision operation that involved getting to the correct store, waiting in line, and having the right money for the purchase.
When I think of my father being dragged from his weekend slumber to traipse down to Manhattan on the chance of a hope and a prayer that they might get a doll for my sister, I heartily laugh. I don’t think he was a believer. Ma was, though. My sister’s Christmas joy depended on it.
His only consolation was perhaps a few hurried stops at a bunch of New York Street Hot Dog vendors, so he could stuff a Sabrett’s Hot Dog in his restless maw. Not my mother, she was not to be distracted from her mission.
The Blues Brothers were told by God that they had a mission to complete. Conversely, my Mother told God, she had a mission to complete.
So after the long bus trip, the long city blocks, the foot long hot dogs smothered in relish, they finally arrived at the correct place at the correct time. The line was long, but not impossibly long. Somehow, others knew about the shipment, much to my Mother’s chagrin. They padded along. advancing another few steps. At the pace of one complaint and anxiety at a time. My Mother spent her time in the line giving the gooch and stink face to anyone coming back down the line with a sizable box like brown paper bag in their mitts. Each person coming down the line displayed a satisfaction that my Mother hadn’t tasted as yet, and she grew antsy.
Down the line. People in. Bags out.
Blood pressure rising.
After what must have seemed an eternity to my parents, they finally crossed the threshold and made their way to the counters.
Behind the counters were little brown men screaming and yelling at a fevered pitch. New York was and is the melting pot of America, so it stood to reason that my parents would meet up with some people they were unfamiliar with, having spent most of their lives in an insular community.
So the moment of truth occurs:
Sales clerk: So whatchoo, want, lady?
Ma: How much ah, fah the Cabbage Patch Dolls?
Sales clerk: one hundred dolla.
My Mother turns to my Father, “did he say $100 dollars?”
My father nodded. She didn’t intend on paying $100 dollars for a doll she thought was could be bought for less. Although, desperate times called for desperate measures.
She turned back to the sales clerk and said:
Fah each? Awhr fah two?
The clerk looked stunned, then started talking to his associate. My mother, thought she was not heard. Both sales clerks looked bothered and started gesticulating at my mother. Again, she said:
Fah each? Awhr fah two?
Well that just about did it. The sales clerks said:
Get out, of our store, filthy lady! How dare you talk to us like that!
My father getting a hold of what was going on realized what my mother had said, and put together that they thought she was offering “favors” for the dolls.
Dad: They thought you said you would eat them for two dolls, Kath.
After a good laugh, and some explanations, my Mother reluctantly paid the $100 dollars for the doll.
So 1983 was one of the best Christmases ever for our family. My sister got her doll. My Mother got to see the expression of joy that came of my sister receiving the doll. We all got a story to tell, and two Indian/Pakistani gentleman in Manhattan who had a harder time understanding my Mother’s Boston accent than she had in understanding them, were canonized saints for not having thrown my Mother out of their store before she had the chance to drop her r’s, and some cabbage on some Cabbage Patch Kids.
In my Mother’s version of the story, she believed that the gentleman got it wrong, but if you knew my Mother, you would have heard what they heard, as she had a phenomenal Boston accent. It was wicked pissah! Ya’ know…
“Day In Day Out”
If I paddled upstream,
I would remain in place.
Everlasting lines at the grocery,
Folks fighting tooth and nail over clipped coupons.
The is no clear cut winner in that scenario despite whomever wins.
Facebook comments are often misleading and misinformed.
Ranting and raving is rewarded with a higher blood pressure.
Some salad bars are filthy.
The sneeze guard is filthiest.
That is of course, until you pick up tongs that may or may not have fell on the floor.
Day in day out, disappointment looms large.
I remain impressed by how bad it can get, and how quickly that can happen.
And then, somehow, I remember everything I forgot
There are sounds in graveyards.
Earthen sounds of sorrow and surrender.
Sonic suppositions and wailing gypsies.
Terror of impermanence.
An impasse, but not passive.
Hang around long enough and you train your ears to listen.
On the fringe of life, abutting, and right up against it.
A city of ruins, leading paths to a suburban eternity.
Invited patience sublimates itself to the alpha regret.
Sinister doubts press courage from beating hearts.
The busy silence teases out the denied emotions of Faustian bargains.
Legions of lifeless bones, marked by dust and stone.
A marathon sprint to stillness.
Perpetual motion, dispatched to be oblivion.
Authoritative immense silence speaking volumes to those not willing to look.
A distant buzz of lawn-grooming engines, drones on.
A lulling drone; consistent.
Cars passing by on the periphery, allowing measurable distance to be heard.
Rushing toward a graver situation.
Whistling past the graveyard.
Tenants without complaints, barely registering.
Rotting remains, animate the six-feet deep dioramas of death beneath our feet.
Worms, et al, explore yawning canvases.
A subterranean bacchanalia.
Mourner’s tears ant farm tunnels in the shoveled earth.
This offends the dead, but no one understands why?
Perhaps grief humors the living, despite the noise of the dead.
“It Always Hurt Me To See My Mother Cry”
It always hurt me to see my mother cry.
I remember in early childhood, there being instances.
Like that time when I was in the third grade,
and she was lunch mother at school.
Somehow the hospital was able to notify her that my grandmother had died after a prolonged struggle with breast cancer.
She must have been brought to the office on the second floor to receive the news.
I remember her coming down the maroon staircase,
floating on grief, red and runny from the emotions.
My stomach sank.
I remember in later childhood, there being instances.
Like that time in the seventh grade, when we moved from my second floor childhood apartment.
My parents were packing like gangbusters, and my father was in the basement.
My mother leaned over the back stairs and shouted down into the abyss to get my father’s attention.
Forgetting her surroundings, she sprang back up, but not without smashing her skull on the decorative wooden stairwell stalactite.
I heard the bang from three rooms and a long hallway away.
It least is seemed a long hallway away, to an adolescent boy.
Cringing in the darkness, aware of the flash of pain she suffered and the anxiety surrounding the impending move, amidst a sea of trailing sobs.
I remember as a young college-aged adult, there being instances.
Like that time as a freshman in college, when my grandfather died.
Watching her at the funeral, linked arm and arm with her older brother,
as they walked behind a flag draped coffin, and the music medley of “Eagle’s Wings”, the “Marine Corp Hymn”, and “Danny Boy” played.
The tears rolled violently and syncopated sobs echoed up into the abandoned balcony, hanging in a hushed choir of hyperventilating breaths.
I remained stoic outwardly, but disarmed inwardly by her display.
It is odd for me now, so many years later, to reflect on the trail of tears that defined my mother’s pain, but also allowed for me to see a more human side of her personality.
There was certainly a cleansing quality to those instances all the way up and down my early life.
There were times when I wished that I could have spared her that pain.
But, having experienced what I’ve experienced in my life, I recognize the magnificent importance of sorrow, and its presence in our lives.
And, upon further reflection, I truly appreciate the balance and value it provides to our souls.