High Anxiety

fullsizeoutput_3e0

I have always prided myself as someone in touch with their feelings.  I can usually pinpoint the source of my emotions. Frustration with a relationship, disappointment in an outcome, anxiety about a challenge, excitement about an upcoming new experience – I can usually identify what is going on. Lately that ability seems muddled – I’ve had more free-floating anxiety than usual.

I was driving south on the Thruway the other day, heading to New York City for something like the 5thtime in a month (I’m usually excited by the prospect of time in the city). This time I just felt nervous, my brain flitting from one thing to another, I was having a hard time concentrating.  Thankfully I was able to focus on the road – it would truly have been a really bad sign if I got lost. I can make the trip on autopilot at this point. I tried to think through what has been going on, why this unease? Why have I been feeling more overwhelmed than circumstances seem to warrant? Since I was alone in the car, I took the opportunity to try and sort it out.

I am well aware that I am very fortunate, my life is an embarrassment of riches. I try to keep gratitude in the forefront, but, oddly, I find that the more I have, the more I fear losing it. I’m not referring to things (though I do have a confusing relationship with things, I like them more than I should), but to people. Readers of this blog know that our daughter-in-law is expecting a baby any day now. I think humming along in the background of my brain has been an awareness of the risks involved for everyone. I am also well aware of the fact that I have no control over how things will go. If only I could wrap up my loved ones in a cocoon to protect them! Obviously, not an option. So, maybe one contributor to my heightened level of anxiety is anticipation of this big event.

It’s funny in some ways because we spend so much time wishing for things (both tangible things and situations/events) and then when they happen, you realize it isn’t quite what you thought. There are strings attached.

You hope that your child finds a partner in life. But when they do, it changes your relationship (in all sorts of ways, many positive, some unanticipated). You look forward to being a grandparent, but that brings new worries. You look forward to a trip, but then you deal with the aggravation of delayed flights or turbulent weather. You want the luxury of a swimming pool in your backyard, but then you have to deal with the maintenance (a seemingly never-ending source of aggravation in our case). These may seem like wildly different ‘things,’ but there is a theme. There is a cost that comes with the things we want. Perhaps that is obvious, but it makes me stop and think. There is virtue in simplicity. Maybe I should consider Buddhism! The way I understand one of its central tenets is that you shouldn’t become attached to things or ideas – you need to let go of expectations. I don’t know if I can do that.

Or maybe I need to figure out how to not let these things get to me; figure out a way to acknowledge the worry, but then set it aside, especially when there isn’t something to be done.

But, it is so easy to lose perspective. Over the last couple of months, we have been enmeshed in the process of buying a condo in NYC. That’s the reason for so many trips to the city. Filling out the paperwork for a mortgage and shepherding it through the process felt like a full-time job. How blessed am I that making this purchase is even an option? But it is also a source of anxiety. It is a huge investment, the numbers are scary. But then I would remind myself that if it fell through, there was no real loss. And, if we successfully closed on it, and it turned out to be too big a financial commitment, we could sell it. So why did it feel so stressful?

In part, I blame Trump. You may ask, what is the connection? As I was driving down the Thruway, mulling things over, I realized that another large piece of my anxiety came from worries about our country’s future. I happened to be reading a novel, Ready Player One, set in a dystopic future that was all too imaginable to me. I have no faith in Trump, he has appalling judgment and is intent on sowing seeds of hate and fear, and Congress isn’t willing to take him on. The threats of climate change, of civil unrest rooted in the growing divide in this country, of America losing its footing, are all too real. Not to mention the tragedy of gun violence. Making such a huge investment in a time like this feels like a leap of faith, but my faith is shaken.

This unsettled feeling about our future was reinforced by an experience I had on that trip. On the day I was driving, a video went viral of a white guy going on a rant in a New York deli because the employees were speaking Spanish. It is the type of thing that seems to be happening a lot more in this age of Trump and ubiquitous cellphones. One of the reasons I was making the trip was to be at the new apartment for the guy to install cable and wifi. The guy arrived, at the appointed time, and, as is often the case, it took quite a bit longer than expected for him to successfully get things running. He was there for a couple of hours. At one point, while we were waiting for technical support people (he was on hold with his office) to try and fix things on their end, his personal phone rang and he asked me if I minded if he answered it. “If I do, I will be speaking Spanish,” he explained. “Of course you can answer your phone,” I responded. He shrugged sheepishly, as he answered. I moved toward the kitchen to give him space.

As I reflect on this interaction, I realize that I would feel differently if he had been in the middle of explaining something to me, then it would be rude to take a personal call, regardless of the language he spoke. But at that point we were just waiting awkwardly. I had no problem with him taking his call. I thought it was a sad commentary that he felt the need to explain that he would be speaking Spanish. It was a personal call, it wasn’t my business to understand his end of the conversation anyway. When he got off the phone I said we had come to a sad place if he needed to ask if it was okay to speak Spanish. He gave a small smile and another shrug.

During my 2 ½ hour drive and as I continue to think about my state of mind, I have come to a better understanding of what’s been going on. Not surprisingly, most of the issues are out of my control. I decided I need to focus on what I can do to manage it.

These are the strategies I came up with:

  1. Avoid reading dystopic novels (at least for a while).
  2. Reduce the number of times I allow myself to look at Twitter and Facebook to two times per day. Look at blocking some of the more vitriolic sources from my Facebook feed.
  3. Find an organization or campaign that I can volunteer for that is in concert with my values. (Or, alternatively, assuming Dan and Beth will allow/need, help with the baby!)
  4. Devote more time to productive activities, whether it is clearing clutter in my home, doing research for my memoir or talking to friends, spend more time doing constructive things so I don’t dwell in worry.

I hope that isn’t too ambitious. It doesn’t seem like it should be.  If you have suggestions, please share. I’ll report back.

A Loyal Sport

In preparation for writing a blog post, I went through one of my many boxes of memories. I have stashes of letters, photos and mementos and periodically I go through them either looking for something specific or looking for inspiration. In this case I was looking for something specific.

I had a memory of a particular article I wrote about a blind high school athlete, Andre Rodriquez. I have a yellowed, tattered portfolio of articles I wrote when I was in high school and I wanted to see if I had that one. As I recall, that article was featured in the centerfold of the Canarsie Digest, a two-page spread. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it among the clippings. I wanted to write about the experience of interviewing Andre, but I didn’t think I remembered enough without finding the piece. I did find three other items, though, that sparked other memories. One was a pad on which I wrote thoughts on motherhood when Leah was a baby. I shared that essay last week on the blog. Another was a profile of a college soccer star, which I will use for a future blog post. The last item I found was another letter from Zada. Here is that letter:

ALseq9u4QoO+Fjq0+zarIA

10/31/74

Dear Linda,

            I think you might be interested to know why you possess such a love for sports and sportsmanship in general. It all goes back to an event that happened a long time ago. It was my father, your great Zada, who performed an act so sporty, that I think that even the Marquis of Queensbury would have been impressed, had he known about it.

            As you know the Marquis of Queensbury rules pertain to boxing. Our present boxing rules, and the most important one according to the Marquis, was that you never hit a person when they are down. The custom in boxing is to allow the fallen one to take a mandatory eight count, and if he does not arise by the count of ten, it is considered that he has been knocked out.

            Well the year was 1921, your Uncle Sidney was about eight years old or young. The Spilkens owned a bakery on 3rd Street and Avenue C, in Manhattan. So let me try to set the picture for you. It is a Saturday morning, the street is void of pushcarts, and the street cleaners, as was the custom in those days, brushed the accumulation of garbage of the day before, into one spot opposite to where the bakery was. Then a dump truck would come by, and all the dirt would be shoveled into it.

            Now from that particular place, a wailing was heard, it seems that Uncle Sidney and other boys had provoked in some manner, the Super. (in those days, he was known as the janitor.) But, as usual, the only boy caught was Uncle Sidney. The janitor had struck him, and his cries reached great Zada in the bakery. I told you before, Zada believed that when you strike somebody, that somebody should be of your size. The expression, why don’t you hit a fellow your size? Evolved from that ruling.

            Well, Zada, as quick as a flash, was on the other side of the street, and began pummeling the poor janitor. After a succession of blows to the head and solar plexus, the poor man went down into the heap of rubbish aforementioned. But Zada being the sport he was, and pursuant to the Queensbury rules, picked the man off the ground, held him aloft after he counted to eight, and fearing the man would collapse if he waited until ten, began to belabor the poor fellow, until he thought (Zada) that he had taught the man a lesson, you don’t hit anyone unless he is of your size.

            I’ll never forget, for it comes to my mind often how sportsmanlike my father acted because he did not strike the man as he was lying immersed in garbage. But put him on his feet so that he could continue the punishment in a fair and square manner.

            I must not leave you with a wrong impression, Zada being a thorough sport, gave unto his son Sidney a thrashing the likes of which your Uncle Sidney would carry with him for a long time. You see he was certain that the janitor was plenty harassed by Sidney.

            In other words, he felt that the man was justified in hitting Uncle Sidney, but the way my father figured as I stated before, Sidney was much smaller than the Super.

            Linda, honestly there are so many stories I could tell you about great Zada and about your Uncle Irving. They will wait for an opportune time but being the sport you are please understand the moral of this story. Always protect and defend any member of your family, but do it in a sportsmanlike manner.

            Write to your Zada. I love to read your letters.

  CS  (He signed the letter CS – Charles Spilken)

The letter sparks many thoughts. First, I can’t say I see the connection to my love of sports. But I imagine Zada was taking literary license. Second, I’m not so sure I see this incident as a shining example of sportsmanship. Perhaps Zada meant it tongue in cheek? But, then again, maybe he didn’t. I do know he took quite seriously the idea that you don’t hit a man when he’s down. There is another family story in that vein that my mother told us. When she was a young girl, her father took her to a baseball game. Apparently, the pitcher had a terrible inning and as he was coming off the field, my mother yelled, “You stink!” (A tame epithet by today’s standards!) They were seated close enough to the action so that the pitcher heard her. Zada was appalled by his daughter’s behavior and was quick to point out that you don’t kick a man when he’s down. I believe he had her write a letter of apology when they returned home. Mom liked to tell us that story to impart the message that you don’t pile on, you don’t add to another’s misery.

I also note that Zada wrote that his father gave Uncle Sid a thrashing he would not forget. It is interesting because I don’t think Zada used corporal punishment in his disciplinary approach to parenting. My parents certainly didn’t. Of course, as I have written before, our Dad was an imposing presence, with a bad temper, so he didn’t need to use his hands to discipline us. The raising of his voice and the intensity of his scowl were enough.

The other moral of the story that Zada highlights in his letter is the idea that you defend any member of your family (even if they are wrong), as long as you do it in a sportsmanlike manner. This is a topic of debate in my immediate family. Gary totally subscribes to that philosophy. He will go to the wall to defend Leah, Daniel or me (or his siblings, etc.). There is no question. His first response if his child has been in a conflict is to want to do harm to the offender, who he assumes is not his child. He is nothing if not loyal. He also holds a grudge. Anyone who did Leah or Dan wrong, it could be 20 years ago (they could’ve been 8 at the time!), is still on Gary’s shit list. Okay, I could be exaggerating, but only a little. I see the pluses and minuses of this. His children know with the same certainty that day follows night that he will be there for them.

For better or worse, that isn’t my approach. I have been blessed or cursed with seeing the world in shades of gray. When Dan or Leah or Gary had a conflict with someone, I do ask, what did you do? What was your role in the argument? Sometimes they don’t want to hear that question. Certainly, they don’t appreciate it when it is the first question I ask (I try not to do that!).

The truth is, I don’t believe in blind loyalty. I do believe in unconditional love. If my children or other family members did something wrong, I would be there for them, to help them, to support them as they moved forward and made amends. Of course, wrong-doing can take many forms – from minor to major – and that makes a difference, too. In general, though, I would not look the other way and I would not cover it up. On the other hand, if my child or family member was done wrong, then sign me up, I’m ready to do battle on their behalf.

What do you think?  What does loyalty mean to you?

Motherhood

Note: I was rummaging through a drawer and came upon a yellow pad that I jotted thoughts on many years ago. I found the following, written in March of 1988.

vkw06VatSVqD25BzqThh%A

I woke up to hear a very pleasant conversation. I look over at Gary to find that he is soundly sleeping.  At the same time my eye catches the clock. It is 6:04 a.m. Of course, our alarm clock is set to run about 17 minutes fast for some reason that makes perfect sense to my sleeping husband.

So, you ask, is the pleasant conversation the remnant of a dream, or is there someone else present? In the next room, Leah Rachel, all 9 months and 25 days of joyful life, is engaged in quite a discussion. I wonder: what does it all mean? Is she really saying something to her companions in her crib, her pink and white cuddly, soft dog or powder blue bear? Is she simply announcing her pleasure at waking up to find another day which promises new and interesting surprises? Or is the pleasure of experimenting with her voice, making new sounds or repeating pleasing ones? I wish I woke up that way. I wonder how soon this phase will end. When will waking up become the painful process for Leah that it is for most of the people I know?

I lay back and listen, trying to imagine Leah’s pleasure. I had not known, before her birth, how fresh things would look, sound and feel. That is not to say that there aren’t many mornings when I have been awoken at 6:00 am mighty pissed off at losing valued sleep once again, and not at all impressed with the vocalizations of my little baby girl. But, it has been quite an experience trying to see the world through her big brown eyes. On so many levels, it has made me see things I otherwise had ignored or thought of from a different perspective.

I listen for a while, knowing inevitably that the cooing and gurgling will turn into frustration. I imagine Leah saying, “Oh, I’ve been cute long enough! Where is breakfast?” I get up and go to the bathroom. Leah comes to the instantaneous realization that someone is available so she starts to fuss.

Anyway, once my necessities have been taken care of, I go into Leah’s room to find her little face peeking through the bars of the crib. Her joy at seeing me, and realizing that freedom is near, is a wonderful greeting. I love her little face, the way she nuzzles her head into the crook of my neck, while patting me on the back when I lift her from her bed. This is a terrific hug. It is amazing to me that most every time she greets me, she shows so much affection. After a nap, when I pick her up from the babysitter, after she has been playing with her toys for a while, oblivious to me…Did she learn to do that? Is it a natural thing for a person to do? It is incredible to me that, at such a young age, Leah is already so able to express her appreciation, her love. Is it love, though? What is it?

I guess over the years, as children grow up, they must take these little things for granted. I suppose it wouldn’t be natural to be grateful each time you saw your parents, siblings or spouse. Plus, I guess as you get older, there are more reasons NOT to appreciate them! I will try to savor these moments in anticipation of lean years ahead.

My treasure. Really the point of all this exposition is two-fold. One is to share what is in my heart for my daughter and other loved ones. It is to try to paint a picture of a moment in time that, for me, defines love. And, it is to ask a question: Is this what other mothers, wives and daughters feel? Because if they do, it is at once very exciting because what I feel is wonderful and life affirming. It is also frightening because of the intensity of the emotions.

It is apropos that I came upon this the day after the baby shower. I had wanted to say something at the shower, but in the hub-bub and distraction, I didn’t get to. I wanted to wish Dan and Beth the joy, love and pride that I have been privileged to know as a parent. I hope they are as lucky as I have been.

Forgiveness, Not Revenge

Last Monday I came out of the doctor’s office and checked my cell phone and found that I missed a call from my brother, Mark. I got in my car, made sure the Bluetooth was connected, and called him back.

“Hey, I see I missed a call from you. How are you doing?”

“I’m on the Thruway heading to the city.”

We exchanged some pleasantries, and then I asked,

“So, what’s up? Any reason for the call?”

“Well….has Gary seen your blog?” he asked with trepidation.

I chuckled, “Ahh, yes, he was well aware, you don’t have to worry. I wouldn’t blindside him.”

[For those who haven’t read last week’s blog, it recounted a story from many years ago that didn’t reflect too well on Gary.]

“Okay, I’m glad to hear that. I was wondering if you had lost your mind.”

I told Mark that I well may have (lost my mind), but I posted the story with Gary’s full knowledge and support (I’m sure he didn’t love it, but he had no objection). Mark commented on what a special guy Gary is, I agreed, and we said our good-byes.

Though Mark may have been the only one who directly called me to ask if I forewarned Gary, I know others questioned my judgment. Generally, it is considered bad form to air dirty laundry in public. I usually don’t. First, I have little to complain about and second, I don’t like the idea of criticizing my husband to others.

Before embarking on this blogging journey, Gary and I had a number of conversations about the stories I might share and the implications of revealing experiences that might be painful. I spoke to my children, as well. In preparation, I read memoirs and books on writing memoirs. An unavoidable issue is how to present stories that may reflect poorly on a particular person, especially a living person. There are a number of strategies. Sometimes it may be reasonable to change the name, especially when the person isn’t a major character. I have done that in a few instances. I have also used only the first name and if it was someone from my childhood, that person may recognize themselves (if they happen to read the piece), but most people won’t be able to identify the individual.

Sometimes, though, it can’t be covered up and then there is a choice to be made. There are different opinions about how to handle this. Some authors believe you need to be ruthless in writing your truth. I don’t subscribe to that approach. I try to write my truth, but I liked what another author wrote (and if I had access to my notes, which are home and I am in Boston, I would give credit) which suggested writing toward forgiveness, not revenge.

I am fortunate in that I have no need for revenge, my stories don’t involve me being victimized in some terrible way. I am not bitter about my life. Though I would have characterized my childhood as unhappy (I am reconsidering that characterization as I explore it), I am seeking to understand it, not blame anyone for it. My stories are about ordinary struggles, for belonging, acceptance, identity. My life has not included the great dramas of abuse or addiction, or of overcoming odds to achieve greatness (the usual stuff of memoir). But, I think there is merit to telling ordinary stories. I hope that some of the struggles resonate with people.

As I think of stories I want to share, I think about whether there is something to be gained in the telling – for myself and for readers – is there something to learn? Or is it entertaining enough? At one of the first writing workshops I took the teacher pointed out that just because you remember something doesn’t mean it is worth including. I try to keep that in mind.

Another author, writing about memoir, pointed out that someone will always be unhappy with your story. One person may be disappointed in how they were portrayed. Another may be disappointed that they weren’t included enough or at all. So, I know I can’t write to please any particular person.

The people who are most likely to be cast in an unflattering light are my parents and my husband. They are and/or were the ones with the most power to hurt me. I am lucky that my mother (my Dad passed away in 2005) and Gary are tremendously supportive of these efforts even in the face of criticism. Gary tells me to write what I need to write. Mom mostly wants to apologize for any mistakes she may have made. I believe they both know that I can only write what I do because I love and trust them.

If you read last week’s blog and wondered what I was thinking – now you know. I thought there was a lesson to be learned and I had enough confidence in Gary, and in our relationship that it could withstand the public telling. Gary and I are still speaking – so far, so good. It looks like my confidence was well placed.

IMG_0075

Marital Moments (no, not that kind!)

It was 1990. We had just celebrated Daniel’s first birthday, and Leah was fast approaching three years old. I was working full time for the Legislative Commission on Expenditure Review (LCER). Gary was finishing the first year of his Endocrine Fellowship. The kids were in daycare at Kidskeller. Those are the facts.

Gary and I were managing, barely. Financially the ends were just meeting, some months they weren’t. Emotionally we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth. Here was a typical day in the Spring of 1990:

We got up at 6:30 a.m., if we weren’t already awoken by one or both of the kids. If we were lucky we had gotten 6 hours of sleep, on a good night. We got ourselves and the kids ready for the day, packed up the bags for daycare, ate breakfast and got in the car (we could only afford one). We drove to Kidskeller, an easy ten-minute ride from the house. Each of us took one child and got them settled, then met back at the car. Gary drove me downtown (another ten minutes) and dropped me off in front of the Daily Grind where I would get coffee. He went on to work, parking the car at the VA Medical Center. I walked the rest of the four blocks to my office. At least two or three times a week I took a bus during my lunch break to look in on Leah and Dan at Kidskeller. Even if it was only 10 minutes each, it made me feel better to see them. Then I took the bus back and continued my workday. At 5:00 p.m. I went back through the revolving door of my office building, leaving every thought about work behind and caught the bus again. This time I went to get the car at the VA parking lot. I’d go pick up the kids and bring them home. I made us dinner and we ate. Usually around 7:00 pm I’d get a call from Gary that he was ready to leave work. I loaded Leah and Dan in the car and drove to either the VA or Albany Med to pick him up. We got home and began the bedtime routine. Then we did it all over again the next day.

fullsizeoutput_2a2
Gary in his office at the VA (sometime around 1990-91)

Given the demands of our lives, there wasn’t much margin for things going wrong. If the car broke down or someone got sick, we had to scramble.

This isn’t to suggest that there wasn’t joy. Watching Leah and Daniel emerge, their unique personalities flower, was a source of pleasure and pride. But, there wasn’t much time devoted to Gary and my relationship. There wasn’t much left at the end of the day, so perhaps the events surrounding this particular experience are understandable in that context (I can write that with 25 years of perspective between then and now).

On rare occasions my work required overnight travel. Fortunately, I would know long enough in advance so that Gary was able to coordinate his schedule, and/or we called upon family members to help fill in. This particular time I had a trip planned to Mineola (Long Island). Dan was still recovering from his second bout of Coxsackie virus, a particularly unpleasant illness that involved blisters on his lips and in his mouth. Gary was able to adjust his work responsibilities so that he was home that day. The plan called for me to arrive back in Albany by 5:00 p.m. so he could then go to the hospital.

My colleague, Debra, and I left the night before so that we could get to the office in Mineola bright and early, leaving us a full morning to conduct interviews and review files as the project required. We were scheduled to make a stop early in the afternoon at a Westchester office to conduct another interview and then go back to Albany.

We arrived at the Mineola office as scheduled at 8:00 a.m. We parked in the garage under the building, as we had been directed. We took the elevator up and began our work day. So far, so good. We were there about 90 minutes when an alarm sounded. An announcement came over the loudspeaker advising us that this wasn’t a drill, we needed to evacuate the building immediately. We left without our coats.

As we got to the street, we were directed away from the building. We were told there was a bomb threat. We heard a multitude of sirens and saw police cars blocking the entrances and exits to the building and its garage. We saw German Shepherds being brought into the building. We were told this was going to take a while. I looked at my watch, it was nearing 11:00 a.m. I felt panic rising. I thought I better call Gary (this was before cell phones – they may have existed, but I certainly didn’t have one).

Debra and I went in search of a pay phone. We crossed the street and found a department store which had a bank of phones. I scrounged change from my purse and placed the call. I told Gary about the bomb threat.

“I wanted to let you know what was going on. We’ve been evacuated from the building and I don’t know how long it is going to take,” I explained.

“You need to leave and come back home,” Gary replied.

“I can’t. The car is parked under the building.”

“I don’t care. Get in the car and leave.”

“I don’t have my keys either – they’re in my coat pocket which I had to leave in the building.”

“Go back to building…”

“What are you saying, Gary? You want me to go through the police barrier? Are you fucking serious?!”

Debra was standing next to me, listening to this conversation, making no move to leave and give me some privacy. I think she was enjoying the show.  I was angry and embarrassed. I put my hand over the receiver and asked her to go check to see if the building was still sealed off. Reluctantly she left.

Gary continued, “Well, if you aren’t going to get back in time, you better arrange a baby-sitter!”

“I’m on Long Island, for Christ’s sake! I don’t have phone numbers or enough change! You need to do it!”

“I’m not finding a sitter! I can’t not go in to the hospital, Linda, you know that! I need to round on my patients! You need to figure this out!”

“I might still get back in time. I’ll call when I know.” And I hung up.

As I took a few deep breaths, I rifled through my bag and found the number for the person Debra and I were supposed to interview in the afternoon. I called, apologized and told him I would have to reschedule. One less thing to worry about.

I left the department store and went to find Debra. I was none too happy with her either, but I had no choice. We needed to finish our assignment.

It was just after noon when we got the all clear to return to the building. We went back into the office and finished up our paperwork as quickly as possible. We got our things together and got on the road before 1:00 p.m. Assuming we didn’t hit crazy traffic, never a good assumption, I would get back in time.

The entire ride back, I stewed. I couldn’t believe Gary wanted me to go back in the building. I felt humiliated. This was not something I could ever tell my dad – he probably wouldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. This from the guy who had come over to my apartment with a baseball bat when he couldn’t reach me on the phone? That same guy wanted me to ignore a bomb threat serious enough to evacuate a building and call in search dogs?

We made it back to Albany with no further delays. I dropped Debra off at her apartment and drove home. I took a deep breath as I came up the stairs to our house. I opened the door and found Dan in his highchair while Gary offered him applesauce. Leah was also sitting at the table, starting to eat her dinner. I greeted the kids. Gary and I didn’t say much to each other, just exchanged essential information like when Dan had last had Tylenol. I took over giving Dan and Leah dinner. Gary left for the hospital.

Over the next days and weeks, we returned to our routines, going through the motions. I couldn’t just sweep it under the rug, though. Eventually, one day, after we dropped the kids off at daycare, we were in the car as Gary drove me to work, I brought it up. “I don’t understand how you could ask that of me,” I began. I expected an apology. I didn’t get one. Instead Gary described how demanding his work was, how stressed he was, how hard it was to meet the standards of his mentor, Dr. Goodman. I got out of the car feeling even worse.

I made a mistake in bringing it up when we had less than ten minutes to discuss it, since we both had to be at work. I arrived at my office upset, frustrated, angry and sad. Not a great recipe for productivity either.

I can’t tie a bow around this story. We didn’t come to a sweet resolution. We just kept going. Circumstances got better as time passed. Leah and Daniel got older and more self-sufficient. I went to a four day work schedule. Gary finished training and went into private practice. His hours were still long and the work demanding, but the financial strain slowly but surely relaxed. We found bits of time here and there to devote to each other. Damage had been done to our relationship. It took a long time to rebuild, and there were other low points (though not as dramatic), but we survived….together.

 

Who is she?

A woman stands in the middle of a room

Like a sculpture

I sit, studying her

I know her.

 

I shift seats

I study her again

I see variations, but

the image holds.

 

A chill wind blows

She shifts her stance

Bracing herself

I see her face.

 

I don’t recognize her

Who is she?

_________________________________________________

Random thoughts and observations about relationships……

I’ve been thinking about how we know the people in our lives. And, I’m wondering: do we really know them?

Often our connections are circumstantial. School, work or our children’s activities may throw us together.  Is that enough to sustain a relationship? Sometimes it is. And, how well do we get to know the person when we only interact in a certain context.

Years ago, when I was in college, I read an article in a magazine that explored friendship. I don’t remember the adjectives the author used to label the different types, but one of the ideas was that some friendships develop because of a shared experience and when that is over, so is the friendship. I think the article mentioned college friends as an example. I don’t know if that fits for me. One of the things that was true in college was that I had a lot of time to devote to those friendships. We spent hours talking and sharing insights, our histories. I share a bond with those women. As an adult, busy with work, family and the mess and responsibilities of everyday life, I don’t have the luxury of spending time in that way.

It is true, though, that some relationships don’t continue beyond the circumstances. Sometimes it could be because you move on and don’t see the person any more. Though these days with technology being what it is, that may not be a legitimate excuse. Other times it can be because the friendship isn’t that deep. If you take a class with someone and bond during it, the connection may not be strong enough to sustain it beyond that. You may try to extend the relationship, socialize beyond the classroom, and find that you just don’t have enough in common. As you get to know the person, you may find that you like them less!

It is a rare and wonderful thing when you peel back the layers of a person and find out that you like them even more.

I’ve also wondered, how many friendships can a person sustain? It takes energy to keep up. I think I may be unusual in the amount of alone time I need, to contemplate, to reflect.

And, what about family? We need to tend to those relationships, too.

With some people, you can be out of touch for months and then pick right up as if no time had passed at all.

And, then, there is the situation where you thought you knew someone and they surprise you – and not in a good way.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t think so much! Relationships, and my interior life, would be so much simpler.

dxSmTlmoRneANvSPFTvA8g
I bought this reproduction of Rodin’s The Thinker for Gary years ago because it had particular meaning to us. Columbia University had one on its campus and it was where we would meet. Given my nature, I better understand now why this sculpture resonated so much with me.

Flight 5 EWR to FLL

Note: Gary’s Dad was hospitalized last Thursday morning with difficulty breathing. Gary flew down to Florida to be with him and oversee his care. He wrote this on the flight down and gave me permission to share it.

fullsizeoutput_290

It is a trip I have taken before.  It is filled with dread and anxiety.  It is filled with a sense of obligation and duty and a sense of purpose.  Once again, my father is at a crisis point.  He is hospitalized and in some significant danger.  Each time, it is a bit worse than the previous episode.  Each time, yet another illness has been added to the list of threats to his survival.

I travel there as his son.  I am not his doctor but yet I am.  Every major medical decision is really made by me at this point in time.  I know too much.  He has multiple diagnoses each of which carry a very limited life expectancy, starting with him being 95 years old.

Add to that lung cancer, kidney disease, about 7 decades of hypertension, atrial fibrillation that used to be paroxysmal (coming and going) but now is chronic, diabetes, a monoclonal protein that could at any time turn into myeloma or other blood cancer, nodules on his kidneys, a large nodule on his prostate.  And now congestive heart failure.

I guess you could say the most surprising thing is that he is still alive.  He is, if nothing else, a remarkably determined man.  He is still, all these years along the road, inspiring to me.  He is not the man he used to be.  Time and illness have taken away much of his incredible vigor.  He is physically and mentally slower than he was.  But he still finds a way to love life and even to enjoy it.

He is not like me.  I am probably better in math and science than he is, but in the most important ways he is stronger and more resilient than I could ever imagine being.  He enjoys people.  He tends not to be overly possessive.  He doesn’t like to wait; patience is not his strongpoint.  He is beyond courageous.  He will not let terrible things make him unhappy; his will is immeasurably immense.

He trusts me and I feel like he has always trusted me.  At least for as long as I can remember going back to my childhood when I got to drive his car in the parking lot when he went to check out the refrigerated warehouse that held the cold cuts he was responsible for distributing to supermarkets.  He trusted me to drive the forklift at too young an age.  Both of those experiences were thrilling for a youngster and I was not going to crash and betray his trust.

I will not betray that trust today either.

In a sense, the flight that I am on, this trip to Cleveland Clinic Florida hospital, is symbolic of the larger, sad journey we have been on for some time now.  He will die at the end of it.  If we do everything right, he will die.  There will be pain and loss and sorrow.  If we don’t do everything right, there will be guilt as well.  There will not be guilt.

This journey is one variation of the journey most children ultimately take with their parents.  It is the journey Linda took with her father.  It is the way things are supposed to go.  The children bury the parents.  That is what happens when it goes the right way.  And if you are very lucky, you get 95 years, perhaps even a bit more, of meaningful life.  Of life that is by and large happy.  Even when your parent, your hero is less than he was.  Even when the limits of life are more and more closing in on him, when his wife, your mother, is no longer the person she had been in almost every way.

It is really the best you can hope for.  It therefore ought to be good enough.  It doesn’t feel like it is.

I am grateful for so many things.  For the tremendous efforts my siblings have made to arrange essentially everything in my parents lives so that they could go on and live out what remains in dignity and with as much independence as possible.  I am grateful for Linda’s eternal support and wisdom.  And for the endless good wishes and support from my children and my lovely daughter in law.

I have friends who are kind and a work environment that is flexible and understanding.  Nobody says anything more than good luck when I have to cancel patients at the last minute to take one of these emergency trips down to Florida.

But, despite this, I am still filled with the same dread.

Postscript: David was released from the hospital late Saturday afternoon. His breathing greatly improved. Hopefully with an adjustment in his medication, he will be stable and able to continue to enjoy his time in Florida. If all goes according to plan, Gary and I will visit Paula and David to share Passover with them. We are keeping our fingers crossed that there are no medical crises between now and then (during or after, for that matter).