Thursday, April 14, 2016

Deep Dive: Underwater Therapy for Fibromyalgia

If you have Fibromyalgia, you've probably been told that swimming is one of the best forms of physical therapy to relieve the pain. It's absolutely true. Per my doctor's recommendation, I try to swim laps for 40 minutes first thing in the morning, whenever possible.

She also told me I should do yoga, but I loathe yoga. All those hideous bare feet and tooting noises! All those smug skinny people with their sticky mats and expensive unitards and other sorts of leggings and tards and snoods and things.

Listen, I know that yoga would be good for me if I just had the patience, but my mind operates much like an army of frantic little gerbils galloping away on spinning wheels, all wearing spectacles cut to the wrong prescription and listening to competing radio stations that fluctuate on a spectrum between "BBC Unsettling and Depressing World News" and Top 40 songs with inane lyrics like "Now that I'm without your kisses/I'll be needing stitches." (The logic of such a statement causes me significant pain, wholly unrelated to Fibromyalgia.)

This is exactly why yoga would be good for a person like me.

But when one has only a bare 40 minutes, perhaps, to get in essential exercise that will save one's body and soul, I would choose many other activities, such as:
  • Kicking the hoo-ha out of something inanimate
  • Digging a ditch
  • Climbing a hill
  • Moving slabs of concrete from one location to another, for no real purpose
  • Swimming!
It is the latter that brings me the most peace. It's a form of moving meditation. I've always been a strong swimmer, so I don't flounder or flail. I just move forward; I'm unstoppable. I never get tired. I prefer lakes and large bodies of water where I can just head to the horizon and go on until I meet the far shore. But I can put up with chlorinated pools when that's all that is available.

(For the record, I have spotted some weird and unpalatable people in pools as well as in yoga studios, displaying their awful naked feet and such.)

It was in such a pool that I recently—and accidentally—discovered an amazing thing about Fibromyalgia and water that dramatically reduced my pain. Here's how it happened.

In preparation for volunteering some of my vacation time at my children's camp, I signed up for Lifeguarding Certification at my local Y. The course takes five full weekend days. I expected that this would involve a great deal of swimming, but it actually involves a fair amount of "sitting in a room and watching videos."

Also there are some exciting scenarios during which one has to revive gravely-injured and non-responsive victims, who happened to be made of a rubbery substance that made me sneeze explosively for five minutes.

Do NOT swim here. For any reason.
The other participants in the course are two 15-year-old girls and two 18-year-old boys. They are amusing to watch during the boring "sit and watch videos" part of the course because they get all itchy-fingered for their cell phones. One of them fell asleep for a few seconds the other day. And one became so bored that he started aimlessly drawing with a pen on his own palm and gazing obsessively at his artwork.

Plus, they have some pimples. Other than that I am jealous of them, except for the fact that lifeguards—who guard your fucking lives, people, and the lives of your children—can expect to make about $10-12/hour max. After five full days of reviving rubbery half-people and listening to lessons that include "Fecal Incident Response Recommendations!" They ought to make more money.

[Aside: I was faster than all of them in the swim test except for one of the 15-year-olds who happens to be on the swim team.]

So, to even qualify for Lifeguarding you have to do three things:

1. Swim 12 laps (6 breaststroke, 6 freestyle)
2. Jump into the water, swim out and dive straight down to 13 feet to retrieve a 10 lb brick, swim up with it and get it back to the wall and yourself out of water within a time limit.
3. Tread water for 2 minutes with your hands out of the water.

I was feeling pretty warmed up and happy after task 1. But, as I stood shivering on the pool deck and watching the nervous teenagers in line ahead of me complete task 2, I got a mite anxious. What if I failed the test and sank like a stone? What if I couldn't find the brick while peering through the shitty, smeary-assed goggles I'd grabbed from the Lost & Found since I'd misplaced my own?

When it was my turn I struck out, sighted the brick, and made the dive. All the way down to 13 feet. I grabbed it, and kicked myself to the surface. It wasn't that hard, but it wasn't particularly fun. I swam to safety with my precious brick and that was that. I got out.

As we did the third task, I noticed something strange. I felt lighter. Better. The persistent ache that I'd felt even after swimming the 12 laps (admittedly not a long distance) was entirely, completely gone.

The synchronized swim team was practicing at the same time, to a bouncy little jazz number. Boy, were they amazing! In perfect unison, they rose out of the water like dolphins and flexed their arms and kicked and then vanished beneath the surface. The timer started, and I pulled my hands out of the water and did a little jazz hands number to accompany my water-treading, just because I felt like it.

The whole rest of the day I felt better than I had in weeks. Now I make a point to swim underwater and I feel a big difference when I do. I go as deep as I can. Something happens down there, under the pressure of pure water.

I think there is some science behind this, according to my sister-in-law, who is a natural healer. Water somehow helps equalize the pressure in the body and helps lymph nodes drain properly and some other stuff I haven't fully explored yet. Google hasn't been very verbose on the subject. Maybe this will work for some, and maybe not for others. I'd be curious to hear your comments, and any research you come across.

All I know is that when I dove deep, it righted something in me; it equalized my hurting self with the world. I was finally a real thing in the world. I didn't need to fight the hurt anymore. At least for that day, and that was enough.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fibromyalgia: This Is Who I Am

I hurt. I hurt like a bird brought down from flight, a tree limb weighted by ice, a shuddering bolt of metal in a groove. There were times I ran in the sun. I have swum across lakes. I have carried heavy loads. I will still do those things. I will. But I hurt, all over. Something with talons has me about the neck and digs in, and I strive every moment to escape. Signals fire down my limbs. Elbow, wrist, fingers, knees, ankles.

I’ve recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and I have the most profound relief. Honestly, I wish it had been something worse. Something that would make people really sit up and take notice! Because “Fibromyalgia” sounds sort of like “Oh, you have the Yuppie Flu” or “You have some chronically lazy and fake pain caused by your hatred of being a servile wench at the beck and call of the helpless multitudes” or “You wish to get out of folding the laundry again.”

Well, it’s real, and you can listen to people speak about it in the NY Times here.

And read about it here.

And here.

Fibromyalgia has the following symptoms, at least for me:

  • Lots of fucking pain all over your body, most of the time except on those rare "gift" days.
  • Crushing fatigue, on and off.
  • Fuzzy-headed "fibro-fog:" A condition that makes you feel drunk, but not in a good way.
  • A hyper-attuned startle reflex, such that a ringing phone or a sneaky kid with a water-bomb makes me have a small panic attack.
  • An unsettling feeling of nerves "firing" in my body when they should not be. Like a series of small bombs going off: Plink! Plink! Plink! Every time they fire, I grow tense and exhausted.

Still, I wish I could have told people I had Lupus, or something like Granuloid MyoOptic Diffusion Carconosmia (doesn’t that sound scary?). My 16-year-old cousin died of Lupus! She really for real did. And that would mean I might die of it too, and people would feel really sorry for me and bring me pies and never once question the veracity of my pain.

I don’t have Lupus, so thinks the doctor. (Still waiting on the blood tests. I might have it, or worse.) And I don’t get any pie. I don't even care for pie! I hate pie. Don't bring me no stinking pies.

For months, years, I have asked doctors to tell me what’s wrong with me. They have all said I’m healthy as a horse.

“Your bloodwork is completely normal and there is nothing at all amiss. You should consult a psychiatrist, because you are clearly a nutter who is looking for attention and is making up a whole lot of fantasy badness in your head.”

“Your MRI shows nothing that would explain this pain. Everything is normal. Normal! I will send you to physical therapy, where they will charge you up the wing-wang to pull at some elastic bands and hoist wimpy 3-pound weights and do stretches. But your physical therapist will be exceedingly white-toothed and attractive, at least.”

“I’ll write you a prescription for Myclobenzaniadreapene. That will relieve some of the pain. Except you’ll be so sleepy you won’t be able to function. In any way. You will be comatose. And during your comatose-ness, you will actually still feel pain! Because the pill is actually just a placebo made of horseradish and marmot sweat, with a touch of sleeping powder as a glaze.”

Before I knew what this thing was, I complained to anyone in range, when I hoped to have a kind ear. My fingers turned cold and numb and white, when the temperature was a mild 62 degrees. I slapped at them and felt nothing at all. I cried, my cheek against the cold bathroom tile. My comb was filled with loose hair and I was as stiff as an 80-year-old, clenching tight upon the banister to get downstairs. Every morning is like that. I’m old before I’m young again.

I get really cold when no-one else in the room is cold. My teeth start chattering. I don't understand.

One friend said: “You're cold? Come on. Women are being enslaved in Syria. Hello, #FirstWorldProblems.”

I stopped complaining, for the most part. 

Well, no I didn't. But I tried hard. I tried to direct my complaints toward kind ears, such as those of my veterinarian friend, who, upon hearing some of my symptoms, suggested I see a rheumatologist. 

"My vet sent me," I told the woman who finally diagnosed me. My vet says she sees dogs gaze at her with the same kind of sad puppy-dog pain-filled eyes that I have. (She's one of the few whom I have allowed to see the full spectrum of unattractive misery.) 

I don't wish to complain, because it is utterly boring. But I want to explain away the grinding exhaustion that casts a dark shadow over my face during a game of Uno. I feel I should account for the fact that I keep grimacing, that I suddenly have to lie down. The raptor of pain has me in its grip. I’m not your mother anymore. I am a thing. I am a thing of want and hope. 

“What’s wrong, Mommy?”

“I’m in a little bit of pain, honey.”

“Are you sick?”

“No, I’m fine. I’m not sick. I would like a healing hug.”

And so they give them, believing in their small powers to cure. And every now and then I feel a frisson of energy awaken me, and my back sings, and my heart thrums, and my very hair starts to vibrate, and I think: “My son is a natural healer!” 

When the hurt settles again, I decide: “That was some powerful mojo. But it didn’t last. But it was for real while it did.”

(I really do believe in things like Reiki. In my next life, I will be a Reiki practitioner. I will help people, and heal them. And I do believe that my sons’ healing energy has given me something. Maybe I am a total whacknut, but littlest son’s last “Ultimate Special Hug With Kiss Attached And Some Chi” packed a big whammy. I'm not joking.)

My doctor gave me a pill. I am waiting for it to work. I don't write anymore. I don't do much of anything anymore, except wait for that pill to work.

It hurts while I am watching a movie. I try to pay attention to the plot, but really I am wondering: “When does the pain end? Will this go on forever and ever?” It hurts while I am watching my eldest son’s basketball game, during which he moves so gracefully, so swiftly, that, for a brief moment, it makes my heart swell and ache beyond comprehension. How could he be more beautiful? He's suddenly so tall, so heart-rendingly tall. And my second son spins through the living room and lands at the piano bench and bangs out a perfect rendition of the Star Wars theme from memory and then spins away, pain free, light as a breeze. And youngest son flails himself without fear from ottoman to couch in gap-toothed ninja derring-do, and I watch it all and feel love and joy and all along the way I can’t help but think I’m in pain I’m in pain I’m in pain.

I wish I could stop thinking about it for just one hour. Five minutes. And I feel incredibly guilty, because here they all pass before my eyes and what am I thinking about? Me. My own pain. Circus caravans and dancing yetis and talking penguins in bras could pass before my door and I would still be crouched in some small corner of my brain, cognizant of only one thing. Pain. Boring selfish whiny stupid ever-present pain eating my days alive.

What a bore. I have become a fucking selfish bore.

I wish I could stop feeling it.

But sometimes I make myself forget, actually. I am learning to play “Linus and Lucy” on the piano. When I sit down at the piano I become not myself, for some pure minutes, and although I feel pain tracing its insidious way down my right hand as I hit the chords, I don’t care.

Last winter, I decided I would learn how to skate, because it was the scariest thing I could imagine. I could twist an ankle! I might fall and crush my coccyx! Or I might fall and a skater would skate right over my hand and slice off all my digits! (OK, you have now probably realized that I suffer from anxiety, too.) I hurt all the time while I was skating, but I didn’t care. I was learning how to fly. One day, while I was clinging hopelessly to the side wall and scratching along, I heard a girl say to her friend, “You’ll never learn to skate if you always hold onto the wall.”

On that day I resolved to let go of the wall, and I was freed.

This winter I went sledding. I learned how to serve in paddle tennis, such that the ball goes in 95% of the time as opposed to 5% of the time. I practiced in my driveway once, against the garage door. I hurt the whole time I was doing it, but I didn’t care. I played one-on-one basketball with my son in the same driveway, and I was terrible­—an embarrassment! He took me down. He was “baller,” in tween lingo. I was a rickety, rusted thing. But I tried, and played, and that is what I care to count. I gave him a run for his money, because I never go halfway.

Every moment hurts. But every moment matters, even when I hurt. Right now, as I type, my neck and back and arms and fingers and knees are a blurred presence of pain. I want so much to walk to the piano and just play, free and clear. I composed songs; I want to finish them. I want to sing. I want to finish that beautiful novel, but after being at a computer all day, hunched and intent, my body betrays me: No more no more no more.

Even writing this hurts. Typing even hurts. But it was worth it, because maybe someone like me will one day read it and think: I am not alone.

We are not accidents. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Anonymous Letters and Anonymous Turds

I haven't posted here since the demise of the Manny. Nor have I written very much at all, despite the desperate pleading from my legions of fans for the sequel to my novel, The Hundred: Book Two. It's in the works, I assure you, you girl who sleeps with Book One beneath her pillow (that doorstopper must give her a crick in the neck!), you wanna-be author boy in that one school in the Bronx, and you creepy guy in the trench coat at the end of my driveway. Fans!

I just happen to be very busy right now. We moved to a new state two months ago. (Rah Rah Connecticut! And hurrah for our state animal, the Sperm Whale! Really? I just Googled this and I am a little shocked. And thrilled. Did you know that Moby Dick was based on a real Sperm Whale who was called...wait for it...Mocha Dick! He roamed the South Pacific in the 1840s. I'm not kidding at all. From Wikipedia: Mocha Dick was a notorious male sperm whale that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, usually encountered in the waters near the island of Mocha, off southern Chile. He was often accompanied by Whatta Dick and Totall Dick, his brethren, who pretty much destroyed everything. Mocha Dick survived many skirmishes (by some accounts at least 100) with whalers before he was eventually killed.)

Told you Mocha Dick was real! You were inclined to disbelieve me, weren't you? His bwuddahs are real, too!
So, back to me and my writing, or lack thereof. I wrote several songs in the last few months, and they even have real chords! And I can play piano and sing! (Albeit like a dying goat.) I also wrote some anonymous letters to strangers in my old neighborhood, before we moved. No, no, they weren't those sorts of anonymous letters! Not the kind of letters that also include a turd lovingly Scotch-taped to the envelope. (Although, I must say, some individuals might have merited such a delivery.) They were lovely handwritten letters, containing hope, inspiration, intriguing quotes, and sometimes a full shot glass worth of Vodka, if you wrung them out carefully.

I did it as a sort of experiment. I was feeling a little ill-at-ease at times before our move, and also overwhelmed, so I thought: Why not spread some love/happiness/surprise/whatnot into the void of the neighborhood by penning these completely original letters and then slipping them into random mailboxes? I'd write them at night. No copies were made, so I can't prove to you what they said. Of course, there's the beauty in it, right?

Then, on the way to the gym or the post office the next day, I'd scan houses and mailboxes for the right "vibe." When the house felt just right (maybe maybe it would have a little sad feeling, as if the people who lived there might need one of my letters), I would quietly steal up the walkway and slip the letter in the mailbox and then scurry away.

Then I would always get a really pleased feeling, like the kind of feeling you get when you have placed a pickle under your friend's pillow and you can just deliciously picture them discovering it at 3 a.m. and shouting, "What the fuck? Who would put a fucking pickle under my pillow?!?"

This is simply a pickle. Ever found one under your pillow? 
Except this was awesome and different! Not a pickle. A nice letter, written by a former English major with a Master's Degree in Writing. Me! So instead, they might say, "Honey, there is a psychopath around here writing anonymous letters filled with goopy sentiment, and the paper smells a little like Cheetos. In fact, there is some orange detritus on the edge of the paper here. But, gee, I feel so much better suddenly about my life, and now I shall write anonymous letters as well and the joy will spread throughout the world and defeat terrorism and other bad things. Yay!"

Weirdly, after delivery of a letter, something good would often come my way. Not checks and barrels full of money (Poo poo on you, The Secret), but a bit of good news, or a happy day, or someone using the serial comma without provocation, or some such.

I don't know if anyone reading this received one of my letters, but, by gosh, you should note it in the comments if you did.

So when we moved into our new home, a new sort of anonymous "delivery" began to appear. As background, our family loves board games and has often played the game "Balderdash," which is the same thing as the old game "Dictionary." In Balderdash (or "Bladder Dash" as someone most famously called it) you get an obscure word and then everyone has to write a phony definition that will fool people and garner votes. One day when we played, the word was "Thob." Someone submitted the definition: "A poo that doesn't flush." Ever after, should a son fail to flush the toilet after expulsion, it was by definition a "Thob."

Thobbie the Thob!

Then it began.

Day Two in our new house: I enter the downstairs bathroom and find a horrible, fat Thob covered in acres of toilet paper. "J'accuse!" I said to our youngest boy, who denied any part in the matter.

Day Three: A fresh Thob discovered, same toilet. Same acreage of TP. Many fingers were pointed.

Day Four: More Thobs, this time in multiple toilets. We suspect copycats. Guests are present and they are also queried.

Day Five: Another lone Thob in a toilet previously unsullied. The atmosphere is grim in the house, and accusations fly.

Day Six: This time, a Thob in the toilet closest to the boys' bedroom. Middle Child discovers it and reacts with terror and wild running-about. "It smells bad!" he cries.

Day Seven: Quiet and peace reigns. Is it over?

Day Eight: A new Thob! Back to the original, with a full roll of toilet paper nearly hiding its glistening pelt. Horror in the household.

Soon after that, the Wild Thobber left off his repulsive activities, and we have not seen a new Thob since. But I await its arrival, with anticipation and a little bit of glee.

For who amongst us hasn't wanted to leave a surprise for someone else? Or find one. A pickle under the pillow, a Thob in the executive washroom, an anonymous and completely random letter to the lonely, housebound person who used to work in the sad office with the diner plants and the candy trays at every fluorescent-lit cubicle? A little cairn of rocks where there isn't supposed to be one. A note duct-taped underneath a bench in an out-of-the-way train station, from which very few people ever leave. Write letters to the world.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Manny Diaries, Chapter Fifteen: The Pushing of the Swing

“in the cupboard sits my bottle

like a dwarf waiting to scratch out my prayers.

I drink and cough like some idiot at a symphony,

sunlight and maddened birds are everywhere,

the phone rings gamboling its sound

against the odds of the crooked sea;

I drink deeply and evenly now,
I drink to paradise

and death

and the lie of love.”
—Charles Bukowski, “SoirĂ©e”

No more cliffhangers. No more chapters to be delivered. This is the final chapter. It’s the end of fifteen parts, both sad and fierce, and the end of a eulogy that began with the very first chapter, although I didn’t know it then.

The Manny died on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. We don’t know the hour. His relentless talking, both the internal dialogue and the external monologues, had already presumably gone quiet. He had left Mexico to renew his visa, which he did periodically. After crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico by bus, he suffered a seizure, collapsed, and fell into a coma. A good Samaritan pulled his passport out and called the American embassy in Mexico City.

This is he.

Oh, you would so mad if you knew I shared any photos of you, but this one shows you at your happy, smiling best so i'm going to pretend you never said anything. You look happy. Besideswhich, you can't git after me me cos you are dead! (Oops, sorry, trying on a bit of your style of humor.) The text caption for this one read; "Look, Miss Jennifer, I got a haircut!"
My husband had spoken to Manny on the previous Friday afternoon and he was right as rain. Sober as a judge. They were catching up after not having spoken for a month, and they talked for an hour and a half. The conversation was so innocuous that my husband can’t clearly remember any specific details. There was no “Lupita the beautiful Mexican girl, who stole my Chipmunk puppet but whose skin was so soft, so very soft.” There was no talk of missing pants or missing chunks of tongue or angry landlords or roaming oxen or stopping up the toilets or avocados falling like manna from the trees. (When he was sober he might have, I dare say, been a bit more ordinary. But one might say that he was reasonably happy. A decent trade-off.)

On Sunday, my husband received a call from the embassy. Some years back, he had helped Manny obtain a passport, and his name was (eerily!) still on record with the state department as a result. They told him that Manny was in a coma and that the doctor had stated that, “the prognosis is not good.”

Two days later my husband placed a call to the embassy and received word that Manny was gone, his ever-present nattering and wild speculations silenced and darkened forever. He was dead of “unknown causes.” Unknown except for the dubious devil of drink, which may have finally killed him in the end. Perhaps he had tried to stop again. Perhaps he had tried to begin again. We don’t know, except that he had quite suddenly ceased to exist. It was what we had expected, all along. I knew I’d never see him again, and I won’t.

He had often said things like: “But what if I die, Miss Jennifer? What if I were to die?” He was truly afraid of dying. He knew in his heart it was a constant possibility. Some people are hyperbolic, prone to doom-filled mental wanderings, and hypochondria (myself included). He was all that and more. He knew he was going to die. It was just a matter of time.

You think you’ll have a chance to prepare, to say your goodbyes. You’re hoping for movie lighting. But then you step off a bus and fall down in a parking lot, or a dusty field, and no one notices but for a kind stranger. You’re there and then you’re not. You’re nowhere. You’re torso-deep into a bush with your pants missing and still have the grace to guffaw about it.

Manny, in the year that you lived with us, you crafted us near 100 meals, probably more. But you’ll cook no more. Where is your sunburnt smile under that ridiculous hat, and where are your 14 chickens that you bought for a song? I think you named three of them the Big One, the Middle One, and the Little One, after our boys.

His name was Mark. I’ll stop calling him Manny, but I’ll leave his last name off the records. His last name—the name we knew him under for many years—was real. He often went by another name, Frank, by which many of his friends knew him. But it wasn’t real. Many other things he told us weren’t real.

He was 54 years old, and not 63 as he often told us when he was drunk. (This had caused confusion, as my husband knew his true age by his passport. However, he [that is, Manny] had told us that Mark was also an assumed name. His real name, he said, along with the person had been when he was born, was long buried and forgotten. He had intentionally aged himself by 9 years.) He never served in Vietnam. He never killed anyone in combat. He was not adopted. His parents were not shot by Stalin’s goons as he cowered under the bed. He had a daughter, adopted, from a short-lived marriage. He adopted her in 1999. She’s sixteen now.

He had four siblings, all of whom (but for one) had washed their hands of him years ago. “We haven’t seen him in 26 years. Let him be buried in Mexico’s version of Potter’s Field,” said his sisters. One brother still cared, and we found that brother through the embassy. He hadn’t glimpsed Mark since 1990, when Mark had come by his shop to borrow $5,000. The brother wonders if that lousy $5,000 that he didn’t even care about kept Mark away for so long. Mark could have repaid the loan, too—he had the money many times over in the next two decades, when he was doing well financially. His brother would have gladly forgiven the loan just to spend more time with him.

Almost everything he told us, especially when he was drunk, was a lie. And his lies went even further. He had told friends that we owed him because he had paid for my husband’s law school education, and that, despite that, we were constantly “shaking him down for money.” No, simply not true, my husband’s mother paid for it. And we never shook him down for money. In fact, he owed us money. But we didn’t care.

I’m picturing rattling the poor man’s pockets as I “shake him down” and finding only some Dove dark chocolates and shards of broken pretzels and maybe a linty quarter.

Oh Mark, I’d like to swat you in the face with a sheeny-eyed red snapper now, but I can’t. Nor can I ask you what you meant to achieve with your wild fictions and your weeping over the dead you left behind in Vietnam. I now know that you had Muscular Dystrophy as a child, and they had to cut the muscles on the backs of your legs to help the condition (why I do not know; looking it up instantly hosed my computer, as if Mark is gleefully fiddling with the controls from the beyond to prevent fact-checking of his falsehoods).

We learned that your mother doted on you and you were always the favorite. “My sweet Mark. My poor Mark,” she used to say. You outgrew the condition, apparently. You got an apartment and your mother would deliver groceries to you once a week, out of love. But when your mother died in 2013, you didn’t attend her funeral, nor did you attend your father’s funeral in 1996.

And the “wetwork” you supposedly did. Did you ever actually hurt a single living thing? You had so much anger burning you up inside. You had so much pain. And so much love, too.

Why did you adopt a daughter and never speak of her? Despite that, why did you love our boys so much? I have videos of you pushing our children on a tree swing, and laughing. You had a great, big belly laugh. A real laugh that made fake cocktail-party titters seem shameful. You had a deep chuckle.

They amused him greatly, our boys. He let them climb over him and batter him like he was made of granite, despite his aches and pains. He was never dark then, during the pushing of the swing, although the darkness was in him.

I didn’t fully realize the fact of Mark’s death until I saw, a few nights ago, a photograph of the urn that carried his ashes. It had been delivered from Mexico to his brother in Detroit. It seemed awfully small to house such a big man. How can someone so massive be just…gone.  It was a wooden box, rectangular in shape. It made me feel scared for him, until I remembered: He’s not in there. That’s just all the ashes that are left from the pains and sorrows and hungers and loves of that big, ungainly body that never quite fit him.

Mark, you were a real physical presence. You used to startle on my stairs. You toasted tortillas on our stove and chopped endless “guavacados” on the cutting board. In our closet we have your old coat on a hangar, a “Dickies” brand coat. Your old winter hat is wadded-up in the pocket. You used to point at the logo and snigger, “Look, it says Dickies. Hee hee hee. Dickies!” That was your trademark sense of humor. A little juvenile, a little dirty, but we laughed all the same.

He was a mountain of a man—all crags and thorns and gullies and crevasses, a big bumbling sorrow of a man who loved his dog, Gus, so much that he carried the bulldog’s urn of ashes across the country. He cried his heart out over that dead dog, to us over the phone over many weeks. He wept like a baby.

Where is his wok, and his perfect citrus press? I covet that citrus press. All his meager possessions, left behind in Mexico with the landlord who grew to love him, too, even over a short period of time. Rodolfo wept on the phone while discussing the details of Mark’s final months.

Can I think that Mark inspired one of my sons (the “Middle One”) with a passion for cooking that has never wavered over the months? I’d like to think so, yes.

His art collection in the storage unit had already been sold for pennies on the dollar by the time we learned of his death. We have a couple of broken, antique lamps in the garage, and a collection of photographs he never bothered to return to the art galleries that had loaned them out to him. We have a handful of photos that contain him, the man, the Manny. We don’t have much.

I thought to write, “I wish I could have told him that I never hated him.” No, I loved him. But I think I did manage to tell him that. He read this blog once in an indignant fury (after my husband informed him of its existence) and told us to “fix it!” He wanted it all deleted. He wanted every piece of information about him that existed to be expunged from public record. My husband wrote back, “Suck it up!” We would never delete it, especially now. It’s a record of who he was, both sad and joyous. He didn’t leave much else.

You played a joke on the world, Mark, and maybe you’re still sniggering about it, and we’ll never know why. Lies and deceit and family estrangement and pain and heartbreak and drinking and more lies and even more drinking, but you did something right, because we sit here in the cricket song and the dark night thinking of you, and we are filled with sorrow. You fed us, you pushed our boys as high as the moon, you sent us stupid photographs day after day via text message with inane and obvious captions: Bunny. Groundhog. Fish in River. Goose. Sailboat. Bunny eating weeds.

You and your big fat smile, Mark. That stupid mustache. Those awful baggy t-shirts and your rangy arms. The way you flinched when someone dug their hand into the grated cheese instead of properly using a spoon. The day you wandered up behind me, silent, because I was playing Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” on the piano, and you said, “I always liked that song. I sang that song once.” The day you fixed the broken switch on an old lamp I had, and smiled proudly like a little child who has learned to tie his shoes, and I was grateful.

All of it.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

The April Fool's Day Prank I Pulled on My Mom

My mom has a habit of collecting newspaper clippings about awful tragedies and worrisome things that her children need to know about, putting them in envelopes, and mailing them off to us. 

Over the years I have gotten clippings that pretty much tell me I am going to DIE at any moment because the world is full of dangers. And clippings about bed bugs. My mom may have a specific fear of bed bugs. (One time, in fact, one of her bed bug clippings randomly wound up in a box of clothing that we were trying to sell at a tag sale in our yard. Most unfortunate! Nothing sold, and we could not understand why.)

Anyway, when it came to April Fool's Day I realized that the best person to prank was my own mother. (There will be more blog entries about the pranks I have pulled on my mother, because this is rich fodder indeed.) I decided to prank her with an email, even though she doesn't read email (my dad does, and he prints them out and hands them to her). So I thought, how about a [blank] of-the-month club? What would really give my mother a good laugh, once she figured out the prank? Ideas included:

Bag of Organic Matter and Compost of-the-Month Club
Something Dug Up at an Archaeological Site of-the-Month Club
Things That End in "Ork" of-the-Month Club (January: A Spork! February: Pork!)
Exotic Meat Nugget 
of-the-Month Club

But my brilliant sister came up with the perfect scheme. Bad News of-the-Month Club! (aka Clippings-of-the-Month Club, for more sneakiness). 

NEWS FLASH: I just got an email signed from my mother stating that she "does not wish to receive this service. Please remove me from your list." Maybe the Bag of Organic Matter of-the-Month Club would have been more favorably received?

Here it is:

Dear ______,

All sorts of need-to-know news is generated every single day, and some of it can be quite alarming: Articles about foreign bug infestations, infectious diseases, political plots, malfunctioning children's toys, cars that suddenly accelerate without warning, and so much more. But it's impossible to keep up with all the absolutely crucial stories that YOU really can't miss.

That's why we created Clippings-of-the-Month Club! Our dedicated team of editors works tirelessly each month to comb media sources, local and worldwide, to bring you the stories that you need. We inform. We educate. We help keep you safe and alert to what's going on in YOUR world.

And thanks to a special gift from Anonymous, you've been signed up for a full year of Clippings-of-the-Month Club absolutely free!

Each month, you'll receive a fresh bag of newspaper clippings delivered right to your door. You'll find stories that amaze, educate, and startle you. We guarantee that you'll want to share these headlines with everyone you know, especially your loved ones. It's truly "can't-miss" news. Here are just a few examples of the kind of news you're going to get every single month:

Please tell a friend about Clippings-of-the-Month Club. We hope you enjoy your year of astounding, amazing, and hair-raising news stories.

Juniper Crane
Clippings-of-the-Month Club Co-Founder