You know I always like to show a little wing.
That’s Atlanta. I am a jet setter.
I had my first airplane ride at 16, a sweet sixteen present from my parents. In lieu of a party, I visited family, traveled on my own, and haven't looked back.
That's not entirely true. Flying scared me for quite awhile back there, after having the kids. Maybe it was some big plane crash or another that threw me. You couldn't get me on an airplane though, not for a couple of years when they were little.
But at some point I wanted to go to Israel, had to go for some reason or another, and had to go it alone. FD packed me some Zanax, but I didn't want to take it. The one time I did take Zanax I didn't sleep for an entire trans-Atlantic flight. The idea of taking it made me anxious.
There at the gate I'm pacing, nervously. But I see a revered teacher from my hood, a female version of a rabbi, obviously taking the same plane to Tel Aviv. She's a well-known speaker, teaches far and near, makes learning a privilege, a delight. My anxiety disappears.
Forever, somehow. Irrational.
I wish all of you the same with your neuroses.
So it's been okay, flying, for years, and I go into this Southern dip in a good mood, a good place. I'm seeing my kids, my parents. It's a big chunk of stimulation in a small chunk of time, and it is exciting.
Except nobody's warned me about certain airplanes, that there are big airplanes, and there are small airplanes, and you want to make sure, when you fly, to get one of the bigger ones.
We won’t obsess or complain, and I think,
Remember, this is meritorious and unbelievable, if you think about it, that one day you’re on the ground, and then. . . in the sky. So it's a small plane. So what?
A few snapshots of my trip.
1. My son picks me up, my granddaughter, all rosy-cheeked and smiles, almost three, is strapped tightly in her car seat behind me. She sings, "Hi Bubbie!"
We talk a minute and wouldn’t you know, my phone rings. “Excuse me, Sweetie.”
The call lasts a couple of minutes, I put away the phone, properly greet my son, the driver, look back and she’s out, sound asleep. Tough day at school.
2. It’s my brother on the phone. He thinks I’m in Miami visiting our parents. I do this every January, visit for my mother’s birthday, usually for a day or so, but to warm up, too.
My brother tells me that when I do get to Miami, for this is the plan, Miami is my next stop on the jet set tour, I’m going to be in for a rough ride. My father’s not doing very well. And we know our father, he's not a complainer, so he probably won't tell me what is wrong. His is a stoic guy from a real man's generation, which is fine.*
I reassure my brother that I'll be there soon and will be in touch with him. He should keep his cell phone handy.
But I have 22 hours, yet, in Atlanta.
3. I pull a multi-colored yoyo from my pocket and my granddaughter is duly impressed. She takes it from me and begins to swing it wildly in the kitchen.
I say, “Let’s take it outside.” She disappears and comes back wearing a shirt that matches the yoyo. Exactly.
We spend the next two hours running around in the front yard. The yards are hilly in Atlanta, so it's fun. At one point we come in because she's not wearing a jacket, which little children don't need, apparently, when the weather is in the fifty degree Fahrenheit range in Atlanta. Not according to her.
I heat her up some warm milk and honey and she and I sit down at the kitchen table and catch up on old times. Then we're back outside until the sun goes down.
4. The baby twins, her new brother and sister, are not speaking to me, but they do give me an occasional grin after they've eaten. They’re mainly into whatever it is that is just over my shoulder. They do appreciate a good jiggle or bounce, and I feel I'm getting exercise rearranging their equilibrium. They fall asleep just when we’re really getting to know one another.
5. The next morning I’m up early, no surprise and tiptoe around to find my computer. I’ve plugged it in somewhere. It’s dark and I don’t want to turn on the lights because to accommodate my visit, several people seem to have played musical beds and there’s a very large man on the sofa near my computer. I tiptoe past him, however. You have to do what you have to do.
6. I fall back asleep and am awakened by a knock on the door.
“Bubbie?! You said we could play!”
7. I get up and throw on a bathrobe, begin the search for coffee. Yesterday my hosts had a party, so there's a cardboard container of Starbucks. I decant some of it and reheat it in a microwave. When I'm finished I heat up the milk and honey for my granddaughter.
It's like the flight attendant tells you in that safety demonstration. First get on your own oxygen mask, then help the child next to you with hers. First make the coffee, then pour the milk and honey.
Milk and honey,
That's the one thing we've gotgoes the song.
I tell her the story of a dream I had but never had, the one where the little girl rides a giraffe and her grandmother rides an elephant to the park. You know that one.
8. And in about an hour it’s off to the Marta, the train to the airport, because for me, taking a train to an airport is about as good as it gets.
9. Then on the plane, even better, pretzels. Life does not get any better, and you know this. I compliment the flight attendant for the touch. She asks if I want more water and I think, surely this is heaven. Two cups of water. My daughter-in-law's mother has packed me a bagel with a thick shmear of cream cheese. I quietly praise Judy for the sandwich and down two-thirds of it.
10. That's Fort Lauderdale.
11. But first, let's flash back three weeks. My father has declared that he will pick me up from the airport at Fort Lauderdale. He is 88 but has better vision than I, if not a better heart, and he's still driving. Two cataract surgeries later (they give you contact lenses) he can see.
Logically, I argue, "I'll rent a car for twenty dollars."
He insists, "If you can rent a car for twenty dollars, do it. But you can't."
But I do. I reserve a car for $20 a day. Meanwhile, he's called me to say, "Take a cab. I'm a little tired lately. I'll pay for your taxi."
So I rent the car and find out hat he's right. They say it will be twenty dollars but the fees in Florida more than double that per day.
But it's a cute car, isn't it? Even if it doesn't start every time.
12. My mother meets me in front of the high rise and we go inside to pay for parking. She tells me that my dad is depressed. "I don't know if he'll admit it," she says. "He's proud."
And I'm thinking, he doesn't have to say boo.
But I say, "Great! If that's all it is, we can fix it."
I don't remember if I've told you, but when I worked under the great psychiatrist Domeena Renshaw's supervision** she told us,
"If I have to have something wrong with me, let it be depression. We know we can fix depression 99% of the time. Just give us a chance."Mom looks a bit doubtful.
We park the car and walk slowly back to the condo, wait at the elevator, cherishing our new moments together. She's been here since Thanksgiving, and although there are people all around, I know she's a little lonely, wants to go home.
13. Inside the apartment my father jumps up to greet me. We hug and I say, "What's up?"
"Well," he says, going right to the heart of the matter, "I think I'm not so good. I just don't feel right."
"Did you get to the cardiologist?"
"Yes, and my pacemaker is fine."
"And the CBC?"
"Fine." (pause) "I think it's depression." He looks up at me as if to say, Do you believe that?!?
"Tell me why you think it's depression."
He tells me his symptoms.
"Well, sounds like you're right; pretty common in your age group. But so not like you. Must feel weird, huh?"
I suggest we call FD. Maybe it's his heart that's slowing things down, too. He's always a little winded.
"Maybe you're not breathing so well. The brain needs oxygen to feel good." He admits he is not.
He is suffering from something FD calls heart depression.
On the phone FD explains that this can happen, that maybe there's water that's not getting pumped out of my father's lungs so he's slowing down and that slowing thing is virtually depression.
Mom pulls out the long list of medicines and rattles them off to FD who also asks about things like swollen feet. And indeed, my father's feet are too large. They go over all of the medicines, make sure his potassium is protected, and fiddle with the Lasix.
Meanwhile, my father tells me he knows it's depression because it's been coming on awhile and he's reading things about depression in magazines. He's talking about real feelings, and that fog, that weight on the head that I am very familiar with, hear about probably every day of my life.
"Maybe we should call your doctor," I suggest, "see if you should be taking some medication for the depression, just a tiny bit." (I'm thinking my father will never go for this.)
"Sure. I think I need it. This feels bad."
I love it when people surprise me.
"It's all in the brain, depression," he tells me. "But it affects the body."
Did I know that?
We reach his doctor (a miracle) and my father is settled down medically, and Mom has prepared a snack. Then I'm off to take a walk on the beach. We all have our routines.
There's a vehicle I would not take if you paid me. There are sharks out there, and jelly fish.
I take my beach shoes and a sweatshirt in a plastic bag to change from my sneakers to my beach shoes at the beach. It's warm, so rather than wear the sweatshirt, I stuff it together with my sneakers and hide the bag unassumingly under a bench.
An hour later the shoes and the sweatshirt are gone. I get to be like the rabbi in that previous post. "Take my shoes, take my sweatshirt! They're yours!" I shout.
15. Back in the condo my father is humming.
"Did you know," he tells me, "that if you hum for 15 seconds, then count for 15 seconds, that you are alternating sides of the brain and you reset it, balance it out? You feel better."
Hadn't heard that one, I admit.
"It works!" he cries. "It doesn't last, but for awhile, it works! And it takes your mind off of the things you're thinking about."
"Sure. I believe it. It makes sense. I'm all for sensory distraction, Dad."
He looks at me funny, but nods, gets it.
"Do it a lot. And keep talking to Mom about the things that bother you. Negative thoughts are like pregnancy. Better out than in."
And he does, he keeps humming and talking. It's as if he's got a whole new perspective on life. He's a member of this sea of humanity that has suffered from depression, has to work to get out of their chairs, then can't get comfortable and pace, find loud noises unbearable, bad news impossible, even idle chatter screeching, annoying. He gets it, and he doesn't like it, but it's an awakening of sorts.
I'm only there for 48 hours and he seems to have picked up a bit. Out on the balcony, overlooking the ocean, I call my brother. "Please," I tell his voice mail. "You have to come and check up on them soon. I have to get back to work."
He calls me back, tells me he has already booked a short trip for next weekend. He had wanted to say hello, to get out of the cold, anyway. It's not as if visiting parents in Miami is some kind of terrible inconvenience. He's excited about it.
16. The next morning my father asks me what I want to do today. It's my only full day in Miami. No plans, I tell him. Point me in the right direction. Looks like we're all free.
"They say that for depression you should do what feels good. So the boys asked me if I wanted to go out with them. Would you mind? I think if I shop with you and your mother and go out for lunch, it will make me worse. Please don't be offended."
He's never said anything like this before, not in my life.
"Sure!" I say. "I need new shoes and didn't buy Mom a birthday present. We'll shop."
And we do, we have a wonderful day. We're all pretty wiped out by dinnertime.
17. The next day, as I'm about to leave he says, "Maybe you should stay a little longer. It's awfully cold in Chicago."
"Believe me, I'd love to stay," I say honestly. "But I took off three and a half work days for this trip and I just have to get back. I have people scheduled this afternoon and teach this evening. And I miss FD and he's alone in the cold and these luxury vacations, well, they're expensive."
"Make sure," Dad says, "when you write about this, that you give her credit, that lady, the one who did the research on humming and counting. You could get sued if you claim it as yours."
Lawyers are my friends, I tell him, always always asking for records and depositions and such, but I say, "Sure, sure. I will. I'll give her credit.*** I already ripped the article out of the magazine, like you told me to do."
"You know, all my life I haven't had this, depression."
"Isn't that amazing, when you think about it?"
"It's just not me."
"Well," I say, "You don't want to get too used to it. Let's fight it. I'll call you every day."
"You don't have to do that," he says, brushing away my offer with his hand, as in, ridiculous.
"Then keep humming, counting."
And he does.
He tells me he's feeling better.
*You don't take away the umbrella until it stops raining in my world.
**Domeena founded the Loyola University Sexual Dysfunction Clinic in Maywood, Illinois
***He found the intervention in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, 2/2009, What You Need to Know about Financial Stress, Laura Cohn. Ms. Cohn recommends the following as well:
1.This too will pass.
3. Don't watch the news
4. Curb your spending
5. Go outside and play