Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Grateful for . . .

You may know that when it's cold outside I love taking the bus. Yesterday I insisted on it because FD needed the car. He could get me to work, but not home. The bus works just fine for me.

We share one car, multiple reasons. When the weather is good FD always rides his bike. But when it is bad, schlepping one another around to stay warm, which for others would feel like a hassle, feels intimate. Let's call that auto-intimacy.

This year Chicagoans have to use the new RTA card--the Ventra. It came in the mail. A friendly city employee even called the house to encourage us to use our new cards, charge them up, fill the city coffers, put those pieces of plastic to work. This is Chicago, calling every home-owner is quite a lot of calls! We can only hope it is stimulus money paying for it.

But I never got around to activating my Ventra card, still packing twenty dollars worth of rides on the old one.
Not Ventra but not bad

And last night I board the bus, and fumble for the one I bought from Walgreens (left). As the driver pulls away from the curb I ask, “Do these still work?” Then I notice that the old card-insertion hardware is still right there and swipe my old card through the slot. 

Because Chicagoans have been known to occasionally go postal on bus drivers ( wish I was making this up), drivers are now shielded from passengers by a thick plastic divider. My driver is mouthing words on his side of the divide.

“What?” I shout, like the hearing-impaired elderly I am becoming.

“You did that like an old pro,” he repeats.  “Like an old pro.” All I hear is old.

I look up and it feels as if the eyes of the entire bus are on me, a bus chock-full of seated passengers. The only seats left are for differently-abled passengers. After sitting and listening to people’s problems all day, I don't mind standing, like it. 

At the next stop a stocky ruddy-faced older guy in a tattered blue ski jacket, knit cap, slowly boards the bus. “It’s slippery on the sidewalks!” he exclaims to the driver. He takes a seat in the differently-abled section that faces the aisle, his back to the window, facing me.

His eyes meet mine often, then dart away, as do mine. Finally, he can take it no longer. 
“I can’t help but notice your bag. . . Hines V.A., huh?"   

  The nylon Veteran Administration sack is something that neither my mother, nor I, apparently, could give away. She never used it, but I did-- large, strong, light-weight. Good zippers. My father loved going to the V.A. for his medicine, his hearing, and his eyes, the little things, even though it was about an hour away. He shouldn’t have been driving, either, in his late eighties.
 "Were you in the second World War?" I ask.

"No, Korea. Then Viet Nam. Then I joined the Foreign Service. They pay you for that."

"Wow, thank you for your service. I'd take my hat off to you but it's too cold. What do you think of the new deal with Iran?"

"If it saves lives, I'm all for it," he says, serious. "I'm for anything but war. You know they just put on a new wing a the Hines V.A. and it is full of young people missing arms, legs, all kinds of dismemberment. Wars. Bombs. Lots of young men. Women. It's a beautiful wing of the hospital. For them."

We ramble on a little more about politics, and a woman sits down next to him, captures his imagination. She looks homeless to me, has a worn carry-on bag with all kinds of bold letters warning others not to tamper with it. She reaches into another bag and finds something to munch on and I turn away, look out the window.

I hear my friend asking her, "Are you diabetic? Cuz if you're diabetic you shouldn't be eating that."

I look and see she has an  Entenmann's chocolate crumble doughnut and is feeling no pain. "I ain't diabetic," she replies. She smiles broadly at me and I smile back.

A new passenger, a diminutive woman of color, has a seat. Our war veteran immediately turns his discussion to her. He knows her. "Of course I have it!" He reaches into his pocket to grab his wallet and thumbs through the cards, finds what must be a discount card to something. In the process an ID falls to the floor and I reach for it, return it to him. The woman is thanking him profusely for the discount card and he smiles at me, thanks me.

At his stop, as he rises to go, I introduce myself, tell him I hope to see him again. He offers a warm, beefy hand and tells me his name. "Thank you again, thank you so much for picking up that card," he says sincerely. "At my age, you have no idea, it is so hard to do things like that. I'm eighty, you know."

"No problem, you're welcome. Live long and prosper, sir"

"I hope so," he says. "I'm going to the casino."


P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

I See You, I Hear You

This post is dedicated to Bev, who always saw and always heard my mom.

Zeek and Camille 
 I've been watching way too much TV, and feel guilty because I remember telling my kids how it is so numbing, how it can get away from you, the hours. And it's the truth, more than likely, why we love it. That and looking at people who are good-looking and talented enough to make it onto television.  Our own people zoo.

Does the job. And yet, it has to stop. An hour a night is all I get, then it's back to books.
Who needs friends? One big happy family

You do learn things from TV.

After hearing about it from a critical mass, I found • Parenthood on Amazon Video, all of those old episodes about aging and not so aging hippies and hipsters, one big happy family in Berkeley, circling the hub, the deteriorating old family homestead, complete with a barn. The teenager, even the young children, are the ones who think outside the box. There's an especially adorable child with Asperger's constantly screaming the truth. "Dad just said. . ."

The basic idea is that this is a close extended family, if not a little too close. Family members are honest with each other, or they are into the second season. Sarah, who has left her addicted ex to bring her two teens back here, is less mature than her 17-year old daughter Amber (Mae Whitman, so watchable), who loves her anyway, for all of her painful parenting mistakes, perhaps for them.  Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) always gets these parts, the emotionally vulnerable, single mom doing the best she can , who acted out as a teenager and still behaves more like a teenager than her teenagers when she can't determine what to do. And they let her know it.

Perhaps because the boundaries in the family are so thin (everyone knows everything about anything that goes on), the ensemble as a whole fails to set the boundaries on relationships outside the family, too. Sarah lets her daughter's teacher make a play for her. Her daughter sleeps with her cousin's boyfriend.  These boundary conflicts resolve, people forgive. Somehow the power of the family works magic, even when you do really bad, inconsiderate things. When you love one another, you can do no wrong. Or if you do, nobody will stay angry for very long.

I love that. Another reason to watch television.

Not everyone is a screw up, of course, as parentified children are a big theme. At least one or two of the five adult kids have to be mature because they grew up in the shadow of the patriarch of the family, Zeek, a sixty-something Vietnam vet with a history of intermittent explosive disorder, drinking, acting out, and general cluelessness as a father and a spouse. Adam, the oldest son, had no room as a child to get into trouble; it didn't appeal.

Having no male role model worth following, the most functional of the children, Adam fit the role of real father to the whole family. Everyone looks to him for advice, and because they have no boundaries, literally plop in on him at his office to talk during his work day, not a care in the world that this could jeopardize his job.

In the first episode of the second season, Zeek and his wife, the beautiful, long-suffering, quiet, artistic, Camille, are in marriage therapy. She has finally made it clear that not only does he not listen to her, but he really doesn't see her, either. He doesn't focus well enough on her to put her in the room, to put her desires, her needs on the list of things to do.  It isn't about love. He adores her. Just can't get outside of himself enough to take her needs seriously.  His are what matter.

He either changes or she's through. In either case she wants to sell the house, travel, get away from the children on occasion, buy a condo, really live that last chapter of life before they are too old to live it. Zeek won't even talk about it.

After awhile, because of the therapy that he hates so much, he realizes that he should pay more attention, should look at Camille, and he does. He can even say it, undoubtedly the therapeutic homework, the intervention. I see you. I hear you.  And it is a beautiful thing.

I liked it as a marital therapy technique.  When a partner isn't hearing, isn't seeing, the other partner should offer a blank stare, or a raised eyebrow that somehow communicates the problem, You're not seeing me, and the errant partner does a My bad.
 I hear you. I see you.
Beautiful, but not so beautiful that it should make me cry, particularly.  Then on Friday night, we're dressing to go to a friend's for dinner, a couple we haven't seen in quite awhile. I put on a pair of my mom's vintage earrings and a jacket she used to wear, not that I could remember her wearing either. But she took them with her to the retirement center after my father died, after we sold the house, our homestead, and she certainly couldn't take everything. So these things, these earrings, this jacket, made the cut. She valued them.  She wanted them to be with her even though she wasn't dressing much to go out anymore.

She must have worn them in her sixties or seventies, but honestly, for the life of me, as I put them on that Friday night, as I marveled and struggled with the backs of the earrings, had no recollection ever seeing her wear them.

I heard her, for sure.  You couldn't not hear my mother. Not because she was loud, but because she didn't say everything on her mind, so what she did say you heard.  When she talked it was deliberate, focused on a goal, something important, something that bothered her, or she was asking you about you.  She was never gossipy, unless a person bothered her, and that happened on occasion, and she had to work that out, even in that last year of her life. Abandonment issues. Who doesn't have some of those?

Intelligent, insightful, I wanted to hear her as an adult, not so much as a teenager, a common thing, we now all know.  But if you don't listen during one chapter of a person's life, they assume you aren't listening even when you are.  Unresolved issues. (Who doesn't have some of those?) She probably had no idea how much I valued what she said. When I told her I valued her opinions, when I told her how smart she was, she didn't believe me (although I could tell she considered it).  This is true humility, a character trait that breaks my heart.

Anyway, in that hypmanic episode, the kind that happens to so many of us when we are experiencing a life-changing event, in our case the trauma of parent-death, which is life-changing in so many ways, I hauled off from her apartment* with about a quarter of her clothes and much of her jewelry, brought it all to my own closet, and am now in the process of going through things.

Why can't I remember what she looked like in her beautiful clothes?  I didn't see her.

It kills me.


*We did the move a month and a half following her passing and I hardly worked, which was good for all of us, frankly. I put up a blog with her art and her furniture, her vases and creamers, and the kids chose what they wanted. The movers made four stops, five if we include the move from storage to Atlanta last week. (Yes, it IS possible to get things out of storage in a month, but it isn't easy.)

It could have been an episode out of Parenthood, the move. Maybe it will be. When I wasn't boxing up her things, I was boxing up files from my office. To complicate things, during her illness I had added a second office location, rented it to be nearer to her if she needed me. Turns out she would not.

Another disorder that never made it to the DSM V: Multiple Moving Disorder.

vintage jacket

vintage earrings 

Empty Spaces