Sammy was worried. Actually, he was scared. Worried and scared. It wasn’t hard job his mom had sent him to do. But he was frozen. He couldn’t go into the shed. It wasn’t because of the dark. The day was sunny, starting to get hot. The big garage door was wide open. There were skylights in the roof. So it wasn’t the dark.

It was the noise. A kind of rustly thumping from inside the big shed. Inside the shed where the life-jackets were. The life jackets he was supposed to get and come right back. But no fishing trip in the world was going to make him go into that shed. Nope, no way.

The noise came from up high. Almost from the roof of the shed. From the part he couldn’t see. It sounded like this, “skittcher-skittcher, scuff-scuff, tump” and then “skrittcher-skrittcher-scraff”. Then nothing.

Sammy breathed. “Well…” he said to himself. “Well, it could be one of the pine-tree branches skrittchering on the metal roof of the shed. And maybe a pine cone dropped and made that tump noise.” The wind was quiet. The noise was quiet. This was good. He took a step towards the shed. No wind, no noise. He took another step. No wind,
“Skrittcher-skrittch, tump”. Uh Oh.

There were a lot of things Sammy wasn’t afraid of. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, too much. Wasn’t afraid of dogs, really. Didn’t get scared of the crazy neighbor lady who always wanted to hug him, usually. Bats scared his mom, but not him. Snakes? No problem.

But there were two things that made Sammy feel scared. First, bugs. He didn’t like bugs. Even though they were little, even though the usually ran away from him. He was afraid of bugs. And secondly, he was afraid of whatever it was that was making that noise. “Skrittcher-flappish”. There was only one thing to do. Sammy turned around and ran.

He ran back to his mom and dad.

“Sammy, where are the life-jackets? Where have you been?” His mom and dad seemed a little mad. They wanted to be able to go fishing before the day got too hot. How to explain about why he couldn’t get the life-jackets? “I-I-…There was a…In the garage…the shed. A noise. I can’t.” He shook his head. It was getting hot already.

“Come on, Sammikin. I’ll come with you.” His dad was a little afraid of bugs, too. But he was big, and he always made Sammy feel safe. So they went back. His mom and little brother sat on the dock, cooling their feet in the lake and trying to catch minnows.

There was almost no wind, and Sammy and his dad could hear the noise coming from the shed. “Skrittcher-pthump-flatter” Whatever it was, it was big. Well, not big for a bear, or a wolf, but for a bug? It was huge.

Sammy’s dad grabbed his hand and they inched closer to the shed, and to the noise. The thing. They got close enough to look in the big garage door, and the shadow that skrittchered across the lifejackets was a big as Sammy’s dad’s hand. “Omigoodness!” Sammy covered his eyes with his hand and turned around.

His dad leaned in and looked up into the rafters, his face was very serious, and he was holding Sammy’s hand tighter than before. Then he stopped short, “Sammy, We need a ladder. Go back and ask mom to bring the stepladder. Hurry.” But Sammy was rooted to the ground like a tree. A really scared tree.

“Sammy, it’s a bird. He’s in trouble. It’s a humming bird. Go get the ladder, Sammikin. He needs our help.”

Sammy opened his fingers and leaned in. He saw the tiny bird flittering up into the skylight in the roof of the shed. It was banging into the window, trying to get out. But it was hot up in the roof, and the bird was tired. It slid down along a rafter to a cross-beam and lay there, with his beak open, just a little.

Sam was scared, really scared. But in a different way from before. He was scared for the hummingbird, not of it. He turned around for the second time, and ran back to the cabin where his mom and brother were cooling their feet.

“Mom, it’s a- there’s a- it’s a hummingbird, he needs our help! Mom, I think it might die. Dad needs a ladder, right now!” She grabbed Sammy’s little brother and headed behind the cabin. His mom was strong, but she wouldn’t be able to carry the ladder and his little brother. Sammy followed her, “Mom I’ll take Henry on my back, so you can go fast with the ladder, Hurry, please!”

Sammy’s dad was standing inside the shed when they got back with the ladder. They set it up to one side of the shed, and his dad climbed up while his mom held the bottom of the ladder steady. “Honey, I don’t know how you’re…” His dad climbed up and sat on a rafter. But the bird was in the middle of the shed, not by the edge, and the little hummingbird hadn’t moved since they got back.

Sammy was worried, he was scared. But not of the bird, not of bugs or bears. He was scared for his dad, up in the rafters and for the bird, so hot and tired.

“Jeeze, it’s so hot up here. The heat is trapped up here, like that bird. Warm air rises, Sammy, did you know that?” He did know, because the top bunk of his bed was always warmer than the bottom bunk.

His dad’s face was shiny and his cheeks were red. He started to crawl across the rafter to the middle of the shed. Now, everyone was scared. “Mom, why doesn’t he just fly out the door?” Sam’s mom was looking up, Henry was looking up, Sam was looking up. “Birds don’t really understand glass, he thinks he can get out through that skylight. It looks like the way out to him.”

Now his dad was sitting on the rafter, inching closer to the bird. He reached towards it. “Skrittcher, flap! The birdie jerked awake and tried to fly out the skylight again. “Tummp” he hit the window.

But he was tired, and when he started to fall, Sam’s dad put his hand out and caught the little hummingbird. He inched back over, with only one hand this time. When he climbed back down the ladder and showed the little bird, his face looked worried. “I think he’s too hot. We need to get him to drink some water, and cool down.”

The whole family went back to the cabin to try to feed the little bird some water. He wasn’t even trying to fly away. The bird was in trouble. They tried an eyedropper to put water into his mouth, they tried dipping his beak into a bottle cap, they put two drops right on his head, even. But the bird was still slow and tired-looking. If he stayed slow, he’d never get the chance to cool down, there were plenty of animals who would snatch him up before long.

Sammy was getting hot himself. He thought about all the running he did back and forth. He thought about his family, and how hard they worked to get that bird to a safe place. He remembered his mom and Henry on the dock, cooling their feet. That sounded like a good idea. Cool off his feet and try to think of a way to help the hummingbird. He took off his shoes and socks. As soon as he did, he started to feel better. HEY!

Sammy had a really good idea. “Dad, pour the water over his feet. Everything else is feathers, maybe he’ll cool off if you cool off his feet.” Mom held the hose and Dad held the bird. She let a trickle of cool water run over the bird’s little feet.

He moved a little. Then he opened his mouth a little, then he bent his head down and started to take little drinks from the trickle running over his feet. He drank, he fluffed his feathers, he drank some more. He sat up a little and moved his head around, looking at Sammy and his family, first with one eye, then the other. “Sammy, I think he’s starting to feel…Oh my goodness!”

The little hummingbird perked up and flew to land for just a second, right on top of Sammy’s head! His wings moved so fast you couldn’t even see them! He flittered and hummed around the family for about a minute. In the sun, Sam could see that he was a beautiful greenish blue. Then he zoomed off to the nearest tree. He could rest safely there. “Wow, Sammy! That cool water on his feet made all the difference.”

Whew! Sammy was feeling hot again, but he knew the best way to cool off. His brother and his mom and dad all went to sit on the dock and put their feet in the lake. It made all the difference.

Cicatrízes part 2

The realization that death comes… The pervasive seeping in of darkness through the shattered windows of my soul? That’s the kind of scar that I don’t think there is a fair trade for. I’ve heard that some people are able to get close to God, or are able to live every day like they were dying, or tell people around them that they love them or find a new peace… Resolved longstanding problems. I don’t know. I can’t imagine such a thing. It feels like all I’ve got are scars.

As an aside, there’s a song about someone diagnosed with some terminal condition that they eventually overcame, how they changed by being terminal,“ I went sky diving. I went Rocky-Mountain Climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu. Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying”. Personally, I like any song that can work the word Fu Manchu into the lyrics. But it was playing one day while I was driving my mom back from somewhere (and if I was driving, ‘somewhere’ was usually a medical somewhere). But that song was playing and my mom said, “They don’t know. It isn’t like that. Of course you’d do that stuff, but when you’re really dying, you just can’t. You don’t feel good.” Oh my mom, that’s the thing, it wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t a profound last shot to live with joy and grace. She just died. But I digress.

Anyway, here are my scars, in case anyone cares. Or in case you’ve been there and you want to compare scars, or maybe you haven’t, but you might someday. It’s not altogether bad to have some idea of what you’re in for. On second thought, if you haven’t watched someone die, live without knowing about it. Stop here. It doesn’t add anything good to your life as far as I can see.

I have a scar, a hole shaped like my mom. In my days and all my dreams from now on. Like a cookie cutter shaped like my own mom went beserk through all the calendar days and years, and moments.

Here’s one, In shape of knowing my turn will come, and I won’t be ready. There is no terror like it. A hulking, sweaty suffocating sense of doom.

Then there’s the scar of fearing something is wrong inside me, something killing me. Something I won’t know about until it’s too late.

I have a scar of realizing many people I love will die, and I will be powerless to help them. That, or I’ll die first. No other options.

My soul has been stretched out of shape by watching my mom suffer. It hangs damaged around me. I can gather it up and stuff it into the clothing of my daily life. But naked, it was more beautiful before and I forgot to appreciate it.

Some day that’ll be a poem. What an inadequate consolation prize.

I suppose I will know I am back to my new normal when I can go a day, or a quiet moment without thinking, “My mom died, I lost my mother, Mom’s gone, Susie, She’s gone, that thing happened.” My psyche is working every day, every hour, defining the new normal. Retelling my story. Because I have to keep marching through my days, writing my story. Knowing more and more about what I can survive.

But I tell you what. I sure miss my 17 year old body and my 35 year old soul.

Cicatrízes part 1

Having my first child left scars on my body. I would never be the same. For God’s sake, for the first couple days, I thought I’d never feel human again. I felt like walking, talking, lactating, bee-stung, meat. Like one big ouch. Then I’d look around me and see women who were walking normally, wearing jeans, and sitting in chairs without cushions. There were masses of women on the street and I’d think, “She had a child, and she’s fine. No scars or anything I can see. She’s even beautiful.”

It gave me hope. It let me know I would be human again. By the second child, I could tell myself, “remember, you felt like swollen hamburger last time, but you recovered. You Will Recover.” I still had trouble believing it days afterwards, as I lowered myself, shaky and weak, breasts swollen to the size of my head and hard as rocks, genitals split and re-stitched, tummy stretched out and now empty, into the tub. I had survived it the first time, so the odds were good that I would be back to normal eventually.

My ‘normal’ changed. With both boys I got new scars and stretches that will never go away. But I got these great little consolation prizes. I’d like to be able to go comfortably without a bra or run a sprint without wetting myself, but would I trade these things for my kids? Most days, no.

My mom’s sickness and death has left me with different scars, they’ll never go away either. They’re scars on my psyche, on my soul. Realizations that I will never be able to un-realize. I guess I’ll get used to them and make them part of the new me. I’ll start to feel normal again. I don’t have that terrible stinging pain, like when I had my kids. It’s more of a general achiness, a void.

I did have a bit of a breakdown a couple months after she died, where it all came crashing down on me. The enormity of someone I felt such a connection to being no more. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t right and it didn’t even make sense for a person who was so completely human, three dimensional and alive, to simply not be. It cracks open your mind, destroys it for a while. Then you start to rebuild, but it’ll never be the same.

It’s Just a House Part 3

This door right in front of you as you enter the front door, it goes upstairs. This stairway has a peculiar kind of sound to it, like no other place I’ve ever been. You can hear it when you switch the light on. This switch is louder than most of the light switches in the house, and when it echoes you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Instead of “tick” it goes “tangk”. Every sound in this hall has that rubbery, electric echo.

At the top of these stairs is my favorite place in this house, and by extension, I have a soft spot for it in any house. This is the linen closet. It’s not all that big, fits just between the two bedrooms alongside the second (half) bath. I can’t say what it was that made me decide to climb into the bottom shelf when I was a kid. I wasn’t that young, must’ve been 10 years old, maybe 11.

But climb in I did. And it was the most wonderful place I had ever been. There’s a heat duct running inside the wall, I can’t say to where, but the closet is always warm. Plus it’s a small space, so it gets heated up when a person curls up inside it. There were clean fresh sheets and pillow cases folded up above me, and usually around me. And all the sounds of the house got muffled. Usually I’d slide my finger under the door and pull it most of the way closed.

Sometimes I fell asleep. Sometimes I just snuggled and hung out there waiting for people to start looking for me. Sometimes they did. And when they started to ask, “where’s Lisa?” sometimes I answered and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I thought about answering so long that I fell asleep and people got tired of looking. I could just disappear for an afternoon, and I loved it. So if you’re ever missing a kid…

The door on the right side of the landing was always my parents’ room. Well it was my grandparents’ room for a time, I suppose. They had the long white shag carpet. It had its own rake! The walls were a shade of orange or peach and there were rust colored toile drapes. But the most important thing you need to know about this room is that the closet on the left is the one Christmas presents were always hidden in.

It didn’t take any of the magic out of Christmas for me to discover this. If anything, it made it more exciting. I could see the presents, but I couldn’t always tell who would get what. Some things came in groups of 4, so I knew we’d each be getting one. Other things, and I can’t remember what anymore, other things made for a special kind of angst known only to children who have peeked at their presents. Is that for me, or is some other rotten kid going to get it?

The other closet was my dad’s or step dad’s as the case may have been, depending on the year. Not quite as mysterious, it smelled like wing-tips. Around the corner from those two closets, is one last closet. The cedar closet. It accumulated a collection of strange things, from military funeral flags to baby books and my sister’s wedding dress.

When I was sick, I sometimes ended up sleeping in my mom’s bed, maybe with a bowl next to me just in case. Upstairs can seem really far away from the rest of the house, you’ll discover. It’s quiet and darker than the rest of the house, but in a nice way.

One of my last memories of my mom actually sleeping up here was during chemotherapy. She just couldn’t stop throwing up. She always made it to the bathroom. You can see it’s not far. But after laying in the room next door and listening to her throw up and trying to do it quietly for half the night, I went in to go try to do something.

When I walked in, she had a little lamp on. She was sitting in bed , one leg on the bed, bent, and one foot on the floor, ready to get up. The lamp was behind her, so she was almost silhouetted. She looked like a bird, or like an old man, with her bald head bent forward, her collar bone prominent. I had gone on a civil disobedience kick after the cancer doctors and nurses agreed that marijuana was frequently the best cure for Chemotherapy induced nausea. My mom’s was much worse than most, they all agreed on that. Off the record they told me it was worth the try. It might keep her out of the hospital.

So I obtained pot. Beat the bushes, and ended up finding someone who could supply us (it was not the aforementioned VanHalen). But mom was very uncomfortable with the idea. I had tried to just convince her to start smoking on the way home from the hospital and stay high for the next 5 days. I never could. I made brownies, apple crisp. I tried all sorts of tricks to get some THC into her system. I don’t know if it was the illegality of it, but she just wouldn’t do it.
That night, I pulled rank.

“Mom, you’re smoking some pot.” She didn’t have the energy or will to say no. The problem was that neither one of us knew how to roll a joint. Not even to save my mom’s life. I was clueless and clumsy, she was sick, exhausted and clueless. It was the saddest thing you ever saw, her and I sitting up in bed trying to figure out how to roll a joint. Her, deathly ill; and me irretrievably useless.

I’m not going to incriminate anyone other than myself, but we eventually got a workable joint going. She smoked a couple drags and went to sleep for a few hours.

I also remember my sister Jenny and I coming to be with my mom during Chemo once evening. She was up in bed when Jenny got here, so Jenny climbed under the covers with her. I showed up with Jamba Juices for everyone and I climbed in too. The three of us all in the bed here. We sat and giggled and worried and kept each other company while we rode out her treatment.

Across the hall is the room that is currently referred to as ‘the hole’. It’s actually a nice room, bigger than the downstairs bedrooms, with gabled ceilings and hardwood floors, now. Oh my god, the carpet was bad when I was kid. A short-loop pile that was blue and green. As long as I lived here that carpet was in various stages of unraveling. Kids notice carpeting more than other people, I guess. This one was ugly and itchy. Actually, here, there’s a square of it here in the closet.

This room got to be ‘the hole’ when my niece was here. My mom wasn’t all that great at being a gramma and a mom, which was what was needed at the time. She spoiled that child rotten but resorted to threatening solitary confinement up in ‘the hole’ if she wouldn’t behave. There were dark curtains and almost no furniture. The child eventually learned how to climb out of her crib and open the door, hence the lock on the outside of the room.

This is the room in which that baby’s mother’s eardrum burst some twenty years earlier . I remember brown fluid dripping out of her ear. She had more trouble with her ears, that child. And once, that same baby sister of mine, overdosed on her grape flavored medicine, and we had to give her syrup of ipecac. It must have seemed like a big deal at the time, it’s funny what kids remember.

When I spent the night here as an adult, I was always surprised how well I slept. It’s a good place to sleep, quiet and cool and dark.

One last thing about these stairs, they’re kind of steep, but if your kids have footie pajamas, tell them I highly recommend going down on your tummy, feet first. Remember to put pillows on the tile in the entryway at the bottom, couch cushions work, too. Enjoy.

Count my Blessings

Count my blessings, shall we? Ok, lets. People should do this, and I promised a while back that I would. So here it is.

My children are healthy. I am healthy. My husband is healthy—Ok I am grateful for all the people I know who are healthy. They are healthy today and I am grateful for that.

My husband is comptetent and smart. He has accepted that sweats and slippers are my destiny, so much so that he can barely contain his excitement when he sees me in jeans. He stepped up to the plate 18 years ago when I had no good reason to believe he would, and he’s been going to bat for me ever since.

My youngest son still holds my hand sometimes in public and hugs me back when I hug him.

My oldest son sometimes seeks out my company to tell me something exciting. He laughs at my jokes. He laughs at all.

Today was a good asthma day.

My family is a wellspring of strength, love, writing material and encouragement. Those who have extra sanity to give, give it freely. Those who don’t, have taken a bullet for me.

My sister knows exactly how weird I am, and she loves me anyway.

My mother-in-law is quietly and deeply good to me. My sister-in-law comments in clever and relevant ways on my blog, I am grateful for this because it is evidence that people read my blog.

I live in the United States of America. I am almost never afraid for my life. I have consistently clean water and reliable electricity. In 10 minutes I can walk to the bank, the hardware store, a million restaurants, the Ice Cream Shop and Penzey’s.

My house is solid and beautiful. My neighbors are my best friends. They are interesting and accepting, they laugh at my jokes and make me laugh. They turn up unexpectedly and drop a little joy when they pass through. Who could ask for more than that?

My geriatric cat is still ticking and seldom vomits up things that move. The pustule on the head of my rastafarian street cat seems to be clearing up and he smells much better. The idiot savant cat and his twin brother, Trouble, are both healthy and beautiful. The back feet of the morbidly obese cat disappear when she is seated. I am grateful for this because it makes me laugh.

The rat has not escaped, and also, rats only live for 2 or 3 years.

I have the luxury to homeschool my kids if they need it and good schools to send them to when they don’t.

I can spend time writing on a regualr basis. It makes me feel good, and it’s mostly free.

When I asked my mom to save all her notes for after she died, she laughed, made a self-deprecating comment, and then quietly started slipping them into the piano bench.

I am naturally thin and not deformed in any obvious way. I can laugh and I do.