Great Piece

Just wanted to share this story with you by Brian Hickey about his miraculous recovery from a hit and run accident. Brian is a friend of my sister, and we’ve all been following his story since the accident.

Comebacks: Dead Man Talking

 

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Not Ivy League

Hey, I know it always seems like I’m complaining here, but what can I say? I am most often moved to write when I am irked about something, got some kind of stone in my shoe, and I think I am happier with the things I write when I am not.

If you took a survey of all the great writers and all their great writing, by and large I think you’d find most of it germinates from seeds of despair or disgruntlement.

Don’t be expecting Tolstoy or anything, but that brings me to today’s post:

Several years ago, Manfrengensen and I decided to renovate our yard. It was a huge expense, and despite what Manfrengensen will tell you, I fretted over every decision and dollar spent. In the end, it was one of the best things we ever did. I love the yard. Every day, I sit at the kitchen table eating my breakfast, looking at this:

Yard

Heaven knows I am a regretter of many decisions in this life, but renovating the yard is not one of them. I am not an avid gardener or any kind of gardening hobbyist. Every year I plant impatiens, joking that they are my signature flower, but really I plant them because of the low maintenance factor. I don’t have to dead-head them. I do some weed-pulling, but mostly I leave that to Matt, the Lawnmowerman.

But that doesn’t make me less invested in our yard. I love the yard. I love to see the kids out there, love to watch the growth of the shrubbery. I love the way the sun hits the whole thing for a brief period during the day and leaves it in the full shade of our house by three in the afternoon. In the summer that makes for good times under the sprinkler for the kids. I fret over the few brown spots in the grass, or worse that patch that looks like strawberries out near the front.

I love pretty much everything about our yard except this:

Weeds on the Fence

This is the vile weed that grows on my neighbor’s “fence.” I use the term “fence” loosely because this thing is not properly attached to the ground. It is really just two pre-fab fence pieces that he attached to the hairpin railing with plastic ties. For years the ties would break, and it would blow over any time a wind above 15 mph came along, so after the last hurricane blew through, he finally put those scrap wood blocks on my side of the railing, screwing through to the wooden fence on the other side. It’s ugly enough in the winter. But then the spring comes along and this weed starts creeping.

Every summer this weed drives me crazy. I have Matt trim it back as much as he can, but the thing grows like..well, a weed. And it’s very aggressive. Back by our garage, I had originally tried to cultivate a vinca ground cover, but this thing jumped off the fence, wrapped its roots around those and choked them off. I find the little leaves sprouting everywhere in my garden. I hate this thing.

This year, it’s way out of control, so I decided to say something to the neighbor. I finally caught up with him yesterday. I said, “What’s the deal with this weed on the fence?”

And he cocked his head and said in this kind of condescending tone, “You mean…the ivy?”

IVY??? Is he kidding me? Ivy is something you PURCHASE and plant and cultivate. It’s not something that spontaneously generates. Ivy doesn’t have little pink flowers. Ivy, at least the kind that looks nice, has shiny pentagonal leaves. This thing is a weed. It’s the kind of thing you see growing along the side of a highway.

So I said, “Yeah. Well whatever it is, it’s out of control.” I told him about the aggressive nature of the weed and how I don’t want it in my garden. He offered to trim it back, so we will see how that goes…

But seriously…Ivy? Who’s he kidding?


One of My Ghosts

I thought I saw Jim again the other day. I hadn’t seen him in a while, or I should say, his apparition, since he’s been dead for almost five years. It’s weird how I miss that guy. It’s not like I’d seen him five times in the decade before his death. But I did love him. And even now, more than twenty years after we were inseparable, I still laugh at things he said.

I don’t even know how we got to be friends. I met him by accident, after dialing his number, which differed by one digit from my friend Tim’s, in error. We had a laugh then, especially since his mom had answered and mistook my request for “Tim” as one for “Jim,”  and he said that I should look for him the next day. He was visiting my school in some kind of exchange program. I went to an all-girls school, and he went to the affiliated all-boys one.

After that, I guess we ran into each other through the theater exchange program. I worked the stage crew for a few shows at his school, and he was either onstage or in the audience. I didn’t like him at first. He was pushy. He would talk everyone into enacting whatever crazy idea he had in his head. He was infuriating. One time he talked me into taking him for a quick run to McDonalds. It was spring, and I had the top down on my brick-red 1969 Buick Skylark convertible. I can still see him laughing in the wind, this big six-foot-three future queen with his mouth full of Quarter Pounder with Cheese. He got shredded lettuce all over my white leather front seat. Oh, never again with that guy, I thought.

But he drew me in. I don’t know how or why. I mean why had he befriended me? He used to call me all the time. He brought me to parties with his basketball team. Was it because I had a car, or did I amuse him as much as he did me? He definitely made me laugh. And he would do crazy stuff. He’d get you to pull stunts with him. I won’t bore you with my crazy high school hi-jinx, but I will tell you that we had lots of fun.

Jim and I before my senior prom. He taught me to swing dance for the event.

Jim and I before my senior prom. He taught me to swing dance for the event. Good heavens, is that a decorative cane in his hand? I look at this picture, more than twenty-five years later, and the expression on Jim's face tells me all I need to know about the way he felt for me.

It wasn’t that he was interested in me. First of all, he was gay, though he didn’t really let that freak flag fly until college. He was always trying to hook me up with his basketball friends. But at those parties, was I his beard?

I had a job shelving books at the public library during my senior year of high school. His house was between mine and work, and I would often stop there on my way. More often than not, I wouldn’t want to leave, and so would be late for my shift. In February, I came down with a serious case of the Senior Blahs. I was down with no idea why. I stopped by his house on the way to work, and his mother let me into his room, where he was shirtless, still undecided about the day’s wardrobe. He tried so hard to snap me out of my funk.  I just kept saying that I “felt…blah.” Then he did the oddest thing. While we were talking, he popped some of his Valentine’s chocolate into his mouth, nonchalantly licking the melted brown goop out onto his hand and spreading it all over his face until all that was left were the whites of his eyes like a performer in a minstrel show. That alone succeeded in making me laugh, but he pushed it further –“Kiss me,” he mock-pleaded, pulling me toward his reaching lips with those All-American Basketball arms. We ended up in hysterical fits of laughter on the floor. Then I left, buoyed enough emotionally to take on the dull-as-tombs of the library.

We both went off to colleges. I visited him a few times at his, and we kept in touch, and then we didn’t. After a year or so, I dropped out, took a semester off, before re-enrolling at state college. I was stunned to see him standing in the bookstore my first day. Turned out he’d also dropped out of school, abandoned his basketball scholarship, and taken some time off before returning.

And again, we picked up, right where we’d left off! He found out I was living with these strangers in a house off campus. He, of course, was in a dorm. “Do you have a tub?” he asked. And the next afternoon, he was soaking in it. We were inseparable after that, back in our old routines, he my ringleader, and I (I would hope) his touchstone. The following fall, we moved into a townhouse together.

He was sick with a cold for a few days that first semester off-campus. I remember him calling his English Lit prof, Fleda Rumson to get his reading assignment for the next class. She rattled off a number of pages on which he could find the poems they’d be discussing, “225, 229, 237, 248, 256, etc.” After about five more page numbers in the list he stopped her. “Fleda, honey,” he quipped, “are these haiku?” Dr. Rumson was unfazed and continued with the litany of homework pages.

A Weekend Getaway, visiting friends in DC

Living together though, eventually undid us. We were both young, and though fabulous, we both had holes on the inside. We would go for periods when we wouldn’t really communicate, let the other’s little quirks (the ones you wouldn’t see unless you lived with a person) go unaddressed until the hard feelings would erupt with way too much drama.

After one fight, where he’d accused me of not dealing with things the way I hadn’t dealt with the death of my mother (and I HATED him for saying that – oh I thought that was a low-blow – but all these years later, I think, man, he had me pegged) I stormed out. He was upset and went to his daily AA meeting. He was the first one to share, and he told the whole story about how he and the girl he lived with had this knock-down-drag-out, and how she had left, slamming the door behind her for emphasis.

It turned out that Warren Zevon was playing a show in town that night, and Zevon, an AA member himself, had come to the same meeting. After Jim had unloaded his story, Zevon offered him words of advice. “Let her go,” he said. “Tomorrow something beautiful’ll be knocking on your door.”

Oh, we’d laughed at that.

We made up of course, talked things out, but the problems returned, and eventually things escalated. We couldn’t live together. It ruined our friendship, and things were never the same again. We loved each other. And we saw each other after he’d moved out. We were always glad to be in each other’s company, but we were never inseparable again.

He ended up traveling. Chasing the fabulous life that he deserved. I’d hear through channels that he was living in D.C., or New York, or London. At one point I heard that he was a member of Madonna’s entourage, and knowing him as I did, I believed it. Eventually he settled in San Francisco. And then, about five years ago, I heard he was sick. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. So I tracked him down by phone right away. And it was like we’d only been out of touch for a week. We talked for hours. About high school, about living together, our lives since. We talked about his cancer and the things he’d been through with it, like the nightmare of  bone-marrow transplant.

One of the biggest laughs we had during that conversation was about the time his mother, who is a devout Catholic, had hosted a wandering statue of the Virgin Mary while we were in high school. She’d put it up in a shrine in their living room, so that when you entered the house, you walked right into it. It was like four feet tall, lit up from the huge windows behind it so that it looked ethereal. She surrounded it with flowers and candles. A parade of the devoted came by to worship at its feet before it moved on to the next location. At the time, we were young and stupid. We thought it was kind of goofy, kind of funny. We had no use for or experience with the strength of true devotion. Twenty years later, we may have been slightly wiser, but we still laughed.

And then, he sighed, really only half-joking, “Yeah…I could sure use a shrine like that now.”

He was planning to visit next month, before which he had to have one more set of tests done, to make sure the cancer was in remission. He couldn’t wait to see me, he said, and meet my kids. He’d call me in a month when he was in town.

I set out immediately, to make him a new shrine. I found a good statue of the Virgin Mary, albeit significantly smaller, on eBay and fashioned a shoebox diorama of his mother’s living room circa 1982, shipping it to his California address. The next month passed, and I didn’t hear from him. My father called one day in October, to ask if I’d seen Jim’s obituary in the paper. And that was how I heard the news. After the funeral, his parents told me about opening my package during one of Jim’s last few weeks, and how he had laughed and laughed from his sickbed.

I ran into Jim’s mom a few weeks ago. It was so good to see her. To talk to someone who understands how you can see the dead in public, only to get closer and realize the person’s not who you hoped they’d be. I wonder if Jim knew how much he would be missed. How much I would miss him. How even to today, I can’t see the word “haiku” without thinking of him and smiling.

James

 


Radio Silence

I have this friend.  We lived in the same dorm in college during my sophomore year at Purdue.  The dorm was more like barracks than anything else, and because of a glitch, where my intended roommate decided not to return after freshman year (what the hell was her name?? I remember she was from New Jersey, and she had lived across the hall from me that first year), so I ended up in a room at one end by myself.  Becky was at the other end of the one-story, eight-room building, and for some reason, she and I had this kind of connection.

She lived with a farm girl (can’t remember her name either), who told us how she raised and then slaughtered cattle on her family’s farm.  She claimed that there were portions of frozen meat in a freezer in her family’s basement, wrapped in aluminum foil that had labels like “Bessie’s rump.”  Being the metropolitan dweller that I was, I found this story fascinating, and more than a little disturbing frankly.

Becky and I had lots of laughs.  We watched Letterman together on a nine-inch screen that got poor reception from the rabbit ears attached to its plastic top.  We shared one phone in the common room out front with the dozen or so other girls in the dorm. We got snowed in, with drifts against the doors so high that we couldn’t get out.  And it was cold there.  That was the year I tried smoking pot for the first time.  Not with Becky, of course, she was such a good egg, but she was there after I smoked it, and was an excellent guide for me when I was that stupid.  She had some laughs about it.  I remember dropping a full, open can of soda on the floor of her room and marveling at how many slo-mo flips it did between my hand and the linoleum.  After that, she walked with me to the Stop-N-Shop for munchies, no doubt thinking that on my own I’d be too stupid to find my way back.  I do remember her laughing at me though.  She was more amused than not, I think.

Even though I dropped out of school after that year together, she and I have kept in touch for these two-plus decades.

In the early days, the letters were exchanged frequently, and there were even gifts for birthdays and Christmas, though as the years passed, that part of the tradition waned.  And that was fine with me.  I just loved getting a letter from her in the mail, seeing that postmark made my pulse quicken.  News from the world of Becky was always a wonderful thing.

She got married.  She had two beautiful daughters.  I moved a dozen times.  The letters kept coming and going.  I finished college finally, got married, had my own kids, and got my whole life in order.  We’ve seen each other a few times since I left Indiana.  Once I rode the train to her house, not far from Chicago.  Another time, she and her family met me in South Bend and we all had lunch at a Denny’s.  Another time, I was in Chicago and tried to get her to come up and meet me, but her husband wasn’t too keen in the idea, and the reunion never happened.

It’s weird to miss someone you’ve hardly seen in the last twenty-odd years.  Sometimes, after the Chicago thing, she’d go silent if I mentioned I was coming within fifty miles of her.  Don’t know if that was because she couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to meet me, but once the threat had passed, she’d write again.  A couple of years ago, I made a suggestion that we go away together, like to someplace tropical, like a momcation, just the two of us.  Silence followed from the other end.

Last I heard, she had finished her courses and was getting certified to be a teacher.  That was more than a year ago, I think.  I’ve written a few times, but there’s been no answer.  I’m worried.  Is she okay?  Is she just too busy?  Is it over?

Mostly I’m worried that she’s not okay. I hope she’s okay, just too busy to write.  But I think this is the longest she’s gone without sending a note in more than twenty years.  I miss her.  I have lots of friends.  I’m not hurting for friends, but I feel like her friendship is the most enduring of my life, which is only one of the myriad reasons why it is so dear to me.

Every day when that mail comes through the slot in the door, I search the postmarks, so far in vain. It’s never really been our thing, but maybe it’s time for me to pick up the phone and call?

 


Chicks

I was out with some women friends the other night, and one of them complimented another on her fabulous shoes.  The shoe lady said, “Thanks, I bought them as revenge when Scott took that golf trip to Arizona last month.”  I was like, WHAT???  I don’t get that. Are we the chicks from Desperate Housewives?  Who thinks like that? Who buys an expensive item to take vengeance on a spouse?  That makes no sense to me.  Isn’t his money your money?  If you end up without the funds to pay the mortgage because you spent $600 on shoes, are you not both out on the street?  And besides, did Scott really care?  Did that $600 really make a dent in his Porche-driving pocket?

Silly girl.


What a Great Day

A perfect Saturday, if you don’t count having to get up early.  The Princess and I had a really nice morning, running errands, out to lunch and then to the park.  She was happy and fun. She was in this really affectionate mood and liberal with the hugs and kisses. It was great.

zeldaIn the afternoon, she took a nap, and I grabbed a shower.  Saturday night was the costume party, and as I said, I went as Zelda Fitzgerald.  My hair is kind of long and curly these days, so I decided to make it shorter, more like a 1920’s bob, by putting really tight curls in it, and then taming it with a headband that went with my costume.  While The Princess was sleeping, I put forty tight curl rollers into my hair.  Let me tell you, I’m kind of “challenged” when it comes to doing hair.  I don’t like to blow it dry or use a curling iron.  It’s too much work; it always seems to take forever; and my arms or wrists always get tired in the process.  My hat is off (literally) to anyone who can style their own hair or who does other people’s hair for a living.  It’s something that is an elusive mystery in my book. 

 

But, you know,  I like to dream that I can do these projects myself. I let the curls set for like four hours and went about my business. Manfrengensen took delight in teasing me about my makeshift turban (made out of a white dishtowel), and if you insert your own joke there, you will surely hit on one of the images he conjured.  In the afternoon, I took The Princess out into the yard, and we blew bubbles, hundreds of them, into the wind. The boys came outside soon after, and we all had little wands and bubbles were everywhere, in the yard, over the fence, making their runs in vain for the stratosphere.  After a while, the boys and I played Red Light Green Light and What Time Is It Mr. Fox?  with The Princess thinking she was playing too, though she was just running all over the place like crazy.  In any case, it was a lot of laughs.  At one point, T3 had a moment of mourning for one of the tulips that had lost its bloom. He Sideshow Bobhad taken so much delight in helping me plant the bulbs last fall.  It was a sad moment, and tears were shed, but I explained, hey, that’s what flowers do. Yes, it is sad when their petals fall off, but they’ll be back again next year.  I made dinner eventually (pizza, though not my best effort,) and after that I went upstairs to take out the curlers.  When all was said and done, yes, you could say that I had fashioned myself a bob, only it was more like a Sideshow Bob.

A few bobby pins later, we were off.  Manfrengensen looked dashing as F. Scott. The party was a lot of fun.  Best costume went to this guy, John from up the street, who came as Lady Godiva. What can I tell you?  Sex always sells. And he had it going on.


Super Saturday

Things kids do that I find hard to understand:teletubbies

  • Drink their own bathwater
  • Suck the paste off their toothbrushes
  • Watch the Teletubbies

Another thing J does, or I guess doesn’t do, is sleep late.  No matter how late he stays up at night, he will always rise with the sun.  Even when he’s sick, and I’m begging him to get some rest, he will ask me defiantly, “Mom, how am I supposed to sleep?  The sun is up.”  He just can’t understand when I tell him that sleeping when the sun is up is one of the greatest indulgences life can offer. There are days, quite a few of them actually, when I feel like I would give almost anything to be able to sleep when the sun is up.

 

margot

Manfrengensen and I are going to a costume party tonight.  The hosts sent out invitations with random letters of the alphabet, and we have to dress as something that begins with the letter “F.”  We are going as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  I told this to my babysitter who said, “Nice. Wow, you really are a literary nerd.”

Another Movie Review

Last night Manfrengensen and I watched Margot at the Wedding, which was rather disappointing.  It was basically the story of this woman, Margot (Nicole Kidman) who changed her mind often, and as a result she has these dysfunctional relationships with everyone around her.  Her character had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and I really found myself hating her. She came off as downright psychotic. I felt sorry for her family, especially her son, and at the end of the movie, I found myself wondering what the point of the whole exercise was.  It was no Squid and the Whale, and overall, I felt, a waste of my time.  Should have watched Thursday’s Lost again.

 

PrincessBack to My Life As Mom

Today Manfrengensen brought J and T3 up to his parents’ house for a visit.  Ee and I went out to run some errands, and then we went to lunch at a little diner near our house.  She is so much fun!  You know, I’ve waited 30 years to renew this mother-daughter bond, and she is bringing it to me in the most special way.  We sit; we eat; she talks about the things that catch her eye; she leans over and kisses me in the booth or whispers her secrets into my ear.  Then we went to the park, where she called, “Watch me Mommy” over and over as she made her loop up the stairs and down the slide. Up the stairs and down the slide. It’s just the most amazing thing.