Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For Baba: Made New

i am brimming with new posts, some very funny, some of scien-tific/istic ilk, some so personal as to succeed as universal.  more than a few are essays that would make montaigne sniff a dusty dead man's egotistical sniff.  so long as he does not sneeze, we're okay.

the post below was originally published on 3 december 2013.

i did not know, on 3 december 2013, that my brother grader boob, now better known as "lumpy," was very ill with cancer.  he had only the soupçon of the beginning of a barely nascent suspicion. he was then suddenly a very grumpy lumpy grader boob, and could not seem to get his bearings, seemed perpetually under that pathetic fallacy of the weather.

he pushed me to reconnect with our stepmother.  this man who now will not connect with anyone! he had that frustratingly perfect impulse -- outward.  i did not remember that he was the impetus, that he was the sweating, grunting worker plying the splintering board that leveraged the boulder... that was me (the boulder, if i lost you).

a gift.

i have two brothers, so similar, so different.  they give gifts like maniacal gift givers, crazy-assed coo-coo givers, scented personal shoppers in the virtual world we now share and the vague shadow of a long gone world. we all meet in the lobby in my dreams -- that dream lobby that morphs into a music room of bean bags and comfy mattresses and vinyl, into softball fields, hot sidewalks, the backseats of cars, tiny basketball courts, much like the end of a concrete driveway crowned with a backboard and a hoop.  always, there is music.  gifts.

there are things i remember clearly.  these things may not be true.

i remember the both of them, evil in their older age. i was in [very baggy] diapers.  you know, i have always been remarkably slim in the hips.  anyway, i am crawling, vaguely bothered by the drag factor of these very baggy diapers. i want it clear that they were not messy diapers, just not well fitted to my slim hips. i fear that soon i will renew the experience this unfortunate fitting difficulty, but we're not there yet, oh no, not just yet. yes, right, so... there i am, in ankara, turkey, exercising my cute little tush off.  i presume i am in a dining room because the trajectory of my efforts seem to end under the carved legs of our famous dining table.  the one i inherited and finally destroyed just before fred and i became squatters here at marlinspike hall.  it had, by then, been painted white and the cushions were of a scary yellow plastic -- that was stepmom baba's treatment, to make it match her "breakfast nook" concept.  that table must have seemed an albatross around her thin neck -- highly stylized, obviously "foreign" and not conducive to her admittedly matchy-matchy decorative ways.

oh, that woman could decorate!

ya, so, my two good-for-nothing siblings are egging me on, making great use of that linguistic "come hither" known as intonation ascendante by my later french linguistic professors.

"c'mon, you droopy-drawered excuse for a baby sister, c'mon!" and so they dangled a cup of something in front of my cherubic visage, luring me closer to the little fort made of table legs.

when i finally made it, drooling as only such a diva can drool, the chant became, "c'mon, take a sniff of this!  you're gonna love it!  c'mon, would we lead you astray, hmm?"  reaching the cup, smiling like the innocent baby i was and always would be, i took a dedicated whiff.

it was ammonia.
my first, but hardly last, loss of brain cells.

okay, so there's that in the negative column for those two.  i could add grader boob/lumpy almost taking my head off with a powerful warm-up swing with a solid wood baseball bat... but that was an accident.  so was the time that one of them (no recollection which of 'em did the deed) threw a dart in my arm.  see, there was a wooden fence.  they were on the "inside" -- picture a poor man's courtyard
-- innocently playing darts.  i was on the "outside," oblivious, and made the turn inward, stepping directly in front of the dart board just as a projectile was released.

big whoop -- a tetanus shot. still!  still!

other than that, it's been nothing but gifts, gifts, gifts -- from the both of them.  in return, i've given them terrible gifts, as in, stuff that i think they should want. lumpy/grader boob has also received more than his share of "things that a person very ill with cancer needs." they are, i know, piled high, box upon box, almost reaching heaven, unopened, and possibly tripped over.

i blush to think of the olde english curses that may be heaped upon my head every time lumpy grader boob sees or sidesteps my gift pile. an auditory heap on the head is detectable only to those who attain nirvana. i'm about two-fifths of the way to enlightenment, to having those individual desires and suffering go... away. so for now, he curses into the void, he pisses into the wind.

the gifts left to give may be few, but they're the best, the saddest, the silliest, the happiest, the most meaningless.  there's no suitable box, which is good, as i lack the dexterity to pack.  thank god for teleflora and the saints be praised that godiva chocolate delivers.

there is still music. there will always be music.
and, somehow, harder to explain, animals.
words. rhythms. winds. rivers. oceans.

yeah, so i wanted to make an effort to write something today.  anything.  and seeing this from exactly a year ago, and thinking of baba, the nickname given our stepmother by her baby brother, frankie something-or-other...

...thinking of how this dream of the beach house, and her ending her days there, painted toes dug in the sand, a silly hat keeping off the harmful sun, a book and a drink at hand... or having coffee on a front porch that leads your eye into an infinity of water, of sky...

well, once upon a time, pretty much just as lumpy was having his fears of terrible illness confirmed, baba required emergency surgery. she experienced a mental decline, as old people often do when wrenched from their familiar environments, particularly those that offer infinities of sky, of water. she lost much weight, developed bedsores.  a trial run was made back at the cottage but it was untenable. back she went into that euphemistic hell called "rehab," while her daughter, my stepsister, did the research and the calling, vetting of the scary, sad work of placing your parent in as great a place as you can find and they can afford.

she's a bit of a pushy person, this stepsister, but she will tell you, probably, to kiss her grits if you requested that she cut if the fuck out.  it is, she thinks, the only way to get things done. if a bit of the truth falls by the wayside, if someone else's wussy sensitivities become obstacles instead of whimsical happy hour stories, well, a bass track will start in the background and soon sweet baby james will be screeching something about Well, I'm a steamroller, baby, I'm bound to roll all over you-u-u.

the thing is, she's sweet, too. extremely nice. i'd try to relate to the goings-on of her life but -- jeez, i'm clueless. probably it's punishment for my natural reticence, because hell's bells! if i think something, it's going to be a secret from the entire blessèd world. no way are you going to weasel a thought or scuzzily judgmental opinion out of this tête!

she doesn't trust me. how could she?  she does not know me, nor care to.  do you know what it's like to ask someone several times for their address and not be answered?  that's me:  the bedridden psycho-killer, drooling in droopy diapers, ready to show your zombie-self a little zombie "mercy." and yes, that's me, who doesn't get the message the first two times!  it makes the moment of realization ("oh, this is actually all bullshit!") that much more embarrassing!

until, until, until --  in my effort to force friendship, force relationship, i betrayed lumpy, and hurt, very likely, his polite elder sibling, the unsullied wise one. it involves a letter that NO ONE forced me to write but which fed my desire to control and dictate.

it was about -- bleck! ick!  yuck! -- wills, as in last, as in testaments.
and the stepsister i am trying to make look villainous? she's not. she's careful, and she's smart to be that way. she and i, we will journey on, learning.

i'm sorry, rolling one, o winged pigweed, for sending you a copy of that letter. i cannot say "sorry" to the lumpy one, because there is not enough space there, even for that one word.

the ace i have in the hole? ["ace in the hole": This term comes from the game of stud poker, in which one or more cards are turned face down, or “in the hole,” as bets are placed.] i have the weightless gift of a greeting and good wishes from our elder brother-unit, safely tucked there where i safely tuck things. (hey! what is this? a "tell all"?  i don't THINK so.)  it's a greeting with good wishes and a memory from him to baba.  i've not delivered them yet, dear brother. but the time is now, apparently, because a bunch of well-dressed, colorful, handsome and beautiful strangers holler about "'tis the season" from the blaring idiot box.

i can already tell you that she will be happy, this ancient dancing woman who has almost worked her way back up to a hundred pounds.

we have traversed the seasons and are not where we started.  the orbit is a bit skewed but still an awesome testimony to arcs, gravity, and the-way-of-things. i choose to admire what the universe managed to keep within reach, and to thank it for what i can still see, and everything that i can remember... or imagine remembering.

i want to thank lumpy for taking this picture of our collective beach, from the vantage point of baba's former and forever front yard.  the stepsister-unit would kill me, but i continue to give baba hope that she can get back there.  i use a line that i used on myself when that older, wiser brother-unit, something of a photographer himself, was missing to me -- i have dusted the old line off for dearest baba, made a few verb tense adjustments:

"mom, maybe you'll go home in the spring..." then we talk... about the dangers, about her dog, about her cute hunky man neighbors, about the fears... and then we talk.

to completely ruin the mood, i have to reference the beginning of last year's post.  un-freaking-canny! in all my recent travails -- in case you can't keep track, i'm losing the use of my hands -- i never once remembered fracturing my left hand. not once.  never mentioned it to my new doctors. of course, this time it started in the right hand... oh, never mind!  it's just kinda creepy.

mwa ha ha!

hey, dear readers, especially you dear siblings (and associates -- i know who logs on, for nothing is secret in marlinspike hall) -- thank you for letting me wade far enough into the gentle waves to get my ankles wet.

because -- gasp! -- the days are long gone when lumpy grader boob and i swam far far out, way past the pier, where there was just the sounds of undulating ocean and wind on the water.  we'd float on our backs and play battleship. then just float, saying nothing.  eventually, in big brother fashion, he'd suggest i go back in, that he'd watch to make sure i didn't get eaten by a shark. then i'd sit on the porch with the binoculars, making sure that he made it in, too. he'd stay out there a long time.

be good to one another.

used without permission, this photo was taken by the inimitable grader boob

if you will kindly refer to an earlier post, titled -- with such gentility -- "i flushed the toilet," it will partially explain my latest round of stealing posts from other -- better but still "other" -- sources.  you know that it is never for lack of something to say.

sure, it's usually the same something, but i'm broadening my vocabulary and massaging the play-dough twixt the ears for the malleable fiction of neuroplasticity.  i'm trying.  but when i so famously flushed the toilet, i fractured my left wrist/radius and somehow also developed ulnar nerve palsy. CRPS has a weirdness not often discussed, as one tires of sounding insane, which is its perverse preference for symmetry.  i have developed the same symptoms, minus the palsy, in my right hand, which is completely uninjured.

in some other words, typing is a bitch.  be that as it may, this blog post needs writing.

since my "family," meaning the clan in its traditional form, has begun the unwieldy process of reconstituting its early semantic glory, a sontag metaphor-for of chipped and crackled bits of anachronistic mosaic tile, these full-blood, half-blood, and no-blood relations... are dropping by this blog in decline.

most of you are used to having kin.  i'm out of practice.  let's put it as it is:  i have to consult the dictionary to untie the knots of meaning behind cousin, nephew, niece, and sometimes, even aunt, uncle.  i tend to cling to the memory of loving people, whether it was me they loved, or not, and their anthropological kinship designation fell into the garbage heap of my wayside long ago.

there is an equal and opposite reaction of attraction for and [obliquely] toward the relations who hate me, whom i disturb, a new phenomenon born just within the last few months.  here is a very true truth upon which you can rely:  beware new "friendships" of the familial sort who quickly and with nary a bead of sweat clinging to their upper lips (or eyelids -- since my eye surgeries, my eyelids betray more emotion than your run-of-the-mill rosy cheek, and not by blinking but by their creepy dampness) speak of love, and declare it for you as a lifelong yearning, based on your fledgling, chubby, pigeon-toed stunted five year old self.

do not trust anyone who tosses the love card with the wily acumen of a lifelong gin rummy pro, thanks to many hot, humid, buggy southern summer nights under bare bulbs, cards smartly slapping on real oil table cloths, red checks marred by cigarette burns, the buzz of mosquitoes broken by a smoker's cackle:  "gin!" the good ones, the best, are self-effacing, and languidly caress the discard, take it as their own... and knock. they utter "love" the same way.

yes, so i'm feverish, in severe and unrelenting pain, spasming like a done-for flopping fish, glaring as best a fish can with one eye on a rotting pier, and dealing with keeping home a center for holiday cheer with a broken wrist.  i cooked some overly herbed fish last night.  that's my only clue as to the intrusion of the fish into my tight, linear narrative.

it was an excess of tarragon perfume at fault -- i mixed it with lemon pepper, a pretty strong flavor in itself, and holmes himself wouldn't have deduced its presence, so overdone was the tarragon.

i'm in love with tarragon.

and this one, most recent sample of rosemary.  more perfume.  i like a slight artistic char on my rosemary. it served as counterpoint to wonderfully roasted vegetables -- and those vegetables with sufficient sugar content achieved that perfection of combined char and caramelization.

if i rummaged in the remains of my work ethic, i could eke out clever comparisons about perfumed fish and relatives i cannot recall ever meeting but who have "loved" me since i was but a near microscopic translucent guppy.

okay, for those relatives not in the evil category of easy love, for those who, without forethought, closed our first conversation in over 23 years -- telephonic, of course -- with a natural, casual "love ya," and who began what we decided to designate as "the breaking of the ice" with joyous laughter that cannot be feigned...

for such people, in this instance my step-mother margaret, about whom i thought during every one of the days making up those 23 long years -- when cogent, of course -- i owe more than a little bit of an explanation.

or maybe not.  somehow, it doesn't feel evasive to have picked up the fiendish phone and chatted and laughed for eight minutes without giving a single detail of my life.  we both have followed the other by means both imaginative and wheedling.  well, okay, nothing so very dramatic -- we made discomfiting use of one of my full-blooded brothers, the famed "grader boob."  lately, he's been getting a bit disgruntled serving as middle man, and in a wildly uncivilized move, simultaneously released home phone numbers to all interested parties.  he may have called me a "cowardly girly-girl," and mocked my telephone phobia (it's real!) with a professorial version of "nah-nah nah nah nah": "derr-i-da-da dah dah dah dah."  he should keep well in mind that i serve as his gate-keeper for the nefarious side of our family tree.  these are people with little sense of our cultured culturing of boundaries and who constantly threaten to appear on one's doorstep, unannounced, uninvited.

but in this instance he did well, grader boob.  "pick up the phone, damn it. what are ya, anyway, a freaking emotional misfit"?

well, yes.

margaret said something that made my heart stop, just a quick phrase but that wasn't a throw-away. she hoped i'd come visit her, there at the beach cottage where so much happiness happened, and tragedy, too. it's a touchstone of a place.

i talked over her, i think.  i said the same sentence three times, a pitiful diversion for such a smart old lady who had just extended herself -- the cottage is her sacred place, was the center of her childhood family, a tradition of sand, sun, storm, paperbacks, boiled shrimp, and happy hours.  it is also where she found my father curled up dead on the couch, and into her atlantic ocean did she cast his ashes. and i did not even acknowledge the graciousness of her invitation back into that space.

margaret, i'm basically bedridden, except when i take my breakthrough pain meds and antispasmodics, then i foist myself upon my limited world, and perform with aplomb what now defines me:  my ADLs, my activities of daily living.  basic hygiene, dressing myself, cooking.  i always think of you as i attempt to clean house -- our homes never looked lived in, they were so uncluttered and clean.  your standards became my standards, and when fred looks at me askance as i pry off the knobs to our gas burners so as to soak them clean of non-existent oil splatters and to clean the spotless enamel underneath... i always laugh and say, "but what would my mom say if i didn't do it right?" and to myself i imagine how living at the beach must have both complicated that aesthetic and simplified it, beautifully.

i miss tea and melba toast with you, a wonderful reason to come home from high school. i remember, at the oddest times, the afternoon we went sailing in a thunderstorm.

my standards have fallen.  i am not physically able to do all the things i "ought." it shouldn't plague me, yet it does.

i can walk for very short distances and lately risk falls when i "step out." and i flash on the day in washington, d.c. when you finally explained to my dad that i despised being grabbed by the elbow and told to "step out." i talk to myself -- hey, we all do, to some extent --and sometimes i hear chastisement from my his lips through mine -- "straighten up and fly right," that sort of thing. there are moments of hysteria, too.  i tried to teach fred that "it only costs ten percent more to go first class." fred didn't buy it, and, let's face it, it was one of dad's less successful aphorisms.

i have lupus, which led to something called avascular necrosis [AVN] or osteonecrosis, which led, in turn to adrenal insufficiency (and a few scary instances of adrenal failure).  but what has me beat, mom, is something called CRPS.  a lot of folks still call it RSD.  i'm coming up on my 12th year anniversary with CRPS.  it's made me pretty much unrecognizable and you'd be shocked.  mostly, it's a central nervous system degenerative disease but it shows itself -- when you have it as long and as all over as i do -- by what it does to your arms and legs.  in my case, naturally, it also does a number on my face!  in actuality, despite the skin, blood vessel, and bone damage, the havoc it loosens on the brain in terms of spasticity and neuropathic pain testifies to how monstrous it can be.

the only honest "cure" for AVN is to replace the joints destroyed by the lack of blood supply.  so i'm close to being bionic!  unfortunately, somewhere along that journey, my prosthetic joints picked up bacteria which slowly grew, and being the leftist that you always knew i would be, the little buggers formed communes that secrete a kind of antibiotic-proof material... so i finally declared "uncle" at the end of last year.  it's spreading from one piece of hardware to another, these socialist "biofilm communities."  so that adds to the discomfort of dealing with CRPS, as there are daily fevers and the general nonsense that goes with chronic bone infection -- osteomyelitis.  i ultimately lost my left shoulder, and to be honest?  i'm ready to give up the right one, it hurts that much.

however, mom, i have a great internist who tells me, when i hit the more grating notes of whining about pain:  "this, too, shall pass." i used to curse him under my breath, now i repeat his belief as if it were my guiding light, a mantra.

you've likely had enough.  i know i have.  a few more things, then i'm going to bed.

i don't know that you'd like fred, at first, but he would grow on you.  i've been with him for precisely as long as i have been absent from you.  he's gentle, intelligent, but struggling -- right now with the possibility that his hearing loss is due to an acoutic neuroma.  he's scared.  i need to think of your example, again, and make him my priority.

i'm never going to see you again, i don't think.  won't be for lack of wanting, i can tell you that.  i'm embarrassed and ashamed about so much -- but also secure in who i am, what i became, the life i've lived, getting things right with a gratifying increase in frequency!

you once tried to help me by listing my "accomplishments," and were shocked when i thought you were mocking me.  you were not, of course.  you were trying to build up my sense of worth, my pride.  but i was right, too, because even in that very low moment, i knew that awards, scholarships, and degrees were not important.

but they did allow me to work at what i loved.  everyone always points to dad's mom, to nana, as the source of the "teaching" bug, but let's say that you honed my technique.

when it rained while we vacationed at the cottage, we'd go to what had to be the only pharmacy in town, and get to buy a paperback.  with such nonchalance, you steered a stubborn reader to the fruits of childhood. one year, it was harriet the spy, another, it was jane eyre.  [of course, we still have to discuss the year you took a razor blade to "offensive" passages in one of my christmas wish list books! "too adult," you said,]

my best teaching came when i managed, through sleuthing and careful planning, to allow a struggling student to find the piece of writing, a print of a painting, a translation, a song that would lead them into the "français." they had to find it but i had to learn their need, and supply its want.

it's what you tried to do for me, so faithfully.

thank you. [and good night!  i am going to imagine the sound of the surf...]  stay warm, stay safe.

© 2013 L. Ryan

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