14 March, 2011

yellow robe

She woke to the sound of dripping water and smiled. There was a chance it was inside the house, but it was more possible that the ice dams on the roof were finally melting. Winter, her least favorite time of the year, appeared to be winding down. But today, when her Mom's name came up on the caller “identicus,” She assumed the worst: cardiac arrest, broken hip, probably not a car accident unless she had been hit while walking. Not that her Mom walked outside much in the Winter: too darn cold for her old bones. It was surprising to hear her voice. Her mother called rarely, she couldn't remember the last time, and was rarely in a friendly mood. Expecting to hear the voice of a nurse or EMT, her mother's voice bubbled into her ears like a pleasant brook in springtime, full of melting snow. In fact, it was her opening remark, “Is your ice melting?” Neither woman was fond of Winter. They agreed it was better than nothing, but it certainly wasn't as enjoyable as Spring, or Early summer. They were both avid gardeners although neither had all the time and inclination once at their fingertips. Each gardened more in their fantasies, and a few small containers, enjoying other people's efforts, as much as they had one time enjoyed their own. Their relationship had never been easy, her mother preferred her sons. She had grown up with the message-on-a-loop that her brothers came first, that they could do no wrong, and they were exempt from certain responsibilities. Yet her older brother grew up to be a single Dad and could cook, clean and sew with the best of her sisters. Yes, their relationship had always been turbulent as long as she could remember. Maybe they were just too much alike, consequently her mother tried to prevent her daughter from repeating her mistakes. But the mistakes had made her who she was: courageous and fiercely protective of her children. And Jill had lived much of her life wondering what was wrong with herself. Not realizing that the turbulence, the disagreements were evidence that something was very right with her. She was right on track, exactly where she needed to be to become the person she was meant to be since the day she was conceived. Their relationship had brought every out-dated, useless belief they shared into question and at the same time provided a foundation for pushing away from each other. A platform to launch themselves into this next stage of their lives. Now Jill was sitting on the lower stairs as they chatted, about 5 feet away from her new piano. Her new, used piano was a “hand-me-down” from her singing teacher. Now, they could meet for lessons away from her teacher's eccentric, hyper-active bulldog. Her mother had been J's first piano teacher. And she had lobbied the high school choir director to take Jill back into the group after she had stopped showing up for rehearsals. Her mother encouraged her singing; even insisted that she sing. When she wanted to buy a guitar, after saving her babysitting money for weeks, her mother supported her. Her mother was an accomplished pianist, organist for the Catholic Church and choir director. She had grown up in a small town in North Dakota, a few miles from the Canadian border and played piano from childhood. Her mother had given all her children piano lessons. A little heavy handed at first, but by the sixth child, a boy, she had mellowed. And when they didn't want to take lessons from her, she paid teachers for the ones who agreed to practice. She started playing simply for herself, her own enjoyment the main concern. There was a long period of time when they didn't have contact, didn't speak at all. Her mother was silent, disapproving perhaps judgmental. And maybe just down right scared. There was a time Jill was convinced something horrible was wrong with herself. Not just that she lacked significant value, enough to justify her existence, but that she actually had some sort of negative value, as if her assets could never measure up to the expense. One of her earliest memories was of a delicate yellow bathrobe, trimmed with lace, satin ribbons, and pearl buttons. As the oldest daughter she got new clothes, the other girls frequently received her clothes second hand, and many times, before she was done with them. The pain of handing her favorite dresses over to her younger sisters, and watching them spill, stain, and tear was difficult to bear. And she cherished the yellow robe, feeling like a princess when ever she wore it. She was tempted to save it for special occasions, so it would stay crisp and clean. But she had already tried that clever plan. she grew out of the special item, and had to hand it over to the next sister in line before she was ready, simply because it was too small for her. After she started buying her own clothes, she was allowed to wear them until they fell apart. Her flannel shirts and denim jeans were soft form many washings, in the days before pre-washed was available. Perhaps the yellow robe sticks in her memory because she was wearing it the night her older brother called Grandma and Grandpa to stop their parent's fight. Their Mom and Dad were downstairs screaming. She could hear the sounds of hitting, slapping, and punching even though she was all the way upstairs with the door partially closed. Her sister was in the next bed, silent, but definitely not asleep. Then her Mother was standing at the bottom of the stairs, screaming for her brother to run to the telephone, behind our Dad and call Grandma Mary. He was fast, and did it without hesitation, without thinking. Then he flew back upstairs into bedroom his sisters shared. He was shaking, and appeared terrified. Crying, he begged his sisters to come into his room, to his bed, a place he normally guarded as unquestioningly off limits to girls. His explanation for this unusual request convinced Jill, the older sister with the beautiful golden bathrobe. He was afraid their Dad would attack him for making the call for help. And he knew he was safe hiding behind his sisters. His Dad never hit his daughters. So, there was the big brother with one sister on each side, crying, scared, confused. And Jill, wrapped in her precious robe, as if it would protect her from harm. Eventually they heard sounds of their Dad's parents' voices drifting up the stairwell. Both Grandma and Grandpa had come to break up the fight. Then all three kids were crying in nervous relief, as if they had woken from a very unpleasant dream. Jill called out loudly for the comfort of her Grandma, the woman who brought them fresh hot home-baked carmel rolls every Sunday when her Mom was playing organ for the early service in church. But tonight Grandma was occupied with her violent son, and their more reserved Grandpa appeared in her place. He took the sisters back to their own room, quietly, calmly assured them they were safe and tucked them into their beds. Exhausted, they fell asleep.

13 March, 2011


Her migraine woke her up. She lay in bed wondering at the intensity of the attack. Her migraines had steadily declined and disappeared since she had left her violent husband. Yet here it was, back with pain beyond her memory. She was convinced it must be a brain tumor. Judging buy the location it must be in her frontal cortex. There was nothing in the occipital area or perhaps it was simply less intense and consequently less noticeable. The old feeling of “I-wish-I-was-dead-so-the-pain-would-stop” came back to visit. She lay there trying not to move, trying to will it away, trying to relax and release. All the new age articles she had ever read came back to her as she tried to figure it out: where it came from, and how to prevent it from happening again. Slowly it dawned on her that she could stop wasting time blaming herself, telling herself that she was a bad person with a million things wrong and get an ice pack, eat some yogurt and take half a vicodin. Every muscle in her body hurt and her skin itched as she lowered her feet to the floor. That wasn't so bad, she decided. Slowly she made her way to the stairs. Descending step by step, trying not to jar her head, she noticed the waves of nausea reminding her of the Japanese tsunami she had watched before falling asleep last night. Could they be connected? It didn't matter, she still had to deal with the pain. Opening the refrigerator, the sun streaming through the eastern windows, she grabbed the non fat greek yogurt. She held the first spoonful in her mouth until it seemed safe to swallow. The last thing she wanted was to start barfing on an empty stomach. It was staying down. She tried another spoonful of the creamy, thick goo. How do they get it to taste so good without fat? It was staying down, so she cautiously swallowed the vicodin left over from her car accident two months ago. Remembering the ice, she selected a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and wrapped it in a tea towel. In slow motion she carefully flopped down on the kitchen window seat just for a moment, with frozen peas draped across the top of her head, hoping to feel the vicodin to kick in. 10 minutes and no relief yet. She shifted the pea pack slightly to avoid frostbite. She made her way back upstairs and rubbed peppermint oil on the worst, most excruciatingly painful areas. Reaching for her phone she canceled her plans for the day. What if she had to cancel the whole week? What if she had to cancel her trip to the West Coast?! Although, if it were a brain tumor, maybe this would be her last chance to do something like travel with her daughter. Convincing herself that the migraine was indeed symptom of a brain tumor, or worse, perhaps an aneurism, she planned how she would use her remaining time. She really didn't want to pass during the Winter, that was just too depressing. Late summer would be good, as there would be all kinds of fresh produce available for parties and gatherings. Her daughter would have a break before the school year started and she went back to work. Her son would be available as he was working part time in August. As she fell asleep, thanks to the vicodin she reminded herself not to give attention to dying least she created it as reality. Images of her grandchildren's birthday parties flowed through her dreams. She saw herself in her BMW convertible driving them to the lake for swimming and the roller garden for skating, packing snacks and sipping tea outside Turtle Bread Shop. When she woke, a few hours later, the pain was gone. The heaviness was still there between her ears, but she was pretty sure it was NOT a brain tumor. Listening closely she could hear her son downstairs, probably doing his laundry. An avid ultra-marathoner, he worked just enough to allow himself ample time to train. This left no money to wash clothes in the laundromat under his apartment, so he spent Sunday evenings using her washer, dryer, soap and water. At 23, she reminded herself he was a man. His Dad was married with a baby at that age! She cautiously made her way downstairs where he was sprawled in the dining room. In a great mood, full of self esteem, he had run 15 miles and was treating himself to a pizza. Drinking a glass of water and listening to his description of his morning run she was relieve that the migraine seemed to have disappeared. Her schedule for the week could remain intact. She might even eat some pizza, and drink hot tea. The day was mostly gone, but it was the first day of daylight savings so the sky was sunny and inviting. The snow had melted around the edges, and cardinals were clustered around the feeding tray. The pain was gone, but not forgotten. They went to pick up her taxes, she asked him to drive as she was still feeling dizzy from the vicodin. It was silly to take chances when she was pretty sure she didn't have a brain tumor, or even an aneurism.