Last Days

(Somewhat fictional, somewhat factual.)   The ICU was on the ninth floor of the hospital, at the very top. On the bad days, Lisa wouldn’t wait for the elevator, but would take the nine floors without stopping, and arrive in the waiting room certain that she might need to have the bed next to her brother. Steve had been here for the past two weeks, brought from the rehab hospital with a 103-degree fever. Two days after the move, she answered the phone to a nurse’s voice saying, “Steve has gone code blue, and we need your authorization to resuscitate him.” They were able to start his heart, but he never woke up after that.   So Lisa was sitting in a hard chair, staring at a photo of a stone caught in a stream, poised on the edge of a river, and ready to go over into the unknown water. Yep, one never knew when college would come in handy; she got metaphor and simile when she was 14, and finding a deeper meaning soon became second nature. This was both a light and darkness in her life; as an english literature major, everything had to mean something, whether she wanted it to or not.

“Lisa Solozzo?” Lisa made it to the window in a second and a half; the ICU nurse motioned to the door, and she walked over, opened the entrance, and walked in.   The darkened halls were painted white, and there was a light at the end. Just like heaven…or hell, Lisa thought, as she walked down the hall towards the nurses’ station. She knew where Steve’s room was, so she passed by the nurses, and glanced to her left, where he lay in the half-light of the various machines that were attached to his body.

She walked into his room, and looked at him. Steve had lost most of his weight that he had maintained over the years through alcohol, fast food, and dedicated couch surfing. As Lisa stood and watched her brother, she could swear that his hand moved. Nights of not sleeping, crying, and drinking enough gin to numb the pain had scrambled Lisa’s brain to the point that she knew she was seeing things. Steve’s hand hadn’t moved, and it wasn’t going to move. Lisa understood the first part of her thought, but not the second half. Steve would get up, and talk again, and get better, and everything would be all right.

But it wouldn’t be all right. As Lisa left the hospital room, and walked back to the waiting area, she felt as if she was the stone at the edge of the river, with no way to hold on to what she knew; soon she would lose her secure place and fall, and keep falling….and without Steve, she had no safe place to land.

Christmas list

Hanging out with the LBD (Paco, my ten pounds of terrier/chi terror), and seeing what the day brings. Jamal and I had a very nice time last night with the family, and today I just had a great visit with a long-time friend who stopped by with her husband.  We hadn’t talked in about five years, not because of any drama, mostly because life just kinda kept happening, and we didn’t keep up with each other.  I’m not the most Christmas-ey of people, but seeing Laury and Steve gave me a great gift of good cheer when I wasn’t looking for one today.

Can we look at the list now?

1.  It just seems to me that the Christmas crush was a bit more…pulpy this year.  Granted, it was a broad spectrum of behavior out there, and I’m certain that I allowed some of the bad behavior to affect me more than usual, but… it’s the holiday season, and so many horrible events have taken place recently, that it wouldn’t have killed you grinches (and you know who you are) to be a little nicer, to the retail staff, to other people in the parking lot, even to your own family.  Maybe you didn’t feel like it, but sometimes acting “as if” can put a person into a better sprit – never fear, crabby folk, we’ll give you a chance next year; just hope that everyone in your family is still here for you next year.  For the rest of you, who held places in line for strangers, who wished cashiers happy holidays, and who were aware that there were other people in your sphere of existence besides yourselves – your halos are showing; thank you.

2.  Seeing the Christmas lights is always my favorite part of the season; I love when they start appearing, and I get a little blue when they come down. What I find interesting (and a little bit scary) is the appearance of the enormous balloon figures on the lawns in our neighborhood:

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I gauged this Santa at ten feet tall, but he was taller than the house, so he was maybe more like fifteen.  And what’s a little odd about these decorations (maybe it’s just me) is that they are deflated during the day, then are inflated to monster size at night.  Seems like a Santa (or a giant penguin, like the one on my block) that could suffocate Mom and Dad and take the kids away to his evil workshop at the North Pole where Oogie Boogie lives; wait, I could be mixing up my movies….anyhow, it could be scary, dunno.

3.  I found a cool website: completely-coastal.com.  If you enjoy all things seaside, you will want to take a look; our Christmas tree is covered with seashells and mermaids, and my vision for the master bath (once the guest bath is finished) is that it will feel like the song “Under the Sea.”  (My husband Jamal is on board with my design taste, which is cool.)  And my taste is all over the place, so I have to be careful, because I like this:

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And I like this:

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My coastal living has a little bit of the apocalypse mixed in – works for me (and thankfully, for Jamal).

So I think that’s it for today; I missed writing here, so coming back is my shameless, self-promoting, self-centered gift to you.  And one size fits all! I wish you all good things today – let your heart be light, and I’ll see if I can do the same. Deal? Deal!

I am Julie’s nose

When I was about 19, I fractured my nose in a three-car accident.  On the way to the hospital, one of the paramedics said, “Oh, you broke your nose.” He could tell just from looking at me that it was broken, but apparently the doctor didn’t agree.  At 22, I decided to have my nose fixed – I’m not sure how it works today, but I had to meet with the doctor for a consultation before the surgery.  He asked me why I wanted to have the procedure, and I said that I had been in an accident, and that I wanted to look better.  We decided that it would be best not to change my nose too much, since my eyes were so large; he would just straighten it, and thin it out (I bounced off the steering wheel and dashboard in the accident).  After the surgery, the doctor said that when he started to sand down my nose, it basically broke, so apparently I had had a hairline fracture for three years.  I walked around with a bandage on my face for about a week, and when it was removed, I could see the difference.  Here’s a visual timeline of the state of my rhinoplasty (great word, right? Really boosted my confidence):

1.  Senior high school photo, before the accident – I was never as Greek as I was here, and the nose knows

1.  At 19; this could have been the year of the accident, but I think this was taken before it happened

2.  Post-accident, post-surgery; I think I was about 25, and a student at CSULB

3.  High school reunion, 37 or 38 – hard to see it, but the face seems to be holding up under the pressure of 40 looming on the horizon

4.  Took this one today

I have considered going back under the knife recently to smooth out the bump on my nose that seems to be more prominent than I would like; after some thought, I have decided against it, mostly because I just don’t want to go through that again. My mother used to tell me that my face had a lot of character; “beautiful” wasn’t part of her vocabulary when it came to anything, so I gave up waiting for that term to be applied.  I have learned to appreciate what I look like, and be grateful for things like good DNA (Mom never looked as old as she was, even at 87).

I am fond of saying that my forehead is going to look like Clint Eastwood’s pretty soon, and I am constantly trying to smooth out the frown lines with my fingers (I must have done a LOT of frowning in the last ten years, because it’s not just my skin that has frown lines – my bones feel wrinkled, so weird.)

I know that we all do things to make ourselves look younger; when I was at the doctor, having my consultation for my nose, he asked me if I would want to have implants in my jaw, since my chin was short, and the implants would give me a stronger jaw. I turned him down.  I knew even then that I didn’t want to put anything fake in my body (at least, anything that wasn’t necessary to be there for my health).

It’s a personal choice, and if you have surgery to look better, it’s your decision; I did it because I wanted to look better, so I get it. We color our hair, exercise, deny ourselves the food we really want, and do whatever else we think will make us look younger and better.  But so many women who have plastic surgery don’t look good – they keep going back to tweak their faces, and eventually, all of the emotion and spark is taken out, and they look….unreal. I think I’ll stick with my real-time appearance, for now. Now if someone figures out a way to reverse the gravitational pull on the rest of me, you know where to contact me…!

Hot enough for ya? Knit something!

We are experiencing a heat wave in southern California, and I sort of think that a lot of us can’t handle it; actually, we tend to go right off the rails when it comes to any type of weather that is outside of the range of 68-74 degrees.  I include myself in this focus group – I was born and grew up in California, and if the weather goes above 80 degrees, I whine; same if the weather goes below 60, although I prefer warmer weather to cold.

It’s not just the crabbiness, though; Californians have never been patient drivers, and when the heat gets to us, we get even worse.  I watched cars speed around other cars in the parking structure at Bella Terra this afternoon (the temperature was 91 at around 3:30) to rush to get a place to park.  We do the same thing when it’s raining – we behave with entitled arrogance here, as if no one else exists, much less matters.  Even though the sheen is officially off the Golden State, we still behave as if we live in the land of eternal sunshine and riches, in which we are all the stars of our own reality shows, rather than in a broke and broken state in which manners and courtesy don’t seem to be evident, having been replaced by the celebration of street level stupidity.

Maybe the heat is getting to me, too.

*****

I had a nice afternoon, in spite of the wicked weather. I went to Happy Nails at Bella Terra for a lovely pedicure done by Kayla, and my toes are remarkably cheered up, and so pretty! I also started working on a hat for Knots of Love, a charity that creates and donates knitted and crocheted hats to chemotherapy patients.  I’m grateful to do something with my knitting for a good cause, and also remember my father and sister-in-law, both of whom were lost to cancer. If you are interested in finding out more about Knots of Love, visit http://www.knotsoflove.org for information.

1967 – How much is your childhood worth?

I’ve been fooling around on my laptop tonight, and for some reason, thought about the first thing that my mother let me send for through the mail – it was 1967, and I really wanted the Yellow Pages dress, so she let me mail a dollar bill with the order form, and reminded me that it would take “six to eight weeks for delivery.” When I got the dress, I was a little dismayed to realize that it was paper, and I ended up tossing it after a botched styling attempt with scissors. I was unbelievably shy when I was a kid, and there would have been no way that I was going to wear a paper dress out in public, especially one that I had cut to micro-mini status. (And I know that this conflicts with being an introvert, but  I was also a tomboy who loved to play kickball and get into fights with boys, and if I was going to do either of those things in a paper dress, it was certain that my day would end badly.)

In 2007,  “Antiques Roadshow” had someone on the show who decided to bring their version of the paper dress to have it appraised; the appraisal value was from $1800-$2200. Now, if I had been a savvier little girl (or psychic), I would have put away the scissors and kept the dress in a Zip-Lok bag for 40-plus years.     I would have also kept my metal Slinky, except that my brother and I were bored at daycare one morning, and decided that we would stretch the Slinky out completely to see if it would go all the way around the playground (it did), and my Click Clacks:

If I remember correctly, Click Clacks were found to be dangerous, as they tended to crack and sometimes shatter – it’s a wonder I survived my childhood at John A. Sutter Elementary School, although I was more in danger of getting beat up than anything else.  I had no problem squaring off with boys, and girls, too – I did get smacked a few times, and a girl stabbed me in the leg with a stick in the bathroom, but otherwise, I got out of grade school intact.  (Only one boy socked me in the stomach, and as it turned out, had a crush on me, and got into trouble for carving my name and his into a tree. Cute.)

If I were to gaze into my crystal ball, or check my Magic Eight-Ball (which is still sold today, so no reason to have held on to that toy), what little gadgets would we pay large dollars for in 2046? Maybe you have an idea – I’m going to go check my steamer trunk for those Click Clacks.

Daddy, what did you really do in the war?

This is how I learned that my father was in the war: every year in August, when my parents had two weeks off work, we would load up the car with the yellow suitcases, books and snacks, and drive to a motel with a pool, where we would swim all day until we couldn’t breathe from all of the pool water we had swallowed, and then get out of the pool, go to the motel restaurant for dinner, go to bed, get up, and do it all over again.  I always woke up earlier than everyone else, so I would put on my bathing suit and read until everyone else started moving around.

I remember a few times waiting in the dark, listening to my father yelling out in his sleep; he would also do it at home, but I remember that it seemed more intense when we were on vacation. I knew that he had been in World War II, and that he was a medic (recently, I learned his true classification, which was pharmacist’s mate, second class), and that he had gone to Japan, but hadn’t left the ship.  This was very interesting to me at the time, as I was in the fourth grade, and studying Japan; I was truly impressed that my dad had gotten so close to the country, and disappointed that he didn’t actually set foot on land.

What I have learned about my father in the twelve years since his passing has been like opening a door into a part of his life that I never really knew. He kept a journal while he was overseas; from that, I know this:

My dad served two tours of duty with the 128th Naval Construction Battalion (Pontoon), and among other events, was involved in “bringing aid to the wounded during military operations resulting in the capture of a beachhead on Bougainville Island, in the British Solomon Islands.” (Quote taken from a letter by Major S. Geiger, commanding general of the first Marine Amphibious Corps – part of a news clipping my dad saved, must have been from the local paper in Iowa; the headline, or the part that wasn’t torn away, says, “Thorpe Member of Medical Unit Meriting Praise.”)

For his efforts, my father received a commendation in November 1943, a field citation in December 1943, and a Good Conduct medal in 1945. According to the card he received that authorized him to wear the ribbons, he received two stars for the Asiatic-Pacific ribbon (I think that must have been the field citation).

The Good Conduct medal makes me laugh a little, because in his journal, he describes how he was arrested in Okinawa for looting tombs and caves, having contraband (doesn’t say what; hmmmmm), and misusing a government vehicle, and being out of bounds: “April 23rd – It started out as souvenier hunting…picked us up coming out of a hut and warned us against taking stuff. Let us go and said we could search caves and tombs.  Arrested two hours later – same guy!  Taken to POW camp and treated rotten.Turned over to C.O. this morning.”

“April 24th – Railroaded out of Okinawa; best bet.”  Apparently, he did make it to Japan; I guess that little episode isn’t one you’d want to tell your eight-year old daughter. It’s OK, Dad – I like knowing it about you now.

My father never talked about what happened in the war, so it came out when he was sleeping. He was born in a time when you handled your own problems, and didn’t talk about any of them.  My dad was always a hero to me; what I know now is that he was a hero for his country, and that is a great thing to know. I’m going to remember the heroes today, both here and gone – and wish a good Memorial Day to you.

Mom

Mom,

I miss you today, more so than usual, since it’s Mother’s Day.  You left two years ago, while in the hospital; you waited until I walked outside to make a phone call, and when I came back, the look on the nurse’s face as he walked toward me was all I needed to know. If you were still here, you would have been without a foot, as they wanted to amputate it when the sore on it from being bandaged got so bad that nothing else could be done, and it wasn’t healing because you had no circulation in your leg from the stroke, and your skin was so fragile.  I was told that even if the decision was made to amputate the foot, that you still might not make it, as you had an incredible amount of blockages in all of your arteries.

There was no one else to help me with deciding what to do, and when I asked you what you wanted to do, you said you wanted to keep your foot.  I still don’t know if it was the right decision, but it was the one that I made.

My earliest memory is of you singing to me when I was in my crib; you  usually sang “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” I think I remember that because it had so many verses, and choices; I could be a mule, or a fish, or a pig, and that was pretty neat.

Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule

A mule is an animal with long funny ears
Kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule

You loved Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, among other crooners.  I grew up with music, dance, art, and books, because of you and Dad, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m all right most days;  and I miss you when the going gets rough, like it has been today. I like to think that you are with Dad, and Steve, and Naomi – give Asia a big hug for me. I love you, Mom.