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counting and considering dustcrumbs

I remember very clearly the last time I spoke with my mother. This is what I remember of that conversation: I remember joking with her. I remember the silence. I remember the lack of worry in my father’s voice. I remember the silence. The mournful silence only I recognized.

It was December, just a few days after Christmas, and I stood on a sidewalk outside a coffee shop, anxious to get off the phone. I needed to go inside. I needed to write.

This is a tiny part of what I wrote that day.

………..

I have talked to my mother three days this week. More than I have in a long time. Our conversations have been brief (my choice, not hers) and empty of anything but dialogue about clinical crap. The details she gives me are sparse, though. She is tired and not really aware of what is going on. She picks up the phone when I call and there is silence. I imagine her picking up the receiver, fumbling and uncertain which end is which. Even more uncertain of the conversation that is about to occur.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom.”

Long pause, so long I become terribly uncomfortable. I think of hanging up, pretending to lose reception. But then there she is.

“Hi, Kim.” Trying to sound surprised, excited to hear from me.

I fake it and dive in. Ask how she’s doing, how she’s feeling and what the doctors have done to her, what tests, what results. How much longer in the hospital?

And then we tumble into it. We are talking about the body. Her body, but not entirely hers. We talk about it as though it belongs to a set of clinicians.

Potential blood clot in leg. Ultrasound comes back negative.

Drained fluid from hip (total replacement 28 days ago, following fracture). Suspected fracture occurred prior to back surgery—which occurred several months ago and was successful. Little to no pain in back. Regained mobility. Physical therapists in rehab insist back brace must be worn when upright. Orthopedic surgeon says brace no longer necessary. Same situation with boot. Foot is fully healed, but rehab staff insists patient continue wearing boot.

“You have a suit of armor,” I joke.

“A what?” She does not, cannot get the joke. She can only recite what she’s heard, and all she’s heard lately is a series of updated statuses. She hears what is written in her chart and she fights to remember, and to recite it to my father when he comes to visit, or to my sister when she calls. Or to me, on those rare times I call.

Incapable of actively participating in casual conversation. Confusion caused by potassium intake. Administered large doses of potassium intravenously. Large IV bag, increased fluid intake. Blood pressure through the roof. Crash cart.

Use medication to lower blood pressure. Levels stabilized. Cause of potassium decrease: antibiotics administered for potential infection in leg at site of hip surgery. Test for potential infection comes back negative. Slowly discontinue use of antibiotics.

Potassium levels should increase once antibiotics are discontinued.

“But a few days ago you told me she had a high fever, wasn’t eating. There was a suspicious lump in her neck; all signs of infection.”

I am now talking to my father, who spends nearly as much time in the hospital as my mother. He is, for the most part, healthy. And though he tells me he is fine, I know the signs of depression and anxiety.  I can pick up on these things in the emails he sends me—daily updates on my mother’s health.

…………………

From here my writing took an unexpected turn. I began to write from yet another point of view—that of my therapist. I remember writing feverishly. I remember how good I felt when I was done. It was as though I had washed myself clean of all this worry.

I put it aside. I tucked that journal on the shelf, next to the others, and I didn’t think much of it for a while.

Six weeks later, I got The Call. A week and a half after that, I was back in Seattle, and I picked up my journal and read all I’d written. I’d processed my mother’s death before it happened. I’d worked my way through so much of it.

Here’s what I wrote (Again, this is from a therapist’s pov. I speak of myself in third person and refer to myself as “the client.”):

Should an emergency occur, client’s father will pay for plane ticket. Mother is in poor health and client fears catastrophe may occur at any time. Thoughts of family emergency increase client’s anxiety. Guided imagery exercises prove useful.

Client suggests father may also be in poor health. Rarely telephones daughter. Prefers to communicate via email.

Client should consider phoning parents instead. Would likely feel more in control. Recommend good self care immediately following phone calls.

Client has spent a great deal of time processing past and current issues with mother (quite strained due to mother’s mental illness and ongoing declining physical health). Assisted client in processing feelings in regards to mother’s impending death (not predicted by clinicians, but certain to occur nonetheless).

Client has greater sense of self-awareness and emotional stability as a result. Will experience complicated grief when mother’s death occurs. Currently mother is scheduled to return home this Thursday. Clinicians have prescribed physical and occupational therapy. Will likely have setbacks and further complications, however. Mother’s dog passed away twenty eight days ago (due to liver cancer) same day as total hip surgery for which mother is still recovering.

Mother has not been home since dog’s death. Large periods of prolonged and intensified grief anticipated.

Client is bracing herself for potential catastrophe.

……………

What happened five weeks after writing that did not feel then, nor does it feel now, like a catastrophe. It is simply a thing happened. My mother was in poor health, she recovered and declined, recovered and declined. And then one day we all woke up, and she did not.

………………….

Here I am, processing, considering, thinking of distances.

And here is where I have arrived: I have thought a lot about what I’ve been processing, and why I’ve been thinking so much of this grief and how it feels now compared to how it felt then. I cannot point to anything that has brought all of this on, other than the upcoming anniversary of her death.

Driving to work the other day I linked all of this together. How it came to be that I would return to writing now. How different my life has become, and how it all forms together.

Several years ago, I used to stop off at a bookstore on my way to therapy. I left work at 5:00 and always had a little time to kill before my appointment. So I’d go to Third Place Books and find my way to the back corner, to the poetry section. There was a book there that I loved, and I resisted buying it just so I could read it while I was in that in-between time. I can’t remember any of the other lines of the poem, but I do remember that Robert Bly wrote, “a poem is some remembering.”

I could make that line mean anything I want. And I will. This is about some remembering. All of it. All that I write—fiction or non—is some remembering.

What I know, what I am trying to tell you, is this: there is a point at which it all converges, at which the four corners of my life draw together and fold in towards the center. That is where I am with my writing, I think. I am moving all of this remembering to one place. Or I am trying to, anyway. I push these memories around like dustcrumbs. I sweep them into the middle of the floor and kneel down and look at them all, there in front of me. And I want to write it all. I want to draw it all together and say, “See? This is my story. This is it.”

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a brief gilmpse into the unhappy life of a dog

More old stuff. What I like about this one is that I now have a dog I  sometimes like to call Palindrome Pete.

……………

The passion noises had muted, not because either of them initiated it, but simply because that’s what happens after a few months of marriage.  The house grew quiet and, sitting there in the evenings not saying much, not doing much, they both became uncomfortable, bored.  In the back of both of their minds, it was an expected occurrence. It’s too early for children, she thought.  Too soon to talk of therapy, thought he.  But something was missing, they both agreed.  The house needed life.

A weekend trip to the pound was their resolution.  And there, among scrappy old mutts and weakened senior purebreds, they found him.  She placed her hands out and he filled them with his warm spotted muzzle.  He looked up to her and they caught each other, each with heartbroken eyes.

The tag on the kennel said that his name was Palindrome.  It suits him, they both agreed, neither knowing any more about the dog than what they saw before them – a lanky, overgrown puppy.


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the belletrist’s soiree and other assorted crap

There was a time when I thought I could write poetry. Or maybe it was a time when I wanted to be able to write poetry. I’ve long since given up on it, and embrace the notion that I enjoy–and am  pretty good at–constructing paragraphs. I prefer to see the words run to the edges of the page, wrap around and continue on the next line. It’s also true that I don’t like thinking about line breaks or rhythm or meter or any of that.

I’m taking advantage of my vacation time this week and am rummaging through all kinds of stuff that’s been sitting in my closets. Yesterday I found a cd labeled “dump disc from tower.” I burned this disc several years ago when I traded in my desktop computer for a laptop, and I haven’t looked at many of the files since then.

Anyway, I found some poems I wrote in a class I took during my undergrad years. This particular one cracks me up for some reason. I think, more than anything, it cracks me up because when I wrote it I thought it was brilliant.

It makes no difference
what brought you here —
tired feet or equipage.

Come join me at my desk.

Mull around, mingle.  Dance
all over my page.

Lie down with an innuendo.
Imbibe yourself with accent liquor.
Blend in with new meaning.

Revolve around one another until you’re
dizzy and indecipherable.

And just when it seems that the party is over,the blackbird comes to pick you apart
You’re not mistaken –
You’re just a word.

I look at it now and I see that it makes no damn sense whatsoever. In a couple places it sounds like I was writing about making a smoothie.

This was a poetry experiment that was assigned in a class I was taking. I can’t remember what the assignment was, exactly. What I do remember is that my instructor gave me a decent grade on it, and for that I felt as though I was qualified to write mediocre poetry.

Later, my instructor for this class would write a recommendation letter for me for my grad school applications. I don’t know if it did any good, but I did get in to three of the five creative writing programs I applied to. At OSU I would write more experiments (mostly prose) and would cobble some of them into short stories, most of which I had to turn in to instructors, many of which were read by my peers. Just as I did with the poem above, I let my audience gauge my success as a writer. And eventually it began to seem as though they knew more about my writing than I did. When they said a piece was good, I felt good.  When they told me it sucked, I felt like a failure.

Now I am writing alone and am struggling to remind myself that it’s okay to not have an audience, that it’s okay to just put words on page and not think about whether or not they will become stories or parts of stories. But it’s difficult.

So I’m considering seeking out a writing group again. Those I’ve been a part of in the past have led to some pretty miserable experiences. I’m not sure what direction to take myself. I only know that feel successful, I need more motivation, more discipline and some way to share my writing with others.I also need to stop reading my old poems.