Sunday, June 19, 2022

Running up that hill

Dear Dad,

You've now been gone for 13 Father's Days. 

I chose this photo because I'm masked. I must've had a cold. There we were, way back then, in India, using masks to prevent the spread of disease to the vulnerable.

Now Jordan is almost 13, and India is 10.

They're smart and funny and gorgeous. There was a long time where I was wondering if parenting was ever going to become fun for me. More than baby giggles, goofing around on the playground fun. 

I mean, I always loved them.

But they took so much work. They needed me constantly. Mostly, they were exhausting with periods of joy.

And now, now they're fun. I mean, sometimes pre-teen moody. But on the whole, so engaging and charming and enjoyable. They're great travel companions, interesting to talk to, just lovely.

And they're huge! Jordan's taller than I am! India now wears all my shoes. It's hard to tell our clothing apart. I got a new warm fleece, and Jordan is taking it to camp. Honestly, I love it.

Nick is a wonderful dad, and the kids love their nana so much. We really have a good little family.

I wish you were part of it.

Last week I went to a yoga retreat in Montana. I do yoga now. I know this is hard to imagine. One of my friends invited our tight little group to her lovely house, where we spent a week. It was phenomenal.

I almost didn't go. Mom was in the hospital the week prior. 

And I'll be honest: I was scared. Really scared.

I was prepared, of course, to cancel my trip. We'd been planning it for a year and a half, and through the pandemic it was the bright spot to look forward to.

But I would've stayed without hesitating. I would've been devastated, but family comes first.

And then dear friends who love me and love Betty--part of the family we've created for ourselves--stepped in. They said I had to go. I needed it.

(Oh, I needed it.)

They'd take over for me. Come to our house, spend time with Mom. Bring her food. Make sure she was OK. Nick spent a day at home to take her to the nephrologist (which I seem to confuse with phrenologist, which is completely different), who was happy with how she was doing.

My friends and Nick, and our kiddos, for that matter, took such good care of her.

She was in great shape when I got back. And in better spirits, than she'd been for weeks, maybe months.

I was so relieved, so happy. She was joyful, engaged, cared for. It underlined for me that she's so loved. I am so loved. 

And really, isn't that what we want most from family, from friends? Love.

I wish you were here to be part of our family. To know our friends. To love my kids.

I miss you.



Sunday, May 15, 2022

Dear Dad, year 13

Dear Dad,

Today, 13 years ago, you left the house while Mom slept. We panicked, called everywhere, sat by the phone, bugged the police.

I stayed up late crying. Pregnant, uncomfortable, terrified.

Tomorrow, 13 years ago, we located you at the morgue.

I write this post every year.

The truth is, all these years of time and processing later, I'm OK most of the time.

Not the pretend fine that we grew up with. I mean like actually OK. 

Like, somewhere along the way I hit the point of being able to be more grateful for what I had than upset about what I've lost. (Let's be honest. This isn't always, every minute. But generally.)

I think I've said some version of this over the years, but I don't think it was actually true until now. It was more aspirational.

It's not that I don't miss you, or wish you'd gotten to know my kids. It's not that I never think of the what-ifs. Or that I don't wonder about details. It's not that I don't get mad sometimes.

But my grief no longer sits at the surface, leaking out all over everything all the time, pouring into the laps of strangers at the bus stop.

It's settled in. It will always be a part of me, I think. 

This expectation that you grieve and then at some point you're done is bizarre to me.

I think maybe that could be true if you hadn't lost someone really dear to you. Or maybe if you didn't feel intensely. It's been suggested to me that I feel more than others, and maybe this is true.

It's like colors--how do I know we're all seeing the same blue, even though we can all agree that a particular color is blue? So my level of love or missing is just my level.

It's like in the hospital when they ask you on a 10-point scale. My 7 might be way different than someone else's.

But anyway. I think my grief over losing you is just part of me.

And as May 15 approaches, as it does every year because time as we mark it is linear, my feelings work their way up through my body, till they're right under my skin. 

I can feel the shift.

Yesterday neighbor friends hosted a birthday party for their daughter, who is now one of India's besties. They had cake and lemonade out front of their place, with the revelry of good neighbors spilling onto the sidewalk.

They had champagne for adults, and it was one of the first nice afternoons in a long and wretchedly cold spring, which made it all the more fun and celebratory.

And so I had champagne and more champagne and my story just came pouring out.

I was wearing the tee shirt with this photo on it that I made for my Overnight walk years ago. And someone thought I was India. 

And all this information just fell out of my mouth, like it was just sitting there, waiting for me to open my mouth so it could leap out.

I know you hated how public I was with what you considered your information. 

Wherever you are now, I hope you are at peace with everything.

Anyway, I had lots of champagne after a day of very little food (which I'd forgotten) and as such, I was up watching Grey's Anatomy into the crazy wee hours waiting for it all to wear off. 

I looked at my phone and my dear friend Vik had texted, as he always does, one word: hugs.

Hugs. I see you, I remember. Hugs. 

It's beautiful to me. 

After 13 years with the facts being the facts, I have no new information, which frankly is fine, and maybe even better. 

But I need to commemorate this day. These days.

What has happened over the years is that more dear friends have lost parents. And one by one friends have said to me that they had no idea how devastated they are.

I've come to believe that regardless of how sympathetic a human you may be, it is impossible to really get it until it happens to you. And then you really get it.

And I've had conversations with our family friends about how truly lucky we were to have grown up in the communities we did, with the strong friendships our parents had.

You and Mom were dear friends with extraordinary people. What a gift for us to grow up with these relationships, and being loved and nurtured by them.

And now, there are very few of you left.

I know this is how life works, but gosh, I miss you. I miss you, Dad. I miss our friends. There are so many of you who have left us, and I hope you're all having a grand time together.

I was thinking how 13 is a teenager, and then I remembered that yes, of course, because my boy is going to become a teen in August!

It's always like this with the number of years you've been gone and the number of years he's been alive.

You'd be so proud of both these kids, I know. They'd make you laugh. You'd make them laugh. You'd play the piano and Wanda would croon, and then we'd all laugh.

I miss you.



Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The moral fiber of the story

When you find yourself gently weeping and muttering, "low fiber diet" in Costco, you have to stop and take stock of your emotional well-being.

Which is to say that I don't know how long I've been in a not-so-great place, but here we are.

Also: I have a colonoscopy scheduled for next Wednesday. It's been three years since I had those back-to back colonoscopies, because, as Wendy said then, who knew I was so full of shit? 

Because I seem to be more attached than most to the contents of my colon, in addition to 48 hours of liquid diet ahead of time, I'm supposed to be on a low-fiber diet for this whole week ahead.

Do you know what this means? No fruit or veggies. No oats. No nuts. No seeds. No beans! You're basically left with meat and dairy and white bread.

Nick was like, "I don't see anything wrong with that!"

I was like, "It's basically your life."

Because as it turns out, my entire life is high fiber. And apparently fiber is hard to get out of the nooks and crannies of your colon.

Stuff like broccoli hangs on for dear life, while white bread happily slides right out.

So yesterday I was going down the shopping list and I was all, "OK, I'll get the Brussels sprouts even though I'm not allowed to eat them."

I was being rather petulant about it. And clearly feeling very sorry for myself because I think I started crying somewhere around the sweet potatoes. Muttering "low fiber diet, fucking low fiber diet".

But what I think is going on is that spring is fucking tough.

Every year I forget this. Maybe I should just put an annual reminder on my calendar or something saying, SPRING IS HARD. Little sticky notes. AZALEAS ARE BEAUTIFUL AND SPRING MAKES YOU CRY. SPRING IS A FALSE FRIEND!

Little motivational poster kinds of things.

And this spring, jeez this spring, which absolutely refuses to get warm. I mean, it's supposed to be in the damn 30s tonight. What the fucking fuck.

But it's like I slog through winter, and winter never my friend. So I brace for it. Winter. I can do it. Winter. Be vigilant, because winter is rough.

But then winter ends, and spring is all new life and flowers and baby birds and hope!

Except not so much on the hope. I don't know if it's the residual exhaustion from winter, or that it's brighter and days are longer so I feel like I should not be so tired but I'm just so very tired, or something else entirely.

Maybe winter is long and all my reserves are gone.

I had a therapist who said that even when you don't realize that a traumatic anniversary is approaching, your body knows it. And I know that April and May are linked with big trauma events for me. Maybe that's part of it.

I don't know. What I do know is that I have to start eating a fucking low fiber diet like now and then next week I have to  liquid fast for 48 hours while taking mega-laxatives.

I don't honestly mind diarrhea, but now I have anxiety about not having a totally empty colon for my doctor to examine. Like, she's going to be able to tell that I had oatmeal for breakfast today, even though I don't think I have to start until tomorrow.

But being who I am, which is an external approval-seeking a first-born rule follower, I don't want to fail this excretion test. 

Also, and more importantly, I don't want a little piece of spinach obscuring a polyp. So there's that. White bread for days.

On the bright side, at least I don't, as my friend Kristin envisioned, have to lie on my back with my legs up and my feet by my ears while they peer in my anus for the procedure.

That would most definitely be something to cry about.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Death and taxes: In which grief is like malaria and though it serves me rarely, as it turns out I'm an excellent shredder

This past weekend, Nick and I went to his office to work on taxes.

Well, he worked on taxes while I shredded documents.

The time had come to clear out old tax files. So we toted downtown everything related to taxes for us and for my mom from eight years ago and older.

When I was growing up, we burned everything with our information on it. Nothing identifying us was allowed to be discarded.

Lemme tell you how hard my dad embraced shredders when they became a thing. Pretty sure he gifted us all our own wee shredders.

I don't mind shredding. It's not exactly meditative, but there's something calming about the repetitive action and the hum. And it's sort of mindless but you have to pay some attention so you don't jam it.

Plus there's a rhythm to keeping it fed while not overlapping.

Such a good thing I went to grad school.

Anyway, Nick's office has an enormous shredder. It's pretty great in that it can shred wads of paper at once, and you can leave staples in. There's a limit, of course, and sometimes you have to pull really large documents apart. 

I guess I'm easy to impress?


There I was, standing in his hallway in front of the shredding closet on a Sunday afternoon, feeding documents in. 

And then I hit 2009. It was labeled "Betty's taxes 2009."

But when I opened the file, there was my dad's writing.

He was a leftie, with sometimes hard to read, distinctive handwriting.

I hadn't expected this.

But, of course he'd done the taxes, even though he attempted suicide in April and was expecting to die.  Unlike me, who always panicked right before taxes were due, Dad was organized.

And in fact, since he planned his death, though he died in May, of course he'd have done them early so my mom didn't have to.

I hadn't thought about that before.

My chest was tight and my eyes and nose were already prickling as I started leafing through the documents.

And then I came to a handwritten page listing their donations for the year. I don't know why it was the money given to WETA that walloped me, but it did.

Nick found me sitting on the floor of the hallway, sobbing. Absolutely wrecked.

I didn't have any whys or what-ifs. Really, I was just overwhelmed with missing my dad.

I wish so much I still had a voice mail. I wish I had a recording of him laughing.

The soundtrack to that moment was Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here".

"How I wish, how I wish you were here..."

Grief is so weird.

I feel like it's like how malaria can live dormant in the body for decades, and then out of the blue you are wracked with a high fever and such. 

Or maybe that's liver flukes. But I'm pretty sure it's malaria.

But really maybe I should just not make analogies and tell it for what it is, which is that I've been living with huge loss and the vicissitudes of grief for coming up on 13 years. 

In the way that grief is random, I don't always feel it. Long swathes of time can go by without it hurting. I can have memories that feel happy, joyful, without them being tinged with sadness or loss.

I can also be in a really healthy place, just going about my day, and then something completely unexpected rips open a little scab I weren't even aware of. All these memories and feelings rush out,  colliding and shifting, like looking through a kaleidoscope. 

They're all swirled together, in one big beautiful feeling of loss and longing.

For me they squeeze my lungs, stick in my throat, and leak out my eyes.

So Nick found me sobbing disconsolately, and I wailed about 2009 and my dad. And he enfolded me in his big old arms and I think I probably snotted on his tee shirt, but he didn't notice because he was wearing a cardigan.

I haltingly and hiccupingly told him that he would have to shred 2009. I just couldn't do it.

Part of me wanted to hold onto it, just because, but I reminded myself that I have myriad keepsakes and I don't need a list of charitable deductions.

Though I do fully support public broadcasting of any variety and I'll forever be grateful to NPR for towing away my albatross.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Runnering with scissors

I step out the door and I realize that I should've put on a hat as well as a scarf and I get all bitter that it's still so cold...

And then I'm all, oh, here I am on my stupid little walk for my stupid mental health, on my stupid little safe, bomb-free sidewalks in Washington DC, and I'm mad that it's not warm.

While there are people living in subways in Ukraine trying to avoid dying from Russian bombs.

And every disgruntlement or inconvenience is like this.

(Though I remain bitter that it's so cold. I just feel guilty about it.)


We got a new rug.

Well, first we needed to get two old Persian rugs fixed. 

These rugs are nice, and they have memories attached. 

Prior to the revolution, we stopped in Tehran for a couple days on our way to Cairo, and our parents spent the afternoon looking at and haggling over rugs, drinking tea, chatting. My brother and I ate biscuits and climbed on mountains and mountains of carpets.

(Honestly, I use rug and carpet interchangeably. I don't know if this is correct.)

Anyway, I love these rugs, and they are old and pretty and hell if I was going to let the edges all fray off to nothing.

So I asked around, and a friend whose mom is Persian said she had a guy. He passed along the number.

This guy, now our guy, came over to pick up the rugs.

Naturally, as it's his business, he went from rug to rug on the ground floor of our house inspecting them.

He lifted them and expressed horror at the state of our rug pads.

Which, apparently, are a big deal. He explained why.

Also, he's Persian carpets or nothing, really. He has the goal of eventually "upgrading" all our rugs.

So we have a few good ones, and then, gasp!, a number from other places, like Afghanistan. Some purchased in Afghanistan, I might add.

The one in the kitchen, which I think rather horrified him, is a legit hand knotted carpet purchased on Craigslist. It may also be from Gasp Afghanistan or Pakistan.

(I didn't point out the Big Yikes IKEA one, but he spotted it anyway.)

So he said that if you're going to clean two carpets, which we had to do prior to getting them repaired, because they hadn't been cleaned since like the aughts, then you need to clean all your carpets at once.

He described these carpets as house filters. And once they get full of dust, you have more dust in your environment. You can't bring one clean one in with all the others full of dust.

Furthermore, he begged, don't buy the kinds of carpets with glue on the back. Because eventually the glue breaks down and then you're breathing in glue.

So there's that. We're unintentional glue huffers.

But in any case.

It kind of turned into if you give a mouse a cookie kind of thing. If you've read those books.

Soon they had all our rugs from the ground floor. Only one rug pad was left, because it was still in good shape.

Also, we've been destroying the old when my mom bought it at auction in Cairo hall runner because it's just not the kind of sturdy that can withstand the traffic. We need a new one for that space.

So not only is that being cleaned and repaired, but we're on a runner hunt.

Of course we went to his store and looked at carpets. We keep taking them home and trying them and bringing them back. We've been a revolving door of hall carpets.

We seriously visit him every Saturday now. It's becoming a running (runnering, heh) joke.

But in the meantime, the floors, they are naked.

This has Wanda perturbed.

Finally, one Saturday, we bought a new rug from him for the dining room. 

I mean, that wasn't where we envisioned it, but once we took the stained and deteriorating IKEA rug out of the black (glue huffing all the while) we had to reconfigure everything.

So we got this new and beautiful Persian carpet and I love it. I just love it.

Wanda also loves it.

She loves it so much she has urinated on it thrice. 

One time I saw her nonchalantly prance over to the rug and squat. I bellowed at the top of my voice, scared the crap out of her, and lost my everloving mind.

And if this whole story seems like a weird sidebar, let me get around to the actual point.

The point is that of course I'm obviously not cool with my dog peeing on my carpet. 

I love that Wanda, but I'm not gonna lie, she's broken my trust.

But I'm also like, oh, here I am with my stupid beautiful carpet, while people are escaping carrying their children and what, maybe some clothing. It's freezing, and the Russians are shelling women and children.

And Russian citizens are being arrested for protesting the war. Because they don't want it, either.

I've given money, because we always give money. To families separated at the border. To Afghan refugees. To Ukraine.

But I feel so powerless. So privileged and powerless.

The other day I rounded the corner onto our street, and the sun shone on the houses in such a friendly way. The sky was a spectacular blue with really interesting clouds.

And I felt guilty for enjoying the beauty and serenity.

I had to remind myself that I can simultaneously be upset about atrocities elsewhere in the world and enjoy the beauty of a beautiful day.

I have to remind myself of this regularly. Because the guilt and despair can paralyze me.

A friend said that we have to take the beauty when it comes, as it's the only way we can survive.

And maybe that is the perfect way to put it.

I need the beauty of a sunny day. I need to feel grateful.

What I would really like is to watch Ted Lasso on a continuous loop. I know Nick thinks it's weird that I'll finish with a show I like and immediately rewatch it to feel good all over again. 

I'm OK with this. I feel grateful Ted and his kindness. And also Roy Kent and his angry hotness.

I feel grateful for my family, for my friends, for sunshine.

I feel grateful for my little hound.

My little, rug-peeing, poo-eating, kibble barfing hound.

Apparently just the act of searching your mind for something to be grateful for changes your brain chemistry for the better.

So here I am, grateful. 

And also here I am taking my dog on a stupid walk for my stupid mental health and to reduce the amount of pee available for stupid peeing on a stupid beautiful carpet.