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.