Removing the Mask


“I wept not, so to stone within I grew.” 

(Dante Alighieri)

As midnight looms, the pusses are already lost in their Tuesday night dream of just another day, and I ponder this fourth day reprieve for a week’s end not yet over. We’ve stretched the gamut from dreaded grief to grievous dread and have, frankly, grown quite weary. Ah, the juice of a holiday awaits and I am parched for the sip.

The last few days have not been easy, not that many ever are. Five days have passed since Dr Rose gave me the news, with a schedule of “issues” to ready myself for my pending heart transplant. Jon’s preparation is equally as daunting, just different. Emoting doesn’t always come easy for that long and silver-haired bard of Marklewood. I embrace him, talk of the better days, and mindfully keep him from spiraling for too long. And I talk away the tears. (Yes, You’ve got to pay your dues, if you want to sing the blues.”

Jon has joined the pusses under the carefully layered pile of odd bed linens: cheetah-pattern fleece sheets, crisp white matelasse coverlet, and russet silk duvet. He will soon drift off and the upstairs will once again be still. My mask can at last be retired, and I can softly weep, as to not wake the gasping sorrow that took all day to quell.

I do that a lot on these spring days: keep my feelings under lock so that I can be the cheerful cruise director. I eagerly work at applying that shield of optimism, so successfully that I often fool even myself that “all is well” in this never-ending tragedy.

So, as I look ahead to my procedural “event,” I will breathe an honest air and release that waiting cry. My soul will once again attest to my humanity and weakness, and I will cry … for Jon, his friend, and the pusses who trust that I indeed know best.

When tomorrow’s dawn finally awakens my body, I shall once again re-face my spirit. I shall make the day happy, rejoicing that the world around us has come to a stop. Henry and I will judiciously maneuver the creaky stairs to fetch Jon’s juice and breakfast, and Jon’s sun will rise.

Henry is the ever proper companion puss for he remembers all of my tears. Perhaps, he wears his own mask of sorts. Or maybe he simply craves a treat.

(Image: “Man With Magnolias” by Steven Kenny, 2013.)



Conjugations and Declensions in Mixed Company



I was such a nerd in middle school. In fact, at my lunch table of like-minded bookish pubescents, I was admittedly the obsessive and seemingly hopeless one. If my algebra teacher assigned all the odd-numbered problems for homework, I would eagerly complete all the “evens” as such completion gave me joy. In social studies, all of my reports and papers had embellishments in the margins and calligraphed, illustrated title pages. Naturally in Phys Ed, whenever teams were selected, I was usually one of the last ones to be chosen, although my height gave me a reluctant advantage.

Of course in ninth grade, my fortunes changed a bit. Prior to that year, I had gone through two full years with the same two dozen students as classmates. Although my grade had perhaps five hundred students, I had been classified as an achiever, tagged as “gifted”, and grouped with other students who took their studies seriously. It made for an insulated educational experience, but heightened the extent of many friendships.

But in ninth grade, we finally had choices. I opted to take a second foreign language instead of civics, industrial arts, or other such niche courses. My parents had suggested that I take Latin, which I already knew that I would savor. Of course, I held out for a while so that they might try to bribe me into registering for it.

When classes began, I was suddenly in a class with students I hadn’t known for years, except for perhaps ten random individuals. My world had at once become slightly more diverse, at least in ability, outlook, and demeanor. The younger “me” might’ve been terrified or perhaps anxious at such a change but the more world-wise fourteen year old that I had become was titillated by the prospects of engaging in declensions in mixed company.

By mid-year, I was beginning to loosen up quite a bit. No longer did I obsessively wear button down shirts, khakis, and sweater vests. I started saying hello to people I didn’t know, greeting most everyone I encountered. And I ventured out to different lunch tables and, often, invited non-bookish, non-nerdy acquaintances to join me at my regular table.

At some point I even asked a girl out on a date. Well, it seemed like a date back then in that it took weeks to bolster myself to make the phone call. She said “yes” and, although my father had to chauffeur us, the afterglow invigorated my stride for many weeks. Of course, the fact that we went to the theater (and enjoyed the road production of “Cabaret”) should have given me pause and fodder for other questions. But as we Southerners offer in such situations: “that don’t make no never mind!”

And Latin? It was grand. My teacher Mrs. Whitlock was glamorous, rigorous in her academic prodding, and full of beaming and disarming smiles. That was the class in which I learned the value of humor at unexpected if not inopportune moments … as I often mumbled witticisms and off-handed commentary to a growing audience. That was where I first met Puella.

Of course, that was not her real name although it was indeed given … by me. Puella was one of those vocabulary words that, simply by pronunciation, can make adolescents guffaw, akin to “boni” (or “heinous”). Puella sat next to me and, by second semester, we were good friends and she was forever branded “Pooella Sue!” Her friendship alone taught me the value of not always being so serious, and to trust my instincts. Often the most important relationships are seeded from outside our comfort zone.

The year ended much too quickly, and everyone’s thoughts turned to high school and the adventures ahead. I registered for latin II, but knew that more change than the obvious was in-store. Busing plans had finally been enacted and many classmates would be going to different schools. But I was braced for the unknown with a carefully culled confidence.

That August, I registered for my classes. Most of my friends were there, including Pooella Sue. And, while I wasn’t paying close attention, I had morphed into a new persona. I was a young Bolshevik, sporting longish hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, and Danish army pants.

My middle school “lunch table” cronies and I disbanded and forsook our tradition: we were now able to leave campus at lunchtime. It at once was a time of new worries, new strategies, and new adventures in Latin.


(Image: “Study for Self Portrait as the World” by Julie Heffernan, 2008.)