Dawn’s Early Light

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Long ago and once in Greensboro, I had a friend who had been trying desperately to quit smoking cigarettes. Dawn had tried everything! She tried yoga, hypnosis, various medications, and “low involvement” support groups.

What she wasn’t able to do, and this had always been her downfall, was muster even an iota of willpower or determination.

And then one evening, after a rather robust and fulfilling carnal romp with her husband, she lit a mighty Salem. She puffed away in a rather seductive manner as befitting the mood, focusing on lip expressions and smoke formations. Mind you, I wasn’t present and she confessed all to me the following day!

What she didn’t notice was that a cinder had strayed, landed on her sheet, and sparked a small fire. Before Dawn was aware of this errant ignition, the smolder had penetrated the sheet, the mattress cover, and finally the mattress itself.

Unfortunately, Miss Dawn and her dutiful hubby slept on a waterbed.

The burn ate through the synthetic casing just enough to weaken its fiber and, naturally, force a leak. A mighty geyser sprung forth … at that very moment. Dawn, in her rather dim yet charming manner, was rather relieved that the water extinguished any potential of further fire.

Of course, that was until she realized that the ashes had probably washed into the hallway. The weight of two bodies was further forcing water out with such pressure that, within moments, almost half of the mattress’ filler had been “evacuated”.

Dawn and her husband were on a king-sized island … about twenty feet from dry land.

That, my friends, was the day that Dawn knew she finally had to kick the nasty habit and quit smoking once and for all.

Mind you, Dawn’s sense of reason was not necessarily well-developed. After much forethought, she devised what seemed like the ideal solution … for her. She would simply smoke a joint whenever she craved a cigarette.

Of course, she wouldn’t sublimate ALL of her nicotine urges in this manner, just the excruciating ones that made her restless and perhaps a little bitchy.

Within a few days, she was smoking nine or ten such hand-rolled delights a day, including one in the morning as she enjoyed coffee and Jane Pauley’s banter. And yet another on the way to work, I am certain!

No one was actually the wiser, except for a few confidants who were privy to her new regimen. Dawn, remember, was already a kooky, rather pixilated woman with a very slow, very Southern drawl. What did change were some of her habits:

She once took rubber bands to her pant cuffs and made harem pants. Sadly, she wore these to her office and was thus admonished.

She lost her car in a shopping center parking lot, took a cab home, and ultimately infuriated her husband. Again, she was thus admonished.

And she started going to lunch at 9:30 each day. She likewise was taking her afternoon break by noon. She not only had gained fifteen pounds within a month, but she had created an endless cycle in which afternoons at work were simply Hell. And it was those times at which she really craved a cigarette.

Poor Dawn! Within a few months, she realized the folly of her strategy to quit smoking. She resumed that awful habit, normal lunch hours, and her previous lifestyle. She was quickly smoking over a pack a day again, having the last one right before going to sleep at night.

But when Dawn and her husband turned off the lights, they would cuddle in their new sleigh bed. Dawn found it finely fitted with a more traditional mattress system, a Serta pillow-top!

Dawn confided in me once that they actually slept more soundly, but that their carnal romps were much less robust than those atop the waterbed.

But she never feared such a flooding again!

And yes, Dawn did finally quit smoking … about a year later when she found that she was pregnant. She never again resumed the habit, at least according to local gossip and reports of the local fire volunteers.

That child is now in graduate school. And dear Dawn is president of a thriving software company.

She is also now fully aware that rubberbands are not appropriate accessories, and that harem pants are best worn behind closed and well-secured doors.

(Image: “Santa Maria” by Ray Caesar, 2007.)

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A New Season’s Hark to Last Season’s Heart

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This calm and still Wednesday morning has become quite the glorious herald to the new spring, hidden from view just around the corner. Like my recent nausea, the clouds have reluctantly dissipated, as relief peaks through a nebular porthole as if to softly whisper “I’m here!” The most critical of change is often slow to root and even slower, to soothe.

I know better than to foolishly tempt or tease fate, or (more importantly these days) allow it a loop in which to slip one of its “holy” bad or cruel jokes. To welcome blind change, without direction or guidance, is often destructive, self-defeating, and certainly foolish.

For that reason, today I celebrate patience and compassion, and the intertwine of the two. It saddens me that so many Americans have given up on the “honorable” and decent path. They prefer a quick fix. They want answers. And, most of all, they want to bolster their assets and checking account now.

To many of those, any change is indeed a better alternative. But is it? It frustrates me that, yet again, this nation is on the verge of yet another potentially foolhardy “throw the bums out” tirade, antsily stomping its feet. May I remind you it was one such repercussional tantrum in 1972 that first plucked Jesse Helms from obscurity as he appealed to voters’ sense of xenophobia and bigotry.

Not to fear, my friends, I will stifle my partisan leanings and neatly tuck my soap box away,for now. We all will be bombarded with such messages and images over the coming weeks. But I am scared. There are simply too many loose cannons and over-armed gamesmen out there.

Today, I shall celebrate what is good in the world, as I mourn what we have killed. I will definitely smile with relief as my mind’s eye catches Jon fumbling in the kitchen and reclaiming control over his own health.

But I will cry at the thought of the children that were callously thrown away by society. I will cry for their tormentors who were taught by their parents to hate. I will cry for my peers who say “oh, how awful!” and immediately turn the television to “Dancing With the Stars” to learn of Marla’s fate.

Today, I shall celebrate the still and bright skies, as I mourn those who wade through flooded streets. Or those who wonder why there are no birds circling the feeders, while air raids circle above.

Today, I celebrate Jon and the Twelve Noble and Apostolic Pusses of Marklewood, as I mourn those who are alone or isolated. I shall cry for children whose fear and isolation is so profound that they jump to “safety” from a bridge. I shall cry for those many, many individuals who go for days without human contact, and suffer the worst of society’s disconnects.

Trust me, I am neither a naive, cock-eyed, or a short-sighted “pollyanna”! I am broke and unemployed; follow politics far too closely; and have recently succumbed to these damned maladies of mortality. But I am a happy person.

I am comfortable with myself. I attempt to almost always do the right thing. And I have a partner, family, and friends who are nurturing, compassionate, and like-minded. “Like-minded”, by the way, has little to do with religion or politics, as it is more clearly defined by both reveal of our souls and our over-simplified levels of compassion.

So as I shall soon flip my desk calendar, I take a deep breath. I’ll look ahead in grand manner. October is always a grand month, illustrated by cascading leaves and previews of the season’s “sweater wars”. It is a handy month for both catching up and getting an ample head-start.

First things first. Let’s get through spring and the ever tardy April showers. Autumn’s harvest will gladly make a housecall in its own sweet and due time. By then, surely it will be the appropriate time to trade in “last year’s heart”.

And I love Thursdays! And I love the rain! And I love the Universe’s snappy unfold of the passing seasons!

It’s all good, Lillian.

May all of us have a lot to smile about this evening and tomorrow. Proceed with kindness and grace. And remember: being happy and content never means that you must forget how to cry. It is often tears that cleanse a nation’s spirit.

(Image: “Marinero” by Femke Hiemstra, 2012.)

Accepting Fear’s Exception

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I used to keep a journal filled with thoughts and doodles. It became obsolete over twenty years ago. At that time, the most productive and motivating outlet for self discourse was via email.

An afternoon of scribbling, without so much as a blinked scan’s proofread, made way to an equally-quick click of the always-busy “send”!

Years later, specifically in 2010, this very blog emerged from an raw, emotional heap of isolation, fear, exhaustion, and confusion. Tartuffe’s Folly, in a private way, became my salvation. The entire email option at once seemed silly as I had found a legitimate outlet.

The process of posting helped extract and explore my optimistic nature. Since then, I’ve been far more emotionally fit and my own best “hope junkie”!

Except on certain days, that is. Days like today. My thoughts drift into my rarely charted recesses of pragmatism and realism. To many folks, such talk is morbid and symptomatic of some evil neurosis.

But as they say in the deepest of Southern back alleys: “That don’t make no never mind.”
My 851 days of waiting for a new heart have given me all too much time for reflection. Now that I’m in the hospital until after the transplant, there’s no escaping the truth.

What if a donor heart is never procured? What if I don’t survive the surgery? What if my body succumbs to rejection impulses? After ten weeks in this room, my list of queries and hypotheticals continues to grow.

I’m in no way a “Pollyanna”. If I was a terrific candidate for the procedure back in December 2013, time has only eroded those odds. On some Sundays, the odds seem fated for only a fifty percent recovery.

Of course, my beloved and I can discuss the subject … but only insofar as neither of us becomes melancholy.

I know of two friends with whom I can share such intimate thoughts — a friend from college days and one from New York.

There are no definitive answers, no sure things. But if, in my most investigative deconstructions, I indeed have such thoughts, it likely suggests one thing.

I’m scared.

And today, in my most roundabout and rambling manner, I now can admit it to myself. I’m scared.

Mind you: broaching this discussion with a family member or close friend may yet be several Sundays ahead. But not now.

Similarly, I never shared my journals or my “emails to myself”.

Everything is a process these days. What better day than an April Sunday for a review?

(Image: “Vanitas” by Fernando Vicente, 2008.)

The Complexities of Speaking Simple French

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Michael was kind, witty, gentle, and given to endless amusing quirks. He’d wear his tortoise-shell reading glasses at the very tip of his nose and, often, drive the long route home, simply because it was more scenic. And he’d respond often in casual French, usually in idioms or “buzz” phrases. He was neither a scholar, nor French, content with interjecting “Mais oui!” or “Zut alors!” or the beloved catch-all, “Mon Dieu!”

In the summer of 2001, he was quite ill. His disease had robbed him of any cognition — his ability to speak, practical motor skills, and a lifetime of memories and friends. Essentially, all he was indeed able to do was eat and walk, although both activities need qualification here. He no longer sensed any taste, only temperature … and he could no longer chew. Walking was strained because he was somewhat paralyzed on his left side, which meant that he dragged one leg while he held one arm. He had just turned 49, but no longer understood the concept of birthdays or their celebration.

Usually, he was incredibly good-natured and resigned to what was happening, if he indeed had an inkling as to such. His frustrations were many but he was nevertheless easily distracted. You can only imagine, friends, what his days were like: empty and void of an ability to express. I would make him as comfortable as possible and just pray that any torment would stay dormant and that he not be in any pain.

However, one such late August day, Michael was restless. He painfully shuffled from room to room, knocking things over as he’d brush by. He found a tool box, mustered the strength to lift it, and hurled it against a window … breaking the window and scattering nails and gadgetry all over the kitchen tiles. He knocked over lamps, books, mementos, anything within his strained reach. Whether from intention or accident, his anger was spiraling into fury.

I was finally able to calm him down a bit: I held him tightly so he could feel my heartbeat and hear the timber in my voice. I never really knew at what point his understanding of my words stopped, for his stares were ALWAYS empty. But talking at least gave me some hopeful comfort. I gave Michael his afternoon dose of thorazine and prayed that it would soon take effect and his rage, subside.

He followed me into the bedroom where I cajoled him into getting into bed, with my hope that he would soon be able to sleep. After ten minutes or so, he’d close his blue eyes and I would head back to the kitchen to start restoring order to the chaos.

No sooner was I on my knees, scooping nails, he walked in and approached me with a reluctant tremble. I took his hand, led him back to the bedroom, and again was able to get him ready to nap. Again, I waited and then returned to the mounting “clean-up” tasks in the other rooms.

Perhaps, my optimism was unwarranted as we repeated those “steps one-through-three” at least a dozen times. At that point, I got in bed next to him, urging him to just stay still for fifteen minutes. That was all I asked. I felt certainly that was all the time needed for the medicine to calm him enough to grow drowsy and, at last, sleep.

But, no! Fifteen minutes later, he stiffly sat up and started to head into the next room. I was beside myself. The day of frustration, bedlam, and such agony had awakened an anger in me. Before I knew it, I had forgotten my role as a dutiful, compassionate care-giver. I grabbed Michael by the shoulders and just yelled (as if in an unleashed last attempt):

“You need to get some rest, dammit. Stay in bed! What, am I speaking French or something?”

Terrified at my outburst, he looked at me and simply said: “Oui!”

We looked at each other and I held him. I couldn’t cry for he’d have no comprehension of “tears!” I just held him, assuring him: “I love you, Michael!” He quietly replied: “love”. I might’ve imagined an intonation but desperately needed to hear it.

Somehow we both understood that moment: each with so much to feel, to express, yet couldn’t.Those were the only two words he spoke at all that day. On many a day, he uttered none at all. And with those two simple words (seven letters, total), he was able to finally sleep as I regained my focus and hope … for that very long day.

“Oui.”

That, my friends, is the moment of joy or hope that I offer you today. This anecdote was never intended to incite melancholy or sorrow, but rather to emphasize the power of a singular instant. And this instant with Michael was both timely and wondrous as it gave us each a craved morsel of hope, dignity, and humor.

Michael passed away eight weeks later, surrounded by the dearest of friends and loved ones. He wasn’t scared, but I don’t think he knew why.

(Image: “Loud Sing the Hours of Eden” by Joe Sorren, 2010.)