Transition, Passing Away

Today my cousin Carmen died. She had been quite ill now for two years, in and out of hospice often. In her 70s, I don’t really consider her to be old. Dad is 90. Now THAT is old. We all knew her passing was  eminent, yet when it actually happens, life feels different. A veil of sorrow descended on me. Another gracious and glamorous woman in my life has gone away. There have been so few that I admired like Carmen.

When I was a child I used to play with her daughter, Ettienne. We were both very bossy and strong willed. Sometimes we hit an impasse as to who was in charge of our playing, who was determining what we were going to play and how. We both had strict ideas of how we thought things should go as we played. I remember the friction was only occasionally, and I was aware that I didn’t want to fight with her. 

Carmen was glamourous. Tan and shapely  with streaked blond hair and very sparkly eyes, she was a knock out. I idolized her looks. She also had that heavy , low Southern drawl that we all took for granted. She was eloquent, well read and the empress of her home. She had a command of English that bespoke good breeding and education. Yet, Carmen was down to earth, too. She taught an African American kid reading after school at her house, she took in ailing animals, especially cats. She took risks. She did what she thought was right whether it was “proper” or not. 

Now that she is gone, I treasure my memories of her. She wrote me a letter about two years ago when I was having an awful time. I had closed my business, lost my home and was about to move back to my childhood home. She wrote about how Etteinne and I had washed our doll’s clothes and hung them out on the bushes to dry. This upset Etteinne’s Grandmother with the impropriety of it all. 

I tried once calling her when I moved back home, and Charles answered the phone, saying she wasn’t there. Then he hung up on me. I was really startled. Then I heard that Charles had dementia. How sad now. Who will take care of Charles? I imagine he is crushed. It is a sad time for our family, yet one that is unavoidable. 

We will all meet at the church and the graveside. We will say our goodbyes and shed our tears. Does she know how much she will be missed? I don’t know.


The Cure Closes ACL Festival in Rain

Heavy rain the final half hour of the cure’s 2 hour show was the sign that cinched the cancellation of the third day do the ACL 2013 festival. It didn’t matter that I traveled with a terribly expensive flight from Georgia to Texas for the three day music festival, rain was more powerful than man. Doggedly determined to involve myself in living and at least viewing performing arts, I packed a knee brace and gear suited for festival going. Being

officially disabled now for two years, but in pain for fifteen, I had acclimated to availing myself of services offered for assistance, whether a wheelchair or an aisle seat, making it possible to travel. This wasn’t easy. It wasn’t nearly as easy as when I was healthy, but it was a compromise that I made. That was the price I paid for working after the car accident. Never again could I wear high heels. Never again could I walk, skip, dance, run without dire consequences.

I was shown how to gracefully accept help by a lovely group of Canadians who fought over who would push my wheelchair through the Chicago Art Institute. They had learned the awful truth of growing old, of injuries, I had not. Behind my back they commented that it was a shame I was in a walking boot (modern day cast)instead of bejeweled evening shoes at the ballet. They were so kind. They taught me a love and compassion for myself that I had never encountered. I nearly backed out of going to Chicago, and was glad that I didn’t.

My mission is to live my life without regrets. I have never regretted taking a trip.

The ACL Music Festival was a new type of trip. An affectionado of alternative rock all my life, the festival was a candy store of music that appealed to my tastes. But what about the walking? Well, that was a concern. Even though it was a “5 minute walk” away from the park, there were two major hills to scale. I had a tremendous, painful blister on my heel after the first day. Thank goodness I didn’t have to carry a chair. While it was super nice of my hosts to offer me a folding chair to use, it must have weighed 30 poulds. Well, actually it wasn’t that heavy, but it sure felt heavy to my nerve damaged arms.

The hardest walk was the detour I took in the dark and rain. After The Cure played, we all walked out in the rain and dark. I got lost and rambled around many blocks for 45 minutes until I arrived at the right house, rain soaked from the waist down. There were streams of rain surging through the streets and sometimes I was wading through 4 inches of water. I was tired, wet, annoyed and hungry. I had stopped in a gas station to buy two chocolate bars and some Perrier. The pile of people (mostly in their 20s) under the scant awning of the gas station were singing, laughing and having a grand time. Their happiness was infectious. It was a pleasure to remember the young abandon of singing, semi drunk on life. They were cute. Oh Dear! How old I sound!

By the time I got up to my room, I had a major blister on my thigh from my knee brace. Ignoring blisters is something that you do naturally if you were a ballet dancer. I was surprised at how tender my skin was and how quickly the blister grew. This was definitely not the highlight of the trip. However, now I have another happy memory of how I struck out and spent two days hot, blistered and sunburnt and still believe that I had a good time. It was all fun. It was an adventure. There weren’t a lot of people with grey-white hair like mine there, to be sure. I may be really old on the outside, but I still remember how to appreciate singing in the rain like a 20 year old.

Tales from the Crypt

As a child, I was enamored with the the writings of both Dickens and Poe. Both wrote of the plights of orphans, hardships and bizarre circumstances that I could relate to. Little did I know that my life would play out a strange tale in itself. It all depends upon one’s perspective, doesn’t it?

For instance, in the Poe story, The Fall of the House of Usher, the hero has a strange affliction of deterioration and spent nerves that described perfectly the Epstein-Barr syndrome I had for a few years. This disease that attacked me came from nowhere and left me weak for months. Even though the current opinion of doctors was that no one could get Mononucleosis twice, I believe in fact that I had long sessions of it 3 or 4 times. Severely ill and weak for months impacted my life greatly. My doctor was currently on the famous CDC staff in Atlanta. The CDC was the authority on germs, illness and physical diseases. But what I had, they didn’t, know. Dr. Carlos said that he was unsure of what sort of virus I had. It mimicked Epstein-Barr, but he was not 100 % certain. He said that the reason he was unsure was due to the fact that viruses mutated so rapidly that it was hard to determine what it was.

“Huh?” I thought, “He is the authority?”

It really didn’t matter too much since there was no “cure.” I had to out live it.

Life was miserable for many months. Every little sound grated on my nerves. I was weak and had no energy. There was no strength to do the most simple tasks, much less take ballet class. Physically weak, I somehow continued to teach ballet and struggle through. In the end, I outlived it.

Time to Go

The waves bashed against the large granite rocks in front of the three story house. Dad was happily wrapped in a blanket, and gently rocks in his chair, watching the ocean with glee. Sitting beside him, I wonder when the end will come.  When will she go? When will she finally die? As the tide comes in, it must go out. When will his wife of  six decades die?

As macabre as it may seem, sometimes life continues when the quality of a person’s existence is to the point of where I believe we ought to euthanize them. We do this for animals, don’t we? Well, I believe it is time to bring up the taboo subject of death, and especially the subject of helping ease someone on out. 

In my opinion, it is time for her to go. At 84 years old, she can’t walk, make complete sentences or go to the bathroom on her own. Her mind is mostly gone. She has severe dementia. Is she enjoying her life? No, but then she only got this bad recently. And it is doubtful that she will recover any of her abilities.

Why fight it? Why not just ease her on out? A quick hypodermic like I had to give my beloved cat.  He had a good death. He died with dignity. He could no longer nourish his body, it was a matter of time. As much as it hurt me, I had to be responsible. I refused to allow him to suffer more.

Well, mother can’t nourish her body either. She hasn’t eaten enough on her own for months to maintain herself. We are doing her an injustice by the tube feeding, I think. Why prolong her life? I believe prolonging her life is cruel, and there is an ulterior motive of the health profession to keep her going at all costs. 

Come back again, TIAs.

It was an onerous task and one I dreaded, the weekly visit to my mother in the nursing home, or the Senior Rehabilitation Center, to put a better-sounding spin on it.  It was draining to visit her.  Mother was a black hole of need; a Narcissist who never had enough stuff to prop her up in life, she lived through her possessions and not through her heart.

It was ever so galling to me, when, after years of impoverished struggle living independently, my ghetto townhome was foreclosed on, my business was bankrupted and closed, my boyfriend left me, and I had descended to a financial and mental bottom like never before,  my mother showed her true colors.

Always independent, I never ever wanted to have to move back to my childhood home. Ever.  I was a self starter, I had ambition and drive. Avoiding relying on my parents, or beholden to them was the major reason I risked everything and opened a business on my own.

When I hesitantly addressed my last ditched plan over the phone with her, of moving home, beaten and penniless, she only frantically replied,

“Don’t forget the border tiles! Be sure and bring back the border tiles!  Don’t leave the tiles behind, be sure you bring them back,” she was referring to the  antique clay garden tiles I had painstakingly placed in perfect alignment around my front and back yard flower beds.

“Huh?” I wondered silently. Hadn’t she given these to me? What is up with the tiles? Sure, I planned on bringing them with me. Why all the fuss? Is she imagining me thrown out onto the curb, evicted by the sheriff along with all my belongings in a pile?

Ah, the cherished border tiles. All the wealthy placed tiles around their flower beds. But these weren’t ordinary tiles, they were special. They had a mysterious past. They had been purchased from the dashing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’s star, Jim Williams, the Savannah antiques dealer. Somewhat a celebrity, even after death, mother assumed that anything from Jim William’s antique store was vital to her heritage and well being, too valuable to be left behind, these tiles had to come back to her at any cost. And what about little Cynthia’s wellbeing, well, it seemed not to matter. Not a word was said about my wellbeing, only the tiles were important to her. This wasn’t the first time her lack of affection hit me hard. There had been many other times she had shown me how little she really cared for me.

I was aghast at this lack of display for MY well being. She continued badgering me each conversation, about the damn border tiles. Never a word about how I was doing, coping with the biggest losses of my life.

Mother was afraid to feel her feelings. She had been shut down so long, there was no hope for her to be compassionate about as big a thing as one of her children losing a home, a business and her identity.

Over the past few months my best friend had been cautioning me about the sequence of events once the foreclosure was in process. I had had so much anxiety for two full years about this that I was  burnt out completely over the whole thing. My friend and neighbor, Jan, repeatedly warned me, again and again that once the process was begun, I had thirty days and only thirty days to get out completely. This was a serious step, sure, I know that. That was why I had worked on a damned mortgage refinance for three years, to no avail. I would run over to Jan’s to fax stacks of papers required for the application for HAMP or any of the latest mortgage scams that I thought would help me out. Every time it was down to the last point, they would call me and tell me something was missing from my application or something was outdated. Then when I would try to contact them, they wouldn’t take my call, or my case was on someone else’s desk, or they were out of the office or on vacation. I began to think that there was a code going on. On Mr. So and So’s desk meant my file was in the garbage. If they told me that my case worker was on vacation, that was code that they were going to wait until my application was outdated, and then turn it down. Repeatedly I was told by an idiot over the phone that the “application is simple to fill out and self explanatory.” Once they told me my application was wrong because I used a hyphen instead of a forward slash on a date. I remember starting to scream.

“I hope you are recording this, because for a hyphen instead of a slash mark to make any difference in an application’s date and whether it is accepted, the DIRECTIONS ARE NOT SELF EXPLANATORY!” I exclaimed as I became so agitated my chest began to hurt.

The things the mortgage company had done were clearly not ethical nor legal, and I had been given the run around for so long that I had no more energy to spare. I was beginning to be apathetic about it all.

“What is one more nervous breakdown?” I thought.

Let them have this hellhole surrounded by paroled criminals, I have had all I can bear.

Never will I forget the years that the drug traffic was at its height. Cars came and went constantly on the weekends when there was a fresh drug delivery.  Not only were the lowlife neighbors dealing drugs, selling fish at their Friday night fishfrys, but then came the craps game held outside the side of the townhome — on a sheet of plywood in broad daylight.  This was the height of audacity.

There were at least three convicted criminals who lived or squatted in my neighborhood. They all mowed yards and watched our every move. Rather than help me move out of this dangerous neighborhood, my father paid to have an alarm system installed. After gun fire was heard periodically, I reported that things had worsened.

When I told her of the recent neighborhood shootings along with a few more illegal incidents, my Mother got very agitated and said,

“You have to move out of there immediately! Whatever you have to do, rent a room, anything. Just get out of there, now!”

“How?” I asked. “I can’t afford to move.”

“You can’t afford to stay!” she nearly yelled.

“Well, how do you think I will be able to pay for a safer place? I need help,” I added.

“I will help you buy a place. You have to move, right now! Whatever it takes!”

“Really?” I asked. This was music to my ears. I couldn’t afford anything without assistance.

that the wealthy placed around their flower beds. They had been purchased from the dashing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil true star, Jim Williams, the Savannah antique dealer. Somewhat a celebrity, even after death, mother assumed that anything from Jim William’s antique store was vital to her heritage and well being, not mine, you see.

I was aghast at this lack of display for MY well being. She continued badgering me each conversation, about the damn border tiles. Never a word about how I was doing, coping with the biggest losses of my life.

Mother was afraid to feel her feelings. She had been shut down so long, there was no hope for her to be compassionate about as big a thing as one of her children losing a home, a business and her identity.

I must confess, it will take a lot to erase that from my memory. I needed a motherly pat on the back, telling me that I would be OK, telling me I was welcome home, anything but THIS! She had surpassed being cold, this was downright cruel in my eyes.

Then came the job offer.

“Work for your father and I for $200 a week, 24/7 taking care of us.”

“You will get room and board (old fashioned speak for a place to sleep in a dark closet and some gruel to eat) ,” she said.

She’d been mentioning this idea of hers for about a year. I turned her down for several reasons:

No mention of holidays

Too much work for one person

Slavery is against the law nowadays

She was stunned that I didn’t take her job offer. What was holding me back? It must be a boyfriend, it couldn’t be that her offer was cheap and unfair? It had to be something wrong with Cynthia, not the offer. She thought it was magnanimous of her. Well, Cynthia didn’t have a family or a home, she is an “old Maid,” and ought to jump at the chance for a place to live with free food.

I was annoyed beyond belief at her outdated notions and passive abusive innuendos.

I could get a minimum wage work myself to death job anywhere. I had had a career for 33 years and this was outrageous. I knew that she wanted someone to be at her beck and call day and night. Well, let her hire someone and pay them a decent wage. Let her see how expensive it really was to have that sort of help. The days of the spinster taking care of the old folks at home were gone!

ACL Music Festival

Austin Texas has always been a place I wanted to visit to try their food and see what an “artsy” city is like. The people are genuinely nice and helpful, the ACL Festival is vey organized and well staffed. Zilker Park is large and perfect for a music festival of this magnitude. I wondered how they would separate the huge sound of a band like Depeche Mode from anyone else playing simultaneously, but the distance is so vast that it doesn’t matter.

Every band I have heard so far has been very enjoyable, even if I wouldn’t run out and buy their cd, to hear them live is best. Some bands don’t translate we’ll to a festival crowd, but everyone they picked is a winner that I have seen so far.

I spent hours watching videos and listening to bands’ hits to filter out the top picks from 8 different stages each day. Then there are at least 6 different bands on each stage per day. It is easy to pick my favs from the headliners: the Cure, Depeche Mode, and Muse.