Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday 55

Can you write a story in 55 words? Sure you can. Even I stopped blowing my nose long enough to ditch my head cold and write one. Make sure you let the G-Man know that you came to play. And don't worry, I wiped down the keyboard and screen with a disinfectant so you don't catch my cold.

Growing tall and proud, he'd dreamed of a career in public service. Perhaps shelter as a home. Or the paper upon which an amazing novel was written. A bookcase for literary greats.

"Where you headed?" asked the next tree in line.

"Tissue factory," he sighed. "My career with Shakespeare now becomes 'Out, out, damned snot'".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The not silence

I've always suspected that my girl gene for "love of shopping, especially for shoes" was redirected and replaced by the man gene of, "I've been sick for 24 hours, isn't that enough?!" My head cold arrived Saturday and by Monday was in full blown mode. By Tuesday, the goo in my head was traveling south, looking for a place to vacation in my lungs. I know this is the natural flow of things, pardon the pun, for me when I'm sick. I will sneeze, blow my nose enough to deplete a forest through tissue usage, then cough through the night as my poor lungs rattle at the invading extra moisture. For me, this is normal. I know....sad. And I never gave it a second thought until two things happened: my Dad died of cancer and I was diagnosed with asthma last spring.

No, the two don't seem related. Dad was a smoker. I never smoked or drank. That's okay...I'll wait for those of you who just fell out of your chair to regroup and get comfy. Dad had a smoker's cough my entire life. I use to tease him that I could find him in a crowd if he just coughed. My cough was the kind which came with the occasional bout of bronchitis. Although I wished Dad didn't smoke, there wasn't much I could do about it. I was the kid. He was the parent. There was, however, one moment I always regretted. Dad had tried to quit smoking but he'd gotten so cranky none of us could stand it. It was out of character for Dad to snap at me and so one day after being the target of nicotine withdrawal one time too many, 12 year old me took Dad's lighter out of hiding and handed it to him. I'll never forget that lighter. It was a silver Zippo from his Navy days that many men of his generation carried. I can still hear the sound of it clicking open, the sound of flame hissing to life, the finality of that click as it closed.

One day the finality of that click would haunt me.

When Dad was diagnosed with cancer, he and my Mom were legally separated. I was an adult but having grown up in such an all-American family it still felt weird. The day of Dad's initial test, he joked about having a harem present: my younger sister, my sis-in-law and myself. As we sat in the waiting room together, a doctor would come out, yell a family's name, then walk over to share what he had found. One family was slow to respond and the doctor got angry. Dad teased us that for the sake of our own health, we'd better get up quick when his name got called. And then Dad was off to testing. When the doctor did yell our name, we all jumped to attention, answering in unison. It was the only time I ever wanted to hit a man. Hard. I still believed all doctors were compassionate and caring. Marching over to us the doctor demanded we identify who we were, then advised flatly,"We found something. It's probably cancer. We took a sample. But don't tell him today. Wait for the lab results." And with that he walked away.

Every time I've seen that doctor since, I feel my hand curl into a fist.

Afterward, Dad took his harem out to their favorite seafood place and couldn't believe we weren't hungry. We never let on why.

I'm guessing it's because I'm the oldest that I went with Dad to his follow up appointment, the one where the cancer diagnosis was presented a little kinder. With options. As we walked back to his car like zombies, each in his/her own world, without thinking, I muttered, "Life's a bitch..."

Dad didn't miss a beat when he sighed, "...and then you die."

I wanted to rip my tongue out. Instead Dad gave me a hug. Yet in my head, I heard the ghostly sound of that Zippo lighter clicking shut. Like the lid on a coffin.

Why had I ever given it back to him?

Oh sure, intellectually I knew it wasn't my fault. Or my choice. Dad could've chosen to quit smoking. He tried once or twice but the nicotine won. I knew the facts, yet 12 year old me was hanging my head in shame.

And so we began the first step of an almost five year journey of "What's next?" By the time we made our way to the doctor who would be Dad's Oncologist, I felt some hope amidst the fear. How can you not like a man who states, "I don't know if you have 5 weeks, 5 months or 5 years. I'm not God. But we'll work on this together."? And we did. Yes we, for Doc considered family part of the team. He armed me with the information I needed for those moments when Dad mentally shut down and stared at the wall during his exams, only to ask me questions on the long ride home. Any time the information was a new horror, Doc would wait until Dad was at the desk making his next appointment. I would feel an arm slip around my shoulder and his kind voice whisper, "Do you have any questions?" This was always followed by, "You're important too," and a gentle squeeze of my shoulders before he strolled away. There were days, especially after witnessing things the rest of my family didn't see, that I wanted to turn and bury my face in Doc's kindly embrace. Because he understood. He'd lost an aunt and his partner had lost his mother; both to cancer. He'd been where I was standing at a time when doctors' technique was more in line with the jackass M.D. who'd bluntly stated on Day One, "It's probably cancer" as if casually noting that it was raining outside.

Doc never deserted me or the family. The last three weeks of Dad's life was spent in our hometown hospital, away from Doc's practice in the big city. When I'd call, Doc and his nurses answered my every question. Even the hard ones. And yet, knowing the answers to the hard ones made it easier in the end. At least for me. The last couple of days were a tough road for Dad. Last night I had a momentary glimpse of how horrible that must've felt.

Night is funny. It has two properties. Night can make ordinary things seem magical. Exciting. Memorable. Night also has a dark side. It's called fear. Fear of what's out there just past where the light ends. Fear of the unknown. It can twist something which is annoying in the light of day into the stuff of which nightmares are made.

Last night fear paid me a visit. Not in the form of the Grim Reaper. In the wheeze of that cold settling into my chest. A wheeze which sounded much too much like Dad's last couple of days.

In his case, it's known as the "Death Rattle". Last night, it sounded as if it were coming from me.

Dad's cancer started in his esophagus and in the course of almost five years, visited his lungs before finally lodging fatally in his liver. I knew what to expect, textbook wise. What I learned, was that a childhood fear was being played out in front of me. You see when I was a kid, we stayed away from Dad's mother when we had colds; if Grandma got a bad cold, it turned into pneumonia. I remember telling her once when I was about 10, "Grandma, you and I are going to be the only 2 people who ever drown on dry land."

Listening to Dad lying there, essentially drowning in bed, made icy fingers of fear grasp my own lungs. My 10 year old humor was no longer funny.

I'd had bronchitis enough times to know how that wheezing sound feels. It's as if every breath is going to be your last. If you don't think it through, panic sets in. The harder you struggle, the tighter your chest muscles get and the more useless they become in helping you breath. It's the mother of all vicious cycles. Even though I knew closing my eyes and focusing on the sound of air coming in and smoothing sailing out was the key to bringing it back to normal, it was a tough mental sell. Listening to my Dad gasp in his morphine induced sleep made my chest tighten even more.

I wouldn't realize until the very end how much his wheezing had effected me. The last day the doctor came in mid morning and said Dad's breathing was so labored, he would be gone by mid-afternoon. It was his way of saying, "Say what you need to say now." My brother and I sat there, counting respirations as if that would help. Help who, I never figured out. When the doctor returned at 10 p.m. he was amazed. His all knowing manner dropped a notch as he stated in awe, "I don't understand. He should've been gone by now."

I am my father's daughter. We shared the same sense of humor. As some family members gasped in what they saw as insensitivity to the highest degree, I said to the doctor with a smile, "You've never dealt with a Huggins before. Stubborn folks. Give them a deadline and they'll chose their own." As he stared at me, I added with a wry grin, "Besides, I know Dad. He's waiting for Sunday morning so St. Pete will personally greet him at the Pearly Gate."

An hour later hubby and I went home. I knew I needed to get some sleep because come morning, Dad would be in heaven with the angels and I, as his Estate representative, would be dealing with the humans. Several hours later, early that Sunday morning the call came. Dad had been promoted. As we re-entered the hospital room, Dad still lying there but looking peaceful now, the weirdest thing came out of my mouth.

"Thank heaven he's not making that sound any more," I'd sighed in relief.

My family probably thought I'd finally lost it. After all, I'd been there from Day One, through appointments, surgeries, treatments. I'd seen things I'm glad the rest of them never had to see or deal with. I was strong for Dad and cried in the shower. Because Dad trusted doctors as agents of God, their word was law. All knowing. And if Doc had ever said, "You'll be dead on Thursday at noon," the hearse would've been pulling up at 12:01 p.m. on Thursday.

But all I could think of was that sound. That sound which was finally gone.

Gone until last night.

As I sat up in bed, the wheezing growing even louder in the upright position, I felt myself struggle not to panic. In through your nose, out through your mouth, my brain commanded calmly. The evil filing cabinet in my mind which contains the file,"Dad's cancer" opened up and laughed, "Wheezing huh? That call that the death rattle you know."

Panic tightened it's fingers around my lungs and squeezed. Hard.

Night fear brings with it not so pleasant memories, trying eagerly to attach them to the problem of the moment. A couple of weeks ago, a favorite great-aunt died...on my birthday. I'd just finished reading a book entitled "Life's That Way" by actor Jim Beaver, whose wife died of lung cancer. 4 months after diagnosis. Since she'd quit smoking 20 years earlier, her doctor had declared her a non-smoker. Her biggest fear was.... suffocating.

Fear's icy fingers squeezed my lungs harder. Panic ratcheted up a notch.

Nose, mouth. Nose, mouth, my brain chanted. But the panic rose a notch as fear raised its ugly head. Had Dad felt like this? Felt like no matter what good he'd done in life, it was being erased by having all the wind sucked out of him by a failing body? For two and a half hours I did this dance.

Why did I have asthma? I never smoked, I thought between ragged breaths.

Your great Uncle Joe had asthma, Fear reminded me. Worst case anyone had ever seen. Remember how they "cured" him?

Yeah, shot him full of morphine and made him a drug addict by age 18, I recalled with a shudder. The new doctor made him go cold turkey. One step forward. Just in time for that electric shock therapy. Two steps back. A couple of years later they would realize it was only asthma, not anything mental. By then, it was too late.

Asthma can kill, Fear added drolly.

The chest muscles, on their way towards relaxing, tightened again.

Note to self: [and anyone else with bronchitis/asthma]: Always listen to the brain when it comes to medical stuff. Shove Fear back into the filing cabinet and slam that sucker shut!

It took about 30 minutes to do that, my brain suggesting I remember good things about Dad, not the "Life's a bitch and then you die" stuff. Because if there was one thing Dad and I shared, it was a sense of humor. Find the funny and the world will right itself.

Not being able to breath, for whatever reason, is not funny. But suddenly I envisioned how silly I must've looked sitting up in bed, grasping the pillow to me as if it were a life preserver at sea.

Kinda melodramatic, my brain smirked. If you want to go for the full soap opera effect, make sure to wake hubby and tell him goodbye. And don't forget to add, "Good bye cruel world!" as you smack yourself on the forehead.

I giggled. That takes air you know. Giggling is also good for relaxing.

So I gave the pillow a good squeeze and silently thanked Dad for adding the "humor" chromosome to my gene pool. I never was a good swimmer [and I shall avoid further drowning analogies if you don't mind]. But if you can laugh, you'll always have a life preserver waiting to serve and protect you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happiness is where you find it

And sometimes, happy finds you. At least that's what happened Sunday, when I discovered that our favorite guy in Hawaii, Thom , had gifted me with the kind of award that lets me know that sometimes, I DO get things right.

So now, according to the rules, I get to list 10 things which make me happy before passing the reward on to others. Mahalo, Thom. I needed that. :)

Just remember, my brain is currently underwater, [a.k.a. a headcold...yuck!] so I'm hoping this makes sense.

10 Things That Make Me Happy
(I didn't add Family because I think that's a given)

who still makes me giggle, no matter how crummy I feel.

a.k.a. as our 2 chocolate Labs, Smokey & Bou.
Smokey keeps crawling up on the couch to sit with me like an attentive nurse.
After all, it's Monday, I should be working. Or maybe he's just hungry.

especially those in Blog World, who check on you with no expectations and still share of themselves. The world could do with more of that!

(Writing is another one of those "understood" points)

Funny movies:
laughter truly is the best medicine.

my favorite flower. They're like floral sunshine.

The sound of children giggling.

especially when it brings back memories.

The sound of waves on a beach.


Now, there were no rules as to how many and like most folks, I offer an Award...feel free to take it or pass. Up to you. Drum roll.....

Mapstew: think music to the ears...and soon to our eyes as well. ;)

savannah marsh mama: how can you not love a southern gal who uses "Sugar" as a term of endearment?!

Peggy: who always makes me feel better...and as if she's right next door.

Susan: who is like the other, funnier [okay, younger] half of me. I have a feeling if we were in the same room, we'd finish each other's sentences.

Dan: a man who can make a bad day or painful medical experience so funny, you almost feel bad for laughing. And he's always complimenting us: see his "people I'm collecting" as reference.

THE REST OF YOU: this is one of those awards that if you want to take and give it to someone who makes you feel better, especially on a bad day, then help yourself!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, where a picture paints 140 characters...or even fewer. Let Susan know if you play. Here's this week's picture.

Betty Boop stared in dismay at the girls upstairs.
Yes, they led exciting lives.
But petticoats and thongs were a fashion faux pas.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday 55

Write a story in 55 words. Yes, you can do it. Trust me. It's much easier than losing weight or keeping New Year's resolutions. But please let the G-Man know that you came to play.

Wanting to escape, she’d planned carefully,
documenting 29 years of hard work.
And committees.
Geez, the committees.

Smiling, she felt THIS time the plan would work.
She was the right woman for the job.
She hit “Send”, ready to blaze a new trail.

Her plan came back with a note attached.

“Fax broken. Please mail.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, where a picture paints 140 characters...or even fewer. Let Susan know if you play. Here's this week's picture.

"If you say, 'Mirror, mirror in my hand,
who's loveliest in the land?'
once more I'll scream!
And holding me in place won't change the answer."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday 55

Okay's personal. You've been warned.

(And no Ma, it's not you. After all, you're only 29).

If you craft one of these 55 word stories, make sure you let the G-Man know you came to play.

"I stopped having birthdays once I hit 30,"
the woman declared.
"Celebrating is so childish."

Is she serious? I wondered in disbelief.
Who in their right mind thought
pretending not to age
was better than birthday cake?

So call me childish.
And kindly excuse me while I go
grab a piece of MY birthday cake.

Me at age 4.
I still pretty much attack birthday cake the same way.
Except now, they're ALWAYS chocolate cakes.
Pardon me while I go in the kitchen and see if
the Birthday Fairy brought me one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, where a picture paints 140 characters...or fewer. Make sure you tell Susan if you play along! Below is this week's picture.

How lovely!
As a child she'd envisioned a troll lying in wait
to feast on her bones.
Shame she'd learned the truth only after falling in.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cross Examination of Self

Yesterday Rachel asked some questions, inferring we could play along if we liked. Since I'm the one who usually asks questions to get to the bottom of that infamous "WHY?", turnabout is fair play. So here we go.

Do you think that you know yourself in any sense? Do you care? And if you don't care...why is that? Sure I do. It's what I don't like about myself that concerns me...which is complicated by the fact that in most cases, I am the one who can changes those things. I care, yet I sometimes procrastinate...but only in the case of self. Anything else, I do in a "timely manner". :) (Yes, I once worked for a lawyer....the wording crops up occasionally).

Do you like yourself much? That would depend on the day of the week. Sometimes I'm a fine human being. Other days I harbor thoughts which are hardly sweetness and light. It's the ability to USUALLY keep said thoughts to myself which allows me to keep liking me.

What would you change about yourself if you could (and I'm talking personality...not physical changes)? And if there is something you would like to change...why haven't just got on and changed it? What's stopped you? I'd be braver. Mentally, I'm open to ideas and varying viewpoints. But getting up in front of a room before a crowd of strangers to read, like you do....that would feel like standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting for someone to push me off. I've done public speaking, I just don't enjoy it. Unless I can make someone laugh. Then I'll press my luck. I haven't changed because I think the world is filled with too many Chiefs searching for the spotlight and I like being the Indian behind the scenes. :)

When you look in a mirror do you smile or flinch ('s the concept of yourself that I'm thinking about here more than your physical attributes...though they may be linked)? Laugh. If my sense of humor ever evaporates, I'm resigning from the human race. Besides, I still have freckles for heaven's sake! I've never really felt like a grown up in many ways.

Do you treat people the way you'd like them to treat you? What, always? I try, Lord knows I try. But some people will always be jerks and unlovable, so those I just sidestep after giving a valiant effort. Wouldn't want to tarnish my halo. ;)

Do you think you've contributed anything positive to the societies that you've lived in? Do you think that matters anyway? This one I'm answering "backwards". Yes, I think it matters! Otherwise, why bother getting up every day? Doesn't mean I gather people in a circle to sing Kumba Ya, it just means I believe in the power of one person. A single person can do great things....when he/she can motivate someone else and keep that effect going. [Think Kevin Spacey and "Pay it Forward"]. I may not have made grandiose contributions but I'm happy with the small victories, like a kid who believes he/she is stupid coming in to say, "You know that spelling test you helped me study for? I got them all right!" Those kids live in a neighborhood which doesn't believe in "better" and thinks math skills should be used to conduct drug deals. Even inching them towards being a contributing member of society versus a life long leech is a good thing. Besides, I don't like the spotlight, I have to be content with the small victories. :)

What do you find really, really difficult? This little voice in my head just screamed, "5th grade math!" :) I hated it then, I hate having to help the kids with it now. So I tell them, to remind me, "I want you to ask questions until you understand, so you won't grow up like me and feel intimidated by math." They like feeling smarter than an adult. The most difficult? To stop asking "Why?" I have a sense of curiosity that just won't stop. Thankfully. Unless you're the person being quizzed, I suppose.

If you are a person who writes then why is that? Think about the reasons and which ones are the most significant to you (practicing honesty to the point of death!). My immediate reaction was, "Because I can." Not bragging here. Writing is just like breathing to me. Words come easily. Yes, I too have written since I learned how to spell. But I knew I was hooked the day a teacher taught us the word "cacophony" and I didn't just like the way the word sounded, I could immediately describe it with a scene.

Sure, it's nice when people pat you on the back. But that's not why I write. I do it for me. Because it gives me enjoyment to create. And in this economy, it's cheap entertainment. :) I honestly can't imagine not writing. I never really wanted a blog. A friend talked me into it, saying I told good stories that should be seen by more eyes than mine. I said the world didn't need another blog. He challenged me to try. It felt like a safe dare. And when I did, someone replied, "Thank heaven I'm not the only one who feels that way!" Makes you feel like more than a spec of makes you feel like part of the beach that wraps around the world. And, thanks to people like you Rachel, it's expanded my horizons in ways I'd never have foreseen. Thanks for that.

But I still suspect that, deep down, it's because writing is the only way I get to finish a sentence without being interrupted.

Anyone else want to play?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday 55

If it's too cold to go outside, then sit right down and write yourself a 55 word story. And make sure you let the G-Man know if you came to play. It's much easier than dressing in layers to face the cold.

Returning from another meeting, she found the hall rearranged, as if the wall was trying to come in out of the cold.

Victim of a hit and run driver.

Waiting on aid, she surveyed the wall protruding into the building. It seemed symbolic of her career. Pushed to the point of breaking, but still standing.

Sadly, tis a true story. And the reason I haven't posted this week. Someone drove their car, accidentally I'm assuming, into the front wall of our building and left. No confession, no note, no apologetic phone call. I was at a meeting at the time of the incident and the only witness was unable to I.D. the driver as she was in the opposite end of the building. Reports were filed and although I was unhappy that all the higher ups believe [a] it HAD to be a senior citizen and [b] I should be the one investigating, it all comes down to the usual.


Depending on how much the repairs to this 1956 facility total will determine the fate of whether we stay or are closed. Time will tell.

Note to my building: hey, I am totally empathetic. Honest.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Microfiction Monday

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, where a picture paints 140 characters...or even fewer. Below is this week's picture. Make sure you tell Susan if you play along!

You'd be wearing gloves too
if you knew what they'd used to make this hairdo.
Walking funny?
No, I'm smuggling a fruit cake in my hemline.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Friday 55

What better way to celebrate the New Year than by conjuring up a Friday 55? Play nice and let the G-Man know if you wrote a story in 55 words. Probably the easiest thing anyone will ask you to do today. Now, y'all kindly pass the pork chops and the blacked eyed peas.

“You know,” she continued as he listened patiently. “You didn’t have to buy gifts, wrap stuff or cook. No one criticized your dinner menu or argued about politics. You never make New Year’s resolutions. And you’re happy.”

“So this year, I resolve to be laid back. Like you,“ she concluded, scratching her grinning dog’s belly.

From our laid back kids to you,
here's wishing you all the best for 2010!