Thursday, February 14, 2013

My sick Valentine

It's Valentine's Day, 1970 and I'm in third grade at McKay Elementary School in Chicago's Marquette Park neighborhood.
I wake up that day feeling queasy. I'm sure I didn't know the meaning of that word when I was 7, but it's how I remember the feeling today. My dad worked nights, so mornings were typically very quiet in our wee little two-bedroom apartment as my parents slept late. My mom typically got up at last minute to see me out the door. I avoid telling her that I threw up just a bit that morning. Instead, I remind her that I'm —rather she's— responsible for bringing the pop to the school Valentine's Day party.
"You look pale. Do you feel alright?" she asked.
I told her I had a bit of a stomach ache, but thought it would go away. I was a sickly kid so she probably believed me. There was no way I was going to miss the school Valentine party. There were rumors that one boy, a very ostracized boy with the odd name of Arunus (really!), was going to be giving out whole boxes of candy to each student. He needed to buy some love.

Because I had vision problems I had recently been moved to the front row of the classroom so I could see the blackboard better. Always a mediocre student, it was thought my vision was keeping me from high achievement. But really I was just a daydreamer and a "social butterfly" according to my report card. I remember my mom explaining to me that being a social butterfly wasn't a bad thing so that became ingrained in my personality. Forever. Valentine's Day was a big deal for the third-grade me. This was in the pre-politically correct days. You handed out your store-bought and hand-signed Valentines only to the kids you liked. Numbers were important to me: There were 32 kids in my class and I wanted a card from each one. Including Arunus. 
Sitting in my front row seat my stomach begins to roil. I start watching the clock. I  just need to make it to 2:00 for the class party. I had to be there to pass out my own Valentines. Some kids would just toss their Valentines on every kid's desk then sit down. Others, like me, would make a BFD out of it. Girls who were especially bitchy would stop by a desk, rifle through the envelopes, and ceremoniously bestow one upon your desk. And, if they weren't going to give you one, they'd stop anyway, rifle through their cards, and then move on without leaving one. At least that had been my experience in second grade. My third grade teacher may have nipped this behavior, but I wouldn't find out.

Somewhere around the first hour of school I start to get dizzy. I know I'm about to throw up, but I try to will it away. I'm sitting in the front of the classroom by a door and a very large garbage can. I cook up a plan to quietly throw up in the garbage can while the teacher is not looking. Or, I think I can dash out the door and make it to the girl's room. But my stomach doesn't wait for my scheming and I lose it all over my desk. Before I'm even escorted to the nurse's office, the janitor is there spreading the pink sawdusty stuff all over the mess.

I will have to go home. My mom picks me up and drops off a couple of 8-packs of bottled Pepsi for the party I will now miss.

I won't remember the rest of my sick day. I'm sure it was filled with ginger ale, Saltines, trips to the bathroom, and watching soap operas that were unintelligible to me. But I will remember that when I returned to school, my teacher have me my Valentines. I only got 19 and missed out on the full-sized candy bars Arunus passed out — my popularity already waning. In an instant I go from "social butterfly" to "girl who threw up in school on Valentine's Day."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thanks Dad

Dad and I on my wedding day, 1999.
Last night I had one of those great dreams that everyone who has lost a much-loved parent longs for: the visitation dream.
I was at a boisterous party among a great circle of friends. My parents' friends were there too. And I saw my dad's best friend, Joe (also passed away) walk into the party and say "look who I found." It was my dad. He looked just the same as he did on my wedding day. Robust, happy.
"Dad! I'm so happy you are here. I've missed you. How long can you stay?" I begged.
He looked at me with his twinkling green eyes and gave me a wide smile. He said:
"It never ends, you know. The love you have never ends."

In reality he never would have said something so overtly philosophical. But he would have lived it. He lived his life like the love would never end. There would always be room to add one more friend to his wide net. Always time to help fix a car, paint a house, listen to a weepy phone call, buy a drink, share a boat ride, make a hospital visit, babysit a grandchild, play a round of golf, shoulder a good cry, be a pall bearer.

There was infinite time to share joy and sorrow.

As my own circle of friends and family grows over the years, and I struggle to juggle it all, I think of my dad. I remember the hundreds of people who spoke to my family at his memorial service. Through their tears and grief, they spoke of how my dad was there for them when they needed this or that — everything from helping a nephew get his first job to saving a drowning friend after a boating accident. There were many, many funny stories — a lot involving fast cars, boats and alcohol — and it was clear he was an entertaining guy to have around. He was much loved.

The gene pool didn't bestow me with his mechanical abilities or his green eyes. But I did get his easy smile and broad shoulders. And best of all, I was on the receiving end of his enormous capacity to love and be loved.

Just when I needed a reminder of why I have cast my own wide net,  he provided one.

That love you have never ends.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snow blind

Every tooth in my head is throbbing. To top it off, I've got a migraine, surely brought on by the two hefty pours of red wine last night. Wine imbibed to kill the pain of my teeth and to numb my senses to my mother-in-law who is visiting. The dog is pawing at my neck. I have to face the day.

I get dressed slowly trying not to move my head too much. I pad out to the kitchen and startle my mother-in-law. She cries out and freaks out the dog.

I fumble in the medicine cabinet for migraine pills. She politely asks after my jaw. I whine about my pain then look out the window. It's snowing again. I cry out as if this was a personal outrage.

"Dammit again?! It's snowing again!?"

"Oh, that's not even the worst of it. It's only 13 degrees. This snow will stop around noon, then start up again tonight. But it won't be that bad. Only 2 to 4 inches," she reports.

"I cannot wait to move away from here," I say.

"What's that?" she asks. She didn't hear me. Probably for the best.

The dog doesn't enjoy the snow but she loves being outside. She is like me in this. As we walk a litany begins in my head. My teeth head hurts...K. left me alone with his mother yesterday and today while he conducted church's all so ridiculously unfair....I want to leave this

I try to let each falling snowflake wash away my resentment. Why can't I see the purity and beauty  in the snow? I see hazardous, blinding white.

When you're pissed off and resentful and in pain, every movement becomes fraught. Simple things like taking off your winter gear feed my resentment and pain. So by the time I head back to the kitchen in my stocking feet again, I'm near seething. I pour a cup of coffee and see that my mother in law has brought us some lemon Paczkis. Not my typical breakfast, but I can't deal with anything else.

I sit at the kitchen table and eat the sugary breakfast and I take out my phone. I go to and search for one-way flights to Austin, April 10. Determined that if I don't make these plans to leave this town today, I never will. K. can figure out whether or not he wants to come along. I can't stay here a minute longer without making a final plan to escape.

My mother in law walks in and I thank her for the Paczki. She sees I'm eating it with a fork and knife and asks after my mouth again. She is a retired nurse and has a direct way of asking people about their medical problems. I lament again and tell her I've run out of pain killers.

"I'm just not used to living in pain," I whine.

"People who don't live with pain don't understand how it drains you. It takes away from everything you do. It colors your life," she says.

She gives me good advice to call my doctor and ask for a temporary refill. And if I can't get ahold of him, call the pharmacy and see if they will fill a one day supply.

"That's a great idea," I tell her. "I'm going to do just that."

My pain dissipates a bit for having shared it. The snow has stopped falling and my warm kitchen smells of coffee. My satisfied dog is sleeping at my feet. I lick the last bit of lemon filling off my finger.

I abandon I look up Dr. N.'s number instead.