Monday, March 9, 2009

Samson revisted

Ola called to tell me that John, my father, is in the hospital. This news was not entirely surprising since his diagnosis of congestive heart failure. This time round, my brother Vidar called Ola because he was worried about John--- he couldn't leave work. Vidar asked Ola to check up on him.

She went. She found him weak, dehydrated, barely able to breathe. She called 911. He's been there for a couple of days now, slowly regaining his strength. The doctors told him that he has emphysema along with the other diagnosis. "But I don't smoke!" He kept insisting. The doctors were confused. Why would a man who claimed not to smoke have such an advanced case of emphysema? They were about to do a battery of tests when Vidar, ever the advocate, pulled a doctor aside and explained that in fact my father smoked dope. A lot of it. Every day. Dope in a pipe, to be precise. Never cigarettes of any kind. Talking on the phone to Vidar the other day, he estimated that John smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes every day for forty years.

Here's the real surprise in this situation: Ola continues to visit him in the hospital. This man who beat her, terrorized her, threatened her children, stood 6ft 1 and 250 pounds to her 130 pounds, verbally abused her for years and from whom she ran away, calls to give me updates.

"I cut his hair today"

"You what?"

"I cut his hair."


"Because he asked me to."

I didn't quite know what to say. In my mind I have this picture of him sitting in a hospital gown, in a room he shares with with three other people. He sits on on one of those bland institutional chairs, not moving while Ola combs through what's left of his blond hair, measuring how much to cut with his comb and her fingers. My father never goes anywhere without a comb. She tells me that he's skinny, that his muscled bulk of which he was once proud, that hardly contained his rage is completely gone. He wheezes and doesn't talk much.

She tells me that she put an extra hospital gown on him to keep the hair from going down his back.

"Why are you doing this?"I can't help but ask this again. She gives me a different answer: "I'm doing it for Vidar." Vidar she says, is very worried about him, and she felt that her son needed her support.

"Where are Natasha and Toshi?"

"They visit too." She says. "They're really good kids." Natasha and Tosh, are my much younger half brother and sister. Tasha the eldest was born when I was 18.

Ola and I sit in silence on the phone.

She says, "I take care of him, like I would any sick person" It feels," she searches for a word, "distant?"
She recounts with a certain amount of glee, "I walked with him down the hall, and his ass was sticking out of his hospital gown. He was embarrassed when I told him so I made him put on another hospital gown backwards to keep him covered."

Again, a picture: John shuffling down a florescent lit hall, Ola clutching the gowns and walking patiently next to him. She has, at various times in my life walked me down a hospital ward in exactly the same way. There must be some satisfaction for my mother, to be the one a lifetime later, that has the physical power. Only two years younger than he, at 74, she's limber and fit, and despite the occasional ache assuaged by her yoga practise, is at ease in her own skin. My father is no longer a threat. Now he's compliant, grateful, even.

In her most recent update I noted a shift in her tone. "I kept suggesting he take a shower you know because he stank. And finally he did. Vidar brought him some clothes and I said I would wash the ones he came in with,

"That's nice of you."

"He doesn't wear underwear." She said with disgust. "He never did." She mutters something. I can hear her remembering. "And he said something awful to the orderly. Who was Polish. Something about Polish people and Jews and I said to him in Dutch, 'You better shut up.' He's bitter to everyone," she says.

We're quiet on the phone again.

"I don't think I want to go back again, she says. Not as often anyway."

"No", I say, "not as often."

Ola will call again when he leaves the hospital to give me another update. And I get off the phone, thinking about my expired passport and how I should give the Canadian Consulate a call in the morning. It's my turn to visit.

I see Ola standing behind John, his head bowed, the sound of scissors at his neck. They talk in Dutch. His shoulders slump slightly as the hair collects by her feet.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ruminations on Charlie

I've been thinking about the strong urge I felt these days to adopt a new cat. It would be me easy to say that I've lived with multiple cats for twenty years and now that they're both dead, it's only natural to want to fill the 'cat gap.' But that's not the whole story. Truth is, lately, I've felt lonely.Don't get me wrong, I'm busy with Ethan and the daily ordinariness of things, the jobs searches and rewrites and attempts to come up with yet another draft of this stage of my life, my 'busy list" is endless. I'm bed-lonely: the simple pleasure of sharing a bed, waking up with someone. It's the marital bed, I miss: knowing that I'll wake up with the same person. Since our 'NO PORN IN FRONT OF ETHAN' confrontation the tension between M and me has eased. Last night he went into the city by himself (something he NEVER would have previously done.) He's taken E to a kid's concert today (also a new activity) and lately I see him eye the 'for rent' signs that are cropping up all over Montclair. He's coming to realize that life separate from me may not be calamitous, that he can create a strong bond with Ethan and still have a life that includes the time for all of the interests that we never shared. All of the cats are named or renamed was they arrive at the shelter.I saw Charlie within the first five minutes of walking in.Apparently, he's their newest addition, a grey polydactal tabby who was dumped into and then rescued from a pack of feral cats. Most of the shelter's occupants(all cats) were out of their crates, playing like wild things, bunting me and wandering away. Charlie, being the new guy was looking on from his crate, alert but not anxious. The staff figuring that I would relate, presented to me their hardest cases, the cat with the feline equivalent of Bell's palsy, the black female who cooed constantly like a pigeon the fat white house cat with no tail. I walked around the small room a couple of times and kept stopping in front of Charlie. Other people walked in, talking baby babble to the kittens, cuddling them. Charlie and I simply regarded each other. He is, my instincts tell me, a mellow fellow. The adoption process is weirdly complex. I filled out the paperwork, and apparently wrote an answer that red flagged me as a liability. I was grilled about my cat history, fur from all sides of the room, falling on me like snow. One woman questioned me to the extent that I finally said to her, 'Listen, do you want to give me a new application to fill out? I'd be happy to change that answer." "Oh no, she said, "I'll pass on to our board of directors." They'll get back you." If I'm deemed fit to be a custodial parent to one homeless cat, I must then bring Mand Ethan to the shelter so that they can be approved.Dear God, you'd think they be grateful I expressed an interest in their four-legged tenants. If they refuse me, I may be forced to flash my recently sharpened claws and point out to this staff that this shelter is woefully inaccessible--I had to be carried in order to exit the building--- and that they are in fact, breaking the law. Do you hear me hissing? In a few days, I'll drag M to the shelter and Charlie or maybe some other cat will come home with us. Soon, I'll have another, faster heartbeat pumping at my feet. That's what I'm looking for: a warm presence to take up just a little bit of space on the cold side of the bed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Welcome to "My Fabulous Adventures"

Fellow Adventurers:

I've been working on a memoir for a long time now. It's called, The Fabulous Adventures of a Four-Legged Woman. As I'm nearing the end of my rewrites, I find that I have material I like but that doesn't belong in this particular book. My goal with this blog is to collect the extra material, and new work and put it on there for people to read, comment on and generate discussion. I suspect that the stories on this blog will make up much of the content of the next book. No matter what I write the same themes seem to come up again and again: I write about sexuality, body image, mobility, and motherhood, (among other things) all in the context of the disability experience.

Warning: The content of many of these blogs will be raw, deeply personal and unfinished. Perfection is not my concern right now. I won't be giving much background on these pieces but I suspect that when enough of them are posted you'll get a clear picture of what's going on.