Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today College son told me as gently as he could that some friends of Jesse had said, around the time Jesse died, that he wouldn't have wanted to be stuck in an urn. He said, I don't know if it's been long enough that we can talk about this yet. You can tell me if you're not ready. He admitted that he felt somewhat the same as these friends. He told me who had said it, and I understood what he, and they, meant. I think a lot of us like the idea of scattering a friend's ashes someplace beautiful, someplace they'd have wanted to go or loved to be. His friends certainly knew Jesse was not one to be confined by anyone. College actually said, he wouldn't want to be in there.

I wondered if that were the reason we heard less from Jesse's friends as time went on, and not because that's what normally happens after you lose the child, their friends drift off toward their futures, the lives they need to live. Had I offended them in some way, because of this need to keep his ashes? I don't think so. I know they were being kind, in not expressing their feelings about this to me. I know that the lives they lead now are touched by Jesse, and that they'll never forget him. And after all, they were Jesse's friends, not mine, and I am not Jesse, so I couldn't fill that role for them. Still, I care what happens to them, and it comforts me to think of them working out the lives they're just beginning.

I can't really think of "the" place I'd scatter his ashes, and I can't really think about what it would mean to me to do this. I'm not ready, I suppose. But as I reminded my son, Jesse's not what's in that urn.

But that, and a few of his things, and memories, are all I have left of him.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It sucks

to work on drug literature for what you were on at Sloan Kettering. It makes that time too real, too recent. Especially now that it's getting cold. I keep feeling I need to go up there and see you after work, even though you're gone. I can see the IV tree in my mind, all the bags hanging off it, your cramped semi private room with a cold draft off the river, and you a little irritated that I wouldn't go away. I couldn't. I wish I hadn't.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My future

After the broken foot's week in bed, I started building back up slowly, and am now up to 4 miles a day walking. Sure, my feet are a little sore now and then, but I can tell it's just work, not damage. I like walking without pain and have probably annoyed the hell out of more than one companion with the number of times I've said more or less that. Like realizing you're happy to be alive, being happy to be able to walk is an earned experience.

I usually do physical work better if I have a goal in mind, say an upcoming hike on something with a scary name. Yes, I collect Scary Name Hike Experiences. I've hiked Mt. Horrid, Avalanche Lake, Breakneck Ridge, and Hellhole (which is actually the tamest of the bunch). Of course when I found out there was a volcano on Bali, that became the goal. According to legend, it was placed on Bali by Shiva, as the throne for the Goddess of Lakes and Waters, Dewi Danu. I was hoping for something a little scarier than an immortal Public Works manager.

And I got my wish. Last week one of the Bali Web sites posted a warning that Mt. Batur is now closed due to volcanic activity. Apparently, the locals can tell the volcano's probably going to blow, whenever the lake below it starts to heat up. They leave, wait till it's over, then come back and replant. The glorified heated office chair hasn't erupted since 2000, so I'm not sure why it's chosen to screw up not only my vacation plans, but my reason for perambulation.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Family Feud

It's getting so the only time I hear about my dad's side of the family is when one of them wants to persuade me to gang up against another. We used to be very close, all of us. Dinner every weekend on my grandparents' farm, weeks and weekends at each other's houses, three day long family reunions with barbecues and hootenannies and camping around the bonfire every year that drew relatives from all over the US.

My grandmother was the glue that held them all together, and apparently my dad was the woodclamp, because since he passed away, things have gone downhill, and aunts and uncles on either side of the feud will take one of us aside from time to time, and say "this never would have happened if your dad was alive." As if this is all somehow our fault. Now keep in mind, these people are in their late sixties to late seventies, they're all healthy, living and working on small farms or in small towns in wholesome southern Indiana.

It's not that they fight about any one thing, they've been at each other's throats for over a decade now. Uncle L asked Grandma to give him power of attorney so he could help her with her affairs, but Grandma didn't like Uncle L's wife, so she gave POA to Aunt K. Now you can't say anything nice about Aunt K around Uncle L or he'll throw you out. And Uncle M will storm out of his own house if you don't watch it. That killed our rompin stompin gun and beer totin family reunion hoedowns.

When my grandmother wrote her will, she literally implored my aunts and uncles to get along, that she wanted them each to have an equal share of her earthly goods, and that she wanted them to care for each other and be glad for each other. Well that went to shit before she got a chance to die. They fought over who visited her most, who took her furniture when she moved to the old age home, who cut her lawn, whether one was stealing the farm or the other was abusing her somehow. They called the cops on each other, once from my Grandma's home.

I used to visit all of them every year when I came back, but the last straw was when Uncle L's wife told the whole family that my brother was a rich millionaire who was trying to steal grandma's farm by having Aunt K hold an auction for it across state lines where the rest of them couldn't bid on it. And yes, they've known my brother since he was born, and no, he's not rich. All he ever said was he wished the whole family could pitch in and buy the farm together so we wouldn't have to lose it. Aunt K had to sell it in anticipation of grandma's nursing home expenses. By now she was in her late 90s.

The winter before she passed away at 99, Uncle L started litigating to take over her care from my aunt, then when she was gone, he tried to get executorship of the estate, from Grandma's trusted family lawyer. He lost. He filed criminal charges against Aunt K and got her thrown in jail for a bit, but she got out. She used her POA to buy all of grandma's furniture right before grandma died for a dollar and sold it all and kept the money. She put a registry book in grandma's old age home and hid it at the nurses station, so that it would look like the rest of the family never went there. He sued the estate and accused Aunt K of hiding funds. Aunt M's son in law became his lawyer and they all decided the estate owed him and every other lawyer a yearly stipend.

This went on from 2005 until the present. My sisters, brother and I stayed out of the fighting. We didn't want to choose sides, we loved them all, and had reason enough not to trust anyone's version of events. Since our father had passed away, his portion was supposed to go to us, split evenly.

We don't know why the estate didn't just release the funds to us before the war started. We don't know why we're being made to give up our portion of the estate to pay for the lawyers our aunts and uncles are lobbing at each other. We just assumed there was some kind of lien on the estate until Uncle L and Aunt K settled. We figured they'd just waste the whole estate in legal fees, because some of their actions were aimed at the estate and its executor.

Then last year the court assigned a mediator, they hammered out an agreement, and three of the siblings signed it. They kind of forgot to invite me and my siblings, and worse, they forgot to make sure Aunt K signed it. She didn't. There was a hearing yesterday, and my cousin's husband tried to get out of having the estate pay the mediator, since he never notified us of the meeting, and never ensured Aunt K signed the agreement. But that was the only matter the judge wanted to hear about. He ordered the estate to pay the mediator, told the bunch of remaining family members to work it out, and left them. Aunt K never even bothered to show up.

My dad, the oldest, was born at home. They all lived in a farmhouse Grandpa built himself out of the former corncrib. The original farm house had burned before they bought the place. It was the Depression, but my grandparents made enough through farming and factory work to support five kids, and take in cousins on the weekends. Grandpa even hoarded nickels to buy his nieces and nephew ice cream of a Sunday. Every night, on the top floor where all the bedrooms were, the whole family would recite the rosary together before bedtime, telling the beads as they lay in bed, loud enough for each other to hear.

They woke up before dawn, milked cows, fed pigs, and headed off to school together. They all came home at the same time and did chores till supper, then played basketball/did homework/worked on their hobbies till bed. It was a good life, they all admit it.

I'd really like to just get it over with. My sister told the judge she was willing to give up a chunk of our share if we could just get out of it and never have to deal with it again. They're acting more like little kids than we were allowed to in all my childhood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The social thing.

One weird side effect (to me anyway) of Zoloft is that it makes me much more comfortable in groups. I never really realized how much energy it takes me to hang out with people, even (sometimes especially) people I like. It can be draining, but I do enjoy it: I guess this makes me an introvert? The last vestige of my childhood shyness is chemically removed. I expected to be able to write about Jesse without crying, and I expected to feel a little, well, elevation. I'm even okay with the piles of furniture and curtains and paint and construction supplies all over the loft now. (Sure, that's why I'm mentioning it. because it's okay.) But finding myself enjoying the prospect of hanging out with a large group of friends? I'm going to have to test run this new side of the Meyers Briggs attitude dichotomy. In Bali. Yes, I actually find myself sorry that I'm going alone. I never had that attitude about travel before, but here I am, wondering who I'm going to point out the fish to. Not sure I'm crazy about that feeling. I'll probably end up bonding with tourists.

The other weird side effect is mild nausea.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Discipline (right)

Making myself write again. I took out a notebook that Jesse's girlfriend had left behind when she moved, and wrote my first day's entry into it: dreams are like stars, they're always there, just easier to see at night. It sounds romantic but it's also a current theory of dream production in your brain. During the day, reality checks. At night, not so much.

I try to give myself a lot of assignments at a given time, so that when I balk at doing one thing (say, building my web site) I can procrastinate while doing something useful (planning for Bali), educational (reading the dozen or so books I've bought this year). Enough plates in the air and you don't stop running around the table. Right now I'm reading Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. Mostly sticks pins in all the gender difference studies, beliefs, myths. Once I'm finished, I'll do a review. That's going on my site. Which I can screw around with when it's too hard to write here. Right now, I'm writing here because it's too hard to confront my web page.

That's right. I am treating my mind like a toddler. Redirecting myself when I'm balky, toward something shiny. When I lose interest, I shake some new bauble at myself and propel myself forward in a different direction. This, I can do.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Yesterday morning I woke up with a slight nosebleed. It's happened to me once before, when the kids were little. I'd been sitting at the kitchen table talking to a friend, then a splitting headache and blood. Then I was at the ER. A volunteer held my arm while the nurse tried to insert an IV line in my wrist. Every time the nurse would jab me, the volunteer would suck air in hard between her teeth with a sharp hiss, and I'd jump, and the nurse would miss the vein. This happened five or six times before the volunteer said, "Oh, this tooth is killing me."

I told the nurse to just stop and leave me alone. They left, and I burst into tears. The neurologist came in while I was crying and began grilling me. He said didn't believe that the migraine could possibly be painful enough to make me cry. What happened before you came here? he kept asking me. What's going on? There's some emotional aspect, he said. I denied it.

I realize now that he suspected my ex of bloodying my nose. It still shocks me that he picked up that I was abused, even though he was wrong about the nosebleed.

Fast forward 15 years, and Jesse is in the hospital because his nose was bleeding uncontrollably for no apparent reason. A cut on his arm wouldn't heal but wept clear liquid lymph. Leukemia. Greek for white blood.

And I looked in the mirror at my bloody nose yesterday, and wondered if there's something in my blood that he inherited, that wrung the red out of his blood. Something wrong that I had passed on. Epigenetic? I grew up a few miles from Fernald, the nuclear munitions plant in Ohio that poisoned the aquifer in my town and others around it. And I think of all the things that could have been, might have been wrong, that could have caused this one mother cell to switch one chromosome. And that was the beginning of the end. Nothing I did from that moment on could have saved him, but that won't stop me from trying to figure out another way. A way to blame myself, a way to conquer death, as if I believe somewhere deep and childish, that I can go back in time with the answer, and still fix everything.

I remembered the moment after he died, as I began my closer acquaintance with death; turning his hand over to see the pooled blood under the skin of his lifeless arm. Exactly where I'd heard it would be. No longer his enemy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Moving forward

Today I voted, not so much for Michael Bloomberg, but against changing mayors. Is that so crazy? I got up early, limped over to the voting side of town, then realized that I could prop my foot up if I'd buy a footstool, and ice it at work if I only had a cold pack. Then it occurred to me that if I keep making these little 5 block trips, adding one or two more a day, I'll be walking a mile or two by the time I leave. And if I use my shopping pelf as free weights, I can do my upper body workout in the process. Yes, I am become Efficiency, Ameliorator of Time Constraints.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bali, hi!

Now that I can walk a little without the brace on my foot, expanding my range a block at a time, I'm starting to sketch out my two weeks in Bali. I'm going there because a dear friend has her home there, and she's been nagging me to go since she moved there. Now that she's threatening to move to yet another island altogether, the pressure is on, Bali now or never. Husband can't make it, so I'm on my own. This will be the first time I've spent that much time on a plane, seen the other side of the Pacific, been to a country where christians are few and far between, the first time I've left New York for thanksgiving... oh, you get the idea.

I want to climb the volcano. I know, broken feet are pretty lousy trail companions. But I'm going to build up my endurance. I have three weeks. And it's a pretty small volcano. I hear the trail is actually shorter than Breakneck Ridge, the mountain where I cracked the metatarsal in the first place.

Temper that with the snorkeling, the beach time, the touristy stuff, I think I'll be plenty busy.