This is a picture of my father-in-law and his sister. He is 86 and she is 91. On the morning I took this photo - just two days ago - I had picked up Aunt Jeannette at her apartment in our town’s senior citizen building and we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to Dad’s house. (I do call my father-in-law Dad - for many reasons, I feel so comfortable doing so, and it is easier than calling him Bill cause Bill is also my husband’s and my son’s name.) Dad has dementia - I forget the specific type (there are different kinds) but Aunt Jeannette does not, although she does have mental health problems (what we now call bi-polar, but years ago when she was institutionalized and given shock treatments I know they did not call it that.) Anyway, I digress. After picking up two coffees (one hot, one iced) and a coffee roll for Dad and an egg/cheese/ham on a toasted croissant for Aunt Jeannette we drove around the block to Dad’s house. He does not live there alone. My brother-in-law lives with him. But, he works full-time, so my husband and I stop by whenever we can (on a daily basis - we have flexible work schedules) to check on Dad during the day. And luckily, we live nearby. And fortunately, Dad is not demented enough (is that the correct term?) that he can’t be in the house alone (although, that will change, very soon I think.) Again, I digress. So, after they both were settled down at the kitchen table with their breakfast, I went outside to sit in the sun and let them chat. Of course, I have to admit, I wondered how in the world they would communicate. Dad’s short-term memory is practically non-existent. He has trouble finding his words, instead describing objects or people in odd ways instead of naming them, and it’s like putting a puzzle together listening to him, trying to piece together the scraps of meaning. And Aunt Jeannette carries on a conversation in a slow-motion, time-warped manner due to medications and, I assume, her advanced age. I wanted to sneak back inside, stand outside the kitchen doorway and eavesdrop. But, that didn’t seem right. Also, I was afraid that what I would be listening to would scare me. These are two people living lives locked inside brains that don’t comprehend the outside world in a way that matches the perception of anyone else. Each of them exists in a reality that has its own clock, its own reasons, its own truth. But, in a sense, I think that’s how we all live…except we are still able to bend our perceptions, our personal reality, to fit into the wider world’s expectations…
When it was time to go back inside and gather Aunt Jeannette and take her home, and get myself to work, I came into the kitchen and found that she had barely eaten her breakfast, or taken a sip of her iced coffee. Dad was finished. He loves to eat, is always hungry, and has put on quite a bit of weight, but hey, we let him enjoy life. There are so few pleasures left him, and eating being one of them, we let him eat. I told Aunt Jeannette that I had to get going, I had to be at my job soon. She seemed so disappointed. Dad sang “dum-dee-dum-dum” over and over as I explained to his sister that it was getting late. So she took a few more bites from her croissant sandwich, and we left with her iced coffee. Dad walked us to the door, so happy, so carefree. Often, he is anxious, confused. I think having his sister visit comforted him. I felt bad that I didn’t make the effort to get them together more often.
Aunt Jeannette complained when I brought her home, about being stuck inside, telling me she wished she could get out of her apartment more. She’s an artist, draws and paints, and is quite talented. At 91, her eyes and her hands are still well enough that she can continue doing her artwork. I ask her if she would do a portrait of me one day. That cheers her. “Of course!” she says. I promise to come back and visit in a couple of weeks, sit with her and let her draw my portrait. I am excited by the idea myself.
Later, my husband and I went back to his Dad’s to bring him dinner. Bill asked him how his visit with Aunt Jeannette had gone. “Who?” he asked. “No one visited me today. No one ever visits. I’m always alone,” he told us. Isn’t it so sad that he couldn’t remember the nice time he’d had that morning? His life is truly lived in the moment now. That is what scares me…having only the moment. We say to ourselves “live in the moment” - but memories, hopes, plans, shared experience, remembering…I don’t want to lose any of that. Be here now, yes - but still reflect, remember, and dream.
As I recall the scene, my two sisters and I are standing side by side on a ridge overlooking red cliffs and desert sands in an Arizona recreation area close to the border of Nevada, where my sister…
When memories clash…
whose memory is the truth?
The True Line by Joan Potter
The Rangers and the Bruins played hockey this afternoon. I watched the game at my brother’s apartment, on his giant TV. He and his wife have a very cute apartment and such a comfortable sofa, and it’s a great place to sprawl and relax. I’m not a sports fan, but it was rainy and chilly out and I felt like spending some time over there. But, last night, their neighbor was murdered. The man who lived next door to them at their garden apartment complex, the man who shared the second floor terrace with them. There’s a divider on the terrace, a wooden fence-like partition, so you can’t see what’s on your neighbor’s side. You can hear if there are people behind it, talking or whatever. I guess you could talk to your neighbor even if you couldn’t see them. You could say, “Hey, anyone out over there?” and see if they answered. Then, you could ask, “How’s it going?”
My brother called me this morning to tell me about the murder. A stabbing. The victim stumbled down from the second floor, collapsing at the bottom of the concrete steps outside the front door. My brother hadn’t been home at the time. A neighbor had filled him. I asked if he knew the guy. “No, not really. Just to say hello when I saw him. He was only living here a couple of months.”
My brother told me that the street in front of his complex was blocked by police cars, and the walkway and entrance to his place was taped off. It was a crime scene. The police and detectives weren’t finished investigating. He said I could still come over, but I’d have to park a block or so away and call him, then he would walk up to meet me with one of the police officers. So, I did, and they walked me down the block. We had to duck under the fat yellow crime scene tape that was criss-crossing back and forth from trees and fences and stairway railings.
There were rubber gloves and bloody gauze and towels and syringes scattered on the grass in front of my brother’s building. Little cones with numbers on them were here and there. The white picket fence was smeared with an arc of rusty red. Blood, already dry and old. I wondered why it hadn’t washed away in the drizzly rain. I wondered who would clean up the lawn, gather the discarded medical supplies. I imagined the ambulance at the curb, the paramedics desperately trying to stop the bleeding, put this guy back together, keep him alive so they could get him to the hospital. They just tossed things over their heads, grabbing for the next needed supply, tearing it open, throwing the plastic off to the side.
The door next to my brother’s door was open. I looked inside as we moved past. I saw more blood. Drops, like polka-dots. Round circles of maroon, in different sizes, on the linoleum floor. Walking up the steps behind my brother, I asked if they knew who the killer was. “They have three suspects in custody. But I don’t know anything else,” he said.
I watched some of the game, but most of the time I looked out the window, watching the detectives, the police officers. They went in and out of the apartment next door. They spent some time searching the victim’s truck, parked out front. At one point, two of them, a man and a woman, were out on the terrace. I went out there and stood on my brother’s side, barefoot, listening. But they spoke quietly. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other. My feet were wet and cold now. The detectives went back into the apartment. I leaned over the railing and tried to look around the partition. But it was raining harder by then, so I pulled back, and went inside.
The Rangers lost. By the time the game was over, the investigation was over and the tape was gone. The truck was being towed away. I said goodbye to my brother and his wife and walked up the block to my car alone.
Maybe by tomorrow we’ll know more. An hour ago, on the local news station the reporter said there was no information regarding motive thus far. I want to know why. Why did this happen? I wonder if there was a good reason, an answer that will have it make sense. My brother thinks it was maybe a robbery, or a drug deal gone wrong. As we stood at the window just before I had left, and watched the truck get towed away, my brother made the sign of the cross and said “Bye, Hank.” And then he turned to me and said, “I don’t think he was that bad of a guy,” which made it seem so very sad, because even if Hank really was “that bad of a guy” would it make his being stabbed to death okay?
Found these tulips outside, on the side of my yard where everything grows wild and weedy. POP. There they were, mystery tulips. I must have planted the bulbs way back when - when we’d first moved into this little house and I had time and energy and wanted everything to look just right. Actually, I remember now. It was 2001, fall, November. I remember planting tons of tulip bulbs as I cried. We had moved into this house in September. We all remember September of 2001. I cried and planted and thought to myself, “will we, will I, be here in the spring, when these bloom?” I was having a breakdown. Anxiety consumed me. Depression eventually paralyzed me. There were a lot of reasons, old and new, for me to be breaking apart. And I’m sure - I mean I know - I wasn’t alone with feelings like those back then. Actually, I don’t know if they were the bulbs that these tulips came from; maybe I planted more at another time. Do tulips keep blooming from bulbs planted that many years ago?
But, that was way back then. I don’t know what happened to all the other bulbs I planted. Do squirrels dig them up and eat them? Or raccoons, skunks? I think I remember a few blooming in the spring of 2002, when I was slowly, day by day, recovering.
So I come upon these elegant, very tall tulips this morning. It’s a cold day for May. Tonight we may have temperatures in the 30’s (my unofficial weather report.) I went inside, grabbed the clippers and clipped. Now here they sit, on my kitchen windowsill, where I stand and wash dishes (because our dishwasher has been broken for 4 years.)
I brought them in to keep them warm…(liar!) Really, to selfishly enjoy their beauty. And as I remember planting those tons of bulbs back in 2001, I think about what has changed, who is gone, and…it was so hard back then…I think the tulips may make me sad.
I had a blast on Thursday night at - & was honored to be a participant in - Edgy Moms 2013 at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. Curated by the energetic and creative team of Louise Crawford and Sophia Romero, hosted by Brooklyn Reading Works, and sponsored by Babeland and Magdelena Pure, the evening overflowed with talent and inspiration. Reading excerpts from our collaborative memoir, Still Here Thinking of You, were Lori Toppel, Susan Hodara, and moi. Catherine Gigante-Brown read from her novel The El, and a short essay about her 5 year old son’s choice of haircut style - both pieces containing just the right amount of funny and touching. Two amazing actors staged a hilarious scene from a play by Chris Nelson. Karen Ritter had me laughing loud & strong as she read her piece written from the viewpoint of a nursery school teacher who had Jesus as a student and tried patiently to deal with both him and his “helicopter” mother Mary. Nicole Callihan’s reading of several of her new poems was very moving. And Sophia Romero ended the evening sharing her humor and wisdom concerning her teenaged daughter’s prom.
And now, we have Sexy Edgy Moms 2013 to look forward to on May 23!!!
Check out Brooklyn Reading Works on Facebook.
Some fun books at Curious-on-Hudson in Dobbs Ferry, NY -
A very COOL joint !!! New & Used books; classes, workshops, events!
oh, we had some fun - watching the Rangers, but boo-hoo, they lost.
The Old Stone House in Park Slope Brooklyn
This is where we will be, Thursday, May 9 at 8pm for the
2013 EDGY MOMS !!!
Thursday, May 9, 8pm
Curated by Louise Crawford and Sophia Romero
Funny, poignant, shocking and fresh writing about
mothers and motherhood
This year we’re presenting three writers from a beautiful NEW memoir collection calledStill Here Thinking of You. We’ve also got the very witty Sophia Romero aka “the Shiksa from Manila”; Chris Nelson, a hilarious playwright; Nicole Callihan, a wondrous poet; Karen Ritter, a funny, funny writer, and Cathy Gigante-Brown, author of The El.
me, at the Village Bookstore (Pleasantville, NY) for our reading on Sunday. i am posing beneath books about mothers/motherhood/etc. (a Mother’s Day display). i am holding the book i co-authored (Still Here Thinking of You ~ A Second Chance With Our Mothers) with Lori, Joan, and Susan. i saw the titles of these 4 books (Sh*tty Mom; My Mother Killed Me/My Father Ate Me; Difficult Mothers; New Ways To Kill Your Mother) and i thought “hmmmm….i wonder what title my sons will choose when each of them writes about me one day….” if they bother to write about me. one of my sons is a writer (aspiring…?) and the other a musician. maybe the aspiring writer will choose me as a topic…but, oh, how boring. of course, he could fictionalize me, make me interesting, maybe marvelously so. oh, enough about me. Mother’s Day is this Sunday. i wonder if either of my boys will even realize that fact. does it matter? just another day for the greeting card industry to guilt us into buying stuff. i know a lot about guilt. i wrote about my mother, after she’d been dead for years. but the title of the book is very nice, so that helps.