a faint memory sings
through the fog of life
of a little girl of 5, walking
around the neighborhood
pulling a red flyer wagon
in which sat rusty cans
of Folgers, packed with
hard Missouri clay and
scrawny twigs, each the
start of a mighty oak –
her sales pitch that while
they were not much to look at,
each held a promise of great
shelter in the determined jab
skyward. a bit like the girl
herself, a thin dirty child
of no consequence.
If you take my personality and add “tired” with a twist of “busy”, you get a deadly cocktail of awkward quiet lady in the corner.
Um, can I leave now ?
It is a text from one of my nieces that finally breaks me.
The niece sent us all a photo of my older sister that said under it, “All good now!”
Despite all the years and distance and the estrangement in between, my sister had essentially functioned as my mother when I was a child. And she had kept me out of really serious trouble at many important junctures in my youth – trouble that could have completely derailed my adult life.
She is the best approximation of a biological mother I have.
And now my sister is on my phone in this terrible photo. She sits, IV in her arm, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. Her shiny black hair is disheveled and her face is smeared with heavy wet mascara. Her chest is gone, flat from a double mastectomy. She’s at the hospital for a chemo treatment. According to my niece, doctors gave my sister heavy sedatives to calm her after a massive anxiety attack. Hence, the crazy, brave smile.
And to me, there is nothing “all good” about the scene.
Cancer is a thing in my family, this awful thing that can’t be contained. Virtually everyone seems to get some form of it and then very slowly die after rounds and rounds of horribly aggressive treatment. My grandfather. Three of my four aunts. Countless cousins and other distant relatives. Some of my less educated relations fear that maybe cancer is contagious, and won’t visit those who receive a diagnosis.
I know my sister has a strain of cancer that is particularly resistant to treatment. And the doctors seem to be throwing all the treatments at her. So of course, I think my sister is going to die, though I haven’t really put words to it yet until I see that photo.
“All good now,” I whisper to the photo of my sister. “All I can do is pray that it’s all good now. Whatever that means.”
It seemed she had reached a point in life where being served steaming cups of strong coffee featured prominently in all of her sexual fantasies.
And she really wasn’t interested in what her therapist thought about it.
When my children were young, I started singing to them at bedtime. Mostly because I couldn’t stay awake long enough for any decent bedtime story, and they were catching on to my fatigue, poking me and letting me know that I was mispronouncing the words to every story in my blurry awake/sleep state. Singing required that I be more on my toes.
Of course, I was (am) not a great singer – so I had given all the songs my own sort of melody, one that fit better with my very limited vocal range and skills. Sometimes I also made up parts of verses to compensate for my terrible memory, or spent time on the internet learning all the lines again. And I sang almost everything at my own slow pace because I wanted the whole thing – the words, the sounds, the rhythm – to lull them to sleep. The sooner, the better – and hopefully before I fell asleep too.
I had almost forgotten about all of that. But last week, through a fuzzy haze of jet lag and short-sightedness, I realized that the label on the hotel’s shampoo was the first line of a song I sang to my children once upon a time. I sent them both a photo of the label and asked, “Does anyone remember this?” to which one daughter wrote back with the next line of the song (or possibly the line I made up to be the next part of the song) – and the other daughter wrote, “Yes! I remember that too!”
Thank god for social media.
It reminds me every day that I’m not really as strange as I worry I might be.
In fact, I am downright plainly normal compared to the world wide web and that is a pretty
a w e s o m e
revelation for me.
The bartender offered her a special drink to sip while she sat and watched the hurricane swirl magnificently across the screen above the bar.
He had invented it himself, he said – called it the Mandatory Evacuation.
She turned it down because (a) she was annoyed by the interruption and (b) it sounded more like a heavy laxative than a fun cocktail.
She just wanted her usual vodka tonic and silence tonight.
It was my favorite sort of irony, really – so how could I even be hurt or angry?
My youngest child made an irritated and impatient note about the fact that I had purchased shampoo and conditioner that had no bearing on who my actual daughter was.
“Mom, this is for people with curly hair, and it just makes my hair weird.”
I had been so enraptured by the hot pink color of the bottles and the fancy font that screamed ‘mango butter and lemon’ that I hadn’t noticed the ‘curly’ part.
I had been so proud of finding a new trendy shampoo in millennial pink that I couldn’t see ‘curly’ on the label.
I apologized. My daughter, super charged on teen annoyance and otherwise quite confident that I hadn’t been paying attention to the details for a while now, said: “Don’t worry. I’ll order my own from Amazon.”
And oh, she did. Yes —-
She ordered something called “NOT YOUR MOTHER’S shampoo”…. and as a woman who bought a shampoo named VERB because I love words and not because I knew anything about the product … I just couldn’t help but wonder about the message being conveyed.
[With delight, I admit. With delight.]