Friday, October 13, 2017

Country Songs

     As much as my mother liked to believe that I sprang from her thigh with no influence from my father, there is unfortunately, more of him in me than I care to admit most days. I can enjoy the hell out of an adult beverage when the kids are all in bed, although unlike him I know when to stop. I have a dark temper, but I have learned how to choke it back or at least kick things in private. But when I'm in a funk, and if we're being honest the funk is strong, every sappy, morose, shitty love song was written for me.
     My father tended to mix the alcohol with the music -- country being his preferred avenue of self-flagellation -- for a one, two punch for why we all sucked as wife and children. When in his cups with that radio on, the temper wasn't far behind, so you best be out of reach of his hands. On a side note, I think that's why I hold my anger in, because I imagine I know what I'm capable of so best to just direct it to my spleen.  Anywho ...
     He could transplant himself into any country song and take on their indignation or sadness. It was suddenly his pickup truck, his dog and his cheated heart. This may be why I've never really cared for country music. Oh sure, there's a song or two that's quite catchy, and I know a ton of the older stuff by default, but it's just not my jam. Tonight we grabbed dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, which for those of you who aren't familiar with that chain, is all about the yummy food, country themed decor, servers who line dance in the aisles during certain songs, a birthday saddle that you are serenaded to whilst sitting on it, and very loud country music. We haven't been in some, and usually I can ignore the other stuff and focus on the food, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm in a funk so that music needled its way into my brain.
     Nothing destroys the sweet joy of a loaded baked potato like thinking about all the boys that don't love you anymore. Like I'm sitting there trying to keep a jovial look on my face while the image of being dumped in the sixth grade is going through my head. Boys are my kryptonite, and I can fall in like/love with you at the drop of a hat. Craig Fuller of Pure Prairie League singing "Amie" ... check. Voguing to Madonna during the high school talent show ... check. Diving into the third base stands to catch a Trot Nixon pop-up in the 12th inning ... check. Multiple mix tapes filled with an interesting array of songs that oddly all fit together ... I'll probably marry you.
     We left the restaurant, saying goodbye to the stuffed armadillo on the way out, and once in the car I hoped to turn on some sweet loud rock to drown out those dumping images. Instead we talked about how the world was falling apart, that the people of Puerto Rico are dying and how different and safer everything felt just 11 months ago. Suddenly, thinking about all the boys who might have adored me a million years ago didn't seem so dreary. I'm still in a funk though. Maybe, I'll go kick something.  
        

Friday, September 15, 2017

Whirlwind

     Matthew walked into my office today looking a little skinnier than the last time I had seen him. We'd worked together on a couple things over the last 2 years but nothing major. He handed me his checkbook and said he wanted to close his account, and while I was at it, I should close his credit cards, too. That's not a common request, so I asked why. He paused long enough to lean forward and put his arms on my desk. Then he said, "They told me I have three weeks left, so I want to tie everything up now."
     I probably blinked three or four times slowly, before I told him how sorry I was for him. He told me what cancer it was, but heaven help me, I can't remember it now. He tossed all the cards on the table and told me he would appreciate my help.  Meanwhile, his long term girlfriend came into the center, and I could see her over his shoulder through my office windows looking a little frantic. I motioned to her, and she came in. During our conversation, she several times mentioned that maybe the treatments would work and maybe he shouldn't close everything and maybe and maybe, before he took her hand and looking at me said, "There's no coming back from this."
     I took care of what he needed done, tried not to cry when the help desk representative asked why he wanted to close his cards, leaving it at "he's quite ill" and tried to make it as quick as possible. When you're measuring minutes, small talk and a casual pace seems like an unforgivable injustice. When he left, we all shook hands, and I wished them peace. He thanked me and said he was sorry that we wouldn't be working together again.    
     Not 15 minutes later, I was helping another older client who had come to remove his wife's name from their accounts, as she had recently died. He had brought his daughter to put her on the accounts, and although he was a tall man, he sat slumped beside her barely lifting his head to look at me. All his statements directed to the floor. In the middle of our conversation, my assistant manager needed to ask me a question. She had an irate customer who wanted what he wanted and was pitching a mini fit. I agreed with her decision and went back to my client.  Mid-way through collecting a death certificate and trying to draw out answers from my client, I head a thud in the next office and immediately excused myself.
     The irate customer in the next office was clearly trying to bully my assistant by emphatically banging his hand on her desk. I assessed the situation, asked him a couple questions and everything was exactly as she had explained to me. He didn't want to pay check cashing fees and was going to open and close an account every week in order to avoid them. I told him we wouldn't be doing that. He got louder and angrier and demanded things to go his way, not quite getting in my face. I reiterated this would not be happening and within another sentence or two, I told him he could leave or we'd call the cops. He threatened to call them himself, then quickly changed tactics and said he didn't want this to get out of hand and he just wanted to open the account. I asked him if he was going to close it next week ... did he want to shake my hand on his word? "I'm not shaking your hand," followed with something close to just open the fucking account. I said we were done and no account was going to be opened. I made sure he was out of her office and then went back into mine.
     I profusely apologized to my client, the widower I had left behind, as the jackass knocked on the windows of  my office on his way out. It seems as though it's a never ending whirlwind of emotions every day now.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dan

     Dan told me yesterday that he has pancreatic cancer. He's a older client that I've befriended. One of my co-workers found out in advance and gave me a head's up, trying to ease my grief, but it didn't make a difference when he looked me in the eye.
     In his early 80's, you'd never guess it. Smart and quick witted, funny, and always on the move, Dan just doesn't slow down. He spent his working life as a man of finance and industry, made a fortune and protected it all for his kids and grandchildren. The last ten years have been spent in twice daily visits to a nursing home where his wife resides. She's long since forgotten who he is, but he goes morning at night to help her eat, to sit by her side, to just be there.
     He told me that he's got weeks of chemo scheduled, then weeks of radiation, and then finally surgery to cut the remaining tumor out. Dan told me that he's going to remain positive, but he's concerned.  His kidneys function at about 30%, and although he's been taking all necessary measures to mitigate any issue from that for years, his doctors are concerned about what impact the cancer treatment will have on them. He told me he's had a good run.
     This caused me to get weepy and say that his wife needed him around, and that's when Dan quickly shut my sentimentality down. He told me that she was extremely well cared for in the nursing home. She wants for nothing. But she has no idea who he is. He comes and goes without acknowledgement and with no expectation. He said, Heather, she stares off into space, has a hard time swallowing and has long since stopped being able to dance with me. And at that last image, my facade broke and I had to stop looking at him while he spoke.
     He told me about his upcoming plans and that I would probably not see a lot of him over the next couple of months, as he figured he'd be wiped out from the treatments. He also told me that he's going to a show downtown next week and he bought orchestra seats for himself and his daughter, figuring, what the hell ... why not. Why fuss and fret over the cost at this point, he said. He stood up and told me that he was going to be positive and that I shouldn't worry. Then he hugged me goodbye -- hugged me hard -- and whispered in my ear that it had been nice knowing me.
     It feels some days as though the older I get, the more I say goodbye.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tonight's thoughts

     It's been a rough couple of months for me and mine since I last wrote to you, my loves. May is a really icky month, between Mom's birthday and Mother's Day, and this year it was made all the tougher by my job not honoring my request for the day off. My sister and I still went to Mom's grave, but it was two days before her birthday. We had to turn and burn to get there and back in a day and a half. It also impacted Mother's Day morning with my kids, which led to a whole other level of guilt. The schedule hasn't gotten any better, and it's wearing me thin. So thin in fact that I got the flu and was sick throughout the bulk of June. And now here we sit in July, the year half complete, babies older and hopefully we're a little wiser.
     But amidst this brouhaha, an amazing thing has happened. My first book of poetry has been released with Nixes Mate Books. I tell you this not to shamelessly hustle, but to share the enormity of this moment. Over these posts, I have described that my faith, music and words have in various parts of my life kept me alive, and sometimes not in that order. I'm not speaking in hyperbole. Books were a means to escape, to learn, to change, to become a better version of me. I've been writing poetry since the fourth grade. In  my teenage years, I kept most of it kept to myself and shared only occasionally with mom. Man, it was angsty and dark and filled with unrequited love.
     In college, I spent more time writing non-fiction, getting my poetry fix through Forensics and hours spent in the theater, my longed for vocation. Later in my twenties, I would ride the subway in Boston and write in notebooks. There were poems for babies that didn't exist yet, for worries for the future, for boys I loved. Then the children came and everything changed, as it does for most of us. Meanwhile, I worked for a bookstore, so I was around books all the time. I was always waiting to be found out as a fraud. Everyone I worked with read fiction and the classics, some could wax on about esoteric themes in literature, others had read every bestseller ever. I was the girl who read comic books and poetry and philosophy, so I memorized all the book jackets and learned how to confidently upsell something I had never cracked open.
     Books are light. They are freedom. They are hope. Unlike your pants, they never stop fitting, although you can outgrow them. They are knowledge, commiseration and growth. The first time I saw one of my poems online and then in print, I was giddy. Mom made sure we had library cards the moment we could print our names. To have a book with my name on the front cover would thrill her to no end. She was a writer, too. Honestly, she could do anything creative if she gave thought to it. I wrote her a poem for her birthday more than fifteen years ago. It was super sappy, and she ate it up. After her death, we eventually moved her desk into our bedroom. I haven't removed a thing from its original spot, other than to give my siblings their baby books that she kept in the lower right hand drawer. I've added a few items of mine in the hope that they will absorb her magic. I found the envelope with that poem I wrote her tucked between some files. She's in a lot of this book. I think she'd like that.


   

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Parenting

     This morning at work, I caught a flash of judgment about my parenting. It's possible that I'm blowing it out of proportion because obviously, I'm touchy about anything that relates to the kids. These three humans I adore are the best thing I will ever do with my life. They are the chance for me to ensure that my bloodline carries on in this world long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil.
     Papa is out of town this weekend at a reading for his latest poetry book. When it was arranged, I was originally scheduled to be off, but life happens, as it all too frequently does, and now I had to work. We then had to turn to the 19 year old to watch the younger two until I got home. This meant getting up wicked early for her when she normally stays up late writing. She did it, but it made her really anxious and upset just before I left. Her father was calming her down, as I walked out the door. She was going to have to be up and alone for a several hours before her siblings woke up and that added to the stress. She watches the other two when my husband and I go out for a couple hours, like to get the groceries or go to a local reading, so being in charge isn't a problem normally, but this felt different to her.
     Obviously, every child is unique and capable of different things. What you or I did at 14, 15 or 16 may or not be what another child then or now could or even should do. My husband and I have always believed that the kids should be young for as long as possible, because once you 'grow-up" there's no going back and being an adult often sucks, if we're all being honest with each other. When I was younger than 13, I was watching my siblings when we got home from school. My mother's expectations were that I do my homework, keep them alive, read her mind about whatever cleaning was necessary and start dinner. She got home late from work and that was life. Was it fair to me? Probably not, but I was the eldest and it was deemed my responsibility. As I got older, I had all sorts of activities after school (sports, theater, etc.), so I had to get myself home and then get done whatever I could before she got home.
     We were poor. She was a single parent. I was forced to grow-up faster then a lot of kids my age. I don't think it was a blessing or that it gave me some magical gift of strength. It taught me from a young age that life is work and that there's always more work. It taught me that you have to put up with shitty bosses so you don't get fired, since your kids like to eat and have electricity. I learned how to figure out how expensive something was in relation to gallons of milk or a loaf of bread; i.e. that shirt costs 6 gallons of milk, do you really need it? I learned that your chores have to get done before you're allowed to eat, that a meal is your reward for washing dishes and vacuuming the house. These aren't new ideas for some of you either. Unfortunately, I never forgot any of these lessons, but I didn't want my kids to feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, they have chores. In fact, they have a lot of chores, but their #1 responsibility is learning. Since we home school, that varies from day to day, but after chores, it's learning, writing, reading, music, language, the news, video games and a host of other interests.
     Getting back to this morning, when I got to work I told my team briefly what happened and said that if she called me, I'd have to leave. When I mentioned she was anxious, that seemed to make sense to everyone, but then someone said, but isn't your son 16, and I could swear I saw a flash of raised eyebrow. I deflected, talked about how the other two weren't even up yet, etc, but that moment stuck in my head and I've been ruminating on it all day. Intellectually, my kids are well beyond their age group, but emotionally they're a bit younger. By allowing them to have a longer childhood, I began to wonder if I've done them a disservice. My son is plenty cynical, and the eldest isn't far behind, so it's not as though they don't know about how hard life can be and often is. They have lost people they love. They are very politically minded and aware of current events, concerned how this administration will effect their future and their family. We challenge them to think critically, but we haven't challenged them to pick up the pace to grow-up.
     I've always felt that if you're questioning your parenting choices and decisions, you're probably on the right track. If you get too comfortable in your certainty on any topic, then you stop challenging yourself to do better and you stop growing as a human. I can be a better mother, a better friend, a better sibling - I'm an almost perfect wife, so not much room there for growth (haha) - but I know I can do better by them. The goal of every generation is we're supposed to screw them up less than we were screwed up by our own parents. It's going to be a long night of ruminating on my choices. I should probably find something to clean.          

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Oddness

     I had two odd transactions with customers at work today.  The first was with an older woman who although she doesn't come in that often is known to be a challenge. She's the sort of human that really doesn't think any of us are capable of doing our jobs correctly. I was helping her with a rather menial task, no big whoop, and we were exchanging small talk. Our entire encounter lasted less than five minutes, and during that time she insulted all my people as being too new to know how to do their jobs well (2 of the 3 working today have more than 20 years apiece with the company and the other one has 10 years), told me that one of the former male managers was so intelligent and so beautiful that she would frequently feel a need to tell him, and finally, she said that it was interesting how a young woman such as myself would have such an important job as manager at such a young age.  Because clearly I've used my extreme sexual prowess to work myself all the way into middle management in a slowly dying seaside community.  Nothing says success like feeling your brain atrophy while you order checks for octogenarians.
     The second odd transaction took place with an older man who also needed to order checks, because nobody can figure out how to do this through their computers apparently. I was touching base with my assistant manager in her office when he strolled in and asked for help. I told him we'd be happy to assist and was preparing to leave her to it, when he said he wanted to ask us a question, as well. Honest to God, this is as close to word for word as I can recall:

Client: He's my question. Let's pretend that the three of us work in an insurance company together.
Me: I'm sorry. What did you say?
C: So we're all working in an insurance company together.
M: Ok ...
C: I'm the boss and you ladies are the secretaries. Every day I come in and say please and thank you and we get along just fine. And one day, I call you a little girl when I'm talking to you. You don't like it and complain, and then I get fired. I mean, how is that fair.
M: Wow ... ok. (My assistant and I look at each other.)  In my experience, there's usually more to the story. One "little girl" isn't going to get anyone fired.
C: Well how is that sexual harassment? He didn't even touch her.
(Clearly, we have moved from the hypothetical at this point.)
Assistant: Sexual harassment isn't just about touching someone. It's often about how you make someone feel.
C: That's ridiculous! Come on. If you're not touching anyone, you're not harassing them. A man should lose his job over that? If you called me a young boy, I'd be happy.
M: I'm sure there's more to the story. Companies have to be super careful to not fire someone without just cause. They'd investigate, bring people in to interview the employees, really cover themselves before anyone would get fired.
A: I have to agree. That's my experience as well.
C: (throwing his hands in the air) I don't know what I expected talking to the two of you! Of course you're going to think he should be fired.
M: I didn't say anyone should get fired. You asked our opinion, and I think there's more to the story.

     I then excused myself to answer the phone in my office. When I got off, he was still belaboring the point with her. I heard her say, this is a different time now, sir. You can't say whatever you want to people without thinking about it first.  
     I know that I don't need to tell any of you reading this that there is a world of difference between calling a grown woman a "little girl" and telling an old man that he's "young." The first is a demeaning phrase used to talk down to someone and remind her to stay in her place, akin to calling a black man "boy." It's also incredibly demeaning to suggest that the surest way to advance on that old job hierarchy is to screw your way to the top. Unfortunately, some women far too easily buy into the bullshit they've been fed, too.  Age doesn't excuse harassment or make behavior acceptable.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Acceptance

     I'm thinking tonight about love, loss and obituaries. An odd mix, I know.  After work, I stopped in to Sara's wake. There was a large crowd of women laughing and sharing stories, oblivious to the evening sleet and snow coming down outside. I stood on the fringe scanning for an obvious family member to give my condolences to or her best friend Pam. I found her and the requisite family member keeping watch at the back right of the building near the casket. After extending my sympathies to Sara's kin and clasping Pam's hand, I knew that etiquette dictated I say my good-byes to Sara.
     Even though I've had a lot of people I care for die in my life, I've attended less than a handful of viewings mostly due to distance, timing, work schedule or cremation.  I was impressed by the people at the wake milling about from clique to clique and chatting each other up, all with Sara literally just over their shoulder. It was probably a testament to her personality how large a circle of friends she had; from her career as an educator, to her church, to college friends, town friends and decades with the Girl Scouts. So many people there to honor her and remember.
     Which brings me to obituaries. When I read hers, it was dignified, short and sweet. I've only been involved in writing one, and at the time I was kinda really sorta messed up, so my siblings and I enlisted my husband to make sure that the words all made sense.  On an interesting note, when we submitted it to what I will call my mother's hometown newspaper, they re-wrote part of it. That pissed me off immensely at the time. After I read Sara's, I couldn't help but think about how much was left out and how much would be left out of all of ours, out of mine.
     I'm not trying to be morbid, really I'm not, and maybe that's why you have a wake or a funeral or a celebration or some sort of event to allow people the chance to say out loud what you meant to them.  And I suppose that your chance to specifically mention the people who are beloved to you needs to come with each day, because we never know when the day you're going to get hit by a bus will come.  I absolutely adore taking anybody I love aside and telling them to their face how important they are to me, because I need you to know how special you are.  Not Hallmark trite crap, but the real stuff that matters, that I enjoy observing. My grown-up nieces have all gotten used to that last tearful good-bye from their silly Aunt Heather when we visit; my whispered thoughts on how awesome they are, how much I love them. I don't want them to read a line in my obituary that says "she is survived by" many beloved nieces. They need to know exactly how I feel. My only nephew and the great-nieces and great-nephews haven't gotten as much of this due to distance, a gigantic failing on my part.
     And then where is the place in the obituary to mention your treasured friends, your mentors, life-changing teachers, your great loves, to thank them for how they made you the human you are? Perhaps we should think of our obituaries more like an acceptance speech where there's no music to play you off or an extended acknowledgements page or album liner notes, and then I suppose you'd need to write it yourself in advance. Why leave it to someone else, allowing them to create a mythos of the real you? They'll sanitize you, my friends, and you're much too complex for that.
     For those of you still around when my time comes, be prepared for a party. I want you to laugh and sing, to tell dirty jokes and read poetry out loud, to eat and drink and tell as many stories as you can. Talk about the question game we used to play in the car, as there will be no need for secrets at that point. Talk about what it was like to kiss me.  Did we act together? Sing together? Talk about what it looked like when I lost my temper, when my sense of humor strayed towards a 14 year-old males, my ability to conjugate my favorite curse words. You're welcome to say sweet and lovely things, but don't belabor it too much because I've never been good at taking a compliment. I will haunt you.    
     I will continue to tell you all how much I love you, whether you ever tell me back or not. I don't say it for any of you to feel beholden to me to reciprocate, but for you to know my heart. (Although, I welcome any feelings you want to share ...I'm dorky that way.) I will tell you how strong you are and how proud I am of you, how hard you're working on improving your health, what an amazing parent you are, how I admire your dedication to your elderly parents, your patients, your writing, your crafting, your faith, your true self. I want to celebrate your love stories and dance to your music. I want to look you in the eyes and tell you how fantastic you are and how lucky I am to know and love you.