Friday, January 30, 2015

My Buddy

     We've recently had quite a lot of snow in New England ... all at once.  I don't know which is worse - two feet of snow in one night, or two feet of snow spread out over a month.  It's sort of like the way I looked at my first two children's birth stories.  The first one took days with 27 hours of active labor.  The second one took an hour and twenty minutes.  Looking back, I really can't decide which one I preferred, as they were both overwhelming.
     With all the snow and clean-up, which is still far from over, the customers have been sparse, but today brought an interesting story.  We were helping a woman get into her safe deposit box.  We've recently moved everything online which has created some challenges for us, as we are in an older branch and sometimes the computer doesn't match the paperwork.  No problem though, just a little extra work to make the computer match, as paper is the trump.  In her case (we'll call her Sarah), only her mother (we'll call her Mildred) was listed in the computer - and it was frustrating her that it was taking a little longer.  I stepped in to explain that we'd certainly take care of her need today, but if she could bring Mildred in the next time, I'd be happy to clear this up.  Sarah said that would be difficult, as Mildred didn't get out a lot.  I started to brainstorm out loud how I could make this happen for them, looking up Mildred's info to try and make it easier.  I noticed that everything was very outdated, and it was going to be a bit of a challenge.
     Then Sarah looked at me and said, "ok ...  my mother died 15 years ago.  I've been negligent in fixing this, because I couldn't bear the thought of taking her name off the box.  Isn't that crazy of me?"  And the way she looked at me, her eyes welling up with tears ... I completely understood.  She had her hands in front of her on my desk.  So I reached over and placed my hand on top of hers.  I told her she wasn't crazy at all.  I told her that my mother's desk sits in my bedroom.  I told her that each drawer is unchanged from the way she left it. 
     I didn't tell her that the middle drawer has her fabric markers in it, her scissors - one labeled in her handwriting "fabric only," sharpened pencils I will never use.  The top right drawer has special trinkets and little metal boxes filled with necessities.  The top left drawer has her handmade address book filled with family birthdays and lists she was working on.  (She always made lists.)  There's a list of things to do "when I get out of the hospital" - that one stings every time I read it.  It has a little book of poetry that she collected over the years, writing some of it out by hand, others photocopied, some her own.  The novena she used to pray during intense times of tribulation is at the front.  The bottom right drawer holds my baby book.  It used to hold my sister and brother's books, but I thought it only right to give them their books.  The bottom left drawer was empty, so I added some of my own files.  It gives me a pretend reason to be in the desk, instead of looking over the things she used to touch.
     When my customer was done looking at her safe deposit box, she came to say goodbye to me.  She took her wallet out of her purse and showed me a tiny black and white photo of a young woman in the outside plastic pocket.  She said, "This is my buddy.  She's always with me."

Sunday, January 18, 2015


     I was sleep-choring the other night - while washing the dishes, I fell asleep standing up.  I woke myself when a snore escaped and startled me.  I know I snore, a little, but I refuse to think it's worse than my husband's snoring.  I used to pray that I would fall asleep before him, otherwise there was no way I was going to sleep.  Now the tables have turned, I'm often so tired when I go to bed I'm out long before him. 
     My last company would send the managers to a conference once a year, and they always paired us up in the rooms.  This is never a comfortable idea - forced cohabitation, but for many years, a dear friend and I would share a room.  We settled into a rhythm.  She fell asleep right away and showered in the morning.  I stayed up until she was asleep and showered at night.  Sympatico.  Inevitably, a year came where I was partnered with someone else.  I warned this one in advance that I might snore a bit.  The next morning, she not only told me how she couldn't sleep due to my snoring, but she told anybody who would listen about my snoring. Over the course of the next few days, she would joke about it at meals.  It was rather humiliating.  This conference came less than three months after I gave birth to our last child and my mother's death.  It was a bad scene overall. 
     I was pumping and storing my breast milk, not only so I could take it back to the baby, but also so I wouldn't stop producing milk while away from her.  I carried my supplies around with me all day, making trips back to the refrigerator in the room when I needed to drop the little bags off.  Picture this: me in a random bathroom in a Disneyworld conference building, trying to furiously pump and not spill a drop in the five minutes before the next session would start.  If I hadn't been worried that asking to not go to the meeting at all would have been held against me in the future, I would have done just that.  Alas, as progressive as my last boss liked to believe she was, it never really felt like a safe environment to voice my needs.  I was always shocked by the peers who would take long vacations or medical leaves when they needed to.  I heard stories about those that would leave early all the time, hardly ever closed their stores or helped on the floor or just generally said dickish things to their employees.  Didn't they live with that same level of worry or fear about job reprisal or loss that I did - or was their "fuck it" attitude much more developed than mine.
     I'm really interested in understanding why some people have a much better developed (or for the worse) "fuck it" attitude.  It's not just a generational thing either.  I've met plenty of people my age and older over the years who don't care what they ask for or how something will look.  Maybe it comes from a loss in faith with employers overall from the mid 1960's on.  You used to expect that if you worked hard for years they'd take care of you.  When that dynamic completely changed, maybe the children produced after those years were fed on their parents cynicism, with only a few slipping through the cracks. My mother, born in 1944, was afraid all the time - afraid to get fired, afraid to be unable to feed us, afraid to ask the landlord to fix broken things.  Her fear was her gift to us (along with a healthy sense of guilt - a story for another time).

Friday, January 9, 2015


     A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with a woman over the phone about her account and some help that she needed.  We chatted about her son and her health.  We laughed a little over a shared joke.  Today her son came in to give me her death certificate.  This meat sack we walk around in all day is so perilously close to the edge of oblivion every moment.  Your heart can give out.  Your cells can turn against you, mutating into cancer.  A brilliant morning at the local deli or at work can be twisted into disaster.    
     The fable of living to a ripe old age, dying peacefully in your bed surrounded by children and grandchildren, seraphim at the bedpost - seems to be just that.  We are here one minute, and then not.  The earth keeps spinning, and the taxes still come due.  When I was younger I imagined that when it would be done for me, the world would pause.  But aside from the effect to friends and family, the trains will still run.  Not quite the mark that any of us were hoping for.
     I'm awfully maudlin tonight, my loves, and I'm sorry if these thoughts add weight to the collective sadness the world is experiencing.  I have this black and white interpretation of what's fair that sometimes gets me in trouble.  The pendulum seems to be stuck on the unfair side, probably lodged in the bodies of the innocent that seem to be stacking up like cord wood.