Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Being polite, I rolled up my window on a sunny warm New Year's Eve afternoon so that our loud car party wouldn't bother people, then noticed the clean spot.
Besides that moment, I almost always drive with the window down because I can't see through it at all, and it was my fault for ruining it.
Yes, me. I did it, the blind spot was mine.
Earlier this summer -- June? -- I impulsively peeled the bubbling tint up off the window, and found the pane stained by a layer of white gummy residue.
No doubt it was ruined, absolutely and irrevocably, I shrugged, then took to driving (quietly) with my window down, avoiding the highway because I couldn't stand merging with my head out the window.
Over the past months, I've grown used to the quirk of my blind spot, no longer bothered by the sticky mess which I kept invisible by never rolling the window up.
Then, earlier today, in a burst of New Year's nesting, I vacuumed out the car, wiped down the seats and doors, and -- in my enthusiasm -- must have accidentally rubbed against the partially rolled-up driver's side window, dissolving from the gummy mess a quarter size hole of sunlight clarity, impossible to miss.
While strolling the aisles of Costco I wondered if I'd imagined the clean spot. I pushed the thought back, filed it under, "wishful thinking" and threw some hummus in the cart.
Then, after stuffing the children with Costco cafe junk, I heaved the water, chips and frozen things into the trunk, scooted the kids in the car, and jumped back in the driver's seat to check the window.
Yes, it was there, I hadn't imagined the flattish round spot.
I could hardly contain myself with joy at finding this sign from the universe, a gift of unexpected proportions.
As soon as I parked in the garage, I hustled the kids of the car, tossed the 16 pack of Angus burgers into the freezer, the roasted pepper hummus into the fridge, then hustled back to the car, Windex in hand.
One squirt, two squirts, three squirts, execution style across the rolled up pane.
The gummy mess dissolved without further effort, falling in fat streaks that swelled into a line on the bottom of the pane.
Again, I pointed and shot.
Squirt, squirt, squirt.
This is so easy, I thought, wiping across the door with one hand.
And then, so happy to have been wrong about being in the dark, I sat in the car alone for a couple of minutes, laughing at the small pleasure of finally seeing things clearly.
*Happy New Year*
Thursday, December 25, 2008
The house is clean of wrapping paper, debris, and any toys my kids want to keep away from their two year old twin cousins. The kids are watching Spongebob Squarepants Christmas (again) so, in the quiet, I sneak to my father's office to check my email and facebook.
He has seven windows open, and I can't help but see the titles -- "Retire Abroad," "Flight Information," "Your Itinerary," and "Spain - Your Retirement Paradise."
Merry Christmas and Happy 65th Birthday Dad --don't sweat it, your secret is safe with me*
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
It's unexpected (but not the worst news) about an IED and a man who, as a 9 year old, chaperoned me on my first date with his brother.
He and I almost never talk but he is part of my every day life. I tell stories about him to my classes. My largest and most beloved desk-treasure -- the famous yoga laughing Buddha frog -- was a gift he bought at a lunch we took the kids to, two summers ago
The news is such a shock that I find I have to do something, so I put down my zinfandel and pace the distance of my parents' present-laden living room, stepping around fallen cups that Zack lined up for target practice.
As I kick an orphaned teal shoe out my path, my blackberry buzzes me out of trance, announcing a text from my friend Barb.
It is a short message with the link to the website for baby Sean, and - follow it to a site with pictures, journals and a guestbook. Yesterday's journal mentioned that 2 week old Sean is still in NICU, and has a series of brain bleeds (three, if I counted them right, but right now, that's too much to expect). He remains critical but stable, and loved with a ferocious protectiveness he can't yet understand.
Hopefully he will be in Tallahassee by Valentines Day. Until then, his parents will stay at the Ronald McDonald House near his hospital in Kentucky, thankful for every beat of their son's heart.
Meanwhile, NORAD says Santa is over the Atlantic, coming our way, hopefully bringing surprises, health, friendship, joy, patience and -- if he has room for it in his bag -- a big box of laughter.
Merry Christmas * Peace!
At 2:30 in the afternoon, Ft Lauderdale time, the NORAD site places Santa Claus and his reindeer over Iraq.
Zack's eyes widen in disbelief, then he blurts out "Iraq ? Poor Santa!!! We should rescue him!"
My blackberry rings but I can't reach it in time to answer it, so I unplug it from the charger and bring it to the hard cold floor with me.
Only 9 more presents to wrap, I tell myself, and return to watching Dog the Bounty Hunter smashing a crack pipe with his black boot.
My phone rings again -- this time I answer.
I hear the beeps of the microwave, and the bangs of pots.
I hang up, wrap another present, temporarily lose my pen and scissors (again) then start to wrap another one.
My phone rings again. Again it is my father. More bangs, less beeps. "Helllo? HELLLOOO?"
I hang up on him, and watch Beth, Dog the Bounty Hunter's wife, cook an omlet which he first likes, then complains about because it isn't cheesy enough.
My phone rings again, and again it is my father.
This time, I hear the banging of pots, and a spoon tapping against the side of something.
"Hello? HOLA? OYE? HOLA?"
I hang up and call my Dad on his landline.
He answers the phone sounding agitated and excited, "What?"
"What what? You've been calling me! WHAT?"
He denies it until he checks his Blackberry.
"Your butt has been calling me. Over and over."
"Can't be my butt, it's on my belt...."
"So you're learning over the stove? And the oven is calling ME?"
He laughs. "Yes, my oven is calling you."
"Forget it. Tell your oven NO WAY, I don't cook, and I have no love for it at all, not even on Xmas...."
He laughed, because he knows this attitude runs deeply among women in my family.
"Can I go now?" he asks, clicking his spoon in the background.
"Yes, yes, whatever, goodbye."
And we hang up, filled with the usual day of the night before Christmas cheer.
Friday, December 19, 2008
We are at the most wonderful baby shower, Zoe and I.
Finally he is arriving, the child they have been expecting for 9 years. It is a small gathering, a happy one, but also a nervous one.
The baby could come at any time, which means Mom and Dad – two former soldiers who left the service after—well, it’s not my story to tell, and I haven’t told it, but it’s not a secret – Barb, in fact, would greet you with a warm hug and tell you herself if you were lucky enough to meet her one day.
Rob and Barb's young children Ryan and Rachel (along with their grandfather) were killed in car accident in 1999.
Since that night my friends have survived. They sleep, they eat, they go to Walmart. And their family has grown to include a daughter -- Marina from Russia -- who has brought joy, laughter, and thousands of doctors visits. They adopted her from an orphanage that had no medical history, no story of prenatal care.
As long as I’ve known Barb, she’s been wanting another baby.
We discussed this over wine the first night we met, back in August 2005 sitting on a blanket in my living room. I told her I was an accidental and begrudging parent who loved her children as people, “but the whole responsibility of socks? And meals? And butt wiping? No, those don’t play a role in my ideal life.”
She shook her head, “It’s wonderful raising a family. And putting socks away and taking care of them, and the looks on their happy faces when you feed them…”
Soon after that, we got up and went outside so she could smoke. “Rob won’t let me get pregnant until after I quit smoking.” It made sense, we agreed.
She smoked while pregnant with her first two children, and both came out extra early, extra small.
Over the next three years of our friendship, I watched Barb speak about her children several times, (http://laughingmelissa.blogspot.com/2007/03/tick-tock-draft-1.html), quit smoking, and survive multiple rounds of medically invasive, expensive and emotionally devastating fertility treatments.
In mid-2008, Rob and Barb signed up with an adoption agency, and I hardly saw her for months as she had home visits, wrote letters and filled out forms.
By Fall, a birth mother several states away also signed up with an adoption agency and wisely selected Barb and Rob to adopt her child.
On the December Sunday of Sean's Baby Shower, Barb sat on her screened porch, smoking, as Zoe and I walked up their long driveway, swinging presents and holdng hands both wearing long Royal blue dresses (she copied me, and if she tells you different, show her this article).
“You two are overdressed,” was her welcome, just before she hid her cigarette behind her back and hugged me with one hand.
“Overdressed? No way! This is the most important and wonderful party we’ve ever been to, if I had a ball gown I’d be wearing it!”
As the party settled from standing to sitting, Zoe and I found a place next to the wall where six stockings were hung. Zoe counted out in a polite whisper, “Rob, Barb, Marina…. Mom, why do they have two, each?”
My attention pulled back from the jalepeno cheese square on a ritz cracker as I counted the stockings then remembered, “Zoe, baby Sean gets one…” she nodded, “And who else?”
Zoe shook her head.
“Their other two children?” I offer.
“Oh! Ryan and Rachel….I see, Oh Mom, where’s our gift for Barb?” Her voice drifted off, she stood up, and joined Marina rearranging the presents in front of the room.
Part #2: Bichos Malos
I am alone with my Blackberry, watching Zack play made up superhero games with a new friend at the park. Ass Zack and his new friend traverse a bridge in front of me, I take a picture with the phone and send it to my Mom.
The day doesn’t feel as warm as I thought it would, and I am thankful for my red shawl. A brown squirrel runs right in front of me, pursued by an albino one, and I follow their pursuit up a fat-trunked tree, half bald, draped liberally in Spanish Moss.
The Blackberry buzzes in my pocket where – unlike the phones before it which died awful deaths – it is snuggled safely in ruggled holder.
Mom replied to the picture with a text that began, “In the ER with Papi…..”
My first thought was not something I am proud of. I am not ashamed of it either, but I am surprised by how quickly it popped up. “No way, there is NO way this will happen again. He had a heart attack on my 30th birthday, and now on my 40th? Please don’t let my last visit be my last visit." (From November: Goodnight-abuelo & Everywhere-now)
Of course, I know better.
It isn’t about me, it’s about life, and love, and my mother who has heaved herself from the depth of grief this year, and stood there with a lifeline for him so he wouldn’t drown in grief of his own.
I texted her back, “Tell him his heart is still under warranty from ten years ago. And remind him about ‘bichos malos’”
She didn’t reply until several hours later, but I’m sure she passed the message on, and fully understood it.
It’s from a Spanish saying: Bad bugs (bichos malos – also meaning, cranky mean people) don’t die.
Part 3: Sean Arrives
At the baby shower, I bet Rob $20 that Baby Sean wouldn’t arrive until after January 1.
“He’ll be born on a Tuesday, I know it,” Rob said, firm and quiet.
On Tuesday, December 9, Sean Busby entered the world, tumbling from the sky through a kind woman’s body and into the arms of his real parents.
Barb texts me the news of his arrival from their car as she and Rob tackle the thirteen hour drive to where Sean has been born.
I call her back.
She has not yet held him, but the attorney emailed pictures to her.
For the first time since I met her over three years before, Barb is downright giddy.
The next day she calls again and describes his face, his gestures, his perfect eyes and face and soul.
We do not talk again for a few days, but I see her online where she uploads celebratory pictures to her Facebook.
I cannot remember the specifics of phone tag that ensued that week, but I know when she and I actually talked next.
It was the morning of December 15, and I was on my way across town, heading back from campus where I had cleaned my office after submitting final grades.
“Do you have a pen?,” she asked, and said no, that I was driving, so don’t make me write anything.
Instead, she explained what exactly had been found to be wrong with her baby Sean’s heart, that he was facing open heart surgery, and that he might go on the transplant list.
Not once did she say, “Why me?” or “This is not fair.”
And, for the record, you should know that she didn’t say, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”
She did say, clearly to me and the universe, “I will not bury another child. I will not do it.”
The conversation continued. I said, once, “I’m sorry.” But then continued, “I mean, I’m so glad that he has you to take care of him, and I know everyone is scared, but I’m sorry you didn’t get immediate blissful joy you were expecting and so deeply deserve.”
She sniffed. I asked what I could do, and she told me, “Call me. Just keep calling me. If I’m in the NICU or with the baby or whatever, I just won’t answer.”
And so I did.
I called and texted her Tuesday. No answer.
Again on Wednesday. No response at all.
My stomach sank.
On Thursday I tried again, not too much, just a little so she’d know I was thinking of her – only good things, of course.
Part 4: My Birthday
On the morning of my 40th birthday I woke at 5:00am to write my 1,000th blog.
I want it to be a good one, but I am not sure what it will be about. I start writing the story about the 6 Stockings and about baby Sean, then write about my Mom text about my Abuelo.
Around 6:45a I stand up to stretch and find Zoe sprawled across the sofa. Sing me happy birthday, I command, and when she doesn’t, I pull her on my lap and tickle her mercilessly while singing it to myself.
Soon enough Zack hears the commotion and snaps his fingers while strolling to us, wearing his black and yellow SpongeBob jammies, hair standing straight up in the air.
When neither of them can produce a single present for me, I sing happy birthday to myself while tickling them both at the same time.
After I drop the kids at school, my mom calls to sing me happy birthday.
I let her, and laugh, and then she tells me how lucky I am to have my grandfather here to sing to me on my 40th birthday.
She passes her phone to him and he sings to me, “Happy Birthday to you, you are my number one, I love you Missita, Happy Birthday to you.”
I clap my hands and he laughs at our little party. “You know I was your age when I left Cuba and had to start all over?”
No, I tell him. No, I didn’t know that, and I hadn’t thought of it.
I’m just so glad you’re here, today, I tell him, and I guess a doctor entered the hospital room, because I could hear a bunch of people talking and then the phone went dead.
After that, I called Barb while driving across town to my office where I needed to fetch some books on early Spanish Empire and land grants.
She answered with a choked up voice, “Let me call you back in 10.”
I turned down my car radio, tucked the Blackberry between my knees and prepared myself for the worst.
I imagined that if he passed away, she should not have to tell me. Or anyone.
In preparation for her call, I switched lanes, avoiding the highway in case I needed to pull over and cry.
She called as I passed the Walmart where I get my oil changed.
“Critical. But stable. He had open heart surgery yesterday.”
I laughed involuntarily and banged the steering wheel happily, “Best birthday present EVER!”
Barb didn’t laugh with me.
She exhaled with a sound that sounded much like she might be smoking a cigarette, standing outside the hospital, probably wearing a thick coat because where she is can’t be nearly as balmy as Tallahassee is this week.
“I said critical but stable, don’t have a party yet.”
“Are you kidding? Sean is alive. My grandfather is alive. They’re both here, and it’s my birthday. It’s a great great day.”
An hour later, I was back home and finally able to finish my 1,000th blog, happy again to have found another slice of something wonderful to write about.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
As we waited in line with the rest of the cars rolling slowly past the playground to the drop-off zone, I heard her mutter, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no, this can’t be happening.”
I followed her gaze out the window to the playground and saw what she saw.
Not a single other kid was dressed in pajamas.
She reached into her bookbag and pulled out the class calendar to make sure she hadn’t lost her mind.
As Zoe got out of the car, she hugged the teacher who opened the car door for her, squared her shoulders and shuffled off bravely in her pink fuzzy slippers.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This morning I walked into the faculty lounge mildly hungry, hoping to find the usual feast.
The room was empty and quiet except for a tall work-study-student whose name I refuse to learn.
"Potatoes," he says to me, pointing at a bowl on the closest round table.
"Potato WHAT?" I ask, imagining potato bread, potato bagels, potato muffins....
Then I see them on the table which should be full of bagels, cream cheese (light, regular, strawberry and veggie).
A bowl full of potatoes.
"It looks like a bowl of potatoes," he says again, staring at the unmoving brown lumps.
I poke one, hesitatingly.
Yes, it is true.
I sigh. "Someone brought a bag of uncooked potatoes and poured them into a bowl. This is almost as bad as the time there was a bowl of oranges."
"Almost," he agrees, then both stand there in silence, neither ungrateful nor enthusiastic, before he returns to do whatever anonymous workstudy students do these days, and I head off (hungry!) to give another final exam.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I hear you are talking about your weight again. Atbleast the media says you are so.if you are can I please give you some advice?
Please be kind to yourself. Accept the shape you are in - physically and otherwise, embrace it with gratitude and accept that you will always be changing growing and shrinking as long as you are alive.
I have finally found sanity after fighting with my weight since the age of 8. I let go of the judging voice that was constantly tearing myself down and I let go of the gloating superior weight watchers lifetime member and often anorexic voice. I am just Melissa.
A woman on a path whose mission cannot be accomplished in any great part by fitting into a size 4 again. I was not put on this earth to be preoccupied with anything short of coming to know and rejoice in the universe and its beneficent creator.
So in that spirit I write you and remind you that you are perfect the way you are now, being exactly who you are supposed to be, teacher and student simultaneously.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
I catch sight of her legs, point at her as I swing the door open with my free arm and blur out - "You are NOT going out dressed like that! In shorts?!"
She stomps back into the house, head down.
Her helmetless friend rolls her bike down our front yard hill into the quickly darkening evening. I tell her goodbye, then close and lock the door behind me.
Zoe is sitting on the sofa, her head in her hands.
She doesn't raise her voice or cry. "Mom! You humiliated me! You could have whispered to me to come in and change..... or asked Isabella to wait a minute for me..... I am so mad at you...."
Zack's forehead feels sweaty against my cheek and I recognize how distracted I had been.
With his head tucked under my chin, I stand in front of Zoe, swaying back and forth in the instinctive dance that mothers do while holding sick children and quasi-apologize to her, "Zoeita, I am so sorry for embarrassing you, that wasn't my intention...."
Zoe looks up, tears welling in her eyes, "Mommy, I am so disappointed in you, I know you could have done better...." and with that, she stands up and drifts back to her bedroom, turns the TV on too loud, and acts her age again.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
I am upside down on the yoga ball, ignoring Lou Dobbs Tonight.
She finds me, then asked, "Is today one year since Tata...?"
I wait a beat to see if she's really asking what I think she's asking. When she only blinks at me, I take a deep breathe, give her another second still, then offer up, "....jumped into the sky????"
She nods, then tilts her head. "Let go of the grass!"
"Let go of the grass?" I understand it immediately.
When someone dies, gravity reverses.
The body that held them here and kept them from being part of the universe suddenly stops, and they let go of the grass and fall back into God.
"Oh Zoe! I wish I'd thought of that! If I say that you said that, can I write it?"
She nods, I get my pen. Instead of just letting me jot down that line, she follows me and continues her story.
"One night Tata came to me and we were laying on our backs under a Palm Tree, looking at stars. She put her arm around me and pointed up, and said, 'Zoeita, see the stars? Those stars are angels, and when we die, we become one.' And after that, she hugged me."
I nod, not looking at her, still trying to write "let go of the grass" in my journal in a meaningful way, so that no one looking through my pages would think I was writing a to-do list.
Across I line I scribble, jumped into heaven, let go of grass, Zoe, 12/1, upside down on yoga ball.
"And THEN she let go of the grass?" I ask Zoe, ready to listen more carefully to her story.
"No, Mom, she hugged me that night and she's never let me go."
"Tata never jumped off the grass?"
Zoe shakes her head, "No, she never jumped off the grass! She's with me!"
""Abuela is with YOU? So she didn't jump into the sky? She didn't let go of the grass?"
Zoe shook her head. "Nope, neither."
"Fine. You're saying I was wrong about the jumping into the sky?"
She nods, solemnly, patting me on the arm.
I turn back to my journal and start to cross out what I'd written, then stop. I get my Mac, turn it on, and with Zoe tucked under my left arm, type this story one-handed, grateful for the fantastic mystery of it all.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Now, today, a year later, every single thing feels and looks and seems different.