Friday, April 29, 2016

So this is weird

My mother is known for her sharp, sometimes lacerating, tongue. Sentimental is the last word you would ever use to describe her. So imagine my surprise when I asked her what she would like for dinner and she answered, “All I want is joy and happiness.” And then she told me that the previous evening, when my brother and sister-in-law and I arrived and ordered Chinese, was “perfect—nothing needed to be fixed.” And by "nothing needed to be fixed," I think she meant flawless. At 90 years old and counting, my mother is still fucking with my brain!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself

Then I listen to what other people are going through. During a single weekend, I heard updates on way too many sad tales. One friend struggles with depression and anxiety two years after her husband committed suicide following a lifetime of unremitting pain. Another friend helped his wife kill herself after a lifetime of unremitting pain. Two other friends cope with grief and loneliness years after their husbands dumped them for other women. Another friend is helping her brother raise his daughter because his sportswoman wife committed suicide when her chronic fatigue syndrome made living unbearable. That same friend, whose husband limps from a stroke, is helping her sister deal with multiple myeloma.  Two other friends are coping with the health problems of their adult sons, one with a disabling seizure disorder, the other with a life-threatening colon condition. Another friend, who recently watched her father die, is trying to figure out retirement as she watches her husband descend into “mild cognitive impairment.” The daughter of another couple cannot work because she suffers panic attacks in the wake of a concussion. And yet another friend is the single mother of a foster child born with fetal alcohol syndrome whom she has placed in a residential school because he was uncontrollable; he begs her to let him come home. And that’s not all. But I just can’t bear to go on … 

Monday, April 11, 2016

That'll work

Overheard at the bank from a guy talking on his cell phone: "Look, I don't want to fight about it anymore. Just stop being a bitch and I'll see you Thursday."

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hearing voices—mine!

I’ve been volunteering on a cancer helpline for many years. I think I give good advice, particularly to women dealing with the anxiety of a cancer diagnosis. “You’ve done everything in your power to maximize your survival,” I tell them. Or “Keep a notebook of your worries, so you don’t rehearse them when you’re trying to sleep.” Or “Remember to breathe.” Or “Go to a movie.” Or “Yoga!”

Recently I spiraled into anxiety over concerns about my own health. I began parroting my own advice back to myself. A psychologist I know says this is a form of “counterattitudinal advocacy.” And you know what? I give good counsel! (And by the way, I'm fine.)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Some days are hopeless

I’m one of those people who apologize too much. In fact, today I was at a medical clinic and found myself doing it again—saying I was sorry my paperwork was messy, sorry it was taking me so long to get my insurance card out of my wallet, sorry my things were cluttering up the waiting room. Finally I realized my apologies were getting annoying, and I had to fight the impulse to say, “I’m sorry I’m apologizing too much.” 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Room

Space is tight in New York, and no one has enough privacy. When I told friends about a recurring dream I had in which I’d discovered an extra room in my apartment, it turned out they’d all had the exact same dream. 

When my daughter was born, she slept behind a curtain in an alcove in my husband’s painting studio. We built my son, who was 10 then, a room of his own with a sliding door. My husband and I sleep in a fold-down bed in a tiny space that doubles as my office; when the bed is down, I can’t reach my desk. 

After my son went off to college, my daughter moved into his room. I continued to long for a place of my own where I could get away from everyone and think my own thoughts. I told my family that when my daughter moved out, that room would become mine: I dibbed it.

We let her keep it while she was in college, and after college she lived at home off and on for a while. But a few months ago, she found an apartment with a friend and took her stuff with her. 

I had big dreams for my new room. I would finish the novel I began before my kids were born. I would move my books in and turn it into a personal reading library. I would use it as a yoga studio. I would set up my sewing machine. In the end, I’ve left it empty, though I sit in it for a few minutes every day. All their things may be gone, but my children continue to inhabit the space. The ghosts of their pasts linger. That room changed my kids. They entered it as children, and when they left they were adults. This is where they led their secret adolescent lives, learned to get away from my husband and me, did things they wanted to keep from us, found their freedom and their true selves. Now that my children have grown and gone and I finally have time and space to think my own thoughts, I find that I think mostly of them and the curious alchemy that took place in that room.