Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Truth About Love: "At the Lake"


we said and felt and did and saw so much on Friday. at this point, re-visiting it feels like too much, so I will say very little, but wanted to share with you a positive thing.

i went to puffer's pond yesterday, a beautiful spot in amherst. i brought a picnic and books and spent the afternoon reading on my blanket or floating on my little inflatable raft. i'm struggling. everything is difficult, but i breathed, i lived, i did my day.

i only went in the water once. when i stepped in, this old woman--like maybe she was 70?--came right over to me. it was some effort for her to walk, but she made that effort so as to get to me. it was as though i was the right place for her. like the way i was looking for coffee on our drive home and spotted a dunkin' donuts and said, "oh, there's one!"

i had that feeling. like she was looking for something she needed and when she spotted me she said, "oh, there's one!" Like an information desk, or a map in a subway station, or a gas station when you're lost--or a kind soul when you need some helping.

i was a little taken aback when she talked to me because i was feeling so raw in the world already. i'd gone through a lot the night and day before, obviously. so i missed the first thing she said. and my first instinct was to avoid her. but then i thought maybe she needed my help and that maybe i ought to not be selfish. like maybe i might need to offer to help her get out of the water or something. i felt i should rise to the occasion.

so i looked up and into her eyes, and i was filled with warm loving. it's this warm thing that channels through me sometimes. deep compassion. the kind that knows no bounds and comes up from the earth and connects me to the heavens so that i am like a channel for goodness, traveling through from sky to earth, earth to sky. it is a great feeling of connectedness. it happens also sometimes when I pray and when i think about my niece and my nephew. i smiled. and engaged with her.

"something bit me," she said. "i think it was a moose fly." she showed me her wrist where a shocking amount of swelling was taking place, it was like a squishy blue golf ball had formed under her tissue-thin flesh just at the point where one would take her pulse.

"you need a poultish," I said--sometimes I still struggle with "s"s. (did i ever tell you about all the speech therapy I did as a kid?). she knew I meant "poultice," and i helped her to dig up some of the cool, wet mud on the shore. she placed it over her wrist, and held it there while she stood ankle deep in the water, leaning against the railways ties that formed a small wall at the edge of the water, and told me more about the bite.

i told her that ice and ibuprofen should help. and possibly a benadryl since it looked like she was having an allergic reaction. but i said if she'd been stung by a hornet, rather than bitten by a fly, then the poultice would really help to draw out the poison. i told her if it was a hornet, it would also itch very much in the coming days. i showed her where i had spotted a hornet's nest nearby when i was getting in the water. there were hornets crawling all over someone's towel and sandals.

"those are my things! " she said. "that's where i got bitten."

"I think you were stung," I said. "keep the poultice on it, put some ice on it, and take a benadryl and an advil if you like. it'll take a few days to feel better."

it's hard to explain the love and kindness i felt for her. and she was wonderful. i enjoyed talking with her and being there with her.

i offered her some advil, but she declined and said she'd go home instead.

i wished her luck and started to move away into the water, and she looked up at me and said, "are you a nurse?"

"No..." I said. I thought perhaps I ought to offer something more than that, some explanation for my knowledge or my reason for helping. But, I didn't really feel like explaining. So, I just left it at that. And I smiled.

i kind of wish i'd asked her why she picked me to talk to about her sting...there were so many people there, of all ages, mothers with children, men and women, all sorts of people. but she came straight over to me. and it was the right choice for both of us.

these things happen to me a lot. i generally don't tell anyone, unless there's a great anecdote associated, like the day I helped stop traffic for the ducks (did i tell you about that?) or the day i had diarrhea AND was late for my flight AND had locked the keys in the rental car AND the car rental woman had set her pants on fire AND I'd gotten in an accident with the rental car and totally stripped one of the side mirrors off the car AND I had Calvin and Norman with me and then the woman in the bathroom at SFO asked me to "help her find her hole." (which, I stopped and did, of course. the hole turned out to be a post-surgical drain in her back. eww.)

aside from those kinds of stories, there's something private and sort of spiritual about these moments. i feel connected to the right easy flow of the universe when i am called to love in this way. it's sort of like why people must give money anonymously. they give for the giving, not for the credit. i think it's why babies fall asleep in my arms. when i am near children, i often channel this calm, loving flow, that feels so good and soothing to them (and to me).

i share this with you now because i want to make a greater effort to focus on and verbalize the positive experiences in my days. and also because while it was happening, i was aware of you, and felt a connection to you in the moment. i think you wish for me a life that is full of that feeling--of love and loving, of smiling and goodness and inner calm. so i wanted you to know that, despite everything else, for a few minutes at the lake, i had that. and i appreciated it and loved it and returned to it now when i remembered and shared it with you.

i'm still struggling. there is lots more to say. but for now, let's leave it at this.

and, of course, another "thank you."

with love and appreciation and a fervent hope that your saturday work went quickly,


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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Truth About Love: "Skunk Update and Roommate Stories"

Good news! Seth (my roommate, pictured right with our little friend) and I successfully caught and removed the little skunk last night. It was very cute and calm and reasonable throughout the process. I think everyone involved was deeply relieved when it ran off into the night.

One of the things I like most about Seth is his ability to step up. The day he was supposed to move in, was the day Calvin died. He showed up and found me on the stairs in my pajamas attempting to process the news. Rather than move in that day, he gave me the day to be alone with Calvin and Norman and Dan. He gave me room to cope and cry and grieve and bury Calvin in privacy, even though he had every right to move in and had already paid his rent. It made all the difference in the world and was a tremendous act of caring for someone who was a relative stranger.

The next day, he showed up with flowers. Lilies and impatiens, "because," he said, "I know you like to garden. And girls like flowers." Those flowers became the ones that circle Calvin's headstone, and I was so grateful to have them. Planting them kept me busy that first day without Cal, and it was a great relief to have a purpose.

During Seth's first weekend here, I came home from my first date with Nathanael, very sick. He was on the couch and I walked in with this guy he'd never met and said, "I'm going to go throw up. Make sure he gets home." And he did. He drove him home.

And the next morning, when I called Seth from my room (on my home phone) to his room (on his cell phone), he got up out of bed, and went out to get me the only food I felt I could stomach: Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee, a bagel with cream cheese, and Gatorade. He'd only gotten two hours of sleep, but he didn't tell me that until later. He just went out and got me what I needed.

The next weekend, I came home again with Nathanael, only this time I was on crutches having spent the evening in the emergency room. "I think you know the way," was all I said to Seth. We smiled at one another, and shook our heads, and he got up and drove Nathanael home again.

My knee injury was terrible. I was in pain. I was immobilized. A brutal heat wave hit. It was all just very discouraging. I was behind in my freelance work already because of moving and then my car dying and then Calvin dying...and I was applying for a job I really wanted, but it was impossible to sit at my desk. Whenever I did, my knee swelled up like a grapefruit, which was very uncomfortable and more than a little bit frightening.

So, I laid in bed with my leg up and tried to work from there. And Seth took care of me.

I tried to find others to help. I asked a few friends if they could come, but almost all of them had their own problems or prior commitments and couldn't (or wouldn't) come that first week, when I couldn't walk. But Seth, who had only known me for a few weeks, dropped everything and took care of me. He helped me up and down stairs. He brought me Tylenol and Advil and ice. He kept me company. And when I broke down in tears because I just felt so miserable and lonely and overwhelmed, he did the dishes and washed the floor because he knew it would make me feel less powerless and more okay if the house was clean. It was pretty wonderful, really.

Every day, he gets up, and he leaves the house so that I can work in peace and quiet. He is a Journeyman Ironworker and has been between placements during his time here, so he could just sit at home all day. But, he doesn't. He gets up and makes sure he's gone for the duration of my work day. He does this only because he knows I need it. It's incredibly selfless.

I was surprised when Seth didn't answer any of my phone calls yesterday about the skunk. I left him several messages but didn't hear anything back. He rolled in the door around 10pm and immediately smelled the skunk and saw the barricade i'd put up between the kitchen and the hall.

"What the deuce?" he said.

"Didn't you get my messages?!" I said.

He said he hadn't. His phone had died. So, he sat down and I explained about the skunk. He listened to all our options. The $400 professional removal. ("Fuck that," said Seth.) The possibility that the ACO would come back tomorrow with a trap. Or, we could do it ourselves.

"Can I kill it?" he said.

"Absolutely NOT," I said. "There will be no killing. NO killing. We are going to take care of this animal--no killing."

He smiled a smile made crooked by the lump of chewing tobacco nestled against his jaw.

"Let's go get it," he said.

There is something about Seth that makes him trustworthy. This was not the half-cocked, testosterone-induced notion of an irresponsible man. Seth is an Eagle Scout. He is pierced and tattooed and drinks like he's Irish (which, I think he is). He is also capable of handling just about anything. So, with complete confidence, I said, "yes." All of a sudden the idea of being face to face-or face to ass--with a skunk seemed totally reasonable. It was definitely what we should do.

Armed with an old blanket, a flashlight, and a whiffle ball bat, we located the beast. Well, Seth located the beast while I stood in the kitchen eating my dinner. But, once he'd found it, though, I was in. I went downstairs and together we worked like a well-oiled machine. It reminded me of something my brother and I would do together. My brother is a man like Seth is a man. He has a high tolerance for pain, a big love for his family, a wicked sense of humor, a desire to kill furry animals and occasionally torment me with stories about doing so, and the ability to fix just about anything.

With Seth at my side, I did not fear the skunk's perfume. Instead, I felt totally capable of solving the problem. It took us a while to move boxes out of the way, prod the little creature out of its hiding place, and wrap it in a blanket. But all along the way, we moved like a perfect duet, a daring duo. We could anticipate one another's moves and supply what was needed. The lifting of a box here, the shining of a light there, the application of the whiffle ball bat to prod the skunk in one direction or the other. It was a thing of beauty.

And, luckily, this time, he didn't have to drive anyone home when it was over. He just carried the skunk out to the yard, posed for some pictures, and set the little one free.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Truth About Love: "At Least It's Not a Roach"

Last night I went on a third date with a very nice guy from Northampton.

On our second date, I slipped on some paint that had been applied to the edges of the grass volleyball court we were playing on. I sprained my knee, got covered in sticky white acrylic paint, and had to go to the emergency room in an ambulance. I'm still not walking properly and am awaiting the results of my MRI. My hope is that it's a non-surgical diagnosis.

On our first date, I got food poisoning.

Nevertheless, last night, we attempted a third date. We went swimming. played cards on a blanket by the lake, then went into amherst for some dinner. When i made it through swimming without drowning, being attacked by eels, or stepping on a piece of glass, I thought I was home free.

But then, while standing at the intersection near Amherst Coffee...a bug flew in my ear. It was a big bug. A big, winged bug that smacked into my ear and then journeyed inside, deeper and deeper, flapping his wings and clawing at my ear canal with great futility.

In response, I also flapped my wings and clawed at my ear with a futility that, it turns out, equaled the bug's, while making animalistic wimper-screeches and jumping up and down. I wonder if, to the other pedestrians, there could have been any imaginable explanation for my behavior other than dangerous insanity.

I waited for an eternity for the light to change and then sprint-limped to the fire station where a teenaged-looking EMT was mostly just amused at my plight. he grinned, rather stupidly in my opinion, and said he couldn't see the bug, it was in too deep, and that he should take me to the ER in the ambulance to have it removed. another trip the the ER??? good gawd.

luckily, the night before--the very night before!--i was with a friend to whom this happened, so i knew just what to do. the nurse had told us to get some mineral oil, fill the ear, let it sit, and then tip it out.

so, i sprint-limped out of the ambulance, still whimper-screeching and flapping, stormed into CVS, with my date quietly trailing behind. I nearly panicked when i couldn't find the mineral oil.

"Go find it!!" I commanded my date.

And just then, I then found it, next to the laxatives and indigestion relief aids.

"I found it!" I screamed.

I sprint-limped back to the counter and asked the pack of tweenage girls lingering over their chewing gum choices if i could cut in front of them because i was "kind of having an emergency." they agreed, and my mineral oil purchase was, i suspect, aside from perhaps a late-night condom purchase or two, the most frantic transaction ever conducted at the downtown amherst CVS.

"Open this!" I told him, while a frightened cashier doled out my change.

I jammed the bills into my wallet, grabbed the mineral oil, and ran out the door--or tried to. Instead, I crashed into the too-slow automatic doors, which accordion INward, a design flaw one can only appreciate if one is in a panic and attempting to move OUTward.

I untangled myself from the doors, dashed down the concrete stairs, and laid down on the sidewalk. I put my head on the bottom step so that my date could pour mineral oil in my ear. We haven't kissed yet. We haven't even hugged yet, but there have been bed pans, IVs, ambulances, blood, crutches, and now this.

My date did what I asked. He dumped the mineral oil in my ear, but it made a big mess. my head, neck, and shoulders were fairly well soaked. so, i sent him for napkins, and while i lay there drenched in oil on the sidewalk in front of CVS, a homeless-seeming man wearing a colorful but crooked cape he had fashioned out of a pillow case and carrying a big bucket plunked himself down for a chat.

"how you doin?!" he said with great artificial cheer, as though he were a department store Santa Claus and I were a child his profession required him to charm. I was, of course, not a child in line for his lap, but rather a woman lying prone on the spit and gum-coated sidewalk with an ear full of mineral oil and a bug in its death throes in her ear canal.

Naturally, I ignored him and focused on the dying bug. But he would not be dissuaded.

"You doin' some yoga?," he asked.

"No," I said. "I have a bug in my ear."

"Ahhh," he said, as though I had requested a football signed by every member Patriots and their coaching staff instead of a talking Suzy Sweetness doll. He pondered my predicament for a moment, undeterred, and then offered, "My wife got a roach in her ear!"

I said nothing in response to this. He had done what a good conversationalist should do; he had found some common ground. But, lying there with one ear on the dirty concrete, the other filled with oil and an ever-more-slowly thrashing bug, I simply could not think of anything to say. The man ambled away, looking, I presume, for a better conversation partner or perhaps someone more willing to put something in his bucket.

As the drowning bug made its last thrusts inside my head, my date returned with a fresh roll of paper towels he had purchased inside the CVS, a place I was now beginning to think of as my sole source of salvation, its glowing red sign offering amnesty and escape from persecution in the form of air conditioning, mineral oil, fresh paper towels, concrete steps on which to rest my troubled head, and the sympathetic gum-shopping 12-year olds who stepped aside for me and then came by later to check on my progress and to tell me to "be well."

My date handed me a wad of paper towels and I sat up and tilted my head to the side, hoping ferociously that the bug would drain out along with all the oil. It hasn't yet. It's still in there. But as I sit here today, contemplating whether or not I should call my doctor, I am able to take some comfort in this thought: "at least it's not a roach."

Post Script: As I was writing this, I took a break to go downstairs and let in the furnace repairman. We discovered that the noise I heard in the basement last night was a skunk. Let's just say, we discovered this "the hard way."

I burnt my breakfast because animal control called me back while I was cooking.

Animal control came--and then left. He said he didn't want to ruin his clothes with the awful smell. He called again half an hour later to tell me he had a sore throat from the fumes. What could I say to him? "At least it's not a roach?" It turns out, that's not a universally comforting mantra.

He suggested I open the basement door and in the hope that the skunk finds its way out through my kitchen. He said I should lock the cat upstairs, barricade the four doors that lead off the kitchen, and leave the back door open. He suggested I sprinkle a 3x4 foot square of flour near the door so that I would know when the skunk had departed.

So, here I sit. Monday afternoon. Eating burnt eggs. Waaay behind in my work, with a bug in my ear and a skunk in my basement. My house reeks intensely of skunky funk. I'm sitting in the dining room in front of a very large fan, watching over my kitchen, a 3x4 foot square of flour my latest hope of salvation.

Update: As of 6:06 pm, the skunk is still enjoying the confines of the basement, despite my tempting open door policy. After acting as sentry over the area for much of the afternoon, I have a headache from the fumes and the heat. So, I have retreated to my office, where I have closed the door and turned on the A/C, which is a great comfort compared to the assaultive 90 degree heat and painful smell downstairs. The best news of all: I went to the doctor. They flushed my ear and out came an insect. A moth. A dead one. A rather sizable one. The doctor was so delighted, he actually high-fived me.

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