Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sing Me a Lullaby

Summer of 1952

My eyes, my nose, my ears and my skin do not lie to me. They yield the truth of any given moment. And it is to the moments that I turn more and more as the years pass.

Days are swallowed into weeks, and a month no longer seems a large measure of time. And, of course, I find this awareness to be more than unsettling. It is downright frightening at times.

My earliest memory takes place in the backyard of the LaCrosse Street house.

Mama has placed me on the lawn atop the old fringed bedspread.

My eyes widen with wonder as I watch an ant climb a blade of grass up one side and down the other until it disappears into the tiny forest of the lawn. The late June sun feels good, and I feel safe because Mama is nearby.

I forget the ants, and I look toward her. She is hanging laundry on the twirly gig clothes line. She wears madras plaid short shorts and pointed red flats. Her legs are long and tan.

Mom is only twenty-one . She has married young not because she was ready, but because she was pregnant with me. She and my dad won't make it, but she does not know this as she hangs her laundry while keeping an eye on me.

Flap. Flap. The sheets snap in the wind.

Off and on, Mama comes over to me and dances a bit of a jig as she sings "Chicky Boom Chicky Boom. Chicky Boom Chicky Boom."

Her words send a carnival of joy up and down my spine. I can only gurgle in response, for it will be some time before words will become a part of my world. And with those words I will start to analyze experience. I will use language to separate myself from myself. I will often trust my thoughts more than I trust my feelings.

The laundry basket is empty. Mama scoops me off to the bed with the high sides, her lips to my ear as she sings:

"Sleepy time in the pastureland
Dreaming. Dreaming.
Here we come with our pails in hand.
Mary, Molly and I."

I close my eyes and I see the girls with the pails of milk coming over the hill. They will be there for me when I allow myself to close my eyes and remember. They will calm me during the scary times when sleep eludes me.

They will be there to bring me back to a sunny day in which clean sheets and ants and Mama were all I needed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Will Be a Pine Tree

The swiftness at which change sweeps into my life these days still surprises me. I have observed that the older I get the greater is my ability to take things in stride. What might have seemed to be a major drama in my thirties becomes a matter of course as I approach sixty.

Loss may mound as I age, but I am always grateful when I remember to see the gifts inherent in the loss.

The older I get the less it takes to make me glad. Glad means getting to experience a big string of regular predictable days in which nothing momentous occurs good or bad.

What I might once have called a boring day is the very kind of day I now give thanks for. I call these days my Smooth Days.

Smooth Days are days in which I get to set the tempo; I live free form.

Smooth Days are days in which I can wander about inside and out taking the time to play with my cats and to nuzzle my face in their sun-warmed furry tummies.

Smooth Days are day in which I take the time to peel and chop mounds of different vegetables so that I can have a ready made salad bar in my refrig.

Smooth Days happen when I let myself trust my gut about what to do next.
Shall I continue working on a project?
Shall I garden?
Shall I read? Shall I just lie flat on my back on my bed looking through the skylight at my longleaf pine tree.

I lie on my back on my bed as I write.
I see the huge old pine from my skylight.

I feel a connection to this tree.

It stands tall and proud, for it has braved hurricane force winds, frosty Florida winter nights and searing summer Florida suns.

I will be a pine tree.
I will live three hundred years of life in this life I have left.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mama Beautiful Mama of Mine

Mom and Me
Venice, 1966

My broken leg and my cracked ribs have changed lots of stuff for me this summer.The good part is that I have allowed myself to receive from others again. As I have aged, I have become increasingly uncomfortable about receiving from others. And I believe that losing my mother played a huge part in this manner of being.

Somehow or other I had receiving and needing and independence all screwed up in my head. I knew that the men in my life did not want me needing too much. I felt that no one wanted an adult woman who was too vulnerable, so I became fiercely independent, proud and aloof, for to need too much was something I found to be both terrifying and repugnant.

No matter how difficult my relationship with Mom could be, I always knew one thing for truly sure - Mom loved me. She was in the background of my life. Sort of like a comfy old sweater. She was there if I needed her. On call. Waiting.

During my first adult heartbreak when I was twenty-two, I visited her. I lay in her bed frozen with pain sobbing. She lay down beside me, and she cried too. She said she would trade places with me if she could. She told me that things would get better. And they did.

She never missed an opportunity to champion my cause, to express her pride in me or to listen to me at length when asked to do so.

But my mother's need of me was too big for me to satisfy, for I needed to become my own woman, and I could not do it with Mama in my life too much. Her life had been focused on her two daughters. She called us her proudest achievements.And she did not want to let us go.

Years of a push/pull dynamic ensued between us. Guilt trips. Pathetic and desperate phone calls in the middle of the night. Threats of suicide. Mean letters. I distanced myself more from her with each bout.

Then one day Mom was dying. A phone call on the evening of November 12,1990 confirmed that. Lung cancer. Small cell. Bone and Liver involvement.
Mom -always dramatic- described herself to us as "eaten-up".

Thus began a period in which I fell in love with Mom all over again. I allowed myself to feel my great need for her- a need that was so huge that it frightened me, for I feared losing myself in it. I cuddled with her. I allowed her to brush my hair. We sat in her bed with our arms around one another to have our picture taken.

Over the weeks as the cancer took her body, we lay in her bed holding hands while laughing and crying over old photographs.

For her sixty-first birthday I placed a dozen yellow roses on the dresser that was opposite her bed. Three days later she asked me to remove them. She said she could not take them where she was going.

A few days later, she told me to go home to my husband and not come back. She said she had the nurses, and that I belonged in my own home where my life was. I remember crying and telling her that I wanted to stay by her. I did not want to leave her alone. I told her I wanted to be strong for her.

What I did not understand then was that she needed to be alone, so that she could get on with the business of dying. She could not perform the largest act of letting go that any of us will get to do, with her blue-eyed daughters and a vase of yellow roses too near.

She had to withdraw into a new place in order to die.

I last saw my mother on Monday, February 18, 1991. She died the following Monday.

6:40 in the evening Monday, February 25, my sister and I are talking about the hell that is being played out in my mother's blue bedroom . Her suffering has gone beyond what anyone should have to endure. And we want it to end.

A click over the phone line. My sister asks me to hold while she takes another call. Within seconds, she returns , "Mom died a few minutes ago" she said.

Death makes you feel like you have to get up and do something, as if in the act of doing you can make it go away. I looked out my living room window. My husband was coming down the sidewalk with a bag of Mexican take-out.
Minutes later, we are driving the seventy-some miles to Mom's condo.

Once there, I rush to see Mom. She is lying at a diagonal in the ugly hospital bed. She is dressed in her powder blue Vanity Fair nightie. Her blue eyes are open and staring far beyond me.

She looks like a fallen seabird.

I stopped letting myself feel any real need after Mom was gone. I guess I thought that needing hurt too much.

The accident has put me in touch with my need to need again. And I think I am turning a new corner as I approach my sixtieth birthday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Me, 1973
Fresh out of college
A summertime of watching Watergate,sex,drugs androck n'roll

I blinked my eyes, and I am fifty-nine years old.

Just when being a "nice" woman, a "nice" friend, a "nice" wife was gettin' ready to lay me flat- I saw how the rage in me was gonna tear my insides out if I didn't pay it some attention.

The farther I got away from my true self the angrier I got.

I watched grown-up women long and hard when I was a teen. I saw what a woman's life could be like if she did not have grit.
I saw what a woman's life could be life if she devoted it all to a man.
I saw what a woman's life could be like if she could not support herself financially.

It was not a pretty sight. And I wanted no part of it.

Mama had taught me by example- a bad example for sure, but one that I learned real well- perhaps too well, but that in itself is another story.

Life sort of hijacked me along the way. Time and its trials has a way of doin' just that.

Before I knew it I was pushin' sixty, and I was a pale vision of my former self.

What had become of that feisty girl riding on her purple racer at fourteen?

What had become of that young woman who was so full of vim, vigor and rebellion?

Where did the girl go who dreamed of writing a book?

And why in hell was I not dancing my ass off more like I used to?

This is my story.

The year was 1974. I was living alone in my first apartment which was actually the bottom of a big old house. Funky it was with its window shaker air conditioner, the mushrooms that grew behind the toilet due to the Florida humidity and the green shag carpet which smelled like mildew, but it was mine.

It was here that I discovered the music of Dory Previn.

A song I never forgot. The fact that I, too, am left-handed is mere coincidence. I just really dug this song. And it speaks volumes to me even today.

This Birthday is Bothering Me

My age is not who I am, but this turning sixty is sure as hell getting to me.
I remember asking my ninety-something grandmother how old she felt in her head, and without pause she replied, "Why, in my mind I am always eighteen."

And yes, I am fourteen in my head. For fourteen was the year I first fell madly in love with a guy I met in my Latin class. He was cute, funny and smelled deliciously of English Leather aftershave. Fourteen was the year that I had crossed the line between young girl to woman-in-the making.

I was fourteen, and I was budding in my sexuality. Oh, I was a good girl Most of us were then. I mean I didn't know what a French kiss was until I was seventeen. And I thought it a rather gross way of kissing at that first time.

I had been groomed on the soft open mouth kiss that gradually turned hard and somewhat frantic. The kiss that took place in the 1965 Chevy Impala with Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity" playing on the radio. However, I did note that my breasts felt as though they were pushing to be released from the heavy layers of my Peter Pan collar blouse, my v-neck mohair sweater and my wool coat on that subzero night in southwestern Michigan.

But first base is the only base I would ever go with this beautiful boy- my first true love.

It is below freezing that night. I am bundled in my Chesterfield coat with the velveteen collar. My body is flashing and wanting more of this beguiling swirly charge that I feel when I smell him, and when he kisses me.

Sixty is freaking me out. Or maybe some of it is that I was in a very horrific car accident six weeks ago. Or maybe it is because I learned in May that my younger sister may live only five more years. My god. It seems only yesterday that we were cute, tanned and sexy little hippie chicks. Living in old houses out in Lutz on lakes married to artsy brainiacs who opted to be hippie carpenters because they were not ready for the nine to five.

Nothing more to say. It is just getting to me about being almost sixty years of age.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Old People and Young People

My aunt expressed often in her later years that she got great pleasure when she could hang out with people twenty years or more her junior.
And to her I was young. She was eighty-something, and I was fifty-something, and as long as she was alive I was still relatively young.

Mom's been gone twenty years now. Dad is going sooner than later, and my very sister who is younger than me has a terminal illness. My cousins call to talk to me because as one of them said, "I am calling you because you are the oldest in the family."

And when one of them says that, I think what the hell- I don't know squat. In fact, the older I get the less I know that I know.

Here is what I know tonight.

I know it is necessary to be true to yourself. It is absolutely necessary not to allow yourself to put yourself down. We all have much to offer. And even if we cannot figure out what it is, we must trust anyway.

I do believe that there is meaning and purpose to life, but I don't know what it is. So now I am making it okay just to be in a place of trusting that just because I don't understand something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Tonight I went to an art opening. I was one of two of the oldest people there. and I felt out of my element. And being in the wheelchair compounded that feeling . I was so down on myself that I got absorbed in superficial thoughts.

So I took a reverie. I flashed back twenty-five years. I am young, thin, fit and ripe. I am at this same art opening. Out of the corner of my eye I see an older woman somewhere near my mother's age who is in a wheelchair. I want to pretend I do not see her, but the polite me pays her perfunctory attention . Then I make an excuse to scurry away.

I want to be full of the future too, but I must admit as I age I often must give myself a pep talk about staying in the game of making plans and thinking forward.

The wheelchair trip was like here I sat lower than all others, and I watched me watching me and visions of the poor crippled Clara in the Heidi movie crawled in my head. Young Clara, in her high back wheelchair both intrigued and repulsed me because I, after all, was a normal two-legged girl.

Tonight was an exercise in being the much older woman in a wheelchair This was an experience that I found both interesting from an academic standpoint and somewhat depressing from a ego point of view.

And it is hard to admit, but I still have a REAL BIG EGO. I would have thought by now that it would be so far up on there on a dusty shelf.

Another lesson. Tomorrow is also another day.

No one day of my life is in and of itself monumental.

In my mind's eye I am still me- on my bike at fourteen- wind at my back pedaling home.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Broken Leg, Broken Heart and Clipped Wings

Years ago at a Rebirthing retreat, I participated in a exercise called eye gaze breathing. Partcipants did circular breathing while staring into another person's eyes. After a period of time, I felt an incredible spinning/tingling/buzzing feeling that enveloped my whole body. It was the most delicious feeling I have ever experienced. I shouted out, "Fuck". After the exercise was completed, I soon learned from a pal that my outburst had upset the people who were hosting this "consciousness raising" event.
The word "fuck" had erupted from me. Someone explained that I had experienced what is known as a cosmic bath. Whatever it was, I had been an innocent. I had breathed myself into such an exquisite state of aliveness that the word "fuck" had nothing whatsoever to do with a thought but rather with a feeling - a feeling that emcompassed all of my passion for all that is life.

My reaction to the disapproval took me back again to the place inside of me in which as a child I was made to be wrong for being totally me.

I find that I continue to put my deep desires on the back burner. Always making an excuse for why I don't sit down more and paint or write or take on those creative projects that spin as endless loops in my mind. They taunt me. They torment me. They wag their crooked fingers at me and cackle hideously as they say, "See, you are going to die, and we will die with you. Hey, pay us some attention before it's too late."

Why in hell am I afraid to let it all hang out? What is there to lose anymore? So much is now gone. I remember when I was younger I would tell myself that I would really write when my grandmother Pearl died. guess I had her set up as the finger pointer of my young life.
Pearl died in 1997.

And still nothing.

Thoreau's words about how most people live lives of quiet desperation has resonated with me since my early twenties when I first read him. Tonight his words are thundering within me.

We create fences around ourselves to keep us tame- to prevent us from breaking out- to allow us to graze and pretend that a life of contentment is enough. It is like we are sort of afraid of what might we become if we just charge full force ahead with our passions leading the way.

But as I lie here tonight I know that I need more.

And that very thought frightens me.

I turn sixty in less than a month.

I have a fire that won't go out.

This fire is a passion in me that has been burning since I was a very little girl. I used to think that sex- lots of hard, rocking, three times a day sex would satisfy it. But that's not it. Sex is a dead end. It doesn't satisfy the hunger in my soul

I have finished with the fences. There ain't no security to be had 'cept the deep feeling in your gut that your fire is still burning.

And it is that fire that so many whom have claimed to love me have sought to extinguish.

Maybe this current state of being able to do little but lie with my leg up will cause me to finally implode and be reborn again. Fresh. Me- Paula.