Tag Archives: Crying

Generally Speaking Redux

Maybe I’ve mentioned once or twice that my brother, Fred, was a wonderful big brother.  I really don’t exaggerate.  If  you could have made up the perfect big brother, it would have been Fred.  But you probably would have given him a better name.

Fred is 3 years older than me.  And he played with me all the time.  He didn’t beat me up.  He wasn’t mean.  He let me tag along wherever he went.

He actually seemed to enjoy my company, too.  Or at least, it never occurred to me that he might not be enjoying it.  Perhaps I was late in picking up some social clues.  Anyway, I can honestly not remember Fred ever hurting me, or setting me up to fail, or doing any mean big brother things to me.

He was my hero.  When we tucked towels into our jammies and jumped off the back of the couch, I was not just pretending Fred was Superman.  He was Superman.  Of course I also thought that our dog, Tip, was SuperDog when we called him “Kripto,” tucked a dishtowel into his collar and pushed him off the back of the couch.

It was during the late 1950s and early 60s; we saw Westerns on TV and in the movies — The Lone Ranger, Branded, How the West Was Won, and more.  There were a lot of shoot outs at our house, too, because that’s what we played most of the time.   Fred invented great games for us.  Cowboys and Indians, gun fights, sheriff and posse.

Fred was always the hero.  Me?

I was the bad guy who got outgunned and had to keel over and die.

I was the outlaw brought to justice by the handsome sheriff.

I was the squaw who had to skin and cook the deer.

I always lost.

I felt good that at least I had a better part than Tip.  Tip was the deer, and Fred and I would chase him around pretending to shoot him with arrows.  Fred and his friends once caught Tip and tied him onto our broom and carried him Indian-style, to roast over our pretend fire.  Tip escaped and didn’t want to play Indian for a week or so.  We did not eat him.

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Losing wasn’t a condition for Fred to play with me, but it was reality.  Fred always won.  He was always first, fastest, bravest.  He was always the hero.

Fred’s pretend horse, Thunder, was faster than my horse, Lightning, even after Fred discovered that in real life lightning comes first.  Fred showed me pictures of lightning in “the big dictionary” – a huge reference book we loved to look at.  It had the coolest pictures and lots of words we couldn’t read.  If something was in the big dictionary, it was fact.  Period.  “In real life,” Fred said, pointing to a picture of a scary bolt in a stormy sky, “Lightning is faster than thunder.  But not with horses.”

I really didn’t mind.  If Fred’s horse was slightly faster than mine, that was OK.  We were a team.

But one day when Fred wanted to play Cowboys and Indians, I’d had enough of losing.  Maybe I was growing up.

“I wanna be the cowboy,” I insisted.  “You always get to be the cowboy.  I always get shot.”

“OK,” Fred said.  He didn’t argue or try to convince me to be the Indian.  I should have been suspicious.  But I’ve always trusted Fred completely.  I knew he would never be mean to me.

“OK,” said Fred, again, thinking up a new game.  “You can be a General!  I’ll be an Indian, ummmm, I’ll be called Crazy Horse.”

“OK!” I said, excitedly.  A General!  I wasn’t just cowboy.  I was gonna be a general!

I blew my bugle, called my troops to arms.  My imaginary troops and I rode off on our stallions to fight the Injuns.

I blew my bugle again and my (pretend) troops surrounded me.  We heard Indian war whoops from Fred and his Indian braves.  Fred/Crazy Horse and his braves came at me, surrounding me and my men on all sides.  But I wasn’t worried.  I was a general.  And even at that age, I knew that the cowboys always win.

And then Fred shot me.

I did not flinch.  I did not fall.  I did not succumb to my wounds.  I screamed bloody murder:

“I’m the cowboy!  You can’t shoot me!

I’M THE GENERAL!

Fred calmed me down and took me by the hand over to the big dictionary.  He turned the pages and showed me a picture of a general in a cowboy hat with blond curls.  He looked just like me.  Except for the mustache (mine grew in many years later).

Thanks a lot, Google

Thanks a lot, Google

George Armstrong Custer.

“That’s General Custer,” Fred said.  “Crazy Horse killed him.  Or Sitting Bull did.  Some Indian killed him at the battle of Little Bighorn.  The Sioux Indians surrounded General Custer and his men and killed them.”

I didn't have a chance

I didn’t have a chance

If it was in a book, in the big dictionary, well then,  I had to die.  It was right there in black and white with a color picture.  It was my fate.

We went back over to the battlefield (the front hall) and started the battle again.  Again, I blew my bugle and rallied my troops into a circle around me.  Again, the Indians pressed forward, surrounded us.

Again, General Custer got shot.  And this time he/I was brave.  I clutched my heart, tossed my curls and fell dead.

*     *     *

I owe my devotion to the underdog and my tendency to look everything up to my big brother, who is still wonderful.  Today, I will be visiting my big brother/hero, coincidentally, so I decided to re-run this post.

Because today,  June 25th is the 140th Anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

And speaking once more as General Custer, I deserved exactly what I got.

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It’s a Frog’s Life

Recently, a close friend/relative was diagnosed with a chronic disease. He’s pretty miserable.

It’s a hard thing to accept, that diagnosis. To find out that you have something nasty that you don’t want, and it’ll always be with you. Gee Willikers, who the hell do you thank for that?

Still, having had a chronic disease for forty years, I’ve learned a thing or two that I can pass along.

I’ve learned that basically, it’s a frog’s life.  Yup.  A while ago I figured out that living life with a chronic disease simply means you’re a frog.

You don't look like a frog! Google Image

You don’t look like a frog!

You see, most of the time, life is normal. You hang out in the pond with your family and friends. You eat bugs which is gross, of course.  But still, life is good most of the time.

Contrary to popular belief, flies are delicious!

This pond has an all you can eat buffet!

But naturally, life isn’t quite that easy. It isn’t quite that easy if you don’t have health problems. But if you do, well, you have to pay attention to what happens to you.  The Devil is in the details.  Actually, the devil is in the damn symptoms you probably think aren’t worth bothering with.

You have to watch out for pot. Pots. You have to watch out for pots.

Huh?

Oh surely you’ve heard about frogs and pots!

No?  Let me rekindle that image.

Rumor has it* that sometimes someone (an asshole no doubt) puts a poor, unsuspecting frog into a pot of boiling water. The frog (being smarter than the average bear) immediately jumps out. Of course s/he does! It’s painful! If s/he doesn’t, well, we won’t need to worry about that frog’s gender much longer.

Shit!  THAT HURTS!

Shit! THAT HURTS!

Sometimes with a chronic illness, you get really sick. It’s dramatic, debilitating. It sucks.  And generally, the reaction is to JUMP!

Jump!  To the phone to call the doctor. Jump!  To call the nurse. Jump!  To call my husband. Jump!  To scream to heaven for my mother (because, in spite of the fact that she is in another realm, when something hurts, I want Mooooooooooooooom!). Jump!  To call my sympathetic friends.

Hell, I’ll call whoever will come and help me. Because the water in that pot is too damn hot; I must react. Whatever it takes. I then follow the advice I’m given, and feel better. Much better.

Sadly, it’s not always easy being green.  Or having a chronic disease.

You see, sometimes, the frog ends up in a pot of cool, refreshing water. And then, dammit, that same  asshole turns on the heat.  The results ain’t pretty.

Shit

Shit

Twice in the past few years, I’ve found myself hanging out in that stupid damn pot after someone turned on the gas (sometimes literally). In retrospect, it seems idiotic of me.. Me! The expert patient, with 40 years of practice!  It seems so obvious. But day to day, really, it is not at all clear that the water I’m in has heated up so much that, well, getting out just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

Because, you see, when you have a chronic illness, there are little things that creep up, little pains that are really nothing. Nothing at all.  Certainly nothing to complain about.  Nothing to worry about. Nothing to mention to that person on the other side of the bed.

symptom-creep

Just as surely, it’s nothing worth calling the doctor about. Nothing even worth remembering during those routine visits. Nope, it’s all good.

But then suddenly, unexpectedly, you realize that that little ache, that pain that started off so mild, that has stayed with you and built up.  Day by day. Suddenly it becomes unbearable.

So, I thought of what advice I should give to my poor depressed friend.

Pay attention to your symptoms. If you have an acute problem, jump out of the pot. Call your doctor.  Duh!

Pay attention to your symptoms. If something little seems hardly worth mentioning – JUMP ANYWAY!!! JUMP OUT OF THE DAMN POT!

More specifically, call your doctor. Let him or her know what is happening. SQUEAK! I know that’s what mice do, but I’m sure frogs squeak too,when they have to, too. It may be nothing, in fact, it probably is. But mention it anyway.  And if it is something, there may be help closer to hand than you think.

The two times I stayed in the pot?

The first time I didn’t want to go on a medicine my doctor thought would help me; I read too much.  The day after my first dose of that medication I was nearly pain free.  Gradually, I had been barely able to walk, sit or stand. I have a good doctor but I didn’t want to follow her advice.

The second time, I was somewhat less stupid.  I was away, and developed a painful skin condition, that started up slowly.  It was no big deal.  NBD at all.  Until, after a couple of weeks, it was.  When I talked to my doctor, she made a simple recommendation.  I followed it and the pain went away.

I’ve lived with Crohn’s for 40+ years. And you know what I’ve learned? Find a good doctor, and listen to him or her.  Then just float along as best you can.

Because except for eating bugs, a frog’s life is pretty damn good.

* When I was looking this up on my bible, Wikipedia, I learned that this whole “frog in the pot” thing may not be precisely true. It may not be that a frog will just hang out until it dies while the water heats up. Fuck you Wikipedia. Way to ruin a good metaphor. Go eat bugs, Wikipedia.

All images are from Google.  I leap in your general direction, Google images!

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Advice from an Expert Patient, Bat-shit crazy, Boiled frog, Chronic Disease, Conspicuous consumption, Crazy family members, Criminal Activity, Crohn's Disease, Frogs, Gas, It's not easy being green, Out of the Pot, People who boil frogs are not nice, Pooders, Shit happens

There IS a Difference

Periodically, I take some heat here at FiftyFourAndAHalf for being one sided in my political commentary. For not saying nice things about the GOP.  There is some validity to those charges.  My bad.

But, frankly, there are loads of folks who write up the other side. I have said that if the Republican Party hadn’t taken Ronald Reagan’s “The Government IS the Problem” quite so much to heart, well, things might be different.  I might be different.

But as things turned out, you see, well, I’m a liberal. An unapologetic liberal.

When I look at today’s GOP (which is very different from the pre-Reagan GOP) I am astonished that there are folks who go along with the things these folks are advocating.  They’re cra-cray!

Only today, Governor and GOP Presidential hopeful Scott Walker announced that he might just have to bomb Iran his first day in office.  You know, before he knows were the bathrooms are in the White House.  The minute he gets near the button, well, he might just push it.

Some newly elected prezes watch a parade and dance at the Inaugural balls. But not Scott!  Nope!  Nope, he will inaugurate his own balls by starting a fucking war.

Where the hell do you think I got this one?

Where the hell do you think I got this one?

Even ¿Jeb!, the brother of the last GOP guy to bring us a stupid war, thought that Scotty was going a wee bit too far:

One thing that I won’t do is just say, as a candidate, ‘I’m going to tear up the agreement on the first day.’ That’s great, that sounds great but maybe you ought to check in with your allies first, maybe you ought to appoint a secretary of state, maybe secretary of defense, you might want to have your team in place, before you take an act like that.

Scotty, however, disagreed:

At a press conference after his appearance at the Family Leader Summit here Saturday, Walker was asked if he thinks Bush is wrong. “He may have his opinion. I believe that a president shouldn’t wait to act until they put a cabinet together or an extended period of time,” Walker said.

“I believe they should be prepared to act on the very first day they take office. It’s very possible – God forbid, but it’s very possible – that the next president could be called to take aggressive actions, including military action, on the first day in office. And I don’t want a president who is not prepared to act on day one.

This is not a man who thinks he might have to react to a 9/11-like attack. This is a man with no military experience except the fucking Boy Scouts, And he is planning to go to war on January 20, 2017.

Does this make you feel safe? Secure? Like your children and your children’s children will be hunky dory?

Personally, it gives me a feeling of déjà vu:

Photo Credit;  My memory and Google Image's

Photo Credit; My memory and Google Image’s

Contrast that with the Democrats. They just negotiated an historic agreement to avoid war. To see what we can do to not destroy the planet. Well done, Blue Team!

Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs who was involved in the negotiations, described what happened after the deal was concluded. After the cameras and the reporters were gone.

[E]ach of the foreign ministers of the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – and Iran “made a statement about what this meant to them.”

“All of the remarks, by all of the ministers, including [Iranian Foreign] Minister [Javad] Zarif, were very moving, because it was private, and it was about what this deal meant to them.”

But the last spot was reserved for John Kerry.*

“When I was 22, I went to war” – [Kerry said] before choking up.

“He couldn’t get the words out,” [Sherman] recalled. “And everybody was completely spellbound.”

Kerry composed himself and continued, “I went to war and it became clear to me that I never wanted to go to war again.”

Do you have kids?  Grand kids?  Siblings who might be called upon to fight?  Which side should you be supporting?

So I am unapologetic about supporting the folks who believe that before going to war, they should work for peace.

I had the poster.  I had the necklace.  Google has the image.

I had the poster. I had the necklace. Google has the image.

* Kerry would have made a fine president.

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The Hit Single

The other day when I rudely posted a link to one of my old blog posts in a comment on Art’s blog, Pouring My Art Out, I started chatting with my blogging buddy Trend, of TrentLewin.com about that piece.  I told him that in an exercise for my memoir writing class, I had to write the same story from two different points of view.  Trend and I figured it would be fun for me to post both pieces.

So tonight, I am re-posting the story of how all my youthful dreams came crashing down on me in a broom closet. Tomorrow night, I will tell the same story, from someone else’s side.

This exercise was really helpful in the class, by the way.  It helped me look at the same story I’d told for years, but with new eyes. And it was a lot of fun to imagine the other side.  Without further ado, here it is:

Door Number Two!

The thing about dreams is that the crushing, the squelching, the termination of them is so much better in retrospect than when it actually happens.

At 17, I just knew I was going to be an actress.  A stage actress (because, don’t cha know, film work is not true acting. ) And I made that choice even before I realized that the camera brings out the psycho in me.

Now, I was very serious about this dream.  Of course I took my high school’s acting classes.  And, all snark aside, they were really good.  The Players were renown throughout the area for the professional quality of its high school actors.  And the accolades were well deserved.

Me?  Was I the star?  Was I the ingénue lead in all the productions during my high school years?  Was there a reason for my hubris?  Did my classmates look at me, remember my face and say to each other “someday we will remember when the very highly talented Miss Elyse went sledding outside our Algebra class (with that other fab actress, Ray) when she was supposed to be writing her math problems on the blackboard – because now,” sigh, “she’s a STAR.”   Oops, no, I mean they’d think “because now she is a highly successful stage ACTress.”

Uh, no they didn’t.  I was invariably an extra in those acclaimed productions.  At best I got a line or two. But I had heart.  And in the theatRE, that’s all you need, right?

There are no small parts, only small actors.”

Well, I was NOT a small actor.  I just got small parts.  And I was short and thin.  So I was small.  Shit.

But I DID get an audition. Yup!  I had an audition in April of 1974, the spring of my senior year, for the Central School of Speech and Drama, an acting school in London.

Google Image because I don't have any pictures of my own.

Google Image because I don’t have any pictures of my own.

Now, I lived ONE hour outside of New York, so training in NYC might have been a wee bit easier to manage.  But hey, this was a dream, remember?  And I wanted London:  The Globe, The West End, Masterpiece TheatRE (even if it was done on film, it didn’t seem like it). I was ready to take the first step in my path.

My audition was held in a building at Yale University, which in itself was pretty intimidating.

I performed my comedy bit first, a monologue from a comedy so obscure that I have blotted it totally from my brain. I sang “Adelaide’s Lament” under the guidance of my friend Sue, who actually played Adelaide in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls.

I delivered my Juliet speech – hey, what do you want, Lady Macbeth?  I was 17!!!  I chose one that is rarely performed, the one where Juliet is about to take the sleeping potion and is seeing her cousin Tybalt’s ghost:

O, look! methinks I see my cousin’s ghost

Seeking out Romeo,

That did spit his body Upon a rapier’s point:

Stay, Tybalt, stay! (I loved that line)

Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.

I drank the potion and collapsed on the floor in the best Juliet evah.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much.  Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I was a much better Juliet than Marsha Brady. Much. Of course, there are no Google Images of me.

I thanked the three faculty judges, repeated my name, made sure they had my completed application and my picture (although how could they forget me?)  I turned and walked to the door to leave.

Only there were two doors.

I opened the one on the right, walked through it and closed the door behind me.

It was a broom closet.

What do I do now, I wondered.

There was no script.  No stage directions.  No help of any kind.  I considered staying in the closet, but knew that eventually I had to exit stage left.

After a minute that lasted forever, I re-opened the closet door and slunk out, saying a line I haven’t heard in too many successful plays:

“That’s the broom closet.”

I opened the other door and left the room, closing my dream back in the room with the judges.

I know that if I’d just gone out singing and dancing, well, this chapter would be the opening scene of my life story. Maybe it still is.  Cause it hasn’t been at all bad.

`

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Filed under Acting, Awards, Bat-shit crazy, Bloggin' Buddies, Childhood Traumas, Criminal Activity, Dreams, Humiliation, Memoir writing, Most Embarassing Moments Evah!, Oh shit, Two versions of the same story, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?

The End of My Rope — Again

Just like three years ago, I am anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act.  Three years ago, I was fairly certain that the right-leaning Court would deem Obamacare unconstitutional.  Three years ago, I was lucky.  And I wrote about it here.

Today, tonight, as I wait for the decision on a far more pedestrian case, I’m still worried.  OK, I’m worried again.

You see, the “Prime Directive” of my life, from the age of 17, has been having and maintaining health insurance.

That’s what happens to you when you develop health problems, regardless of the age.  You need to put your square peg of a life into a round hole of getting the treatment that you need.  It never fits.  And you always lose a lot of yourself.  Oh, and all of your dreams.

And frankly, I resent it.

Healthy folks don’t understand just how thoroughly something most people take for granted — good health, good health insurance — can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Because I’m sure — positive — that the Supremes will be reading this blog, and for the new-ish friends who haven’t read this piece, I’m re-posting my most intimate post.

The End of My Rope

Friday, the first of October, 1982, was a really bad day.

Actually, it was a mostly normal day even after I found a memo and a pamphlet in my office in-box. The law firm where I’d worked for more than three years had just changed health insurance companies. The information about our new policy, beginning November 1, 1982, three weeks before my scheduled surgery, would be with Liberty Mutual. I didn’t give it a thought.

But Andrea, one of my bosses, suggested I give them a call. “You’d better make sure they know about your operation and don’t need more information.”

So I called the number on the brochure.

Forty-five minutes later, Andrea found me at my desk, staring blankly at the ‘Sitting Duck’ poster hanging on my wall. It showed a white cartoon duck wearing sunglasses.  He’d been enjoying himself, sitting in the sun in a turquoise blue lawn chair on the side of his house, sipping a soda.  But he was looking in wide-eyed surprise over his right shoulder at two bullet holes in the wall.

Sitting duck poster

Poster by Michael Bedard
http://www.mbedard.com

I knew that if I looked over my shoulder, I’d see some bullet holes as well. I was that sitting duck — I always seemed to be dodging bullets.  Life with chronic illness had become one fucking thing after another.  Now, just when I’d accepted and agreed to the surgery that so terrified me, my insurance was gone.  BANG! BANG!

“What’s wrong?” Andrea asked.

“It’s not covered,” I said, numbly, without a hint of emotion. Then I began to hyperventilate. “’Pre-… pre-… pre-existing condition,’ they said.”

“What?”

I explained what I’d been told, that the new policy didn’t cover anybody for 30 days and that it didn’t cover pre-existing conditions for a year. The firm had changed insurance to save money. Their decision would cost me everything. Everything.

I didn’t want to have the surgery — it terrified me. But I’d adjusted, accepted that I was, in spite of my attempted denial, quite sick, and that I had to have the operation. But I couldn’t possibly pay for it. Where was I going to get the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars I’d need? I lived pay-check to pay-check, and rarely had a nickle to spare; I had no savings. My parents were retired, living close to the bones themselves. My siblings were likewise broke. And I had insurance!

Loss of the insurance meant one of two things.  I could have the surgery that I really didn’t want to have anyway and pay for it myself. Or I’d face another year of ever-worsening illness — hemorrhages, bleeding, weakness, diarrhea.  Dr. C had been clear — my colitis was not just going to go away, as much as I wanted it to.

Without insurance, even if I could convince my surgeon, the hospital and the zillions of other folks involved in a major operation to actually do the surgery on someone without insurance, I knew that I would spend the rest of my life trying to pay the bills.  Bills that would have been covered just the day before.

My mind whipsawed between the injustice of the loss and terror at what would happen to me if I didn’t have that damn operation.

Andrea came around to my side of my desk and put her hand on my arm. “We’ll figure this out, Elyse. It’s late now, everybody’s gone. But we’ll work this out on Monday.”

She sounded reassuring; I was unconvinced.

“Really, it’ll be OK,” she repeated. “But in the meantime, I need you to …”

Her voice trails off in my memory. Andrea was a compulsive workaholic, an A-type personality. Work always came before anything else. Other people at the firm thought it was annoying, insensitive, or worse. But for me, it helped. It was exactly what I needed. It took my mind off me. I did what she asked, finished up and went home.

Of course I fell apart once I was home and told my roommate, Keily, the news. I ranted, raged, and cried — I wallowed all evening.

“I don’t even want to have this operation,” I shouted as loudly as I could to Keily as I sat in the bathroom, the door open. My gut, naturally, was erupting. It almost always was by then, especially when I was upset. Cramps. Diarrhea. Blood. Urgency. My shitty symptoms mocked me, proving that I couldn’t avoid the surgery. That I couldn’t put it off until my insurance kicked in. That I was totally screwed.

Keily sat outside the bathroom at the top of the stairs, stroking Goliath; that was her perch as I got sicker and sicker. She sat there and talked to me. She kept Goliath out of the tiny bathroom (Keily’s only successful effort at getting the Goose, as we nicknamed him, to obey.) That night, she held Goliath, and soothed him and me at the same time. She let me vent, rage, rant.

“It’ll work out. There’s some mistake. They can’t just do this to you. You need to trust the folks at your office.” Keily said repeatedly.

“You mean the ones who agreed to the new policy?” I wasn’t in a mood to listen.

That night I’d skipped Goliath’s after-work walk. It was getting on towards 10 p.m. and he needed to go out. I needed to do something else, or at least cry somewhere else. Walking clears my head, lets me figure out how to fix a problem, helps me find an answer. I knew a walk would help.

“Do you want me to come?” asked Keily. She often did, and that night she was concerned. I was so shaky and upset.

“No, thanks, I think I need to be by myself,” I responded. “I’ll be OK.” Actually, I was wishing I could leave myself behind. I was sick of me. Sick of sick me, anyhow.

So Goliath and I got into the VW and headed to the Capitol grounds, where we walked most nights. It’s such a beautiful, inspiring place. Plus for a woman walking her dog, it’s perfect. Of course it’s well lit — you can see it for miles. But there are also security patrols that never bothered us but nevertheless made me feel safe. A 120 lb. German Shepherd helped make me feel secure, too.

It was a clear night, with a half-moon casting shadows from the beautiful cherry and oak trees, from the enormous rhododendron bushes and other carefully tended shrubs across the expansive West Lawn. Nobody else was in sight.

I let Goliath off his leash. Deep in my own thoughts, I didn’t pay much attention to him. Unusually, he stayed right with me that night. He was as worried as Keily.

I cannot believe this is happening to me, I thought, rage building again at the injustice. Because my whole entire adult life had been focused on making sure I had health insurance.

From the time of my first hospitalization at 17, I had lived my life — made every single decision — with health insurance in mind. My dreams of acting, of singing, of writing? Of doing whatever the hell I pleased? They’d all been flushed down the thousands of toilets I’d had to rush to over the 10 years since my diagnosis.

After my first hospitalization, and with word from the doctor that my ulcerative colitis would likely flare up repeatedly throughout my life, my parents forced me to go to secretarial school – a career path that had never figured into my plans. My mother was an office worker and she’d always hated her job.  It seemed boring and demeaning. Secretarial work had once been a good career path for bright women. But that, I thought in my young “know-it-all” way, was no longer the case. Mom was stuck with it, and she and Dad stuck me with it, too.

I complained bitterly; I was talented, funny, smart. It wasn’t fair.

I was wrong about both the work and the women who worked as secretaries. I quickly became pretty ashamed of my attitude, and some of the secretaries I knew became great friends.

Still when the chance emerged to turn a secretarial job into a job as a legal assistant, I jumped at it. In the job I’d had now for three years, I wrote for a living, analyzed legislation and regulations for the firm’s clients and learned about U.S. politics and policy. It was a terrific job. The firm had been good to me. And my parents were happy because I was still working in an office. With health insurance.

Another wave of anger came as I walked down the groomed hillside.

And then I saw it. Something I’d never seen there in the dozens of times I’d walked that route. Inexplicably, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building, there was a pole sticking out of the grass with a chain attached at the top, and a ball hanging down.

Tetherball.

I walked up to it and started smacking that ball. I’d only seen cheap sets with rope attaching the ball to the pole. This one had a strong chain that was covered in a canvas sheath. But instead of improving my mood, hitting the ball deepened my feelings of desperation.

SMACK. I hit the ball as hard as I could. “MY BODY HATES ME!” I shouted as I pushed the ball around the pole.

WHACK. “MY LIFE SUCKS!”

SLAM. “Fucking, fucking FUCKING INSURANCE!

SMACK, SMACK, SMACK. “Hopeless. Hopeless. Hopeless.”

With each hit of the ball, I pushed myself towards the end of my own rope. There was no way to unravel all the problems I was facing, the problems that kept expanding.  Just as I thought I’d licked one, it would multiply. No way to fix all the crap that kept piling up. Crap that I suddenly felt that I was facing alone.

That was the moment when I realized, with surprising clarity, that life just wasn’t worth the trouble. At least mine wasn’t.

I decided at that moment to hang myself. I would hang myself from the tetherball chain on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  It suddenly became the perfect solution.

I saw no way out. I couldn’t continue, didn’t want to continue. And I’d gotten way past the amount of shit I could deal with.

I sat down on the grass on the hill just above the contraption and allowed myself one last cry. Naturally I didn’t have any Kleenex. Snot running with my tears did not make me feel any better.

The first problem I discovered was that I couldn’t quite figure out what to call the thing. It seemed important that I know what to call it if I was going to die on it.

I wondered: Is it a tetherball set? A tetherball apparatus? A tetherball thing-y? I didn’t know the answer.

Goliath tried to distract me, to cheer me and when that didn’t work, he sat down next to me and let me use his shoulder. He tried to lick my tears away, but they kept coming. He butted his head into me. But he got bored with my misery and wandered away.

I didn’t watch where he went, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter where he went, what he did. Whom he harassed. I was done.

The decision was made.

I got up and walked up to the tetherball thing-y and realized what I hadn’t noticed before: that the chain was actually quite short. Too short, possibly, for my plan. The ball itself fell to just the height of my shoulder.

I was shocked. How am I going to do this?

I reached up, stood on my tippy-toes like a kindergartner, grabbed the chain in my left hand, and tried to pull it down a little more. But it was a chain, so it was very strong and not at all stretchy. It was also pretty thick, about 2-1/2 inches wide and not terribly pliable.

I stood there, grunting, sobbing, trying to stretch my body. I held the ball and the bottom of the tether chain in my hand, trying to figure out a way to make this work. Wondering if I could quickly have a growth spurt.

How can I get this short thick thing around my neck?

Even on my tippy-toes and pulling it as hard as I could, it wasn’t long enough. It just reached from my chin to my shoulder — not even half way around my neck!

What sort of an idiot designed this damn thing with an impossibly short chain? I wondered. You can’t even smack the ball around the pole more than a couple of times.

Not to mention that it wasn’t at all helpful for putting me out of my misery.

I pursed my lips and moved them from side to side like Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp. I rubbed my chin and scratched my head.  Tried to solve the shortcomings.

Naturally, other problems popped up too.

What can I jump off of?

Of course, the answer was “nothing.” I was on the manicured grounds of the Capitol. I couldn’t pile up debris and jump off of it because there was no debris. The neat grounds rarely had much in the way of move-able objects.  I was starting to get annoyed.

I want to die. Now. Tonight. On the tetherball thing-y. How the hell can I do this?

There on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol Building — with security patrols passing every 10 or so minutes — I was hell-bent on committing suicide by tetherball.  I was trying to stretch, to grow, to find a ladder, a chair, anything I could jump off of with a piece of US Government-issued sports equipment wrapped around my neck. Wanting to and trying to die.

And then it hit me.

Or rather, he hit me. Goliath, of course.

SLAM! Something hard hit the back of my legs.

“Owwww!”

From somewhere on the grounds, Goliath had picked up a huge stick – an uprooted tree by the size of it. It was at least five feet long and four inches around. His mouth was stretched to the limit holding it. And he’d hit me with it in the back of my legs.

WHACK! He did it again. I turned and saw that he’d lowered his chest towards the ground into a bow. He kept his rear end high in the air, wagging the whole back half of his body ferociously.

He’d had enough of me feeling sorry for myself. It was time to play. So he rammed me with it again.

“Owwwww, Goliath STOP THAT!” I commanded.

He didn’t listen. He went around to my left and hit me with it again. His eyes caught the moonlight – they sparkled. He was laughing at me.

SLAP! “Owwww, NO! That hurts. Cut it out!”

He bounced to my right side with the long thick branch firmly in his mouth. Pretending to loosen his grip on it. Teasing me. Trying to get me to play. Wanting me to reach for the stick, which he would never give me.

(Come on, Mom, catch me!) He was play growling at the stick and at me. He bowed again, swung his head to and fro, and the long stick swung left to right, wobbled up and down. It got stuck in the ground for a second, and then he forced it back out again with a flick of his massive head. Goliath came close to me and then bounded off with his treasure. Circling me. Approaching me, but backing off before I could get to him. He never got close enough for me to grab that damn stick.

(Come on, Mom, try to grab it!) We were going to play, whether I wanted to or not. And he hit me with the damn thing again.

“Give me that stick!” I ordered. He wouldn’t. He danced around me and the tetherball thing-y and bashed me and the pole repeatedly.

I’m not sure if he knocked me over or I sat down in defeat, crying. He bashed it into me a few more times, but then lost interest. Goliath dropped his weapon — well out of my reach — and sat down beside me. He put his paw on my lap, his head on my shoulder and nuzzled me. Chewed at my hair and my ear. Let me scratch his ears.

“You silly Goose.” I said pulling his ears and tail affectionately. Hugging him. “You’re gonna kill me one of these days.”

I knew then that I couldn’t kill myself, that night or any other. Nobody in their right mind would take my stupid dog.

 *     *     *

I learned when I went back to work on the following Monday that the person I spoke with at the insurance company was wrong.  Mistaken.  My company’s coverage was considered continuing coverage and so my condition was insured.  I had my surgery and became healthy for the first time in about a decade.

Since the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, started, I have been haunted by the memory of the night I nearly ended my own life in a fit of desperation.  And while I think we can all agree that it was the silliest suicide plan ever constructed, that misses the entire point.

And that point is that folks who lose their insurance or who are without insurance are often desperate.  And close to the end of their rope.  I certainly was .

How many other Americans have been in that position?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Millions?  How many think, consider, and/or attempt suicide?

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the following:

First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.  (Miller and Hemenway, 2008)  (Emphasis added.)

I am not a traditional candidate for suicide, I don’t have the risk factors.  But I was, literally, at the end of my rope because of a combination of constantly dealing with a difficult disease, being broke because I was young and just starting out, and suddenly losing my insurance.  I would have had a huge financial burden I would never be able to pay off.  All through the bad luck of bad health.  Simple bad luck.

When I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act folks preaching about how we need to get rid of Obamacare, I want to scream.  Because a flawed system is better than the old system, where pre-existing conditions — the very thing that makes insurance absolutely necessary — will be the very thing that made insurance coverage impossible.

We need this program or we need a better program.  Going back to the old system is already unthinkable.

Is Obamacare perfect?  Nope.  Is there a perfect solution?  Nope.  But it is an improvement.  A huge, huge improvement.  And the problems will be fixed.

Health insurance for many people makes the difference between life and death.  Literally and figuratively.

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Heartbreak

Here.  You may need this.  (Google Image)

Here, take this. You may need it. (Google Image)

It was always the same.  Mom and Dad.  The kids.  They were a unit, Mom-and-Dad.

I’ve written before of my parents and the great love I was privileged to come from.  Here.  And Here.  But I haven’t told you that it all ended up in heartbreak.  My Dad’s.  Poor Dad.

Whenever I think back to our home growing up, Mom and Dad were together.  The end of the day would find them doing dishes together, and then they’d sit at the kitchen table and talk, smoke cigarettes, and laugh.  In the summer, they’d relocate to the front porch, where they’d laugh.   The sound of their voices, their laughter is as much the sound of my childhood as the train running by the house.

After they retired and moved to Florida, Mom started having health problems.  She’d always had some; she’d contracted polio in the late 40s and got emphysema from smoking.  But in the mid-1990s, Mom had a series of strokes.

Still, she never let it dampen her sense of humor.

“My dog,” she said to me during our daily 10 a.m. call, “is no help at all.”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

“Yesterday, I needed C.K. to be Lassie. He wasn’t,” she giggled.

Huh?

C.K. was Mom and Dad’s golden retriever. He was sweet as are all goldens, but had no rescue training that I knew of. So I didn’t get the connection to Lassie.

“Well, yesterday when I fell and was lying on my back on the patio unable to get up, I told C.K. to …”  her own laughter had interrupted her.

“When you were WHAT?”

“Well you see …” Mom went on to laughingly explain that it had been raining in her part of Florida for days. Finally, shortly after we’d talked the day before, the sun came out. And Mom decided to go outside with CK and sit in the sun.

Google Image (Thank God there was nopool)

Google Image (Thank God there was no pool)

“I thought I’d warm my bones a bit. But the gods were agin’ me” she said, laughing harder.

I was not catching on.

“Well, I climbed onto a chaise lounge and lifted my face to the sun. But things didn’t work out the way I planned.” She was now having trouble telling the story, she was laughing so hard. “I nestled back, and wouldn’t you know it, the damn chaise lounge collapsed!”

“What?” I said. “Are you OK? Did you break anything? Are you hurt?” I got that helpless feeling you get when you are hundreds of miles away and can do absolutely nothing.

“I lay there on my back until Dad got home at lunch time. I couldn’t get up. And all the while I was laughing and saying to C.K., ‘Why aren’t you Lassie? Why don’t you go get help? What good are you?’ But all C.K. would do was lick my face. It didn’t help – his breath was awful.”

Dad gave up his morning job that day.  And it began several years of loving caretaking, with admirable assists from my sister Judy and my brother Bob.

“I thought for sure I’d lost her,” Dad confessed to me a few days later. “I got home and she was nowhere to be found. I looked all over the [small] house, expecting to find her on the floor. I DIDN’T expect to find her on the ground outside – she never goes there!”

My Dad was a very imperfect man. He had a temper and a sarcastic streak.  But he had an incredible soft spot for Mom. He fell in love with her in the 1940s and never stopped loving her. They were inseparable.

When I think of their later years, I remember one time in particular, during a family vacation in a beach condo in Florida. During hurricane season. The winds were blowing and we were all watching the wind out on the Gulf of Mexico, out of the plate glass storm doors.

Somehow, Mom had an accident. In her pants. She pooped. In front of her whole family.  Poor Mom was mortified.

It was possibly the one time she didn’t laugh at something awful that had happened to her. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes, and she headed back, head down in humiliation, to the bedroom she shared with Dad.

Nobody else knew what had happened. But Dad sensed that something was terribly wrong, and headed back to see what he could do.

Dad turned on the tap in the bathtub, and helped Mom undress. He got her into the tub. He cleaned her tenderly, and then took her soiled clothes out to the washer and started it up. He grabbed two beers out of the fridge and then went back to Mom. He sat on the toilet keeping her company, washing her back, telling her jokes and stories.  Bringing back her laugh.

The two of them spent the rest of the evening together in their room. The rest of us could hear them laughing all evening.

That’s love.

Fast forward to 1995, and Mom really was failing. After the incident with the chaise lounge, Dad stopped working, or he worked from home. He was fortunate that my sister and brother, Judy and Bob, lived nearby and could and did help. A lot. But Dad was Mom’s caretaker. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

All five of us visited in 1995, and then again in 1996 for Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary; we hadn’t expected Mom to make it. But she did. At the celebration, Mom was still somewhat aware of what was going on around her, but not always, and not often. That was October 1996.

Dad, Judy and Bob continued to care for Mom at home. She had more small strokes, but still her sweetness lingered. Still, Dad knew he was, as he said, fighting a loosing battle.  Dad was exhausted, demoralized. He hired some outside help, but even combining resources we couldn’t afford much. But for Dad, it was a labor of love.

My 10 a.m. phone calls continued. Sometimes Mom was receptive, sometimes not. My long-distance job became keeping Dad’s spirits up as much as Mom’s.

One day in early February, though, I heard a shrill voice shouting in the background when Dad answered my call. I had heard a voice like that during my first hospitalization for colitis in 1974 — a woman who was suffering dementia.  The voice that had so terrified me when I was in the hospital at 17. An old woman who’d lost her mind, whose bed was moved into the hall so she didn’t disturb anybody (except she disturbed everybody).  A woman whose voice I still hear in nightmares.

Only this time, that horrible voice was my mother’s.  My sweet mother was possessed by the devil.

You’re trying to kill me so you can have my things. Mother! Help me!

That was my Mom shouting in the background. My sweet Mom. Yelling. Screaming. Terrified.  Lashing out.

You want my stuff. You never loved me.

“Lease, she won’t stop yelling,” Dad said, with a voice filled with hurt. “What have I done?”

I should have listened to my mother. She told me not to marry you. That you only wanted my things.

Dad explained that Mom had started shouting at him in the middle of the night. She hadn’t stopped. She hadn’t rested since about 3 a.m.  Neither had he.

“Lord, I’m tired, Lease,” he said gently, quietly.

“Let me try, Dad,” I said. “I’ll cheer her up.”  I could always make her laugh.  She was an easy audience.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t. She shouted at me, too.

Till Death, they say. That’s what he’s waiting for.   MY Death. Then he’ll have all my stuff.

“But Mom, everything you have is Dad’s too. And what he has is yours. That’s the way it works.”

No. He wants my things. He wants me to die.

 “No, Mom. Dad is right there, helping you. Come on, Mom. Everything is going to be OK.”

But I lied. Of course it wasn’t going to be.

We all tried, Dad most of all, to bring back the real Mom. But she seemed to be gone. Replaced with an abusive Banshee, who was nasty to all of us, but saved her sharpest spears for Dad.

Two days passed. Three. Then a week. Stupidly, we waited for it to pass. The five of us kids did what we could – but Judy and Bob bore the task of really helping Dad. They were there.  Fred and I weren’t.

Ten days passed with no let up. Mom’s doctor told Dad that the only thing for him to do was to put Mom in a nursing home. Dad was determined not to. Adamant. No.

For a dozen days, Dad’s heart was torn out with each word Mom spoke. She was accusing him, always. Of not loving her. Of wanting her things. Of having married her for her stuff.  and worst of all, of wanting her to die.

He knew that it wasn’t Mom speaking. Dementia was shouting at him. Not Mom.  But it didn’t help the hurt.

For two weeks Dad was assaulted, constantly.  The five of us all thought that the time had come. That Dad needed to have Mom go to a nursing home, at least for a short while, or it would kill him.  It was killing him, with each word she stabbed at him.  We suggested it short term, at least to let him catch his breath. He knew we were right, but still.  He couldn’t do it.  In sickness and in health.  Till Death.

Mother! He only wants my things! He wants me to die! Mother!

Mom shouted from her recliner in the Family Room.  From her bed in the night.  From her wheelchair.  From the bathroom.

After two weeks, Dad, exhausted, sat at the dining room table, with his head in his hands, knowing that he had to make a terrible decision. That he had to put Mom, his Doris, the love of his life, into a nursing home.  That she was going to die, and it would kill him, too.

“I held my head in my hands, and looked down at the floor,” Dad said. “I was so tired. So hurt, even though I knew it wasn’t really her yelling at me. Screaming those horrible things. Not stopping – accusing me of wanting her to die.”

You never loved me.

“I couldn’t take it any more, Lease,” he said. “I lifted my head, turned towards her and said ‘Would you please be quiet for a little while and give me some peace?’ Her eyes widened, then her mouth slumped and she stopped. She stopped yelling at me!  The relief was overwhelming,” he said, weeping.

I already knew what had happened. All I wanted was to be with Dad at that point. I was still so far away.

“At first, the peace was just such a relief,” he said, with a mountain of grief in his voice. “But I realized within a minute or two what had happened. Another stroke.”

Mom paralyzed by this, more powerful stroke, was never able to speak again.

Dad was broken-hearted for as long as he lived – because he’d silenced her.  Because he spoke to her harshly, out of patience.  Out of exhaustion.  Out of hurt.  Mom died a month or so after she went to live in a nursing home. Dad stayed by her side, all day, every day. Holding her hand, talking with her, wishing she would speak to him, laugh with him, just one more time.

Judy Holliday’s voice is very similar to my Mom’s.  Listening, I can hear her, clinking dishes and laughing with Dad.

*     *    *

Mom suffered from dementia at the end of her life — that’s what turned her from being a sweet woman into a Banshee.  That is what broke my Dad’s heart.  It is a disease that has broken many hearts and will continue to do so as our population ages.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.

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Filed under Adult Traumas, Dad, Family, Good Deed Doers, Health, Health and Medicine, History, Illness, laughter, Love, Mental Health, Mom, Peace

Stones Bookends

Next time this happens, I’ll know what to do.

I pulled out of the garage around 8:30 this morning, expecting a stressful day at the office.  I was right — it was a rough day. 

But I should have known just how stressful it would be based on the first song to come on the radio:

I should have gone back to bed.  But I didn’t.  I proceeded with my stressful day.  And while I’m not sure I had 19 of them, I certainly came close to a bakers’ dozen nervous breakdowns.  You know the sort of day I mean.  Everybody wants/needs/must have something from me.  Oy.

At about 7:15, I left the office, bringing a briefcase full of documents that I still need to read to prepare for tomorrow’s meetings, where I am anticipating Nervous Breakdowns 14-19.  I just hope the Stones aren’t planning a sequel.

As I approached home and my garage, the Rolling Stones greeted me on the radio again:

Yeah, it was a bitch of a day. 

Next time, I’m staying in the garage.

 

*     *     *

I may be AWOL in the next several weeks.  Work is Cre-a-zayzy.

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Filed under Criminal Activity, Disgustology, Driving, Health and Medicine, Humor, Mental Health, Music