Only Connect – Howling and Mortality

A long read but somethings I needed to get out.  I read “Howard’s End” my senior year of high school.  “Only connect” was embedded.  Truth be told, it makes more and more sense, the older I get.

Lately, there seems to be a lot of death.  A friend has suggested that it’s our age.  I don’t think that I am that old.  In fact, an “ex-sister-in-law” said at the funeral of one of my exes, that anyone nowadays who dies under the age of 80 is young.

Having this condition makes one focus more on mortality. It becomes even closer.  One of the first things I was told was, ‘you don’t die from it.” Ha, but the complications can kill you. Oh, well.  You become aware of the fleeting nature of time and its quality. And is it the principle of reflection and all around you people start to die?

I guess I could be considered rather stoic.  I barely cried when my parents died.  I gave both their eulogies with dry eyes and an unwavering voice.  I wept when my friends Chris and Scott died.  They were much too young.  They were supposed to outlive me.

I have had three “significant others” die.  My parents didn’t believe in euphemisms.  Dead was dead.  The first was just before we were thirty.  It was AIDS.  I was stunned and furious.  The second was a year or so later, cancer.  Again, stunned.  The last was three years ago, heart attack.  Again, stunned.  I mourned each one of them in my way.  Since they were “ex”, regrets, “Bell Bottom Blues”.

The last few weeks have been filled with death.  The elder brothers of two women I grew up with died.  They were older than me so I didn’t know them but felt the pain of lives ended early. Then a few Sundays ago, I read on the ever important Facebook  that Matt F had died. He is frozen in my mind like this picture. Susan Sontup and Matt Ferber 70's Reunion 2001 Pictures are deceptive.  We were never friends.  He was younger than me.  This was taken at a Classes of the 70’s reunion at the end of the evening.  He was not my date but we had gotten to talking in that buzzy , blurry alcohol way.  He insisted on the picture.  We all ended up at an after party at some bar.  He grew on me.  I decided he was my story.  He wasn’t.  However, he was so vital and so much fun.  I was just stunned to find out he was gone, way, way too young. I reeled  I understand the turnout for the wake was huge. The time between the picture and death was negligible.  At a dinner the night before the reunion, Joey K looked around and said, “We are in the last third of our life now.  We need to make it worthwhile.”  Huh?  Speak for yourself.  I was so not there.  Now I get it.  I am staring down the barrel of my mortality.

Next death.  This one occurred earlier and reaches farther back.  I didn’t find out till months after, just in the last month.  I knew Judy as a child.  We were in day camp together.  She was a very pretty, sweet child with pale blond hair and huge, dark blue eyes. As we aged, I was in the advanced class and she wasn’t.  Somehow, we stayed friends.  I can remember cutting high school with her and taking the bus to the mall.  It was there she told me about the truant officer.  I had always cut school.  It bored me and I was bullied but I had always just gone home.  Those days set the pattern for the rest of my life.  If I didn’t like something, someone I walked it out and away.  It frustrates me that I can no longer do that.  Judy had a job after school in a grocery store.  She tried to get me in.  No one ever wanted to hire me.  I was a hard sell, even then.  I am very much my own person in terms of style and opinion.  Senior prom approached.  In the way that teenagers just know things, I realized my first week of high school that senior prom was not going to happen for me.  Judy met Joe at the grocery store.  He was older than us and already out of school. They suggested I go to prom with them.  It’s not like today where you can go stag or with a group of friends.  My parents and uncle volunteered to fly my cousin up to accompany me.  I voted no.  Shortly thereafter, scandal swept the school as Judy married Joe before graduation. Again, in those days you could not be married and be in school.  It was only two weeks prior to graduation so the assumption was that she was pregnant.  In later years, when it came up, I would always remark, “That’s why the baby was born more than two years later.”  Judy and Joe came by my parents in early summer.  My mother remarked, “How nice of Judy to bring her handicapped brother.”  They were simple souls.  Joe died this January after 46 years of marriage.  I cannot even begin to imagine that void.

Only connect.  Judy and Joe could not have another child.  They tried to adopt but were told they could not.  The story goes that they were denied because of their limited capacity.  My best friend’s mother knew Judy as she grew up behind my friend’s home.  She was angry as she said that Judy and Joe had so much love to give and why deny a child love?  S and I were firm friends from 9th grade.  It started as one of those intense teenage girl friendships. The Thursday after Matt died, I received a text from S that her sister, J was dying and not expected to live. I sat at the dining room table and sobbed and  howled.  S had older sisters.  J was 9 years older than us  and was in the Airforce. She was stationed in Orlando where Disney World had just opened up.  J took a part time job there which entitled  her to reduced admission.  She invited S and then me to join her for spring break!  In Florida! With Disney World! In retrospect, this was insanity.  It became one of the seminal trips of my life.  There were many life  lessons learned. We were very excited and as our mothers had to remind us, Florida was still part of the United States so we did not have to pack every single thing we owned.   Somehow, our flight changed from direct to a changeover in Atlanta.  The travel agent thought it was a good idea.  Really?  Neophyte  girl travelers switching planes.  We did fly first class. I had not flown since I was a baby.  S had never flown.  We were told to make sure our luggage transferred.  Indeed, we saw the blue (hers) and the red(mine) being wheeled across the airport.  We were two shy, sheltered girls.  We found the airline for the connection at the far end of the terminal.  It was a trailer which set off a fit of giggles. More giggles when a boy our age asked, “Dad, should we call the flight now?”  It was a puddle jumper.  S had an ear infection but had been  cleared to fly jets, not puddle jumpers.  First life lesson learned – if something can be timed, it can be endured.  I have used this one so many times.  Surprisingly enough, not for MRIs which I tend to sleep through but I do advise it.  On the flip side, this disease/condition cannot be measured so…

Despite seeing our two bags toddle off, they did not arrive with us.  This created a problem as J and I were larger than S.  Remember teenage girls?  This appeared to be catastrophic.  Second lesson learned – always have one change of clothes and a nighty in your carry on luggage,  Again, a lesson that has served me well over time.  Eventually, I was able to do business trips that way.  I did an overnight to Chicago once with  just a briefcase.

Our vacation was Easter week and the next day was Good Friday.  J had one more day of work. Because S had nothing to wear we did not walk outside.  The air was warm and scented with oranges.  We wanted to tan and walk. Teenage girls have to have “the” outfit.  We stayed in awaiting the luggage.  We did have a look round to see if there was any way we could cannibalize J’s clothing.  No luck.  But what we did find was her boyfriend’s underwear.  It is important to note that this was 1972 and living with was not a norm, especially for an intensely Catholic family. Lesson learned :  Everyone has private lives that no matter how close you think are, are theirs.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of our lessons for the day.  I was already beginning to believe this one though being a teenage girl clouded it a bit.  Lesson learned:  Everything happens for a reason.  In later years, my mother said that this was one of two phrases that would be engraved on my tombstone.  On that Good Friday, an horrific plane crash occurred, yards from J’s house.  (Good Friday B52 Crash ).  We would have been outside had our clothing arrived.  J saw the plane appear to crash on her house, with her baby sister and friend inside.  Many, many tears.  Until well into my twenties, I shook any time a plane flew low.  Because of that, I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma suffered by the 9/11 downtown survivors. However, as I write this today, the Blue Angels are in town for an airshow and every time they fly over the house I tense, nearly 50 years later.  Cars kept us awake all night long, driving and gawking by the crash site.  Lesson :  People feed on others sorrow.In retrospect, J was incredible.  Despite the death of her friends, she gave us the best time.  Last lesson for that trip:  A good haircut changes everything.  J took us for our first adult haircuts – ducklings to swans.  I used to reflect on how brave she was but as she was passing from this earth, I had to acknowledge the profound effect she has had and will continue to have on my life.

As I have been reflecting and writing this, someone else from my childhood has died.  It appears I am living in an epidemic of death.  A was younger than I. We belonged to the same arty, hippie circles.  There is a picture in the yearbook of Students for Peace.  We are both in it.  People look at the picture and frequently mistake her for me.  It’s a bit eerie, especially now. Once again, I howled and sobbed.

Only connect.  Again, the ever present Facebook.  Synchronicity.  Someone posted about the ’50’s classes in my high school.  A fellow replied that his father taught English then and later.  Right, the teacher who taught “Howard’s End”.  Only connect.

Uncommon Women and Others and Being Amazing

The first time I saw Uncommon Women and Others, I was completely electrified.  I saw it on PBS, shortly after I graduated college and just a few years after it had been written.  I watched it upstairs at my parents in what we called the office on their black and white TV.  We were always behind the times that way. It shocks me now to see old programs in color when  I have vivid recollections of them in black and white.  Uncommon Women resonated with me for several reasons.  Even though it was set at a Seven Sisters school and I went to a sub Ivy, I recognized that type of young woman.  There were lots at Goucher and some even at Hopkins where I attended.  In the play, the women are looking back at their lives from the vantage point of 30.  They had promised when they were 30, they were going to be amazing.  I was still in my 20’s and living with my parents.  I needed to believe that thirty could and would be amazing.

Watch this play and you will see early performances by Meryl Streep, Jill Eikenberry and Swoosie Kurtz.  Amazing.  It also confirmed my longing for strong, female friendships.  I had gone to what was essentially an all boys school.  I had rebelled against my mother who saw me at Vassar or Radcliffe.  I did want Bennington but she vetoed that because – shock- a women’s college with a woman president!  In many ways, she was a product of her era.

I did develop those strong female friendships along the way.  I am still in contact with my college roommate over 40 years later.  I have reconnected with some of the girls of my youth.  I have other women I have picked up along the way that have given me an incredible safety net, strength, support and love.  But sitting watching that black and white TV, I knew none of that.

I remember thinking as I watched that I wish there was a way to keep this, like a book, so I could take it out and look at it whenever I wanted.  A few years passed.  It came back on PBS.  By then, I was over 30 with a color television of my own and a VCR to record it.  The world was moving.  I wasn’t amazing but I was doing alright.  I was making crap money; had a glamorous job; and was not working up to my potential.  I was, however, known as a person with friends.  I had a therapist at that time who told me I defined myself as a friend.  I did not think it was a bad thing.

 

I, like the women in the play, began to believe at 40, I would be amazing.  Forty came and went and I was so not amazing.  I no longer had the glamorous job and was back with my parents.  Volunteering saved me.  I was lucky to have a volunteer position that involved raising money to support and advance women’s rights.  New York, my state, was never ever going to be able to compete against California.  There is just too much money there.  However, Uncommon Women and Others continued to resonate with me.  I used it in my stump speech all the time.  I believed that as a state, we could raise our fundraising and be amazing.  We, as women, could and would be amazing. Was this uncommon?

 

Time advanced.  I was ecstatic to discover Uncommon Women and Others on DVD.  I bought a handful and gave them to my important women friends one Christmas.  Technology was amazing.

 

Wendy Wasserstein wrote other, wonderful powerful plays about women.  I have been blessed to be able to see them.  These plays grew along with me. Women of a certain age will relate to The Heidi Chronicles. She became an iconic voice for women. Wendy Wasserstein was truly amazing and she died.

I passed 50 and was still waiting to be amazing, then 60.  I still aspire to be amazing.  As the years have passed, my concept of amazing has changed.  In my 20’s, I wanted the job, the car, the man, the friends.  It didn’t change much for my 30’s.  I did have all of that but somehow it wasn’t amazing enough.  My 40’s found me rebuilding – a broken marriage,  broken relationships, a different career, better friends and moments to be amazing.  I am very proud of the work I did for that organization and hoped I have helped other women find their “amazing”. 50’s – almost there.  I had created a sort of life that became blown up by disease.  I fought and continue to fight.  60? Still standing and literally that is remarkable and amazing.  I was filled with more fortitude than I thought possible.

 

Amazing changes through time and space.  Can I say now when I reach 70, I am going to be amazing?  Seventy sounds like a foreign country, unexplored and unimagined but closer.  I thought when I graduated college that I would go for my PhD in my 60’s.  Well, that ship sailed.  I still have the curiosity and the interest.  However, time and money have become finite.  I consider myself amazing sometimes because I have been able to find and hold uncommon women and “others” in my life.  I never could have imagined that or its importance when I first experienced the play. Sometimes, when I consider what life has thrown at me, I may be amazing.  I still keep on trying.  I try to walk.  I miss the feeling of speed and air when I am walking.  Sometimes, I miss working yet still I tick on. What makes us uncommon women and what makes us amazing?  I consider my uncommon women friends amazing.  Each in her own way is unique yet the same.  They are intelligent, curious, courageous, inspiring.  They lead.  They share.  They never stop changing.  They are principled.  They have style and substance whether they acknowledge it or not. I have fulfilled one of my wishes from when I first saw “Uncommon Women and Others”, I have those close female friends for decades, uncommon women each and everyone of them, and that is AMAZING!

Fashion of the Times

Karl Lagerfeld has died and T, the fashion magazine of the New York Times  has been published.  What can that possibly have to do with my life, challenges, struggles?  Everything.  I joke that, “Clothing is my life.”  Well, it’s really not a joke. My mother told me when I was a young teenager that I was going to be a clothes horse My clothes are my expression.  Give me a moment in my life and I will tell you what I wore and why.  For example, my final interview for the job that finally took me to pret a porter – a lavender tweed suit with a bomber style jacket, cream silk blouse and lavender snakeskin pumps.  I was advised that if I wore those shoes, I’d never get that job.  It was in mens accessories and I had two points to make:  I was not a man and I was my own person.  A picture exists – a young me in a Jonathan Logan floral in Georgetown during the Cherry Blossom Festival.  People thought I was a model.  Sometimes, clothing is a weapon.  “A face to meet the faces you meet.”

I grew up with a grandmother who supported her children by sewing.  She didn’t need a pattern. My mother needed a dress for a charity ball and had liked a dress in a movie with Ingrid Bergman.  She took Grandma to the film, pointed out the dress and it was done.

REIMA 1940'S GRANDMA MADE DRESS FOR A BENEFIT

I never knew my actual size until I was in 8th grade as Grandma made most of my clothes.  The truth came out in what later became a pivotal moment for me.  The sewing pattern companies used to come into the schools and do fashion shows.  I was chosen by the company coordinator to model in the evening wear portion of the event.  This is the equivalent of the bride in a designer show.  She was stunned I didn’t know my size.  I was stunned I was picked. And being considered ugly by my peers, she picked me for evening wear.   It was a short lace dress with a turquoise empire top and an eyelet lace flounce. A style minus the flounce that has served me well over the years.

Fashion and clothes were just an important part of our lives.  We lived with color, fabric, sewing.  My grandmother’s idea of bliss was a good fabric store.  I still seek one out periodically to get my fix. It’s the feel, the colors, the possibilities.

Fashion was such an integral part of life that I had no idea that it could be a career.  I knew about designers, of course.  But that was drawing, something best left to my mother.  And besides, I was considered too smart for something so frivolous and seemingly transitory.  I was asked by my university placement office what I wanted to do.  My reply, “Wear Vogue clothes.”   Well, I was told with a degree from Hopkins I could do anything and buy anything.  I did eventually get to wear my Vogue clothes but not for years.

The Fashion of the Times used to come out twice a year.  Starting in high school, it was my bible.  I devoured it.  I hoarded it.  I practically took the ink off the page.  I would look at it for EVERYTHING – clothes, colors, shoes, hair, makeup, accessories.  Each category received a separate reading and evaluation.  Then which looks were my favorites, which I thought would sell (not necessarily the same) and which were bombs.  This took days.  Then I saved them for reference materials; my own private fashion library.  And I can say, I was very, very good at it. I had a manager years later who laughed because I would come up with designs similar to Ralph Lauren without his resources or library.  Fashion infuses your pores.

I went back to school.  I earned a fashion degree. My first job was at Bobbie Brooks.  And so much for a fashion degree.  I was hired because I was Libra and therefore perceived as balanced; I was the only candidate with her own personal stationery; and they thought my Hopkins degree in social sciences gave me a psychology background.  And yes, “The Devil Wears Prada” is real.   My Fashion of the Times  obsession served me well.  I have my own very specific sense of style.  And it has been recognized.  I have been blessed to attend pret a porter as a licensee.  You cannot begin to imagine my absolute, utter rapture. I remember standing outside the designer tent the first time.  It was a warm, blue morning.  I was near tears as I thought of my grandmother and how proud she would have been of me, and how envious.    And even in my lowly capacity, people noticed what I wore and commented weeks later when back in New York.

I have always been definite about what I liked and did not like.  Chanel always resonated.  I saw an ad recently  with pale blue lace pants and had palpitations.  I calmed down a bit when I realized I had nowhere to wear anything like that plus it might be a bit jeune fille for me.  Isn’t it difficult when you see yourself in your mind’s eye one way but the mirror holds a different reality? And me being my tweaky little self bought a pale blue lace top at a thrift store last year.  Important note:  normally blue is not my color.  Fashion is in the pores. Yellows, blues, greens belonged to my mother.  I was pinks, lavenders, reds, black, grey.  I liked Versace when Gianni was alive, all those wild exciting prints. St. Laurent, sometimes for a viewpoint;  Ungaro for prints and color; Vollbracht for the art; Zoran for his elegant spareness, a little Valentino, tiny bit of Calvin Klein, Max Mara.

What I did not like:  Vuitton, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Ralph Lauren.  I detested Lauren and thought it wannabe and derivative.  ( I did say I have/had definite views.) I interviewed once at Lauren and the manager told me I was a classic American beauty.  NOT!! And #Metoo.  I knew what was up with that gig.  I worked for Izod-Lacoste which to me was like nails grating on a blackboard.  In my last fashion gig, decades ago, I was told to copy The Gap!  Seriously? Seriously. It contributed to the demise of my fashion career.

And a favorite memory from that fashion time, before I had the job that let me go to pret a porter.  I was out of work as happens often in the garment industry.  I had a temporary job through a connection, as basically a messenger and dogsbody for a prominent jewelry designer.  I had to deliver some jewelry to Adolfo.  Going up in the lift (and of course, at Adolfo, it was a lift and not an elevator) a gentleman said to me. “My dear, you are much too young to be dressed by Adolfo.”

I have noticed in the last year or so that I actually like the full page Ralph Lauren ads in the Sunday Styles. I have wondered whether this is due to age, new designer or both?

Sunday Styles (aka the women’s pages) are the first thing I read in the Sunday Times.  One of the things that has really bothered me about my condition is my inability to wear what I want to wear.  It’s how I express myself.  I no longer go to work so for the most part those lovely dresses and suits just hang.  They are like pearls that aren’t worn, houses that are not lived in.  They have an air of desolation and creeping deterioration. I can no longer wear the right shoes either.  My shoes destroy the line and with it some of the joy.  We can’t even begin to understand the impact of the spectral leg, cane/rollator. What’s ironic is that I am finally thin enough to wear some of the looks I’ve wanted.

Life changes.  It’s no longer Fashion of the Times but T.  I receive my Sunday supplement on Saturday.  In the past, that would have been my Saturday and Sunday.  I just opened it during the week .  I am still at the beginning.  Surprise – I loved the Vuitton; I loved the Gucci; I detested the Max Mara?  What’s going on?  Is it age?  Some of it.  A new designer? Definitely.  So, here’s the other issue – I love the Vuitton but it’s for the young Versace- Ungaro me. The things I like are too young for me.  Well, maybe not the Gucci which appears Chanelesque.  More troubling is why I still haven’t finishing devouring it.  And if I remember correctly, I only tore one page out of the previous issue.  What’s going on?  If I have left fashion behind, does that mean as a senior citizen I am finally leaving my youth behind?  I don’t think this is correct.  Women  much older than me, revel in fashion.  Age ain’t what it used to be.  Is it depression?  I guess so.  Isn’t it said, what happens when a tree falls in a forest when there’s no one there?  Is the joy gone because no one will see me? Or, that I can no longer afford it?  Disclaimer – I have only worn knock offs with the exception of two Emanuelle Khanhs and a Vollbracht.  Hair and shoes no longer apply.  Something to ponder as I go back to my magazine.

St. Pat’s, the Ides, Anniversaries, Joes

According to my mother, her grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Jamaica.  This is not unusual.  My father was Eastern European Jewish.  St. Patrick’s Day was always huge in my house.  We always had corned beef, cabbage and beer, even for us littles.  Amongst the most played records in our house was an Irish sing-a-long record.  I am constantly amazed that my husband, whose father is the first of his siblings born in the States, does not know the words to any of the old songs.  A few times, when I was older, I treated the parents to the Chieftains on St. Pat’s.  All that being said, I can’t stand the holiday, never could.

St. Pat’s was insane when I first started working in Manhattan.  Firstly, and the one thing I am in agreement with my brother-in-law, was that the trains were crammed with non-professional commuters.  This had nothing to do with work classification but rather with knowing how to commute.  Secondly, it was the era where smoking was allowed on the train and the revelers would smoke even if it was a non-smoking car.  The streets were clogged with drunken teenagers and others.  By the end of the day, the celebrants were vomiting on the streets and in the train.  If I could, I’d call in sick.  As to driving at night, it wasn’t happening for me.  Even in that relaxed era, I was not voluntarily putting myself in the path of drunk drivers.

On the other hand, I am writing this on the Ides of March, which as a teen, I did celebrate.  I was part of a group of nerdy, good kids in high school.  Today, the weather is similar to those long ago remembered Ides, warm with wind.  Our group would cut school and walk several miles to what was then called Salisbury Park.  We would run around and walk home late.  We had read Julius Caesar and it had captured us.  Bear with me and this will come together.

I have written before of my postal worker.  He is extremely Irish so my husband reminded me this morning to make sure I ring him this weekend.  Another thing about me – I remember lots and lots but lack a certain feminine snetimentality.  I rarely remember the dates I met some of the important men in my life.  For example, I know I met my college boyfriend at the PhiGam TG but not a clue as to date.  He used to send me anniversary cards.  I never remember my anniversaries for either of my weddings.  Well, I realized after my husband said to call, that I actually met  K St. Patrick’s Day 1984.  35 years!  I only went out that night because a girlfriend was depressed and begged me.  It was at a club across from Salisbury Park, so very close.  We were fairly inseparable until 1988 when I left him briefly for RC, direct from Ireland.  We stumbled back together until 1991.  I married in 1992.  We have never, ever not been in contact with  each other.  As I have said before, in many ways, we have had a marriage.  We have stuck by each other in sickness and health; through our relations with others; richer or poorer. PostalOld Girlfriends, Postal and Rituxan

Years go by and I am working with a fellow named Joe S.  He is 12 years younger than me.  My first marriage is over and I am licking my wounds.  Joe S begins taking me to Karaoke nights at the local bowling alley.  He is an aspiring actor and writer.  I see him in plays.  He allegedly has a girlfriend.  He kisses me.  I spend evenings at his mother’s house whilst he plays the piano.  She looks at me meaningfully and tells me she will build an apartment upstairs for any girl Joe marries and babysit the children.  One night I have to tell her that I am only 12 years younger than her.  He rings me one St. Patrick’s Day as his girlfriend has stood him up and he needs a “date” for a party.  I used to be good “arm candy”.  OK.

The  phone rings again.  This time it’s Joe T, also much younger than me.  Where were these people before I married?  He, too wants to go out on St. Pat’s.  He has taken me to parties before that remind me of my youth – arty and weed filled.  We compromise on a drink for the following week.  I enlist my best friend to go with me.  It’s a club up the street from me.  It used to be a roller-skating rink and an ice cream parlor.  We walk.  Joe T falls hard for her.  In the meantime, I meet JoeBe.  He is much older than me for a change.  My father can’t stand him.  Every time he calls and says, “It’s Joe.”  My father replies, “Which one?”  Daddy delights; JoeBe steams. He lives across from Salisbury Park  I go onto live with him  someplace else for several years.

So, I remember my “anniversaries” with K and Joebe.  Joebe and Joe S are both dead.  I was at work one day and saw a 1 year memoriam on Joe  S’s passing on the Ides of March, March 15.  Joebe died a few years back. Mortality, Perspective and Balance,Men, Gypsies and a Funeral

This is a weekend for remembrance – the giddy, happy celebrations of my childhood, the anniversaries of important adult relationships and passings. Our journey is an unknown road with bumps and detours.

The Story of a Dress

An old friend , recently, sent  a picture of me at a luncheon in the early 90’s.  I have a big hat, a light tan and a huge grin.  I am wearing a brocade dress of my mother’s made by my grandmother.  This is a mythic dress in my family.

My grandmother sewed to support her children.  Grandma could make anything.  Well, let me amend that statement.  She could and would make anything if she liked the fabric and

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Valentine Venting and….

I have never been particularly fond of Valentine’s Day. My parents were completely unsentimental. I can remember being shocked when I was about 4 or 5 that Daddy came home with candy for Mommy and me. My mother didn’t particularly like chocolate or sweets. I was not allowed. Our chocolate and candy consumption was strictly monitored. I was an odd child without tons of friends so the card exchange was always scary for me.

I remember in college not even checking my mail freshman year and by then I was cute and popular. The next day I found someone had left me a rose.

In our 16 years together my husband has given me two stuffed animals. I hate stuffed animals. My late ex-husband gave me Russell Stover chocolates the year we were married which I believe he ate. Joe, the man I lived with after that did give me chocs but also called me Gordita. So, so much for that.

Kevin, who has been the love of my life, didn’t really do it. Though I do remember one year buying a red flapperesque dress and going out for Japanese food.  It was a charming, small restaurant.  I felt pretty and sophisticated.

Valentine’s this year was horrid. My first thought on waking was the Parkland shooting anniversary.  My relationship with the holiday as always been ambivalent.  These children do not have that luxury.  It will be a day of sadness and death.  Did anyone in your high school class die?  You are supposed to be invincible at that age.  Worse, did they die of something other than illness?  Someone in my class did and we still talk and muse about it decades later.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain these kids are in and will be in, along with others their age that the day was completely altered forever.

There’s still the personal. I have been unexpectedly blue all week.. As part of selling the house, I have been decluttering so this wee kI went through tons of paper. I found that I was diagnosed with this condition 10 years ago. I should be grateful but I am not feeling it. It was February and I was about to teach a class.  As I recall, I was getting ready (I was a technical trainer) and was fiddling with AV equipment and plugs and was underneath desks.  The doctor rang, said you have PPMS.  I went back to my plugs and taught my class.  I thought it was the good kind.  Ok, so if I look at my “progression”, I am in good shape.  Me, being me, I am not.  I was so confident and oblivious.  I hate how my world has become confined.  I swore that would never happen and it did.  I am battling back.

The realtor had a realtors’ open house on Valentine’s. Everyone who came said the house was worth much, much less. This is devastating and hard to believe. I was able to go upstairs for the first time in months and understand. It’s a wreck but one that can be fixed. Of course, struggling upstairs didn’t help. It took forever and tons out of me.  It was scary.  However, it was better than last time when I had to go down on my butt and then struggle and crawl to stand.

Now, as to Kevin, he is in a nursing home in another state and has paranoia and Parkinson’s.Postal Old Girlfriends, Postal and RituxanI am trying to ring him every Thursday. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Kev.” “You are two days late.” “No, today is February 14.” From there the conversation totally devolved. I can’t even repeat it as it made no sense whatsoever. For example, he said something about my car and I told him I drive a Buick now. He told me he was surprised I bought a Swiss car.We always helped each other with cars.  There is so much we have shared over the years.  When Buster the Biker unceremoniously dumped me, he arrived with a stack of blues cds.  I held him when he cried several months later when the woman he had been seeing for years, went back to her husband.   I always tell him I love him when I call. We have known each other since 1984 and supported each other through good times and bad. It has been like a marriage.  We have been a constant in each other’s lives.  Valentine’s, he did not understand what I said. It was the start of spring training and even that produced nonsense.  He used to walk 8 miles a day for his job and when it was light, catch a round of golf.  After we definitively broke up, if one of us wanted to see the other, we’d head to the beach.  Either one of us was likely to be there.  The beach has a four mile walk. It didn’t matter who was where, the other one was, we’d turn around and walk the rest of the way, anywhere from 2 -8 miles.  Now, we both can barely walk.  Ironic, isn’t it?  My heart is broken.

I have a friend who is 95. I was speaking to her this week and long before it became popular, she told me I was unusual as I was so resilient. I didn’t understand.  I thought everyone just tried to stand up again until they could.  Many years ago, I worked for a man who used to say about me, “The child does not understand the concept of NO.”  And indeed, I have not.  I integrated a primarily all male university.  I have worked in all male companies/industries.  I have changed industries.  I have been David and gone up against a corporate Goliath.  I though I ignored my diagnosis and kept fighting.  She told me again this week about my gift.  It sounds good on paper and when I look back.  It’s never felt like resiliency or grit.  It has felt that I have lived my life as a Joe Palooka punching bag; one of those toys with the weighted bottoms that when it is hit, it pops right back up again and again.

ocean waves.jpgKevin and I loved the beach, all year round.  I have likened life to the beach and the ocean.  After Hurricane Gloria, we rode down to the beach.  We laughed at ourselves as we did so.  We wanted to make sure it was still there.  There were huge waves crashing against a diminished shore. The sea was calm within a few days. The sea is like that, sometimes calm and clear, other times waves knock you off your feet.  The waves can erode your shore or build it up. I guess I just have to wait for that wave to catch me again and build me up.

Mortality Musings

I am a woman of a certain age.  I remember someone at a high school reunion almost twenty years ago saying “We are in the last third of our lives.  We need to make the most of it.”  Mortality looms,  even more so with this condition.  Time is becoming more finite.  It’s not morbid or depressed.  It just is. If you have read me, you know that I have lost old lovers and husbands in the past.  Dead friends are no longer as surprising.

This month I have learned of two people from my youth that have died.  Somehow, these have hit me.

This weekend, I saw that HV had died. I hadn’t really known him in high school.  We mixed in different circles.  He was a year older. He wasn’t quite fat but rather pudgy, the type of guy, I call vanilla pudding, bland features swallowed in his face, outstanding only in his vanilla-ness.

I graduated college and ran into TM, definitely not my set, also a year older.  He was a football player.  I was a nerdy hippy type.  TM asked me out.  Fourth of July 1977 was on the horizon.  There were going to be a group from high school going to Montauk for the weekend.  Montauk at that time was still definitely, the un-Hamptons.  We were Levittown, still gritty and blue-collar middle-class.  HV was a charter boat captain and he had a house there which was to be the base for the weekend.  T and I drove out early in the morning.  People were already there.  It was a crowd from high school that had never been  my friends – football players and cheerleaders.  Since I had left high school and Levittown, I had blossomed.  Well, everyone does, don’t they?  You leave behind high school, teenage hormones and expectations.  I had shed my glasses and emerged from my chrysalis.  They saw me as a new thing.  I grew up in the era in Levittown where everyone drank.  It was a fact of life.  You went over someone’s parent’s house and you were given  a drink.  My mother’s boss, when I was 15, asked me what I wanted to drink and said, “And don’t give me any of this Coca Cola shit.”  Vodka stingers!  Even given that background and mindset, I had no interest in drinking before the early afternoon.  We walked in and were immediately handed beers.  I realized that the weekend was going to be longer than I thought.  At that age, I was very good at holding onto a drink and/or pouring it out.  I was still fascinated and slightly intimidated by the former cheerleaders.  I remember Crosby, Stills and Nash on what appeared to be a continuous loop on the stereo.  In those days, there were record players and probably everyone was too drunk to change the record.  I hated “Dark Star”.

H had also undergone a metamorphosis.  He was tan, lean, bleach blond long hair, deep, startling green eyes, gorgeous and charming.  I was stunned, tongue tied.  His girlfriend was one of the cheerleaders and so friendly to me. At some point during the now evening, H approached  T and suggested that we leave and go to the boat.  People were bleary and passing out.  The air was thick with cigarette smoke.  Levittown and jocks during that era was all alcohol and no weed.  We went to the boat.  Remember the excitement and newness of being “adult” couples?  We drank more and then T and I retired to a berth. Hormones, alcohol, excitement.  What can I say except to the inevitable outcome?  I hadn’t the experience I was to later acquire, starting with T, to understand that sex with football players is a non-starter.  T, especially T drunk, had all the technique of a stray, horny dog.  My outstanding memory of the evening was looking through the portal and seeing the 4th fireworks.  I said something about it and T thought I was seeing fireworks because of him.  I was too amazed to rid him of that notion.  He then declared that he was looking for three  things in a woman – she had to be pretty, good in bed and know how to cook.  H had already checked two of the boxes but didn’t know if I cooked.  We all passed out.  The beer started again at dawn.  I never ran into H again but still see his dark green eyes, deeply tanned legs and remember his kindness.

T and I continued for the summer.  It was the Son of Sam summer.  We were in a NYC  suburb.  T, big jock that he had been, was deathly afraid of spiders.  So, that combined with the fear of sitting in a car, led to me being practically thrown out of the car with the motor running.  Romance was not in the air.  Mercifully, I never cooked for T.

The ramifications for the weekend did not end there.  I had a high school boyfriend who I have always loved and adored.  He was an artist.  He had moved to California.  We stayed in touch in a distant way.  A few years after the Montauk party, B came for a visit from CA.  The first thing he said after we walked out of my parents was “What’s this I hear about you sleeping with H on his boat in Montauk?”  “I slept on his boat but not with him.  I was there with T.” “T, even worse!”  The world is small.  B was working temp at a factory in CA as was one of H’s brothers.  They got to talking…. And I guess it was a better party than I thought.  B and I got straight after some difficult awkward moments.  We are still friendly to this day.

The story doesn’t end there. There was a reunion of 70’s classes from my school in early 2001.  An H brother was there.  He had a few brothers.  Reunion, Levittown, alcohol.  Someone introduces me to the brother.  I go off on him.  “And you, you had the nerve to tell B I slept with H!  How dare you!  It wasn’t true and even if it was how f’ing dare you!”  Uh, wrong brother?  Levittown was like that back when we were growing up, huge families where all the kids looked the same. And we held and hold onto those associations.

The second death preceded the first death and is a different story.  A family moved in diagonally from our backyard.  There were two girls, M and C, M, a year older and C, a year younger.  The elder was fragile, tiny and stooped as she had had polio.  The younger suffered ridiculously bad acne.  High school was almost 2 miles away.  We were just under the bussing line.  I used to walk home sometimes with M.  She was terribly slow.  Children and teenagers are cruel.  As I mentioned, I was in the nerdy, hippie set.  I was bullied which made my later acceptance by T and H odd.  However, much I was bullied,  it was worse for C and M.  I have always felt it important to be kind.  It’s one of the adjectives most used to describe me in recent years.  It’s been part of my life.  Being “other” offers choices.  You can either reject or embrace the world.  I go for the positive.  As with younger siblings of odder elders, C tried to distance herself from M as did my brother.  It didn’t really work.  However, she was stronger and bigger so superficially, at least, she was better able to stand up for herself.

It is said, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. C went on to work for unemployment.  It appeared that all those years of bullying and childish spitefulness had taken a toll on her.  She was now in a position to fight back.  Unemployment is difficult in the best of circumstances.  C certainly got her own back in that position.  Nasty and unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it.  I remember once telling her but I was nice to you!  I moved out of the neighborhood and stayed employed.  They passed from my existence.

Then I saw a notification on my high school FB page from a former childhood neighbor that C had passed away.  Sad.  But.  People who hadn’t known her expressed sympathy and condolences.  Fine.  I don’t understand that but it’s the intent.  The guy who posted was also her age; she lived directly behind him and he was also distinctly odd and bullied.  I have no idea of the depth of their relationship. What did amaze me was the comments of the people who had known her.  One likened her to a “shy kitten” yet despite this I remember him being one of her tormentors. The family had a name that was similar to a brand commercial.  Some people remembered calling this out to harass the sisters.  Most of us grow up.  What disturbed me was that these people expressed no regret only an “I remember doing that to them.”  Now, written  in my yearbook as well as in later years, I would run into people and they would express regret or that they wished they had known me better or they went along with the crowd.  I was horrified that there was none of that for C. So, how much has really changed for some people since high school?  Are we stuck in a high school/childhood loop?  How and why do some of us change?  I like to think that I have but maybe not?  The childhood neighbor wants to friend me on FB but I have no interest. Yet, I am close on line with childhood people that I had issues with in high school.  I remember working on my 10th reunion and a mean girl was on the committee and she told me I was no longer weird.  I told her I was the same as I ever was.  I believe I am except I had contact lenses, a good hair cut and an enviable job.  I always told people after high school that perception changed just as long as you were well-groomed.

Two passings.  Two different lives.  Carpe Diem.  What will be said after I’m gone?  Will I be remembered as the Montauk girl?  High school nerd?  Or the woman who can’t really walk, the disabled? Or the woman I see myself as?