Two Little Girls in Green Dresses and…

This is about two little girls in green dresses, families, a school dance and how it changed lives, and its reverberations.

Amazingly, at least to me, this story starts 50 years ago.

I grew up in Levittown in the era of large families.  It was a time of stricter Catholicism and an innocent optimism. Birth control was restricted and popping a pill was not yet a common thing. There were these huge, iconic families with children in every grade. People said that Levittown looked alike.  It wasn’t the houses.  It was the children, families of  little rubber stamps.  About 10 years ago, I went to a party of Levittown people.  One of the men asked, “Do you know who I am?”  An interesting question that I have heard throughout the years. There were at least 3 – 4 of them, one older than me, one my age, one my brother’s “You are one of the P brothers.”  We all laughed and he told me which one he was.  He was my age.

Another family was the Gs.  I don’t know how many there were but there was my age and brackets. B had a crush on  me when he was in kindergarten and I must have been in third grade.  Upon seeing me at a reunion decades later, he asked, “Don’t you feel anything between us?” “Yes, I do.  Your wife.”  His brother T was/is my age.  The family was large, popular and unbridled.  I remember Mrs. G writing a letter to the local paper about her children being able to look into what passed for a strip club at the time, at 9:30 at night!  My thought was why were they out then when that was my bedtime.  T was popular and arrogant with that teenage boy swagger.

He was part of a crowd of those boys.  Every school has them, in every year.  They band together in their adorable cuteness.  Girls love them, for the most part unrequitedly.  Teachers pander to them in order for their classes to be unencumbered with chaos and testosterone. They rule the halls, the classrooms and the schoolyards for that brief, shining moment in their lives.  It’s been my experience, for the most part, that those charmed boys and girls, once school is behind us, morph into fatness, polyester and, for the guys, baldness. I had liked T in 2nd and 3rd grade but outgrew it.  By the time junior high school rolled around, I steered clear of him and those boys. They weren’t part of my world and I didn’t want them to be.

I met Sue(no initials here, we share the same name) in the fall of 9th grade. She had transferred from Catholic school.  We were introduced because we had the same name. 9th grade is a cusp between the child and the young adult.  We shared a name so we must have similarities. Well, we did both have brown hair, wore glasses and were “nice” girls.

There was a holiday dance that year.  These were simple affairs. It was in the cafeteria.  There may have been crepe paper.  The lighting was dimmed.  There were records with pop tunes.  I had attended the end of school dance the previous spring, worn white lipstick for the first time and had had fun with my friends.  We were nerds although the term was not in use then.  I believe we were known as  weirdos.  We were the advanced class and in many cases had known each other all our lives.  When you grow up as closely as that, you have a defined role and place.  However, there was still the remote possibility that things might change. A dance held magic, unnamed possibilities for a girl like me.  Glamour was an undercurrent. It was still the era where girls could not wear pants, let alone jeans to school.  Mini skirts had arrived but were not yet micro. 

The afternoon of the dance, E asked me if I wanted to go?  Sure. I didn’t take it as a date.  My first real date happened on the last day of 11th grade. I had known E since we were both  7.  He was funny and nice.  He liked comic books.  He was thin but was gaining a bit of weight  He was blond.  I don’t particularly care for blond guys.  Apparently, E saw it as a date, as I found out later.  We were driven separately.  In those days, once you arrived at the dance, you stayed.  Your coats were taken and left in the gym.  It was only E and I from our regular set that night.  As soon as the coats were locked and we entered the cafeteria, E had a severe asthma attack and had to go home. This apparently was brought on by the pressure of the “date”.  Instead of telling a teacher, we had come together which would have allowed me to call my parents and leave; I was adolescent, awkward. embarrassed and found myself to a folding metal chair at the edge of the dance floor.

I had been excited about going to this dance. It was an occasion.  Since, it was late notice, my mother let me wear her green sheath. Since it was hers,  I felt it was the height of sophistication.  She gave me a long chain necklace with green stones.  I had graduated from white lipstick to pearlized pink.  I have always had my own specific sense of style. In my mind’s eye, I was adult and glamorous. Teenagers at that time in Levittown went to Mays Department Stores for their clothes.  Everyone wore the same thing.  This was not me.  It accentuated my differences. The houses may not have been the same but at times, it appeared the people were uniform.  So, there I was in my version of sophistication, sitting on the edge of the dance floor, counting the hours and minutes until I could escape.  Counting the minutes is something that I later learned from Sue to do correctly.  A group of about three of those boys approached.  The only one I remember after all these years was the ringleader, T.  Those boys mocked me, asked me to dance, grabbed at me, made apelike motions.  It was awful.  I sat there, mortified. The chaperones didn’t materialize.  A was a stocky boy.  Boys are not fat.  A was middle of the road.  He was smart. A was also brave.  He stepped up to those boys.  “Leave her alone.  Just leave her alone.” They were stunned. And then, Sue swept in.  “You are in a green dress, so am I.  C’mon and dance with us.”  Sue was in a moss green chiffon dress that had been cut down, if I remember, from a wedding. An age of glamor, mystery and possibility. Two little girls in green dresses;  she led me by the hand to a circle of girls dancing .  The evening eventually ended.  I went home, cried hysterically and threw up.  My parents declared I was never to go to another dance again.  I never did until I reached college.

the green dress

It was the start of a decades long friendship for Sue and I.  She has taught me so much about how to live my life.  I carry those lessons with me. Counting the time lets me cope with infusions and MRIs.  Okay, I also sleep through MRIs. She taught me about connecting to life and to others.  Reaching out and being brave can change a life.

We ran into A at a reunion some years back and thanked him for that evening.  He remembered! He also remembered that he was slightly scared because he, too had to go against those boys.  It was the right thing to do. He is still a lovely man.

T is in my life.  We saw each other at our 10th reunion.  We spoke.  I met his wife.  He was adult as was I. Years later and I don’t remember how, he asked me to read a play he was writing and subsequently had produced.  He knew that I read tons and attended lots of theater.  We became distant friends on Facebook.

All three of us have faced  significant health issues and situations.  It has been a true and deep comfort to share with people who knew you when and before. We weren’t always broken.  When we talk, I picture us as we used to be. We are young and healthy.

T is now my health insurance broker yet we speak of many things.  “Of shoes — and ships — and sealingwax —. Of cabbages — and kings —. And why the sea is boiling hot —. And whether pigs have wings.”  We have a common past.  It’s not only a shared geographic past but of a certain time and place, a shared youth.  We have never spoken of that dance.  I don’t even believe he remembers it.  We talk of people.  And if you are reading this T, this is what I want to say, not what I should say. We have had conversations around that topic. I love that my life moved on and can still include that boy.

I recently came across that green dress.  Yes, I still have it although I had forgotten.  It looks so tiny.  It’s hard to imagine my mother wearing it; let alone me.  I kept it for all it represented to me – sophistication, pain, strength, deep and abiding friendship.  Two little girls in green dresses at a dance  and a lifetime.

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.

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.

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?

Propriety, Blueprints, Surgery

In the past, in certain circles, a woman’s name was only supposed to be mentioned in the newspapers three times: birth, marriage, death.

I feel much the same about hospitals and the maximum  should be three: birth, childbirth, death.  This list is flexible downwards.  There is no need to have any of these three events in hospital.  As to myself, my birth sufficed.  It was noteworthy at the time as I was the largest baby delivered at that hospital up to that point – a whopping 9 lbs., 8 oz.  Very healthy indeed.  In fact, record breaking for that hospital at the time!  Since  I did not have children, no hospital for me.

However, things appear to be changing.  Dr. F, my neurologist, told me when I first started this journey almost 10 years ago, that there appeared to be some issues with my spine.  If it wasn’t going to definitively help my walking, then why bother.  Well, Things Fall Apart.  I have been back for my second surgical consult.  This practice lets you know in no uncertain terms if you are 15 minutes late, your appointment is forfeited.   Despite having left early, I hit construction and traffic. Having made up my mind, I want this done as soon as possible.  I gimped in five minutes before my appointment and then waited for over 2 hours! Not fun and definitely stress making.  Surprisingly, my blood pressure was 90/50; repeat 90/50.  I am normally low but never this low.  And surprisingly, they were good with that.  The first time I had Rituxin,  they were freaking at 100.

The surgeon enters along with the resident, who  is under the impression we have met before – so not a good sign.  If I was still in my youth, this would not  have been disturbing as I was highly visible and was all around.  Now, in my little old lady mode, NOT. The surgeon pops my latest MRIs and scans into the computer.  I do not like seeing these.  One, they are ugly and I do not do ugly. Two, I really do not understand what I am seeing.  So, why look? Now, Tom is a different story entirely.  The surgeon pops up my lumbar spine MRI and announces that it’s arthritic but I am old and that’s normal.  Who’s old?  Yes, there’s edema .  So, yes I have fractured my tailbone.  Too bad. There’s nothing to be done and it won’t impact the surgery.  Now, he brings up my neck.  I feel like a skeleton.  It looks like one for sure.  I have become my own Dia de las Muertes.  Tom is fascinated.  He tells the surgeon it’s just like reading a blueprint.  Dr. B agrees and they are off on a tangent on elevator construction (Tom’s old career) and blueprints.  Well, the fracture they thought they saw in my neck is not new and apparently healed. These latest tests indicate that surgery will be through the front of my neck aka my throat.  I am not reassured that this is positive although he assures me it is better.  It doesn’t sound that way to me but who am I?  The patient? What are the downsides?  Well, since they are going in through my throat, nicking my caratoid?  As an old boss used to say, “oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen.”  Not likely.  My voice could go down an octave.  It can be low to begin with.  I used to work on a phone line and people used to call back and demand to talk to Steven, me.  It’s not the worst outcome.  I may not be able to swallow, briefly.  I did want to drop a few pounds before the New Year so in a twisted way that works.  And of course, smoothies always work for me.  In terms of positive things, I won’t be one of those old ladies who can’t raise her chin from her chest.  Also, he is confident that my balance will improve.  Also, from what he describes about this impingement, I am cautiously optimistic that I will improve.

Also, on the positive side is that this is normally an outpatient procedure.  However, since I am “special” ( I tell him, “No.  I am unique.” which discombobulates him)  I will have to stay overnight.  Tom’s scheme is to not leave the hospital while I am there.  He will hide and/or stay in the cafeteria.  I anticipate strong painkillers, so whatever.  It is sweet though

Next rant.  My neurologist, Dr. F needs to sign off on it.  Since she is female I continually refer to her with feminine pronouns which he ignores and continually references he and him.  He needs to get “him” on the phone as “she” needs to sign off on this surgery.  Considering she has advocated for this for 10 years, I do not envision problems.  I feel comfortable with his arrogance, a necessary trait in a surgeon.

I am scheduled for December 11 which is just about perfect.  I was able to conduct my last Elves Workshop, traditionally held Thanksgiving Friday; Hanukah, Christmas tree purchase (the joys of being interfaith), my tea vendor show and our annual holiday centerpiece class.  I know I am lucky that this is only my second stay in hospital.  And on the upside, maybe I’ll buy blouses instead of pullovers?

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