Ready, set ……

ListAt 3:45 tomorrow morning a car will be whisking me away to the airport.  I am too excited to sleep which I will regret right about 3:00 AM.  I’ve been packing since Sunday.  At first, I over-pack by throwing everything I think I will need or want.  Then I repack again and edit.  Just a few hours ago, I did my last edit.  The truth is, my excitement is so great that fussing with my luggage seemed like the most logical thing to do.  That and making lists.

My lists are on the back of envelopes, on sheets of pristine paper and old cardboard.  They are everywhere and each has a tiny reminder for me.  Right now the door has a post-it note with the word salad on it.  I don’t want to forget my midair lunch which is nothing but healthy goodness.

I’m headed to Scotland to visit a friend and photograph.  I had the last of my appointments up at Sloan today and was pronounced “clean as a whistle.”  That proclamation is probably adding to my unbridled excitement.

I’ll be back in two weeks.  With photographs, stories and hopefully a rested soul.  Enjoy yourselves and if the stone cottage I’m staying in has service…. I just might visit with a few of you!

Posted in Essay | 9 Comments

Never Forget

Sunflowers for th 11th

Never forget.

Those words are just about everywhere today here in the city.  I don’t know how anyone who did live through that day could forget.  I like to remember the simple acts of kindness that occurred.

Right after the planes hit the towers, the city came to a halt.  My hairdresser remembers driving down Route 9 and being turned back at the toll booth in Yonkers.

“Manhattan is shut down for the day.”  That’s what the police officer offered as the only bit of news.

My hairdresser said he drove back home confused and then sat in front of the TV for days.

I was standing in the middle of Manhattan Island and there was another feeling.  Trapped is probably the best way to describe it.  Mass transit stood still and by foot really was the only way to get around.  Standing on the corner of 6th Avenue and 14th Street empty delivery trucks would drive slowly by.  Someone in the back would yell out where they were going.

Long Island

The Bronx

Westchester

It was a call out to no one in particular.  They just yelled into the crowd walking uptown away from what once was the towers.  People still covered in debris and obviously in shock.

Now and then a person would yell back, “I’m going there too.  Wait for me!”  The truck would stop and they’d climb in the back.  Faces in the dark peered out from within.  The driver was getting them that much closer to home.  It was a gift.

I had a neighbor that worked in the financial district.  He worked with a woman who was 8 months pregnant.  The only way to get her home to Brooklyn was to walk her there across the Brooklyn Bridge and then through the streets.  We saw him as he finally stumbled home.  His shoes, made of leather, weren’t meant for so many miles of concrete underfoot.

“It was the least I could do.”

That’s what I remember about 9/11.  That and the haunting memorials that popped up in the days that followed.  Photos of missing loved ones populated Union Square Park and the bus stations in the area.  People roamed the area asking if we’d seen the person in the picture.  They worked in the towers.  They were loved.

“Have you seen him?”  Hope still faintly alive in their eyes that night.  In the days to come, their eyes would show desperation.

The militia blocked off the neighborhoods below 14th Street.  That left those wandering heartsick in Union Square and Chelsea.  St Vincent’s, near 13th Street, was one of the first responder hospitals.  I remember walking by and seeing stretchers lined up outside and the staff just mulling about in a state of sadness.  There were no bodies to tend to.  Eventually the wall outside St. Vincents was covered with the posters of the missing.  Smiling faces that vanished in a day.

Take a moment in memory of those people who thought it was going to be yet another ordinary day but never lived to see the night.  To those too whose lives were never the same afterward.

Who could forget.  I know I can’t.

 

Posted in Essay, Memories | 7 Comments

September

Hospital Gown

September is the month the World Trade Center fell right before my eyes.  It’s the month my mother died and also the month of my yearly check-up at Sloan Kettering.  I should really pluralize that last phrase as I have check-ups with various doctors.  This year they are spread out over two weeks due to schedules that proved uncooperative.  I had my mammogram this afternoon.  The unsightly gown always seems to put my nerves on high alert.  The first round of boob smashing went fine but then they wanted a second round.

Shit

I saw white specs on the radiologists screen.  The doctor circled the area he/she wanted the technician to concentrate on.  I can’t really read these images and when I do it’s always with a negative slant.  Hugging the machine I started writing my obituary.  Thought about my life and what I have or haven’t done.

I was sent to the waiting room again.

Thirty minutes or an eternity.  It’s all the same in a flimsy pink gown.  Finally, the technician appeared.

All clear for another year.  NED –  I wanted to hug her.  I had been there for two very long hours.

“What about all the white dots I saw on the screen?”

She said, “They were nothing, we were just being thorough.  You have a dense breast.”

I left the hospital with a huge sense of relief.

In exactly a week, I leave for a two-week vacation to Europe.  It’s a photography trip I planned with my friend Freda.   I am ecstatic to go and the past few months have been filled with anticipation.  In the waiting room, I wondered if I should have planned something so wonderful in September.  I haven’t been to Europe in four years.  Four years seems a lifetime ago with all that has happened.  I’ve got two more doctors appointments between now and then.  Between now and then there will be anniversaries and people to remember.  Between now and then I will be packing and revisiting some of the thoughts I had while hugging a machine.

I am thankful all went well today.

Posted in Cancer, Essay, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Dead wood

Vase

I spent Labor Day cleaning.  Well, not exactly cleaning as much as tossing and shredding.  The vaccume has yet to hit the floor for the final sweep.  I’m still in the dust production stage of this endeavor.

I traveled nearly every week this summer for work.  I knew it was bad when I started dreaming of owning a luggage rack of my own.  Bed Bath and Beyond carries them.  I know this because that silly dream almost became my reality.  If I had bought a luggage rack, then I’d never put the suitcase away.

This week there is no travel planned.  I am relieved beyond measure to be spending every night in my own home.  That’s why I decided to slash and burn through the piles of stuff that have grown.  Simplify, clear clutter or as my mother used to say, “Get rid of all of the dead wood.”

The vase pictured above once belonged to my mother.  In my teens, we would go out on a Saturday thrifting.  Back then, it was something you did in secret as there was a level of shame associated with it.  Today, it is far more accepted to shop in thrift stores.  We had a routine.  She’d find something she liked and then begin negotiations.  It was at that point that I acted like a spoiled teenager.  She’d negotiate further and as the price lowered I became more obnoxious.  The deal would wrap up and we’d get to the car and laugh our heads off.  My mother and I didn’t always get along but we both enjoyed making the deal.

The vase we found in Valley Stream.  It was whole then and purchased for a song I imagine.  My mother broke it later on and glued it ever since putting dried flowers in it.  She just couldn’t toss it away.  Last year I went out to my father’s house and the vase was headed for the trash.  The glue holding it together had become undone.  I could still hear us laughing when I looked at it and decided to pack it up to take home to glue back together again.  My niece Julia looked at me and said, “It’s broken.  Why are you bothering?  I’d just throw it out.”

“I give you permission to toss it when I am gone.  I have memories tangled up in this vase”

She rolled her eyes and I went out and bought glue.

Monday I went to move the vase and it broke apart again.  I realized then that Julia was right, it really should be trashed.  The memories are in my head and maybe a photo of the vase will trigger them.  So, I took the picture above and then quickly let go of the pieces.  Speed was needed as I didn’t want a change of heart.  There is no room for sentimentality when culling through dead wood.

Posted in Essay, Mother, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Taking to the streets

12,000 Steps

My sneakers are becoming threadbare around the edges.  Red toe nail polish peaking between the threads.  They, like the summer, are coming to an end and I should seriously think about buying a new pair to replace them.  The child in me doesn’t want to.  Most mornings I am in town, I wear them to the coffee shop and muse over my adventures while sipping my morning brew.  I am having as much fun remembering the adventures as I am living them.

Coffee and a thought

My friends have been chiding me lately.  I wear a Fitbit band on my wrist just about everywhere I go.  My goal is to reach 12,000 steps a day.  When I am in Manhattan, I attain that number somewhere around lunch.  If I am traveling, many a night I’ve spent circling my hotel a bit like a moth around a light fixture in the night.

7,000

9,000

11,000

I can assure you that a moth’s life is dull when a light fixture is near.

I carry my phone and count steps off on an app I’ve downloaded.  This behavior is just about the same as watching a pot to see when it boils.  If the evening is hot and humid, forever seems like the right amount of time it will take.  A friend asked me, “If the steps aren’t logged onto your Fitbit, do they exist?”  The answer is “Yes”  but only in theory as the number has to be registered to signal my wrist band to vibrate when the number is reached.  I am a bit like Pavlov’s dogs as I only feel the gratification if my wrist vibrates.  The key is to walk in a town or area less dull than a parking lot.  The act of walking is more fun if my mind is occupied with visual entertainment.

You can mock me too with my Fitbit and phone app infatuation but my reasons for doing this are sound and two-fold.  The first has to do with middle-age and health.  Weight comes on more easily and life has become more harried with the simple act of walking shunned to the bottom of my To Do list.  I need to move more or at least the same as I had when I was twenty.  Well, close to the same.  Let’s face it that dancing in a club isn’t such a common activity as it once was.  Movement trumps sitting at a computer any day when it comes to my health and yet I don’t do it as often as I should.

Everyday details

The second reason is taking the time to wander in my city or the towns I visit.  If I allow myself this simple luxury, it is pure joy.  I love the beauty that surrounds me when I take the time to actually see it.  Circling parking lots is a lot less common for me as I’ve taken to exploring to reach my goal.  Main Street is a really fun place to see and varied from one town to the next.  I wholeheartedly recommend you take to the streets and if you need a silly vibration on your wrist to motivate you, the investment is well worth it.

An added note – I know I need better walking shoes.  All in good time!  Old ladies are not born but cultivated from young girls.  I am in the middle of my transformation!

Posted in Essay, Photography | 14 Comments

Summer fun

Robert Moses Boat

 

My mother was born August 15 and as a child we’d celebrate the day by going to the ocean.  We lived on the North Shore of Long Island with the Long Island Sound a quick drive from our home.  That was our everyday beach for swimming lessons and sunset walks along the shore.  The Atlantic Ocean was reserved for special occasions with wild waves and riptides threatening to pull you under.  Looking back, I shutter just thinking about how dangerous my childhood was.  We’d all pile into a car like clowns at the circus.  The more the merrier.  I’m not sure when seat belts were invented but they were definitely not part of my childhood.  I had the window seat only once and that time I accidentally opened the door while we sped along.  My brother held my feet as the rest of me exited the car.  He managed to pull me back in and I’m sure my mother had a few firm words to say.   After that, I was doomed to the middle seat for a number of years.

Robert Moses Beach

Once we arrived at the beach and our territory established with umbrellas, cooler and towels, we were set free to go where we pleased.  I was a horrible swimmer but that didn’t stop me from heading into the surf.  More than once, I was pulled from turbulent waters gasping for air by a cousin or a complete stranger.  Defying death was all part of the magic of the day.    At some point, an Entenmanns sheet cake would appear with black and white icing and candles.  For those not from Long Island, Entenmanns cake was a local bakery that expanded into a factory.  The cakes were made of Crisco, flour and sugar.   Not a gourmet delight by any stretch of the imagination.   We’d sing as the melted icing would catch sand particles adding an extra crunch.   Dare I tell you that my mother’s birthday was the highlight of summer fun.

Robert Moses Lighthouse 1

This past week my mother would have turned 80.  My sister Lisa and I took off for Robert Moses State Park yesterday to sit by the edge of the ocean.  It was chilly so we didn’t tempt fate by jumping into the surf.  Instead, we talked and remembered with laughter what once was.  Salt and sand lightly coated the cherries I had brought and all seemed right with the world.

Posted in Essay, Memories, Mother, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Keeping it all relative.

The Bay 1
The trunk of my car is packed with a beach towel, suit, sunscreen, large umbrella, flip-flops and a chair. It’s my emergency summer kit for those moments when an escape to the beach is possible and much needed. I was in the midst of such an escape when my cell phone rang. My car has the feature that will send an incoming call immediately to speakerphone when I am driving.  It was J. dialing in from her vacation.  She had planned this trip for months and my cheery, “Hello” was met with painful sobs.

“What happened?”

J. has had her difficulties with a bad marriage ending thus putting her Green Card  progress in jeopardy.  She was waiting for a court date which came but her lawyer hadn’t told her until she had already started her vacation.  An expensive plane ticket needed to be bought so that she could get back to New York in time.  Her sobs echoed in my car as my GPS battled for attention.  Slowly the story became clearer to me and I understood that disappointment and frustration were the source of her anguish.

“I understand why you are so disappointed and I am so sorry.  This is really just a feeling you are experiencing and not actually a problem.  It would be a completely different story if you were being deported”

I stared out over the steering wheel as these words tumbled out of my mouth.  Who is this woman I have become?

My friend S. had endometrial cancer and  a hysterectomy last year.  Everything seemed fine until the beginning of this past July.  A scan reveled the cancer had spread to her abdomen and liver.  Chemo was administered and the only thing I could do was suggest we go out to dinner if she and her husband D. wanted to.  It seemed like a strange thing to offer up but I was clearly out of ideas.  They agreed with a hint of excitement but first they suggested we watch the sailboats in Riverton, New Jersey.  On Wednesday nights, the boats race up and down the river.

We grabbed chairs and set them up by the river’s edge.  It was one of those magical evenings when spirits defy logic and soar.  S. asked me to take pictures of her and D.  With every click of the camera I knew these would be the last photographs taken of the two of them together.  They hugged, held each others hands and had an ephemeral peace about them that I managed to capture.

We’ve become so used to bad marriages ending.  Witnessing the end of a good marriage where vows are kept is heart wrenching.

“Till death do we part.”

Heady words to say and even more devastating to live by.  S. and D. think that they are at a fork in the road in deciding what treatment she should have.   In days to come, more tumors will be discovered and any form of treatment will end.  She begins to let go of this life and slowly puts the house in order for the moment of her departure.  He resigns himself to the idea that he will help her to the end traveling the days beyond that alone.

Those moments still lay in the future.   On the night we watched the boats race,  we still had a faint glimmer of hope that there would be another year.  I can’t explain why we were so happy during those hours by the river’s edge.  By the next morning, a sadness haunted me and the only thing I knew that would cure me was a visit to the sea.  Meetings were pushed around and by afternoon I started my escape to the beach.  That’s when my phone rang and why I couldn’t mince words with my friend J.

“You do not have a problem as this can be resolved.  You are suffering from emotions right now, they will pass.”

I hadn’t understood the difference of emotions verses problems so clearly as I did that afternoon.

When I got to the beach my friend Vita’s father was there.  He lost his wife nearly a year ago and his heart still aches.  I told him the story of J. and his only comment was, “When you pass 70 you no longer feel disappointment.”  I didn’t have the courage to ask what else is lost to completely neutralize disappointment.  I’m not sure I want to know.

Posted in Cancer, Essay, Friendship, Grief, Uncategorized | 12 Comments