Stories about Jane

Jane was my eldest sister. She changed her name to Jane, in the middle of her illness, because she didn’t like the original American name our parents had given her. In the throes of paranoid schizophrenia, she tried many things to relieve her pain or to obey the voices.

During one summer when I was in college, I drove Jane and my mother to a nearby state where Jane received cosmetic eye surgery. My mother thought that creating a western crease in Jane’s eyelids would lift her spirits. Another time my mother persuaded my father to adopt a puppy for Jane; my mother had heard that pets could be therapeutic.

The only thing that seemed to help Jane was pharmacotherapy. When I was a senior in college near Philadelphia, I regularly visited Jane at an excellent psychiatric hospital. My parents lived in a remote corner of the state then, too far for regular visitation, so I was the sole family member who met with Jane’s psychiatrist. He was young and had shoulder-length wavy brown hair. In addition to drugs, he was also using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with Jane.

I didn’t know Jane very well before her illness, and I would never be close to her. She had a severe and chronic mental illness, and she never really got better. Except for that brief period with the long-haired doctor when she had some lucid moments, she succumbed to this terrible disease.

This kind of disease breaks up families and marriages. My parents fought about how to care for Jane. My mother was Jane’s stalwart advocate. My father was exasperated and impatient. When my mother passed away, Jane lost her primary guardian. My father couldn’t live with Jane in the house. Within a year he remarried and Jane was sent to an institution, where she would languish for twenty years.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Posted in family, health, love, wellness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising a child in inner city

This morning I watched a young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 years old, with his mother and her female companion on the subway. It was a distressing scene. The mother looked exercised. She was arguing with her companion while her son was flailing and shrieking, trying to get her attention. She suddenly grabbed him by the arms and pressed her face close to his.

She yelled, “It’s not your fucking business!” My heart sank. I knew that this was going to get worse.

He continued to flail about and then the female companion got up from her seat. She was a tall imposing woman and she swooped down and grabbed his arms and strapped them to his side. He screamed, “Stop!” He tried to shield his face to no avail. She was too strong for him. She delivered a sharp slap on his face. He started to wail.

She sat back down and reported to the child’s mother that she had slapped his mouth.

He continued to cry and he put a hand over his mouth to let his mother know what had happened to him. She sat motionless and silent. She continued her conversation with her companion.

He laid down on the subway seat across from his mother and continued to scream.

I could have taken the child and tried to soothe him; I could have taken him to the next subway stop and tried to call Child Protective Services. His mother and companion could have beaten me up. I could have called for help.

Instead I did nothing and cried inside. This is why my classmates had told me that working with children in social work is so difficult. How many parents in this city are incapable of parenting? Because they have so many problems and issues in their own lives that they cannot care for a child?  When you are poor, uneducated, not white, and unemployed, how do you raise a child in this city?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Losing my best friend

When I was in the ER earlier this year, recovering from serotonin toxicity and one week post hip replacement surgery, I said to the attending physician, “Please save my left eye because if I can’t play tennis I don’t want to live.”

I was in a bad place. I had multiple health issues at the time. I was half-mad with serotonin toxicity (mistake by hospital staff post-surgery). I was on crutches.  Now, by scratching the skin below my eyes with hospital tissues for two days after hip surgery, I had instigated an outbreak of my herpes simplex I virus. Now I was in the ER, upon suggestion of my internist, because the blisters were creeping toward my left eye. If the blisters opened and the toxins entered my eye…

The wonderful attending treated me correctly and today I am fine. Thank god. Thank you to my excellent doctors; it takes a village of healthcare professionals to care for me!

But my surgeon advises me not to play singles tennis–my best friend. For over 10 years I had been fortunate enough to play tennis once or twice a week while living in a major metropolis. I didn’t know how to organize my week without tennis. My life outside work revolved around tennis. My mood depended on regular tennis games. My psychotherapist would routinely ask me to “up the tennis” if I fell into a brown study.

I haven’t stepped onto a tennis court in 12 months. I am a tiny bit surprised that I am still alive. How has my body, mind, spirit been able to survive without tennis?

ODAT. Find a way to get through this hour, this night, this day. This hot summer day will pass. This hot flash will pass. I will sleep tomorrow. Call a friend. Text my nephew. Write a letter to a close friend. Breathe. Eat a good meal. Go to physical therapy. Baby steps.

Twenty physical therapy sessions (thank you to my wonderful physical therapists and their assistants) later, I was able to walk longer distances without pain. I said goodbye to my beloved tennis club/teacher/personal trainer and found a basic fitness club.

I have new habits now after losing my best friend–I fast walk near my apartment; I go to the gym on the weekend; I do some exercises at home.

I fantasize about playing doubles tennis with fun partners on a forgiving surface. I rarely double fault, I make crisp volleys and hit successful overheads, and I always leave the court laughing.

I have a pink (for breast cancer) tennis ball that says  “HOPE”.  It sits next to my treasured Billie Jean King signed tennis ball. I must hold onto both.

Posted in depression, fitness, health | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Take a Seat

 

“She doesn’t know how to relax,” my mother said.

My sister had broken her leg, badly, in a rafting accident yet all day she stood. All day, if in conversation with a family member, for example, she practiced her therapeutic exercises and repeated squats and knee bends as if she were training at the gym. We were at Cape Cod in the house my father visited as a child with his parents for summers of sailing and dips in Buzzard’s Bay. My siblings and I had had this privilege too. Perhaps I was in grad school? My sister did not sit then, thirty years ago, and still seldom does. Everyone else spent some of the day doing nothing. We lay on the sand, we read on the porch, we sipped Pimm’s Cups on the stairs overlooking the bay. We were on vacation, after all.

Mom and Dad honor hard work but Mom has always known how to sit with a mystery novel or how to garden, and how to have a glass of Pimm’s Cup before summer meals. Dad watches TV, often with a supplemental activity-excuse, such as an art history journal, on his lap. Their rest may be a bit fidgety or productive, but it is a deliberate relaxation.

For me, as a kid, it was talking. Neighbor Sarah and I used to sit on our front steps and share news of the day. We were a year apart and went to the same school—plenty of stories to catch up on. We dubbed talking our favorite sport.

My sister actually broke at least one of the pins in her ankle from her over-exertions after that rafting accident. I do know how to rest even though my sister has been a major influence on me. With my husband I often lie down to solve a crossword while he naps, and I wind up napping too.

Although my writing has been a hobby, I have never thought of it as rest, but as Work. I still don’t think of it as rest, despite my lying in bed as I wrote this in my notebook. Officially, I am a full-time writer as of a few days ago. This writing life is subject to abuse by workaholics and lazy bums alike. I commit to balance, here, publically. I pledge to be clear-cut about when I will not work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Girl Scout Duffel Bag

One benefit to a long-term post-surgery recovery process is that you can de-clutter your apartment when the mood strikes. I’ve been discovering books, stationery, letters, stuff that I had forgotten about or thought I had lost all together.

Letters my father wrote before he got dementia.

A teeny cross, hand-painted in El Salvador–a gift from a friend who passed away decades ago.

And my official Girl Scout duffel bag from 1972, which I used on those awful troop camping trips when I felt ostracized and alone. I had so loved being a Brownie, but then we moved (as we did, every two to three years) and my new Girl Scout troop was not so friendly. I would leave after a year or so.  And how is it that this dark emerald green duffel bag is with me today, 15 houses later?

Inside I find half a dozen bags. I can donate some of these to my local thrift store, but I also discover a beautiful woven bag with sturdy leather handles from Kenya–a gift from my boss, decades earlier. And a simple cotton book bag imprinted with my college name.

I am a bag lady, because I may need to pack up my belongings any day to move across county or state lines–as we used to do in my childhood. I’ll hold onto my duffel bag for now.

 

Posted in family, health | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Never say these things to an Asian

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article “things you should never say to an Asian” after I told him about a recent experience.  I did not read the article but I chuckled because I could already divine some of the content.  After decades of living and working in major cities in the USA, I am still asked questions like “do you know English?”  or “You don’t speak with an accent”.

I consider the last statement to be a question because the person expects me to respond with an explanation.  How is it possible that I look Asian and yet do not speak with an accent?

Late last year I was asked both of these questions on three separate occasions and I railed against the gods.  FML. In a city like New York??  I told a few of my friends—those who are Asian and could shake their heads knowingly as well as those white friends who commiserate with minorities. A white gay friend sent me the link to the aforementioned article.

I told one of my closest (she’s Asian) friends that people who look like us will always be subject to this kind of prejudice in this wonderful country.

Posted in health, prejudice | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I am surprised to find a person important to me opens the door

I traveled softly in warm air, clouds and stars, surveyed our planet from my safe pillow-filled boat, landed my craft on a speckled whitegolden shore, stepped into salty shallows that slapped my ankles, stepped inland as Lyndsay spoke, into the forest that allowed me passage—you may close your eyes—I shut mine, place your hands on your stomach, I lay my hands on my breath, follow the guided imagery of Lyndsay Morris, Yoga calm leader of the last session of a long Friday, evening, a week ago at the SeaTac Marriott conference Center, my final two clock hours from the Washington Association for the Education of Young children before leaping into the northbound snarl of weekend-has-come traffic. Lyndsay instructed us to clamber into our individual pillow-filled boats, enjoy the gentle ups and downs of breath and wave coinciding, rocking to safety—the forest with no marked path, no sign of patterns or trespass, I came, as Lindsay’s kind candy voice describes, upon a red-doored cottage of safety, and knocked. You are surprised, she said, to find someone important to you open the door—and her voice vanished and I am with him. I am with him. He lives. He stands. A man at the welcoming threshold. My crying greets the wonder. I cry for the discovery. I cry to have missed him these thirty years. Missed his baritone chuckle, his silliness—introducing a shrub to a friend, This is Vibernum Carlesi, as you are Mark Banner. I let the tears drip off my face, my eyes still closed against the room full of strangers. With eyes closed, I am with my grandfather at the door of the safe cottage. I worked to return to the regular breaths of Lyndsay’s lesson, to hear her say, “Listen to what this person has to say,” and she falls silent to give their words full sound in our ears. I tried to hear him, always wise or teasing, but cannot leave my party of discovery. He is here. He is here all the time. I can come back. I can be with him again. He was here all the time. All the time. In his life, too. He was here, a grandfather of the mind. My grandfather of the mind. We must open our eyes to the fluorescent lit SeaTac Marriott Conference Center Snoqualmie room number two. We must complete evaluation forms. We must debrief. Lyndsay asks what might happen if you do this with children? An unknowing attendee says, They might cry. I wave my hand from the back corner table. Some see my wet face. Not just children. I leave early. Not to take my tears to privacy, but to join the northbound snarl, to meet my friends, to eat, to watch a play—Death by Design—and keep my secret. He is waiting for me. When I return to the red door I will wrap my arms around his skinny warmth and kiss his dry smooth cheek.

Posted in family, love, relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment