The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Fashion Sideways March 31, 2012

I really can’t stand the new trend in eyewear. Fashion is cyclical; it seems the cycle is about twenty-five or thirty years. I was in college back then, or thereabouts, and everyone wore those Blues Brothers style frames – the classic Ray Ban look. I know, I had a pair myself – in fact they had pink lenses, and I loved them for many years. But now, I just can’t go there. Especially because the current interpretation of the look has the frames a bit larger than they were back in the day. Personally, I think the sunglasses that people are wearing these days look ridiculous. Just plain ugly. I don’t friggin care how goddam in they are – I cannot be made to participate in such a look. I do, however, remember feeling the same a few years back at the resurrection of the Jackie O-esque oversized frames, yet I did end up buying several pairs, and found them aesthetically quite acceptable. But to be fair, I chose a more moderate interpretation of the style. There really seems to be no such counterpart in today’s look. Plus the trend is for bright, neon colors. Ich. Everyone’s walking around looking like an extra from Pretty in Pink.

Ok. So that’s my take on the sunglasses. The frames of eyeglasses themselves have me feeling a bit more conflicted. One’s frames – or one’s everyday glasses – are something of a small investment. They can cost many hundreds of dollars, they are intended to last a few years, and so one makes that choice with greater care than when purchasing a pair of sunglasses at the drugstore. So of course some careful consideration goes into the decision. My own ‘everyday’ glasses were once exceedingly hip. A few years ago when the trend was about horizontally-oriented shapes, narrow, trim lenses with an angular feel – I found myself a pair issued by Nascar. (I’d previously had a pair by Harley Davidson – and so thought it was kinda cute that my next pair followed the all-American, motor-driven vehicle theme.) My glasses were – and still are – beautiful. Many have admired them over the years. But I’m afraid they are finally played out. I see myself as outdated as the clerks at Walmart wearing similar shapes themselves. It offers me little consolation to know that at least I’m not wearing some clumsily oversized, un-ironic, low-end frames from twenty years ago. Because I do see a good share of folks out in the world who are clearly still wearing the same glasses they did a quarter of a century ago. And while I admit my snobbery at their seeming cluelessness, I secretly wonder if it’s not simply a matter of economics, as it is with me. Might I also find myself one day in twenty-year-old frames? I suppose that’s all well and good if you cease to care. Part of me really wishes I could just cease caring. But sadly, I can’t. No matter how country and cutoff my life may be, I still wish to represent myself as a relevant, participating member of society. And the glasses have so very much to do with that message. Sigh.

I myself am suddenly feeling quite out of it – and have quite a bit of ambivalence about taking action. Firstly, I can hardly afford glasses. Elihu and I live on about a thousand dollars a month, and there is simply no room for such a purchase. Secondly, I don’t at all like the new style and will go so far as to say I think the look that’s popping up everywhere makes people look kinda silly. I see the rounder, more retro shapes showing up all over – on news anchors, artists, restaurant staff, shop owners and moneyed folks. Even though it looks pretentious and slightly wacky to me, I have to admit that I’m beginning to soften to it. I have a pair of my grandfather’s glasses from the ’30s (yes, my grandfather would be well over one hundred if he were still alive today) and they are classics. Tortoiseshell (probably actual tortoise!) and round, they are one of the original shapes that the new trend refers to. So that gives me a new tenderness for it, and this perspective opens my mind. But regardless of whether I like the look personally or not, I am now beginning to feel the pressure. How long can I wear my current glasses and not feel like an average joe? I don’t so much see the new frame styles in the lower economic strata – and I can guess that’s for reasons much like my own. We need to make sure that’s the direction things are going in for a while before we can make a financial commitment to the look. I wish there were some way for me to make a nod to the rounder, larger lense look, while still keeping to a more reserved size and shape. (Am I thinking about this too much? I don’t think so. It just takes so many words to convey the thought process which happens in the blink of an eye.) And so it seems I’m toying with the idea of making this happen, lest I appear to the world an ignorant dolt.

I’m not dwelling on this for hours each day, but I have spent some time lately thinking about what this means in the larger picture of my life. I’ve seen how the aging process works; I’ve seen people become increasingly oblivious to trends as they grow older. I’ve seen people frozen in a look for decades. As I’ve said before – I wish I could relieve myself of the burden of caring how I appear to others – but I can’t. I don’t want to care, but I do. I want somehow to join in the trend, but I want to do it in a way that represents the uniqueness of me along the way. I just spent a crazy couple hundred dollars on new contacts a few months ago – that was my tactic to relieve myself of the frame dilemma. Turns out I really don’t like the feel of this new brand, plus my need for readers while wearing contacts has become undeniable – and so I end up wearing my once-hip-but-now-not-so-much glasses all over again.

I think the easy solution here is to find some cheapie readers with that new look. There. That should do it. Because I’m not quite ready to look like Sally Jesse Raphael. Not just yet.

 

Dad, Here, Now. March 28, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:22 pm
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It feels surreal and foreign, yet it feels mundane and everyday. At once it is rare, at once it is common. Fareed is here, right now, at nine o’clock at night, helping Elihu assemble a model airplane. Right now it feels as if he lived here with us, as if it he was here every night, having supper, wrestling on the bed with his son in a prehistoric reenactment of dinosaurs colliding, assembling an airplane of balsa wood on the kitchen table. I can’t really remember when he was last here. But I think it’s been awhile. I think. A couple months maybe, not quite sure. Sometimes, on nights like this, when Fareed is here, when Elihu is laughing and at his very happiest to have his mother and father together, it seems the greatest shame of all that Fareed does not, in fact, live here with us, his family. I know I should let this whole thing go, but still, I keep wondering why, how… How could it have come to this – where we three are not a family living under one roof but separated by a thousand miles. I know many reasons why we aren’t, but I think a small part of me will forever lament our current reality. I sigh, shake myself awake and out of my longing, and try to make friends with things as they are.

It was a very dramatic day. Fareed’s train was six hours behind schedule due to a derailment on the track. He therefore had to hop off in Cleveland, get on a plane and then be driven from Albany to our tiny town, all in time for a 6:30 curtain. Luck was with him today. I was amazed. With one logistic hitch after another, Fareed finally entered the school’s parking lot at the very same moment we did, for a bizarre but exciting reunion of father and son.

While I’d been so excited for the surprise reunion of father and son, it was not to be as Fareed had come clean to Elihu last night about his plans. However, seeing him pull up at the very same moment as we did was indeed surprising in of itself. We weren’t quite sure Fareed would even make it. But he did. And the show was sweet. Elihu had a speaking part which he nailed. He delivered it clearly and unrushed, unlike most of his classmates. Parents of his friends were there, my folks were there, my brother, my son’s father. And many of the folks in our life here got to meet Fareed, and Elihu got to see his father witness his own world, and it was good. My parents hadn’t seen Fareed for a few years – not since he revealed his new family situation and his desire for a divorce. If my father hadn’t been so frail and aged he might have been more upset. But he wasn’t. And that was good. My mom too, she seemed more comfortable seeing him than I might have guessed. Maybe time does help dull the emotional impact. I was glad to see all aspects of my son’s life happily merging together tonite.

Fareed naps right now, Elihu snuggled beside him. Any minute my brother Andrew will be here to take him to the airport, and Fareed will quietly get up, gather his things and tiptoe out of the house. Elihu will awake tomorrow morning, and his father will be gone once again. It’s made a little easier this time knowing that Easter break is right around the corner, and they’ll see each other again soon. So this time it’s not as hard.

Whatever may yet be, it’s so good to see Elihu with his dad, right here, right now.

 

Surprise Visit March 27, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 12:57 pm
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My son will be visiting his father in Illinois for the Easter break. We know this, but we just don’t know the exact plans, as Fareed will likely do a fair amount of juggling and cancelling of things to make it happen. We’re never sure until about a week before what the exact plans will be. But we know that Elihu will see his father soon. Didn’t know just how soon til a couple of minutes ago…

I got an email from my almost-ex saying that he arrives at the train station tomorrow at 2 pm, can I please pick him up, then he departs from the Albany airport at around 6 am the next morning. Huh?? Why this crazy, last-minute, unexpected overnight visit that comes with no more than a 24 hour warning?? Well, mostly because Fareed is being Fareed. He is living fast, making up rules on the fly, changing plans and pissing people off along the way, and doing it all with the charm of a super slick salesman.

Ultimately, he is being a good dad. And honestly, I’m pretty happy for Elihu. He will friggin flip to see his father, unannounced, show up in time to attend his third grade concert “Of Mice and Mozart” in which he plays a mouse with a small speaking role – one he memorized the very first time he read it. Elihu sings his Mozart tunes constantly as he moves about the house, busying himself with airplane-related projects. (He’s taken a new and ultra-keen interest in all contraptions that fly; it’s as obsessive and all-encompassing as his love of birds.) So just imagine the moment when an unsuspecting kid gets off the bus to find his father waiting there – the father who lives a thousand miles away and isn’t due to be here for another week yet. Elihu will FLIP OUT. Really, I can’t wait. But first, I gotta process a little exasperation here.

You see, I do have a life. I have appointments, things to do, obligations and such.  Tomorrow I need to be at school at 3:30, as I have a meeting about the upcoming talent show. I’m running it this year along with two other friends who, like me, haven’t the foggiest what this whole project entails. So tomorrow we will be tutored by the women who ran it last year. But I cannot make the meeting on time if Fareed’s train is late – which it may well be. Plus I have to drive my mother to have cataract surgery – and drive her back.  And I’d planned on visiting my bankruptcy attorney somewhere in the mix too. I just don’t see how the hell I can do it all.

I called my mother to vent, but she wasn’t as fazed by it as I’d thought. It’s usually she who fans the flame and gets all worked up by Fareed’s craziness… But she was calm and collected and just suggested that maybe my brother Andrew could go get him. Or get her. Whatever. Not a big deal. ?? A little frustrated by my lack of a good audience, I said goodbye to Mom and then re-checked my email. Fareed had responded. Said he’d been talking to Elihu about these plans. But let’s remember, they’ve got a scheduled visit coming up next week – why should Elihu expect his dad to come out any sooner? Elihu probably thought his father was referencing the upcoming Easter visit. And, uh, ahem, how about telling me your plans ahead of time?  Maybe a quick email to the mother of the child being visited? Whatever. I guess I’ll have to take my mom’s uncharacteristically chill attitude. Fareed even says in his message that he doesn’t want me to miss anything. Hookay. Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this. As long as my mom can get to and from her cataract surgery comfortably, and as long as I get to my after school meeting, then I guess it’s all ok. But still, why couldn’t he have told me his plans just a couple days ago? Sheesh.

I’m not going to tell Elihu. I’m just going to savor that moment when I come to meet him after school and Fareed is magically there beside me. I think the poor kid’s head might explode. I can’t wait.

 

Spring Morning March 23, 2012

Nothing to report, aside from the fact that I can seem to get nothing done right now. It is a lovely Spring morning, a gentle breeze moves through the house and the roosters crow from far-off corners of the property. I have now three day’s worth of dirty dishes sitting in the sink as well as taking up all of my modest counter space, and I am acutely aware that I have not yet washed them. However I cannot make myself move. Usually I set to work as soon as Elihu is off to school. I don’t stop working until order is restored. But today, I just cannot summon the inspiration. I sit here, in my comfy bedroom chair, doing absolutely nothing. Just feeling the cool, fresh breeze and enjoying the distant sounds of my wandering flock.

My son and I had a morning of laughter and silliness, improvised poems and songs. We walked the expanse of our future garden, assessing our plans, marking off a small plot by placing a rock in the dirt to mark each corner. A neighbor from down the road (the grandson of the man who’d built our house and first tilled the garden here forty years ago) had recommended we start small. Last fall we had plowed a huge swath to prevent brambles from gaining a foothold on the old garden – a good hundred feet long by twenty five feet wide – and knew this was too much for us to manage. This morning, Elihu and I decided what we could manage.

We realize that we need to be headed back up the hill soon. Our morning had been leisurely, and this meant I’d have to drive him to school. We are lucky; his school is just two miles down the road and we can be there in less than five minutes. I start the car, but then Elihu brings a hen to my window. I roll it down and smooch the hen he calls Shirley Nelson. She is an Araucana and has sprays of feathers just under her eyes which remind me of the sideburns on a gentleman in an ancient sepiatone photograph. She is the one who lays the slender, pale green eggs. We coo to our little hen, thank her for being who she is, then he gently places her down and gets into the car. We set off down the long driveway, the car bouncing over the deep ruts and holes the winter has left behind.

Coming up over the crest of cemetery hill, I can see the forest tops spread out before me, and I see the buds beginning to color the trees – I see distinct patches of yellow, pale orange, dark purple. Spring is coming a little early. I don’t care, I’m so happy to see it again. Such renewal – such a refreshing of the spirit comes with this season. I cannot imagine how one can become rejuvenated without the benefit of such a change of season. What is it to live in Florida? Or California? Or any of those other places in which there is so little change of seasons? What they are missing! Oh, this feeling of hope and anticipation that comes to life with the first scents of Spring! If it weren’t for the snow that fell only weeks ago – how could I possibly come to appreciate this lovely new climate as I do? Elihu and I are in a fine mood today. A Spring mood.

As I drop him off, he says “Goodbye, Mommy, I love you” and my heart is full, full, full. I treasure this moment in our lives, when he is young, when he is close by, when Spring is just returning. The dishes can wait, this fine Spring moment can’t.

 

Endings of Things March 19, 2012

It’s been a week. Threw my back out, became bedridden and immobile, saw our oldest hen die and managed to get back on my feet in time to play piano for my son’s school musical. And yesterday, Martha, a woman whom I think of as my second mother (it was she who taught me how to read music), was taken to the hospital for a heart attack. I have a haunting sense that she may not be around much longer.

That has me in turn thinking about my own parents. Although my father has aged quite visibly just over this past year and shows a growing sense of disconnection from the world around him, I still can’t imagine him dying. Him not being here.Yet if he continues as he’s been living the past few years, he’ll dwindle to a mere wisp of himself before long. And my mom – although she’s got the drive and always seems to be taking care of everyone else, she herself isn’t in top health. She’s good at showing the world that she’s tough and isn’t slowing down, but I see how her knees and her back hurt her. It’s been a few years now since I’ve seen her stand erect. She walks bent over, one hand always resting on her lower back as if by some chance holding it there might alleviate the constant pain.  Yet in spite of these signs, for some reason it’s still easy for me to believe she and my father will always be around. Dad’s own mother lived to be a hundred, and Mom just seems too on the ball to die. But as I look at the numbers reality begins to sink in. We all know death is coming at some point in the not too distant future; after all we Conants met with the estate attorney recently to get our affairs in order. So in some way we’ve all given a nod to the topic. But in our waspish, depression-era informed, keep it to yourself sort of way we’re all avoiding a head-on approach to the subject.

When Martha dies, she will be the last of my parents close friends and peers to go, and it will surely shake their world. But how will they react? Will they be stoic? How afraid will it make them? Are they afraid now? Is Martha afraid? Martha believes that when we die, we die. That there’s nothing more. That might give her a good reason to be afraid as she lies in her hospital bed tonite. Martha is a very no-nonsense woman and makes no bones about telling you how she thinks things are. She is so powerful a woman and is so absolutely convinced that she is right about all things, that I daren’t tell her that my personal beliefs about what happens after death are quite different. I guess I want to maintain her respect, and in the final days don’t want her writing me off as a romantic dreamer or religious fanatic. At least Martha has told us her feelings on the matter. But in my cards-to-our-chest family we never talk about such things. It’s too intimate. And the thought of having a conversation with my parents about what they think occurs after their deaths makes me quite uncomfortable. These are just not things we talk about. I’m almost embarrassed thinking about it.

When Ruthie, the second-to-last peer of my parents was on her death bed several years ago, I longed to tell her I loved her. But our relationship didn’t make that a comfortable thing to say. There were so many other things I’d wanted to say too, but again, the way in which we’d historically related to each other made me squeamish about speaking up. I did however, find it in me to hold her hand as she lay in bed, and I remember looking at her, meeting her eyes. I also remember feeling self-conscious about it, and looking away quickly. She died the next day. I felt heartbroken that I wasn’t brave enough to speak to her as I’d wanted, to look her in the eye as she’d wanted. I told myself that her death would teach me to be brave. Many times I’ve thought of Ruthie when I’ve had to challenge myself to speak honestly, to express my love to people. “Be brave”, I think to myself, and I remember Ruthie’s eyes on that last day. I need to be brave and let Martha know how much I love her. How important she’s been in my life. I need to make sure my parents know how much I love them. I must be brave.

I’m at an age when many of my peers – and most friends a decade or more older – have lost a parent. Yet it seems unfathomable that I should lose either of mine. It’s a strange sort of dichotomy; I can’t believe my parents will die, yet I’ve known peers to die long before their time. I once experienced the loss of a dear friend who was just a few years older than me. He was diagnosed with his cancer and died all within the span of nine months. I remember the pain was intense, heavy and unrelenting in those first months after his death. I’ve also experienced the loss of three people I considered family – all peers of my parents, including Martha’s husband – and although my heart broke at each departure, it was softened by knowing the old age to which they’d lived and the fullness of the lives they’d had. It had seemed to be the right time for them to go. But when it comes to one’s own parents, is there ever such a thing as the right time to say goodbye?

I don’t know why death is so on my mind tonite. Perhaps having found a cluster of Felix’s feathers under the maple tree – evidence that marked the spot of his actual demise – has begun this line of contemplation. And Martha’s weakened state, this too adds to my mood. Martha is a strong, matriarchal woman. She is famous in her circle for being knowing precisely where every last item in her large, historic farm house resides, despite the fact that she can no longer see those articles for herself. (We always joke that you must know your cardinal directions if you’re to work for Martha, as this is how she describes their precise location). She is legendary. It just seems as if Martha can’t die. She’s beat so much, it seems she can easily beat death too. A stroke some thirty years ago may have prevented her from driving a tractor or playing piano again, but it didn’t keep her from driving her car. Instead, she had her car retrofitted to drive with her one good side. She was slowed but not stopped by any means. She’s had several heart attacks and has all but lost her sight, yet still she keeps going.

Although Martha never had children of her own, she has been a mother to many, many children here in Greenfield. Tiny kids from the trailer park just to the south of her farm would find their way down the dirt road to her house. Martha would give them chores and assign them little household tasks. “The glass goes on the south end of the cupboard on the east wall of the kitchen, love” she might say. The kitchen at the farm – this is what we all call the place, “the farm” – was an epicenter for many local children, my brother and myself very much included in this group. It was there we learned to bake, to grind coffee, to make a braid, to look up a wildflower in a field guide, to build a fire in the Franklin stove, to give a newborn lamb a bottle. Martha keeps her vigil in this kitchen still (until just yesterday). Every day she sits in her chair, lifeline pendant around her neck, listening to public radio, her faithful black hound dog Maisey at her feet. Every day except the dozen or so days that she’s spent in the hospital these past few months. It’s her wish to die in her home, not the hospital. She seems so weak now. I pray she’ll make it back in time.

Tonight I feel shaky. I’m afraid of the losses that are coming. Am I ready? As I lay bedbound earlier this week, I had a conversation with my mother about where I thought I might like to be buried one day. It wasn’t quite so morbid as it sounds, as I’ll explain. Driving back from the raptor show the day before (where I’d thrown out my back), I passed the home of an old friend who’d died years ago. He had died of Leukemia. When he knew his death was likely coming soon, he made his own coffin and had his wife bury him in their garden. I liked that idea a lot. I want my body going back to the earth, not masked in harmful chemicals and then shut off from the world in a concrete vault. To me, that is something that is done only for the living. And I believe it is an affront to nature. How vain, how conceited, how wrong. I want to return – truly return – to the earth from which I came. What a dead end – literally! – to lay entombed, unused, wasted. If my body will no longer be of any use to my friends and family, may it yet be of some other good use…

Having some time in bed with no ability to move, I spent some time surfing around, following threads of ideas that I’d not previously had the time to indulge in. One of those was death; just what exactly do I need to do when one of my parents dies? How do I get a death certificate? What exactly are the logistics involved here? It had occurred to me more than a few times that I had no idea what happened after someone died – and that a person is not exactly in the best frame of mind to make the best decisions after such an event. Yeah, I know that’s what funeral homes are for – but if I’m currently of sound mind and body, why not learn about the process now, before it becomes urgent? Seems a better way to approach death. And so I had a conversation not only with my mother, but also with a nationally respected figure in the funeral industry. I’d emailed her a question regarding the consequences of breaking the NY state law requiring burial grounds be at least 1,600 feet from a house. (Why? Because I’ve found a lovely spot on our property for a potential family burial ground.) Would they exhume me? Fine my survivors? It proved to be a challenging question, and in the end, the largest concern she’d had was one of obtaining a death certificate. I know lots of docs, so finding one to come to the house (presuming I die in my home), pronounce me dead and sign the form won’t be an obstacle. Knowing damn well that my old friend Will didn’t measure the distance from his house to his garden when he planned for his own burial, I take some confidence in assuming no one will take my survivors to task on my resting sight.

This conversation opened up the discussion of where mom and dad wanted to be buried. Martha is donating her body to the Albany Medical Center, as Ruthie did. Mom tells me that Martha’s husband Frank is in the veteran’s cemetery just north of the Saratoga Battleground. And since dad is a vet (Korean War) both of them are entitled to free cremation and interment there. While the place may be pretty, and yes, there might be a nice view of the Vermont hills, I have no emotional connection to the place. So it doesn’t sit right quite with me. But I know that ultimately, it really doesn’t matter. Once your body is gone, it’s just a matter of disposal. If it gives mom and dad some comfort to know they’ll be there – then really, that’s fine. As for me, I’d much rather know that every molecule I was made of went right back to the service of something constructive and evolving. And I know that the microbes will be happy to set to work right away, whisking my remains into wildflower food. But again, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I’m ok with whatever gives my surviving loved ones the most peace. Given that my son may likely be at the helm of my funeral, I’m pretty sure he’ll go with the backyard field of daisies approach over the gated cemetery thing.

I had to get some bread from our chest freezer in the basement today. But I knew that Molly was there. Because of my recent back trouble I wasn’t able to dig a hole for her, so I set her there to keep for later. I asked Elihu if he’d come with me; it was too sad for me to do alone. He scolded me, and rightly so. “Mommy, it’s not Molly anymore! It’s just a dead bird!” Yeah, I know. But still. Man, am I all mixed up about this death stuff.

I may be feeling a little mixed up tonight, but nonetheless I am certain of these things: I must be brave and tell the people I love exactly how I feel. I know that we don’t simply die, but we continue to evolve and grow, leaving behind this difficult, earthly classroom. And I know that while death isn’t an end, it will end up breaking my heart. But I’ll make it through, just like everyone else.

Although life might sometimes appear to indicate otherwise, I do believe it will all be ok in the end. I am certain of this. After all, it is an ending that makes a beginning possible.

 

Our Molly March 14, 2012

Our dear white hen, Molly, died this morning. I went in to the mudroom to check on her and give her the morning meds when I found her, lying on the floor. Although her feet were cold, her body was still supple and at least felt room temperature. Looks like she’d just died. Maybe less than an hour ago. I look for clues, signs of how she died, why she died. I see a puddle of liquid around her mouth. She’d thrown up something. I just knew these past two days she was getting far worse. I wonder, did I do the right things? Did I fail her this second round? Since my back’s been out I’ve not been keeping a good schedule with her, and I’ve missed a couple of doses. Was it that? Something tells me no, she was just too far this time. Past few days she’d been burying her head far into her neck feathers – a new posture I’d not seen before – it signaled to me that she was worse. Yesterday, for the first time ever, her tail drooped to the floor. And yesterday she collapsed a couple of times. I took that to mean she needed calories, so made an effort to get a concoction of yogurt and high-end feed into her gullet. Did I force feed her to her death?

In the end, of course none of it matters. But I must take something away from this, lest she have died in vain. And after stroking her feathers and going over the past few weeks in my head, I come to the conclusion that in the past few days I was just prolonging her discomfort; I was trying to keep her alive for my benefit, not hers. I ask her to please forgive me for this. I knew damn well she was not feeling good – that she was feeling very bad, she might have been in horrible pain for all I know – but regardless I sought my goal, rather than the goal I should have pursued: that of her comfort.

I don’t tell Elihu til after breakfast. He’s much more stoic than I. He doesn’t burst out into tears, he just gets up and walks in to the mudroom. He strokes her, then picks up her head to look closer, to glean anything he might, then he lays her back down. I leave for a moment and when I return he’s still there, just looking at her. I join him, we hold hands and just sit. Then I allow myself to cry. I haven’t cried in a long time. I must need this, because the tears are pouring out of me, spilling onto my dear, white hen. I look at Elihu, who is not crying. Instead, he puts his hand on my shoulder. I pull myself together. We talk about where to bury her, and decide it should be under the flowering quince bush. All the birds love that spot, and on sunny days they like to rest there after a day of wandering the property. Yes, that’s perfect. Just perfect.

I drive Elihu to school, then come back home to tidy up. To take care of a dead hen. First, I sit with her, and I try to understand what it is that still nags at me about her death. And then I get it. I knew she was uncomfortable, but I chose to ignore it. But I knew better. So in the future, when an animal is not feeling well, and I’ve already done my best, I will have mercy on them and put them down before they suffer any more. Thank you dear Molly for reminding me to be a better caretaker to my flock.

And thank you for making our homestead so cheery these past three years. How many times I’d stood at the sink, washing dishes and looking out the window at my happy flock, spread wide across the lawn and woods, scratching, ever scratching, flinging leaves behind them as they searched the dirt for tasty bugs. Most of our chickens are red, some lighter, some darker, but mostly they are all of subdued, darker shades. Except for one. I could always find Molly at a glance. She was our bright spot in the flock.

We’ll miss our dear white hen.

 

Back Out March 11, 2012

It has taken me a full forty minutes to get to my computer. And by this I don’t mean that I had to do the dishes or put my son to bed first – I mean it’s taken me nearly three quarters of an hour to move the six feet or so from my bed to this chair. Why? I have done what I am genetically prone to do every couple of years of my adulthood it seems: I have thrown out my back.

While there’s never really a good time to throw out one’s back, this space and time seems almost a better window than most. I’ve just stocked my larder, washed most of the laundry and picked up more antibiotics for my house-bound hen (yes, Molly is back on house rest as it seems I am too). My son is finally old enough to follow somewhat detailed instructions and in so doing help me with things he himself hasn’t had to deal with as yet. Nothing’s that difficult really – but two years ago, maybe even one year ago, I couldn’t have sent him out to the coop after dark to water the hens and shut them in. He would have been too afraid. Tonite he not only did that, but he got us our supper and then helped clean up too. He’s proved himself to be a wonderful partner here on our tiny homestead. Honestly, if he were not here, I might be in trouble. I’m relieved not to be alone.

I was slightly disappointed that my rescuers weren’t familiar with the reference to the bathroom scene in Peter Seller’s film ‘The Party’ when I tried to describe the sadly comic events that transpired in the porta potty where I collapsed. My mother, on the other hand, was in fits of tearful laughter as I retold the story. Now that’s more like it. Cuz really, it was hilarious. And pathetic. I suppose if you’re going to throw your back out, it may as well be entertaining.

Elihu and I had gone to the winter raptor show, held on a farm that sits on the wide expanse of rolling pastureland just to the east of the Hudson River. We’d just seen the release of a snowy owl and had visited many injured and rehabbed birds throughout the morning. Elihu was in his own pure heaven. I had just gotten us our tickets for the afternoon raptor show when I finally managed a moment away to get in line for the bathroom. I had a hunch I’d find a clean porta potty. Birders, naturey and outdoorsy folks strike me as considerate humans. I was happy to find my hunch correct. Peeing was uneventful, and there was ample paper too. No problem so far, but then – in a split second the cotter pin that held the toilet paper suddenly popped off, sending the heavy rolls of paper thudding onto the floor. Eeeks. I gotta get those off the floor – quick. I mean, considering how tidy this stall is, it’s the least I can do, right? So I bend down to pick up the paper and BOING!!! I collapse. Ok. I know how this works. I’m done for, so I may as well try getting the rolls up and on dry land. Oh. Close the seat first. Ugg. Ok. Gloves, yes, use your gloves to set the paper on. Where? Not a lot of real estate here. The corner. Ok, paper saved. Now what? Pants. Not quite all the way on yet. Crap. How can I do this in a squatting position? Oh man. Ok. Pull, twist, shimmy. Ok. Button done, that’s off the list. Now what? At least I can make a grab for the cotter pin while I’m down here on the floor. I see it, I reach…. TWANG!!! Shit. Oh man, really?

I considered briefly trying to keep my dignity intact, telling myself to muscle through this. But the strange thing about having one’s lower back ‘go out’ is that often other muscles seem unable to step in and take over. In fact – I find that I’m weaker than ever before in these post-trauma windows. It feels as if I haven’t used my body in months. Literally, it is impossible to stand. Really. And so I make up my mind – as I honestly haven’t any choice about it – and reach up for the latch. The door opens, and I literally spill out onto the muddy ground on all fours. As all modesty goes out the window when you’re in labor, it also heads for the hills when you’re in this kind of discomfort. Thankfully, the same considerate folks who’ve left me a clean porta potty are the same considerate folks who come rushing to my aid as I crouched there, helpless.

The kind people I met helped me up and into a folding chair. And so for a time I sat there, only a few feet from the door of the porta potty from which I’d recently emerged. I heard a few folks within earshot referring to the ‘lady who threw out her back’ as they pointed in my direction. Later a few of us joked that I might set up a card table in front of my chair and make myself into a proper booth. Maybe folks could even have their photos taken with me. Might help to pass the time waiting in line.

I sat for a while til an earthy sort of man eating sunflower seeds from the large pockets of his woolen coat came up and asked if I needed anything. That was kind of him. Course there’d already been a good amount of kindness expressed towards me in the time I’d been sitting there. A pair of older ladies and I had had a good chuckle about it all, and as they turned to leave, one had asked if she might pray for me. I’d thought she meant later – perhaps at day’s end she might remember me in her petition of nightly prayers. But no, she meant right then and there. So I humbly accepted. She leaned in, laid her hand on my shoulder and offered up a vigorous prayer in a surprising sotto voce. Now this man came asking if I had a hat, or if I was too cold, or if I needed him to get my car. Did I need anything at all? You know, sometimes you just gotta call it as it is. No point pretending you’ve got it all under control when you don’t. I told him that actually, yes, I might like having my car. It was not too far, and would be easy to find as it had a green flower on the antenna. And so I gave him my keys. I turned in my seat to watch him go, but turned too far. I winced in pain and allowed myself another tear. As I cried, I realized that my tear might as well have been for gratitude as it was for pain. How grateful I was. How lucky, how blessed, how grateful. I concentrated on breathing and relaxing. Not too long after the man had gone, he had returned and was now skillfully backing up within inches of where I sat. He and two of his friends helped share my weight as I got into the driver’s seat ever so carefully.

The next hour I was treated quite regally. And Elihu, too. We befriended a family who owns raptors and does shows throughout the area. They were so kind as to take him and sit him right up front in the tent with the bird shows. He wouldn’t have seen anything had he been just a few rows back. He ended up spending a good long time there in the tent as I sat in my car, enjoying warm air and the company of new friends. The gal whose birds were in the tent show offered to do some Reiki on me, and another woman who also does healing came to join in. Again, I was humbled by the generosity and help of people I hardly knew. Yet in that we were all joined by a love of birds and nature, it wasn’t entirely surprising. I continued to meet people in the next few hours and enjoyed several conversations in which I ended up taking notes, so that I might later seek out certain books, homeopathic remedies and other bits of useful information that might help me with my back issues. (I googled mind/body reasons for lower back issues as soon as I got home and the first thing that appeared was ‘worries about money’. I suppose I didn’t need to search for that one, huh.)

On the ride home Elihu had to learn how to pump gas. At first the gasoline sprayed out all over him and he cried – so I tried to come to his aid, but couldn’t make it. There I crouched, at the pump, getting a bit meaner and bitchier than I should have, when a man in an ancient car with a ladder on top drove up and asked if I needed help. I guess he kinda thought I might need him to call someone for me, because he looked a bit taken aback when I asked if he could help me into my car. I introduced myself and thanked him. Truly, I couldn’t have gotten back in – not at least in the next thirty minutes – without his help. We drove the scenic and hilly roads back to Saratoga, which felt a bit like arriving in Manhattan after all that countryside.

Soon we were back in Greenfield. It’s quite true that I don’t get out much, and so our day away from home gave me new eyes of appreciation as we approached our tiny corner of the big world. I longed for comfort, but dreaded how I would ever get out of the car and actually into my house. I remembered that my mom had some sort of prescription pain reliever, so before we went home I stopped in at mom and dad’s, where Elihu ran in to get me a pill. It was my hope to take it now so as to mask the pain I’d face trying to get up the stairs to my house. Finally, pain pills now on board, I drove us home and pulled the car in to the very bottom step. It was not easy, but I made it.

Only a week ago I’d bought a walker at a thrift shop, thinking how it might help dad get to the mailbox this spring. He had been inside all winter, and walking was becoming insanely tedious for him. I knew he had to get up and out, and so I snagged the collapsible walker for five dollars. Little did I know that it would come to my own rescue. As dear Elihu couldn’t find where I’d stashed it in the garage, I called a neighbor to help. Within minutes she was popping the cold metal frame into shape. Even with the aid of a walker it was tough getting around. After a while I was able to lean against the sink in order to finish the dishes there. We ate, cleaned up again, then began to get ready for bed.

I’m almost done. Almost. I might have been able to call it a day at that – but for one final event. In spite of my having added a dozen or so gallons of kerosene to our tank over the past week, we have tonite finally run out of heating oil for the season. Thankfully, it’s not super cold. Just medium kinda cold. So with the dawning awareness that the heat had not come on in the the hour since we’d come home and had turned it back on – we realized we’d need the portable electric heater. And we’d need to share a room. So we are tonite pretty much as we were one year ago – huddled together in my bedroom, waiting out a cold, March night. I myself can find no position which gives relief, and moving even an inch is a huge affair, so here I sit, typing, postponing the inevitable. But I’m done, my story is told, so I need to go and figure out how this sleep thing is gonna work.

Back out indeed!