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Going Home

My heart hangs heaviest during the autumn of each year, when I know far away the leaves are turning a riot of colors, smoke smell lingers in the heavy cool air, apples fall ready from the trees, and sweaters become the costume of choice. 

 

The north road calls,
the pure voice of fall
fills my ears with joy,
far away, here alone–

The pure voice of fall,
the promise of crisp apples, while
far away, here alone,
I watch the summer moon fade.

The promise of crisp apples, while
distant, I still can savor memory–
I watch the summer moon fade,
the trees don’t change color here;

distant, I still can savor memory,
the purest hues of New England autumn.
The trees don’t change color here-
I will not stay here forever.

The purest hues of New England Autumn
fill my eyes with joy–
I will not stay here forever, not
while the north road calls.

@2016
MaryMargaret

Not Crazy About December

I have such mixed feelings about this time of year. While I love autumn and the changes it brings–especially if it has been a relatively wet spring and summer so the colors of the trees are vivid–in the back of my mind is the reminder (or is it a warning?) that the autumn swiftly barrels into winter and all that winter signifies.

I don’t like winter.

I don’t mind saying that out loud and have been known to tell students that I will flunk them if they say “I love snow” one more time. That sounds cruel, but it’s really just honest.

Snow is/can be pretty, when it’s first falling, when it gently covers everything in sight.

snowfall 1

But after the initial shock-and-awe of that snowstorm fades, reality sets in. People forget how to drive in snow and panic drives most cars. Down here there isn’t the full-on capacity for snow removal that places north of the Mason-Dixon line have so while main roads and highways can be cleared within a day, neighborhood roads remain icy and snow-packed until the temperature can get above freezing and the sun can do her work.

What started out as a beautiful winter-wonderland scene quickly becomes ice and slush and dirty snow, shoved up against the sides of the road and into driveways, blown up and out of the way of one road only to add to the problems of another road. That pretty scene does not last long, but the remnants and the dirt and the ice last quite a long time. What was lovely is now ugly. And cold.

It’s not fun living like that. There’s also the fear that the heat bill will be so high that it won’t be able to be completely paid in one month, and that, too, adds to what quickly becomes a stress-filled December.

Outside of the tangible, and the fact that December really starts somewhere near the end of October as far as capitalist corporations are concerned, there’s the intangible difficulties that December brings. Some people suffer from SAD, a seasonal disorder that can plummet them to the depths of despair. Depression around the jolly holidays is not uncommon, either, although one would never know it to look at what the suits on Madison Avenue insist on choking down our throats: happy people buying lots of happy stuff to make them even happier! What joy! What bliss!

christmas shopping

What an unending pot-full of lies, bound only to end with extreme disappointment for too many people.

So I have mixed feelings about December. There was a time, for about six years in a row, when I did not travel back to the wintry northeast to try to spend a week with my family there. Funding does not allow for me to fly, so I spend four days driving back and forth (which does not leave a lot of time for visiting in a leisurely manner). The expense of this travel is nearly back-breaking. I can keep it close to $300 to drive up (gas, food, lodging) and $300 for the drive back (gas, food, lodging). But money needs to be spent while there. The least expensive Christmas presents for sons and father and daughter, because I do love them and want to give them something, and “Hi, I’m here” just doesn’t seem like enough. So honestly it comes close to $900 to go home for Christmas.

That’s depressing for someone who has not had a raise in six years, yet whose expenses–minimal expenses–continue to rise. Gas, food, lodging. Plus orthodontia and music lessons, school loans and credit card debt. That’s depressing for someone who gets to the middle of the month and constantly worries how she is going to make $200 stretch for 14 days and still pay the phone bill and the electric bill when they come in before the end of the month.

It should not be depressing, the month of December. It should be a time of joy, of completion, of family, of happy gatherings, of looking forward to the next year. But for some, it isn’t. It’s knowing that if one decides to stay home, there will be sadness and a great wish to be with family; and yet it’s knowing that if one decides to go, the stress of worrying about where that money is going to come from outweighs the benefits of actually being with family. It’s stressful no matter what the decision is.

To all of this, this year there is an added reminder of the bleakness of December. Saying goodbye to a dear person after 33 years last December was not easy–not that saying good bye permanently ever is. But thinking of those who are no longer with us to celebrate a holiday they loved does tend to put a damper on things no matter how much we say, “Mom would have loved this and would have wanted us to be happy and keep on the traditions.”

christmas tree

Perhaps this is a first-world problem and I should look at December as just another month, a month to live and enjoy life, to appreciate what I have and love the people who matter to me. It’s difficult, though, because suddenly the tears come from somewhere, run for a while, and dry temporarily only to return when they are least expected.

I want to love you, December, but I just do not think I can.

 

 

There’s a meme of sorts going around on Facebook right now that asks people to put up a list of “10 Books That Stayed With Me.” I thought about this for a day or so, adding and deleting different books in my mind before finally coming up with 11—yes, one more than was asked for or required. After all, it is just a meme from Facebook so are there really hard-and-fast rules when it comes to that? 

What follows is my list with some detailed and some not-so-detailed explanations regarding each one. I realize now that I would also add, to the commentary of The Once and Future King that The Mists of Avalon comes right up there, but it was the White book that opened the door for the Bradley book. I do try to be fair and follow some rules…

Seems like what’s going around now is “10 Books That Stayed With Me.”  Hmm. Been thinking about it for a while now and here’s the best I can do:

 

1. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving. I read the first chapter in, of all places, an issue of Playboy, back in the 70s. When it came out in paperback, I bought copies for everyone in the editing department at Digital Equipment Corporation (that was when paperbacks were around $5). I did not want to see the movie because I was afraid it would ruin Garp for me. And I still have the same reaction Garp has when he’s running at night and sees the blue/green light that signifies someone is watching television instead of reading a book.

2. “The Once and Future King” by E.B. White. Began my obsession with King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It was on the summer reading list, which we had all four years of high school, for the summer prior to freshman year. “The Hobbit” was on the list that year, too, but it didn’t stay with me nearly as much as the White book did.

3. “Medicine River” by Thomas King. Blew me away. Loved it and recommended it to everyone. The movie did it justice, too, which surprised me. But I have to love anything Graham Greene has ever been in. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s warm, it’s enlightening, and I wrote about it in my dissertation.

4. “Hawaii” by James Michener. It’s the only book of his that I’ve been able to read, completely, cover-to-cover. And to be honest, when I re-read it, I skipped the first part with the birth of the island. When I read the Abner Hale was from Marlboro, Massachusetts, I kept reading. The unfortunate part was that my grandmother took it away from me because she didn’t think I should read the sex scenes. Wow. Have you READ this book? Sex scenes? Out of 1000 pages? But it was brilliant, how he wove together everyone’s stories from the missionaries to the natives to the imported Chinese.

5. “Gone With the Wind”. I saw the movie first, when I was 11 and my aunt took me to see it. I spent most of the Civil War in Atlanta scenes in the bathroom and only came out in time to see Scarlett swear that she would never be hungry again. I’ve been through six or seven paper back editions and have an anniversary edition in hardcover safely stowed on a bookcase. I know how racist it is, but it was written from a southerner’s point of view, from someone who heard stories of the war, first-hand, as a child, so of course her viewpoint would be skewed to the south. What stays with me about this novel is the strength that Scarlett has to do what she does to save her family and her land. And, yes, her obsession with Ashley shows that she’s a flawed character. It stay with me. And I’m totally glad that Margaret Mitchell changed the name of her main character because Pansy O’Hara just wouldn’t have worked the way Scarlett did.

6. “Lord of the Rings”. I re-read it every year, during Christmas break. I was pleased to find out that Christopher Lee (Saruman) does the same thing. I even read all the Appendices at the end. What a mind Tolkien had.

7. “Holocaust” by Paul Benzaquin. On November 28, 1942, the deadliest night club fire in America’s history happened in Boston, Mass. Four hundred and ninety two people died in the fire, most trapped behind a jammed revolving door or piled up in front of an exit that had been bolted shut to prevent patrons from slipping out and not paying their bill. It horrified and mesmerized me when I first read it as a young teenager. I re-read it, slowly absorbing the horror of the pictures and trying to imagine what it was like for the firefighters and volunteers who arrived on the scene and tried to save people. I check Amazon and other places from time to time to see if an old copy has come to light, because I have no idea what happened to the hardcover edition that I read many times at my parents’ house.

8. “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. I was enthralled by this wonderfully crafted story that I read one summer at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Such brilliant, pure writing and such a well-wrought story. I had already read “Bean Trees” and was familiar with Kingsolver’s work, but this brought her writing into new prominence for me. Others will say that “Poisonwood Bible” is her best, but I respectfully disagree and maintain it is “Prodigal Summer.” I re-read it each summer now.

9. “Illumination Night” by Alice Hoffman. It was the first Hoffman novel I read and still the one I go back to, although there are so many others of hers that I love. I’ve taught this one in my New England Writers class, too. It was the first time I had read anyone adequately describing the panic attacks that devastated me throughout 1983 and 84. And it was set on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places on earth. Her story is simple but beautiful and I continue to recommend it to everyone.

10. “The House of the Spirits” by Isabelle Allende. Someone I had never met before, a bookstore employee, started talking to me in Jabberwocky, a bookstore in Newburyport Massachusetts and finding out I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, took me up to the start of the alphabet in fiction and handed me this book. “You’ll love it,” he said. I was skeptical. He was right. It remains my favorite of Allende’s books, all of which I have read. The movie was awful.

11. Alright, I know it said “ten” but I would be remiss not to add “Anything at all written by Andre Dubus”. Not Dubus III (the son) but the original. I knew him. And he was a brilliant writer. All of his works have touched me. I can only hope to be half as good. I miss him.

Because a few people showed interest in reading parts of this yet-unpublished novel, I thought perhaps this would be a good way to put it out there and generate feedback. Keep in mind that this is just the first chapter, for now, and as such it should leave a lot of questions as well as a desire to know more. 

At least, I hope it does.

 

Chapter 1

Rebecca (April 1992)

 

            “Godmother.” The woman sitting in the armchair inhaled softly. “Do you know what the definition of godmother is? No? Well, you’re in good company. Most people haven’t got the first clue what it really means to be a godmother. When Stella asked me if I’d do it for her daughter, Sharon, of course my first response was yes. I thought it was an honor—I thought it was an honorary title, not that I’d actually have to do anything. I’d show up at the church, carry the baby through the ceremony, attend the party afterwards, then send presents from time to time. That’s it, right? Oh, it should be so simple!”

Rebecca waved her hand in front of her face, as if fanning invisible flies away. Or perhaps it was the dust motes she could see wafting towards her in the shaft of light that cut the sparsely-furnished office in two. The long, dark drapes prevented most of the light from delving too deeply into the room, something Rebecca found soothing. They were not drawn completely, and in the inch or so that remained open, a vivid shaft of sunlight from the afternoon threw a sharp line of brightness down the room’s divisional line. Maybe it wasn’t the dust motes she was waving away from her face. Maybe it was the memories she was trying to put in order here, a few times per month, at ninety dollars per session.

“Seriously, Dr. Darbandi,” Rebecca continued, her face turned towards the bookshelves lining the wall, “are you a god-parent? Are you aware of the responsibilities? There are days when I wish I hadn’t said yes to Stella. But we’d been friends for so long. Since I first moved north. Things were much more simple then, it seems. But then they grow increasingly more complex. Or perhaps it is we who make them so. How does that happen? How do we wake up one morning and realize we haven’t got a clue what we’ve been doing for the past thirty or forty years?”

She stopped for a moment, turned away from the bookcases, closed her eyes and folded her hands in front of her. The silence in the room was broken by the ticking of a clock, perched high up on one of the bookcases, enclosed in a crystal glass dome, the three little ball-shaped pendulums turning first one quarter turn to the left, then one quarter turn to the right. Each time they turned, a low, clicking sound resonated softly throughout the room. But only when it was absolutely quiet. Rebecca remained silent for a few minutes, thinking.

“I really wanted this to be coherent today. I so want to make sense of everything, try to understand it all. Mostly, I think I want to forgive myself, if that’s possible. Do you think it is possible? If every person we’ve ever wronged offered us unconditional forgiveness, would that be enough for us to forgive ourselves?”

Rebecca reached into her handbag and took out a handkerchief. She wiped the corners of her mouth, then the corners of her eyes, although no tears appeared there. It was as if they were there, hidden inside, not yet ready for release, yet she felt them. After she replaced the handkerchief, she crossed one leg over the other, looking straight at Dr. Darbandi, who was quiet and observant behind her large oak desk. “Can forgiveness ever come?”

Dr. Darbandi leaned forward slightly. “I’m not exactly sure what it is you think you need to be forgiven for,” she said in her usual soft voice. It was a soothing voice, made that way by years of training.

Rebecca frowned, leaning back and continuing to stare at her psychiatrist. Darbandi’s brown hair fell in waves to a precise point on her shoulders, a few strands out of place that she fixed both before and after meetings with clients. She held no notebook or pen, yet Rebecca knew there was a tape recorder on the desk which faithfully recorded every minute of their sessions. In the silence, the clock ticked its seconds away.

“Whatever have we been talking about today and last week?” Rebecca almost whined, her usually controlled voice raising slightly in both volume and pitch. “I’ve been talking so much and feel as if I’m getting nowhere.”

“Oftentimes it takes a while to get to the real starting point,” Dr. Darbandi calmly responded. “I told you that the first day you came back to me. This is different this time, your dreams and anxiety, whatever it is you are feeling, has nothing to do with the panic attacks you had years ago. You say you are willing to do some exploring to find out what is bothering you. You say you are willing to do whatever it takes to settle your dreams. It seems now we may just be getting to that starting point.”

Rebecca recrossed her legs. Her palms were sweaty, and she reached into her bag again for the handkerchief. She breathed deeply and looked up.

“A starting point. Good. What, exactly, is this starting point you believe we are at?”

“Should we recap?” Dr. Darbandi asked.

Rebecca shook her head, struggling against a bit of anger she felt rising in side. “No,” she said. “No recap. Please just once point out something even though I’m sure you want me to see for myself.”

She glanced at Dr. Darbandi and shook her head.

“No, you won’t do that. Alright, let me try. Again.” She shifted position in her chair. “Maybe I have just been wasting time for three weeks, trying to find some center, trying to just get to what it is that is really bothering me, is that it?” Dr. Darbandi nodded for Rebecca to continue.

“Alright, so the last thing I said was about forgiveness and you think that’s the starting point.” Rebecca scratched her palm, suddenly smiling. “Because you want to know what it is I think I need forgiveness for.”

Darbandi smiled back. “Yes. I think that is the real starting point, don’t you?”

Rebecca suddenly stood up and walked around the two leather chairs and headed over to the window. She grabbed the two sides of the curtain at the split where they didn’t quite meet and balled the material up in her fists.

“Would you mind terribly if I opened these curtains?” she asked without turning. “I really can’t bear to stay in the dark when it’s so beautiful with the coming sunset outside.”

“Do what you want with the curtains,” Dr. Darbandi told her.

Rebecca spread the curtains wide and stood, looking out at the city below her. Boston. From the eleventh floor of Massachusetts General Hospital, in the waning light of day with the sun an angry yet dying orange ball in the west, from that vantage point, Boston was a beautiful city. The sound of horns from cars stalled in a traffic jam on Storrow Drive didn’t make it up to the eleventh floor. It was peaceful there, serene and beautiful, watching the last throes of a setting sun. Rebecca looked outward, but not down; her fear of heights would not allow that. Out there, she could see beyond the Charles River as it meandered towards the harbor from beyond Newton and the west where it began as no more than a stream. The light from the dissolving sun gleamed off the Charles, creating diamond clusters that sparkled and hurt Rebecca’s eyes when she stared right at it. She could see Memorial Drive across the river from Storrow Drive, Memorial where it twisted and curved past MIT and the Harvard Boat House, some Harvard residence halls, a few blocks from Harvard Square and the city of Cambridge.

Rebecca looked specifically in that direction, following Mem Drive away from the Science Museum, and she frowned. She shook her head and turned back to the leather chair.

“When I was a child,” she said, “the nuns told us if we confessed our sins to the priest at confession and truly were sorry for what we had done and then did our penance with contrition in our hearts, why, then God would forgive us through his agent, the priest. They told us God loves us no matter what, no sin is too great to be forgiven, and we should forgive our brother seventy times seven times. It’s a euphemism, I think, in the way that wandering in the desert for forty days and forty nights was a euphemism. That just mean no one knew how long those prophets were away. We’re supposed to forgive our brothers an infinite number of times. Because God would. And we’re supposed to strive to be like God.”

Rebecca fumbled with her handkerchief again, twisting it into little knots, looking above Dr. Darbandi’s head at the shelves of books behind her, at the last little stream of light from the setting sun sweeping slowly off the bindings. She picked up the glass of water on the table next to her and took a short sip, coughing briefly as the water soothed her throat.

“But how can we possibly do that?” she continued. “Was that some kind of a sick, pathetic joke, meant to totally frustrate people, make us crazy? Because we’re just humans, we can’t be perfect, and even striving to be perfect when we know full well we can never achieve that state, isn’t that enough to send anyone into deep depression, self-loathing, and madness?”

Rebecca paused, but Dr. Darbandi remained silent.

“I don’t think we need to try to reflect God, not to the extent that we’re spending all our waking time striving to be perfect, knowing that’s unattainable. I think if we just try to be decent human beings and treat each other as we want to be treated in return, that’s half the battle right there, don’t you think?”

“And where does forgiveness come in?” Dr. Darbandi prodded gently.

“God forgives everything,” Rebecca said. “He accepts us back like the prodigals we are, washes away the stain of sin with our penance and gives one of those go and sin no more speeches, knowing full well the humans will sin again, but also knowing He’ll take us back again. God can work that way; He can afford to. But people—now, that’s a different story. I’m not sure forgiveness is one of those things we even aspire to. If we’ve done the wrong then yes, we want to be forgiven, but as a whole, people don’t much like to forgive. Or perhaps it’s just because they feel it makes them lesser people, doormats, if they keep forgiving and getting on with things. Harboring resentment and jealousy and bitterness—well, that’s more human, isn’t it? Don’t we seem to thrive on that?”

Dr. Darbandi grinned slightly. “But you started today by talking about godmothers when I thought you wanted to talk about your dreams. Tell me, Rebecca, how do you go from godmothers to forgiveness? We can get back to your dreams, but right now, think for a minute. There must be something that connects godmothers and forgiveness, to follow your line of reasoning.”

Rebecca laughed. “Well, thank you at least for thinking there is a line of reasoning. I think there is, somewhere, but I know I’m jumping from one thing to another. I think this all—dreams, godmothers, forgiveness—I think this all has to do with Elaine.”

Dr. Darbandi sat up straighter, but did not let on she was surprised by this last statement. “I am sorry about Elaine,” she said.

Rebecca waved her sympathy away and frowned. “Yes, everyone is.” She paused and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. This time she did not reach for the handkerchief to wipe them away. The tears collected and fell, in a little river of woe, down each side of her face. She let them go, and did not move to wipe them off.

“Elaine was also my godchild, as you already know,” Rebecca said. “Though I don’t understand why Stella asked me a second time to stand for one of her children. After Sharon, I thought when Elaine was born, that Stella and Peter would ask someone else. But they didn’t. And against my better judgment, I took her on. I never told you this before, did I?” She looked at Dr. Darbandi, who shook her head.

“I don’t know,” Rebecca sighed and continued. “I feel as if I let both those girls down, somehow. I watched them grow up, watched Elaine take over everything with her grandstanding and theatrics, her demands for attention. I watched Sharon acquiesce to everything, silently letting Elaine and her wants take first place. I watched them through Jack and Ricky Fontaine, and Frances and the Fields Foundation—through everything that happened there, and I just continued along on the sidelines, through the wedding and the baby and all the changes everyone seemed to be constantly going through. And I always held onto the thought that there had to be something for me to do. I don’t usually stand in the wings well, but for this godmother thing, it seemed as if that was all I could do. Stand by the side. Watch their lives.” She suddenly shivered. “It was as if I have a policy of non-interference; the prime directive.”

Rebecca smiled at her feeble attempt at a joke. The tears had dried on her face. Her eye make-up had smudged slightly, but her face still looked fresh, even though it was so close to evening. The sun had not completely slipped beyond the Charles River and the horizon.

She stopped smiling and sighed. “Levity. That was Elaine’s way of getting through everything, although she probably didn’t consciously realize it. Then again, maybe she did. Make a joke and the problems go away.” She looked up at the woman across the desk. “But I’m digressing again, aren’t I?”

At a nod from Darbandi, Rebecca continued. “Doesn’t Salinger say something about digression in Catcher in the Rye?” she asked.

“I don’t know, you’re the English major, not I.”

“Good point.” And Rebecca grinned again. “Well, I’m sure he does. About someone on the debate team who told lovely stories, stories Holden really liked, only the other members of the team were supposed to shout digression! at people when they digressed. Maybe you should do that,” she suggested.

“Actually, I think your digressions are necessary to your understanding,” Darbandi said.

“Again, you’re probably right. Godmother. Forgiveness. Sharon and Elaine. Okay,” and Rebecca sighed again.

The clock on the bookshelf chimed twice, two soft and soothing tones, and Rebecca glanced at it.

“Time goes by quickly, doesn’t it?” she mused. “I remember sitting in Sister Baptista’s sixth grade class, watching the clock at a quarter to three, thinking it would never be three o’clock so I could go home. Those fifteen minutes seemed to drag for hours, and I always felt trapped by it. I still feel trapped by time, because you wake up in the morning and without even realizing it, it’s the next day, or the next week, or the semester’s over, until years have gone by and I don’t know where they went or what I was going in them. Why people have changed, why some have died, why I don’t seem to feel older. Why is all of that?”

Dr. Darbandi watched Rebecca silently as Rebecca struggled to maintain control. Rebecca continued.

“There are quite a few dreams I seem to be having lately,” she admitted, not looking at Darbandi. “I have never understood dreams, and for the most part have never recalled mine on a regular basis. The ones which are vivid and recollected are those that occur just prior to waking—you know, the ones you have in which you incorporate things that are really happening with the things you are dreaming about, like you’re dreaming about a fire engine coming screaming down your street and its sirens never seem to stop but go on and on and then you realize it’s not a sired but the alarm clock next to your bed and that brings you up to consciousness so you can shut it off. You know what I mean?”

She didn’t wait for Darbandi to speak or even to nod. She barely stopped her monologue.

“They seem to be right there, at the edge of my mind, first thing in the morning,” Rebecca almost whispered. “Elaine’s usually in them, or at least one I remember vividly. If  I think about dreams at all, it’s the Elaine dreams I’d prefer, not the chasing dreams, or the searching dreams.”

“Are you having those, too?”

Rebecca nodded, and sniffed quietly, sitting still, deep in thought.

“Elaine dreams,” Darbandi suggested.

“Yes. Elaine.” Rebecca collected her thoughts. “She’s standing there on the Common, and it’s snowing all around her and we call and call for her to come but she shakes her head and waves and then falls backwards into the snow, spreading her legs and arms back and forth and up and down, rapidly, as she makes a beautiful snow angel.”

Rebecca coughed and took a sip of water from the glass next to her. “Yes, I know. It makes perfect sense. But on the other hand, it doesn’t.” She continued to cough and fidgeted, straightening her skirt and glancing up at the clock, something she rarely did when at Darbandi’s office.

“Do you want to stop talking about the dreams for now, Rebecca?”

Rebecca’s relief was palpable. She nodded. “If you don’t mind, I would rather talk about the girls,” she said. Darbandi nodded, gesturing for Rebecca to continue.

“Three years after Sharon, Elaine was born. I lived close to them then, only a mile down the road, and spent a lot of time with Stella, helping when she needed. It was fascinating in a way to me, watching those two girls, different as night and day. Elaine new the fine art of manipulation from the day she first came home. Sharon was never in need of the spotlight; she never called attention to herself. But Elaine—well, Elaine couldn’t seem to get enough attention, she acted like she was starved for it and went out of her way, doing whatever she thought would get her the attention she craved, at first following Sharon all over and then going at it on her own. At such a young age, too. Even when she was still living at home, it was as if she wasn’t living there. Elaine was her own person. When she was young, Stella liked to say that she was five-going-on-thirty. She just always seemed years ahead of her time, the things she was getting into.”

Rebecca slipped off her brown Rockport walking shoes. Comfortable shoes, but she had a sudden desire to fold her legs up under her on the leather chair. Her handkerchief fluttered to the floor.

“I never understood those two girls, and it seemed as if I understood even less as time passed. I moved across town when they were about ten and seven and didn’t see them as much but still kept up daily with Stella at least. That never changed. We still talk all the time, you know. But then, well, of course mothers don’t always know what’s going on with their kids, especially teenaged girls who think their mothers are from a different planet. Well, maybe we are. I always swore that if I had children I would never start a sentence with the words when I was your age, but I found myself doing that with Sharon and Elaine.

“Were they close? I can’t tell. They never killed each other. But there was a nurturing instinct in Sharon and Elaine always had an intense desire to be nurtured. You’d think they were perfect for each other. But it didn’t work that way. I always wanted to help them, sit them down, talk to them, make them see what harm they were causing each other.”

Rebecca looked at Dr. Darbandi, who was sitting in the near darkness surrounding her desk, her face shadow-lit by the low wattage of the one small desk lamp. Her face seemed haloed in light.

“What is it you think you could have done?” Darbandi asked.

Rebecca fidgeted, slid one leg off the chair and rested her foot on the floor. She shrugged. “I don’t know. Something. Anything. I just feel so bad about everything.”

“What do you mean by everything?”

Rebecca’s tears started to creep down her face again.

“Do you think you could have prevented what happened?” Darbandi asked.

Rebecca sniffed, tears dripping silently onto her blue shirt. She stared at the doctor, saw only a blurred figure sitting next to a wavering, pool-like desk.

“Rebecca,” Darbandi said quietly, “ you are feeling responsible for things out of your control.”

Rebecca shook her head, slowly. “You don’t understand,” she said. “You don’t understand just how Sharon and Elaine are. Or were.”

“Then tell me,” Darbandi gently said.

Just putting it out there to see how it looks, how it reads, how I feel about it. A few short paragraphs, the end of a chapter in progress…

 

“His eyes were open, but they weren’t seeing anything. Norris looked for a reflection of the light in the room in them, but could only see his dark pupils reflecting the dark of the floor. There was nothing there; they couldn’t reflect anything because they were empty, the inside was all empty, nothing was there, nothing to hold onto, and Norris suddenly realized that despite everything else, there never had been anything behind those dark eyes. That Chase went through the motions, but there was no feeling behind the motions. She quickly looked around the room, wondering if anyone else felt the epiphany she was having. No one bothered her. No one looked at where she sat, next to Chase, holding onto her plastic beer cup, holding but not drinking.

Chase suddenly stood up, and beer sloshed out of Norris’s surprised cup. He took her arm.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her onto the dance floor.

Later, she wouldn’t be able to remember what song was playing, what motivated Chase to pick that specific time to dance, but she could always clearly see her own confused self follow Chase onto the dance floor after quickly handing her cup to Matt Brown as he walked by. She watched Chase as he slowly moved his shoulders in time with the medium beat, watched his feet shuffling back and forth, watched his head, as he kept it looking down towards the floor. She didn’t match his movements; she knew he wasn’t paying attention to her. She danced her own dance, her dance of surprise and concern. Her dance that broadcast her wonder that she was there, on the dance floor, with Chase, who was there in body but that was all.

He looked up at her, but not really at her, she realized. He was facing her, shoulders moving, hands up, feet finding a beat to the music, but his stare went past her, to the darkness in the room beyond. Norris looked to his eyes, his dark, unreflecting eyes, and saw an emptiness there that almost stunned her. She recognized that look and a deep impenetrable sorrow filled her. And Norris realized that tears wet her cheeks; she could feel them dripping slowly off her jaw. She didn’t stop; Chase didn’t stop, and neither did her tears.

“How is it possible?” she whispered to herself, the music so loud, there was no one to hear. “How is it possible to dance without joy?”

copyright 2012
MMM

 

Many years ago, during a weekend of running away to be on my own for a few days, I found myself in Newburyport, close to the ocean, which I think is where my heart always will be. I had a room in a small inn, up on the second floor, with wide floorboards and wider windowsills, with a canopied bed and a mirror over the dresser that didn’t quite reflect right. It was a room right out of the 1800s and for two days I was happy.

Wandering around on the Saturday, just breathing in the slightly-salty air breezes coming off the ocean, I happened upon a bookstore, Jabberwocky, and of course I cannot pass up a bookstore, especially an independent one. It was large and airy, with a brick wall in the back and lots of glass-fronted walls in the front, lending both the darkness of seriousness and the lightness of frivolity, both of which need to be present in any good bookstore.

I had nothing in mind. I had brought one book with me, but I had finished it the night before. I didn’t expect to find a bookstore, so this was an especial treat, but I didn’t know what I felt like reading, if I needed to reach back to Dickens once again (because I need to re-read Bleak House on a regular basis) or if I should go with a lighter, more modern read, still literary, but not as dense as Dickens.

Perusing the full back wall of fiction, I suddenly realized someone was standing close to my shoulder. Ordinarily I would have been annoyed at the intrusion of this personal space, but it was a bookstore and sometimes people get close when they are looking for a particular book, so I did not think anything of it until the person spoke.

“What are you looking for?”

It was a friendly looking young woman, smiling at me while looking at the books at the same time. I usually hesitate to get into conversations with strangers, but this time I didn’t. I explained how I was there for the weekend, had finished my book, wasn’t sure what I was looking for, that I was just skimming around.

“I have something you are going to love,” she told me and headed to the start of the Fiction section. I followed.

She pulled a book off the shelf—paperback, I was happy to see—and handed it to me.

 

I had never heard of Isabel Allende, but something magical happened that day, standing near the front of Jabberwocky, this copy of The House of the Spirits in my hand. I opened it up to the first page. “Barabas came to us by sea….” I took a deep breath, I remember that so clearly, and smelled the sea myself, and wondered who Barabas was. I closed the book, smiled at the young woman and decided there that I would buy the book and take it back to my little Inn.

That was the very beginning of my love affair with Isabel Allende. I have never met her, but I wish that I could. In my mind, she is a giant of a woman, passionate about life, enveloped in the business of everyday living, starting her novels (as I would later learn) on the 8th of January, a tradition for her, after her success of The House of the Spirits, which she started on that day.

The novel transported me to a country I had not given much thought to, to a time and happenings that thrilled and horrified me, and I was brought into this world so completely I did not notice the passing of time, nor the fact that I had missed lunch. All things around me floated to the background, so absorbed was I with the language of this novel (yes, I read it in translation, but it was beautifully translated) the story falling into place in front of my eyes, Allende’s brilliant development of each of her characters. I loved Clara; I was put off by Ferula, but I understood her nevertheless; I seethed at the arrogance of Esteban; I cried over the relationship between Blanca and Pedro Tercero. I never wanted the book to end.

And when it did, I went back to the beginning and re-read the first chapter. It so seamlessly comes full circle and the end ties back into the beginning so beautifully, it made me weep. Books move me, but not often to tears, not like The House of the Spirits did.

And of course I wanted more.

I’ve read many Allende books since that runaway trip to Newburyport and will continue to read her novels. None of the others slammed me upside the head the way The House of the Spirits did, but the writing is always sharp, haunting, beautiful, mesmerizing. Allende’s characters come alive on the page and when they leave, or die, as her characters often do, the reader is left with a hole and a sadness. It’s a great writer who can evoke such feelings in a reader, and I do believe Allende is one of those writers. Her nonfiction books read like her novels, and her novels read like people you want to know, or are sorry you didn’t know. She can transport her reader to many places, each more believable and real than the last.

There are not many writers I feel this strongly about, maybe a handful, and I will always be grateful to that Jabberwocky clerk for interrupting my perusing with her simple question and her gift of The House of the Spirits. How did she know it was something I would love? I don’t know.

But she was right.

 

 

I don’t visit the doctor very often. I have been very lucky to have been very healthy (so far… knock wood) and even as a child did not suffer from the usual rounds of ear infections or viruses that others seemed to be plagued with.

You’d think this would make insurance companies happy.

I’m not sure just what it is that does keep insurance companies happy.

So here’s the story:

I suffer from seasonal allergies. I don’t know, specifically, what they are, but I do know that I spend $100 per month on the medications: three are prescription (Nasonex, Singulair, and Astepro) and one is finally available over-the-counter (Allegra). For those who also take all of these, you know how high the cost would be without insurance. As a matter of fact, a few years ago I went to fill a Singulair prescription (from when I lived in a different town) and for some reason my insurance wasn’t showing up and the clerk wanted to charge me $148 for a 30-day supply. I left without it.

They all don’t usually come due for refilling at the same time, but somehow the stars were aligned two weeks ago and I needed the three prescriptions. I called it into my pharmacy (not a large chain, but a mom-and-pop pharmacy that I like near my doctor’s office). The Singulair was out of refills, but the pharmacy calls the doctor for authorization to refill when that happens.

So I picked up two out of three and proceeded to wait. Five days.

I finally called the pharmacy (who had told me they would call ME) and was told, “The doctor refused to refill it.”

???

I love my doctor. He’s the sweetest, most observant and kind person on the planet. He’s one of those rare doctors who actually sits there, looks at you, and listens to you before he responds. Kind of unique.

So the thought that he wouldn’t authorize a refill struck me as odd. And that was on a Friday, so I had to wait until Monday to call the office.

Of course, you can never actually speak to a doctor. First there is the automated voice, and you click on the correct number. Then there is the second automated voice of the doctor’s specific nurse, who assures you she will call you back as soon as she can.

I know they are busy, and that’s fine. It’s a minor question I have, but still…

She did call the next day and explained to me that it had nothing to do with the doctor, but rather, with the insurance company and the billing system in the office.

See, if you haven’t been to the doctor’s office for a visit in 6 months, and you want a prescription refilled, the automated billing system rejects the request for refilling.

Which means, even though there is nothing wrong with me, I feel fine (except for the fact that I need my allergy medicine), I still have to pay a $25 co-pay and the insurance company will be billed for a limited office visit (which is probably like $175) all because I’m healthy and don’t have to see the doctor, but need an allergy med refilled.

Does this make sense?

Don’t bother, I already know the answer.

And I still haven’t gone in and haven’t picked up the prescription, which the nurse told me would be authorized, but I would have to come in and see him within the next month or so.

So again, even though there is nothing wrong, and I’m healthy and fine, I have to spend that co-pay and have my insurance pay the doctor’s office billing system because I can’t get a refill on allergy medicine if I haven’t seen the doctor within the last 6 months.

No wonder everything seems to be falling apart at the seams. Little to nothing makes sense.

Just another day in the life of the insurance companies. Next!!!