October 31, 2009

For Dona Marie Thomas Canales-Higgins

In memoriam: Dona Marie T. C-H March 2, 1991-October 31,2007

Ten things I know about Dona, who fought and bitched and sued and was ready to strangle the next pink-ribbon wearing woman. Ribbons don't cure cancer, and if you have it, do you really want a month of reminders commercialized everywhere? Dona didn't.

She had a neat one-page summary of all her chemo treatments, with a photograph of herself and all her relevant insurance info and contact names. Somewhere in my files, I have a copy.

In the end, none of it mattered: as of two years ago today, she is no longer with us. But this is what I know, or snippets from her lifespan.

1)she had blue contact lenses, to confuse people who wondered, how can a black woman have blue eyes?

2)she drove a Yugo, in the 1980s, and when she parked it, she put the club on her steering wheel.

3)she could have danced professionally

4)she taught me to dress better -- not to be so boring in the wardrobe department

5)she and I liked to make our college friends think we were lovers, just for the hell of it.

6)she liked her boyfriends to be other than traditionally handsome.

7)she loved her two children, Marcus and Thomas, more than anyone in the world. Thomas remembers her laughter; Marcus, her cough.

8)she and I spent hours at her uncle's house, watching the projection screen TV and frolicking around the pool

9)she bought me my first home pregnancy test, so I didn't have to

10)she was my dear friend, and I miss her.

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October 24, 2009

Dream a little dream of me...

Over at Dementia Nights, one of my high school friends has been chronicling the experience of his father's Alzheimer's disease. Today, he is transporting his father to a nursing home. It is the hardest thing Alan, an only child, has ever had to face: being the father to his father.

I am dreading the day that I will live that experience first-hand: that day when I will be that parent to my own mother. Regardless of my having a sibling, chances are good I will be called upon the mother to my mother, and that my brother won't.

In our society, when baby boomers have aging parents who need care, unless one is an only son, it is still the daughters who do the heavy lifting. Or perhaps it is the child deemed "the responsible one" vs. "the fuck up" at an early age. We do live up to and down to parental expectations, alas.

My brother may have the best intentions in the world, but when it comes down to who's in charge of mom, that is going to be me. With bells on. Already have power of attorney. Ditto her health care proxy.

Given that both of my mom's parents went gaga, I have to think the genetic odds are unfortunately good that my mom will end up the same way. The Alzheimer's diagnosis wasn't on the radar when Grandpa Abe lost his marbles. Thirty years ago, he was just plain senile.

I have a vague inkling of what Alan is going through -- but from the distance of packing up and transporting my maternal grandmother. I don't think she ever knew what hit her during the senility send-off we gave her.

(Cue up the Mamas and the Papas, "dream a little dream of me," which went through my head while packing up my grandmother's things in 1989 and which seems to be my brain's link to that situation. Don't ask for a logical explanation for that.)

The day we parked my grandmother at what is generically the Jewish Home for the Aged, we discovered Little Haiti, the part of Miami where Granny Lee lived out her last days -- years of them. We know Haiti, the island, intimately.

We also figured that Little Haiti was not exactly in an upscale part of town. Then again, in the seven or more years Granny Lee lived at the Jewish Home, it's hard to say if she ever left the premises for more than some minor grocery shopping -- or dinner, with my brother and me.

She was happy to go to Denny's -- probably would have gone to Taco Bell, if that had been our decision. Over dinner, she informed us that there was too much sex on TV and in the magazines. That was, we think, the only time she ever uttered the word "sex," although she had, when I was a child, made reference to Grandpa Abe "getting amorous."

Grandpa Abe went gaga first. The last time we had dinner as a family, he didn't recognize my mom, his only child. He said, "I used to take my daughter fishing." I doubt he was talking to the waiter. My mom ran into the bathroom and I followed her: did that mark the beginning of my care-taking career?

Or had I always been the care-taker-in-training? I don't know, and it is way too late in the day to figure out how I got that gig. I just know I have my hat and my checklist when, 20 years from now, my mom's inability to provide nouns in her speech will render her incomprehensible. I am not looking forward to it.

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October 14, 2009

Has it been five years? Compare...

October 14, 2004

My blog and welcome to it

Why through a looking glass? Most people see the place I call home, the place I was born, the city where my great, great, great grandmother is buried, as one unlike any other. Many can't understand why I stay. I can't see that there is anywhere else to go.

Perhaps we do look at life differently here, or I do, which explains the looking glass: life mirrored, slightly askew. It's not how you might assume from TV, whether "reality based," i.e., news, or fictitious.

Today? It's the second anniversary of my having quit smoking, and of one of my closest college friends, then age 41, e-mailing to announce she had stage 4 breast cancer. It's the day after my mom's birthday; a week after my own.

Twenty-two years since I have moved to this block, twenty-two years with the same phone number, in the so-called real world, where my mind is prone to wander, and my synapses misfire with some consistency.

It is a strange world, when life's most intimate details are proclaimed in cyberspace -- but since I gave up cigarettes (without becoming an irritating "reformed smoker"), I need a hobby. More precisely, a place to talk to myself, and, I hope, to you, whomever you may be.

It is a challenge, to understand why smoking indoors has been outlawed here, when the average person who stands on the street will breathe in more carbon monoxide in 20 minutes than I would exhale in 200.

I get it -- that I am smaller than the average car, much less bus or truck, so it's easier to try to make me conform to a new social norm than to force the average driver to make an effort. (Car does beat pedestrian; bus beats car, and so on in the run-me-over sweepstakes.)

One caveat: despite or because of all the techno-changes since my brain was young enough to absorb them without forgetting what to eat for dinner, I remain technologically challenged. It wasn't my intention, but there's just TMI out there.

I realize I'm adding more, but no one ever said irony wasn't my strong suit -- it's one I wear well, one that escapes many people in many places, but its absence would be stranger here, particularly at this time in our political landscape, to put it politely.

October 14, 2009

Today? Life is different: I'm smoking again, despite or to spite local ordinances; my friend with breast cancer died on Halloween two years ago; and now the count is up to 27 years on the same block in Wonderland, with my synapses misfiring completely inconsistently.

The world has mostly gotten stranger. For example, we've endured The Big Awful, when the economy cratered, and we all said, "disposable income? It was nice knowing you." Welcome to Brave New World. And, "good-bye, privacy. Hello, Facebook."

On the other hand, five years ago, when I traveled, I pretended to be Canadian, and now I don't have to explain that I didn't vote for the idiot who has belatedly returned to his ranch with My Little Pony.

Back then I wasn't preparing to do battle with Cambridge health plans, my so-called insurance. Now, not only do I need surgery to remove a gland most associated with pubescent growth, I also need a D&C for post-menopausal bleeding (TMI? You bet. But I am still talking to myself here, and so it goes.)

It seems it is better to go under general anesthesia once than twice, and it only gets more complicated from there. One doctor -- the gland guy -- has privileges at hospital A; my other doctor, one of 25 years standing, has privileges at hospital B, 90 blocks south and right around the corner from my apartment.

Chances of their meeting in pre-op? Zero.

Chances of my finding two surgeons from two different hospital departments at the same institution who both take my crappy insurance AND want to tag-team each other in the OR? I don't think MasterCard makes a commercial for this one.

I may have stumbled upon an occasion for which even the most comprehensive electronic Hallmark equivalent doesn't make a greeting card. If anyone did, it would say,

"Sorry you need two surgeries to make sure you don't have cancer."

Inside it would read,

"But congratulations on growing your hair for the past 22 months so now it's long enough to donate to those who do."

Irony: it's not just a concept -- it's a way of life.

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