The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

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“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

The Life In The Mirror. 3 Ways to Save It.

I bolted. Ran out the door. Down three flights of stairs. 3am. Screaming. For a Brooklyn street it was eerie quiet. Dark. Street lights out. A desperate sprint. In pajamas. To the only pay phone close by. Would it be working? It had to be the most vandalized pay phone in the city. Odds weren’t good.

Directly across the avenue from Harold’s Pharmacy.

Neon beacon in the night. Still around.

It was a shabby three-room apartment in a pre-WWII three-story walk up.  But it was shelter. That’s all I cared about. It was my world for a time and to me it felt big when things were good and amazingly small and cloying when things were bad.

Lately it felt as if I was living on a pin and the head was about to run out of room.   For an old building, the steam heat worked amazingly well. New York cold was occasionally harsh, so I was grateful. Turn the valve for the first time and the radiator clanked and clunked loud like an old car starting up after a long hibernation. Steam heat smelled good to me. Like a change of season coming. Only because there were summers. Rough summers. Rough seasons overall. This summer was a scorcher. Hotter than usual. It was ready to crescendo to one of the most memorable electrical blackouts in New York City history.

Two weeks before it felt as if I leaped from the heat right into the fire. A life or death decision flare up. A three alarmer. I wasn’t mentally ready to play God, but God didn’t seem to give a shit. I was in the intense heat of a crossroad on fire. I needed to make a move. Otherwise someone was gonna die. I remember thinking: “I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.”

Is it really worth growing older? I ponder this question.

Mom & I alternated use of the only bedroom (for sleeping. Me anyway.) One night couch (no sleep), next night bed (sleep). There was this full-length mirror. I recall dad cursing, fighting to secure the clunky structure to the hall-closet door. It was his good deed. Got mom off his back. And he wasn’t very good at chores around the house.     If  the closet door was open just right, I could get a full view of the kitchen as it reflected into my line of sight. From the bedroom.     Since mom always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen especially late, the reflection in the mirror of her her pacing back and forth would always wake me.  Prevent me from staying asleep. My habit was to wake, look in the mirror, turn over. Eventually,  I was forced to get up and close the door so I couldn’t see what was going on. Back to precious sleep time. It was my turn to have the bed, dammit!  The night before she destroyed the red trimline phone. The entire phone right down to the wall. And beyond. R.I.P. trimline.

10pm: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. More beer I was sure.  Midnight: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Heavy drinking binge. Turn over. 2:30am: Wake up. Turn over. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Again? Or Still? Weird.

I was mad. So mad. Until I saw. Mom on the floor. On her side. Tangled in the phone cord. Her head literally inside the bottom shelf of the fridge. I picked her up from the shoulders. She was so cold. Her joints were stiff. She was a 100-pound human accordian who wouldn’t unfold. I thought this was how rigor mortis started. Yet she was alive. How could that be? Stll breathing. Her breath was far from normal. Shallow. Her tongue shriveled. Mouth open wide. Lips colorless, perhaps light blue.  I was in a panic. Half asleep. My mind reeling.

Then suddenly, I was overcome with calm. I sat on the floor. Staring at her. Thinking. I watched mom’s small chest closely as it went still for longer on the exhale. Then her machine started up again. I was waiting for stillness. Perhaps hoping for it. I was at a crossroad. I knew I was. It was the power to make a decision that would change everything.  An inside voice was talking. One I never heard before. It kept asking. Slightly teasing. The repetition of the query felt forbidden. But it continued.

Does she live or die? Choose.

Would it be humane but inhuman just for me to return to bed? She had lived such a horrible life so far. Mom was 35 but looked twice that age. Especially now. On the floor. I sort of understood the weight of what was unfolding in front of me.

I knew my path, my karma, my thought process would be shaped, or changed forever perhaps in a way I wasn’t sure I could live with.

I rose. Moved strangely calm, to the hall mirror. Stood there. Staring at myself. So many questions rolled through my head.

Would I look the same in this damn mirror tomorrow if I decided just to leave her there? She would most likely be dead in a few minutes. Was I supposed to find her? Was there a higher power guiding me? Was the mirror the conduit for the message?

What if I woke up just 5 minutes later? Then I wouldn’t need to deal with a choice like this. And why was this even a choice for me?

Was the phone, now ripped from the wall, dead, a sign? Why was I given the responsibility of dealing with this situation? I never asked for this challenge.

Random Thoughts:

1). Seek Out Your Mirrors. When up against the wall, at a crossroad, what decisions will you make? Would you be able to live with them? How would you go on? I’ve trained myself to ask tough questions and imagine how I would respond. What if I had a life-threatening illness, lost a leg, lost a loved one to tragedy? How would I appear in the mirror. My actions would shape my image.

2). Be Open to Reflection. Never question why a challenge, a person, an illness, an opportunity, a setback gets thrown in your life path. It was placed there from an energy source  you’ll never be able to explain or fully understand. Signs are all around you if you just let go of skepticism. Stay open minded.  What does your life mirror reflect upon? Whose life remains in the balance once you open your eyes, mind and heart to the signs?

3).  Own the Decision of Life or Death. Don’t let family members, children, parents, friends, be forced to make a decision that concludes your life. Who would make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them? What kind of medical treatment would you want, or don’t want if faced with a terminal illness? It’s not fair to place this burden on others, especially without notice. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org and complete the Five Wishes exercise.  Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life.  More than 18 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 35,000 organizations.  Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50.

Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. I was required to make the life or death decision for close family. It’s not a good feeling-It will change forever who you see in the mirror.

I ran. I bolted. The pay phone was working (a sign I made the right choice at least to me). I called 911.

It took mom 6 months to recover. I stayed out of school nursing her back to health. And then one day she noticed. Puzzled.

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Don’t you remember? You broke it the night you fought with what’s-his-name?”

She didn’t remember. I didn’t share the truth. I never did.

The hall mirror and its reflections were best left buried.

I wonder if it’s still in the ground?

I’ll never share the location.

That’s a decision I can live with.

Happily.

Regrets that Rip You Apart. 8 Ways to Learn from a Machete Maniac.

“What are these crescent marks on your homework, Richard?”

What will leave a mark on you? On your work? On your soul?“The paper came like that. I have no idea,” I said (as non-chalant as possible).

Hell, I knew what those odd marks were. I wasn’t going to tell my teacher, that’s for sure. Smearing my #2 pencil math and causing me to lose precious points.

“Look he’s a good boy. He works so hard, then he sits here and does his homework,” she said.

“He’s going places.”

Not then. Certainly not at that age. I sat at the corner of a circular bar late in the afternoon. After school. With a Coke. Lots of ice and french fries to get me through.

I looked up. Susan was wearing much of nothing. I loved and still remember how the bottom of her perk-hard breasts curved higher and her nipples were always erect. She told me it was an affliction or genetic or something I can’t recall. Either way, I focused on them a lot so I know she knew what she was talking about.

She would peek down. Hair hanging close enough for me to smell the Prell. She’d grin and point to me like I was the man (boy). I noticed I was the only person she would point at. I was special.

A couple of nights a week she would let me sleep on the couch at her place. I thought she was old. Susan couldn’t have been older than 22 but to a 13 year-old, 22 is damn near ancient. She had been on her own for a long time that I knew. She appeared older because inside she was.

Her face was perfect and clean except for some light/dark circles under her eyes. Yet they were the most perfect brown eyes. Her dark hair was big-wave curly most of the time, longer than shoulder length. She barely wore make up (I remember because I cleaned her bathroom).

To earn my keep I completed various chores which included select personal grooming. Pedicures (bright-red polish I bought at Duane Reade’s for 59 cents), deep hair conditioning, run bath water, cook, vacuum (my favorite for some reason) and other responsibilities I’ll refrain from print.

Susan was a pseudo-mom, occasionally a big sister, frequently a guardian and all the time, as she strut her stuff on that bar for strange men, she was my overseer. A mentor in size 6 black heels. Always black.

I rarely saw her happy. When I told her about my good grades at school, she did smile. Genuine. Her eyes would brighten. She would hug me. It was at those times, she appeared much younger. I felt older than her when she smiled. It was that kind of innocent. In some way, I took her pain away.

“It’s important you stay in school, Richie.”

I hated Richie but it stuck for years. Even now I cringe if people call me that. Most important was what she taught me, how she truly cared for me, took on a roll a mother abandoned for a time. I could see in her eyes how much she loved me. If I was older I think she would have married me. I questioned why I should bother to stay in school, what was the point?

We could live together and go on like this forever and instead of laboring over homework and studies I could get a real job. I worked in the place she did. I cleaned tables, put aluminum foil  and mirrors up on dank walls, filled the cigarette machine and I was grateful for the money but for Susan I wanted to accomplish more.

She inspired me in a world that was several bottoms less than inspiring. Was it romantic love I felt? Not sure. I loved her but couldn’t forge the feelings correctly in my head. They only went so far. My life experiences then were too limited to put the pieces together properly.

I’m saddened (tortured) even today,  how I never asked her why she cared so much, why she bothered. What was her past like? I don’t recall any family discussed, any photos hanging on the walls of the studio apartment above the Salumeria (Italian deli). Who influenced her? I regret not asking. Not caring for her more. I took out a big knife with rusty edges. I…

                                           Wondered what happened to her?

I saved this photo months ago. Best resemblance to Susan I could find.

Bonds you extend to others, those they extend to you, are (I’m convinced)  laid out by a higher power. I have no clue what the power or energy is. Is it God? Not certain. Are these bonds darker and do they hold more DNA than blood? Yes. In that I AM certain.

Sometimes people you extend the bond to sever it. And not surgically. Some will use a machete and whack at it in such a terrifying manner and so quickly, you are not sure you could ever extend the bond again.

There’s too much of your own blood spilled. You need a transfusion from someone. Something. Who the fuck is listening?

But where? Who? I know. It happened to me recently. It’s happened to you. And I’m not clear on my ability to bond again for the first time in a long time.

                                 I raised the machete to Susan many years ago.

I was cut by beauty & intelligence. Never again. Never again?

And after several decades, the regret of what happened then and today resurfaces like a beast. A demon I thought was slayed, returns. Much stronger.A greater malevolence than I ever imagined was (is) still thrives within. And I regret every moment of what (who) unchained it. It was Susan. A Susan doppleganger.

Every moment of happiness, every dinner, every discussion, I regret.

But I say, in the blood is the lesson. Because that’s where lessons are born. Oaths are taken.

In blood. In the blood of interaction, in the blood of intimacy, in the blood of vulnerability, in the blood of stupidity, trust. In toe-nail polish.

Regrets can rip you apart. Yet in a way, you will eventually emerge from a cocoon more beautiful than ever before, a diamond with an additional imperfection which can only make you more valuable to yourself and others.

Random Thoughts:

1). Cocoon. You must heal. Assess what you will and won’t do again. Create your machete protection program but be careful. To live, you must be cut. You decide for how much and how long. Feel bad for yourself. Live with the demon a bit. It’s ok. I’m doing it. Demon has been stealing my socks for a couple of months.

2). Spend money. On anything that will make you stronger physically or emotionally. An exercise class, martial arts, a book on self-improvement. Indulge a bit. It takes time to heal from a machete attack.

3). Listen to.  Music. So many studies that show how music can help your mind, your healing. Find music that relates to your situation. Listen to music that allows happier memories to emerge. And stick.

4). Don’t listen to. People-who try to give you guidance right now. Fuck them. What do they know about what you’re going through?  Only you know. Be polite, but…

“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying, Only the echoes of my mind. People stopping staring, I can’t see their faces, Only the shadows of their eyes.”

Thank you Harry Nilsson and “Midnight Cowboy,” for the encouragement.

5). Learn to.  Ask people why they love you. Why they hate you. Why do they care so much about you? Be sincerely interested in others that higher powers throw in your path. Everyone has a story. Perhaps you’ll learn something to make you better in the long run. But DO IT AFTER YOUR COCOON PROCESS HAS CONCLUDED.

6). Pray. To yourself. To the healer inside you.

7). Downsize. Get rid of the baggage, toxic chemicals and material crap that makes you a slave. Free your mind from excess. For example, I stopped drinking and my regret demon hates it. It reminds me in the shower of how much it hates my abstinence.

8). Mind your mentors. They are all ages, all forms. Some are smarter, others not. You’ll love them, you’ll hate them. Susan was a mentor. Susan’s double was too.

Susan walked on my homework. I have no idea. Perhaps it was her stamp of approval. I never asked why she did.

The crescents were the bottom of her tiny heels.

When I was 16 I severed ties with her. I felt I was too good for her. She was a low-life stripper and I was going to be successful. She tried to find me. I told her I would meet her for coffee and I watched from across the street as she went into a luncheonette in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She sat there for an hour and a half and waited for me.

Ten years ago she died from a drug overdose. Alone. I still had time to thank her, to ask, to tell her. To explain. To be there.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t..

And so I must live with this regret.  Learn to cage it again. It’s a lot stronger/bigger this go round.  Who will unleash it next?

I pray it isn’t you. And you know who you are.