>  
 

kurt suicide scene

A despairing friend called late one night to say that he was looking at a photo of himself as a toddler holding his father’s rifle.

“I have an appointment with that rifle,” he told me. “I’ve always known I was going to end my life with it.”

He’s fine now, thank God, but his remark brought to mind a journal entry I made as a teenager, in which I said that I was sure I was going to kill myself one day; it was only a matter of how and when.

Here’s a secret: Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point. You will lose your way, you will wake up one morning and find yourself lost. This is a hard, simple truth. If it hasn’t happened to you yet consider yourself lucky. When it does, when one day you look around and nothing is recognizable, when you find yourself alone in a dark wood having lost the way, you may find it easier to blame someone else—an errant lover, a missing father, a bad childhood. Or it may be easier to blame the map you were given—folded too many times, out of date, tiny print. You can shake your fist at the sky, call it fate, karma, bad luck, and sometimes it is. But, for the most part, if you are honest, you will only be able to blame yourself. Life can, of course, blindside you, yet often as not we choose to be blind—agency, some call it. If you’re lucky you’ll remember a story you heard as a child, the trick of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, the idea being that after whatever it is that is going to happen in those woods has happened, you can then retrace your steps, find your way back out. But no one said you wouldn’t be changed, by the hours, the years, spent wandering those woods.


***

(2005) A year after the Abu Ghraib photographs appear I wake up in Texas one morning, in love with two women, honest with neither. I am finishing up my second semester of teaching poetry at the University of Houston, getting ready to fly back to New York, where both these women are waiting for me, or so I imagine. I’d been “dating” for a few years, since the breakup of a long-term relationship, and more than once it had been made abundantly clear that I was not very good at it. For me, “dating” often felt like reading Tolstoy—exhilarating, but a struggle, at times, to keep the characters straight. The fact that the chaos had been distilled down to two women—one I’ll call Anna, the other was Inez—felt, to me, like progress. For months I’d been speaking to one or the other on my cellphone. Her name (or hers) came up on the tiny screen, and each time my heart leapt. It was the end of April. I’d come to the conclusion (delusion?) that if I could just get us all in the same room we could figure out a way it could work out. Another part of me, though, would have been perfectly happy to let it all keep playing out in the shadows.

The book A Field Guide to Getting Lost came out around this time—it is, in part, a meditation on the importance, for any creative act, to allow the mind and body to wander. The title jumped out at me—maybe I could use it as sort of an antimap. Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing…. Another book that came out around this time was Why We Get Lost and How We Find Our Way, but I didn’t pick that one up—perhaps I wasn’t ready not to be lost. Lost, at that moment in my life, manifest itself as feeling bewildered, confused, bereft—it’s not that I didn’t know where I was, I just didn’t know what I was doing there. On a deeper level, I knew that my bereftitude was only partly due to my self-inflicted disasters of love. Beneath that surface tension was the inescapable fact that I’d just crossed the threshold of being the same age my parents had been when they’d imploded, each in his or her own way. My mother had killed herself when she was forty-two, shot herself in the heart. When my father was forty-five, he fell—drunk—from a ladder while painting a house, an accident which may or may not have left him with a permanent head injury. A year later he’d enter a bank and pass his first forged check, the start of a small-time run that would eventually lead him into federal prison. After doing his time, after being released, he’d drift even deeper into this life of wandering, until he ended up living on the streets for a few years, which is where I got to know him.

And now, here I am, waking up in Texas, just past the age my mother never made it beyond, the same age my father was when he went off the rails. The dream I’m having is already dissolving, and I’m left, once again, with my unquiet mind, which for some months now has been straddling these two beautiful women. It has nothing to do with fate, karma, or bad luck.

From Paint It Black
concerning the aftermath of a suicide in 1980 punk rock LA.

Characters:
Josie Tyrell: art model
Pen Valadez: rock journalist
Lola Lola: art rock diva
Nick Nitro: punk guitarist, Josie’s ex.

 

I was making coffee the same way I do every morning when it happened. There’s a picture window over the sink that looks out into my backyard, and usually that yard is full of birds. Every day at first light blue jays, mockingbirds, cardinals, and yellow-throated warblers all compete for real estate in the branches of the white oak while the rest huddle around the perimeter and wait for an open spot. It’s an avian Wal-Mart parking lot.

This morning though, it was quiet. The gold-green glow of the sunlight on the foliage made its way through the window as I watched the coffee pot drip its way closer to full. Nothing moved outside. The silence was perfect and peaceful. There was no thriller-movie crescendo of music to warn me that anything was about to occur. All was simply silent.

And then I heard it hit.

SMACK!

I didn’t even get a chance to see what it was before it disappeared but it sounded like someone had thrown a baseball at the house. I immediately shot outside to find out what happened, and, turning the corner, was confronted with the saddest little brown and yellow bird I’d ever seen.

I’d found the projectile and it was injured.  After bouncing off of the glass the creature had landed sloppily on the top of the bush below. My first thought was that it was just disoriented, but then it looked up at me, coughed a little dramatic cough, and flopped its head to the side, dead.

Cough, cough. Flop.

It was a bit overacted honestly and kind of fake looking.  It was the way I would expect William Shatner to die.

It had apparently broken its neck in the impact. It just laid there, limp and crooked. I picked it up to make sure that it wasn’t just pretending, and then I walked it out to the middle of the yard. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with a dead bird. As I set it down, I could hear fluttering in the branches above. I was being watched; judged, it felt like. “I didn’t kill your friend,” I said. “Weren’t you watching?”

And then I started to wonder what had caused this in the first place. The obvious explanation was that the bird simply didn’t know there was a window in its way and flew into it on accident. I mean, birds seem pretty dumb. I wouldn’t necessarily put this below them. Unwilling to let Occam’s razor explain this away though, my mind wandered. What really had happened here?

Did the other birds dare this young chick to do it? Maybe he was trying to get into some feathered fraternity – Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting happening live in the animal kingdom.

Maybe there was an emergency and he was being reckless trying to get home to solve the crisis. Maybe one of his eggs had fallen down the stairs or his wife had broken her hollow little hip and he was racing to provide aid.

Or was he drinking? I know I’ve done a lot of dumb things after a few drinks. Maybe he ate some fermented fruit. It was entirely possible that he was just fucked up and all the other birds warned him not to fly, and as usual he didn’t listen. “No, no, no. I’m fine. I’m just going up the block. I only live like two trees away. I’ll call you when I get there.”

Or was he a daredevil bird that pushed things too far? I can relate. I tore my ACL when I was eighteen jumping over a table to win a ten dollar bet. I’m painfully aware that bad things happen. Maybe this bird, flirting with death, got caught up in the moment and took things past the limit. “I’ll go out doing what I love”, he told himself, then tucked his wings in tightly and closed his eyes.

What if this particular bird was a twin and his brother had kept him locked away in an iron mask for years. Now, angry and frustrated, he was on a mission to get revenge. Suddenly, catching a glimpse of his reflection and seeing what he could only assume was his evil doppelganger brother, he attacked. Wait, that’s not how that movie happened at all.

Or had war been declared and I was simply unaware? Perhaps it was a kamikaze strategy employed by the Bird Nation – my kitchen window becoming a clear-paned USS Bunker Hill to the bird’s Ensign Ogawa.

On that note, maybe it was a more traditional suicide. Perhaps he was picked on in bird school and couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe he knew the easiest way for a bird to kill himself would be to hit a window at 30 mph. Now, somewhere off amongst the limbs, a press conference was being held. “He wasn’t that kind of kid,” his mother would cry.

They’ll say he was desensitized by the abundance of violence in bird cinema, or that he used to play that video game where you steal another bird’s wings and run from the blue jays; that somehow he just didn’t grasp the concept that a window will really kill you. Bird society will be blamed for making death seem so simple and small. Thank God he just killed himself, others will say. He could have taken out an entire nest if he’d wanted to.

All of the possibilities aside, I’m having a hard time letting go of the idea that in actuality he was just a really stupid bird that couldn’t tell a reflection from the real world; that the echoing impact that rattled its way through my kitchen was just Darwin being Darwin.

No breeding for you, you simple-minded little sack of down. Here’s a window. Eat it. You heard the man!  Life’s got to move on, chickadee, and you’re in the way. Somebody sweep up these feathers. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.

There was no note. Whatever it was that drove that little bird to hurl himself against the side of my house, only he will ever know for sure.

And he’s not saying a word.

Happy is the new skinny. Being happy is cool. Being sad, unsatisfied, depressed, lonely, moody or anxious is totally unattractive. Being bubbly, funny, enthusiastic, imaginative and wild is hot. Everyone wants to be happy, and everyone believes they deserve to be happy. We read books, listen to podcasts and subscribe to blogs all about how to be happy. I’ve listened and re-listened to Gala Darling’s podcast on happiness, and I find it inspiring. I’m even following some of her advice, and I’m starting to believe that it may actually be as simple as choosing to be happy. But it strikes me as odd that as a culture, we Americans claim to believe happiness is a natural right. We even wrote it into the Declaration of Independence. We are pretty dedicated to happiness, and yet, we have an awful time finding it.

Of course, there are the naysayers. There are people who believe we have become happiness addicts. There are people who believe that our obsession with being happy is naive, childish, and a waste of time. I wonder if they are happy.

They have a point, though. Our obsession with being happy can make us unhappy. Perhaps you’ve had a period of depression in which the realization that you are depressed actually makes it worse. It goes from depression to despair. “Oh God,” you find yourself sobbing into your pillow. “I’m a lost cause! I’m a mess. I’m going to end up killing myself one day!” The really nuts thing about it is that you never had any real intention of killing yourself, but the despair over your mental state, and the thought that you might be capable of committing suicide, actually drives you toward it. You start to think things like, “How will I know if I’m really suicidal?” And that thought doesn’t even make any sense. If you actually did want to die, you’d probably know it, Yet, you’ve seen those commercials with people sitting on the couch looking sad as the voice over says, “If you experience sleeplessness, loss of appetite, lack of interest in things you once enjoyed or thoughts of suicide … “

You begin to evaluate yourself as you watch the commercial. You tick off the list: You are, in fact, sitting on the couch looking sad about a sad looking person sitting on a couch. You sometimes have trouble sleeping. You once loved baking, finger painting, paper dolls and anything involving Elmer’s glue, all of which you have lost interest in. Are thoughts of suicide next? And then you realize you’re thinking of suicide right now.

“In fact, I think of suicide all the time: when I’m watching commercials for anti-depressants, when I’m stuck in traffic on a rainy night and no one will let me merge, when I don’t want to pay a bill or when I think about losing all my teeth in old age. Also, sometimes when driving on an empty road late at night, I wonder what would happen if I ran my car off the road. I don’t particularly want to die at that moment, but I’m sort of OK with the fact that it’s possible; so I probe the possibility with my imagination, but I have not yet intentionally swerved off the road. Not even just out of curiosity. So I guess I have no real death drive at the moment. But I could. And for that, I might need Wellbutrin or Lexapro or Zoloft or Prozac. Maybe I should ask my doctor, just in case.”

No one wants to be unhappy. If you’ve ever experienced true unhappiness, you know it’s not only miserable but sometimes terrifying. You feel alienated from yourself and everything that matters to you. Something always seems to be missing. You become insecure. It is not fun times. But the kind of happiness pushed on the public in the form of products, services and medications is not the kind of happiness that treats these wounds. Well, ok, for some, the medications help. But not for everyone. Drug companies know that deep down all of us have a bit of unhappiness, and that’s exactly why they invest in TV commercials. We see the sad person getting happy on TV thanks to some miracle drug, and we identify with that and think “Maybe they can make me happy, too.”

Just like the drug commercials that promise to change you from a sad little blob to a happy little blob (both mostly mindless but one clearly preferable), beauty product manufacturers promise to enrich your life by bringing out your natural beauty. I laugh when they end with faux fierceness: “You’re worth it!” Right. Worth what? An hour and a half of bleaching your scalp, poking yourself in the eye with a stick, and razor burn? Oh, those tricksy advertisers, trying to tell me I am worth the trouble of going out and buying their products and maiming myself with them. Oh yes, that is how I express my value.

We have our suffering and our insecurities, and we keep them quiet so that when advertisers at them, we’re ready to buy whatever they’re selling to medicate or mask our secret shame. No one talks about their weaknesses; that would leave them exposed to scrutiny. You don’t tell your boss, “I don’t feel good about my work, and I’m deeply concerned about the direction of my career.” That doesn’t usually lead to a promotion, and a promotion is what we want, right?

A promotion would make us happy … maybe. It’s the kind of happiness toward which we clamor when we come up short on ways to soothe that deep soul ache. If not a promotion, then at least a good bikini body, and if we can’t have that, then at least we can milk all the pleasure there is to be had from a cupcake. But is there a happiness that lasts longer than a cupcake? Something that can stick with us when we no longer want to be ogled on the beach? Is there anything in the world that, unlike that promotion, will ask nothing in return? I want the kind of happiness that doesn’t cost money, doesn’t go away when I age, and doesn’t require me to be on call to answer to come corporate jerk who cares not a whit for my personal time. And I want the kind of happiness that doesn’t cost sixty bucks a month because the drug is so new that there’s no generic alternative. Where can I find that kind of happiness?

What do I even mean when I say I want to be happy? I want to be healthy. I want to be skinny and pretty and smile a lot. I want to make enough money. I already make enough money, but I would really like to make a little more money. Or a lot more money. Enough money to buy a bigger house and not have to DIY all the renovations. That would be enough. Oh, and enough money for a new car because mine is getting old, and a pair of diamond earrings because every girl needs a pair of those, and one pair of really good expensive shoes. And a job that’s closer to my house so I don’t have to drive so far, but it should still pay me well and involve doing cool stuff with cool people. I want to spend more time with my family and friends, but not too much because most people annoy me after a while. And I want another drink, but I don’t want a hangover, and I don’t want to cross that line into being an alcoholic, although I’m not sure where that line is, and I’m not sure anyone else is either.

We seem to think we can’t live without happiness, but we’re not even sure what it is, so how would we know? Was Mother Theresa happy? What about Michael Jackson? George Washington? Your grandmother? My grandmother was extremely poor. She dropped out of school after the seventh grade, married young, had six children, and raised them all in a house the size of my first apartment with one bathroom. Her husband died 20 years before her, and she never dated again. She didn’t have a dishwasher or an air conditioner. Was she happy? Did anyone ever ask? I think it’s a safe bet that “happiness” was not the priority for her that it is for me, and for this, I feel rather foolish and selfish. Her life is anathema to me — tiny house, no money, no education, a boatload of kids — but perhaps in avoiding what I view as her pitfalls, I am denying myself a certain organic kind of happiness. After all, her kids grew up to be good people, each successful in their own way. All of them married and had children. She became matriarch to an ever-growing family who loved her. But I don’t know what that meant to her or if she was happy.

In a recent interview with Oprah, Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn said, “It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available—more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.” That thought is profound and genius, but a bit over my head. I instinctively reach back to the experience of my day and think, “Is he trying to say I can be happy even with a full time job? Even without my new running shoes? Even stuck in traffic?”

When Oprah asked him to define happiness, he said “Happiness is the cessation of suffering. Well-being. For instance, when I practice this exercise of breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes and realize that they are still in good condition. There is a paradise of form and colors in the world. And because you have eyes still in good condition, you can get in touch with the paradise. So when I become aware of my eyes, I touch one of the conditions of happiness. And when I touch it, happiness comes.”

Reading his words stops me in my tracks. It makes me forget what I thought I knew. It pours the thoughts right out of my head and leaves me sitting in my skull like a lightening bug in an empty jar. I’m just blinking around in the emptiness.

And then I remember this: I was searching for happiness, and I was motivated by fear. The fear of unhappiness. The fear of unhappiness causes unhappiness and sends me on a wild search for that which is not my fear, but because I don’t know what it is, I can’t see it even when it surrounds me. The search is dizzying and distracting, fun and frustrating, and thoroughly intoxicating. The search is elating because it sometimes leads us to art and orgasm. Other times, the search is a bad trip and leads to sobbing into pillows, terrified at the thought of what we might do to ourselves if we had the courage (and we are quite glad we don’t have the courage).

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet on Flickr

My mother holds me in her arms under a tree – or so the story goes, I am too young to remember on my own – and explains that daddy is broken and has to go to heaven. In heaven he’ll be fixed, she says. If he comes back here, he’ll still be broken, that would be bad, and we wouldn’t want that, right? I guess I agree to keep daddy in heaven because that’s where he stays. I really wouldn’t want him to be broken. I mean, I don’t think I would. At least he’d be here though. No, I’m sure I wouldn’t. Not really.

He is buried. I don’t know where. Then he is gone. We leave town, move to New York City and soon everything is different.

I grow up and go to school. I go to camp and take dance lessons. I read books and play in the park. My mother remarries and we have a new family. Somewhere in between she writes a book about our loss called Rachel and the Upside Down Heart. It allows people to ask us questions and it allows us to give advice. We’ve moved on quite nicely, we are told. We agree. We are fine.

I don’t know when I realize there might be a tangible access to him, a grave. He is in New Jersey I learn, B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery, to be exact, just over the river, near Newark. I wonder if I can see him from my balcony.

Visiting him never seems like an easy option. My mother is always full of excuses. The roads are confusing. We don’t have a car. Next year. Maybe.

Somehow, when I am old enough to drive, I round up a car and rally my mother and we are off. We may float over the Hudson for all I know. I have no memory of that day before standing in the rain in front of his grave.

It is very odd, almost creepy, to see your own name on a headstone. ZIENTS. There it is. I am not used to sharing my name with others. I am the only Zients in my immediate family since my mother remarried. It is one of the reasons I love going to dinner with my grandfather. “Ah, Mr. Zients, right this way. Your table is ready.” I love the sound of it. It makes me feel special to share his name, our special bond. But seeing our name like this makes me pause. I know that my father died, obviously. But there it is on a tombstone above some grass with his casket and remains of a suit below. He is all alone too. No one by his side. My grandmother is there, true, but she is just a little too far, a little too out of reach. To his left and to his right are empty plots. At least I know my grandfather will fill the space next to my grandmother. I do not know if I, or my remarried mother, will do the same for my father.

My mother has brought a candle that she and my father purchased together many years ago. My mother is the overly-sentimental-keeper-of-unnecessary-nostalgia type. I usually find this irksome, but right now I love her for it. We light the candle at the base of his grave, and my mother strolls away so I can meet my father.

“Hello,” I begin. “I just graduated college. A real big girl. I’m doing great.” I lie.

“Stanley, my stepfather, you know Mommie’s husband, well, he adopted me,” I explain, half expecting lightning and thunder to strike me down as I do. “Grandpa said it was okay. It’s a good thing, actually, but still, if it bothers you, I’m sorry.”

It begins to rain a little bit harder. I begin my goodbye, imagining, as I am prone to do, that I am not just talking to some wet grass off the New Jersey Turnpike and that he can actually hear me. As I do, the candle goes out. Damn rain I think to myself, ruining my moment. I turn to my mother and complain, “the candle went out.” She walks over to join me and it goes back on. Hand to God, it goes back on.

For a brief moment I am jealous that he chose to show himself as my mother approached. Was he talking to me or to her? Why couldn’t he have been clearer? I want to think it was to me, or even to us, but what if it was just to her. It did go back on when she walked over. Nothing changed as I stood there, except that it went out. He hates me. It’s quite clear. I am not important enough to overcome the rain. It’s true.

This is stupid. The candle went back on. It is magical actually. He was talking to us. Yes, he was talking to us. That is tremendous, really quite spectacular, a sign from above, if you think about it.

My mother and I hug and cry and declare it lovely. Lovely indeed. This is what we call beautiful we discuss, and we decide it is the most beautiful day ever in the history of ever. We leave the cemetery and head back to New York, and I feel worthy of being alive.

We drive, maybe in silence. I’m sure there are no words that would be right. No words to express what I now know, that my father up on the slant of the hill above my grandmother and the other to-be-filled spots is king of the cemetery. He reigns there, all powerful. And he’s watching out for me. I love that. I smile and feel comfortable (or at least as comfortable as I can) leaving him behind.

I drop my mother off, loving her just a little bit more and race to the East Side to pick up my friend Jennie. I had it perfectly planned before the day even started. I was going to spend the morning in New Jersey with my mother and would still have enough time to make it out to Long Island in the afternoon for Sam’s funeral. When I planned it, it almost seemed appropriate to do them both on the same day.

Jennie had called a couple of days earlier to tell me Sam had died.

Sam Mazlow was one of three brothers who owned Mazlow’s, the restaurant where Jennie and I had worked for several summers out on Fire Island. We’d started as busgirls and worked our way up, all the way to waitresses. Mazlow’s was our life for four months out of the year and now one of them had died.

“Of course, I’ll be there,” I explained as she told me about the service. I thought about our summers and the trouble we got into and the safe haven that Mazlow’s and their whole family served for us. I knew them well, even though I hadn’t worked there for a while. Paying my respects all the way out in Long Island, it was the least I could do. What a shame, really. He was too young. It’s really quite a shame. I made a note to bring my mother’s book.

I pick up Jennie and all her curly hair and head out of town for the second time that day. I want to tell her about the brush with the other side that I have just miraculously experienced in New Jersey. But it is a somber day and so is she, so I soften the story and just present the facts, leaving out all the grandness and glory. She is supportive and interested, but only as far as she can go. She could never fully understand. It was just between the three of us, a mother, a father and their daughter.

We drive, again in silence and my mind wanders, loving the concept of just the three of us – a mother, a father and their daughter. Mommie, Daddy and Me. I bathe in it for awhile because it is so foreign.

I don’t think anyone meant to dismiss me as a full-fledged family member, on either side. But that’s how it feels. I was too strong of a memory to be fully embraced by my father’s family and too weak of a presence at nine, when I met my new one, to demand my own niche. Even my grandfather, whom I adore, drunkenly referred to me in a toast at his 75th birthday party as a walking reminder of his dead son. It is not pleasant to think you trail grief from room to room at family functions. So I smile and mind my place and don’t make waves and hope it will adjust itself. But when the candle relit, I knew I was worth more than that. He was telling me he hadn’t dismissed me.

He should know I’ve never dismissed him. I wonder about him all the time. I picture him wooing my mother through the streets of Florence, Italy and finally proposing on the Ponte Vechio. I watch and rewatch his broadcasting videos and think about what else he could have accomplished. I know he would have been a huge, huge star. I check behind doors when I am home alone convinced there is someone there, a constant presence, a watchful eye that always makes me question my behavior before I am about to do something naughty.

I have imagined he hadn’t really died. It was all a ruse. He’d been wandering the streets with amnesia actually. And only, when the gods intervened, convinced I could handle it, and it was time for us to know each other properly, he’d walk back into my life and all would be explained. I’d take him by the hand and say, “It’s okay. I’m here.”

Or he’d pick me up from ballet one day before my mother had arrived and explain he was really a secret agent and the world had needed him and that was that and I needed to understand. I’d tell him I did. He’d say, “Good girl” and we’d grab my leg warmers and off through the back door on some adventures together.

I still see him in strangers on the street. I am constantly told people see him in me.

My head spins at the cosmic importance placed on the day, but as we head out of Queens I suddenly decide my father is an asshole, a real prick. Good riddance. Then I scramble for forgiveness and cry out to erase those thoughts from my stupid, stupid head.

What could he have possibly been thinking that day? Was it a hit on the head, a chemical imbalance or, waiting for me as well, an all encompassing “crazy” gene? Did my then four-year-old self flash before his eyes as he placed the noose around his neck? Did that image make him pause from what he was about to do for a moment, even just a second?

I spin recklessly out of control in my head as Jennie studies the map. Then the goddamn car begins to spittle and fiddle, and soon we are on the shoulder of the Long Island Expressway. The car is smoking and it is still raining, and this isn’t how I planned it at all. And how the hell did the candle relight? And now, above everything else, we’re going to be late.

A nice man stops and helps us. He brings us to a mechanic who says he can fix it, easy. We wait and get donuts as he does. Jennie is silly. She must think something’s wrong. She reminds me to breathe.

We finally arrive at the memorial drenched and stressed, but otherwise intact. The Mazlows, Carl, Renny, little Renny, they all just keep coming. More family from all nooks and crannies, from everywhere. I spot Erica, Sam’s widow, who smiles as she greets everyone who comes her way. I stop my approach and quietly judge her. How can she possibly be smiling at a time like this? That isn’t proper. We mingle and make our hellos and then there’s Ryann, Sam’s daughter, who is beautiful, all brown big eyes who embodies all that’s wonderful about being seventeen. I offer her my years of survivor wisdom and take her address to send her my mother’s book, which I have stupidly forgotten.

“It’s hard,“ I tell her.But it will pass. Really, I swear. Look at me. I turned out just fine.“ I smile all knowingly.

We hug and she says thank you like I have just whispered a secret in her ear that her father is really just outside.

When I get home I am all too aware that I have lied to Ryann. Why would I lie to her? She’s so pretty. Did I even know I’d lied? No. I meant it. I did. But because of me, she now expects an easy road ahead. What a dreadful, awful person I am. But I didn’t know what to say. I had to say something. I had to. That’s my job. I’m good at it. Or at least I was. What will I do now? Will I run away? Keep crying? Call her up and tell her it really sucks, like a film that wraps around your entire being or a stench that never washes away? Will I pretend? Pretend I even know what’s wrong?

I am jealous of Ryann with her big sprawling family. At least she knew her father. Like those whiny girls in gym class who complained about their parents’ divorces and only getting to see their dads on weekends. I wanted to punch them in the face and scream, “At least you have a father, you stupid little things.“

I want to tell myself to shut up, but only crazy people do that. And then I get it. I’m right on schedule. Today’s the day, the day I’ve been dreading, but secretly knew would arrive. The day I become broken. Well isn’t that perfect. It is my destiny, obviously. My father went crazy, and, according to my mother did not show signs until his early twenties. Well, here we go. Dammit.

The wind rattles the cheap windows in my fourth floor walk up and the pink paint continues to peel. I light a cigarette, my new dreadful habit, and put on my overly appropriate new favorite song, Joan Osbourne’s Crazy Baby and collapse on my bed.

My bed, which I just shared with Alex, the bartender from work, whom I don’t even like. He’s kind of an asshole. But I was bored and declared it French night and he could keep up when I ordered en francais and that’s all it took and then we were here. There are studies that say girls without fathers tend to be either prudish or promiscuous. I had always leaned towards prudish, but recently, I don’t know why, with the likes of Alex, Steve, Barney, Robert, I am single-handedly trying to prove the prosmiscuous studies right. I’m disgusting.

I am a failure, a fraud from the “put together” life I’ve led.

I call my mother and quietly tell her I need help. I am grateful she does not judge and we agree to call a therapist in the morning. Anticipating my next worry, she assures me that she and Stanley will pay for it. And so it is done. I’ve staved it off for today anyway.

I smoke my Parliament Lights, unsure of what has just happened. The stereo wails and I sit and wait, aware of every sound. My hand shakes holding the cigarette, as I think about the simplicity of a candle and some rain and of him up on the hill alone. I search for a moment of calm inside my little apartment, because I know that crazy swirls in the wind right outside my door. And I’m pretty sure it’s looking for another way in.

 

This past summer one of the richest and most famous people on the planet committed Facebook suicide.

“It was just way too much trouble, so I gave it up,” said Bill Gates at an event in New Delhi. Gates deactivated his account upon being inundated with more than 10,000 friend requests. He then expressed his aversion to certain aspects of new media, stating that “some tools can waste our time if we’re not careful.”

Suicide and I have a relationship.

I would not say we are friends, but we go way back.

Way back to that day in 1975 when I was four years old and my father took the rope of a robe and tied it around his neck.

It’s the relationship I just can’t shake. It’s always there.

It was there when my mother moved us, not just from the house he died in, but the state.

It was there when I slept in my mother’s bed next to her for several years. She would buy me colorful new bedding hoping to lure me back to my room, but the sheets went unused.

It was there as I sat in our back room watching videos of my father over and over until the tape wore out and his image went missing.

It was there when each new school year I secretly hoped he hadn’t really died and had just lost his memory roaming the world aimlessly. He’d be my new math teacher and during attendance he’d see me and snap out of it.

It was there when my mother made me take down a photograph of him from my bedroom. And wouldn’t explain why.

It was there when I looked in the mirror and saw my father’s features. And there when my mother would tell me to stop making a certain face, so closely resembling him in that moment, upsetting her with just my smile.

It was there as I saw her huddled on our couch reading, alone.

It was there as I asked my friends each night on the phone if they were really my friends. Did they think I was funny? Pretty? Smart?

It was there when as I grew older I kissed more boys than I should have. And there when I excused those boys who turned out to be liars or cheats, and let them back into my bed.

It was there when I worried, at the end of my own rope, if it was my time now. The words would whisper from deep within and I knew that these same words spoke to him. I thought about following the sounds.

It was there when my grandfather after a few Grey Goose and tonics would grow quiet and sigh, “stupid kid” under his breath, but loud enough for me feel each word.

It was there as I traveled from place to place seeking out information. I went looking for his thesis at his college, now my college. I got his autopsy report and held it in my hands. I had dinner with his friend and felt jealous at his memories of him.

It was there when I got married and he didn’t walk me down the aisle.

It was there when I made my husband promise that if we had a son we would not name him after him. I did not want to chance being sad each and every time I called after my child.

It was there as thirty years later I found myself in a Survivors After Suicide group therapy meeting pleading and hoping to no longer be so burdened by his action.

It was there when I swore I did not want it to be there any more.

I was more than just the girl whose father killed himself.

It was there when determined to do good work I signed up to be a grief counselor. I cried as I toured the facility for the little four year old girl that I was that did not have a place like that. And it was there when I sat during the first day’s training and knew I would quit. I had a secret. I was two months pregnant and there in that moment I realized I was no longer interested in being so enmeshed with death, with suicide. I wanted to concentrate on this new life, not the one that I had never really known.

It was there when my son was born in an emergency, dire situation. “No. Why me?” I thought. “I have already had my tragedy.”

It was there when as my son got stronger, I realized I too had great strength from many years of practice.

It was there when we named our son after each of our grandfathers. And it was there, but by my invitation, when we gave him my father’s Hebrew name, needing to connect them. I needed to honor him.

I am determined to share with my son how my father lived. That includes how he died. But it will no longer be the first and only information about him.

My father was charming.

He made people laugh for a living.

He proposed to my mother in Italy.

He struggled with his weight.

And he killed himself.

My son will know these things.

My father’s baby picture hangs on my son’s bedroom wall along with all of his other grandparents’ baby pictures. Each night, I tell my son how much they love him. I have come to refer to my father as Grandpa Daddy. He holds equal weight each night with the other grandparents. But when I scan the pictures, it is Grandpa Daddy who my son most resembles.

Sometimes I get sad as I say our goodnights and place my son in his crib.

I am sad that they will not know each other. Sad that he is just a photograph to him.

I am sad that I never really got to know him, except through other people’s memories.

I am sad that he died, but not as sad for how he died.

There in that moment, after thirty years of hard work, how he died does not seem as important.

It does not go away. It is always there.

But now more like just a little bit over there.

Not right here.

Last Train

By Steve Sparshott

Memoir

There was a figure on the wrong side of the railing. Hunched, legs dangling over the water, left hand on the edge of the brickwork clutching a smoking cigarette. I kept an eye on him as I passed; he raised the fag to his mouth with a sudden movement, inhaled and put it back down just as abruptly.

These days, Hungerford Bridge is a riot of shiny white suspension poles and pretty blue lights; back then it was a wide railway crossing with a poorly lit walkway stuck on the east side which shook with the passage of trains. The tubes stopped running at midnight so I was on foot, heading down to Waterloo to catch the last train out of London, the 1:05 AM to Surbiton, where I shared a three-storey semi with five friends. I was crossing the last of the bridge’s huge cylindrical brick pilings when I saw the guy sitting there, out on the edge. I walked on a little way, then turned back and watched him swig from a half bottle of vodka. There was nobody else on the bridge. “Alright?” I called. He looked over his shoulder to see an ageing indie kid in a seventies ski jacket.

“Alright, mate,” he replied.

“Admiring the view?” I asked brilliantly, a Friday night’s worth of beer swilling around inside me.

“Something like that,” he said, any implication that I might have asked a really stupid question going right over my head.

“Let’s have a look then,” I said, climbing over the railing and crossing over to sit down next to him, both of us dangling our legs over the Thames. Actually the view wasn’t bad at all, Waterloo Bridge and the buildings on the north and south banks artfully lit and reflected in the water.

Clark (“Like Superman, yeah?”) was a good-looking black bloke in, I guessed, his early twenties, whose girlfriend had just committed suicide. They met at a drop-in centre where they went for methadone and counselling; they hadn’t been together long but he said the relationship had given both of them a lot of much-needed support.

Uh huh.

“So…what happened?” I asked, aware despite the beers that I was in at the deep end of a situation far, far outside my experience.

They had a fight. “But we were always fighting, y’know?” he said.  “Every day.  But this was a big one, and then she killed herself the next day.”

Oh.

Shit.

Even sober I’d have been in no position to offer any expert counsel. What I wheeled out, I realise now, were platitudes; like how she was still living in his memory and if he jumped he wouldn’t just be killing himself and so on. I thought I was being highly original. We shared the vodka and, because I didn’t think it would be clever to say Actually I don’t smoke, a packet of Benson and Hedges.

He stated plainly, early on, that if anyone was around he wasn’t going to jump, so I zipped up my jacket and settled in. The conversation went round several times, returning to different what ifs as he berated himself for inattentiveness, inaction, indecision and so on; always things, I insisted, for which he couldn’t take the blame. Eventually we managed to get onto lighter subject matter; he was surprised that I knew the spike below his lip was called a labret piercing. Common knowledge now, perhaps, but arcane enough back in 1998. One of the few times my trivia reserve proved genuinely useful.

Three hours on, the effects of the beer were compounded by vodka and half a pack of Bensons and, while I could keep talking crap, I couldn’t work out how to get Clark back over to the right side of the railing. I was freezing, and becoming unnerved by the long drop and my increasingly unstable perch.

The few people who came along weren’t much use; the occasional pissed-up group invariably shouting Don’t jump, mate! and a homeless couple who knew Clark from when he lived rough and who confused me by calling him John and saying they’d been in Jerusalem taking pills. Jerusalem’s a big noisy bar in Rathbone Place; I didn’t know that at the time.

About half past four no-one had come by for a while. A couple of girls came stumbling along, arm in arm, singing. They saw us and stopped. “Hello,” said one.

“Morning,” we both replied. One of the girls squinted at us in an exaggerated fashion. “Clark!” she exclaimed.

“It’s Clark, look,” she said, drawing the other’s attention, and they both climbed over the railing. “Come on. Gimme a hug,” she demanded, and Clark stood up and obliged. I’d been trying to work out how to get him away from the edge for three hours; she did it in two seconds.

Who would be the ideal people to turn up just as I was despairing of ever getting Clark to stop contemplating a cold, wet death? (Actually, by this time, a cold, sticky, muddy one). How about a couple of psychiatric nurses (albeit spectacularly drunk ones)? How about a couple of psychiatric nurses who worked at Clark’s drop-in centre? Yes, they’d be just about perfect, and here they were, heading over to the all-night burger van by the station for a cup of tea.

So we joined them, all sitting in a row on a bench, safely inland, drinking impossibly hot tea from polystyrene cups. I can’t remember their names, or what they looked like, or where the drop-in place (open all hours) was, but I remember the four of us piling into a minicab to get there, and I remember watching Clark walk up the brightly lit tree-lined path into the building.

I think that went pretty well.

A few months later I was looking at a copy of The Face; a new 24 hour supermarket had opened near the Complex in Islington and they’d gone in to interview shoppers at about 4 AM. I recognised one of the faces looking out of the page, not smiling but certainly not dead either, labret spike shining.

Who are you?

Clark, 24, unemployed.

What are you buying? (“What was he buying?” people ask.  “Razor blades?”)

Apples.

Apples. So fuck off.

I’m not under the illusion that I saved his life; when I arrived he’d already been sitting looking at the water for a long time. To be honest I’m not really sure what I did, except that it was, in a stumbling, roundabout way, the right thing. The best thing I ever did, in fact. People use that phrase to mean the most personally advantageous thing; buying a villa in Spain, that sort of thing. By best I mean most good; the most…honourable, most decent thing I ever did.

Another time I found a fifty pound note in the gutter as I was heading down towards the river. And I caught the train. Not a villa in Spain, but not bad.

I sit in my white Reem Acra duchess satin gown in a room on the second floor of The Metropolitan Club with everyone I know just downstairs waiting for me, the bride.

Down those great big stairs is Jay, my future husband.  My mother flutters about.  I am sure waiters are about to trip and spill green apple martinis all over me and ruin 13 months of planning.  I take a breath. 

My father is not by my side, not here to give me away.  He is dead.  A suicide when I was four.  This is the fact of my life I expect people to know about me instantly.  My defining layer.

Then there is Stanley, sitting right next to me, our knees almost touching, like a protector from errant waiters, his tuxedo jacket almost like a superhero’s cape.  He was once my step-father, now my adopted father.  I still feel a little like a liar, like alarms will blare and the truth police will arrive when I refer to him as my “father” though.

I first met Stanley when I was about nine at Kennedy airport.  He came to pick us up after a trip.  There he was down the long hallway along with everyone else’s someone special.  My mother seemed to know him as evidenced by the hugs and kisses.  But I was unsure.  I couldn’t sleep in my mother’s bed anymore.  He encouraged me to make my own friends and not hover by my mother’s side.  I found him suspicious.

Now twenty three years later here we are at my wedding.  This man by my side.

Is it okay to admit that I recognize how important a father is at a daughter’s wedding?  Is it okay to admit I still mourn for a man I barely knew?  Is it okay to admit I still expect him to show up?

“This is everything I’ve ever wanted,” I say to Stanley.  My voice cracks and I can feel the tears.  I feel as if I am the only person to have ever done such a thing before.  He looks at me as if, perhaps, I may just be the first bride ever. 

 

When Jay and I went for our marriage license, I had all the proper papers with me.  Passport.  Birth Certificates.  Driver’s license.  We filled out all the forms.  I was overwhelmed and surprised that there was a space for my new name.  New name?  That is the hardest part of all.  No one in my family when I was growing up had my name, since my mother remarried.  I want my children to share my name, that means taking Jay’s, giving up my father’s.  I didn’t know I had to do it then.  I thought I could think about it, ease into it.

I had thought about changing my name once before.  Stanley and I sat in some judge’s chambers finalizing the adoption.  I was about 19.  I wanted to speak up, declare I wanted his name.  I wanted to please him so, but something kept me quiet. 

“Don’t do it then, just leave it,” Jay said.

I filled the space in the form.  Rachel Schinderman.  I took it as an option.  I hated that part of it.  A claiming of.  But was I upset because I wouldn’t be claimed as my father’s anymore?  My father who I go out of my way to remember and to celebrate.  My father who left me.

I handed over all of my papers.  The woman was perplexed when she saw I had two men listed under father.  I handed her both birth certificates.  I was issued a new one after the adoption with Stanley’s name.  She looked at me as if no other person had ever come before her window with such a situation.  I found that impossible.  She went deep within her area and conferred with others.  They looked over at me with that’s her in their eyes. 

She came back and declared, as if she were the ultimate authority in New York State, that since I had the same name as one of them, Jeffrey Zients, that that was who would be listed.  Fine.

She turned to her computer.  “How do you spell Jeffrey?”

“J-e-f-f…”  Was it an e or an r, Jeffrey or Jeffery.  I picked up the birth certificate to check.  “J-e-f-f-r-e-y.”

Jay took my hand.  He could see that I was upset, that I didn’t know off the top of my head how to spell my father’s name with no uncertainty.

Even at the City Clerk’s Office, he was with me.  I tried to shake him off.  As we waited in the next line, I leaned into Jay’s arm.  I was so sorry I was crying.  This was a happy time.


My mother, Stanley and I take our place in the hall before the stairs, the stairs I have worried about for almost a year.  The club’s coordinator gets the go-ahead on his walkie-talkie and signals us to go.  The string quartet below begins to play Over The Rainbow.  We come into view for all below to see. 

My dress is more difficult to manage than I had thought.  My mother holds my arm securely.  We are already almost halfway down.  Stanley isn’t holding me, just standing by my side and grasping the railing on the other.  He won’t even come near me.  I must have been too vocal about not making me trip down the stairs – or is he just moving from spot to spot, playing this role, making his way through?  Is he my “father,” getting to walk me down the aisle because he pays for the wedding?  What does this mean to him?

“I need you to hold me,” I whisper in his ear. 

He looks surprised at my request for help, as if to say all you had to do was ask, like he didn’t want to intrude on me.  He takes my arm solidly in his and we continue down even further.

I kiss my parents and Jay greets them.  As I let them go and take my place next to Jay, I am suddenly calm, even giggly.

Jay turns to me and makes his promises, his vows.  I hear bits.  Pieces.  I can feel my body curl in, taking him and the moment into me.

Then I make my vows to him.  “…And when I need to cry, as I sometimes do, you never say, ‘just get over it.’”

I see the rabbi lean back, surprised by the thought, taking it in.

I dab my tears and we smile at each other, grasping the other’s hand.  Hard part’s over.

Jay steps on the glass.  We kiss.  And everyone yells, “Mazel Tov!”  Then we hurry back down the aisle together, married.

I am thirty-two, almost eight months into being thirty-two.  My father was thirty-two, just over seven months when he died.  I have made it past the length of his life.  This is a good way to mark it.

When we all settle and sit at our tables, Stanley rises and heads to the microphone.  I sit up a little higher in my chair, ready for this moment, a father’s toast to a daughter.  I really get one.  Will this actually count as a father’s toast?  I don’t know what he will say.  A stepfather’s?  I hope it is more than just “Welcome and please have a good time.”

“First of all, thank you very much for coming here tonight and simply joining us.”  Adopted father’s?  “I think there is just a bit of a void that should be addressed and I would like to address it.  And I would like to say a few words on behalf of someone who is not here tonight.  And I guess I’m speaking to all of you, but I’m really speaking directly to Rachel.”

I look for my mother.  Her face reads stunned.  She didn’t know this is what he was going to do.  I look back for Stanley in the center of the big dance floor, holding the microphone, tiny in his tuxedo.  I remind myself to pay great attention.  Do not get lost to the emotion.  Is this really what he’s doing?

“I would like to say a few words for Jeff Zients.”

Yes, it is and I couldn’t have imagined it, couldn’t have dared to dream it.  I didn’t know it was just what I wanted.

“I think if Jeff Zients were here, he would tell Rachel certain things.  I think he would tell Rachel that he marvels at how a four year old has developed and turned into a wonderful, truly wonderful young human being.  And Rachel is marvelous, I think Jeff would say in many ways, not the least of which I think is her respect for tradition, for family, and, maybe most of all, her respect for respect itself.  And I think Jeff would tell Rachel he loves her very much because of that.”

Hearing his name, Jeff, over and over, is a sound that is strange but lovely.  I can feel it enter me each time.

“I think, however, most of all, what Jeff would say is that I love you because you are my daughter and you will always be my daughter and for eternity you will be my daughter…I think Jeff would have said those things, and if I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I’m right, it is not too late for it to be said appropriately.  For myself, I think I would only like to say one thing, if in fact what I believe Jeff would have said, he would have said, ‘Rachel my love, he is speaking for me also.’  We love you.  Thank you.”

There is a silence in the air.  I go straight to Stanley, hug him and am at a loss.  This is more than I ever could have imagined.  A true fatherly moment.  I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by Stanley.  But I wear my father’s death as a badge, a shield.  Have I kept him at an arm’s length?  Fatherless is how I identify myself.

 

There is always a little broken place.  That little broken place reminds me that such events do not go away all wrapped up pretty in a box, but rather need tending to, and when tended to properly, they sleep and rest and allow you to tend to other things.

I know my history will not all be gone after today, but I do not care.  I have a husband.  A mother.  A father.  High above in this ballroom that puts us dancing on the same level as the tips of the trees in Central Park, we dance jumping high off the ground, up toward the sky, through the tall city buildings, into the night.  Pounding and thumping the dance floor each time we come back down. 

Jump!  Jump!   

Then up again we go, up, up we jump. 

Jump!  Jump! 

Jumping for joy.

For on this day I became one man’s wife and another man’s daughter. 


In northern Westchester County, New York, not long ago, a man I know tried to end his life in a most horrible way.  It happened in the town of Bedford, famous for its tree-lined roads, for the millionaires who live along them, and, incongruously, for its maximum security prison.

The Bedford Hills Correctional Facility — named for one of the town’s three hamlets — sits hard by the highway, just over a mile from the train station, surrounded by tall fences and barbed wire.  Woods encircle the compound.  From the ground, it reveals itself by a single approach.

Since it’s the only maximum security women’s prison in the state, all women convicted of murder in New York end up there eventually.  Once inside they don’t tend to bother anyone in the free world, and town residents are quick to note that most violent inmates came to this terminus as the result of domestic disputes, not premeditated crimes.

The penitentiary is in the town, but not of it.  Visitors and guards sometimes arrive via the local Metro North station, riding cabs the last mile and a quarter to their destination.  Occasionally one sees them trudging up the hill on foot, parallel the railroad tracks, past the post office and the stone supply and the small warehouses of Adams Road, one of a few areas zoned for light industry.

When Anthony Agostino (not his real name) looked out his office window, he might have seen these visitors passing.  Tony used a tiny building by the tracks as his office, a mile from the prison and no farther than that from the house in which he grew up.

Though as an adult he moved to a neighboring town, the prison offers a convenient geographic center for an examination of Tony’s life.  If you pinned it on a map, I suspect you’d discover that Tony conducted the majority of his business and personal affairs within a radius of less then ten miles.

He attended the local elementary school and the local high school, married a local girl and — after college at Syracuse — settled locally.  The business he founded was named after the street on which he and his partner grew up.

Tony rented that office near the prison for a long time, and when he descended into crisis he returned there, alone, to attempt suicide a few years ago.  He died of pneumonia this week at 49.  But the pneumonia isn’t what really killed him.

I came to know Tony by accident, a chance call off a Yellow Pages advertisement more than twenty years ago.  My wife and I had purchased a big old house on ten acres overgrown with vines and giant forsythia, with rhododendrons and lilacs that had bolted so high they covered the tops of the windows.

The prior owner asked one favor at the closing that I couldn’t abide.  Years ago, she said, when they’d lost a son, she and her husband planted an apple tree beside the house in his memory.  “I know it’s not in a great spot,” she said, “but please be gentle with it.”  My wife and I agreed too readily, eager to get on with things.

Besides the Nineteenth Century stucco house, the property had an old dairy barn warped to awkward angles by gravity and neglect.  There was an equally rundown cottage, a crumbling tennis court and an old pool.  Natural attributes included rock outcroppings, lawns, fields, woods and a pond so green that, on a still summer day, you might be tempted to ask where the groundskeeper had placed the flag pin.

We’d owned the keys two weekends when I went out back one Saturday with my new chain saw.  The apple tree we’d half promised to protect was diseased and bug-infested — and it blocked our view of the pond.  With my wife biting her lip in the dining room window, I made quick work of it.  When I carted away the last branches and we admired the view from inside, the place began to feel like ours for the first time.

With some help from a caretaker, who lived with his young family in the cottage, almost every weekend for three seasons I was serenaded by the whirr of the chainsaw and hedge trimmer and the sturdy clomp of a pair of loppers.  We cleared great stands of weed-choked wild raspberry, gnarled forsythia and maple saplings.  We hacked and dragged away bittersweet and wild grape.

Some multiflora rose vines were as big as tree trunks.  Their thorns pierced leather gloves, and their tendrils boomeranged ferociously when we tried to direct them, whipping us bloody.

But we persisted, opening up vistas that hadn’t been seen in a generation, saving some great old trees from strangulation by parasitic flora, and exposing stone walls that once marked cow pastures, before refrigeration and rising land prices conspired to put the local farmers out of business.

It was a satisfying year, offering more instant rewards than my job as a book editor.  When I brought a manuscript home and trimmed it with a pencil, the final product might still be a year off.  But in the yard, at the end of a day with the tools, you stood back and marveled at all the good you’d done.

Clearing had natural limits, however.  Soon we had to start adding.  We needed guidance, needed a plan.  That’s when I called Tony.

He had a woman who did his scheduling (later I’d learn this was his wife), and we made an appointment for that week.  He tried calling me Mr. Fishman, but I wouldn’t hear of it.  He was close to my age — late twenties, at the time — and that surprised me when I first saw him.  Most of our contemporaries then worked at big companies, as I did, not managing their own businesses.

But that was scarcely a note of dissonance.  I admired it, in fact, perhaps even envied it.  Tan and fit, dark-haired, handsome, Tony had an easy familiarity.  He dressed like a preppy in well-worn turtleneck and khakis, and while I hadn’t attended prep school, I could relate to the desire to look that way.  Anyone with certain ambitions could.

We walked around the property slowly, discussing immediate needs and grand plans.  I casually tested his knowledge, pointing to trees and bushes we’d saved and asking their names, some of which I already knew.  I never managed to stump him, and he responded with a degree of enthusiasm that suggested genuine love for his subject.

As he departed, I told him we’d be interviewing several firms, but I suspected he knew that we had hit it off right away.  Soon he was back with blueprints and plant lists.  My wife liked him.  Our relationship — dare I say — blossomed.

For more than a decade we used Tony’s services.  In that time, there were long periods when I worked from home, and when he pulled up with his crew I’d jump from my desk, greet him, chat over the job he was doing for us and over other things — neighbors, nature, town happenings, our lives.  His business was thriving, but he never seemed rushed.

We watched him grow, not quite our friend, but a warm acquaintance, someone to root for.  He bragged about his daughter and told me his wife was sad that a second child never came.  He revealed that his grandfather had maintained the grounds for many years at an old estate down the road, since divided by the construction of a highway.  He called me when he split with his business partner.  He spoke of peaceful moments fishing alone on the lake by his house.

A few times, when I was driving by and saw his car, I dropped into his office unannounced.  It was a glorified shack, really — maybe not so glorified.  Barely heated, two rooms, up and down — the downstairs where his crew knocked around and the upstairs where he sat drafting.  They had three or four trucks that they squeezed onto the dirt lot every night, parking them within inches of one another.  People walking to the prison might have brushed right by one of those bumpers on occasion.

When I joined the board of the local Nature Conservancy chapter, I talked Tony into donating his services on a project near a river two hours away.  We worked together beside his crew that day, landscaping around a preserve lodge.

He didn’t need the business I’d bring him.  Over the years, he acquired many clients who were millionaires, living on big estates, proffering big projects and big maintenance contracts.  It was largely Wall Street money, fresh and easy.

Somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that Tony had a foot in each of two worlds: the world of his grandfather, close by, where he’d dig a hole alongside his crew; and the world where he spent Saturday afternoons shooting the breeze with wealthy clients on their patios.  The world of the big shiny Land Cruiser that he drove, and the world of the soiled landscape trucks parked on his lot.  The world of the house on the quiet lake, and the world of the shack by the railroad tracks.

When I moved a few towns away, he continued to do some work for me, but that wasn’t the core of his territory.  We drifted apart as our business relationship faded.

Then, maybe five years ago, I was standing in line at a Dunkin’ Donuts when someone tapped me on the shoulder.  It was one of Tony’s subcontractors, a stone mason who, like Tony, had grown with the economy from managing tools to managing jobs and men.  He still had the big hands and forearms of  a mason, though.  His name was Carmello.  He asked if I remembered him, mentioning the connection to Tony, and I said of course.

“Did you hear what happened?”

“No.”

“A few months ago, Tony tried to kill himself.”

I craned forward, as if I hadn’t heard right.  We exchanged awkward half-smiles, the kind that cross people’s faces when they know they’re in the midst of a heavy moment.  Then Carmello told me the story as he knew it.

It involved a personal transgression that doesn’t require detailing here.  Suffice to say it was something secret but not illegal, revealed suddenly to his loved ones.  It was something millions of people have done and then worked through, gone on with their lives.  The revelation needn’t have led to other irrevocable actions.

When Tony learned his secret was out, though, he went to his office and drank a container of acid.

It nearly killed him on the spot.  It did kill him later.

I ran into him a couple of years after it happened.  His face was sunken but his eyes still had vigor.  We were in the vicinity of my office and I insisted he come up and tell me everything.

He didn’t, I now realize, and probably never had.  But he told me a lot.

He told me what it felt like when the revelation hit, when he knew the facade had been shattered — “shattered” is my word, not his, but it’s the right one.  The word he used to describe his state before the revelation was “invincible.”  That originated with his therapist, the one who tried to help put him back together.

Tony had constructed a world for himself, a world where the boy who grew up in a little house a mile from the prison could interact in one moment with a dirt-encrusted crew and in the next moment with Wall Street titans who lived behind automated gates.  And if he could do that, he convinced himself, he could do anything.  But, of course, he couldn’t.  Tony had entrapped himself.

When she heard the story the first time, my wife, a trained social worker, observed that a person who drinks acid doesn’t merely intend to kill himself.  He intends to punish himself.

Tony didn’t fully articulate to me what he felt at that moment when he went into his office and poured the poison down his throat.  It was a blur to him, I think, like they do it in movies sometimes with the music screeching urgently and the camera swinging from focus.  In addition, the subsequent therapy had clearly distanced him from it, as had, perhaps, the pure act of surviving.

Nevertheless, it happened like this.  He went to his office and he gulped the acid and then he thought of his wife and his daughter.  When he related it, I don’t think he recalled the physical pain of that moment.  He remembered dialing 911 and passing out.

And when I asked him what he’d been thinking, all he could say was, “I was invincible.  I had been invincible.”

“And then?”

“And then I wasn’t.”

As Tony lay comatose in a hospital afterward, one wealthy client rushed to the hospital with a check for $100,000 and tried to force it on Tony’s wife as a gift.  She wouldn’t accept it.

Acid down the gullet is a nasty business.  It took them months to give Tony the semblance of physical normalcy.  He looked like a shadow of himself when I last saw him, skin and bones, the face and body of a man who has crawled out of the desert.

But I asked him how he felt and he said, “I feel free.”

If I’d been with David Foster Wallace on the last day of his life, I might have offered him a chocolate bar and put some Prof. Longhair on the CD player. Chocolate’s always good for getting the Dopamine flowing and enlivens the “reward center” in your brain. As for Prof. Longhair, well, who can be depressed after hearing his Rum and Coco-Cola or Big Chief?

You might remember from an earlier story that I gave the go-ahead for my mom’s amputation. It wasn’t THAT big a deal. It was only ONE foot. (She had two, for heaven sakes. People use prostheses all the time. No one chooses to die instead of getting a single little foot removed, right?)

My mother was always changing her mind. There are hundreds of stories about her changing her mind. How was I to know she wasn’t going to change her mind for the first time in her entire life?

 

In the ten years she lived either with us or a block from us, I took her shopping frequently. First to buy something, then to return it, then to buy it again and to return it all over again and, believe it or not, to drive back to buy it yet again. My mother even returned FOOD to the grocery store. Who returns food to the grocery store?

Once she bought a pair of pants from Talbot’s. She had them for months but decided that she no longer liked them. I drove her to return the pants. The saleslady opened the box and looked at the pants. My mother had shortened them. The saleslady looked at the cuffs and didn’t bat an eye. Talbot’s still took them back. Who knew you could alter clothes and still return them? She had shrunken to way less than five feet. Who could ever use them? A midget?


My mother was supposed to get a prosthesis. She was all set to go to physical therapy and I had hoped that she could adapt to the new “foot” with time. But regardless of what the therapist or the doctor or the nurses or I did, she refused to even try.


When this was happening, we got a postcard in the mail with a painting on the front from an Art Gallery. It was a painting by Seth Michael Forman. I brought it in to show Mom.

 

“Irene Marie! This is Daddy and me in heaven! And look! My FOOT gets to come!”

 

 

“You have to buy this painting!” she exclaimed. So I did. It’s hanging on the wall right now.

I brought the bottom three, Timothy, Lenore and Benjamin, to visit her because I was under the ridiculous delusion that she cared about her grandchildren in spite of how she behaved around them and what she said about them over the years. (The top two were away at school and couldn’t visit as often.)

 

During one visit, NANA addressed Tim:

 

“You have access to sharp objects, don’t you, Tim? Bring me some sharp scissors or a sharp paring knife so I can slit my throat, okay Tim?”

 

“Mom. This is not the way you speak to your grandchildren. Ask them about their day. What they did in school.”

 

“I don’t give a shit what they did in school, Irene Marie.”

 

“Kiss your Nana and we have to go home now.”

 

The next day I brought the bottom three back in, since obviously I was delusional. We brought store-bought get-well cards and homemade ones every day.


“Lenore, go under the sink. There are lots of poisons under the sink. Put them all in a bag and bring them to me, like a good girl. I need poisons to drink and they won’t give me any here, the bastards.”


“Kiss your Nana goodnight. We’ll visit her again soon but it’s time to go home now.”

 

The next day the bottom three brought more flowers for her bedside stand.

 

“We love you, Nana.”

 

“Benjamin, you’re the smart one. Find out Dr. Kevorkian’s phone number, write it down and give it to me tomorrow.”

 

“Nana, I don’t want to be a party to that. I know that you want me to do this so that he will help you to commit suicide with his death machine. I am not comfortable with being your accomplice in this endeavor.”


(Seriously, ask anyone, this is EXACTLY how Benjamin spoke as a little kid. Ben was practically born speaking like William Buckley. )


“Time to go home, kids, lots of homework to do tonight.”

 

Here’s a picture of Lenore and Benjamin with NANA. Tim was there but there was no more room on the bed.

 

I decided, long overdue, I’ll admit, that bringing the children was:

1. Hurting my children

and

 

2. Not helping NANA one bit.

 

So. From then on I went by myself.

 

I brought her fresh fruit every day. She loved fresh fruit. I cooked foods that she liked and brought her small portions most days because she said the food in the nursing home was intolerable. I fed her. I changed her clothes. I took her to the bathroom with her one foot. I bathed her. I washed her hair. I put rollers in her hair. I combed out her hair into a hairdo she always hated, I washed her false teeth. I tweezed the hairs that sprouted from her chin.


She was having a lot of problems in the nursing home. Her Evil Roommate was spying on her. The Evil Roommate was telling tales and making up lies. She needed to get rid of the Evil Roommate.

 

NANA had trouble telling time because recently the hands of the clock kept spinning. She needed a better clock. I brought her another clock. Oddly, that clock had the same problem with spinning hands. The hands of the clocks didn’t spin while I watched, but perhaps they spun when I wasn’t there. It was impossible for her to tell the time. It was a conspiracy against her!

 

People were stealing her clothes. All the good clothes were missing. Someone knew which of her clothes were expensive. She blamed the laundry. So I did her laundry from then on. After that, people were stealing her clean clothes from her closet while she slept.

 

Insects were crawling up the wall and over her bed. She rang the call button to complain day and night. The room was checked thoroughly and frequently, but no actual insects were found. She continued to see insects swarming everywhere. She saw them when I was with her. I swatted the wall with a towel and told her they were dead, but she continued to see them.

 

One particularly bad day, I came in and she asked for her lunch.

 

I went to fetch it.

She told me to take the damn tray away.

I did.

She told me she didn’t want that lunch.

She wanted cereal.

I went out and asked the nurse if there was any cereal. There was and I brought it back with a spoon and a bowl. She said that she could not be expected to eat her cereal without a damn tray.

I went to fetch the damn tray again.

When I returned she was pouring milk into the box.

“You don’t want to do that, MOM. Here, let me help you.”

 

I put the cereal in the bowl and poured the milk in the bowl for her.

 

She wanted more napkins, so I went to fetch them.

Then I returned.

 

She had put her false teeth in her cereal.


She was drinking the water out of her false teeth cup.

 

I took a deep breath.

 

I said, “Mom, you don’t want to be drinking that!”

 

I took her teeth out of the cereal and took the teeth cup from her hands.

 

I ran to the bathroom and rinsed them both off.

 

I ran back and in that short time she had poured the entire bowl of cereal and milk all over the nice clean clothes she had on.

 

Right on her lap.

 

“Now look what I’ve done! And this is an historic document!”

 

“Don’t you worry, Mom, I can clean that document as good as new.”

 

“Are you blind, Sara? This document is ruined!”

 

(Try to keep in mind that I am still, and have always been, Irene, and, I’m going to go out on a limb here, [pardon the pun], but I question the existence of the historic document on my mother’s lap.)

 

When NANA’S birthday came, I made an exception and brought the bottom three again. (It is obvious that I am learning disabled.)

 

It didn’t really matter, because she didn’t know who they were, thinking that Lenore was her sister-in-law, Betty, and Timothy was Tushar and Benjamin she just couldn’t recognize. I’m not sure she even saw him, hovering there trying to be helpful.

 

Not too many days after that I was just finishing up making dinner before I picked the kids up from school, when I got a call.

 

“Is this Irene Zion? This is your mother’s nursing home and you must come immediately to escort her to the hospital by ambulance.”

 

“Uh, why??”

My mother had put a plastic bag over her head and taped it around her neck with scotch tape.

 

Her roommate called the nurse on her.

 

“We don’t keep suicides here.”

 

“You can throw people out of a nursing home?”

 

The answer was an unqualified yes. (Who knew?)

 

I said I would get there as soon as I could. I still had three kids to pick up from school.

 

I brought the kids home and left them there, thinking that this was the lesser of the child abuse, leaving them alone, rather than taking them to the scene of Nana’s attempted suicide. Victor would be home in a couple of hours to watch them.

 

I drove to the nursing home. It turns out that the plastic bag my mom had placed over her head and scotch taped around her neck was one in which I had brought her fresh fruit. This would later be a bone of contention with my brother, Woody. He claimed, and still does, that her suicide attempt was entirely my fault for bringing her fruit every day in a plastic bag. I could have mentioned that I didn’t bring her the scotch tape, but I don’t think it would have helped.

 

My mom complained emphatically about her turncoat, no-good, hateful, Evil Roommate.

 

“How dare that bitch interfere with my plans! Who does she think she is anyway? She should rot in hell! Bitch has been taking notes and telling the nurses on me from the beginning!”

 

Once you try to kill yourself, no matter how ineptly, you must leave and go to the Looney Bin. So. To the Looney Bin we went.

 

When we arrived, the doctor at the admitting desk asked her some questions.

 

“What day is it?”

 

“Tuesday.” (It was not Tuesday.)

 

“Who is the President?”

“Hoover.” (Duh.)

“How old are you?”

“52.”

 

“Who is this?” (Indicating me.)

 

“I have no idea.”

 

“Why do you think that you are here?”

 

“My Evil Roommate is a bitch.”

 

“How old are you again?”

 

“97.”

 

“Would you do something for me? Subtract 7 from 100.”

 

“3.”

 

“Can you try that again? Subtract 7 from 100.”

 

“60.”

 

“Where do you live?”

 

“Baltimore.” (We were in Champaign, Illinois at the time.)

 

“How old are you?”

 

“36.”

 

It went on like this interminably. She got not one single question correct. Finally, we were about to commit her to a short stay in the Looney Bin. It did seem that she required a bit of mental help.

 

My mother called me to her side.

 

“Here, you probably want this.”

 

She grinned a huge grin and pulled out a wadded-up fruit baggie from her pocket.

 

“You probably don’t want to leave this with me.”

 

She was giggling.

 

Giggling.

 

“I thought that they searched you when you came in, Mom.”

 

“Well I still have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

 

As we left her, NANA was giggling up a storm.

 

134 Comments »

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:36:17

(

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:36:56

it was not the best comment but it was the best i could do.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:06:39

Ben,
You sort of have to read two other stories first before this will make sense.
1. http://tiny.cc/gA1YR
and
2. http://tiny.cc/mkEdo
Then it will make sense.
You’re coming in late in the game here. Sort of playing with one blind eye, if you catch my drift.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:38:09

i hated nana.

thank you for publishing that awful photograph of me. thank you for providing evidence that i cannot behave appropriately in almost any situation.

i think i was high.

but ben’s dragon shirt is pretty sweet.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:10:49

Sweetheart,
I looked and looked and looked.
ALL of the photos of you with NANA are with you making horrible faces.
Every single one.
You were a teenager, so was Tim.
And later I was to learn that your, (and Tim’s) horrible behavior was due greatly to the massive use of drugs. I was a bit preoccupied at the time and totally failed at mothering.
I didn’t know you were stoned.
I thought you were reacting to a horrible situation with NANA.
I’m sorry.
I’ve tried to make up for it.
Ben’s dragon shirt was really great.

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:53:44

For a while I thought you were wearing a jean onesie in that photograph. And I was all set to laugh at you for it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:12:00

Lenore has always had fashion sense. She did not get it from me. I humiliate her everywhere we appear together.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:30:29

and btw,
lenore, you look vampire-ish in the photo. or like a cat hissing. i love it and don’t know why you’re complaining. ) really. you look fierce and surprising and, well, pretty cool.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:12:35

I agree, Sara!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-06-20 17:46:01

I thought that picture was pretty good. Matter of fact, I just turned to Ben and told him how much I liked it.

Lenore’s a jackass.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:42:32

also, that’s a nice new picture of you! i should know, i took it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:12:04

You are a great photographer.
You are a great writer.
You are a great sister.
You are a great daughter.
Don’t be mad.
This one hurt.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:26:06

don’t worry, i’m not mad. i don’t even know what you’re worried i’d be mad about. uh, also, i don’t think that all the drugs i did make you a bad mom. they were fun. thanks for letting me do them.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:30:58

Can we get ONE thing straight here?
I did NOT let you do them.
I was blind and stupid and so was your father.
We didn’t see what should have plain to us in front of our eyes.
Glad you had fun, but as in the scooter incident, you’re lucky to have come out alive.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:40:57

still, it was cool of you to give me the weekly allowance for my drugs. so thank you.

learn how to accept a compliment!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:57:49

You’re welcome, creepy daughter.

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:46:13

I think Dostoievski is up on cloud 101, taking down every word of this exchange.

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:47:49

Strindberg, dammit! I meant Strindberg!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 10:39:53

Uche,
I’m afraid my ignorance is apparent here. I had to look Strindberg up.
(mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!)
The write-up about him said he palled around with Soren Kierkegaard, whom I studied and loved like crazy when I got my BA in Literature of Religion. He also hung out with Hans Christian Anderson. I have probably a larger collection of fairy tales than the library here.
That pitiful thing said, I have no idea what or how he writes, so now he’s on my list so I won’t feel so ignorant next time I hear of him. What do you suggest I read first? (I need help here.)

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-20 09:11:18

Err, none of them, Irene. I still shudder at my own experience. My Dad had Strindberg’s _Inferno_ sitting around his study, and I think I was about 15 when I made the mistake of reading it. Later on, one of my friends at the University of Nigeria had the crackpot idea of staging a sort of Amos Tutuola re-interpretation of _A Ghost Sonata_. When I expressed my terror of Strindberg, he made me read it, anyway, to give him my opinion. I think after reading it (against my better judgment) I told him to go to hell and to take his damfool play with him.

I still have never seen an Ibsen play or movie adaptation because my Dad told me once that Ibsen reminds him a lot of Strindberg.

Maybe the Cliffs Notes of Strindberg would be less bleak? This might be the only time in my life I’ve suggested to anyone the Cliffs Notes version of anything, to give you an indication.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 13:36:49

Thanks for the honesty, Uche, I might have toiled valiantly and yet failed at reading his work.
It feels really lightening to get off the hook!

Comment by keiko |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:44:42

I always wondered about that picture in the sitting room.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:13:11

Yeah, Keiko,

It’s the painting of my dad and my mom and her foot in heaven.
For real.

Comment by lonny |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:46:28

happy ending!

nana giggling – that is nice

you see everyone nana was all right – she was just misunderstood

i wonder where she was hiding the baggie?
such a trickster our nana …..

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:17:38

I saw where she was hiding it, Lonny.
She was literally hiding it up her sleeve!
Remember how she used to tuck kleenexes up her sleeve?
Like that.
This is something that old people do. I can’t begin to understand why, but it is a fact.
I see it every Wednesday when I take Brooklyn to the Old Folks Home.
All the women have stuff tucked up their sleeves.

She was nuts, Lonny.
This was NOT a happy ending.
Besides, it’s not the ending.
It will be some time before I can tackle the rest.
I’ll give you that she certainly was a trickster, though.
Oh, yes she was.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:57:32

Nana was also always warding off our overly-enthusiastic dogs with plastic baggies squirreled up her sleeves.

Boy, she was a weirdo, wasn’t she?

I remember having one visit in the NH. I remember she was confused and surprisingly toilet-mouthed (so to speak: see “hungry sara”), considering she wasn’t the cursing kind… I do remember her using the “c” word towards an orderly. A lot of times we medical folks describe patients as “pleasantly demented” when they’re confused but really nice and sort of goofy. Nana was not a pleasantly demented lady.

As an aside, remember when you told her that Tushar and I were engaged and she said to you, “Well, it’s about time he made an honest woman out of her!” I love that story. To me, that encapsulates my image of Nana right there! ) Hee hee hee… Good thing Tushar came along to *stop my lyin’!*

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:09:35

Oh, Sara,
I had totally forgotten her “dog-away.” She’d pull that plastic bag out and shake it in front of the dogs and they just hated the noise it made and backed off. She was an all-around hater, hated kids, dogs, cats, and the list goes on.
When NANA got demented she used truly HATEFUL words. Right out in the open. No holding back.
When I was growing up she was two people. When others were around, she was the image of respectability. When it was just me there, she vented every epithet imaginable. The neighbors were spying. My friends were just after my stuff or my homework, etc. It was exhausting.
She didn’t just become demented, you see. She just suddenly started showing her crazy to everyone instead of just to me. Funnily enough, I don’t think she did this turn-about in front of my Dad or my brother. Damn, I was SO special!
Remember Marcia’s Mom? When she got Alzheimers, she just got even sweeter. Everyone loved to be around her. I sure envied Marcia her mother.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:39:10

yup, marcia’s mom was pleasantly demented. )

on the other hand, talk about aiming low: if you’re gonna be envious of someone, why not be envious of someone with a NOT demented mom?

Comment by Marybear |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:51:21

Hey, I’ve been that cat !

when my brother was crazed on crack =)

I wish I was joking =(

*hugs Lenore’s mom*

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:19:08

Thanks, Marybear,

I’m pretty sure that it would look quite similar, crack and crazy.

I hope your brother’s okay now. I really, really do.

Comment by Marybear |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:27:12

No worries Irene ,

He’s good ,that was a decade ago .
He is clean ,healthy ,and a daddy of a sweet little girl who’s name is tattooed over his heart =)

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:59:48

Marybear,
That is such wonderful news and a relief to boot!
How did he get alright? Certainly not an easy thing.

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:55:47

I’ve got nothing. Except my mom does bring food back to Publix.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:20:25

G_D Almighty, Melissa!

You are always surprising me.
here you are looking all normal and you have weirdo family members that don’t fit with you at all.
I’m mystified.

Comment by melissa (irene’s friend) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:30:45

Oh yeah, I am so not normal, have you not figured that out yet?

Melissa

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:38:05

An inkling, Melissa, just an inkling.

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-19 17:14:20

One day I will tell you about Grandpa Harry. Ooooh boy.

Melissa

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 04:26:13

Don’t make me wait, Melissa!

Tell me now!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:28:36

Well you know he went to jail.

We would go to Miami Beach almost every Sunday to visit him. Most of the time his second wife would cook, she was a great cook. This one day however, he so wanted to try Swenson’s. For weeks he went on about it. Finally, we said ok. Grandpa was not too great in resturants. So we sit in a booth, my two oldest were very little at the time. We attemped to order. when Grandpa… says… THIS ICE CREAM IS MADE FROM PIG MILK… it is not kosher we need to leave NOW.
Shh.Shh. Grandpa no ice cream is made from pig milk.
YES IT IS
No Grandpa no it is not.
IT IS… I READ IT IN THE JEWISH FLORIDIAN. Which was the only paper he read.

We all know there was no such article. but we tore out of there.

One of the many things that he read in that paper. It was all there. Only thing is he was the only one that ever saw what he said he did.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-22 15:04:16

Melissa, That is so incredible!

Wonderful!

Pig milk ice cream. oh. sounds so Gooooood!

Now we hafta know why he went to jail!

Comment by Melissa |Edit This
2009-06-23 16:51:18

He did NOTHING, his brother set him up. They were in some sort of business together. No, no he did not embezzle any money. No one really knows for sure. No one remembers how long he was gone for, two months, six months, two year. You would think someone in the family would know.

melissa

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-18 14:58:54

Well. That’s unpleasant.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:22:34

Kate,
Have you not been paying attention when we talk about NANA?
Wait.
Maybe we NEVER talk about NANA.
Okay, you’re off the hook.
Yup. Unpleasant as hell.
Good call.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:22:01

No, no, I’ve heard many of these stories before. But usually they’re told in short enough spurts to be funny. All together it was a little intense.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-20 04:27:47

Kate,
Parts of it were told in the family, but I never told anyone about the whole Looney Bin part before. Kids didn’t know that.

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:02:40

God, Irene, Livia Soprano should have taken lessons from your mother. How did you grow up to be so caring and kind? How hard is it to write this? I cannot imagine. I think you are so brave for sharing this with us all and you are so clever for writing something so awful in such an entertaining way. Cannot wait for the next installment, but I think I need to pour myself a stiff drink before you begin…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:26:35

Zara,
I’ve been writing about her about once every six months.
It takes that long to rearrange things enough to make SOMETHING funny in the horror.
Go up top to Ben Loory’s answer.
If you haven’t read the two before exclusively about NANA.
There are NANA parts in other stories, but these are full frontal NANA.
Go read.
It will be easier to understand.
I will never be finished telling it.
There will still be more I left out after I die.

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-06-18 15:50:39

I have read the other posts…and I cannot believe how terrible it must have been for you. The scissors and the cut finger story gives me nightmares…

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:12:17

Zara,
It is almost inconceivable how much more material I have on my mother alone.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:39:52

Zara,
I think Livia Soprano was my favorite character on the show. I identified so much with poor Tony in regards to his mother. She was pure evil.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:00:17

I gotta say, it might have been hard to write, but
I thought this was another funny one. You’re getting lots of doom and gloom reactions here, but if it were fiction, it’d *certainly* be funny–

Just sayin’…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:14:47

Sara,
That’s what I’m after.
I have to work on it a long time.
I try to twist things around in my mind enough so that when I tell the story, even though it is true, I can laugh at it instead of wanting to crawl into the closet and close the door.

2009-06-18 16:07:00

*hug*

I’d say more than that, but this is yours.

my humblest admiration is yours, too.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:17:32

Thanks so much, Lance.

Ask my kids. That’s another thing she couldn’t do. Never hugged my dad. Never hugged my kids. Never hugged me.
Ever.
She recoiled at the idea of being touched.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:42:34

“I don’t give a shit what they did in school, Irene Marie.”

One of my all-time favorite TNB lines.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:19:37

jmb,

It’s really funny. I kept on trying over and over, doing the same things. Isn’t that the sign of someone a bit nuts? Doing things over and over that obviously don’t work?

I KNEW she didn’t give a shit. I just WANTED her to give a shit.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-18 16:43:50

I admire people who take traumatic situations and try to find some levity,
we have to laugh or else
we’d all have fruit bags over our heads.

I never worked geri psych but I hear
it was a hoot.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:22:36

Exactly, jmb,
laugh about it or you can just go ahead and get out the scotch tape and the fruit bag.

I volunteer with my therapy dog at a nursing home.
I have to say that I stay away from the mean ones.
It’s easy to do, cause the mean ones don’t want the dog around either.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:11:03

Well you know what –
It wasnt a hoot.
It was incredibly sad and
scary
and it really
really made you re-think
euthanasia
because it scared the
hell out of you to
think you might
one day be in
their shoes.

shoe.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:03:47

jmb,
One of my old folks had really sore feet when I last saw him, before my trip to Africa and my broken ankle. When I went back he had two above the knee amputations.
My favorite blind lady up and died. The one who had me keep checking to see if the photos of her with Brooklyn were still up on her wall.
One of my ladies is totally lucid and brilliant, but her body has just given up and she spends her days in a reclining wheel chair in the hall.
Not hootful. Not hootful in the least.

Everything you say is exactly right.
I’m scared to death.

(Comments wont nest below this level)

2009-06-18 16:45:12

Wow, so much going on there. It’s all so sad. And I’m sure it must have been hard to write about, as well. Dementia is such an awful thing to cope with.

I’m with Lance on this one. Hugs and admiration.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:24:24

Thanks, Simon,
You and Lance will make great sons-in-law.
I’m only giving Lenore up to the nicest people.

Comment by Jayne VanderVelde |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:16:51

Irene,
I love your writing. You are so open and caring. What you have been through is amazing … you are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:25:49

Hey, it’s nice to meet you, Jayne!
Welcome to my crazy world.
Come any time.

Comment by Mary Richert |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:29:58

What an incredible family. Irene, I really appreciate your willingness to lay it all out there. I love this story because even though it’s a hard one, it’s good, and you’re telling it beautifully. I love the honesty and everyone’s imperfections.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:46:05

We here at the Zion clan revel in our imperfections, Mary.
We have to, it’s where we excel.
No one’s more proud of our family lunacy than we!

2009-06-18 17:33:32

Your writing about NANA is like beautiful, perfect cotton candy…

… that’s spun from Owens-Corning Insulation.

My heart is all mangled and busted up about this one.

Boy howdy, I do love that painting, though.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:49:06

I KNOW! Right?

How in the world could that have arrived at our house just at that time?

I have NO idea what the painter had in mind, but the family knows what it really means.

(Damn, Kimberly,

“like beautiful, perfect cotton candy…

… that’s spun from Owens-Corning Insulation.”

That is great writing!)

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-06-18 17:58:37

Irene. It IS funny. In a gallows humor sort of way. But that’s the most effective writing, I think. Spinning tragedy into tragicomedy. It’s all the more poignant for it.

I appreciate tremendously the fact that you’re willing to share this with us! Much love-

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 03:50:12

Thanks, Marni,

Gallows humor is our specialty.
I imagine it couldn’t be any other way raised as I was by who I was.
My kids could have had 4 grandparents, but Victor’s dad died when Victor was 13 and his mom died before Lenore was born. My dad adored the kids, but he died more than ten years before my mother. My kids were dealt a bad hand in the grandparent department, left as they were with only NANA. Plus they had the added benefit of having her alternately living with us and living a block away, eating with us most nights and with us for every holiday.
I have to say that I resented every mother’s day because I wanted it to be MINE with MY kids, but it always about NANA. By the time she was finally gone, so were the kids, for the most part.
That still niggles at me. Mothers day was STOLEN from me by my mother.

(Seriously, Irene, suck up and let it go!) (Don’t listen, I’m lecturing myself here.)

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:19:44

So much to say…

1) I thought this was very funny even though it was sad and horrifying underneath. I think you can and did make it funny because you had some time away from it. As they say — “tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

2) You are an inspiration. I, too, have many ick things to work with and to a large degree I shy away from them. I want my story to be funny, not sad! But only we can make them funny, right? So what the hell am I waiting for? Thanks for the inspiration!

3) Parents don’t know when their kids are doing drugs. Unless they’re doing drugs together. )

4) The whole getting old and yelling obscenities thing really freaks me out. I hope I don’t turn into that. It seems like a very scary, sad place to be.

5) The plastic bag up the sleeve, and then scaring dogs with it, cracks me up.

6) Lenore’s comment about the allowance money also does.

Okay, looking forward to more!
Rach

2009-06-18 18:27:54

Yeah – what the hell *are* you waiting for, Rachel? We haven’t seen anything from you in AGES!!!!!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:57:32

Your new picture is HOT, Kimberly!

Kimberly the STAR!!!!!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:04:55

Thanks so much, Rachel!
I can write about most of the kids’ stuff without batting an eye. My mother is another story. I need to start thinking about a little portion and let it rumble around in my head for a very long time before I can actually see that it was ridiculously funny. Then I can write about it.

Old people don’t always get like that. They really don’t. Most of them just get sweet and want to talk about their old memories. My friend Marcia’s Mom was always a nice person, but after she got Alzheimers, she actually got more sweet. Marcia’s kids would sit around and make up stories and ask her if she remembered them and she always did. It’s as though they were giving her a whole new stack of life stories.

I have a cousin from the invisible side of the family who has a mother with Alzheimers. She doesn’t know her husband has died. Every day she asks about him and my cousin tells her he’s dead again. I want to throttle her. Poor woman has to relive the moment of his death over and over. All she had to do was say that he’s at the hardware store. He just left to get a bite to eat and he’ll be right back. I don’t mind if people are idiots about themselves, but when it hurts others it gets my goat.

Next time you have a plastic grocery bag in your hand shake it around. It really makes an annoying noise. She invented “Dog-away.”

As far as drugs and kids go, if you haven’t read it, please read the first story I wrote here: http://tiny.cc/gQBKH
Let me know what you think.

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:21:12

OH — and I love that painting!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:08:22

You know, that painting gives me peace, Rachel.
I figure G_d has fixed up my mom so she’s not crazy and my dad finally gets to spent some time with someone nice for eternity.

Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
2009-06-18 18:32:47

Thanks for the ass kicking, KMW!

2009-06-18 18:42:27

It’s only ’cause I luv ya… (and your writing…)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:10:14

Being madly in love should make you want to write MORE! Get moving! I’m with Kimberly here.
(I’m sort of with Kimberly everywhere.)

(Comments wont nest below this level)

2009-06-19 08:35:26

And I can feel you with me, dear cyber-mameleh!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:05:38

I am hovering above you right now, Kimberly.

(To be read in a spooky voice.)

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-06-18 21:19:33

This is one of your more disturbing stories, real life events that had to be dealt with. You wrote a great “dark” comedy describing your mothers torturing needs.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:14:46

Ursula,

Thanks for saying the dark comedy part. I worried over whether I’d told it correctly, which in my mind, is to make people laugh at something quite horrible.

NANA was a really unsettling influence in our lives, but damn good material.

Comment by Yamona |Edit This
2009-06-18 22:01:19

I loved your piece. I laughed my head off and was torn inside at the same time. Strange ways.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:16:33

Yamona,

I love you forever!!!

That was JUST what I was going for!
Please come back to visit often, you are obviously good for my fragile ego.

2009-06-19 01:01:03

Irene, you are are so strong to have survived this mother with so much grace, humor and love. It’s constantly amazing to me how some people survive and some people don’t. You are a survivor. Thank you for being so brave as to share your painful memories AND lend an air of humor about them as well. That must be difficult. I admire you.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:21:20

That is very kind of you, Colleen,

The funny thing is that my brother was the GOLDEN CHILD for my mother. She doted on him and adored everything about him. I do not exaggerate when I say that my mother never wanted me. I know this because she told me repeatedly throughout my life. And yet, here I am doing just fine and it is as though my poor brother was just crushed under her heel. You just never know.

Comment by Henning Koch |Edit This
2009-06-19 02:18:24

Hi Irene,

You write with converted rage, that’s a great achievement, I sense massive effort there… philosophical work… NOTHING ever works to plan… does it?
Hollywood could not make this story, because there is no great ending… the ending can only be what we (you) make it… although you haven’t got to the end of this one yet.

I saw your post as I logged on to post my own… a rambling piece on Berlin… wish I had something more important to write about…

Henning

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:28:32

Henning,
I do have to admit that some stories just flow right out without a hitch and some I feel as though I am pulling endless strands of silk directly from my eyes writing as though I were a spider person. That was pretty dense. I’ll have to see if I can word that in English sometime.

I so look forward to your pieces, Henning. You ALWAYS make me laugh. You have a handle on the human condition that is unlike anyone else. I’m going to read yours as soon as I finish answering my comments. I hope you wrote a funny one this time. I could use a bit of levity.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:00:58

I’ve been thinking about what you said, that I write with converted rage.
I know in my heart that this is true, and yet no one but you has ever said anything like this.
You’re a pretty perceptive guy, Henning.

What are you doing in Berlin?
I liked your Italian stories so much!
Are you some kind of gypsy, or what?

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-06-19 02:34:27

Will you hate me if I say I was laughing hysterically at the beginning?

I now have to go back and catch the beginning segments of this story.

Both of my maternal grandparents had dementia. My grandmother’s especially destroyed me. I couldn’t visit her at the nursing home without tearing up. My brother, too. We both adored her.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 04:32:40

Duke,
I LOVE you for saying you were laughing hysterically. I wish it were not just the beginning, though. I tried for funny all through it.
I’m sorry about your grandparents. It is by far more heartbreaking if you were loved by and you love the person who is vanishing before your eyes.
It’s all material, Duke. That’s how I look at it.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-06-19 05:32:09

I found it all hysterical. Sad too, but Irene, you are such an amazing storyteller, you pull of the tragedy and humour with an effortlessness that is pretty rare. I love your comic timing. Genius.

A friend of the family recently lost a parent to dementia. It strikes me as the most tragic disease. Death is final, there are goodbyes and usually its quick or you can prepare for it. Dementia slowly takes the person you love away from you leaving a confused shell that doesn’t know who you are, nor cares too much.

It’s all part of the experience, the ride. Ups and downs and all that… Irene is right, it is all material. All fiction is real, all life is fiction etc etc.

Dear lord, I hope this one lands…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:18:39

You see, James,

You angered the ether in some way, but apparently now you have mollified it. Your comment appears!

Thanks for noticing the comic-tragic tone. That was what I was after, but sometimes you are too close to something to be able to see it clearly.

HBO just had a special on Dementia and Alzheimers. It was at least 5 hours long, but it scared the pants off me. The person you love disappears and is replaced by something else that you don’t know and yet you are still responsible to care for him. It can ruin the lives of the caretakers.

Thanks for hanging in there, james!

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:41:39

I’d never be able to write something like this, an inability to step back or strike a very fine balance.

Dementia terrifies me, the thought of it. I think my parents will be ok, my mum does all the things that are supposed to keep you mentally sharp.

Luckily its a disease that gets a lot of headlines over here, people are becoming aware of it and how you can try and keep yourself from succumbing.

I have immense respect for the people caring for their mentally diminished loved ones. I suspect I’d become angry, bitter and resentful after a time… I’m aware that its incredibly time consuming with and lacks all the rewarding that comes from physical caring.

It’s a bastard of a thing is dementia.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:06:17

James,
You think you can’t only because you are too young to have experienced it. I’m sorry, but you’ll get there, whether you want to or not.

Are you under the impression that I did not get angry and bitter and resentful?
No no no.
I USED it.
I worked it like clay.
I worked it and I worked it until it became something else.

Not for the feint of heart.
Nope.
Not for the feint of heart.

2009-06-19 05:19:08

wonderful post, irene.

and sure, lenore, go ahead and blame that photo on drugs. actually, i thought it was very sweet. if for no other reason, it further illustrates what a stone-cold fox you are these days.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:44:05

Thanks for reading, Rich.

As far as Lenore goes, that picture was the BEST one of her. She’s making even more horrible faces in the others.
“Stone-cold fox,” eh? Yup. That sounds about right.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:24:14

Also, I do love that painting.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 06:44:45

For the same reason I do, Kate?

Comment by Uche Ogbuji |Edit This
2009-06-19 08:49:39

Rarely have I seen utter bathos told with such utter grace. The painting is a very affecting touch. I wonder with what meaning it invades you when your eyes unexpectedly fall on it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:10:17

Wow, Uche, that really means a lot to me.
You are very kind.
When I see the painting, I choose to see my dad and my newly uncrazy mom and her foot all together in heaven.
Things don’t have to be true for me to believe them.

Comment by Marlene |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:10:21

Irene, should I conclude you don’t believe in assisted suicide? I do. At the end of life, the individual ought to have the possibility of choosing her ultimate destiny.
I’ll make sure Liam -my nine year old son- grants my death wishes if the time has come I feel Im not living a meaningful life. And celebrate my life in the process -if he chooses to.

Oops. here goes a picture from our trip to Cuba. Only in intention, don’t know how to attach it. It’s a mac.

Hugs,
marlene

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:13:55

Marlene,
I firmly believe in assisted suicide.
I will handle things myself if I am lucid enough to see that I am about to become a burden on my loved ones.
If not, I hope someone, anyone, slips me a mickey, so I can go down for the count.

(E mail me the photo. It’s impossible to get a photo to appear here in the comment section.)

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:16:14

It must have taken a huge effort her whole life to try to keep the craziness somewhat under control until dementia took over and she couldn’t control it any more. I wonder why she chose you to reveal it to when you were growing up. I don’t understand why people do these things to their children.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:21:57

Marcia,
I don’t think my mother could hold herself together if she couldn’t vent her crazy somehow.
I was there. I was helpless. I thought everyone grew up like that.
My dad and brother knew she was sensitive and wanted to be left alone all the time and that she frequently lost her temper and threw things.
But, again. My brother thought that was what was normal.
My dad was barely ever there and when he was he just wanted peace at any cost.
When the crazy broke out of it’s boundaries, it was all over for her.

Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
2009-06-19 09:51:59

Thanks for writing this Mama Zion. You are a great example of bravery and a extremely kind-hearted person.

Big love to you.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:25:22

Megan,
Don’t be fooled.
I kill ants with a vengeance.
I stomp on cockroaches.
I throw snails in the ocean.
I yell invectives at drivers who annoy me, from the safety of my closed car.
I’m not so good.

(But thanks for the love. I can always use love.)

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-06-19 10:29:06

First – great new pic. Love it.

Second – SUCH a sad story. I am so sorry you had to go through that.

Third – Why is it that old people think other people are stealing their clothes in those places? My grandma went through this exact same paranoia. Why would ANYONE want to steal clothes that smell of incontinence? It makes no sense whatsoever.

Fourth – Lenore was definitely high in that pic. No doubt in my mind.

( :

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 11:36:22

Erika Rae,

That picture was my life for a very long time. (shudders all around)
It’s not only my sad story. Thousands, (millions?) of people go through living with crazy all the time. It leaves a heaviness in your chest that never goes away.

I DON’T KNOW! She was adamant that her stupid size less than zero clothes were being stolen and sold on some black market.
She would complain to the nurses that I hadn’t visited in months when I had just left her room an hour before.
and on and on and on.
G_d will it be good to finally get this all out of my head and on paper, so to speak.

Yeah. I know. Tim was too. ALL the time. In school, during school, at home. Victor and I were total idiots. We can see it now, but except as a cautionary tale for other parents, what good does that do?

Thankfully, in spite of us, they turned out just fine.
Miracles happen.
My only explanation.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-06-19 12:43:09

I was not a witness to all of this but to some of it, and it was true. Sadly, growing old is not for sissies.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-19 16:16:21

Taking care of a demented parent did not spare you, either, did it, George?
You did it with a grace I don’t think I could have managed.
You are a good guy.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-06-20 17:27:44

I didn’t hate Nana, but I hated most of the time I spent with her.

She always had those horrid chocolates that looked like smashed, white or green, hersey’s kisses. Seeing as how candy was all that mattered, I judged people by the candy they provided. Nana wasn’t much good on that level.

I never knew hot nuts she was, though. I never paid much attention, though, so it is almost certainly my fault.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 04:33:45

Ben,
She DID have horrible taste in candy. I couldn’t eat it either.
I never thought about it before, but it makes total sense that you would have judged people by the candy they provided.
(And, that, kiddo, is a very strange thing.)
You mean to say that you didn’t know she was nuts because you didn’t pay any attention to her, right? If that’s what you meant, I’m really glad. You escaped the worst then.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-06-20 18:15:13

I remember this being a creepy time. Having to visit as often as we did was not cool, Mom.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 04:50:08

In hindsight, Tim, I completely agree with you. It was creepy and it was not fair to subject you and Lenore and Ben to her craziness. I feel really bad about it.
I even felt bad about it at the time, but I was under the illusion that seeing you three would lift her spirits.
I was beside myself, virtually. I felt so much responsibility to make her want to live that I pulled out all the stops. You three were not stops I should have pulled out. I should have realized that it wouldn’t help her and would hurt you. I should have. I know that.
But I didn’t up to this point.
The part that follows this you know nothing about. At least you can allow me that. I’m a slow learner, but I did learn eventually.
I can only say I’m sorry.
I wish there were more I could offer.

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:03:07

No regrets, mama…. no regrets.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 14:47:06

Oh Josie. How do you do the no regrets thing?

(Comments wont nest below this level)

Comment by josie |Edit This
2009-06-21 10:01:35

That was painful to read.
It really hurt to giggle.
But the raw truth is radiantly beautiful.

Thanks for writing these stories Irene. What you give here on the page is like a tonic for the souls of many…

And I like the grape flavor.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-21 14:50:06

Josie,

If it helps anyone I would be pleased.
It is certainly raw truth.
My soul has been coughing a dry burning cough for years.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-06-22 02:46:10

midget is perjorative.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-22 05:36:23

ksw,

Don’t I know it.
I’ve given up on being politically correct. it’s too exhausting to keep up with the rules.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-06-22 09:28:11

Life is usually more interesting than fiction. You have proven that over and over again with the stories you have shared about your life and family. Keep writting!

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-06-22 12:31:11

Thanks, Amy.
Non-fiction rocks!

Comment by Yamona |Edit This
2009-06-22 21:01:27

I work for an Indian newspaper actually. I wish we had more writers like you. I guess the good ones here escape into writing novels and fiction. I’m quite enjoying the comments between your family, the conversations really. It feels like voyeurism though, snooping into your ‘family matters’. But then again, this is a public forum. I love the painting too. Somehow, the quirkiness makes me think this should be a short film. It scared me though, this short story. I’ll visit again, for sure, not just to fluff your fragile ego, but for my own amusement.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-23 02:47:49

Thanks, Yamona!

To really get a taste of the family chronicle you should read my stories from the first on, which, oddly, means the last one upwards.

I have to say that I really enjoy the comments also. They’re half the fun.
(And none of us would be writing if we didn’t want it to be read. Therefore not voyeurism.)

My grandhildren are half Indian. Maybe I can write for your newspaper.

Comment by Pat Gray |Edit This
2009-06-23 18:23:23

Irene
I always get such a kick out of your stories. I always thought my family was nuts but yours always seems to top any of our stories. Great story! Great writing! Great imagination – but I am not sure you imagined any of it (all true)! Keep it up! It is always so much fun to read!!

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-24 05:09:44

Well, Pat, although I think I do have a fair to middling imagination, this here stuff is 100% true.
Crazy-ass true.
Certifiable true.
My life in words.

Comment by the kayak lady |Edit This
2009-06-24 14:30:00

irene,

you are getting braver to write about NANA and all the craziness. it is an entertaining and disturbing story. makes me think my mother is way normal and that i am a fortunate girl to be born into the family i picked to be born into this time around.

keep me linked for more stories…..

mary )

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-24 15:47:49

Heck, Kayak lady,
How did you get to PICK?
That is totally not fair.
Plus you live to be a million years old and still lucid and feisty in your family.
I want some of that!

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-06-24 18:15:33

Awesome stories / dialogue / everything!

I’m ready for round 2.

Also, I’m going to have some fresh fruit, sans baggie.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-06-25 06:55:22

Aaron,

The bags are good for lots of things though, like packaging up messy garbage and picking up poopy when you walk your dog, etc.

I think the danger lies in the scotch tape.

I think there should be a warning on scotch tape:

WARNING: Do not use scotch tape to tape a fruit baggie around your neck for the purpose of suicide. This could result in suicide.

Comment by Ruthie |Edit This
2009-06-30 12:29:37

I was exhausted just reading about all the care you gave your mother. It is too, too bad that she was too looney to appreciate any of it. And to have to hear such a mean comment from your brother, ugh! and double ugh! You get a gold star from me for being an incredible daughter.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-03 13:03:16

It is so easy to see why I love you, Ruthie!

Valentine

By Brin Butler

Essay

She bought a one-way plane ticket over here around midnight. She bought it on the same week, same day, same *hour* that a couple, same age as us—who it turns out might’ve got engaged that same day— got smoked by an SUV that blew through a crosswalk.

The 18 year old drunken kid behind the wheel had stolen the SUV and brought along two younger girls in the back seat. Maybe he was trying to impress them by driving fast. I dunno. I do know that after killing that couple he ran off and tried to swim across the icy-cold inlet to the opposite shore but a police dog nabbed him before he could get away.

Yesterday I went over to where that couple died. There was a little shrine against one side of a tunnel underneath a bridge.

There were some people milling around trying to find the spot because the story had been front page in the newspapers. They were giddy and confused but also ready to be upset. It made me uneasy. There were a few crosswalks to choose from pretty close by. The actual location is a bit tucked away. I was alone for a minute and lit up a cigarette after I found a poem by Rilke taped onto the wall of the tunnel and in no time a throng of other tourists piled in.





On Hearing of A Death

We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us

a false impression. The world’s stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.

But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.

We keep on playing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times

overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.

Other people poking around to find the spot saw us and came over. It was them looking for it with a combination of disorientation and slight panic that reminded me of something I’ve never written about or really talked about either. I mean, what that crosswalk and my girlfriend’s one-way plane ticket have in common I’m not too sure. A lot of it is a big emphasis on a *beginning*, a start, a first page, first-sight, taking a chance. I love beginnings and hate goodbyes.

Five years ago I took a girl to Madrid and we arrived the day after the bombing of the Atocha train station. It’s not Grand Central or the Gare du Nord, but it’s an awfully nice place to see and has its own charm. I had a reservation for us at a little pension about 4 blocks from the blast. I’d picked that pension because it was sandwiched between the train station and the Prado. I boxed in Madrid daily and had to pass through Atocha every day to get there and on the way back I’d meet up with Jackie and we’d see El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Salvador Dalí at the Prado or the Reina Sofia where little boys and girls demonstrate some of the differences between boys and girls with their approach to dealing with pigeons (girls nice, boys evil).

After the horror of the explosion, one of the most bizarre, disturbing things before the ambulances got there was the lack of silence. Hundreds of dinky melodies rang out and clashed for hours that everyone was afraid to deal with. Imagine a decked out Christmas tree except that every ornament is a cellphone: that’s how Atocha chimed from all corners as families desperately tried to see if their loved ones were unlucky.

I get spooked when somebody dies meaninglessly. Hemingway said the only difference between people is the details of how we live and how we die. Gaudi getting smashed by bus, or Nick Drake overdosing on anti-depressants, or Lennon getting wacked in front of his doorstep, or Plath sticking her head in that oven—you can’t look at their life or their art the same way. I guess that’s why I was a little comforted when more and more details came out about that pair who died at the crosswalk. They felt like supposition to sell papers but still, it was obscenely difficult not to wonder:

A friend had suggested she’d found out about the ring but kept it from him to not spoil the surprise. Did he pop the question at dinner that night? Her friends said she’d been looking through bridal magazines. What’d they talk about at dinner? Did they ever talk about how they’d want to die? Did he not leave a very good tip and she suddenly took in, FUCK, I’M GONNA MARRY A CHEAPSKATE! Maybe she even told him as a joke. Did they ever wonder about the possibility of dying at the same time at a happy moment in their lives and sorta hanging up their lives for everyone they cared about on the peg of never spending another moment apart? How violently beautiful is that? Boy, hit-and-run—who’d see that one coming? Probably nobody who knew them. Maybe those two little girls in the back seat for about a split second.

I was so happy when my girl bought a ticket over here to start a life with me I just stared at the confirmation for 20 minutes without it really sinking in. I never said so, but I felt like we had some stacked odds working against us. This long distance thing for the last year is rotten stuff. Pen pals with the odd bi-monthly conjugal visit isn’t much of a dream situation. And it’s clumsy to admit I wouldn’t have remembered the day she bought that ticket without what happened to this couple who never get any more tomorrows together in the way I hopefully will. Maybe one day some little brat will ask me about when mommy first came over here and even though I’ll lie through my teeth and talk about my seven failed Russian mail-order bride-marriages before I’m slapped by anyone within earshot (and they’ll hit hard); it was February 10th, on a *choose*day, we both slipped on some kind of banana peel taking a crack at something and I wouldn’t have known or especially cared if it weren’t for some piece of shit kid who plowed into this couple. Not fate, just someone who’ll have to do or accomplish god knows what to have anything other than this senseless act define him for the rest of his life. Some punk with a chip on his shoulder trades it in for a fucking millstone. But at the same time, here I am using his millstone as a lucky charm.

See why I sent this to you and not her?

It has been a long winter, and the season isn’t even half-over. I see in the news today that Snuggie has sold over four million units. How many times have I seen the Snuggie commercial? Too many. So many times, in fact, that I actually know what a Snuggie is, not to mention how stupid it looks, or the three lame, universally unflattering colors it comes in.

My kids are each clamoring for a Snuggie. No way in hell, I think to myself. “But it comes with a booklight. Two booklights. The whole situation is two-for-one,” my pragmatic nine-year-old daughter says. I picture the family swathed in Snuggies—teal green, red, royal blue (with one color repeating). All of us looking like mental patients, camped out on the couch, vegetating in front of the television or reading separately with our blue, clip-on book lights.

“Those lights are a $15 value!” my youngest exclaims. I think to myself how many book lights I’ve personally gone through. Fifteen dollar value, ha. I am sure those things are made in China, as is the Snuggie itself, probably. I bet the hem is unfinished. I bet it pills up the first time you wash it.

“You can save money on your heating bill if you have a Snuggie!” a child shouts, trying to seal the deal as I stumble from the room, away from these kids who have been sadly brainwashed into wanting Snuggies.

The problem isn’t the Snuggie itself, of course. The problem is television, and too much of it. The problem is also the weather, which has been awful, cold, rainy, gray. The problem is that I have so much work to do when I’m at home, and tapping away on my laptop while the kids play computer games or watch “Sabrina, the Teen-Age Witch” is just convenient.

I also recently broke my ankle, so skating is out. Dog-walking in on hold for who-knows-how-long. I want to take the kids indoor rock climbing at GoVertical, but I’m not sure I can do it right now. My ankle is packed with metal hardware, and it’s not very flexible. I’m not good for much, lately.

As this miserable season slowly passes, I daydream about living somewhere warm, some state where the cold won’t seep into and stiffen all the screws and plates that are holding my ankle together. Giving in and buying a Snuggie, wrapping myself in palpable polyester defeat and lying on the couch until springtime seems tempting, but also akin to writing a suicide note.

So play on, Snuggie commercial. I have cut up my credit cards. I am wearing a sweater. My house is highly insulated. I am immune to your siren song. I won’t be lulled into buying that cowl-necked, fluffy hospital gown. It would feel too much like impending death.