The Promise and Regret of a Father’s Protection

My chest started blossoming when I was nine years old. I tried to hide the budding embarrassments by hunching my shoulders forward and wearing loose clothing. Nobody else my age had these “things” growing on their chests. Why me?

One day as I walked home from the “Corner Store” as we referred to the relatively small supermarket three blocks away, distinguishing it from the much smaller local stores owned by Mr. Taylor (the mean one) which was right across the street from our apartment and Mr. Daniels (the nice one), which required a five-minute walk across an empty field.

With a small bag of the purchases I had made in one hand, I watched as Alex Rawlings walked toward me. Alex was tall for his age and I had become aware at school and around the neighborhood that he noticed me. I was not impressed and always ignored and avoided him.

As we passed each other on the sidewalk, Alex reached over and grabbed one of my budding boobs and squeezed. I screamed in embarrassment and horror and ran the rest of the way home suppressing tears as I ran. As I entered the door, my father looked at me and said “Baby Girl, what’s wrong?” I replied,  “Alex Rawlings messed with me” as the tears broke loose as I held my hand over my chest. My father did not say another word. He went over to the closet, got a baseball bat and disappeared into the fading sunlight for about three hours. When he returned, night had fallen; he said nothing to me.

I didn’t see Alex for quite sometime after that; however, whenever I walked through the neighborhood and he saw me coming (or going), Alex hastily crossed to the other side of the street or turned and went in the other direction. I always smiled when I saw him.

I miss my dad.

Regret: When Violence Strikes Home

There is an evilness that lurks, watching and waiting for the vulnerable, smiling a wicked, crooked smile when it takes human form to perform its heinous tasks. This monster will creep in and strew hurtful, painful, unspeakable acts of viciousness without concern or trepidation.

In October 2009, a kind, giving man who always wanted to belong was murdered. He was a caring man who could easily be manipulated in the name of “friendship.” His gentle soul and pleasant countenance was all wrong for the life-style he led. His need to be part of the group and his gentleness left him exposed in that world that he chose to live in. It was a world where his older brother lived and encouraged him to join in the way that only an older brother can. However, when the evil one crept into and covered this gentle soul with violence and death, his older brother was not there to protect him and neither was I, his older sister.

He was hardly a threat to anyone. Ten years previously, veins from his legs were removed to place in his heart for a double bypass. After that surgery, he walked with a cane to steady his weaken legs.

He was beaten to death. His hands and feet were bound. A plastic bag covered his head, bound with wire around his neck. His spleen was ruptured. The coroner said he may have been kicked while he was down; that might explain the rupture. His apartment was set on fire.

The Certificate of Death read as Cause of Death (1) Hemothorax – my medical dictionary says that means blood in the chest space between the chest wall and the lung most commonly caused by chest injury (2) Left rib fracture and splenic maceration – meaning fractured ribs and ruptured spleen (3) Blunt force injury to left flank (side).

And yet, the demons twisted evilness wanted more. They set a fire to the apartment, causing second-degree burns to the left side of his body and placing other innocent adults and children living in that building in harm’s way. Yet somehow, my brother was given strength to those bound, weakened legs; given purpose to that beaten body and breath to that plastic-covered air deprived mind and brain and in his panic, pain and beaten, crippled state, somehow he managed to get to the doorway of that burning building where he was found. He died in a local hospital.

He was my brother and when violence strikes home, its effect is kinetic. His blood flows through my veins and until the memorial service, whenever I was alone, in the silence of my room, I could feel his pain; I could feel his panic. I could hear the sounds and feel the hot breath of the fire as he – and I – struggled for air and a way to get out of that burning room. Dear God, have mercy.

Death by violence perpetrated by demons in human form presents a different kind of problem for those who remain living. Our spirits cry out for justice.

I found that I could not depend on the police for justice. My regret is a question: How does one seek justice when there seems to be none? I could not afford to pay someone to find and “bump off” the perpetrators of the evilness. So, I prayed that I could work toward balance and grace where there was chaos, strife and violence. I prayed for joy where there was sorrow and shame.

Once we held his memorial service where we lifted him up in prayer, song and praise, asking blessings for his life, my feelings and visions of panic and pain dissipated. A feeling of peace enveloped me and I knew that he was with God.

Funerals and memorial services are practiced for the living as well as the dead. The practices vary in different cultures; however, the outcome, in most cases, is that we say goodbye to the loved one and pay tribute to his or her life, establishing closure and finality.

As I stated in an earlier post, I don’t think much about how he died, I think about the fun, goofy things we did when we were young. And although I still seek justice, I am at peace knowing that justice will be served at some point; I truly believe that. But for now, I want to encourage an environment of peace, kindness and love…just like my brother always wanted.

Regrets: A Different Kind of Battle

As I write this journal to explore this process called aging, I want to look backward and forward at once. Do I have regrets? You bet I do; in fact, I have many.  My realization that the regrettable dissing of one silken shoe emphasizes my question, is there promise?  I believe there is. Even in a society that worships youth, body image and beauty, I can pass the mirror early in the morning, scream in horror at the surprising image that I see and then, adjust quickly to acceptance of that image and be thankful that I’m still here.

The battles of aging are quite different from those exciting battles of youth. These are conflicts against a hidden and silent foe where only the outcome is evident. How can a human battle a foe that is wished for, then at the same time, decry its results? One can “live long and prosper” as Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Spock proclaimed in Star Trek; however, we cannot live long and remain young, in this society, holding on to youth as the holy grail of remaining here.

There are cultures that pay homage to the aged. Not here in the United States. The aging process here is about “looking good.” What a supercilious way of looking at life. Yoda, in Star Wars was one of the strangest looking creatures created by George Lucas; however, Mr. Lucas’ view of wisdom, instigated by the writings and teachings of Joseph Campbell, shows us that wisdom comes from unusual sources. It’s not beauty that teaches us. We must dig a little deeper to find the essence of living a long life. What does living long mean? How and what do I want to do with a long life? If I live long and prosper, what then? What if I don’t prosper? Being old and broke is not a good thing.

As I slip into the mysterious unknown, with death waiting as the only sure thing, the battle becomes one of mind over matter. Acceptance of the process or the never- ending (and expensive) fight against a process that is inevitable is the judgment each of us must make.

I realize that I have written about this in an earlier post; however, the conflict is real every day, every time I pass that mirror. Will I become tired of the worsening signs? Will the gray hair growing everywhere cause me to give up in defeat and run into the Botox booth? Will those smile lines that do not go away whether I smile or not sadden me and take away my joy?

These are the questions that I ask myself as I ponder my worthiness of being an elder who may not be glorified for wisdom, but only looked upon as to whether I am beautiful to look upon.

May the force be with me!

Regret: Night Sounds

With racing heart I rushed into the warm night, no sleeves, no bra. Straining to see, my weak eyes searched the darkness to see her. Why didn’t I reach for my glasses before leaving my bedroom? I could hear her voice seemingly far, far away…not of the present…maybe someone’s television set, or maybe the radio, iPod, or Pandora. It couldn’t be the latter two because it was not music to my ears. It would have been great if it were music. Jazz or even better some nerve calming classical, or maybe the blues. No, no, not the blues, not now.

Life can be a bitch/bastard!

 

Regrets Regarding Socks

Socks cover your feet, most often before placing shoes on. Socks can also be received or placed on someone, maybe, not happy with something you/they said or did (as in a sock to the jaw). Socks come in pairs, as shoes do. So, what do socks have to do with regret in my life? I think socks can be another metaphor for things that come in pairs, that seem unusable when one is missing and only one remains as a symbol of what used to be.

However, there are uses for a lone sock. My mother used to keep a “little extra” in a sock stuffed in her garter held stocking with the top of the sock folded over the outside of the stocking to secure the precious coins and bills carefully hidden there. I first discovered her secret when she decided to take the four of us, my three brothers and myself, to see Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” at the movie theatre.

I walked to the ticket window of the theatre with Mom as my brothers excitedly waited together at the wide windowed door entrance. Their eyes aglow and feet unable to remain still as they observed the other patrons buying popcorn, hotdogs, drinks and candy before the next surreptitious entrance into the darkened seated tiers behind the next set of doors. As today, for anything waited for, the prices had increased for this movie and Mom had only a certain amount of money in the ready to pay for our tickets. As she stepped out of line to move to a darkened corner of the arched building front, I watched in horror as she turned her back to the busy gathering and lifted the hem of her dress to the top of her stockinged left leg as she pulled out the socked away stash. As she let her dress fall back into place and my embarrassment eased, she calmly and coolly, stepped back in line and paid for our tickets. If she saw my mortification, she did not recognize it.

Another memory of that experience is that after the infamous shower scene where we endured the shock of Janet Leigh’s character being murdered (unheard of, at that time, where an A-Lister is bumped off early in the story line), audible screams and moans could be heard throughout the theater, above that never-to-be-forgotten sound track of the knife’s fatal blows. We were all scared silly. My brothers seemed to take the scene pretty well, scared, but in control. However, when the detective, played by Martin Balsam, was accosted on the stairs with the same, screeching sound track, my oldest brother disappeared. We found him under the seats of the theatre. To this day I cannot figure out how he managed to get his ten-year-old body under those seats.

There is another meaning for the word when used to impress – as in “to knock the socks off.” The word in that phase, so used, can be an attribute: in the workplace (as in making a great presentation), in the fashion world (as in the look of a well put together garment), or in the public presentation of oneself (as in the looks of beautiful people of the fashion world, silver screen or television). Some are born with the type of beauty that literally takes one’s breath away (or knocks your socks off). I’ve met those in my life that were blessed with that kind of beauty and I can say that it worked for the betterment of some, but, for others, it worked as a detriment. They reached their peak in high school or college but could not retain that same glory regarding their looks and/or impressive skills in sports, such as track, basketball or football. Or, for others, their physical beauty simply and quickly faded naturally. Some of the beautiful people I knew got drawn into the dark side, caught into that kind of lifestyle where the blazing light of their beauty was eventually squashed, a slow smothering their brightness until it dimmed and flickered out. Unfortunately, in my day, nerds did not receive the respect they do today, unless they were beautiful nerds.

Physical beauty can therefore be a blessing or a curse. Today’s society puts so much prestige in beauty, if I could choose, would I select inner or outer beauty? My granddaughter often compares her looks to her friends and companions (the size of her butt, breasts and even the shape of her eyebrows!). She didn’t get that trait from me, at least I hope not.  I cannot convince her that she is unique and that being perfect does not ensure a good and happy life. Inner beauty cannot be easily described. There is an effect on the outer looks that the calmness, honesty and goodness of inner beauty that enhances. I would like to think that I would choose inner beauty; however, come to think about it, once you have the outer, you have the option of working on the inner.

I’ve only socked someone once in my life and that was when a younger me had to beat up the neighborhood bully to protect my brothers. I wear mated socks around the house for warmth, in winter especially. Mated socks go into my tennis shoes. Some women wear socks with heels and manage to pull it off and look good doing so.

So what so I do with one single sock? When a sock disappears in the dryer, do I trip regarding one unmated sock as I did/do regarding one silken shoe? Heck no!

 

Regrets?  What About Promises?

Looking through the prism of the past, and the jolting reality of the present, what can one expect as the promise of aging. More important, is there any promise in aging or does one just live one day at a time feeling blessed that you wake up each morning?

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog; but it’s worth repeating because of the unexpected shock of passing a mirror one morning and glancing at an old woman whom I didn’t recognize, staring back at me. I stood stupefied looking at the messy hair, the sagging skin, and the washed out coloring, and asking myself “when in hell did I become this?” I had a bootylicious butt and small waist, with big sparking brown eyes and plump lips. That was the young “thing” I once was. I was never the beauty that my friend Shane was. I remember once walking into a bar with her and an up and coming business man, whom we both knew, came toward us and as he dropped down onto his drunken knees; he proposed marriage to Shane. He was not embarrassed and no one in the crowded bar seemed to take notice. Shane had that kind of effect on men. She was beautiful.

The fabled fountain of youth has been found and is being offered in the form of Botox and plastic surgeries. This fountain can be bathed in; submerging oneself into the painful waters that only hurt for a relatively short while with the promise of smooth skin and fat-free bodies. The moneyed and the wanna-bees hock their lives and/or inheritance trusting the promise of those knives and needles that have become the mystical waters searched for by voyagers and explorers of yore.

It’s not just women who wish to dive into and swim in the dangerous waters of the fountain. Men, bravely and boldly choose to navigate the knives and needles of the precious fountain too. They too, hang on to what used to be. After the shock of seeing myself as I am now, I wonder where did my youth go? When did the years sneak up on me and surreptitiously and criminally change my appearance? As I looked in the mirror each day, why couldn’t I see the changes as they occurred? It was really a jaw dropping experience to, at once, see oneself as an “old lady.”

Younger men refer to me as “mam” now. Even the ones with bald heads or grey hair no longer turn as they used to when I walk by. These days, the new reality is a relative going into hock for breast implants in her fifties. Another friend, a few years older than me, claimed that her swollen face and puffy eyes was due to “problems with aging” – well she didn’t actually lie. Her facial skin is now as smooth as a baby’s butt. She really looks marvelous.

Aging gracefully is the answer. But, how do you do that? A nip here, a tuck there, a needle as well – is that graceful? A good example of the dichotomy is Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and her daughter, Melanie Griffith who starred in “Working Girl.” Google each of them and it’s amazing how beautiful the mother is with her aging face still beautiful and obviously not cosmetically altered, compared to her daughter. It’s not about the genes – Melanie was a beauty in her day. The difference in how they each have aged.

For a price, doctors offer the murky waters of that sought after fountain that I once dreamed of as a warm inviting place like the waters of the Caribbean, is now filled with knives, needles, strong lights and a doctor’s/surgeon’s steady hands that renders pain, blood and gobs of fat. Joan Rivers has swum too often in the dangerous waters, in my opinion. However, she seems as happy as one with her personality can be.

Am I going to take a chance on getting into the water? Maybe Botox. But, not plastic surgery; however, a little suction for getting rid of that stomach roll might not be so bad!

Aging brings about the break down of the body requiring pills, salves, other required surgeries and every kind of restriction imaginable from food, drink and activities. Can you blame one for wishing to look good as you break down?

However, as of right now: with acceptance and promise, play the music, take away the mirrors and sing with me as I gracefully dance into the daylight, laughing and unafraid.

King Kong: A Story of Regret and Remembrance

I grew up in the projects of a relatively small Bay Area town in California. Although, at present, it has an undeserved reputation for crime and violence (and there is much more than there should be), in those days, during and after WWII, there was a dignified innocence in being poor and struggling for survival. I was the oldest of four children and the only girl.

The project buildings had been built to house the tidal wave of mostly poor migrants from the South lured by the siren song of jobs and riches offered by the non-stop churning of riveting steel in the ship-yards of WWII. My town was one of those teaming industrial port towns. We lived in a two bedroom downstairs unit. Above us lived the handsome Napoleon, his tiny, beautiful wife, Naomi and their young son, Lester. Week-days consisted of walking the three blocks to the Boulevard, arriving just in time to watch the lumbering yellow bus chug to an exhaustive stop to transport our neighborhood children to school. However, Saturdays were special. On Saturday mornings Mom and Dad slept late while the four of us gathered around the radio to be transported to other worlds of fiction and fantasy. I can still hear “plunk your magic twanger, Froggy” and “that’s my dog Tide, he lives in a shoe, I’m Buster Brown, I live in there too.” A catchy commercial was as important then as now. From fairy tales to super-heroes, they were there waiting for us as our sleepiness was replaced with wide-eyed wonder at the sounds that emanated from the mahogany, bullet shaped box, stoking each of our imaginations for a few hours of giggles, shoves and shut-ups on Saturday mornings.

Saturday evenings offered a different kind of entertainment as the sound of music filled the air as doors slammed and voices buzzed with expectation. It was Saturday night and there was always action at Red Robin pool hall and bar, Minnie’s bar or sometimes a dance at the Civic Center Auditorium for Dad and resentfulness for Mom. There was definitely a double standard – the men went out on Saturday nights and only a certain type of woman was seen regularly in the bars and pool halls, but everyone went to the dances at the auditorium. There was usually the obligatory fight that Naomi and Napoleon performed for the neighborhood. We kids listened for the yelling to start; followed by the scuffling, then the thud of a body hitting the floor. When the ambulance came and the EMTs brought down the body of a bleeding Napoleon, we would strain to ascertain the seriousness of the beat-down that he had taken this time. He went to the hospital; she went to Red Robin. He would miraculously return home at some point (I think he would sneak upstairs upon return) and they would commence being the loving couple until the next Saturday night. I never knew where Lester was during the Saturday night fights.

Between the radio shows and the fights, Saturday offered another treat for us. If we were good; if we had been obedient; if our father deemed it OK; we could go to the movies; if there was enough money. After all it cost twenty cents per child, plus the cost of popcorn, a soda and a Power House five-cent candy bar. The cost was not much by today’s standards; however, after the war was over and shipyard lay-offs took effect, money was fugally managed.  Dad searched for work, while Mom worked at the Del Monte Cannery. She worked with peaches and often came home with the skin peeling from hands scalded from handling the hot fruit.

Although the original “King Kong” was made in 1933, in the early 1950’s it came to our local theatre. The advertisements were spine tinkling and breathtaking. “A Monster of Creation’s Dawn Breaks Loose in Our World Today!” This movie was the topic of conversation at school and anywhere else that people gathered. We all wanted to see “King Kong.” And no one wanted to see it more than my brother Chance. He was the middle brother. Chance usually followed the lead of my oldest brother, Earl; however, on this issue, Chance was his most outspoken self. His eyes sparkled and his lips quivered when the subject was the giant gorilla. Looking back, I believe that Chance’s creative side was intrigued by the thought of seeing on screen this product of Ray Harryhausen’s creative genius.

In those days, so unlike children of today, you did not talk back to your parents. It was unheard of in our community. So, late one evening, although we had been told there was no money for movies, my brothers and I had conspired and they had convinced me to approach my dad about letting go to see this special movie that everyone, even he, had been talking about. Being the only girl and the oldest, I was my dad’s favorite. I got good grades, cooked in my mom’s absence, cleaned house and watched after my brothers. It was decided that if anyone could convince my dad to let us go, it would be me.

The four of us approached Dad together (Mom was at work). He was searching through his toolbox and kept up his search rattling the various tools, as I had to lift my voice to be heard over the static sound. “Daddy, can we go to see “King Kong” this Saturday? “What you say Baby Girl?” I said in a louder voice “We’ve all been good, can we go to the movie and see “King Kong”?  He looked at the four of us with one eye half closed and his answer was a curt “No. I turned to walk away. Two of my brothers, my oldest and youngest, turned with me. However, Chance hung back a little, then turned slowly to follow us, but said under his breath, “I want to see “King Kong.” That moment froze in time. Everything slowed. Horrified, I turned to see my dad’s reaction. I looked at Chance whose head was lowered in dejection. The overhead light fixture reflected against his bowl haircut’s shiny scalp. “What you say, boy? You want to see “King Kong?” All right then get your tail outside and run around this building until you see “King Kong.”

Chance tried a feeble show of defiance and attempted to puff out his chest as he stomped toward the door. The night air was balmy. A full moon glimmered a pale yellow smile at Chance as the starry blanket blinked in random play twinkling down at skinny nine year old as he ran around the twelve family unit (two levels of six). We were ordered to helplessly watch as he twice passed the front door. As he began his third lap, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I decided to take a chance on defying my father too. I ran through the kitchen to the back of the house and from my mom and dad’s bedroom window I could see from the street light the shadow of a haggard and perspiring Chance as he approached. I whispered in a frantic voice as loudly as I could “Tell him you see “King Kong.” He didn’t seem to hear me on that lap; however, on the fourth lap his gait had so slowed, I knew that he heard me as I whispered even louder “Tell him, tell him that you see “King Kong.” I hurried back to the living room and waited to see if Chance would make his admission to Dad. Chance passed us again going for another lap. Finally on the fifth turn, a sweating, Chance with his tongue hanging out in exhaustion, probably ten pounds lighter, staggered through the door into the living room and with a dazed look in his eyes he told my dad in a choking voice. “Daddy I saw “King Kong.” My dad looked up at Chance in a dismissive way and with a “harrumph,” put his toolbox away.

We finally got to see “King Kong” and not one of us enjoyed it as much a Chance did. His eyes danced and the smile on his face lit up the room whenever he talked about the big ape.
It’s ironic the things you remember about loved ones who have passed on. I told the story of Chance and the ape at his Memorial Service. He died in a local hospital, the result of a tragic beating. His life was one of missed opportunities. His love and devotion to his older brother lead to a degeneration of values where he found comfort living the kind of life that his sweetness and kindness left him without protection or escape. Could I, as his older sister have done more? I don’t know, but I do now realize that he was probably an undiagnosed dyslectic, which would explain his problem in learning to read.  Would that explain his total adoration and dependency on an older brother who could not protect him when a monster attacked?

I’ve written about his death and how it has affected me. For me writing is cathartic. Writing helps with the healing process. The irony is that how he died is not what I dream about, think about and feel. Now, I remember the goofy things that happened when we were young.

The Regret in Her Eyes

Her usually lively, luminous, brown eyes stared blankly from under slack skinned lids that drooped secretively allowing no reading of intent or stability. Her usually softly voiced speech cadence that aimed words at my aging ears which often required an agitated request for repeating now speed raced from chapped and peeling pouty lips betraying her usual slow-paced body movements and physicality. Her shoulder length hair hung limply pinned to one side with the fewer pinkish purple dyed strains over powering the many naturally darker hair strains. Her slim eighteen year old body leaned forward in urgency as she sat across from me in the gray chair, at the gray table in the gray room of the mental facility was carelessly dressed in sweats and a t-shirt as the words spilled forth so fast that I could hardly keep up with or understand. But what I did hear were the breathlessly repeated ones – “no one listens to me.” Even as I knew these words were being spoken by my sweet loved one who was not in control, I suspected the words came from a place of truth. “Even me?” I asked. “Sometimes” was the response as she averted the half lidded blank eyes from my anxious ones.

I had prayed that there would be no more “episodes.” I asked God and the angels to bring peace and protection from those inner demons that the medical world diagnosed as Bi-polar. I prayed that the medication, growing older and the change in circumstances at home would ameliorate and calm her life. Her first episode had occurred when she was only eleven. It was Christmas day and we were celebrating the day’s final gathering at my home after everyone had made their other required rounds of visiting and exchanging gifts, making my place the final eating and gift exchanging destination of the day where we celebrated time together with loads of food, laughter, games and always at least one cuddle under blankets movie the selection of which could be a hilarious short story in itself.

However, this Christmas was to be different. Only days before her anxious parents had taken her to the emergency room with symptoms that included her saying that she was hearing voices. She was checked physically and it was determined that she was mentally fragile and was assigned a psychiatrist and was released from the hospital with a prescription and an appointment with a therapist.  That Christmas day she entered the brightly decorated room without smile or reaction to the warm “Merry Christmas” that greeted her appearance. She had transformed into this well-behaved “Stepford-like” child whose eyes and demeanor seemed unaware of the colorful surroundings or the loving offering of the magi gifts of Christmas they hoped would assuage the whispers of mental instability and mysterious actions by the usually well-behaved child beauty. I had hoped and prayed that she had been cured of this strange melancholy that had overcome the excitable, lovely child whose smile and charm could warm the most frigid heart. However, as her long shapely fingers picked listlessly at the shiny red and green ribbons, the dull eyes only glanced at the extravagant gifts given with much cheer and received with such apathy.

Now, an eighteen year old emancipated minor, we thought, she had overcome the demons; it had been over a year with no episodes. I prayed that the melancholy events were a thing of the past. I prayed that the medication and her now being able to choose who to live with after her parent’s ugly divorce had placed her in a space that brought peace and harmony in her life. Yes, she was still the excitable one who screamed with happiness, and “was sad” when anyone or anything was struggling or in pain. Yet, it had come back. The menace had taken control again, covering her with its spirit sapping power; temporarily leaving her a conflicted empty shell where life and emotional balance once resided. How does one protect ones children’s children from the pain in life especially a pain that is of the spirit? Her secretly made decision to stop taking the medication was made she said, because the meds made her feel “crazy.” No one knew her secret until an argument with her mother escalated into an attack that resulted in a call to the police and a ride to the mental facility in a nearby town.

One has to look for the good in every situation no matter how impossible it seems. That”s the only way to overcome the challenges of life.  She had finished her first semester at the local community college with a 3.3 GPA.  She had to miss her second semester, but that’s OK. Her therapist changed her medication to a reduced strength. She assures me that she takes it every day now. She has enrolled for her second semester and I can only hope and pray that this, my second grandchild, will be ok. Her eyes have returned to the liveliness of old – quick and expressive, lovely and warm. Could I as a grandmother have done anything differently?  What regrets do I have regarding her mental health? Am I taking on a challenge in life over which I had no control?

Was it her parent’s divorce? Or was it more specifically her father, my son, leaving and joining another family? My son fought in court for months and won – getting primary custody of her; however, the adjustment was difficult with a new stepmother, three other children and a new baby sister. She told me that she thought her father, whom she loved dearly, had abandoned her as well as her mother.  It was an ugly breakup as most family breakups are. There were other family dynamics that may have impacted her psychologically; however, it’s the relationship with her father that she seems to find missing, changed or lacking in substance that has trumped all other issues. At eighteen, she chose to live with her mother, leaving the complicated living arrangement with her father behind, yet missing and loving her baby sister and the complexity of feelings for other family members.

I must listen to her. I must not tune out the random words that I sometimes am not sure of. I must get a hearing aid. What else can I do? What should I have done? I regret; but I do not know why – or do I?

Sensible Shoes: Another Shoe Regret

These fatal words from my doctor “wear sensible shoes to lessen your lower back pain and you should work on tightening your stomach muscles with exercise because those muscles effect the strength of your back – and you should lose weight.” What a prescription. Everything was in my power to achieve – regretfully, he was asking entirely too much of me.

How can I remain in “the mix” in sensible shoes? My friend Janie Lynn once warned me that the first thing she notices about a woman is her shoes. I was in my thirties then and was trying keep up with the latest fashions and sensible shoes did not fit. No matter the pain and/or imbalance, shoes, make the outfit.  Ladies, have you ever watched a woman with swollen feet stuffed into cutesy shoes painstakingly walk across a room and understood her motive? Wear the cute heels that match the outfit, or put on the shoes that are comfortable, sensible and completely unstylish – what kind of choice is that?

I’ve found that many women have the same reaction as Janie Lynn has on meeting or seeing a new woman arrive – they look at her shoes. Where does that come from? What primordial reaction to other women causes footwear judgment? I can still see Imelda Marcos’ shoe closet with the hundreds of pairs on display and admire Carrie Bradshaw’s love of shoes as she runs through the sidewalks and streets of New York in her stilettos. And no one runs as gracefully as Carrie in high heels (you go SJP).

I was already in an exercise class doing crunches and sit-ups at least three times a week – what more could my doctor want from me? Besides I have always been “big-boned” so even though I was above the average weight for the average 5′ 5 3/4″ almost 5′ 6” woman, I still wore a size twelve, one size under the average fourteen for women of the US. I was still in the going out every weekend stage of my life. I could not be seen in sensible shoes. I already had two children, so my game had to be a good one to compete. I had to look interesting, as well as be interesting, for the men and women who observed me.

Nellie, an older woman who I worked with wore sensible shoes. They were what I considered men-like ones with cushy soles and big square half-inch heels with strings tied with a nice bow at the top of her arch. Nellie also wore pants with elastic waistbands.  She was brilliant, took no prisoners and came to work to do just that in her comfy clothes and comfy shoes. Her wrath was to be avoided and her knowledge was always held in high esteem.

I did start wearing lower heels and went to the drug store for Dr. Scholl’s inserts, which made a big difference when walking or standing; however, my doctor still warned me that I should wear shoes like Nellie’s. He asked me to choose between pain and appearance. Looking back, why was that such a hard choice to make?

I’m still single.

Regrets Regarding Dressing One’s Age

How does one transition into “dressing one’s age? In this unchartered and unmapped journey into older womanhood, how do I remember that I just can’t dress that way anymore? I lustfully look at pictures on the Internet, in magazines and in stores of the shoes that I would love to buy and wear. Those Rhianna-type strappy boot-like ones with cutout toes that tie around mid-calf with thin suede ribbons dangling down the sides that sway sexily with each step are the ones that catch my eyes seen through my myopic/astigmatism progressive lensed glasses. Of course, those shoes would require a skirt or dress short enough to display the wonder of the boot shoes. The skirt or dress would have to have pleats or splits or some other type of hemlines that moved easily with each step allowing the movement of the hem to match the movement of the ties on the boot/shoe. In my mind’s eye, I could purchase the ones with the wedge heels; that way walking would not be as much of a problem. These would be worn at mostly sit down occasions – where standing would be timed for best showing of the shoes. Oh, the regrets of age dressing and my struggles remembering how I once was.

I came into my prime years when hot pants were the rage. Did I have hot pants? Or did I have hot pants? I had them and even wore them to work. For those of you who do not know what hot pants were – they were basically shorts designed and made in materials suitable for work or partying. My friend, who is now a minister, so I won’t name her, used to have a leather pair that she wore with white boots to those special occasions and parties where she danced until the leather popped from the friction of her movements. We laugh together now at how we used to dress and how we used to party. Regrettably, I threw out my hauntingly lovely one silken shoe; however, I still have a pair of hot pants that I did not give or throw away after all these years. They are a mid-thigh length yellow gold color that I keep in that part of my closet where the clothes are mind marked for giving to charity; however, those hot pants have remained a wistful presence, in the same spot for over forty years. When I look at them, memories flood that part of my brain that still remembers the good times and forgets the bad.

I really try to dress my age, although sometimes it’s tough. I have a pair of sailor front black pants with the double row of buttons across the stomach that have a split up the right leg from the hem to just above the knee (a la Angelina Jolie-like Oscar gown; however the split is not quite as high on the thigh as Jolie’s) that I won’t wear anymore after my eldest son commented on the split as we walked through Jack London Square, Oakland on the way to a Mother’s Day celebration dinner. I thought that I was looking pretty good, not realizing that a split is always a split no matter that it ends just above the knee. The illusion that the split represents is the killer that my son resented associated with his mother. I haven’t given those pants to charity yet either. I have convinced myself that I will have the split sewed together and then I will be able to wear the sailor front pants out once more. Then again, I think sailor front, black pants on a 73-year old – maybe not. So, the pants remain in my closet while I ponder their destiny.

Thank god purses don’t carry the same whispers of “that purse is too young for her” mystic that other items of wardrobe do. Except for the animal shapes that my granddaughter used to love – for a minute (I never considered one for myself), my purses have remained stylish for the most part, and only wear out from use.

However, the one secret that I will carry to my grave (please don’t tell), is that I love to wear beautiful, sheer, stylish undergarments. If I am hit by a car and am unexpectedly splayed in the middle of the street and have to be taken to the hospital (the warning that mother’s give their daughters regarding wearing nice panties), I have taken that premise to another level. I will love nice underwear to my life’s end. I guess that’s the rebel in me; or the coward in me, I don’t know which.

I still sometimes wear a pair of ankle strap black suede shoes that have a nice heel that I can walk in. I finally gave away the beloved mesh, see-through tee that I used to wear over a swimsuit top worn with thigh length shorts or long pants. I’ve gotten rid of the low-cut swimsuits that were too bust revealing. That short pleated navy blue skirt that slapped my mid-thigh as I walked; I folded and packed for the church charity clothes drive, to be worn by a much younger congregant; even though I (selfishly?) kept the paisley-print blue and gold cover-your-butt length matching top. I could go on remembering…

The change required in dress code has been a struggle for me. I sometimes wish I could be like Dolly Parton. She seems not to give a flying fish what anyone thinks or says about the way she dresses. Even Pamela Anderson and Aretha Franklin seem to be changing their wardrobe to be more age-appropriate. Here I am sitting in judgment as I watch these celebrities through my mixed lenses, progressive glasses that aid this right eye that waters because my Ophthalmologist says is dry (???).

Between the unwanted hair that grows and grows in unwanted places and the crazy needs required of my eyes in order for me to see and maneuver this ever-changing world, I have come to accept that I am required, no forced to change my thinking, my dress, and my attitude towards life. Some changes are promising; some, I regret. However, I hope that I make mostly right decisions in the way that I age. Gracefully, I pray.

The Ambiguous Pot: A Thanksgiving Story of Regret

“Your name is in the pot” is what my mother used to say. That meant that she was cooking the meal and you were invited – whether you made it to her home to eat or not. I’ve thought of her words, the sayings of which are embedded into the folklore of our family history. Her words, when remembered and often expressed in a reverent tone followed by a silence in which each one of us listening, would slip back in time to her presence on earth. A smile either in secret memory or slowly spreading across a face not wanting to smile because a painful present did not want to consider any form of gaiety. Regret overwhelms an ordinary present that is not ordinary because of time. A present that goes on day after day of living while trying to understand circumstances that you are trying to forget.

Maybe forgetting is not where the answer lies. Maybe dissecting the present that is made up of the circumstances of living the past is the logical thing to do. Let your critical thinking resolve the problem. That’s not an easy task when it’s hard to know what the issue is. Maybe the problem lies with that person in the mirror – then again, maybe not.

Can there be a Thanksgiving dinner when the hurt and pain that one is not thankful for is accelerated by the very occasion itself? Once the family curtain is torn and that fragile beating tenderness is exposed, patching and sewing seems impossible, putting someone’s name in the pot seems so irrelevant. Once the “no, I would feel uncomfortable” words are uttered, the pot deflates, the bubbling aroma of love becomes a pungent smelly thing to be avoided. The table setting, though beautiful and inviting, becomes a pale unnecessary piece of furniture. And no matter that sunlight fills the room, or glistening chandelier lights shine down on the meal, the element of sorrow and emptiness in the atmosphere, leaves much unsaid, even as prayer is uttered in hushed tones.

Dowen, pronounced Do-win, is what we called her from the time my eldest first started talking and called her that name. She was no longer Mom or Punkin (for Pumpkin, I assume, as my father had referred to her). However, my eldest son, in his infancy, called her Dowen and she remained that for the remainder of her life.

She cooked oh, how she cooked. On Sundays, people would come from all around to join in our family dinners. They owned a restaurant/bar, the two of them, and Dowen cooked and Dad ran the bar at night. I can’t compare to her kitchen magic. She could walk into a kitchen seemingly empty of food to prepare for us a meal of fluffy biscuits from flour, water, lard and baking powder; syrup of sugar and water and a little piece of salt pork fried to render the grease to place in the center of the sugar syrup on our plates, while Dad got the small bit of fried meat. Oh, how good it tasted. One quart of milk left by the door early morning by the milk man measured carefully between the four glass jars that we drank from completed our meal. My two sons know that I fall short in her expertise. However, I admit that I’m no slacker when it comes to cooking. It’s just that she had a special something. She used to say that she put love in the pot just where your name was. Do I not put enough love in my pots? Maybe that’s why the thudding ache in my stomach that the visionaries call my “core” is there. It’s that pain choking the center of me tearing me apart, not allowing that sweet river to flow through my body filling every part of me with the love that my mother had in her.

It would seem that love would come from the heart. But, my pain emanates from the center of me, not allowing one end of me to be in contact with the other tearing me in two (now I know what that saying means).  Who would have thought that the man who would be the cause of that kind of pain would be one that I gave birth.

My pain is a family thing. I’m sure many families go through similar situations and either they live through it in pretense and denial or they actually fight at holiday gatherings. Some families look forward to witnessing family members attack each other verbally and physically until the last pugilist leaves for home. Since it’s an expected event, no harm, no pain.

Maybe I’m a sissy, experiencing stomach pain instead of fighting it out. But how does one turn in hatred and anger toward those turned down eyes that once looked up to me in dependence and need. His love has flown on the wings I clipped, crippled in dependence on me to another woman. She knows it to and relishes in it. She tells him what to say and do as I used to. I prepped him for the manipulation. I carefully formed his psyche for her to use her femaleness to control him. It’s my fault. It was how I kept them out of trouble as teenagers. Both of my sons feared my words and my anger even as I loved and guided them to adulthood.

Should I be blamed for how I raised two sons? He left me while I was pregnant with the one now flown away to go to and marry another pregnant woman. He had no care that I had a two-year old in tow and the flown one in my belly.  He married three other times. At our beginning, after a year of dating, he had convinced me that my love was not true if I did not prove it before he reported for a two-week duty assignment for Uncle Sam. My proof immediately became my shame in my junior year in high school. I had good parents and they supported the three of us with love and care until death took them from me. It’s so ironic now that he is older, he’s good to both the flown one who has always desired his love and the older one who does not care.

As I think it out, all that togetherness and guidance has turned into a situation. Words in simple conversation have become daggers flying wirelessly through the air entering my ears and landing point down into the soft flesh turning and twisting to maximize the hurt. The good thing is that I’m losing the weight that I’ve attempted to lose for years. Food does not sit well in a weakened core.

I still smile. The true laughter will return. It always does. If I can conjure up that same love that Dowen carried with patience and beauty until she died, then I’ll be able to put love in the pot as she did with thanksgiving and praise.

Bearded Ladies: A Story of Unwanted Hair Regret

Dealing with and regretting unwanted hair growth is an issue for both men and women, young and older.  However, my experience with those spurious, countless villains post menopause has become an every day life-changing part of my life. An encounter with a friend reminded me of my challenges with this part of aging.

As she chided me for not attending the weekly dance class that she lead, I looked in horror at the long lean face that heretofore had been a welcoming one exuding pleasantness, kindness and quiet beauty. Her face had dark, fine hair growing from all the wrong places for a female. My mind immediately zeroed in on that quarter sized area on the right side of my chin that sprouted the sneaky hairy mini monsters on a continuing basis.  I battled every day the same never-ending war against a stealthy enemy that, to my shame, my double-crossing body worked quietly with.  I fought the urge to feel my own quarter size battleground to check for new growth.  I secretly knew that I would feel something there, there always was. It was just a matter of how much and how long the follicles had grown.

The hair on Minna’s head was fine and curly. She had worn “sister locks” for a number of years and had recently had them cut off to let her natural hair be cut and shaped to a becoming style that she had worn often over the years. As I tried not to stare, while trying not to touch my own face, while still trying to think of another excuse for not attending her dance classes; the sun glinted on Minna’s face accentuating the healthy nature of her mustache and beard.

The irony of the moment was not lost on me as my friend, Asia, from back east, Atlanta to be exact (maybe Georgia is still in the South; however, Atlanta is not), and I had had a discussion last evening concerning facial hair and the problems thereof.  I had stepped out of the shower and looked in the mirror to check on the war-zone to make a tactical decision on what best ammunition to use on this kill. Would it be my favorite tweezers, a weapon I had heard that after a few years of plucking, the follicles would finally stop growing?  Not! (I’ve been tweezing this same area for years, and if anything, it’s getting larger)

I like to sit in bed with my magnifying mirror held in one hand, my trusty, menacing tweezers in the other – going after those sneaky, lying, creatures that hide, grow and multiply on my face against my will. I had gathered my artillery on my bedside table: alcohol, cotton squares, aloe vera, my mirror and my trusty t’s.  I was at first annoyed by the sound of the ringing phone until I saw her familiar number on the display. “Hey lady, what’s up?” I said as I picked up the receiver. “How’s it going in Hotlanta?”  I heard the smile in her voice “Doing well, what are you doing?”  The conversation that followed revealed that although Asia is fifteen years younger than me, she is battling an annoying mustache that was intent on growing on her elegant upper lip. As I had a church event to attend early the next morning, we promised to continue our conversation regarding battle plans, evasions, artillery and munitions in our common ongoing war – as two heads or faces are, better than one.

Next evening, as I prepared for bed, I thought about the revelations of the past twenty-four hours  The church event had been a wonderful concert in the park featuring all types of music: blues, jazz and gospel. It was well attended and well-organized.  Minna and her group had been invited to perform a few dance routines and she lead in some training in the newest “stepping” dance craze enveloping the community. As I envisioned Minna’s shadow beard, Asia’s elegant upper lip mustache and looked at my own freaky right side chin hair, I thought of the circus freaks of my youth.  One of them was the bearded lady. Had I, no, we – become circus freaks?

Was this the ultimate bane of growing old as a female?  Then, I thought, what about men? What is it that they suffer in common in growing old?  Both men and women have the wrinkles war in common with aging – to Botox or not to Botox?  However, the ultimate battle for an aging male seems to have been resolved with the production of the little blue pill called Viagra. No matter how they look or how wrinkled or hairy they are, with that little pill (and financial security), they seem to have conquered the major male aging problem.

Unwanted hair removal is an industry in our country.  Late night television infomercials abound with unwanted hair removal products and kits. You could even get two for the price of one – just pay for separate handling and shipping. I purchased one such product. It worked as advertised; however, the cute little razor with the built-in light only seemed to trigger more growth and I went back to my trusty tweezers. I tried the hair removal creams – didn’t like the smell that seemed to remain on my skin long after the hair was removed. I found waxing to be painful and for such a small area, back to the t’s.

Just thinking of all the areas on my body that I need to do battle with unwanted hair seems overwhelming: legs, underarms, eyebrows, face, sideburns, and the bush.  Luckily, I don’t have the thick, coarse stuff that some others are bothered with.

Now, why do we care? Why do we spend so time and effort at war with our bodies?  And further, why did I react to Minna’s choice with horror and judge her.  Some men like hairy legs. Academy Award winner, Mo’ Nique says she and her husband love her hairy legs.  The French are not ashamed of underarm hair on their women.  Latin American artist Frieda Kahlo’s eyebrows met in the center of her forehead and Diego Rivera loved her until her death.  A young Audrey Hepburn had the thickest eyebrows ever, and she was considered beautiful.  And a bushy bush can remain hidden under clothing, only to be dealt with when wearing a swimsuit.  However, a bearded lady is considered a freak.

Although many young women have issues with unwanted hair, for women over fifty who are post menopausal it’s almost a given.  Sometimes referred to as “The Change” it’s when a woman’s body stops generating those frilly feminine estrogen and progesterone hormones that tell your female body that you can bear children. When that egg stops being produced and ceases that monthly trip down the fallopian tubes to the uterus looking for fertilization, the male hormones – those dirty masculine testosterone’s – use the opportunity to take over, telling your body to grow more hair; in most cases get dry in the most inopportune places and in some cases, become indifferent regarding sex (now that one is a real bummer- then again maybe not). Does the word “men o pause” tell us something? Is it subliminally offering us the message that we are now becoming more man like? (I’m just saying).

There’s good and bad in all of this. Some women are so glad to be passed the childbearing stage that any price is worth it.  When that egg is not fertilized and the incumbent nurturing blood is expelled from the body for three days to a week (longer for some) for most women, is a monthly drag. Menopause meant no more monthly bloodletting. No more required purchases of blood catching products. No more associated odor and no more inconvenience as far as sexual encounters (for some – no big thing – one of my ex’s didn’t care).

The further irony of my encounter with Minna and my discussion with Asia is that I don’t remember any previous talks with my over fifty friends (the average age for menopause is 51) about menopausal unwanted hair growth. We’ve discussed hot flashes, mental stability, night sweats, dryness, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and whether or not to take estrogen supplements. As for me, menopause seems to have affected my mental state above all other symptoms besides my quarter sized patch of hair. I feel crazy most of the time. However, most of my friends and relatives seem not to notice any difference. I guess since mine is not an aging crazy and I’ve been feeling this way for so long it’s become a part of who I am. A personality change is not uncommon with menopause.

As I had a hysterectomy in my late thirties due to fibroid tumors, I was not experiencing monthly periods (becoming irregular is one of the first signs of menopause) and didn’t recognize or associate this feeling as a symptom.  When I described my feelings of brain-death and the impenetrable black curtain where my brain had previously been, my OB-GYN male doctor looked at me as if I were truly crazy and told me that I was going through the perfectly normal life process of menopause and that I was fine. I changed to a female physician who seemed to understand as she prescribed hormone replacement medication for me which did not seem to clear my brain or lift the curtain.

There was the irrational me who went into a funk over seeing grey hair on my “sweet pea” (a former lover called that certain part of a woman’s anatomy ‘pie’ because it resembled a slice.  We laughingly called mine sweet potato then with even more giggles shortened it to “sweet pea’) while the ever multiplying grey hair on my head didn’t seem to matter.  Was the depression because I objectified that part of my body growing old?  I proceeded to bemoan my symptoms with my friends; however, after hearing their tales of hot flashes, night-time drenched bedclothes and sheets, uncontrollable and embarrassing changes in color accompanied with personal climate changes as well as dryness during sex, none of which I was experiencing, I decided to just deal with my own issues. I found that brain games, higher learning and exercise really helped.  Over the years the dark curtain in the frontal vortex of my brain has faded (it’s never gone away entirely); I am now lucid most of the time.

I can’t recall ever discussing unwanted hair with my doctor either. And seeing that first follicle of hair growing from my chin didn’t send me over the top (as the grey on my sweet pea had). Although it seems that particular phenomenon didn’t surface for me until some years post menopause and by that time the slow dance of growing old presented major fast paced, battles for me to fight “issues” regarding relationships, economics, housing and health.

In fact, I thought that first follicle on my chin was just a stray. I hurriedly plucked it out and it was weeks before the appearance of the next and then the next and the next.  I think I’ll perform an informal survey among my friends and inquire about their favorite form of removal and control. I know I spend hours trying to stay relatively smooth. It is war. I am in battle on a daily basis.

I sometimes invest in the painful wax job. There are the more expensive professional hair removal options from a dermatologist using electrolysis, laser or other forms of removal. At other times, I run a nice warm bubble bath to shave my legs and underarms while in the tub as it’s difficult to shave ones legs in the shower.  I sit in bed with the music of Joe Sample’s “Invitation,” Kenny G’s “Classics in the Key of G,” John Coltrane’s “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane,” Chris Botti’s “When I Fall In Love” or Gene Ammon’s “Story,” with my artillery and ammunition at ready, as I pluck away at my eyebrows and chin.  I’ve become wise enough not to deal with the music of Marvin Gaye, Al Green or Johnnie Taylor and especially not James Brown on these most auspicious occasions because the last thing you want to happen is to uncontrollably bust a dance move.

For me, the hardest cut is the sweet pea trim.  I seem to always nick myself or in the case of the swimsuit required bikini trim, I dread the bumpy, prickly grow back.  I dream of my perfect mate who will not shy away from trimming my sweet pea.  We will laugh and talk together as we listen to music, while he clips, plucks and trims.  Having a person in the trenches to wage the war with you is a good thing.