Wednesday, September 9, 2009


It’s Labor Day…the official close of summer. Actually, I’m still waiting for summer to officially begin. June was rained out. July melted away. And August took place in a haze of anesthesia and family trips at hypersonic speed. I can account for the passage of time. I just don’t know where the time went.

On August 11th, we noted the first anniversary of Dennis’ last chemo infusion. Since the conclusion of that episode, there have been two hernia repairs and an emergency appendectomy. And the lazy, crazy hazy days of summer have opened and closed…much like our midsections. But we both have acquired some surgical trophies that we proudly exhibit with very minimal prompting. (We are available for church functions, family parties, etc.)

At my last appointment, Dr. Voorhees assured me that the incision site is lookin’ goooooood. It has repaired itself into a kind of Mona Lisa smile – enigmatic, mysterious, beguiling. Not like Dennis’ scars. His whole abdominal wall looks like some competing graffiti-crazed rival gangs of surgeons (the “Bloods” and the “Crits”) have marked their territory with deranged perversions of Alfred E. Newman’s gape-toothed grin. When he shudders his pale, quivering torso, Dennis impersonates the jovial animation of each contestant at a Homer Simpson look-alike contest. It may not exactly qualify him as a contender on “America’s Got Talent,” but he manages to keep me entertained…it doesn’t take much these days.

Ah, but I digress. Dr. Voorhees had a young medical student he was tutoring, and he euphemistically noted the concave curvature of my solar plexus. Translation: “This body is a pathetically wasted, amorphous mass of crepey flesh draped over a collection of ancient porous bones…but we harvested the offending organ, so the poor old soul doesn’t have to be put down just yet.”

Actually, that worked for me. Post-surgical mending has created a narcissistic state of self-absorption that inspires me to repel any recollection of pain not obliterated by the welcome relief of amnesia. I just don’t want to hurt any more. Convulsive, jagged gasps for breath from paroxysms of supreme distress is not exactly what I’m fondest of. Utter absence of pain has left me with a healthy preoccupation with health and the utter absence with pain. Appendicitis gives pain a bad name!

So, this past summer Dennis and I have spent happily festered and sequestered, while alternating surgical episodes. We are hoping this does not become tradition, because between us we have very few expendable organs left.

The prospect of unending summer reminds us that Tourette’s Syndrome is a direct condition of mothers with bored children.

But last week, even as half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches sat on the counter, summer concluded abruptly…and school began. It always seems that autumn arrives on the first day of school, no matter the date on the calendar. The world smells like fall. And everything changes, not just the leaves.

Grandkids that have spent an entire season in disheveled squalor, have had every particle of soil sand-blasted from between their toes and chiseled from fingernails. And summer-bleached hair is combed and miraculously oriented in reasonably ordered directions.

I wouldn’t miss the first day of school.
Whatever it is that binds us as a family seemed fortified as we engaged in the annual ritual of picture-taking and merriment…and anxiety. My emotions were paper-thin, and I was inclined to run ahead of my little posse and impose a canopy of arm flab to protect them from any pain, disappointment or heartache. Perhaps grandmas are hard-wired for softening life’s blows…like a second-generation sumo wrestler. But these are my people…I just want the world to be kind.

However, I am fully aware that each child has his kryptonite, and common sense compels me to step back and allow them the privilege of counterbalancing the good and bad of human growth and development.

There is a certain brutality to the traditional relinquishing custody of a cherished grandchild to a capable and gregarious teacher, whose room smells of pencils and chalk…and efficiency. And the privacy one has longed for over the duration of three months seems more like solitary isolation.

Before retreating from each classroom, I hugged the kid, with complete disregard for peer humiliation. It’s a precarious line to embrace and not embarrass. I try not to invite ridicule, but I usually fail utterly. However, before I made my exit, I tattooed my cell phone number on every child’s backpack, lunch sack, forehead and underwear, vowing to be there before they heard the dial tone…should the need arise.

I almost lost my timing as I departed. Sometimes eyes leak before I quite make it out the door. But stealth has never been my forte.

I confess to a certain innate suffocative gene, and with every year that passes, this demented attention to adored offspring has fermented a little. But circumstances of late have intensified and extended my range of feelings, and the world will have to “roger” that. I am not an emotional flatliner.

My task, at the moment, is to adjust to the current dumbfounded void and the new quiet. A certain companionship has made its absence known. Silence, while often longed for, is not always welcome. It will demand daily attention to reorganize my mind. I had an appointment for a desperation pedicure to repair the ravages of summer picnics and family vacations. My nail polish color of choice: “Milk of Magnesia Pink.” (It’s the hottest shade for the geriatric set.) And beginning with ten perky toes and feet smoothed by 220-grip sandpaper is a fine way to readjust to the Great Interruption that is the first day of school, and the woeful fatigue of prolonged “me time.”

Absence makes the heart grow nostalgic, so…I think tomorrow I’ll have a manicure.

A few days ago we returned from Atlanta. Without going into great detail, I include some of the things we observed while in the deep South.
1. Mornings come REALLY early in Georgia.
2. There seem to be a plethora of men with the given name of Richard. In between belching ethnically offensive epithets at one another, they referred to each other by the nickname. I’m not sure it is a term of endearment. They also made suggestions one to another about doing things that violate the laws of both physics and anatomy. Dennis recommended that I not point that out that fact to the congregation.
3. I don’t love humidity.
4. There are lots of streets named “Robert E. Lee” or “Peachtree.” I never ran across a “Sherman Avenue,” or a “Tecumsah Boulevard.”
5. Rainy nights in Georgia are all the song implies. The rain fell with the relentless typewriter patter that would make one question if it really WAS raining all over the world.
6. I love the sound of the tangy, sweet, soft, raspy Georgia drawl.
7. Not many women in Atlanta were wearing velvet drapes at this time of year. Must be the heat and humidity and all. After visiting the Margaret Mitchell home and seeing the haute couture of the time, I realize there is no corset on this earth that could make ANY waist 18 inches. Talk about defying the realities of anatomy! Dennis suggested I might have more success with the rib cage. Luckily for him, I’ll think about that tomorrow.
8. Groups of three or more men frequently engage in an elaborately choreographed hand ballet of bumps, clicks, snaps, jerks, knuckle knocks, delicate pinkie locks and thumb circles that would flummox Fosse and baffle Barishnykov. It is complex, complicated, maze-like…a secret combination that makes the Macarena look comically juvenile. Greeting one another consumes most of the morning.
9. I learned that Georgia is the swine flu epidemic epicenter of the U.S. Alaska is right behind. We immersed our bodies with a pre-emptive oil slick of hand sanitizing gel and vowed never to go to Alaska.
10. MARTA is an efficient means of public transportation that makes one feel like one is in the bowels of a multi-segmented serpent about to be the victim of peristalsis and eventually excreted.
11. Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.

It’s September, the month of birthdays, state fairs and the U.S. tennis Open. It doesn’t get better than that.

Love to all,

The Clot

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