If really good sleep were an addiction, not only am I hooked, I’m in the boat. I could be the founding member of the support group Sleepers Anonymous, but it’s unlikely that anyone would come to the meetings.
“Meeting? Yeah I’ll go.
Can I take a little nap first?”
It’s not really the sleep that I’m after, although that’s good too. It’s that groggy half sleep place, where everything is Zen and cozy, where your mind is drifting along only quasi alert. You know, that place where your mind wanders and all of your creative juices are concentrated on whatever thoughts float by your consciousness. That my friend, is my golden ticket. Some of the best ideas come from this semi comatose place. So it’s a Tuesday morning, I’m floating in zen-ville, feeling relaxed and meditative; like in that old 80’s Lionel Ritchie song, “easy like Sunday morning” but a few days early because I’m hedonistic by nature and figure why wait the extra days.
Anyway, so I’m curled up in bed like a crusty old 25 pound tomcat with a catnip hangover, coming awake slow and easy, when the house phone rings down the hall.
Maybe it was a wrong number.
Just as I turned over to find a more comfortable position, my cell phone rings from the dining room. It’s a remote sound, barely audible to my ears, except that the dogs hear it too. Now both dogs are up, which means they’ll whine for breakfast and a quick trip outside to the backyard until I drag myself out of bed. Damn. No sooner than the cell phone stops, the house phone goes off again.
As I stumble toward the offensive telephone I glance at the calendar, “what day IS it?” Tuesday. Nothing of consequence ever happens on Tuesday. No holidays, except the oddball Christmas/New Year’s tango, and that’s freakishly rare. The paycheck eagle doesn’t fly on Tuesday, and no matter where you live it’s never on either side of the ramp up to the weekend, unless you’ve gone extended play which most folks simply call “vacation.” The statically unemployed like me simply say it’s another day without a paycheck.
The only good thing about Tuesday is: Tuesday’s the cheapest day to fly.
Because nothing of consequence ever happens on Tuesday.
Three calls in three minutes, ok, I’ll bite. Either it’s my daughter Hollie who seems to think that repeated calls will eventually get my attention and I’ll pick up, which I hate to admit usually works.
Or someone’s died and I’m the last on the list of family members to be notified, which is often the case since I’m on the west coast with a three-hour time delay from the majority of my east coast kin.
I was hoping the caller was Hollie reporting the latest installment of her current boyfriend melodrama, complete with hidden scenes and given my current mental status subtitles in English, preferably using small easy to comprehend words. As I reached for the phone I was silently praying that Hollie was calling to say she’s gloriously and happily single, although I’d settle for gloriously happy in general.
I manage to catch the home phone before my half-sister Stacy hangs up in frustration. After reaching voicemail twice and trying and failing to capture the right tone for the event, she resorts to Hollie’s proven tactic of continued full frontal phoning, with alternating ringtones in two locations. Some messages simply are not meant for the recorder. This message Stacy knew for certain was not a Memorex moment no matter how sleep deprived I am or what time it was.
Relieved to have a human voice respond Stacy audibly kicked into high gear and spat out her ill-formed voicemail message, before had a chance to mumble more than hello in a voice so deep and heavy with sleep that the nearby stereo speakers vibrated slightly.
“I’ve got some news. Ahh. Bad news. Nana’s dying. ”
I must say that this news was not a shock, and for me personally not even a particularly unpleasant revelation. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind there was flash of an image from the Wizard of Oz and a rousing munchkin chorus of “Dead! Dead! The witch is dead. The witch is finally dead!” Still dazed I had to gather my thoughts and mentally turn down the premature yet jubilant soundtrack before I blurted out something ill-considered and impossible to gracefully retract.
Nana was not, nor in any stretch of the imagination had ever been, my grandmother. Nana was my step monster’s mother, and regardless of my feelings towards either of these women, Nana was Stacy’s grandmother. This little fact meant that I had to tread lightly, with all the respect that I could muster. And more importantly, as compassionately as humanly possibly toward how Stacy might be feeling about her grandmothers condition.
Sputtering and stalling for time, I fired off a few rapid sentences to keep her busy while I collected my thoughts.
“I thought she was getting better after the stroke in November.”
“She was regaining her speech. They released her from the nursing home.”
“I thought she was recovering.”
Thinking quickly, I added “How are you holding up?”
“I’m ok, I guess. It won’t be long now, which I guess is a blessing. She’s in a lot of pain and she can’t speak. Not at all.”
Nana, known to the world as Georgette Alberta (York, Slatter) Lynn, 84, longtime resident of LaCrosse, Florida, experienced a brain hemorrhage a few days before Thanksgiving 2012. Before regaining consciousness Nana spent a few comatose days at Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville. After a week the hospice nurse released her to the care of Stacy’s mother, and Nana came to live in our father’s home. I can only imagine his joy upon hearing the wonderful news.
According to Stacy, the minimal recovery Nana had shown the hospital staff, quickly eroded once she arrived home, and what little there was left of her mental faculties seemed intent on a downward spiral and gathering speed like a horse galloping for the barn after a long hard day in the fields.
Since the death of her husband Orval in 1980, Nana prided herself on managing her private affairs without any assistance or interference from her five children. With the erect bearing of a career military officer and a resilient Boston accent, she insisted upon driving her Cadillac alone to church every Sunday. Once a month she maintained a longstanding appointment for a perm and a touch up to her perfectly coiffed white hair with Joanna at a beauty parlor nearly 40 miles away , as she had done for the past 30 years. I suspect she really went to catch up on the latest gossip, and Joanna had proven herself a reliable and prolific source.
By early December, Nana was housebound and dependent for the first time in her life, and losing words as though strained through one of many colorful colanders hanging from the cupboards of her well used yet immaculate kitchen.
Her first loss was of proper names, her memory mimicking the accounting asset management process of LIFO. Last in-first out. The name of her three-year old grandson Jace vanished, and was soon eclipsed by any memory of who he was, and what significance he held in her life.
Next to go, was word association. The inability to locate and articulate the correct word frustrated her to the point of anger. She raged at anyone unfortunate enough to cross her doorway, while rediscovering a variety of foul curse words she had long considered unladylike and too vulgar to utter. Filth spewed forth from her lips as if having been constrained her entire life, as if aware of approaching her final performance she now needed an audience for the finale.
As her condition worsened over a matter of days, she next mixed-up words she clearly knew with the definitions of other words in her vocabulary while amazingly retaining the proper syntax and sentence structure.
“Shove the banana UP my nose.” she said while directing Stacy’s attention to the pillow at the foot of the bed. Pointing and gesticulating she emphasized her desire by raising her voice,
“I said. Shove that banana up my nose. Now! ”
Stacy reported to me on the phone Tuesday that she had to stifle a giggle as she delicately leaned her forward and tucked the pillow behind Nana’s head and shoulders. The amusing irony of the scene hadn’t escaped her, but at the same time it felt sad, so terrifically sad that this proud woman could come to be in such a pathetic state and that Stacy was there to witness it all.
For my sister Stacy seeing Nana like this was probably similar to my own visceral reaction when I watched three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, the self-proclaimed greatest boxing champion who ever lived, at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, light the torch with quivering unsteady hands. Something is inherently wrong in a universe that allows that kind of degradation of the human spirit. In our heads and hearts the strongest among us go out in a blaze of glory, not a whimper of messy gibbering goo.
Hollie used to love to repeat the following comedy bit that was written by one of her favorite stand-up comics, Nick Swordson. She thought this was hilarious.
Nick stands center stage and announces:
“Yeah, so I’m a little shaken up right now.”
“Uh yeah, my grandma died recently. “ (audience sighs..awwww..)
“Nah. It’s cool.”
“It’s all good. Really.”
(pauses for effect)
“She flipped her vette, man. ”
Another of her favorite comics, Mitch Hedberg, died in 2005 of a drug overdose in his hotel room.
See what I mean? No gibbering goo.
Friday in creative nonfiction class the assignment was to choose a family photo and described the scene, afterwards we were to imagine ourselves in the place of the photographer and speak to the subject. The prompt was along the lines of “if you were the photographer and could say something to this person. What would it be?”
My selection was a black and white photograph of my father at age 7 or 8. He was a small shabbily dressed boy sitting unsmilingly somber on the steps of a dilapidated house appearing to me like a ghostly image reminiscent of a 1950’s era National Geographic cover on the mining children of the Appalachians’. My response to this simple prompt evoked such a powerful response that I immediately felt a sense of relief, and simultaneously ashamed of myself.
Georgette Lynn, 84, longtime resident of Ocala, Florida, died at home with her family in attendance on Thursday, January 24th, 2013 of complications subsequent to a stroke.
On the drive home I remember that my wife Jill has band practice on Friday night. This rehearsal is really a half-hearted lukewarm attempt to reform an all women Led Zeppelin tribute band and since my job has traditionally been to be the tour bus driver, roadie and companion to the guitarist, I’m graciously not obligated to appear. Attendance at performances are mandatory but four women wanking and wailing so loudly that they wear sonic ear plugs to protect their hearing isn’t my idea of a hoppin Friday night out on the town.
When I arrive home Friday, after greeting the Blaine family, the first thing that I do for myself is text my little sister.
Thinking about you all day. If you need anything, anything at all, I’m here for you.
You can talk, listen to me talk, or just breathe. I’m here. If. When. Always.
Stacy called less than a minute after I pressed send.
After visually checking with me to insure that I was going to be ok, Jill loaded her car for the trip over the border to the Marshall half stack amplifier that awaited her in the rehearsal hall. Guitars. Check. Pedals that distort, wail and echo. Check. Cords. Violin bow. Slide. Chord charts. Check. With an airkiss and the briefest of glances we silently say goodbye, and she’s off and clambering into her Jimmy Page alter ego and onto her own private rock and roll stairway to Kashmir.
I could tell immediately that Stacy was scattered, detached, a little numb and in full-blown “get’er done” mode as she told me about her day of scrubbing and preparing for the visitors she knew would flock to the house once the news broke. Friday night we talked and laughed for more than two hours, a marathon conversation for us which seldom touched on the emotional aspects of the week’s events other than the cursory when and where explanation about the funeral arrangements.
Monday, January 28th at 10am, Milam Funeral and Cremation Services, Gainesville, Florida.
An open invitation to the gravesite interment at New Hope Cemetery in Lacrosse, Florida, is extended to friends and family following the funeral.
“Nana wants a catholic funeral. She thought the formal service was pretty when Auntie died so she wants the same.”
“We were going through Nana’s pictures Wednesday night and I found a picture of you in a floor length floral nightgown. You looked really young and really girly, not really you at all. I wanted to take a picture and send it to you but I couldn’t get my cell phone to focus right.” She says in an attempt to lighten the mood.
Southerners will do almost anything to keep themselves from creating a spectacle which makes them appear weak or vulnerable. Crying is the probably the worst public sin imaginable. Since southern culture tells us we can’t feel our feelings directly without being whining sniveling crybabies we tend instead to embrace a stoic unfeeling fuck you, you can’t hurt me attitude, or we make light of the situation and we laugh. We laugh when our hearts break. We laugh when we can’t make sense of the bigger picture. We laugh nervously. We laugh because we understand that we’ve lost control. We laugh to remind ourselves to feel. Of the two options laughing’s easier, and healthier for the soul.
“It was the seventies. Sweetie. Strange stuff happened. Remember disco? Dad loved disco.”
“Speaking of nightgowns; do you remember that Lion King nightshirt that you bought me for Christmas when you were five?”
She doesn’t remember.
“Lion King was your favorite movie, and you bought me this long t-shirt with Simba the lion cub on the front with really big eyes. I remember because the eyes were as big as saucers and you loved the damned thing and insisted that I wear it.”
“It never occurred to you that I was 23 years old and I looked ridiculous with these two big eyes on my chest. You know I found it buried in a drawer last summer when I moved?”
As she giggled at my nightshirt image and at me for being a sentimental lump, I said “good night. I’ll call you Tuesday. I have classes all day Monday and won’t be home until too late to call given the three-hour time difference.”
Tuesday. Nothing of consequence ever happens on Tuesday.