Monthly Archives: October 2020

Nighttime on the California Delta

My eyes flutter open before sunrise these days.  I stretch and ease myself down to the first floor in the lingering dark.  A kind of numbness grips my mind.  The grinder whirrs.  I lean against the counter til the kettle boils.  Then I wrap my hands around the mug and wait for the heat to reach my soul.

At the other end of my nine-hour day, the car rattles over the broken pavement of the levee road.  In the field below me, a boy lets the leash out farther and farther, skipping behind his pooch.  I pull over to the side and push the lever to park.  When the door opens, a thousand bugs frantically assault my face.

Later, when I’ve talked to a friend in Kansas City and eaten a bowl of rich potato soup, I stand in the yard with my face raised to the darkness.  The night air fills my lungs and seeps into my weary bones.  I wave to a figure strolling past me in the darkness.  Whoever it is tells me to have a good night.  His unseen smile wraps itself around me like a silk shawl.  Three lots down, my neighbor Noah quietly hovers behind of his kids as the boy tries to light a fire.  Noah murmurs in a soft, deep encouraging voice.  An owl hoots overhead.  Out on the river, the egrets settle to sleep.    

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the eighty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Moment by Moment

For nearly six decades,  I catapulted through life.  Fear drove me — fear of punishment, fear of anger, fear of ridicule.  From the terror of an abusive father to the dire pronouncement of callous and unknowing doctors, I learned that my days could be numbered and most certainly would be short.  I stumbled forward on the broken road.

In later years, a kind of emotional short-sightedness plagued me.  I spoke and thought and reacted in superlatives.  My ragged nerves had touched the stove once too often. I shrank within myself.  Despite unearthing a few shiny stones as I dragged myself through the muck and grime, I never paused.  I let the scenery slip past in the gloom of night.  I leaned my head against the dark cold glass as the towns rolled by.  I made no move to disembark.

For a brief moment, fifty-five and fragile, I let myself dare to believe that I could slow, at long last; maybe even rest.  The feeling did not endure.  When I finally shook free of the immobilizing sting of disappointment, I fled.

Here at the edge of the earth, as I creep into my last act, I have no more reason to run.  The demons seem to have shuddered to a halt.  They do not venture into the river valley.  The Delta winds drive them back.   The ocean sits an hour from my doorstep.  Though I do not seek its comfort as often as I would like, the song of the Pacific has soothed me in some immeasurable way.  I know she waits for me.  I take my time.  Meanwhile, here on the banks of the San Joaquin, my life unfolds moment to moment, one frame at a time.  My heart slows.  Breathe in, breathe out.  And repeat.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the eighty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

P.S.  Somewhere along the way, I have lost track of the months.  This is my seventh year of this journey.  Math is not my strong suit.  Six times twelve being seventy-two, October 2020 is the EIGHTY-SECOND month, not the ninety-second.  Any blog entry with the leap into the future stands corrected.  My apologies.

One For The Ages

In May of 1992, my eighteen-month old son and I moved into a 1252 sq. ft. airplane bungalow on the east side of Brookside.  A handful of friends dragged my boxes, rocking chairs, futons, and Patrick’s toddler bed across the polished hardwood floor.  By mid-morning I had come to realize two salient facts which would have a powerful impact on the coming months:  I did not own enough furniture to fill the house, and I would be sharing a driveway with an amazing woman whom I would come to regard as a treasured friend with a boundless heart and an endless smile.

Marcella Womack had two children, one grandchild, and a myriad of devoted friends.  She had a full life, rich and complex.  But she made each person the center of her attention.  She never took her eyes from your face as you spoke.  She’d gesture to the couch and hand you a cup of herb tea.  She would settle next to you, and open her space to whatever you offered.  Each hour that I spent with Marcella improved my attitude beyond measure.

She had lived an amazing life and eased into middle age by the time I met her.  She had succeeded in a series of phenomenal and impactful careers, most recently by teaching people how to do their own jobs with more empathy and compassion.  Her spiritual journey had deepened her connection to the physical world in ways that I still do not quite comprehend.  Marcella touched lives with a powerful but gentle hand.  I spent hours in conversations with her, on my porch, in her living room, on the back stoop while my son played with her grandson Austin.  

That first year in my new house posed many challenges for me, from rats to flooding to a sudden loss of income with a car payment, a mortgage, and challenging health issues.  Once Marcella fielded a nosy repo guy for me.  A couple of times, she watched Patrick while I scrounged for contract work in the months when my new law firm did not yield enough money to support us.  In the deep winter, when I fell on ice in the driveway, she opened her door to my toddler and followed him through the dark to the place where his mom lay battered, sobbing, and desperately unable to stand.  Marcella dragged me into the house and poured hot tea down my throat, made dinner from my meager groceries, and held my hand while she rocked my little boy to sleep.

Marcella moved from our street a few years later.  We kept in touch, though not as often as either of us would have liked.  She came to my wedding in 1998, and to several gatherings.  Mostly she and I met for coffee or lunch.  Those times became less frequent in more recent years, as I weathered a divorce, my son’s departure from home, medical issues, another failed marriage, and, ultimately, my own decampment from the Midwest.

I last saw Marcella just before I sold the Holmes house.  We shared a meal and strolled through a public park.  She brought an angel for me, which I hung on the house and later left for the new owner.  She encouraged me.  With her gentle ways, and boundless enthusiasm, she promised that my life would only get better, that I would find comfort and peace, that my spirit only needed rest and it would soar again without fail.  

On one of my visits home in 2018, I planned to visit Marcella but had to cancel.  In a flash of prophecy, I feared that a bad head cold might pose an issue for her, given her age and her own health issues.  We spoke on the phone, her voice still lilting and cheerful.  For the next year, we communicated by messages on social media, comments on each other’s posts, and the occasional email.  Marcella’s love for her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson shone in every facet of her existence.  Her passion for justice, peace, and harmony; and her incredible enthusiasm for new ideas; never abated.

Marcella died during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Her faithful family strove to be with her as much as the lockdown allowed.  I watched for posts about her.  I followed her journey from this life.  I mourned the world’s loss of her.  I cried because I would never see her face again, though I know her spirit endures.  She is truly a being for the ages, an old soul, an indispensable part of the eternal cosmos.

Tonight, at the end of a long and challenging work-week, I came home to a parcel from Marcella’s daughter, Diane Womack Leff.  When I lifted the note from the box and saw the lovely objects beneath, tears slid down my cheeks.  A string of hearts which I vividly recall at Marcella’s home; two angels that I had seen in the photos of the estate sale items; a pretty pin.  And a smiling photo on the program from her memorial service, which I had seen live online. 

I held Marcella’s photo in my hands for a long, lovely moment.  Then I lifted the angels to see which ones I had been sent, since I know this line and I know that each has a special purpose.  My heart was made glad; and I smiled through my tears.

Angel of Healing.

Angel of Miracles.

It’s the twenty-second day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.















I pulled out of the parking space in front of the office where I work, intent on making a quick U-turn to get an important letter to the mail before 5:00 p.m.  My guardian angel stayed my hand and I looked again, into the street where there had just been a clear path.

A girl on a bicycle had stopped in the middle of the two lanes of traffic, her back to me, her head bowed.

I gazed at her form.  I noted a slight chubbiness and thought, Good, she’s getting out after a long summer stuck inside, pedaling off the #pandemic15.  My third glance saw two adorable pigtails bob on either side of her head.  She seemed to be thirteen or fourteen, old enough to know better than to tarry in the road.  I frowned, wondering if she had hurt herself, or slipped the chain if that’s still even a thing.  

I inched around her, realizing that she had actually stopped in the opposite lane of traffic.  I started to worry, and moved forward a little more to see if she needed help.

But no:  She had stopped to read something on her phone.

I thought about rolling down the window and suggesting that she move to the sidewalk.  I considered a light tap of my horn.  I studied her face, with its tight brow and slight frown.  I wondered what could be so important that she had to hover in harm’s way, balancing her bike with the tips of her toes and the tightened muscles of her calves. She could not wait to get home to read the text; she had to respond from Second Street, while the rest of the town went on about its business.

As I maneuvered my car around her, and edged into a driveway to reverse my direction, I thought of all those evenings when I huddled over a book, the silent phone on the breakfast room wall testifying to my unpopularity.  I remembered walking home from a night of babysitting, the father of the household too drunk to drive me and my own father himself long since passed out.  The street lights shimmered their broad pool of light every six feet.  Darkness claimed the realm between.  Bats flew overhead; rodents skittered through the bushes.  Silence surrounded me.  With six dollars in my pockets for ten hours of caring for a family of nine, I was an inch closer to a new dress that would hang in my closet until it went out of style.

I drove to the post office, thinking of the girl on the bike, and the allure of the boy at the other end of the telephone.  Life will hold a lot of heartache for that lass.  I hope it brings a little joy along the way.

It’s the fourteenth day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The Gift

I could not sleep last night.  The neighbor turned her floodlights out early; the night critters fell silent; the moon fled behind clouds. I remained alert.  Mistakes and failures haunted me.  Ripples of spasticity coursed through my legs.   Eventually exhaustion dragged me into the abyss.

I woke before the alarm rang, in the darkened room, no glimmer of sunrise dancing on the grim, smoky horizon.  I struggled downstairs and staggered through my galley kitchen.  Coffee defied me.  I cracked an egg and made a slice of toast and sat at my table, staring at the whirring blades of my little fan.

I left for work a few minutes late.  I missed the cheerful old couple who walk along the levee in their BlueBlockers, swinging their arms and gathering trash.  I slowed for the hairpin curve and strained to see around the berm, hoping for a big ship.  Nothing; not even a little skiff.   A wisp of sorrow rose in my breast.

But then:  I turned onto Jackson Slough Road.  And an angel whispered:  Life sucks, we know, but here’s a tree full of egrets.  

It’s the sixth day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Being Heard

I do not pretend to like physical therapy.  I demand it, though.  For decades, the ability to ask for a yearly refresher course in keeping my limbs active justified outrageous direct-pay insurance premiums.  Now I have passed the magic age after which the medical care which should be the right of every US citizen comes to me at a lesser premium.  I therefore jumped on the chance to again submit to torture in the name of Living To Be 103 and Walking Every Day of My Life.

Here’s the thing:  Big buildings confound me.  Such monstrosities cannot be truly accessible for mobility impaired humans.  They can merely proclaim themselves “ADA compliant”.  Deity-of- Your-Choice bless the authors of the ADA, but for someone who busts her behind to remain ambulatory without the cumbersome, brain-confusing burden of a “gait aid”, minimum compliance standards with all of their associated exceptions just do not make the grade.

I inch my way down a long hall twice-over to get to the newest torture chamber, once on the first floor, then in the opposite direction on the second.  I grit my teeth as I strain to remember all of those muscle movements which most folks carelessly execute:  Turn your feet out; drop your shoulders; swing from the hips; heel to toe; and breathe, damn you, breathe.  Frankly, neither cane nor walker would help that litany or serve its goal of correcting six decades of spastic ambulation.  If I am to remain vertical, I must walk “correctly” — I must beat the pronation, the rotation, and the discombobulation.  A walking stick interferes with the process of forcing my brain to get it together and stay focused.  

On Friday, I nearly collapsed in the hallway outside the suite.  The whole time, images of my husband Dennis in his manual wheelchair surrounded me.  I heard his voice, grumbling, demanding that we never again patronize any facility which he could not independently navigate.   My chest constricted.  Echoes of his pain seared my heart.   The indelible scarlet of shame stained my face.   I discounted his complaints.  Worse; I allowed myself the sinful luxury of embarrassment.   Twenty years later, complicity in his sorrow dragged on my weakened muscles.

But I persevered in my journey to my therapist’s office last Friday.  I made it to the far end of the second floor.   When I gained access to the inner chamber (Covid questions, temperature, new mask, check check check), I stared in dismay at the obstacle course which the therapist expected me to surmount: Weights on the floor, stack of exercise balls, four other patients with their workers, rolling laptop stands.  I stood for a moment, watching her walk ahead without a backward glance.

She made it halfway across to her office before realizing that I had not followed.  She returned and said, Is something wrong.  I gestured, groping for my calm voice and summoning Marshall Rosenberg to guide my comment on the obvious and absolute absurdity of the unrelenting barriers.  

She seemed to understand.  She chose a closer platform for the day’s effort.  I started to speak, intent on articulating my dismay but in a peaceful manner.  She cut me off, snapping, I don’t have any control over that.  I tried again, and again she interrupted, You can use your cell phone to call us and we’ll bring a wheelchair down next time.

Then she started instructing me in the day’s routine.  I remained motionless, my eyes fixed on her face, until her words faded.  I sat; she stood; no one spoke.

Then I said, quietly, so none but she could hear:  First, as a disabled person, I can tell you that I do not want you to bring me upstairs in a wheelchair, to steer me past all this rubble in that same chair.  I want you, and your employer, to give some thought to the environment which you are creating and my need as an independent human being to be able to move through that environment as close to alone as possible.  Second, as that human being,  I just want to be heard.  I want to know that you hear me.

My voice fell silent.  Neither of us moved.  Then she blinked  and whispered, I hear you.  The world shifted.    She turned away.  But I had seen, and she knew that I had seen.  The knowledge of that solitary second sufficed to carry me through the rest of my day.

It’s the fifth day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My fascination with the birds of the Delta continues. Could they, like me, long to be seen and heard?