I flew on a jet plane from Orlando, Florida, back home to San Diego yesterday on what felt like the world’s longest flight. I finished reading a book (Daisy Jones and The Six) and then watched most of a movie (on my phone) until my headphones died.
Then I still had two hours to fly.
After rejecting the idea of a nap, I picked up my phone and decided to purge photos. After all, how many photos of the ocean/beach/sunset does one person actually need? Deleting them is a tedious and time-consuming chore, perfect for a captive on a plane.
While pursuing images, I came across old photos of myself as a child, as a teenager and then a college student, newlywed and younger mom. I didn’t recognize her. The woman in the mirror doesn’t look like that.
Then I realized that even then, the person I saw in the mirror was a surprise to me. “Is that how I look?” I’d say when I’d see a photograph of myself. The person in the mirror today surprises me.
I started to wonder if I could even describe my own face to a forensic artist. What do I look like? I have no idea.
The me I can’t see is sarcastic and nit-picky and hilarious. She’s smart and hates formal attire and has probably eavesdropped on you if you’ve been having a conversation in earshot. She’s a lot of things, but most of them are invisible to the mirror.
I know she has brown eyes and blondish hair (depending on her stylist) and that it’s never the same two days in a row. But what’s strange is that I always assume people won’t recognize me if they see me in a store. I don’t recognize myself when I accidentally flip my phone on “selfie” mode.
Anyway, maybe other people know what they themselves look like. I just don’t. The mirror surprises (and usually disappoints) me. Am I weird?
To be clear, I am not great at recognizing or describing other people, either. I usually fixate on a trait or two–God forbid I remember you by your outfit and then you change clothes.
Maybe this is just what it’s like to get older. The gulf between what you really look like and what you feel you look like widens until you can’t see either shore.
The seasons in San Diego county blur together. Intellectually, I know it’s winter now because the sun sets before I’m home from work. Christmas just ended and already I’ve noticed buds on the fig tree on the side of my house. The succulent I thought was dead has sprouted new growth. Meanwhile, autumn leaves are finally falling from trees, just in time for spring.
Life around here is equally weird. My daughter will be 18 years old this year and as the days slide past, I can feel motherhood as I’ve known it fizzle out. The “kids” aren’t kids at all anymore. Sure, everyone still seems to expect me to wash their clothes and scrub their plates but honestly, I don’t mind. It’s one of the few things I can control around here.
My college friends’ lives have marched along, right on schedule. Their children have gone to college, graduated, married and produced the first grandchild or two. From what I can tell on social media, pretty much everyone in the world takes an annual vacation. As usual, I’m not in step.
But that’s okay. The older I get, the more I know what I want. (Time to read. A nap. Sunsets over water. More books. Clean sheets every Sunday night. A delicious salad. Twinkle lights. More years with my beloved.) Truly, the small things in life delight me.
I’m in a season of transition, a season of purging and sorting and discarding what no longer serves me. Neighbor Bob, the man across the street, taught me to say, “Thank you for your service. Goodbye,” when he helped us cut down our beautiful palm trees which had outgrown their space. I’ve been very busy, then, with my stuff. It takes time to touch everything, to consider it and bid it farewell.
Moving on feels bittersweet but I know that the next season will be beautiful, too.
The day before, an ambulance had transported my dad back home. Although he had roused the tiniest bit, enough to chew up his medication and gnaw on the straw I raised to his dry lips, he never really woke up.
I went to work that Thursday. Does that seem odd? I’d been off work so many days because he was dying. It had been eleven days in the hospital. That day though, a calm had settled and my great aunts were ensconced in the house with him, to watch over him. So I went.
I checked in by telephone at noon and Aunt Lu said he was resting. I drove into the driveway at 4:30 PM and she met me on the porch and told me I needed to go get my sister from her workplace just down the street.
I drove to Kentucky Fried Chicken and asked for her, my voice breaking. I hugged her there and told her we needed to go home.
I wasn’t in the room when he took his last breath. When I entered the room with my sister in tow, he was seizing and I quickly backed out of the room, taking her with me. We went into the darkened living room and sat in tearful silence.
What do you do when your dad is dying down the hallway?
Thirty years later, I can’t remember who told me he was gone. My mother, maybe. She was there, even though they’d been divorced for a dozen years. When I knew, I went to my dad’s office in the garage and told my husband and my stepmother (who was there, though they’d been divorced for six years) and my dad’s best friend.
For my whole adult life, I’ve lived without him. He never knew my children. He never knew the story of my life, the arcs, the obstacles, the heartbreaks, the solutions, the mysteries.
I miss him the way you miss the warmth of the sun in the midst of the most dismal winter of your life. You almost can’t believe that it ever existed. I wish I could hear his laugh, hear him speak, tell him my stories.
Thirty years and one day later, here I am in my house in southern California. The sun shines nearly every day. My children are mostly grown and my marriage is beautiful and strong. I never could have seen this life from that vantage point in the house on 44th Drive.
The loss of him tore a hole in the fabric of my world. Since then, I’ve been patching together the frayed edges, trying to make something beautiful out of the remnants. I think he’d be proud.
I’m driving to work and I will arrive exactly on time at 7:30 AM.
I’m listening to a podcast in which two people mention how they routinely worry about car crashes.
I make a right turn, onto the freeway ramp. This particular ramp is metered, so you have to stop at a stop light before entering the freeway, two cars at a time.
I stop at the red light. A car crashed into the back of mine so hard that my seat ends up in a reclining position. I feel myself flopping backwards, hitting the headrest. I start screaming.
I’m not sure what I’m screaming but I’m enraged. I drive my crippled Toyota Corolla to the side of the freeway–thankfully there’s a large shoulder–and climb out, still yelling. Immediately after, I remember screaming, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD” but in my memory I’m screaming something like, “YOU ARE KIDDING ME!”
I don’t really know.
I struggle to remember how, then dial 9-1-1. I tell the dispatcher that I was in a car crash on the 78. I am hysterical and the dispatcher has to tell me she can’t understand. Was I injured? I don’t know! I don’t know! I’m not bleeding but I don’t know. Do I want to be evaluated? Yes!
I want everything. I want the police. I want a traffic collision report. I want the fire department to tell me I’m okay. I call my husband and The way he responds tells me I must sound hysterical. He asks if he should come and I don’t know. Do I need a ride? I tell him where I am and say that I guess I need him to come. I don’t know.
Am I okay? Everyone keeps asking but I don’t know. I think I’m crying–I feel like I’m crying but when the fireman walks up to me and I point to the car and he asks me if I’m okay, he looks me in the eyes and says okay, let’s breathe. I don’t think my face is wet so maybe I haven’t been crying. Maybe I’ve just been gasping and yelling.
I look over at the fire trucks arriving and the highway patrol vehicle and the flashing lights and the woman in yellow who is holding her wrist, grimacing and he tells me, hey, look at me. There’s a lot going on but it’s okay, just breathe.
And I breathe. I tell him I was just listening to a podcast that was talking about car crashes!
He tells me the Captain will talk to me and sure enough, the Captain comes over and speaks to me and I tell him the same thing about the podcasts. The sheriff walks up, a short man, and talks to to me.
I call my work, calmer now. Tell them I won’t be in. Tell them I was in a car crash.
Then the highway patrolman comes and takes my statement. I stopped at the light, I tell him, because it was red. And she didn’t stop! She didn’t even slow down! I didn’t even see her! And then I pulled over to the side and called 9-1-1.
I’m furious all over again.
Her Nissan Altima is still blocking traffic but it doesn’t look as damaged as my car. My husband arrives. We take out the reusable shopping bags from the trunk and the stuff from the glove compartment. When I open the door, I can see that it does not close right. Even I can tell that the car’s frame is bent. I notice that my phone charger was dislodged and flew backwards.
The driver’s seat is tilted back.
Something’s leaking from the engine.
The tow truck comes. The tow truck driver drives my vehicle up a ramp onto the flatbed. He hooks up her car. I leave with my husband.
When I get into the car my husband drove, I start gasping again. My brain and body are still terrified. I’m sure it’s the adrenaline still surging through me. But I ask him to get off the freeway. It feels dangerous.
I never do speak to the other driver, a woman who looks a little older than me. I am so angry with her for smashing my car and throwing me backwards.
I call the insurance company. My husband calls the Toyota dealership–it was a leased car. I take to my bed and try to sleep but every time I start to doze, the phone rings. Insurance people, tow yard people, more insurance people. It’s dizzying.
I go to the doctor the next day. I have a headache and my upper back hurts–I purposely haven’t taken any pain reliever since the day before so I can see what really hurts and my head definitely hurts.
The doctor was surprised I wasn’t more injured. She diagnosed me with whiplash but I have to say that other than this headache, I don’t feel too bad. She said it was lucky that I didn’t see it coming because if I had braced myself it would have been worse.
She told me to stay home from work and wrote me a note. So I’ve been resting and sleeping and trying to have good posture so my neck isn’t strained more. I am grateful to be okay.
The vehicle was officially totaled by the insurance company.
This was the first time I’ve ever been involved in a major crash. I do hope it’s my last. I am grateful I knew what to do, grateful for firemen, the sheriff, the highway patrol, the tow truck driver, the lady who stopped On the freeway to ask me if I were okay and to give me a hug, the insurance people, the medical people and my husband.
When I pull into my driveway, I grab my belongings in a hurry, knowing that my dog, Lola, is barking her head off, losing her mind, waiting for me. Except she’s not.
I was her favorite person, her main person. When she came home to us, prancing out of her travel crate like she owned us already, she was just a fluffy puppy, only eight weeks old. I worked from home and she was my constant companion. She slept at the side of my bed. She sprawled in the kitchen while I cooked dinner. She laid under my desk while I worked. She nosed her face under my elbow while I tried to type.
In March, she started limping. It wasn’t unusual for her to limp on occasion. She’d sometimes limp after a long walk or for no reason at all. The vet told me she had arthritis. So I didn’t think too much of it. She was seven years old, an old lady in dog years.
But she didn’t improve. A month later, she had a lump on her wrist. It doubled in size over the course of a weekend, so I took her to the vet on Monday, April 8. After a round of x-rays, the vet told me that Lola had osteosarcoma. Cancer.
“How long?” I asked.
Maybe a week. Maybe six weeks. Probably not more than six weeks. The vet gave me pain medications, two kinds. Our goal was to keep her comfortable.
The first week, my husband said, “I think she’s going to make it longer than six weeks! She’s doing so well!” and it was true. She leaped with joy when I came home. She barked and followed me around. She clearly felt better.
A week later, we had the flood. (See previous post.) The noise and calamity freaked her out. Besides that, though, she was slowing down. My mom reported that Lola just slept all day, waiting for me to get home. When I got home, Lola slept by my bed. She was losing her spark. She panted. I could tell she was in increasing pain.
So, on Friday, April 19, we made an appointment. On Monday, April 22, after work, I drove home with heavy heart, knowing that the end was at hand.
Lola greeted me with joy. I second-guessed myself. Maybe she was fine. Maybe another week. But I knew that I couldn’t allow her to suffer any longer. I began to cry. I hated that she didn’t know what was going to happen–she was so happy I was home–but glad she didn’t know. I felt like a traitor, though.
My husband went with me.
In the waiting room, other people remarked–as they always did–at her beauty. She was anxious and panting. They quickly called us to a room and the vet tech took her back to insert an i.v. and start some sedation. They returned her to us and she sat on my feet. She started to calm down somewhat.
The vet came in. There was paperwork to fill out. Instructions. The vet told me she’d give her something more to relax her. They put a comforter on the floor for her to lie on. The vet left to give us more time.
When she came back, Lola was still standing. She would not lie down. The vet said, “Oh, I know you are feeling it. Just lie down.” I knew she wouldn’t leave me, so I crawled onto the floor, onto the comforter.
“Come here,” I said and she came over, of course, and backed herself onto me until she was sitting on my lap, essentially, the way she always liked to do.
I dug my fingers into her thick fur, stroking her while the vet plunged the needle into the i.v. port. She told me it would be very quick and it was. I felt Lola’s body sag as her spirit left. She vet cradled her head and gently laid it down so she could check for a heartbeat.
Lola was gone.
We fled the room even though they told us we could stay as long as we wanted. I hated leaving her there but I knew she wasn’t there anyway.
I still think she’s waiting for me when I get home.
I was exhausted and thinking about sleep when she knocked lightly on my bedroom door.
“Mom, there’s water in the bathroom.” Her panicked expression told me more than her words did.
I jumped from bed and ran the few feet to the main bathroom located between the two kids’ bedrooms. I heard the water before I saw it pouring from the cabinet beneath the sink.
I grabbed the handle under the sink and cranked it until the spraying water slowed and finally stopped. Then I assessed the situation. (In other words, I completely freaked out.)
I immediately began grabbing towels–big, small, dirty, clean–soaking up the inches of water on the tile floor and tossing them into the tub.
Though it’s a blur now, it was a blur then, too. I believe I was chanting something like, “OH NO! OH NO! OH NO!” Only hours earlier, our handyman had finished painting the patched drywall on my office ceiling, the site of a previous water leak six months ago.
My daughter watched, asking, “What can I do? What should I do?” and I said, “Towels. Towels. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.”
Eventually, we drew a crowd–my husband, one of my sons. My son began soaking up water from the carpet. We ran out of towels. Then my daughter appeared again and said, “There’s water coming out of the smoke detector in your office.”
OH NO. I ran downstairs and found a steady stream of water flowing from the smoke detector. I grabbed a giant metal bowl from the kitchen and stood under the stream, catching the water. Now I was completely immobilized and freaking out in place. About that time, my son asked what he should do and I said, “Get a ladder?”
He did and soon I was standing on the metal rungs of a ladder, barefooted, collecting the streaming water. I felt like I was on a Survivor Immunity Challenge. I was sweaty and wet and my feet were in agony.
Then the smoke detector started shrieking. I yanked out the battery while water ran down my arms and the shrieking continued. In fact, every smoke detector in our house joined the mad chorus, blaring and freaking out our poor dog, Lola.
I tried to disconnect the wires from the smoke detector and got a little shock and decided not to electrocute myself.
Eventually, we called a friend–at 9 PM on a Sunday night–and he came over and turned off all the power to the whole house and finally, blessed silence.
But still, water everywhere.
We did what we could–crawling over the floor to use the Wet-Vac and eventually, at midnight, we went to bed.
At 3 AM my husband woke me and told me to come downstairs. That’s when I found water dripping from various spots in the office ceiling and family room ceiling. An entire row of books on my bookshelf were soaking up water like literary sponges.
When the day dawned, I called our homeowner’s insurance and made a claim. I’d had to do this one time before.
This time, it seemed less efficient but two weeks later, we received a substantial check in the mail.
And that’s why I spent the last week packing up my office, packing up books in bedroom bookshelves, moving everything from everywhere so new carpet could be installed. We still have ceiling repairs to do but the house looks pretty great.
I’m not exactly thankful for the Great Flood of 2019, but I am super grateful for insurance and for the beautiful new carpet that I wished I could afford before but never could.
I remember the day, decades ago, when I placed someone’s glasses on my face and saw individually outlined leaves on a tree in the back yard. I hadn’t known I wasn’t seeing clearly.
I can see perfectly now without contacts or glasses but only to read. I’ve spent the last year squinting into the distance, covering one eye and then the next, wondering why I can’t see. It’s made me crabby. I struggle to see my computer screen at work.
My eye doctor has me wearing one contact lens for distances and one for up-close and supposedly my brain will compensate and somehow I will see both near and far.
Nobody told my brain, though. In the distance, I see blurs. Up close, I am squinting and letters float together in a haze. I can’t see here and I can’t see there.
Contacts and glasses used to do the trick. I could see the horizon, across the room and letters in a book. Now I hold a prescription bottle and look hopelessly at the words. There’s no possible way I can read small print unless I have naked eyeballs.
I have to choose. I can either see far away, or across the room or . . . without any correction, twelve inches away.
This feels like life, somehow. I have no clear vision. I don’t see what’s in the distance. I can’t scan the room. If I am blind to everything else, I can read.
Vision for me, was one of those things I took for granted, not ever thinking this day of blurriness would come.
(My new eye doctor, by the way, is convinced he can help but I am convinced that I will soon be wearing contact lenses and “readers” . . . it’s not going to be possible to correct my vision so I can see everything all at once. And I cannot stand the blurriness at the edges–especially when I drive or look at a computer.)
*It’s been a very rainy winter here in San Diego and I have been embittered by the lack of sunshine. But now, today, the sun is shining. The rain is gone.