Expecting to dial your grandmother and for her to pick up the phone leaves you hanging on to nothing. Loving someone with Alzheimer’s disease is like dropping a container of tacks on the ground and trying to pick them up quickly. It just doesn’t work like that.
You move slowly and it hurts. The tips of your fingers spit blood.
My grandmother has been losing her ability to function normally for about 8 to 10 years. I knew it when she started wetting the bed. I denied it when she called me by my mom’s name. I ticked it off as a common, just tired, momentary memory lapse. I mean, don’t we all forget things?
But, here I am calling her, wanting her to pick up at the recovery center, knowing that even when I’m lucky enough to get her, she’ll call me her sister or her daughter.
I saw her today and she recognized me after I said, “It’s Lisa.” I didn’t want her to call me another name. I just wanted to be me. I wanted her to know me.
She did. We talked. We laughed. I fed her and she giggled making fun of herself being fed like a baby and wearing diapers. I could’ve stayed all day. But, I had to go home to my own family. And, I knew it would get difficult later. I really didn’t want to see it.
I had been at the hospital when she hallucinated and thought I was “teasing” her, trying to hurt her. She screamed at me. I couldn’t do anything. I could only leave and pray.
No. Not prayer.
I Know. Just know. It’s life. It’s just life.
Then, I could only remember. I could only cry and remember her holding my hand through life.
I could remember holding her now spotted, wrinkled hand, swollen with arthritis and thinking that it was the most beautiful hand I’d ever held.
As her memories slip and slide, crashing into each other, disappearing, mine kindle into a fire so hot that I feel burnt. Not crisp though. Those memories burn, light my way into a deep understanding and a perception that having not seen her this way, I may have just clopped through life with the rest of us.
But now I know, I’m very sure, that there’s a light that will never go out. All thanks to a woman who many say has lost her mind. In the midst of confusion…she doesn’t remember someone or forgets who she’s talking to, she’ll smile and throw up her hands, “Oh well, doesn’t matter.”
I throw up my hands too now. “Oh well,” I think, “You’re getting closer to your light.”
Oh, look at that! It’s a panda. You see it? There’s a ship. Look look look. Where? Right there, follow my finger. You see it? No. Well sort of. Ooowa! That one’s weird. I think it’s an old man. He’s smiling. See? Yeah! I see it…
I lied. I saw nothing. Really. Just nothing. It was humiliating. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t even see shapes in the clouds. I’m broken.
My son sat for another thirty minutes on the car ride to the Keys pointing out dragons eating ice cream and flying mermaids while I gave up and checked my email on my phone.
Where did my creativity go? What happened to my imagination? I kept asking myself that as I sporadically searched the sky for the latest cloud news flash.
Look, wait, yeah, it’s a turtle! Right there. There’s the head, the shell, it’s moving.
I saw nothing.
Later, when I walked out on the jetty, to sit and listen to the water pat the rocks below. I watched the fish spring out, the birds zoom overhead, and the clouds float by. I squinted at the sky. I drew images with my eyes.
I saw nothing.
I tried again the next day and the next, but found nothing.
And this is what I’ve decided. All literature, the books that have guided me though rough times, the prayers that have steadied me, could never have shown me exactly why I’m so lost sometimes.
But, that boy and those clouds did.
When you look up into the sky…
At the end of the first week back to school in Florida, I stood in a line with moms beaten, worried, and tired. We were from everywhere in Miami. We wore business clothes, jeans, and sweatpants.
The “perfect” mom with the straight, red hair, black V-neck sweater, and pencil skirt raised her eyebrows as the Latina mom in sweatpants rolled her eyes and said, “I finally understand my mom. I used to be so embarrassed when she’d hand out coupons at the counter and now I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna pay for all this.”
She raised her eyes to the sky as if to say, “Save me! Help me.”
I pulled the plug from my ear, the earphone muffling the depressing music on the speakers at CVS. “I know. I feel the same,” I said, desperately reaching out to her.
The redhead rolled her eyes again. “It’s crazy. They kill us.”
I looked into their eyes and the week of troubles emptied from my soul. The week of upset, anger, resentment, and fighting left me because I wasn’t alone. I was with women unlike me and just like me.
We knew pain. The kind of pain religious leaders just won’t ever understand.
The kind of pain kids frown at.
The kind of pain only mothers know.
And, my heart emptied.
In those few moments, no one could’ve predicted that my heart would empty. No religious mantra could fix me. But, right there, with women I didn’t even know, my heart emptied.
And, I was free.
Find those moments that free you and recognize them as religious.
The uncertainty and shock of feeling as if I’d entered a distorted dimension, splintered and shapeshifting, grew into a full-time stint as a middle school teacher. Everyone should have to teach middle school. I’ve said this ever since I realized I wasn’t going to quit teaching after all, ever since I got through those first few years.
I usually say it at a disgruntled moment when it seems as if the people who I’m listening to or observing just don’t appreciate the complexity of heartache and the simplicity of discipline.
Those people usually have Bobble Head egos and tell really bad jokes that they laugh at because nobody else will. But, sometimes those people are people who I would normally get along with and they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be shoved into a tween body and told to cheer up and be happy about it.
Teaching middle school reminds me of this on a daily basis.
If you pressed rewind to the day I began, it feels like one of those nightmarish dreams or thematic moments in a film. I’d spent fifteen years as an artist, writer, and editor and then I woke up in khaki pants and wearing a bun in my hair with a bunch of tweens and teens blinking at me.
What’s worse, I had to attempt to entertain them for hours on end, a daring and nearly impossible feat in a society where social media and video games rule the world. So, I didn’t. I did the opposite. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes and I talked to them. And, it was eerie.
There were moments when the world went winding around into a useless array of clutter speckled with static electricity that reminded me there was still energy left somewhere for me to tap into, even though the exhaustion accompanying my new career left me broken at times.
Teaching hundreds of students that reading still mattered shifted my perspective of right and wrong. It buried my sense of reality and scraped at my soul. Students openly berated me for daring to talk to them about the beauty of reading, for deigning to announce that the written word stands more powerful, more insightful than the latest flick.
Every fear I’d shut away in the dark corners of those storage closets, where you can’t even reach in order to pull down a box or everything tumbles out, those fears fell, crushing parts of me that I had thought were never to be seen again.
It was subtle at first. Sometimes, it was just a simple observation. A girl cried because someone called her a name. I needed to listen. Yes. These things happened. And, it happened to me so, really, I could help her. But, inside me all these emotions arose from somewhere left alone, somewhere kept quiet.
And, I tried to quiet them again.
But, there they were staring at me, waiting for me to recognize their existence. So, I did and what a twisted ride I took from there.
You’re pushed to a point that most of us runaway from and never really address. We simply encounter it over and over in our lives. We have run-ins with the classroom bullies who insidiously stick a foot out while we’re just walking to our desk, but this time, the bully’s a co-worker or even a boss, maybe even the person we love.
When I see kids come to school with their hair cinched into a bun or even disheveled, I chuckle. They don’t know how to just live, just be. If they do, they overdo it. They don’t have a sense of individuality and if they do they hide it. Muted and blended, they try so hard not to be different. But, when their appearance masks missing homework or no pencil or even a missing backpack, I know there’s more to it.
No matter how hard I try to forget, there I am too. I’m sitting in school without my pencil, no homework. My mother had had a fight with my stepfather. My grandmother had too many kids to care for and I had to help. My sister’d thrown a fit. I’d stayed up late doing my work because what else was there to do? I needed something to get my mind off the fighting. But, in the morning, sleep and chaos left my work at home.
I sat in class, reprimanded for not doing my work. It wouldn’t be the first or last time.
I remember that, my past, when I stay with my students organizing their folders. I remember that when I sit at lunch listening to their problems. I remember what it was like to be them when I give them the extra bag of chips I buy because I know one of them will be hungry for many reasons. Someone forgot to pack lunch. They just have no money. Or, maybe they just starve themselves. But if a teacher hands them a bag of Tostitos and everyone else is grabbing some, they might just take some too.
As adults, we get caught up in our problems and forget the kids who came with those problems. As adults, we forget the life we left behind. We forget what’s important in order to chase meaningless wants and desires.
Sometimes, as parents, we look at the social media and general consensus that education and agree knowingly. But, it doesn’t really matter when kids still go to school anyway. We love to justify our neglect, our smug lives, our rush forward. But, we shouldn’t.
How do I know? Well, I’m a middle school teacher. You should try it someday. You might learn something.
Her eyes bit into hers and, what a shame, since love often resided there. Brown spears sprung from a deep darkness pooled into circular rounds, cushioned only by a sense of humanity. To blink would’ve meant she’d lose her stance, her power.
A black ring outlined the severity of her response to her mother who could only break with sorrow at having realized her daughter stood stronger than she did.
The daughter’s eyelashes frayed her lids, framing the centers with honor and pride. Those eyes waited for no one, bowed to nothing, spoke to all, especially the figure she knew no longer posed a threat.
The mother’s eyes paled in comparison, a light green, tired and worn. They ached and blinked too much. The black spears, once strong, were scattered and bent, blending into the green with no real destination. The black ring blurred and swirled, knowing no boundaries.
So, the mother’s eyelids fell half-mast, cradling the idea that life need not be a fight. She bore no resentment or anger at losing this battle with the daughter she loved more than life. She even offered what little strength she had left to the daughter who suddenly blinked, then bit her bottom lip to punish herself for such weakness.
Her eyes took her mother’s strength with a glorious grin that crinkled the edges of her Egyptian-eyeliner handed to her by the gods who’d traced them at birth. She breathed and her eyes flew open much wider now when she felt the sensitivity of that strength.
The pump of it meant they remained connected so that to hurt one, would hurt the other.
President Obama visited and I thought, okay, I’m just too tired to think much about it. I wish I had more energy. But because I teach middle schoolers and work until I can’t stand anymore, I couldn’t feel the excitement I’d normally feel when The President visits our city.
How do you react when The President visits your city?
Those sinewy blue beings link arms and chant, rocking in unison for love, Avatars who sync into the power of the earth while the “smarter,” more intelligent beings exploit them. I think of this often. I thought of this when I saw the new J.J. Abrams series Revolution. For those of you who don’t know the basics, the premise of the series questions our reliance on technology and asks, what if the lights went out, forever?
Needless to say, there’s a laughable character who once brandished $80 million dollars from his exploits in the Google empire, but now, without lights, he’s just the victim of “schoolyard bullies.”
It’s about the loss of power, but more importantly, our loss of true power without electricity, our inability to come to grips with what’s really important to us. Many characters realize at broken moments what that power is, the enduring, everlasting power of love.
I just read a WordPress post about bringing more traffic to your blog. It was an informative and helpful post. I’ve read others like it and learned a lot including some of the posts written by Michelle W. and Cheri Lucas. I even explored these ideas over summer when I had time to write more often and when I even used StumbleUpon for one day. It was bizarre, Twilight Zonish.
But, as I read this WordPress post about traffic, I thought, well, what happens when the lights go out? What happens when there’s no electricity, no money, no this, when it’s just stories and survival and hopefully love?
I thought about this because I’m sick and grappling with the idea of staying home from work and just lying here, trying to get well. These are the times when I’m in highspeed mode but get shut down as if all the lights just go out one day. It’s similar to the opening scene in Revolution when the cars are driving, the TV’s talking, the phone’s ringing and then it all just goes dark.
I had decided that when I started using WordPress that I’d put more energy into writing, like many of you I assume. But, I’ve found once again that loving to write doesn’t mean losing your love of everything else. I’ve spent years in the field although right now my main occupation is teaching.
I’ve seen and read about so many writers and journalists who give up their lives, meaning everything else they love, in order to write. This sounds exciting and even noble at times, but is it, really? Do we have to give up everything else for that one thing we’ve categorized ourselves as being or pursuing?
I do, but only when I can. I actually miss feeling that way, but there are other parts of my life I’ve decided to love more. That is my own personal evolution before any other revolution within any other large-scale change that I or you will ever encounter.
For starters, I love my children a whole lot more than writing. They remind me that writing was something I started doing on a regular basis because I was so lonely and had no one to talk to. Second, my students need me more than they know. I always choose them over anything, even my own sanity sometimes. Third, my sister may be 3,000 miles away but when she needs me, I drop everything and stay up all night with her or even worrying about her. Fourth, my husband, my mom, my grandmother, my in-laws, my friends, even my fellow bloggers and writers, your insightful stories and photographs, your art, come before my writing.
I’ve evolved because before there’s a necessary revolution to this tendency to obsess and ultimately to destroy the beauty around us, I saw who I was, who I can become, and I changed.
When the image of Miley Cyrus wearing almost nothing, bent over on a stage flashed on my computer screen, I just thought, “Whatever, here we go again.”
But, to all the girls who grew up watching her make exaggerated gestures in response to a weekly dilemma on her Disney sitcom, this was not whatever.
It was a jaw-dropping, “What?”
Seeing the reactions of my children and so many of the kids my children grew up with made me rethink what I actually saw.
My whatever was their shock.
Well, it’s shock because she’s NOT Madonna. She’s a Disney character come to life.
She’s what they watched “make mistakes” and who they identified and laughed with. So, yes, as much as I’d like to say, “Aw shucks, she’s just growing up like everybody else, she’s not.”
It’s just not the same as Madonna shocking the crap out of everyone in the 80s, the 90s, and every decade since.
Madonna existed on a platform of her own. She was never pimped out to Disney. She broke stigmas because she was a badass from the start.
So, the impact is very different.
It’s a statement.
It is art.
No matter how raw or vulgar the art is.
The issue with Miley Cyrus is and always will be that she grew up symbolizing Disney sass, not badass.
I don’t even think, “Wow, she’s really pushing the envelope. I’m starting to respect her.” I just shrug and chalk her up to just another Disney drop out who’s throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to be seen like a child but still wants attention.
'Life never stops. Your time here is limited make it count. People won't remember you for what you owned, but they will remember your personality and values. Make your mark on the world. Start creating the person you want to be today because tomorrow could be to late. Who knows how long each one of us have left. Embrace all aspects of your life.' -Sebestien LaBrake