Moments

Mr. Lopez mows my lawn. In fact, he’s been mowing the lawn at my house for 35 years, when the couple who originally owned my house still called it “home.” I moved in a little over a year ago. Mr. Lopez showed up about six months after that and informed me, in broken English, that he could take care of my lawn. He’s been doing it ever since.

Every three weeks Mr. Lopez shows up, and if I need him sooner than that, I call his cell phone. His wife, who speaks English, answers. She always asks, “Is this the lady with the dogs?” I affirm; she takes the message for him; he shows up.

Over the summer, Mr. Lopez didn’t show for nearly eight weeks. I really wasn’t too concerned. We were in the midst of a drought, so grass was not growing, and my house was under construction, so half my yard was covered with wall remnants and paint cans.

Finally, one morning he showed. I watched him approach my front door; he looked different. There was something about the way he was walking. His body was on my walkway; his mind was not. He seemed heavy.

I greeted him outside as I normally do. “Hi, Mr. Lopez!”

“Good Morning. Sorry. Haven’t come.”

I guess I should explain. I understand Spanish much better than I can speak it, which doesn’t say a lot. Mr. Lopez, on the other hand, speaks English better than he understands it. This was what our six months together had taught us – broken, half-phrases worked.

“Is all OK?” I asked.

“My wife. She is dead.”

No complicated turn of phrase. Simply. “My wife. She is dead. “

Then, he crossed himself as tears welled up in his eyes, and he looked up at the sky.

“I’m so sorry.” And then, the tears started.

“It is better. Now she is better.” Again, he looked to the sky.

His tears flowed now. I was crying freely, as well. We held hands.

I said, “My father died about a year ago.”

“Oh. Su papa.”

I nodded.

Standing in my front yard, grief transcended language. The connection over sadness always seems to make sense.

My neighbor, the hippie one that lives with his mom next door, came out then. I saw him see us. He waved. Add this to the list of other shit he’s witnessed from me:

  • Knocking myself unconscious on my garage door;
  • Climbing his fence at 2:00am in grandpa pajamas to retrieve my dog who had jumped his fence;
  • Crying in the corner of my backyard after I slipped and fell while taking out the trash; and now,
  • Holding hands and crying with Mr. Lopez in my front yard.

“We’re having a moment!” I shouted out to him. He just shrugged, got into his car, and drove away.

The moment passed. Mr. Lopez began his work; I came inside.

There’s a quiet understanding between us now. Grief has a way of making people friends.

Joyriding

“Molly?”

“Yes?” I say into my cell phone.

“Let me first say that everything is fine. Your dad is OK. But there’s been an accident.”

He burned himself in the kitchen. He cut himself trying to shave. He fell in the shower. He tripped and gashed his head. He had a heat stroke. He had a regular stroke. He punched someone. He got hit by a car.

“I’ve just burned through eight scenarios,” I say anxiously. “What happened?!? What?!? Spill it!”

The voice on the other end of the line, the head nurse, cleared her throat. “Your father managed to get out today. We found him, but he fell and scraped his knee.”

“He has a scrape. On his knee. That’s it?”

“Yes.”

Relieved, I said, “Oh. OK. I’m on my way. Also, always lead with ‘your father only has a scrape on his knee’ from here on out.”

She sighs. “Well, I did lead with ‘everything is fine…your dad is OK,’ but I understand how ‘only a scrape’ is better.”

“Thank you. See you in a minute.”

I hung up and drove over to the assisted living residence in which my father was living. My father, after suffering two strokes, had the mindset of a five-year-old – a five-year-old who never learned his lesson. Ever. The assisted living residence we eventually moved him to also happened to be a secured facility because he was constantly looking for a way out. And he always found them. And when he wandered, he always picked the busiest street.

I punched in the code to the front door and was immediately met by Peggy, the Resident Executive Director.

“Can we talk in my office?”

Shit. This time he’s gone too far. They’re gonna kick him out.

What if he just climbed out a window?

We had a couple of issues. After his strokes, my father became a bit belligerent and had, on a couple of occasions, berated staff and other residents.  He was also a pretty nimble guy who tried to leave the facility on numerous occasions. He had already been asked to leave a non-secured facility because of his tendency to wander and not take “no” for an answer.

“Sure,” I managed.

We went into her office. She closed the door.

“So, I know you know that your father got out today.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Where am I gonna take him that has a neurologist on staff?

“Yes,” I said.

“We are desperately trying to finish upgrading the fence, but while the workers are working on it, there will be gaps…ways out.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Will they let me keep him here a day or two until I find another place?

“Well, he’s looking for them because he’s not used to not being able to do as he pleases,” I tried as an excuse.

“Right. He is, however, not thinking with full faculty, and I have been very clear with the fence company that they need to monitor the gaps at all times because our residents suffer from dementia and are not even aware that they are ‘leaving’ the residence.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. They know my dad is aware he’s leaving. He just wants to go golfing, and he hates being told what to do…even without “full faculty.”

“Right,” I said, hoping she would sense my exhaustion. “It’s very hard.”

“I hold the fence company completely accountable for your father’s accident today.”

Alarm bells started going off in my head. “Wait. He just scraped his knee, right?”

“When we called to tell you about it, we didn’t give you the whole story,” she admitted.

Wait. What?!?  Holy shit! He burned himself in the kitchen. He cut himself trying to shave. He fell in the shower. He tripped and gashed his head. He had a heat stroke.  He had a regular stroke. He punched someone. He got hit by a car.

“Your father must have found a gap in the fence and wandered out to the field next to the facilities. There, he found one of the worker’s trucks with keys in it. It was parked on the lawn. Your father got in, started it, then pulled out onto the street, whereupon he paralleled parked it at the curb, took the keys out of the ignition, and came back.”

Silence.

I was letting it sink in. Then, “What?”

“The brain is funny,” she explained. “I’m assuming he saw the truck, realized trucks don’t belong on lawns, and decided to parallel park it where it did belong…on the street.”

“My dad stole a truck? To parallel park it.”

“The brain is funny.”

Silence.

I was letting it sink in further. Then, “What if he hadn’t parked it? What if he had just kept driving? What if….? I’m gonna need to speak to him.”

“Of course,” was all she said.

We went back to find my dad, who was sitting in the activity room, getting ready for dancing. He looked up and saw me from across the room. He smiled – beamed, really. He came directly over.

“Hello, Baby. Did you know I have a tree – ”

I cut him off. “Dad. Did you go somewhere today?”

“No.”

I looked into his eyes. He wasn’t lying.

“Did you leave, get in a truck, and drive today?”

“No.” Simple.

I stared into his eyes, again. He totally wasn’t lying.

Peggy touched my arm. “The brain is a funny thing,” she said softly.

I searched his face for signs that he knew what was going on – a clear indication that he was messing with me. Nothing. He just kept smiling at me. Then, “Did you know I have a tree in my room?”

We went to look at the tree in his room, then went for a Sonic iced tea – his favorite afternoon treat. As we left, he asked, “Are we taking my truck or yours?”

Curious. “We’re taking mine dad. You don’t have a truck, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right,” he said. “I sold it to that fencer.”

The brain is a funny thing.

One Year Later

I have tried, on multiple occasions, to sit down and write about my dad’s death – writing has always been a means for me to work through something – but, for some reason, I always get stuck on his last 24 hours. It doesn’t flow like other memories tend to do. So, instead, I’ll start with this…

Sometimes you take a shower, and the world becomes a better place. You get in feeling shitty; you get out clean and refreshed. But sometimes – on the rare occasion – you get in feeling shitty, and you get out still feeling shitty, only now you’re wet.

The day my dad died was when I discovered this second kind of shower.

I got into the shower miserably sad, and I got out miserably sad. Only now I was wet and I had to fucking dry off and put on fucking clothes and do my fucking after-shower routine, and really, I just wanted to be sad without all the other stuff.

It was Tuesday, August 23, 2011. My dad had just died. I returned home alone. I was very aware of the silence. I showered.

Then, wet and sad, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, which at that point was just a mattress on the floor in my house that was still under renovations. I can’t recall how long I sat there. but I was replaying my dad’s last 24 hours.

————————-

I showed up at the assisted living residence that he had been living in since July 1 – you can read more about that here – just before lunchtime. After two strokes, my father had been reduced to the mental capacity of a five-year-old. The moments of lucidity were few and far between, but when they happened, they were magical.

That day, I found him in the barbershop they had on site. He was getting a haircut. He made eye contact with me through the mirror and smiled.

Since his first stroke, on June 2, 2011, there was something about the way he smiled every time he saw me – as though he had been waiting his whole life to see my face. Every single time he saw me. And I saw him two or three times a day, every day.

To be fair, my father had one of those smiles – it was warm and mischievous and charming all at the same time. When he smiled, his entire face would light up. So, to have that smile directed at me two or three times a day, every day, was both breathtaking and overwhelming. It was in those moments that I knew he loved me. We had never really said that much in my house.

But I digress.

The final touches were put on his haircut, and he stood up. His six-foot frame towered over the “barber,” a tiny woman who informed him, as he searched his empty pockets for money, that she “would bill him.” He smiled at her, then nodded at me, and told her I was there to pick him up because he “couldn’t find his car.”

His attention turned to me as we walked out of the barbershop.

“Hello, Baby.” Every time.

Smile, then “Hello, Baby.” Then…wait for it…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

————

Right after we moved him into the residence, I took him to Home Depot. He informed me that he wanted a tree for his room. I found a small bamboo tree in a small pot. We put it in his room, and every day, every time I would see him, he would ask if I knew that there was a tree in his room or if I wanted to see the tree in his room. I asked around. He never mentioned the tree unless I was there. Somehow he connected that tree to me.

It’s in my house now. I am madly trying to keep it from dying. I’m not doing so great at that, but I’m holding out hope.

————

So…”You wanna see the tree in my room?”

“Sure, Dad.”

We walked, arms linked, down the hallway to his room. Ruby, one of the aids, was standing in the kitchen. He stopped me, then leaned against the wall. Crossing his arms, he beamed that smile of his and said to her, “How’s it going ?” It was perfect, quintessential Hal Cox – charming, slightly inappropriate, and full of confidence.

And that’s where it stops. I can’t remember anymore of that day until the phone call at around 9:00pm.

“Molly, we can’t get your father to wake up. He is unresponsive. Should we call an ambulance?”

I think I was at dinner. I was heading over to see him after, but I got this phone call from the nurse on duty, so I hurried over.

He was in his bed, his breathing erratic. He was completely unresponsive.

“Is the ambulance on the way?” I asked. They assured me it was.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but my father had his third and final stroke that night. It was in the direct center of his brain. The doctor said there was nothing that could be done. I remember standing outside the emergency room with my brother – the good brother – as we discussed the DNR and made the conscious decision to let my father die. But he didn’t. Not right away. He held on.

He was moved to a private room.  I sat in a chair next to his bed after the rest of my family had gone home just desperately wanting him to open his eyes and smile that smile and say, “Hello, Baby.” I can hear his voice saying it now – drawn out, slow, then an upward lilt at the end.

He died mid-morning. Just like that. The life literally just left his body, and his light went out. No more smile.

—————

So, it’s August 23, 2011, and my dad has just died. I returned home alone. I showered. I’m sitting on my mattress on the floor, and I’m thinking of the last 24 hours, and I am overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion and, and, and….the silence is deafening.

I drank that night with the express intent of numbing all feelings, and I continued to drink every day, all day for the next 5 months.

But I digress.

On this, the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, I am, once again, overcome with grief and sadness and life and emotion…but the silence is OK. I’m not interested in numbing anything.

I intend to sit in it. Feel it. Then, I may even tackle a shower. And should I get out just feeling wet, I’ll try to remember how good it feels to simply feel.

Exclamation Points and Pedicures

I’m a child. There. I admit it.

“I don’t wanna” might be my most favorite excuse in the world. Moreover, (and what child do you know uses “moreover”?), I can find a million excuses to not do anything I don’t wanna. Facebook, YouTube, guitar playing, reading, TV, and sitting in silence are some of my favorite means of prolonging the doing of the task I don’t wanna do.

So, three weeks ago, I hurt my ankle. I don’t know how. I went to bed on Monday night, and on Tuesday my ankle was the size of a golf ball.

Now, to be fair, this is a bad ankle I had sprained in the worst possible way a few years ago, so I roll it and twist it often.

For three weeks, I have not run. (I’m a fake runner.) For three weeks, I have spent the vast majority of my time in flip-flops. (This is not news, but I haven’t had the option to change into anything else.) For three weeks, I have tried not to limp. And for three weeks, I have had multiple friends tell me to get an x-ray.

But I don’t wanna.

——————

“It’s liver and onions. Eat it.”

 It smelled funny – funny strange.

What is it?”

I mean, I heard him say “liver and onions,” but what was with the texture. And the smell. The whole thing was odd.

“Your dinner.”

Oh, my dad. So simple. So direct. That was his clear way of saying, “You’re eating liver and onions for dinner. That’s it. Don’t try to get out of it.”

“Well, I’m not eating that.”

There was a flare of nostrils. This was getting serious.

“Well, that’s all you’re getting.”

He ate his food.

The stand-off lasted through breakfast two days later. I won. Cereal replaced the leftovers of liver and onions.

“I don’t wanna” – 1; liver and onions – 0.

————————————–

This is not my foot.

So, for three weeks, amid claims of “It’s a hairline fracture” and “It should be healed already” and “You’re still limping?” and “Go get an x-ray,” I have stood firm in my I don’t wanna-ness.

Then, my Achilles heel…bribery and sweetness.

“Do you want to go to that clinic today after we meet? I know you don’t WANT to, but let’s go anyway!!”

During dinner last night, I had informed my sweet friend that my ankle was still bothering me, and I should just suck it up and go to the med clinic for an x-ray. “It’s the adult thing to do.”

I respond to her morning text: “Nah…no me gusta.” I’m a bilingual child.

“I know que no te gusta, but you need to be better. Let’s go!”

“You won’t make this fun with exclamation points,” I quip. Can one “quip” in a text message?

“What do you mean??!!!”

Clever. That got a smile.

“Come on!!!! It will take less than an hour! Pleaseeeeeee!”

Dammit. Why does she care that much if I go for a damn x-ray? I don’t wanna. Hmm…how.to.respond.

“Can we get pedicures after?”

I am aware that I have a hurt ankle, and I will have to be clear with my pedicure lady that she will have to be gentle, but c’mon…it’s a pedicure!

“Yes!!!”

Dammit. “Then, yes.”

So, today I’m heading to the med clinic for an x-ray. Hairline fracture or not, I’m clear that I shouldn’t have waited this long. And while it took bribery to get me there, I’m still going. That’s rather adult of me.

Now, I’m gonna eat my gummy vitamins and have some Peanut Butter Crunch for breakfast. No. Really.

I’ll let you know if it’s broken.

UPDATE: It’s not broken. It’s a sprain. I am, however, in a boot. I know…it’s hot.

Girl Fight

“I can hit you.”

I was confused. Grabbing the strap of my backpack, I pulled it over my shoulder and continued towards the bus. It never waited. You had fifteen minutes after the last bell, then it left.

My backpack was jerked. I stopped as he filled my path again, followed by his posse. A posse that consisted of two people: the only Black girl in my class – a skinny girl with a mop of hair who dressed like a boy – and his younger brother.

“I can hit you,” he said again.

“You’re going to hit me?”

I was confused. You don’t tell somebody you can hit her, you just hit her.

“Yeah. She told me how.” He nodded towards the female member of his small posse.

“What do you mean ‘She told you how’?”

“It’s OK for me to hit you ‘cause she showed me how to fight a girl.”

A crowd was gathering.

“You had to be told how to fight a girl?”

I wasn’t trying to be funny – I was genuinely confused – but the line got laughs. Score.

That morning I had made inferences about the size of his penis based on the fact that he was incredibly skinny. I had never seen a penis nor did I know how small or how big one should be, but I had heard somewhere that boys hated being told It was small. A movie? My brother? I don’t know, but it worked.

He had been making fun of me and my best friend, and he went red and silent when I brought up his penis size. Girls slapped my hand as I got off the bus for school, and throughout the day I was asked to tell the story again and again.

Now, Mr. Small Penis was standing in front of me in all his 12-year-old glory, chest puffed out, wanting to hit me. I must have struck a nerve. Boys and their penii. I kept my backpack on my shoulder and stared at him. His face was reddening, and he was standing in a boxer stance.

“You’re not going to hit me,” I said, silently hoping that I was right.

Now, here’s where it gets fuzzy. I know he didn’t hit me. I know we got on the bus to go home because he lived only a few streets away from me. I also know that the summer between grades 7 and 8 he officially became my boyfriend.

Life is funny sometimes.

My takeaways from this memory (that came flooding back while watching 21 Jump Street…who knew?):

  • A lot of people wanted to fight me when I was a kid. (You can read about my encounter with Delphina here.)
  • Humor gets me a pretty decent pass on stuff that could get me in trouble.
  • I still am confused by the male anatomy.

It’s Personal.

So, Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor and current media personality, has declared today a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. Why?

“The goal is simple: Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.” (http://www.mikehuckabee.com/supportchickfila)

As a reminder, during an interview with the Baptist Press, this is what Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A President, said after being asked to address his franchise’s support of the traditional family:

“Well, guilty as charged.”

He went on to say:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that…we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Then, in an appearance on The Ken Coleman Show, Cathy took his comments slightly further:

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a-president-anti-gay_n_1680984.html)

After these comments, I made a YouTube video. You can see it here.

Today, more than 600,000 people have said that they will support Chick-Fil-A.

I have had numerous discussions with many people recently about this topic – both religious and political. Apparently, you post your thoughts on YouTube and people tend to wanna talk to you about them. Who knew? I welcome these conversations because if nothing else, I’m putting a face on this issue with the people who know me…or semi-know me…or know someone who knows me.

And I will continue to make it personal. It’s hard to be anti-anyone who occupies time in your life. In your space.

Look, I am clear that we live in a very divisive world. It’s the one we have created. “You are different than I am.” “You think differently than I do.” You are “other” than me.”

We use these differences as a means to separate the “right” from “wrong.” If someone is “other” than you, it’s easier to make him/her “bad,” while you remain “good.” These differences help create “normal” or “traditional” versus “different” and “scary.”

Let’s be clear…

Supporting Chick-Fil-A today (or any other day for that matter) is a direct slap in my face. Not because I don’t support free speech – I made a YouTube video for cryin’ out loud ‘cause I’m all for the freedom to express your opinion – but because this is wrapped up in so much more than free speech and the support of the “traditional family” or “Godly values.”

By saying you support “traditional family,” you’re telling me that the family I create will never be “normal” or “good” or “right.” Why use the word “traditional” if not to show how anything else is abnormal?

This is about so much more than marriage equality or chicken. It’s about looking someone –  a fellow human being – in the face and telling her, “You are not the same as me and, therefore, don’t deserve the same.”

Buying a chicken sandwich or those amazing waffle fries (dammit.) today isn’t supporting free speech. You know that. Don’t try to convince me differently. You know that today is not about supporting free speech or Godly values. Today’s “Appreciation Day” is about supporting a business over a person. A person that you have deemed “other” and, therefore, wrong or bad or different or scary.

I share these faces with you.

They are just a handful of teenagers who killed themselves rather than face a world where they felt they were too different to ever fit in.

They are just teenagers.

Not wrong or bad or different or scary. Just kids.

 

I share this face with you. It’s mine.

I love to laugh. In fact, I laugh too loudly when something happens that I find enjoyable. Music feeds my soul. Going to the theatre is the thing I could spend the majority of my money on. Over the course of the last year, I have given and/or helped raise over $20,000 for organizations that help make our world a better place. I have too many dogs, but love each of them. I own my own house and my own business. I drink a lot of coffee, and I love cheese. I have a hard time saying “no” to my friends and end up overextending myself on a daily basis. Daily, I try to make a difference in our world.

These are just some of the things that make up me. These are the things for which I will hopefully be remembered. Note that “being gay” isn’t one of those things.

Enjoy your waffle fries. Or better yet…don’t.

This is personal. I won’t let you forget that.