December 28, 2009

Shared loss

My friend's father passed away on Christmas Eve.  I just found out today: a mutual friend mentioned it, almost casually. 

I don't know any details; how he died, what the circumstances were, when the funeral is (have they already had it?).

All I know is that I wish I could phrase my condolences better, more eloquently.  That even having been on the other side, all I can say from here is still, "I'm sorry.  I'm so, so sorry.  I'm thinking of you."

What I really wish I could do is give him a hug: the kind that doesn't require words, the kind that is enveloping and sheltering and cradling and would just let him cry, because that was what I had needed the most, what my best friend provided for me.

The facebook message I sent hardly seems enough, but I wanted to make sure that he would receive it quickly yet on his own time.

I am crying, and I am not sure if I am crying for him, for his father, for his family--or if my tears are really just for me, for a pain that is remembered and amplified by the present, for a stocking that we still hung this year.  For this man I only met once or twice, for my friend who is far away, for the way his life will change, for everyone (because haven't we all lost someone?  We all will eventually).

Pride goes before a fall

We had Christmas one day early this year.  The evening of the 23rd, we all trekked out to my uncle's house, far away in the country up a steep, rain-sodden gravel drive.  My great-grandparents were there: GrandDad, with his hunched back arcing up over the nape of his neck; Grandmother, with her vacant expression and absolute deafness, finally confined to a wheelchair after years of putting on a pretence of being able to walk.

We opened presents with typical chaos, though instead of one-at-a-time, oldest to youngest, there was an attempt at organization followed by "whatever!" and everyone opening at once.  GrandDad would slowly unwrap each of Grandmother's gifts, holding it out for her inspection like an offering at an altar. 

The next day, GrandDad went to the care facility to sit with Grandmother while she examined her gifts again...but she refused.  She insisted on leaving, on being taken home to sit and look through her gifts, her free pass out of the nursing home really her best gift this Christmas.  The troops were mustered: GrandDad went to the home, and Mom, my brother, and I piled into the car to help.  Wheelchair to car was managed reasonably well, with Grandmother able to settle herself in the front seat, lifting her legs with her hands behind the knees and pivoting them around in front of her; a twitch on her skirted lap, to adjust trailing hems, and she was inside the car.

At their house, GrandDad backed the car into the garage, so that Grandmother was next to the single step up to the door (her preferred route: No one had used the front door in years).  The screened garage door, propped open, made a narrow diagonal path with the car door, opened so wide it hit the wall.  By some fluke, I was positioned in front of her, waiting to help her "walk" to the den (a short distance: maybe seven feet?), her pride and dignity refusing to use the wheelchair that she really needed.  Laboriously, she swung her legs to the ground and started feeling for the car door.  As usual, she didn't want to lean on my arm, but preferred the extension thingy on the door as a safety rail.  I convinced her to hold on to me instead, a much sturdier choice.  My brother crawled through the driver's seat to stand behind Grandmother, his hands on her waist. 

She managed to put one foot on the first step: to place the other there would have required a miracle.  She must no longer feel her legs--I think there is some paralysis--because she had no way of actually supporting herself.  Finally, Ben and I lifted her into position on the stoop, but suddenly I could feel her getting heavier and heavier--her feeble but frantic cries of "I can't do it!  I'm going to fall!" proved that she was already giving up and not helping us help her at all.  Eventually, I had my arms on her sides: underneath her shoulders, the way you might lift a toddler before settling him on your hip.  She grew heavier, and as we tried to move her forward I think her feet must have gotten caught or her legs simply gave out, because suddenly we were sinking, as if the wooden floorboards had turned into quicksand, we sank down until I think she was on her knees and I was crouched as low as possible.  Ben and I gathered around her, and Ben's reluctance to touch her (an aversion, I think, because she was Grandmother, capital G, inviolate, old, incontinent, ancient, the one around whom the family did everything, the very definition of matriarch) made it difficult to maneuver.  A last resolved grasp, and the two of us simply picked her up, Ben's arms around her waist, mine under her arms, and we shuffled forward (or backward, in my case) five or six feet to a wooden bench in the hallway.

As we set her down, I straightened up, sweating but relieved that we had made it, that we had not really dropped her, that now we could make her sit in the wheelchair so that life would be easier for everyone.

We moved her into the den, seated beside the divan (another small skirmish: had she sat on the couch, we would never have rescued her from its cushioned, low-seated confines).  Ben and I were sent on a lunch mission while Mom and the grandparents examined Grandmother's gifts (again).

After lunch, GrandDad's reluctance to cross Grandmother's wishes--in its own way, a sweet gesture of the fact that he has been her companion and caretaker for far too many years to count--generated a ridiculous plan: we would take her out the way she came in, only with more room around the car door.  Ben and I refused: the front door was easy to maneuver, we could lift her down the single step to the porch, and then it was an even path out to where the car was already parked.

GrandDad fussed, but I would not give in.  I thought about autonomy, and whether, if Grandmother were my patient, I would be allowed to do what I was doing there: telling her how it would be, rather than giving her a choice.  It was for my convenience, sure: but ultimately, it was for Grandmother, too.  She actually was unable to walk: to let her believe otherwise was a disservice and a bit of a farce.

At the car door, as Ben pivoted her into the front seat, all of us urging her to put her hand through the door so that she could be seated.  Finally, she was in, tilted sideways worse than the leaning tower of Pisa; I tried to get Ben to help her shift so that she was more upright, but he didn't understand.  I leaned into the car and wrapped my arm around her, under her arm and behind her back, and helped her scootch her bottom into place. 

Despite the frustration of trying to get her to move, I saw a vulnerability in the gratitude on her face when she thanked me for getting her situated; despite the smell and her stained clothes, there was a sweetness in the fact that she needed us, really needed us, to make this small trip from the house to the car.  And despite the fact that normally, a reveal of such weakness, such dependence would have released a wave of vitriol from her lips, muttered but certainly audible to us, even if she couldn't hear it--despite this, she seemed genuinely glad we had helped her.  Genuinely glad she was able to count on us to help her inside.

In the car, my brother could only rant about how awful she smelled, about how gross it was to touch her, especially around her bottom (she has not had control over her body function for as long as I have been alive, I'm pretty sure).  But all I could think about was that brief glance at the end, and the thought that kept recurring in my head: this might be her last Christmas.  Ninety-two is a lot of years.  Even though I thought she was eighty-eight for most of my childhood (somehow, I never really knew how old she was and this number always felt right), she's been around for a long time. 

I had never really felt this strongly about her: Grandmother has always been a feature at every holiday, and with each year it has taken longer and longer for her to reach the house from the car.  But never before have I seen her this way: dependent and humbled; like a real person who needs help.  And hearing my brother's revulsion in a way made me notice his immaturity, because Grandmother certainly couldn't help it.  And she certainly would not have chosen to present herself that way.  But Ben's inability to move beyond the very real smells of old age made me realize that I was able to do so.  It was a strange feeling, like looking in the mirror and suddenly realizing that you are as tall as you will ever be, that you are your parents' height and that makes you a "big" person: that you are an adult.

December 15, 2009

Better documents?

Why don't Google docs or other document formats work the way spreadsheets do?  Why can't you have multiple tabs within a document--so that, if you need separate pages for things like figures or a bibliography or an outline, they could be separate from the body of your document but still gathered together?  For that matter, why isn't there (or is there?) a program that would allow integrative documents--maybe one tab is a spreadsheet, another is a slideshow presentation, and another is a text document.  I feel like this would make it a lot easier to plan out larger projects (like a thesis paper, or a novel, or a lab report) and keep everything together.  The way things work now, you have to have a separate file for each type of format; at best, you could make a folder and save each file in there, separately.  But then, to work on the project, you would have to open each program and open each component's just not efficient.

Maybe the Google wave thing will work like this.  But it seemed like that was much more for collaborative documents.  Anyway, someone should create a new, better format.

December 14, 2009


Yesterday, I turned twenty-two.

It was a completely ordinary day. 

Though it was graced by the presence of an absolutely decadent, extremely delicious, totally surprise (almost-flourless) birthday cake.

And singing along to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the shower.

And practically zero work accomplished.

A good birthday!

December 12, 2009

Dinner with PJ & MS

If there were a picture next to the word unctuous in the dictionary, it would be of a goat's-milk brie, room temperature, smeared over a hunk of baguette ripped open down the middle and butterflied by fingers eager taste the mellow tang and smooth creaminess against tender tendrils of bread, the chewy-crisp crust being the perfect foil for the viscous cheese.

Adulthood would have an image of three friends sitting down to eat, a simple beige felt blanket over the table, plates, forks, souvenir champagne flutes filled with a cheap but very drinkable cabernet sauvignon, a plate of greens, a bowl of pasta, the cheese on the small cutting board being passed from hand to hand as conversation rolls as naturally as the low-set desk chairs gathered around the card table laden with food.

(Drinkable is a word that means "I don't know anything about wine, but this tastes like it and it has a fancy French name that I can pronounce because I saw the movie Sideways and is, if I ever have money, something I would like to know more about by trial and error.")

Tiramisu would come in blue plastic cups, "parfait" style, with warm blackberry coulis and chocolate chunks melting into the hot fruit over the top.

Conversation would be the position taken on the couches afterward, recumbent like ancient Romans after a feast, practically horizontal, one hand across the belly as topics shift from Disney princesses to Apple products to Google to the value of waiting tables as a job to the tales of jobs past and present to people to the future is almost here.  (The future is always almost here.)

December 7, 2009


Interesting correlation: the further to the right, the more likely I am to be making paint-generated graphs of productivity and the lower the subsequent y value.

December 4, 2009


This week has just made me really happy.  It's strange, because I was rejected from a medical school on Monday, but even then it didn't seem to matter because then on Tuesday, I got another interview up north and today I got one here!  I feel really confident about life in general.

I haven't had any meat to eat since Monday--I think the safest term for me right now is "presquetarian," similar to a pescatarian in that I'm trying out the idea of becoming a vegetarian, but I think that fish & occasionally chicken wouldn't be bad for me, so I'm really more of an "almost-vegetarian" (thus my franglish term).  Who knows?  I might have meat tomorrow.  I might not!

I had my first black bean burger on Tuesday.  It was actually amazingly delicious.  No, not just in a "are you sure you're not just trying to convince yourself that?" kind of way--it was actually just really delicious.  It didn't pretend to be beef, and I think that helped it more than anything.  (Next thing on my to-try list: the Subway veggie patty.  I owe MS that much, at the very least!)

Is it bad if part of my confidence comes from a pretty favorable tarot card reading?  I think I interpreted it pretty pragmatically.  Maybe it's one of those things where it doesn't matter if it works, it's simply an endless positive feedback loop.