This topic has been rolling around in my head for weeks now.  Remember when the late and great Nora Ephron wrote, “I hate my neck?”  She wrote a whole book lamenting the aging female face (and body) and it made bestseller lists. She also decided that since the only time her hair looked good was when she got it done by a stylist, so, since she could afford it, she decided to do that every week and then, always liked her hair. I totally get that!  I don’t hate my neck as much as Nora did, but my Howdy Doody puppet chin is shocking every time I look in the mirror.   When I pass the mirro, I always try hard not to look, but when I do, I ask, “Really?”   And then I wonder, “How DID this happen and WHEN?”


The thing with my chin starts around my lips.  Once lush and smooth, those lips have shrunk into the likes of “nun lips.”  I always wondered why the Catholic nuns had such skinny lips and now, my punishment is that mine look the same.  Then, all around my lips are these lines, created just deep enough to attract lipstick so that one can look like an amoeba when the red travels outwards into each crease.  And no, lip liner does not really help because then as the lipstick quickly fades, the ugly lip line remains and thus, all efforts of deceit are revealed. My upper lip leads directly to “smile lines” and if that is true, then darn, I wish I had never smiled! It wasn’t really worth it.  Coming from my bottom lip is a deep crease beginning at each edge and traveling down to my chin.  I really do look like a marionette now, and the thought of tying stings to my shoulders has occurred to me, if I knew who could be the puppet master to work my voice.  . I have spent my life trying to avoid looking or acting remotely like my mother, and this is not helping!  She did hate her neck though, so I will stick with these other defects. 


Today, I head to the hairdresser.  This will be torture because I am set in front of the mirror for hours and try as I may, I cannot stay steady in my looking away and averting the frontal gaze.  The stylist is good, but he’s no miracle worker and I will agonize over what hairstyle might just work to make me look more attractive, aka “young” and there is no such thing.  I toy with the idea of going gray, but frankly, I do not know how one does that in transition from colored hair to uncolored hair.  I still don’t use permanent color, opting for demi-permanent instead, so as to avoid the gray root line of “demarcation!” And further, it terrifies me to think I would look even older then, but maybe not! So, I actually have 18 hairstyle pictures I am bringing with me to show him. This should convince him that I am out of my mind or if not, that I am a narcissist.   I am wise enough to not bring any photos of Jennifer Lopez or Miley Cyrus or the like and only have those “older women” pix of short hair, long hair and everything in between.  The fact that these photos include Diane Sawyer, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Jodi Foster, and more celebrities who have their own personal stylists (making them beautiful 24/7), should be no problem!  I am not bringing a photo of Jamie Lee Curtis! 


But, and here is the big “but”—I did not write this and tried hard to make myself stop even thinking about this, because it is trivial and shallow and all things vain and inappropriate.  I do not have dreads either, like Anne Lammot (who I lust after as my future BFF), but, I do know gratitude.  And like Anne I do know the value of Help, Thanks, Wow” and I do know that life is made of “Stitches” for all the holes of pain and loss and fear.  It is a cold, cold January in Raleigh and unlike me who crawled into a warm bed next to the man I adore last night, others slept outside in cartons along Moore Square.  And for yesterday and for today, still everyone I love more than what seems humanly possible, is healthy.  The heat is on, my car was fixed yesterday and I was able to pay the $500 it cost to fix it. (or at least put it on my credit card!)   My chin works well enough to drink and swallow the delicious smoothie I made and my brain is coordinated enough to crank out words.  My hands can type them, my boys are waiting at school for me to pick them up and my trip to the hairdresser will be a lucky one, because many women I know have lost all their hair, and are waiting for it to grow back, along with recovering their vulnerable good health.  I have a head full of thick and healthy hair, no matter what length and what color.  I am afraid of the jinxes associated with asking for small and trivial things, when the big things are healthy and well at the moment.  I know with all my heart and all my soul, that nothing really matters as much as this, no matter how puppet-like my chin may be!    Please God, keep my blessings as is, know I am grateful for all, and let me live in “the normal” for as many days as possible.  This day, is a normal one. 


August: Osage County


I am no movie critic and have never written a review in my life. Having just come from viewing August: Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, this may be my first.  It won’t however, be a simple review of the movie while awarding it stars or tomatoes.  It will instead relate to you that I was so deeply affected by this movie, that, I sat in my theater seat motionless, limp and whimpering for a good 15 minutes after it ended.  And, that I turned to my husband and said, “I think you’ll have to carry me out because I don’t feel like I can walk!”  Not to be overly dramatic, I will tell you now, that I did get up and walk, eventually.


First, of course, have we ever seen a Meryl Streep performance or movie, that was bad?  No.  So, that settles that. I need not tell you that she was simply flawless in this difficult, hateful part. Then, I need to share with you, that I believe I witnessed a character so closely aligned with my own mother and with her borderline personality trademarks, that, I may never recover.


There are features where no similarity exists. We did not grow up in Oklahoma or anywhere resembling the Midwest. We grew up in the grimy projects of Brooklyn. There were not three daughters, only two. My mother did not have cancer, but that is kind of secondary to this story. 


It all rang so true to me, that my insides were trembling and I winced through most of the movie. I also had this awful feeling of “Please make this be over soon, so I can get out of here.”  That felt the same as all the times when I was growing up and thought to myself, “Please make this be over or I will run away again.” Most of the time, it did not end and so I did run away.  This time, unlike real life, the movie did end after two hours. For me, it was two hours reliving stuff I have tried so hard to forget, and I fidgeted and cringed in my seat throughout the movie.  There were moments when I had to look away. I couldn’t bear the wrath and disgust that Violet draped her eldest daughter in. The stopping at nothing and the aim to skin one alive with hatred and self-loathing, was almost more than I could bear without becoming sick to my stomach. 


Like Violet (Meryl), my mother was cruel. Like Violet, my mother was raised in some way that contributed to her twisted perspective on life, and left her with relentless abandonment issues for her lifetime. Like Violet, my mother crawled on the floor,, begging and searching.  In the movie, VIolet claimed to be the truth-teller,which in essence, gave her license to hurt and massacre anyone in the path of her truth, at all costs. My mother did not call it the “truth,” she called it “Let’s have a heart to heart.” There was never enough “heart,” never enough assigning of guilt for all that had ever gone wrong in her life.  She would say, “I want to understand why you “did me and how you can live with yourself being as you are just like Hitler.” Like Barbara (Julia), as the oldest sister, I too received the largest brunt of hatred and rage.  And like a switchblade through my heart, Violet called Barbara the “S” word.  “STRONG. “ Every time she told Barbara that she was “strong, “ I cringed.  I was always referred to as “the strong one” or “the dangerous one,” when comparing my sister and me. My mother also referred to me as evil, as dangerous, and her favorite, “abysmally cruel.” 


The mood and atmosphere changing on a dime, kept me on the edge of my seat, recalling that walking on eggshells feeling, being ever so careful, every moment of every day. There was that sinking feeling whenever I put my key in the apartment door, because I never knew what I would find on the other side, or inside.  And, the pills, oh, the pills. My mother was never actually addicted to prescription meds. I often wished she had been. I also wished she had been an alcoholic. I rationalized in a most irrational manner, that if she were stoned or drunk, she might be nicer or at least fall over and go to sleep so that the ranting and rage would cease. Violet was clearly so addicted to pain-killers that she could barely remain upright and her stupor gave her even more license to spew forth all the painful comments that she dished out mercilessly.  My mother was afraid of pills to such an extent that she would halve them and then halve them again, taking less than ¼ of a mood stabilizer or similar.  Then, she would claim that she became numb, couldn’t feel her limbs, “slept for days, “ etc. She trusted no one, including any doctor who prescribed anything and far be it from her to risk being even slightly out of control.


Then, there is the scene with the fish that Barbara is insisting her mother eat. It is not that she cares so much for her nourishment, as she is trying to keep a distraction going which is about a matter at hand with her sister and “cousin.”  She keeps telling her mother to eat the fish, using every expletive imaginable in describing the %&*#* fish.  She finally screams “Eat the %$#*& fish, bitch!” Then, all plates and all food get thrown on the floor and smashed.  Nice.  What this brought me back to, was one miserable day as my mother lay in a bed at Raleigh Community Hospital. She was refusing to eat and we were told that the IV meds and nutrition could not sustain her much longer. Why I cared, I will never know, but nonetheless, I arrived with my then, two year old twins, determined to feed my mother. I asked, Linda, my mother’s caretaker (more about her at another time!) to take the boys down to the café for some ice cream. I shimmied up close to my mother and began offering her forkfuls of mashed peas. She turned her head away. She swatted at me. She raked her fingernails down my arm, drawing blood. I begged and coerced her into eating. Finally, I got some of the peas into her mouth. She held them there and then spit them all into my face saying, “Stop trying to act like a f’in doctor, Ann!”


In the movie, one by one, each of the daughters gets the courage to walk out and leave this world’s most dysfunctional family and this wickedly, cruel mother.  Their dad has ended his life, which is something my own mother threatened to do on a regular basis from the time I was six years old. She would make sure that I knew that she had “taken all the pills,” which of course she hadn’t done, but made it look like she had. I too, got the courage to leave and at 16 I ran away one more time, but that time it was for good. I got my own apartment, attended college and worked every day. I lived with endless guilt for having left my 10 year-old sister in the snake pit, but on the other hand, she now had a place to find refuge.


Like Violet, my mother discussed the most inappropriate things with her daughters, including all of the details of a sordid love affair she was having with her boss while still married to our father. No boundaries ever existed for my mother or for Violet.

My mother didn’t smoke, although she often told us how “sexy” she thought it was. But, if she had smoked and if she had developed a related cancer, I can be pretty sure, she would have continued to smoke as Violet did with complete contempt and spite.


Seeing this movie, was a completely exhausting experience and I was relieved when it was over. And yet, it was really so complicated and so intricate for me, that I believe I may have to see it again, to focus more on what it was about, and less on the emotions it evoked for me. Maybe, I can hold it together a bit better next time. 

January Over and Over and Over

Gregory 4th baby nursing!

It comes up silently, unobtrusively and in a way, a quiet relief. After all the ruckus and the fray, January is the welcome cold and clear day after the fog and insanity of December. It is a new beginning, a time of hope and retooling. It is better sleep and calmer days.  The shopping, the cooking, the walking on eggshells hoping for perfection, has all dissolved, and here we are.

At first, I feel all brand new. We have our annual New Years Day party which is always way more work than we remember, but remains warm and tender and full of friends and community.  It is good.  The cleaning up after that party is always a huge task since we serve all 100 plus guests on china, silver, glass and linen, (despite it being a potluck.) The cleanup is massive, but cathartic and the putting away of all of it, gives me a sense of order and control. I am a born organizer and so, this is what makes sense and feels peaceful.

And then, comes the itch for the vanishing of all things red and green. The tree is dry and shedding, though it smells so deliciously piney and  wonderful as one’s last hurrah before death. I want all the lights, all the ornaments, everything – away!  The fragrant tree gets dragged out to the curb. And then, it is done. Time for peace, work, and new beginnings.  Yes?

I drive my sons to school and come home, looking forward to my day of internet, babies, breasts and all that goes with lactation.  But, as I am driving home the smothering begins. It is a thick, molasses type weight that begins to pour over me and struggle as I may, slowly I become immobilized.  What is it? What is it? What is happening and why am I sinking so quickly into the dark abyss of sadness, anxiety and hopelessness?  I am flailing and struggling to set free but there is no way out of the net.  The sun is shining. The air is crisp. I am healthy. I am kept fed and warm and I am loved. I know my blessing are bountiful and I, like Anne Lammot thank God each and every day for all that I am and all that I have.  But, that just doesn’t do it. Not enough.  So, I scratch and I dig and I try very hard to distract, determined to figure out why I am rapidly descending into the darkness.

And then, poof – there it is!  It IS January.  It IS the month that my fourth son was born. He still IS not here.  He IS still dead. I AM still bereaved and missing him every time I think about him, (which in the 18 years since he left, has become less constant, thank God!)  But, now in a week, he would be turning 21.  Good God, what does that mean?  Would he be celebrating with friends – the miserable right of passage that usually ends in a drunken stupor leaving the parents at home fearfully pacing through the night?  Would he have a girlfriend? Would he be the only blond and blue-eyed son resembling the brothers, only with different coloring?  Who, who, who would he be??? I am left to wonder forever and now, as I do on his death day, I begin the countdown to his original coming., his birth-day. We will serve fried fish and Caesar salad as we always do, in his memory.  But, he still will not be here and I still will miss him and wonder, until I draw my last breath.  And that, is what January is, forever.

Gregory better