For some of us some days holding it altogether is easier than on others. Last week was exhausting for example, yet I felt wise, and cohesive and able. This week, not so much.
I flew into New York last week as a stop off on my way to Philadelphia for a lactation consultant conference. It saved me money on airfare and gave me a chance to do my favorite thing, having time to wander in NYC and seeing my dear friend in Queens overnight as well. It felt just so sweet.
The next day when I was to take a Greyhound bus to Philly, it was freezing and sleeting in New York. Plus, when I took the early LIRR into Penn Station I did so too early, and thus no retail or museum was open. The weather was so bad that I didn’t want to wander too far away either. Where to duck into out of crappy weather when you really don’t want another cup of coffee? I passed the New York Times building and went in there thinking that maybe I’d see reporters trying to tell the truth which is their current raison d’etre, despite our current obsessive liar “so-called” president. There were two reception desks in front of the elevators and tight security so I would not be anywhere near “Spotlight.” In my little, slightly unrealistic heart I wanted to hug a reporter and thank him/her for bravery and free speech under a dictator. I wanted to let them know that I support them with all my heart. Did not happen. Not even close. It was now not even 9 am so where to go? The Asian home store next to The Times would not open until 11 so out into the elements I returned, hatless.
There in the freezing rain and snow, sat a slumped man with a huge umbrella that he held on a slant to try and protect himself from the icy, wet onslaught. He sat on a plastic crate. I could not see his face under the umbrella. He wore only a sweatshirt with his entire body trembling in the cold. I began taking my ski jacket off to give to him when I realized he was about four times my size and it would never work even though I could go and buy myself another jacket. I stood there literally mesmerized wondering what to do and then I began to cry, which of course helped no one and made onlookers stare. I wondered to myself, “Who are you frozen man? Who were you? What did you look like in the fifth grade? Did you have a crush on that pretty girl in your class who sat in front of you? Were you bullied? Were you a bully? Did you marry? Do you have children? Friends? Where’s your mother? Did she die? Did you weep? How did you end up here in front of The New York Times literally freezing to death? How? Why don’t they write about you?“ I once heard the director of “Love Wins” a homeless help group in Raleigh, North Carolina say that becoming homeless depends on how many phone numbers or contacts you have in your cell phone. Because I have many for example, I won’t succumb to homelessness no matter what happens. I will always have someone I could call and ask for help, a bed, a place to stay for a spell until I got back on my feet. I have not alienated too many people, tried to hurt anyone, been arrested or the like so that I still have a decent number of contacts to turn to in an emergency. “Freezing Man” likely did not.
Eventually I gave up and went to the Port Authority expecting the worst, wondering where I would ever be able to go to the bathroom. It was actually so much better than I remembered with a nice clean ladies room as well. However, since I was early I could get on a bus an hour sooner. When I went to the desk to ask if I could take that bus the gruff guy at the counter said, “Nope.” If he’d given into me and allowed me one of the many empty seats, he’d have lost control for the rest of his life and quite possibly, the entire Port Authority might have caved in and collapsed. So, I guess it was better for him to have me wait the 90 minutes doing nothing but staring at one character after another. At least he maintained his authority in the port of the same name.
It was an easy trip and when I got to Philly, my nice new roommate picked me up at the bus terminal and off we went to our annual digs, Embassy Suites. This is always a great conference in that there are now about 200 women (although we did have one male pediatrician this year) learning the newest stuff in lactation research, sharing our knowledge and talking NON-STOP. You have no idea how 200 women in private practice, alone for the other 362 days of the year, want to talk to each other. It is unstoppable and sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating and nurturing. The fact that Embassy Suites has happy hour each evening is even more conducive to the camaraderie. At this years conference I shared a topic that included a most stressful and unpleasant experience in my field. It was very difficult for me and yet was so empowering that I felt like a free bird for the next few days. In sharing my two-year secret a huge weight was lifted from my heart and the standing ovation that my group of four received will never be forgotten.
I took the bus back to New York with one consultant from Ireland and one from Australia so the trip went fast with our three accents. It was dark and cold when I arrived but I subwayed it to my friend’s apartment in Gramercy Park. We were born on the very same day and have stayed in touch all of our lives having been in school together since kindergarten. It was so sweet being with her, finally seeing her cool studio apartment and talking until we fell asleep. She left for work before I did, and being there alone sent a tiny jolt of Mary Tyler Moore through my body.
I was back on the streets stopping for coffee and a kasha knish with a whole wheat everything bagel to keep in my bag for the day. I headed to Bloomingdales to shop for a dress right for mother of the groom for my son’s beach wedding in less than a month. Just like in Macys the week before, I was able to check my luggage in Bloomies visitor center at no charge. When I was down to my undies I got the panicked call from my sister saying that she’d read wrenching email from her younger daughter that had been sent to her older daughter. She was very upset and led me to believe that my niece was in great danger so we met for lunch an hour earlier than planned. I felt pretty panicky about what I would find but we hugged tight and went into a nice east side restaurant for lunch. I told her about the email and she was very upset. We talked about her mom’s plans to go to Tijuana, Mexico for alternative cancer treatment that include coffee enemas, Vit C IV’s, insulin loading, juice diets, and more. All of us feel so incredibly frustrated being unable to convince my sister to at least evaluate what is available at the top cancer centers in the US or even at alternative places in US rather than paying a fortune for what sounds so risky in one of the most dangerous, crime ridden cities in the world. It is a grueling, long flight for a woman down to 103 pounds with metastatic, stage four breast cancer in her bones. We have each tried every way to get her to consider other options even if just in the interim before heading to Mexico, but have only met with her anger. We each wanted to escort her on the trip and she was refusing even that. It has been wrenching for each of us but when my young niece and I tried to eat our lunch suddenly we couldn’t stop crying. There is anger and sorrow, there is loss and dread, there is wanting love in ways it has not been able to be given. There is confusion and history and it all makes you just want to cry until the end of time.
And so, most of my solid good feelings melted away as I got on one bus and then another to head to the airport. A huge snow storm was headed to NY in the next few hours so LaGuardia was a sea of panic with passengers literally fighting for their Florida bound seats. I called my sister and we had more disagreements with me begging her to get another opinion before heading to Mexico, in two months. She became angry and simply dismissed me saying she was tired. I will never know how I actually got on that last flight to Raleigh, but I did and was so grateful.
In my next visit to Facebook I found that in fact my sister was no longer going to Tijuana in two months, she was in fact going in a few weeks right in the midst of my son’s wedding weekend. Today, it turns out she no longer wants either of her daughters or me to go with her as she is instead, going with a friend. I am so puzzled, so hurt, so concerned that I simply cannot get my head straight.
As an aside, today is St. Patricks’s Day AND the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, so there’s that sort of in a little sad place in the corner of my mind.
So, when I headed to the local Cupcake shop this morning for a video taping by the local news station regarding a group of us who have been crocheting sleeping mats for refugees. I was feeling tender and vulnerable. But I pepped talked myself saying, “Hey look, you’re here, no one was hurt in last nights blaze nearby, the sun is out, you’re okay, so keep it together. Fight like a tough girl. You can do it.” And I did for a good while. I laughed with the other women, chatted with the interviewer, smiled for the camera. I was in fact holding it all in like the best Spanx around. So, why was it when I met this older refugee woman from the Congo, who’d come here in fear and poverty and I stroked her face lovingly that I started to cry? What was it when I saw the pain and truth in her eyes that allowed me feel my own pain? I gave her a mat, sat in my car and wept.