When we moved to our current home in 2005, an elderly lady, Miss Irene, owned the duplex next door. Every day while my big kid napped, I would lounge around the patio table with my very pregnant feet up and read. I read to my son every day, all the time, but I longed to read something with chapters! Something longer and less sturdy than the steady diet of board books my son devoured. My kid napped like a champ, so I usually had at least ninety connected minutes to disconnect from motherhood.
Typically more than half those ninety minutes were co-opted by Miss Irene. She was a lonely soul whose “family”–daughter-in-law, granddaughter, grandson, and their crew–inflicted the worst kind of harm unto her. Without reliving the experiences, let’s just say that her “family” drugged her (they were all in love with the heroin), and ran up her credit cards. The goods they purchased they fenced from the front porch. I came to know these details only much too late, after our neighbor, a long-time neighborhood resident filled us in. He was the one who got her the help she needed, and the Department of Aging stepped in to remove her from her “family.” We were new, so weren’t familiar with any of the players, and I kept busy trying my hardest not to throw up every minute of the day. #2’s was a tough pregnancy, but I digress.
Miss Irene would amble over and chat me up each day the weather allowed me to sit outside. I think she kept her eyes trained to her side window in hopes of a friendly face. I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of silence as I made friends with yet another lawyer or homicide cop of some mystery author’s imagination. But more often than not, I heard stories of Miss Irene’s youth–the dances she attended and the fancy dresses she chose, how the streets of Milwaukee had changed since streetcars were replaced by buses, her long-dead and deeply missed husband. Her wonderful children. (I didn’t know how truly awful they treated her.)
At that time, though I craved solitude, I listened to Irene’s tales. Irene reminded me of my grandma, who would chat up every waitress, clerk, or bank teller in southeastern Wisconsin. My grandma outlived most of her friends, so didn’t get much company as her years added up. I always hoped that those souls who leaned in just a touch too long to listen to her stories were kind to her. So that’s how I chose to be with Miss Irene. I would hear the same stories nearly every day, sometimes twice or three times in quick succession. Still, they were her memories and they mattered to her. Talking to her made her happy I could tell. So I let her talk, always hoping that someone would have shown my grandma the same kindness.
I walked my dog late this morning, and met a woman clearly not 100% in control of her faculties. She was carrying an open half-gallon jug of milk (still cold judging by the condensation on the jug), and within the first minute of our chat, I learned that her husband had died five years ago. He was an alcoholic whose demise was sped by the passing of their pet cat, gone now nine years. Sally from HUD was unforgivable due to the shoddy job she did handling the sale of her husband’s condo. Andy, her late husband should have just paid off that condo instead of wasting his father’s inheritance on booze. But not beer, because a man can’t be an alcoholic if he drinks only beer. And eight employees of her current address had quit or been fired since 2016. She shared these details with me, random stranger, in fewer than five minutes. Then she told me most of them again.
I relay this to you here not to poke fun, no. I tell you because I’m no martyr, but it cost nothing to be kind to this woman. She talked, I’d say “we” talked, but really, it was all her for about ten minutes before I really did need to keep moving. It was hard to break from her, as whatever diminished capacity she had impaired her social interactions as well, but I managed to extricate myself and bid her a good day. I hope she gained something in those ten minutes, even if it was just a random stranger’s ear to let her tell her stories. I would like someone to do that for someone I loved, or hell, for me when that time comes.
My big kid’s brain is normal. I’m not sure whether I am supposed to be relieved or disappointed about that. I pick relieved. Reading the radiologist’s report on my son’s brain MRI was a throwback to graduate school gross anatomy, and I was able to piece together some meaningful info about his brain as I read. My son’s neurologist hypothesized that in addition to his muscle weakness, presence of chorea suggested there may be some problem the way the nerves were being fired at the cortical level. I have no idea what any of this means for his future, but don’t I sound like I do?
My little kid’s arm is abnormal. He rode the bench for the first time last night, and I felt immensely proud of him. He did go 2/3 at the plate, which pleased him no end, and he didn’t seem overly fazed not to play defense until it came time to trot out to first base during the first inning. He looked as if a giant iron gate had slammed shut just catching the tops of his cleats on its way down, locking him out of the game. He consciously had to sit his butt down, but he did. Just like he was supposed to. He said it felt weird, but he did keep his coaches entertained with his expert play-by-play.
Book ThreeI’m three weeks into yoga, and I haven’t died. I’m actually pretty good at it. For a first timer. For a forty-nine year old first timer, thank you very much. Though it’s summer, my anxiety-riddled brain still races, and I am thoroughly amazed that I can find utter tranquility outside on a tennis court, surrounded by kids’ lessons and ladies who don’t exactly always call in/out entirely accurately. Since my knees have determined my running career is done, I need to do something to keep my physical self in shape. I’m not meant to be a thin person, but I prefer being thin to not being thin. Plus I really like to eat. On my first date with my husband, I told him that I wasn’t one of those girls who was gonna be all “Oh, I’ll just have a side salad and a Diet Coke. I EAT, mister, and you have to be OK with that.” Then I tore into a hamburger and fries, and it was pretty much love. Obviously.
I can stretch and I can use my body to work against and for itself. My son can’t do that, and I’m not finding quite the right metaphor here, but I’m going to keep moving somehow, and in some way. Because I can.