Tag Archives: Depression

Random Sammys

Sammy was a truck driver stuck in my husband’s place of work, a truck fixing place—what’s that called anyway—a really big garage I guess. Anyway, it was Christmas Eve and Sammy was supposed to be home with his wife and children in Georgia, but instead he was stranded in Wisconsin in a cold garage. He was leaning against the service counter with his head down when I arrived to pick up my husband from work. I’d brought our two dogs into the shop as a special Christmas treat for everyone. Merry Christmas, Guys! Time to get home and celebrate. Atticus, the schnauzer, promptly lifted his leg on one of Sammy’s tires, unleashing a steamy stream of urine that left an impressive puddle. It was kind of fitting really because Sammy’s truck wasn’t going anywhere for some time. I guess it was super broken. It had let him down, and on the most important night of the year. Atticus must have sensed that.

 

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Atticus likes to hide in bed, too!

I’d been feeling pretty blue, but had been trying to hide it in public for quite a while by then. I found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and impossible to stay away from that same bed with its heating pad and two willing dog companions as each gray day unfolded. I mean, it was Christmas and I was going to be with none of my kids or grandkids, not for months. Granted, I had just gone to visit them the month before, but I already deeply missed them and I’d never been away from the little ones, who really aren’t that little anymore, on Christmas. And I was living in a state I loved but that was 2,000 miles away from the state where I’d built a life for thirty-eight years.

I was missing all kinds of things and people I had loved and many that I had taken for granted. I still planned on making a big Christmas dinner, but it would only be a dinner for three: my husband, his father, and me. And it had rained for weeks in a state that should have been a winter wonderland by then. My roof leaked. The yard was a mud hole. The holding tank had filled up just that very morning, setting off an alarm almost as offensive as the smell in the mud hole yard, and nobody likes to call Pat’s Crap Pumping Service on Christmas Eve. My solar Christmas lights obviously wouldn’t turn on because there’d been no sun forever. My pink fudge didn’t set. I wasn’t writing. What was there to get up for?

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I took this picture at the Kenosha Museum, but it represents my dilemma quite well I think.

 

 

And then came Sammy, and Sammy wanted to get home for Christmas. He hadn’t been able to rent a car with his out-of-state driver’s license. My husband suggested the airport. Could he get a flight? We would drive him. Sammy didn’t know if he could get a flight, but it was his best chance. Soon, Sammy, my husband, Atticus, our other dog, Diesel, and myself were all crowded into my little blue Beetle headed for the airport. It was about a half hour drive going in the opposite direction from the mud hole, making the round trip to pick up my husband something like two hours.

I’m a nervous driver when it comes to driving on freeways or anywhere near a city, but I found myself relaxing as Sammy told his story. He had left Africa at twelve-years-old, alone. He was the only member of his family who was able to emigrate. He lived in a small town in Utah and attended high school there. He loves America. He said that “the father Bush was the president when I came, so I liked him. He let me come to America. I couldn’t understand when Clinton suddenly got the job. How can someone replace the president?”

He said the president in his former country had been in power for twenty-five years and there was nothing anyone could do to change it. His family was afraid when Sammy would visit because Sammy had learned about free speech and they thought he’d get killed for speaking out about how bad things were there. He said, too, that Americans are the nicest, most helpful people in the world. He said that in other countries people won’t even give you directions, much less a ride to the airport. I think Sammy is a little partial to America and that there are lots of nice people everywhere, but it was still nice to hear.

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I love stamps, and writing, and letters…

He teared up when I asked him if his children believed in Santa. I cried, too. My husband was in the back seat with the two dogs, but the car is so small that his face was only a few inches behind us. I glanced back at him and his eyes were bright blue with tears. Suddenly, it was starting to feel like Christmas.

Sammy got a flight and Mike and I headed home. By this time we too hungry to go home and cook the special dinner we’d planned just for the two of us so we began searching for an open restaurant. We stopped at two places that had their lights on and doors open, but they were having private parties and weren’t serving the public. It was Christmas Eve, sorry. So we did the unthinkable and drove through a MacDonald’s. We got cheeseburgers for the dogs, too.

When we arrived home, we waded through the mud and entered the front door. We both remarked on how cozy the little cottage looked. We each poured a glass of wine, his red and mine white, and Mike checked his phone. There was a message from Sammy.

Merry Christmas and Thank You. I’ll talk to you soon. It was a pretty good Christmas. Wishing all of you a good New Year with lots of random Sammys to bless you.

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This may be an old New Year’s hat, but it’s a Goody.

 

 

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Filed under Christmas, Depression, Gratitude, Humor, New Year's

Tatonka!

My computer screen scrolls my pictures. I’m sure many of yours do, too. Today, after my first full week (which was only 4 days long!) of work teaching high schoolers to become legal Wisconsin drivers, I came home to an empty house and decided to celebrate with music and a little bit of wine and writing. To be honest, my house is never empty, because I have dogs. They are not tatonkas, but they are furry and large (considering the extent of my downsized cottage).

I’m thinking of tatonkas because of this picture.tatonka!

The tatonkas pictured here are not real bison, of course. We are just three friends pretending to be tatonkas at a wonderful country western eatery and music venue located in downtown Chicago. It’s the picture that came up first when I turned my laptop on tonight. Sometimes a thousand words can be useful to describe a picture.

People who know me well know that I am a big fan of wolves—that I have aligned myself with the Defenders of Wildlife for many years, in part because of the hard work they do to protect wolves. Wolves, you may be thinking, are not tatonkas.

True. But everything is connected.

In the beginning of this story, there is a girl laying in the back seat of a 1972 Oldsmobile reading a book. It is a hot summer day and the car has stopped somewhere in South Dakota because the driver, my dad, and the copilot, my brother Billy, have come across a herd of buffalo. “Sis! Sis! Put down that book and get out here and look,” Billy says. “Bison!”

The girl, me, barely looks up. “What’s the big dif?” she asks. “Big cows.” (To be fair to the girl in the backseat, she has spent the bulk of her childhood reading because…well, there are all sorts of both good and sad reasons for that…and she has been living in the Midwest, a land that is loaded with large four-legged bovine creatures…she just doesn’t see the “big dif.” She is young.)

Fifty years later, she is still reminded of her disdain for the tatonka herd. And she is sorry.

Little did she know that the camping trips of her youth would have such an impact on her future world view. As she matured, the girl learned that such sights were akin to great magic. In 1990, when she saw Dances With Wolves for the first time, she was shaken to a degree that can only be described as cataclysmic. Tears. Yes. Weeping. Yes. Regret?

That, too.

Tatonka! If you’ve seen the movie, you are picturing the lovely faces of Kevin Costner and Graham Greene as they connect over the Native American word for buffalo. Just as she did. Finally.

And she began learning more about endangered animals, and history, and love… Eventually, she became a teacher. And eventually, she became a better sister. But never good enough. She bought Billy a beautiful sculpted bison one year for his birthday. She understood that her father had taken her to the wild and free places to observe and to appreciate the creatures of the world. And that her brother had always understood.

More years passed and the girl invited her brother and husband and dear friend to her graduation ceremony at a small college in Washington State. And what did these people see while driving to Goddard College in Port Townsend, WA? A herd of tatonkas, majestic in the green, green grass.

The girl’s brother, Billy, is gone now. Her father, too. But the wolves, and the tatonkas, even more strongly, are making a comeback. So we continue to celebrate and play tatonka when the time is right. The girl stops to catch her breath when she reads a story or sees a picture that reminds her of the great struggle every living creature makes, and must continue to make, to remain. To be remembered, revered, and yes, loved.

All creatures, great and small. All creatures.

Mahalo.bedtimesundanceGood Night.

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Filed under Buffalo, Camping, Dances With Wolves, Nature, Work, Writing

Scanxiety

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I belong to an appendix cancer support group, and one of the non-words I see quite often in posts is scanxiety, a condition related to the anxiety felt about medical scans that are given regularly for an indefinite amount of time after cancer treatment. In the beginning my scans were spaced three months apart; now they are six months apart. I’ve gotten good at coping with the anxiety nowadays (four years post diagnosis) most of the time, but when I get to the day before testing, as I have today, I find my mind casting away from anything productive.

My creativity is gone. I can’t concentrate on writing my novel or even reading someone else’s novel. I want to talk about it, but I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac. I don’t want to seem negative. I don’t want to be told not to worry, everything will be fine. Even though I know it probably will be.

IMG_0679 This photo depicts my usual outlook on life, and was taken on my beloved mountain. This is not to say that I don’t love, love, love Wisconsin!

The thing is, I’ve never gotten over that initial out of nowhere diagnosis. I can only say that I feel vulnerable to invasion, or worse, that I feel like an unknowing host. I don’t understand cancer. There are so many different kinds of cancer, so many different treatments, so many different outcomes. Mine, Goblet Cell Adenocarcinoid Cancer of the Appendix, is supposed to be quite rare. It doesn’t seem so rare when I read the stories in my support group.

Sometimes I think I should drop out of the group; it reminds me daily of something I should not dwell upon. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and maybe reading the very real cancer stories, takes some of my shine away. But I also think that I should buck up—you know, be there for those who ask for a prayer or just need to vent and need to know someone out there really hears them.

I rarely participate in any length, usually just a word or two. Others in the group are much better at knowing what to say. Quite a few of them even offer up-to-the-minute cutting edge medical information, where the best hospitals are, how to connect with an appendix cancer specialist, the ins and outs of health insurance, tumor markers, treatment experiences—all sorts of really important information. I can’t help but feel I haven’t found a place of usefulness within the group.

And here I am tonight, inexplicably sad about the way that cancer changed my life and knowing I might be able to get some help from the group if I could just express myself without sounding like an infant. Most of the posts I read are written by or for those of us who are currently in the throes of the worst of the disease—those reeling and just diagnosed, those going in for their 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th surgery. Those who are in palliative care. The loved ones of those recently passed who write to break the news to the group.

And here I am feeling pretty darn good. I am one of the lucky ones. Makes me feel like a phony just wallowing in a selfish bout of survival guilt. And yet. And yet I am sad. Sad that my life changed so drastically since my initial appendicitis attack. The appendicitis that turned out to be hiding cancer.

Four years ago I was a teacher living on a mountain, surrounded by family, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors that I loved. My four grandchildren all lived within a few miles of me.

That is not to say that my life is not good today, but it has changed dramatically. I miss my old life. I miss my kids. The circumstances of my life after cancer and my second surgery have impacted almost every aspect of my personal life and my career. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. I’m not going to lie.

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Sometimes survival calls for sacrifice, or at least that’s the way I’ve come to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s nothing as noble sounding as that. Maybe I just got lazy. Teaching, one of my great passions, had always required great energy, energy that I no longer seemed able to summon. I was eligible for retirement. My husband needed work and found a good position in another state. My tumor marker tests showed increasing evidence of cancer at the cellular level, yet my scans were clear.

I’m not sure what tipped the scale and brought us to this new place. Maybe it was down deep merely an urge to run, something I’d done plenty of times in my earlier years. Grief over my brother’s death, financial hardship, chemo-brain, depression, debilitating chronic health issues, fear of recurrence…all of these things and more must have played a part. I only know for sure that the world changed after my diagnosis.

That’s the thing about cancer. It sneaks up on you. I had no idea that I had cancer until I went in for my post-operative check after my appendicitis surgery. And that’s probably the root of my malaise. If I didn’t know I had it then…

Scanxiety.

I’m grateful for what I have; I still have love and family, however far away some of my loved ones are, and I will be forever grateful for what I have had. Nothing can take that away.

Mahalo.GrandmaJazz

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Filed under Cancer, Cancer Journey, Patient Advice and Support, Support Groups, Teacher, Writing

Unexpected Relief: Canadian Geese, Kayaking, and Life Lessons

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June 2, 2015

Have you ever been gloomy on a perfectly lovely day? Maybe better to ask, have any of us not? Today began that way, sharply beautiful—a kind of begging to just be outside kind of morning, followed by a mildly warm bursting with life afternoon.

Still, I was gloomy.

My body said go outside, but my heart said no, let’s be gloomy.

My muse said, get up and write, but my mind said no, let’s be gloomy.

If it weren’t for my dogs, I might have pulled the covers over my head. But dogs need walking, so I forced my gloomy heart and mind to come along, promising myself I could crawl back in bed when we got back.

Out walking, we changed course a few times to avoid wildly happy unleashed dogs (Who knows why there were so many loose canines out on this particular day? I pictured them all prying the screens off their open windows with various size paws after their humans left for work, and then jumping out pell-mell to run and roll in the grass. The day was that pretty).

I always change course when I see a loose dog ahead, or one running toward us, not so much because I am afraid of them, but because I fear they may be baited into a fight by my feisty Schnauzer.

Anyway, we found a quiet lane eventually. Diesel and Atticus were taking things slowly, sampling the fresh long grass, sniffing and marking, sniffing and marking. Pandora was playing in my pocket: Coleman Hawkins, “Under a Blanket of Blue.”  Lovely.

And then I noticed.

I wasn’t really all that gloomy anymore.

Nice breakthrough.

I was thinking about the writing I would accomplish today. My important novel writing. Wrestling with my protagonist’s problems. Conjuring up a crucial scene to push the plot forward.

We were almost back home when Barry and Laura, two of my neighbors, waved. “Want to go kayaking with us?” they asked.

An invitation, it turned out, that I could not turn down.

I love being in the water, on the water, with the water. I love the quiet splash. The green banks sliding by. The exercise and the rest.

And this would be my first time out this season.

On a day such as this, these are the moments are sometimes given. Learning to spot them and savor them is the trick.

An hour later we were on the river paddling with just the right amount of effort to know our arms were probably morphing into something sleekly beautiful, something very un-middle-aged-women-and-man-arm-like. There we were, three people, a man and two women, just for a little while living in the moment, alive and in nature.

“The goose family is just ahead,” Laura said. “We’ve been watching them grow.”

We came around a bend and came upon two complete families. Two mothers and two fathers standing tall watching us. Two groups of chicks. One group, still downy fluff, but up and about, and maybe a third as tall as their parents. The other group was younger, but there were a lot of them—they were huddled in a perfect circle around the base of a tall shrub, looking like a living Christmas tree skirt.

There wasn’t a house or a boat or even a power line in sight. Just us and the geese.

“I didn’t know separate families lived so near each other,” Barry said. “And I hear they mate for life.”

They mate for life.

Also, and this is maybe the best part, Barry searched through all the downed branches near the river’s edge for trash. He didn’t find much, but what he found, he took with him. Took it home to recycle.

Laura smiled at me. “Barry cleans the river,” she said.

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Filed under Writing Advice

A Little Memoir Madness

“Mr. Wonderful”

The first time I now remember hearing Keely Smith sing “Mr. Wonderful” was the first time of many I heard my mother truly weep.  I was four-years-old and I knew that song had once been a happy song but that now it was sad, sadder than anything I had yet encountered.  Sadder than the day my dog, Ginger, died.  It played over and over on the big maple stereo in the living room, and it became scratched and skipped in places, while Mom sat motionless in a chair looking out the window, or while she paced around the kitchen, coffee cup in hand, or while she lay on the floor and I held a warm wet washcloth to her forehead just the way Aunt Mary had carefuly taught me.  And it played while I tried not to look at her eyes, which were vacant and blue and dripping tears in a constant stream that mixed with the warm water from the cloth that my hands were too small to squeeze.  The music played. A lovely song.  And my mother was ruined forever and life would never be good again.  I may have been four-years-old, but I knew it.

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