alzheimer's, courage, dad, daughter caregivers, death, death and dying, dementia, family, fear, grief, loss, meditation, memoir, mom, truth, Uncategorized

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

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“You mentioned that you meditate. I am sure it makes you feel good. It calms you, right?”

“I mean, not really, that’s not why I meditate,” I say like a kid who bubbles in the wrong circle on a Scantron assessment, but is determined to make that circle more black than gray. The answer sheet sagging with the weight of lead, a divet in place of a blank bubble.  Shadows of gray that reach far beyond that bubble on the form.

No, actually Mr.-I-Make-Assumptions-Without-Seeking-To-Understand-FIRST.

You’re wrong.

But no worries, keep going. You clearly have A LOT of experience at this so, don’t let my crossed arms, crossed ankles, or blank stare stop you. Even though my insides are screaming- my body, my mouth—to NOT accept his words as mine. Go on. Break me in half like you’re gonna do.

“People do meditation for two reasons. That’s why you meditate, to calm yourself, to feel better?” he went on.

I let that question, which was more of a statement with heaping amounts to judgment gooooo because he apparently already had an imaginary pencil in his hand, a Scantron sheet and the correct answer. Shaking my head on the inside, he was committing a sin familiar to a first-year teacher: leading the student into THE expected answer.

He, the transmitter of knowledge and arbitrator of truth.

I raised my hand, being the one who decided to “go first” in our group of twelve. I sat at the end of the half circle facing him. Sitting on a bullshit black, plastic chair and realizing no one was going to jump in and save me from the Q&A fun.  He continued and I dug in, resigned to the upcoming hyperventilating cry familiar to anyone who has ever felt so fucking misunderstood and frustrated.

“Only it doesn’t work. You meditate to:

  1. Calm yourself
  2. To feel better about your problems

BUT.. It’s a band-aid, really. Your problem is still there. The box you created of your problem, the problem in this box.”

He makes a box in the air.

“It’s still there because you haven’t changed and your perception of the problem hasn’t changed. Same context, same problem. Same YOU. Just a calmer version of yourself. Meditation makes you feel good for a time, but the problem is still the problem. It’s still going to be there. It doesn’t work.”

He said.

The night before I asked, “So, this box that you speak of, aren’t you really talking about one’s perception? My perception of my problem is the problem. The actions I take are a result of the perception I have of my problem. What I think it is, maybe THE PROBLEM isn’t IT after all. It’s what I perceive it to be and my actions are a result of the flawed way I think of my problem.”

To which, the gentleman disagreed, explained it as “context,” but then proceeded to use “context” and “perception” interchangeably again and again. He had an answer in his head and there was no deviating from that answer. He explained that, because we are all intelligent beings, we can explain our problems very well. We are very good at talking about our problems and analyzing them, but those problems persist.

If you are a woman and you are reading this, I am sure you recognize the feeling that was in my shoulders, neck, face—and really fucking present in my teeth and jaw, his words a round peg into my square jaw. The feeling you get when someone, usually a man or person in power, is trying to get you to adopt a certain way of thinking. Call me sexist, I don’t give a shit. It reminded me of all those men I worked for who would ask me for my opinion, typically around a conference table, give me the obligatory moment to explain, but that didn’t really matter because they made up their mind about me or my opinion long before the stopwatch in their mind began and I stopped talking.

Those assholes.

And I say that with love.

Ya’ll ever go to what you thought was supposed to be hard, but inspiring self-work? Therapy, maybe? Where you expected UUGGGLLLLYYYYY-ugly crying, ugly truths, ugly Q&A?

You expect ugly because growth is MESSY. Complicated. It doesn’t have to be soul-crushing, though. I don’t have to make MY point at the expense of  YOU. If I do, I am an asshole. And, I KNOW—as a coach and as Jodi being Jodi—I’ve been THE ASSHOLE.

Takes one to know one.

But that way of operating is never ok.

Back to the perils and my super confused outlook on meditation…

“I disagree with you, “ I told him. “I don’t meditate to calm myself. I meditate to know myself,” my voice too loud to be reasonable. Like saying it louder would make him hear me.

“Ok, if you say that is true, then I believe you.”

Like I’d be lying.

“You can know yourself, and you’ll feel happy for a time, but the problem will still be there.”

Wait. What? You are shit talking meditation? At a retreat that has yoga 5 times this weekend? Huh…Makes total sense to me.

You know what, maybe I should have offered some disclaimers before I started to conquer his assumptions about me and my meditation practice. Maybe if I told him that I really started meditating because my Mom has Alzheimer’s and research shows that it helps improve the neuroplasticity in the brain. Or that I started meditating last winter because I was in such a deep depression I considered running my car into a brick wall one gray Chicago day. I was that depressed. Would that make my meditation practice more acceptable to him?

FUCK.

My intuition started screaming at me the night before when he bad mouthed the concept of HOPE. On and on he went describing HOPE like she was a  lunatic, misguided sham of a woman, who’d been delusional, irrational, and a big, fat fucking liar who had screwed him over and was now trying to get us to unfollow her on all forms of social media.

Essentially, HOPE is a nice idea when you think about her, but don’t be a fool, she will do you wrong each and every time.

When I found out about this opportunity, I was a little hesitant because there was very little information about the weekend. While I knew there would be yoga I’d dread, there was no schedule or agenda of our time to be found. Sure, I could’ve asked, I should’ve asked. That was stupid, on my part.  I know better. How many trainings have I developed where I attempt to be super thoughtful about the agenda, our use of time, and how to communicate the rationale for each and every decision? It’s time-consuming for a reason. But, I didn’t listen to my little voice months ago. I rationalized the voice was my nemesis FEAR showing up and I put my ear muffs on to the noise. If I’d known I would be expected to participate in 10.5 hours on Saturday and Sunday, plus 4 hours on Friday and do yoga 5 times, I’d likely never paid the money. Truth.

But when I got our Essential Question in an email prior to class, I thought ok, I like it. Seems like a prompt I can work with. Seem like necessary work:

What is the central and biggest problem in your life? It is something you have been struggling with for as long as you can remember, and even if it has changed form, it remains essentially the same. Write the problem down and bring it with you to class.

I thought A LOT about my problem. How do I pick one? I got a list, y’all! But when it boils down to it, my “problems” stem from one overarching issue that flows from and into all others. I NOT am enough. I am too flawed. Too inadequate.

As much as I preach it to the choir, I don’t love myself. That’s probably why I talk about it so much because it is something I am currently working through.

When I began to explain my problem as I saw it, I explained that I didn’t feel adequate, that I focused so much on all the things that were “wrong” with me, the mistakes I’ve made and general feelings of inadequacy, that love and self-acceptance were the root of my problem. In talking, I came to the conclusion, that in all aspects of my life I may not love myself totally and fully because I have this idea that I am not adequate. I admitted to not practicing what I preach, which is to love oneself.

This revelation wasn’t new, but it took on a different life when I had to say it out loud. However, my perception of the problem was not met with applause or confirmation.

“So, what you are saying is that you are not lovable. That is what you are really saying.” 

He said.

I thought for a moment. I thought of all the examples in my mind of loving relationships I have with people.

“No, I don’t think I am saying that. I think that I can give love freely. I give love. I am able to give love. I don’t think I am a great receiver of the love I give to other people.  It’s harder for me to receive it. And I think I can’t receive it because I am not adequate as I am. That’s what I am saying. Like I am not worthy.”

“Exactly. You are unlovable. No one can love you because you are unlovable. We are saying the same thing. You just aren’t accepting the words I am saying to describe your sentiments.”

My shoulders began to move in unison with my belly expanding, crying like a well-orchestrated chorus. I can feel everyone watching me. The woman next to me is crying now too and I wonder if she is crying for herself or for me.

“See. There. What are all those tears about? What is happening in your body right now?”

What I wanted to say is: WTF?! With your unlovable bullshit.

Instead, I said, “I feel like you are putting words in my mouth and trying to convince me of something that isn’t true for me. I am angry really,” resigned because his mind is made up about me and my problem.

“You are just uncomfortable with the words I am using. We can use your words. Fine. You are inadequate. Let’s use that word if that makes you digest it easier. All your life you have worked to prove how adequate or inadequate you are. You do x, y, z and it shows just how inadequate you are. If you do a,b,c you are showing how adequate you are. You say this is about adequacy. I say love. I mean look at your shirt,” he said mockingly pointing to the Love First command that ran across the chest of my t-shirt; a purchase I made before I left on my trip. I thought it was a fun, appropriate way to cheer myself on once I got the “Essential Question” for the weekend.

“The Shirt?” I laugh looking down at my chest. Yea, I bought this shirt for me, which is funny because I can’t actually see it to take advantage of the message, but…”

He didn’t find the humor in that acknowledgment.

“You’re getting off track. Why the shirt?”

People who are not criers, often hold the mistaken belief that crying is some exercise in fragility. What it can be for many women—-because I am one and I have talked to women who have had similar experiences—is a needed release when we are BEYOND frustrated by not being heard and can’t run resort to a punch in the face.

“I AM answering the question. Give me a minute. The world is a really fucked up place, so it is a reminder for people to be good to one another. To love one another,” my voice probably again too loud to be reasonable.

“Ok, now you are talking in political and theoretical terms, we won’t get into that,” he cuts me off.

“What? No, I am not. I am answering the question. The question you asked. I am answering it,” I say like I am 12. I am ready to rip up my Scantron sheet because all my answers are wrong. Yep, I am inadequate. 

“Let’s move on. Ok, close your eyes and take me back to a moment, as far back as you can go when you felt inadequate.”

And so, the next fifteen minutes consisted of me remembering times in my life when I was inadequate, using my words; unlovable using his.

I’ll spare you the examples.

I ended up giving in and agreeing, that yes, given my examples, I must be unlovable because I wanted it to be OVER, which is funny because my biggest dread-the yoga-wasn’t nearly as bad as interacting with the gentleman standing before me.

I gave in. I gave up. And in my head, I remember thinking— I am letting you win, you motherfucker. 

Earlier that morning I mentioned that I have always carried a profound, perpetual sadness with me.  And, I’ve often wondered if it was because my Mom carried so much grief and anxiety in her womb while carrying me. With all the baby deaths before me, the bedrest and news that she wouldn’t conceive me, I could understand if she turned her sadness and anxiety inward, having always been the strong one. I shared that Mom was told I wasn’t supposed to live because I was just a mere 3 lbs. 4 oz when I was born. The size of a pot roast. 

“I am going to bring you back to what you said about your Mom and having you this morning. You said you weren’t supposed to live, that you didn’t deserve to live. Do you remember saying that?”

With extra effort and emphasis on the –, you didn’t deserve to live– eleven pairs of eyes stared at me like a gaper’s delay on the Kennedy.

“I NEVER said that. I NEVER said I felt that I didn’t deserve to live.”

And at that moment, this arrogant man gave me the greatest gift. He reminded me of who the fuck I am. Yep, self-love is work. And no one person, with all the shit behind their name or their experience, can know you or understand you. If YOU are not for YOU, who will be?

“I am sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth.”

It couldn’t be taken back. He had said it. Maybe in all his careless assumptions of me, he imagined a statement I never made about a belief I never had. 

I didn’t go back the next day. I took a ferry to Bellagio and thanked the man in my head for yet another lesson in learning to love myself. Even when loving yourself means walking away from something that doesn’t serve you.

Lessons come until they are learned. 

 

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5 second rule, alz, amylodosis, cardiac amylodosis, caring for parents, courage, dad, daughter caregivers, death, death and dying, family, fear, grief, loss, mom, truth, Uncategorized

The “F” Word

The pictures that Dad taped to our outdated fridge have started to curl and bend. Circles of scotch tape have become more prominent than the pictures they are supporting. Pulling a couple off the fridge to do some triage I consider tossing one in the garbage. I love the picture, but I have zero patience for the woman staring back at me.

I shake my head remembering.

Me in my green t-shirt and a little black eyelet tank I’d gotten from this trendy, now shuttered store on Damen Avenue and Dad in a red striped Pokegama golf shirt he’d bought on one of his latest golf trips smiling for the camera.

A crowded room of friends in a bar whose name I can’t recall, drinking Miller Lite and toasting a move to North Carolina.

Hindsight being 20/20, I’d have suggested that my former self get a new pair of glasses and a lobotomy prior to leaving Chicago with a man she met a year prior. What a fool I say. Negative self-talk for the moment be damned!

Sure, I knew him. But do you ever really know someone?

People only reveal what they want to sweetheart, I’d have told my former self.

Some are lovely, lovely people. Others are complete pricks. I plucked a prick right off the rack. Tried him on, but didn’t read the label. And we moved to North Carolina where my life unraveled.

What complicates matters further, is that at 30, I thought and thought and agonized about being just past 30 and unmarried. The thoughts turned into a college-ruled notebook of fears: Fear of being alone, fear of being single forever, fear of not having babies, fear of never having my parents meet those babies, fear of never having dinner parties with the other marrieds-you get the idea. And on and on and on.

The faith I carried like the most curated protest sign in my 20’s had been blown to bits by the looming fear in my 30’s.

I’ve been thinking A LOT about fear recently. How fear became a houseguest and overstayed its welcome. Fear took a seat, ate a meal, did the dishes, came back for seconds, and took a long damn nap.

Fear is a motherf**er.

It was impossible, literally impossible for me to listen to my intuition because I made the decision to not be single. Checking my rear view mirror, love had zero to do with it. 

It was the “F” word. Fear.

Fear of my future. Fear of being the last of my single friends. Fear of no one ever loving me. And on and on.

I got a list, ya’ll.

Pushing the mute button for an extended period of time on instincts can do a number on the head and heart. My intuition, the knowing--an unbiased, unemotional assessment of the present, was outmatched by fear.  And when that happens– it sucks.

Reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld titled “The Opposite,” in it George decides that every decision he has ever made in his life has been wrong.  Jerry says, “If every instinct you’ve ever had is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” Therein George goes about his day doing the opposite of what he’d normally do and has better than average day.

Haven’t we all been there? So confused by outcomes of actions taken that we begin to question even the smallest decision.

Just pull a George Costanza.

Tried that a time or two!

But life can be like that. It’s like acting out of fear versus love messes with the equilibrium of the universe that surrounds you or something.

Acting out of fear is easy–especially if you’ve confused fear with intuition and your intuition has ear muffs on. Courage, man, it can be hard to conjure.

So what would I start by telling my 30-something self in this picture?

Well, I’d tell her this: Her life didn’t start unraveling in North Carolina like I said earlier. Nope. The analyzing, agonizing, and the thinking and overthinking created enough self-doubt and worry that I said YES to fear which propelled me into a series of bad decisions–well before North Carolina.

Dad likely knew it’d be a shit show when he met the man and I floated the idea and he tried to tell me, but did I listen? And Mom? She would’ve said, “What on earth are you doing? Haven’t I taught you to love yourself enough? Walk. Away.”

Yet, the list of fears that were once just thoughts prevented me from acting on the thing I needed the most: Courage. Because I was so in my head I wasn’t listening to my heart. My instincts had ear muff on, remember?

There’s a quote I’ve read and reread recently in Mel Robbin’s book, The 5 Second Rule that almost knocked me outta my chair when I read it. In the book, Mel writes, “When you act with courage, your brain is not involved. Your heart speaks first and you listen.”

Two of the most profound life-changing decisions I’ve ever made in my life I made in less than 5 seconds. It’s true. I hadn’t realized it till reading Mel’s book.

Life changing decision #1:

I moved to New Orleans in 2011 with a packed car, a $28,000 pay cut, and zero friends.

Life changing decision #2:

I moved back to Chicago 7 years later to care for my dying dad. Left my career, my life in New Orleans, and had no real plan aside from taking care of my Dad.

Here’s the thing about those two decisions: I never hesitated.  There are a million reasons why I shouldn’t have moved to New Orleans: Hadn’t taught in years. Had a great pension and job in Chicago. I was too old to have to make new friends. Did I mention I took a $28k pay cut? So, yea the list was L-O-N-G.

But the thought bubbles full of question marks and exclamation points–they never came.

I just acted. I went with it.  There weren’t lists of worries and self-doubt like before North Carolina. My heart was propelling me to go. And I listened. And you know what? I fell in love with New Orleans. And I made wonderful friends. And had a respectable career. And drank a sh*t ton of purple drinks.

Then, when I got the call during a teacher meeting that my Dad had been immediately admitted to the hospital at a doctor’s appointment, I remember turning to a colleague saying: I need to go home. Now.

No hesitation.

So I did. And it was hard. And beautiful. And then hard again. And here’s the thing: I have these teeny tiny moments with my Dad that makes the paycheck and job title just not that significant. 

Middle finger and ear muffs to the “F” word.

I choose courage.

I hope you will too. I really do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AARP, alz, memoir, mom, truth, Uncategorized

Listen up, Girl!

mom-and-i-with-goggles-thanksgivingI grab my winter coat off the kitchen chair, stuffing my left arm in first, but my arm gets caught in the lining that has torn. I always forget this coat is a hot mess. I pull out my arm only to try it all again. Same result. I am the one-armed woman. How can I not figure this out? Fuck. Simple tasks are lost on me! Finally. I grab dad’s keys, say the obligatory, “Dad, I’ll be back in a couple hours, ok?” And back out of the driveway.

Puffs of exhaust from cars along Arlington Heights Road punctuate the winter air. Pairs of red brake lights parade on down the Kennedy from before Nagle on through my West Loop exit. I occupy myself with creating a chorus of curse words strung together in the most Jodiest of ways. What-the… You-piece-of.. Are-you-fucking-kidding?  Oh, you best believe I cursed myself too. That is something I do quite well–the cursing of self. Now, an amateur at the art that is Chicago traffic, my ability to remain composed while enduring a barrage of brake lights has waned.

Inching off the exit at Jackson, my nerves–shot. My hands look like two fist fulls of lower case “C’s”  from clenching the steering wheel so hard. Without even directing my eyes towards the heavens, I spy a spot on Washington. Can I fit? I square up parallel to the Audi, but in the rearview mirror, I notice this gaping hole I failed to see previously. How did I miss such a monstrosity? Something is telling me to leave it alone, not to try it. This is NOT a good idea says the voice in my head. BUT I could try it? Blocking a lane of traffic now, I can see the man behind me is losing it, so I circle the block in hopes of a better option.

I will find a parking spot. I will find a parking spot. Please God, let me find a parking spot.

Shocker, I don’t. But that one spot. It’s still there. A bit challenging, but..

For some reason, at this section of the street, the black asphalt is almost gleaming. Here, there aren’t rings and webs of salt that form to make little pictures like other spots on Washington.  Plus, at the height of rush hour, there are no cars lining up to give me the finger as I decide what to do.

Something is off. Not right. Odd.

But I need to get on with it. I think.

Yea, but wait. That hole is too much for you to maneuver.

What do you know? You’re just my head and heart. Shut it. 

Fuck. You need to listen to me. The hole. It’s much too big. You won’t make it out. 

I turn the wheel. Put the car in reverse. My hands are sweating. My left tire does a quarter turn. Ever so slowly I begin to back up.

Into the hole, I fall. I am in slow motion now. Watching myself through the glare in the window. I am perpendicular to the hole now. Free falling. There is no scream. There are no tears. I pass concrete slabs, rows of steel beams before I sit underneath Washington Street staring out my cracked windshield.

I reach for the glovebox. I’ll need my insurance, I think. Where’s my phone? I need to call 911. Maybe I’m hurt?

Why didn’t you listen? 

Here we go again. 

Seriously, why? I was trying to help you.

I. Don’t. Know.

Then, the tears come and my clock alarm sounds.

I bolt awake. My face is hot and wet. It’s still dark outside. I look across the upstairs hallway and see the bottom of Rosie’s gym shoes ontop the bed.

“It’s so cold. I don’t want to go downstairs,” she says to Dad.

“Ok, honey lay back in bed. Here you go,” Dad turns her around and covers her with the comforter.

I wait till Dad goes downstairs before I walk over to her.

“Do you mind if I lay with you a bit?” I ask.

“Sure, you can lay with me. That’s ok,” she crosses her arms and stares at the ceiling.

I close my eyes, but can’t stop thinking about the hole in my dream. How many mistakes I’ve made by not listening to myself? Swallowing my intuition. Ear muffs to the the messages of the universe? As I’ve gotten older, those mistakes have become more costly–in all ways imaginable.

Recently, the decision to NOT listen to myself has really fucked me over. While I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, I ain’t no dummy either, but then I am? Shit.

Laying with Mom this morning, I was thinking.. God, Mom please allow some of your old school wisdom permeate my soul. Somehow, someway help me be the best version of myself. A woman we’d both be proud of because right now, I need me some Rosie.

 

 

alz, Uncategorized

 

“She just won’t let go of my finger, Father,”  Mom uncurls the avocado phone cord, leans against kitchen wall and sighs.

I imagine Father could sense the exhaustion over the phone line. Mom spent hours zigzagging up and down neighbor’s driveways on Lonnquist; ducking into the Jirka’s garage to kill time and give her a break from my grip. Being two, I had to rely on Mom and big sisters to help me down sidewalks and into garages to practice this walking thing.

“Rose Ann, shall we pray? Let’s ask God to give Jodi the courage to let go of your finger and walk on her own…Dear Heavenly Father…”

And so it continued. Mom willing me to walk, but determined to allow me do things at my own pace, in my own time, in my own way. jodi walking shoes

“I couldn’t figure out if you were scared or stubborn. Or just not ready. God, those were some long days with you, kid,” Mom smirks pointing her finger at me.

It’s embarrassing admitting I took so long to learn to walk on my own. I’m not quite sure what was going on in my 2 year-old brain. Likely coils of self-doubt and fear.

The day I let go and likely clodded down the driveway was the Feast of the Holy Rosary. I  was just shy of my second birthday. My shoes were battered. Gaping holes where leather had once been.  All my walking partners- Mom, Katie, Jaime likely sang Alleluia!

 

Mom retold that story so many times over the years detailing how the priest called Mom that morning to check on my progress. Mom, not realizing it was a holy day, rejoiced in learning I’d walked on such a day.

“God is listening, watching,” she offered. “He knew you had the answers inside yourself and you’d take your walk when you were ready. And so you did.”

Today, we don’t recall milestones or the challenges they present with each other. There aren’t stories to remember.

Now, Mom whispers to herself about going home. About her dad coming to pick her up. About her Joe who she really likes a lot. About kids slapping her. About this fictious Mary Ann waiting for her outside. Sometimes, if you’re lucky you can insert yourself into a conversation she’s having with herself. This happened yesterday:

Mom: I think I am gonna go for a walk. No, just a short one. 
Me: I’ll go for a walk with you, Mom.
(my insides exploding at the possibility of such a feat)
Mom: Ok, but I don’t want to stay too long. I’ve got too much to do. And my dad is coming to get me.
Me: I know. We will just go for a short one.
I quickly lace up my shoes before she (or Mary Ann) change her mind.
Me: Off we go to see the sunshine and hear the birds!
Mom: I can only go a little. I’ve got too many kids at home.

Mom’s cadence is slower than I remember now.  I take her hand to help her off the front porch and notice how her age spots dance across her veins. She shuffles her feet down the driveway, her hand in mine as we cross the street.

“Mom, remember how we’d walk and walk and walk together? We’d go round and round the block,” I say as she swipes her hand from mine.

“I like my hands in these pockets,” she shoves what can fit of her hands in her pockets.

“I love you, Mom,” I say.

“Well, that’s fine,” she responds dryly.

I can tell she is preoccupied about turning around. And even though it kills me softly, I am now used to the absence of an I-love-you.

“I’m just gonna walk to that red thing over there,” she says pointing to the fire hydrant that sits right before the first cup-de-sac.

 

I turn us around, taking her by the hand and lead us toward home.

Knowing God is listening. Watching. Smiling even. I take a page from Rosie–knowing she too, does things in her own way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love ya, Dad

dadslettertomom1

My dad mows the lawn in his golf cleats. They crunch, scrape, crunch, scrape across the concrete out back as he does this weird shasay to the life size brown paper bags waiting patiently for their weekly gift of yard clippings. His left hand opening the splinter-producing shed door, while his right hand pushes down on the red Toro’s handle maneuvering its back wheels into quite a twirl before making the way onto the lawn. Earlier, Dad would have traded in his Pine Meadow golf shirt and plaid shorts for 20 year-old Levi cut-offs, a V-neck Hanes white undershirt, littered with holes and sweat-stains; his next uniform of the day.  Kneeling beside the classic Toro, he’d assess the gasoline situation, readjust the bag, and take the handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe the forming sweat from his forehead.

Two things were consistent each and every Saturday as a kid: Golf @ Pine Meadow and some outside project that followed. This “poor man’s country club” was a fixture in Dad’s life for the last–God, forty years? Same tee time, same foursome, for the majority of my adult life. Loading up the Chrysler in the dark, the Tribune hitting the curb just as he was to pull off to Mudelein, while the rest of the house slept. Back in the day, the kelly green push cart laid in the trunk eyeing rows and rows of Titleists; each with a little black, orange, or yellow dot perfectly penned into the dimple of the ball.  The balls, housed in an empty gallon milk jug with its top cut off, would accompany Dad to the driving range before his tee time. I can see Dad now, sitting at the kitchen table with a golf ball in one hand and a Sharpie in another, his face so close to the ball you’d think he was telling it the world’s most secret, secret. Dad had a reason he did most things, a sentiment I am beginning to understand better as an adult–he wanted to protect his shot and keep track of the ball.

But then, a couple years ago I was surprised to learn that he decided not to renew his tee time @ Pine Meadow. He gave me some story about getting into it with the Pro who changed his tee time because their foursome wasn’t quick enough around the turn.  Then, he casually told me that the woman who greeted him each Saturday for the last forty years or so had refunded his money with little fan fare. I was livid.. And for some reason I wanted to go on up there and tell those people about themselves. How could they let such a committed golfer…poof, leave?

“You mean, they just handed you your refund and that’s it? No, ‘Shit, Joe. I’m sorry we can’t see eye to eye’?'”  I sat perplexed, knowing Dad would never let it be known how hurt he was.

“What do you think they’d do? Beg me to stay? I’m just another golfer, they have guys that are faster, that can pay the same– it’s all about the almighty dollar.  There is no loyalty anymore,” he explained rather matter-of-factly ( before diving into a  history lesson on his relationship to the club and the Jemsek’s–of which I will not get into here, dear friend).

“But you practically lived there. Everyone knows you. You know everyone. You’re like two peas in a pod–you and Pine Meadow.. You LOVE it. You built their birdhouses, played in their tournaments, got a God Damn license plate with their fucking name on it, PINEMDW and this is how they let you leave?  Because you disagree over some flipping tee time? Treating you like some old guy!?”

“Hate to say it kid, but I am some old guy,” he let out an attempt at a laugh.

“What will you do? You can’t NOT golf, Dad. It’s part of who you are,” my voice a sad whine at this point.

“There are other places to golf, Jodi. I told them that I would continue to take care of the birdhouses I made, but after this year, I’m done. Don’t worry, kid. I’ll survive,” a half smile as he looks down to shuffle papers, a signal to end the conversation.

Looking up, he added, “Things change. It’s part of life.”

I am not gonna lie.. As a kid I loved that my Dad golfed. We had the cable-less TV to ourselves, you didn’t hear, “Jodi.. Matt.. Meghan.. Holly… Can someone hold X? Help me with Y. Lift Z…” We were free.

The thing is, as a kid, you don’t really understand the why behind all of those adult rituals that take place.  Nor do you realize how hard change can be. Now, I get IT. Dad needed to those 18 holes to just be. Golf fed him in a way. For the last ten years or so, Dad isn’t just Dad, he’s Mom, too. His grocery list of tasks, responsibilities, has tripled in size. He’s had to learn how to coax Mom into washing her hair or schedule doctor appointments. He’s doing the wash, making the coffee, doing all the things Mom used to be able to do.

But on the golf course, Dad was just part of a group of guys who loved to be out there walking with their bags, across the grass, marking their score cards and cussing the universe for shots gone wrong.  I assume he’d bellow a–God-damn-it-Joe-son-of-a-bitch..That’s a terrible shot–from time to time, tee to tee.

While the course changed, and the frequency of play decreased, his notes to Mom have become more constant, more important as her Alzheimer’s has intensified. I found a pile of such notes when I was home last summer that Mom had saved in her desk drawer. They span five years or so. An example of one below:

dadslettertomom2

I can see Mom searching for her glasses that lay next on top of the Tribune, holding the note in her right hand, will begin whisper reading it while she sips her coffee. She’ll read it. Re-read it. Read it again, before stuffing it into her pocket, off to her morning walk. A ritual which she will repeat a million times until her Joe comes through the door.

Thank you, Dad for being the constant in our lives. For loving your wife so completely, so unconditionally. These letters are small artifacts of love that serve as an example for your kids. Love ya, Papa Joe.

Uncategorized

Truth and reconciliation….

He sat in the side room with the door closed- “working” on his laptop. I, on the other hand, clutched my stomach vomiting my insides out between hit-or-miss bathroom runs. The Chicago sky, as gray as I felt. Three pairs of sweatpants: the carnage that day.  Let’s be real, the sweatpants were the least of my worries.

“Can you pleasseeee walk over to Walgreens and get me a box of popsicles?” I yelled from the other room.

No response.

“Dwane, can you please, please, please get me popsicles? I can’t keep anything down, my mouth is killing me.”

Nothing.

I start to cry out of sheer frustration.

“What. The Fuck. Can you at least answer me?”

“Ok!!!!! Yes, I will go get them. Hold on!” he yells in a puff of anger and disgust from behind the bedroom door.

I wait. Scanning the room for my purse, I anticipate what will likely come next:

“Jodi, Where’s your wallet?”

Ms. Bile-Bubbling-Brook-in-Stomach…meet…Resounding-Resentment-and-Sadness.

Sick and tired of this ritual. So many lies he has told; they are his version of truth, and now can’t take his fat ass across Halsted Street to get a goddamn box of popsicles?

I am: the bank account, the breadwinner, the house manager, the chauffeur, the school supplier, the one who gets shit done, and the “mom” to an amazing young woman, who is the reason why I stay. Stayed. Too long.

Days earlier, Dad attempted to coach me into telling the truth, “Jodi, the best thing about you is that you are so generous, so trusting. That is why I worry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s my fault,” Dad’s words trail off as he takes both hands and massages his face. We are sitting toe-to-toe in the family room, the click-ity-clink of the heater punctuates the silence.

“Your fault? How could this be your fault?” not surprised by my father’s tendency to self-blame because Grandma would curse herself to death if the glass candy dish that greeted guests on Knight Street got too low.

“You give and give, people see that. You DO EVERYTHING. What does he do for you? For her? We love both of you, but this is ridiculous. Think of all he has taken from you, from us. I know you are not telling me the whole truth, all he has done. We didn’t raise you to get taken advantage like this, Mom and I. Maybe I had something to do with it, maybe me not being home enough. I worked so much when you were a kid, maybe that had something to do with it,” he says defeated.

Continuing he adds, “Your mom and I, we tried to raise you well, give you examples of love, family. Did we not do that? I just don’t understand what happened with you girl(s)…”

As if IT is a collective Arndt problem. This idea.. that my poor judgement in men–might be contagious.

Attempting to explain and ask forgiveness later, my shoulders meet my ears as I shake into an ugly cry.

The unexplained phone calls on the back patio, the forged checks, the cell phone in pocket, and two-word responses–someone else’s misdeeds–laying the foundation for such an interrogation. All due my inability to forgive myself for being so stupid, so trusting, and LEAVE.

The precious cargo of the first thirty years of my life, those considered less than interesting, likely- discarded. Teacher books, laminated posters, pictures, journals from backpacking in Europe, items related to my legacy– others sold—expensive bags and shoes from my Sex and the City days, likely adorn those I once considered family. As long as he had his Bironi, he was FINE.

Holly is propped next to me rubbing my back. Mom’s next to Dad on the couch, I look to Mom, begging for some kind of intervention. She sits there silently.

There were many weekends then that I’d load up the car driving down the Kennedy Expressway, looking forward to back porch guidance from Mom. Mom’s counsel softened Dad’s hard-hitting, “When’s he paying us back, Jodi?”

I’d bolt up the upstairs to the bathroom, taking steps two at a time. The toilet, my confessional as I appealed to the wallpapered butterflies for strength and understanding. Sometimes wishing their wings would carry me away from the reality of what had to be done.

“Jodi, sometimes your Dad doesn’t know how to say things. He means well. Just tell Dad. Dwane. Whomever-tell them to go to hell. Fuck them,” raising her middle finger as she pulled me into a hug.

God, I miss those hugs.

“It’s hard to do the right thing. The thing you have to do,” I imagine her saying now.

There’s certain undeniable truths inside each one of us. Fear. Shame. Perception. Reality. They keep certain truths dormant below, but they bubble up, making us a physical and emotional HOT MESS-unless we take ’em head on.

That day, 12-15 years ago, laid out on the powder blue coach, I begged a man whom I never really knew for a popsicle. I stayed beyond that year, because forgiving myself was a thing I could not do.

No amount of coaching coaxed me into telling the truth. That’s the thing about THE TRUTH. Not exactly easy to tell it all the time.

Even though I’d run to 1202 S. Patton some weekends and seek counsel from my Mom, she always stitched a familiar thread in my mind by offering:

“You have all the answers inside you. You do. I might listen. Help you pull them out and make sense of it all, but you already have it. There, ” her hand gesturing, pointing to my heart in the darkness, the ember of a cigarette illuminating the road map she was attempting to give me.