Changes

The Remarkable Use of “No.”

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A Dusting|Photo credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

Claudia sits on her borrowed couch, sips Theraflu, and twists her hair from nervousness. She licks the edge of her gold tooth and sucks in the wild air of the night. It’s not hot. It’s not cold. It’s an in-between seasons kind of evening, yet there’s snow on the ground. She pets her cat Louie on the back of his head, scratches his little ears, and licks that gold tooth once more. She acquired it back in ’94 on a dare from her then-girlfriend, Cindy.

Cindy was a powerhouse. She had everything going for her, including being a mom and wife — house with the picket fence, Benz, and thousand-dollar breasts. She wanted Claudia, though, and she had her.

Then there was Dave. He was a news correspondent for a prominent journal in their city. He had red hair, freckles, and a laugh that reminded Claudia of Santa Claus. The things she did for that man . . . They snuck around town late at night, crept into places where a significant amount of money was definitely an option and had sex on every inch of furniture in her home.

He was married too. No kids. His wife caught them out together at a museum. That was the end of Dave.

Paula . . . Sexy. Sassy. Paula. She had moonbeam eyes, plump, kissable lips, and smelled like a broken heart. Claudia fell for her easily, even got her name tattooed on her left breast. A memento. A keepsake. Something she now regrets.

Paula wasn’t married, but she wanted an open relationship. She couldn’t see herself tied down to just one person and Claudia loved her so much she agreed. She made so many changes to her life and herself, she began to notice that she no longer knew what she wanted.

She wanted to be loved. She wanted to be lifted up and gazed upon as if the sun rose from the cleft of her chin. She wanted commitment — the totality of oneness with a mate, and happiness. She wanted happiness.

Leon, the gas station guy, changed her whole perspective on dating and she thought, This is what I want. Yes, this is it!

But Leon had a long-standing relationship as a coke-head and Claudia found out the day a few items began missing from her home. It broke her, the last straw. Her back shattered in places bones were not supposed to be.

Take away the addiction and Leon was perfect. And maybe that was the problem. He was so well-put-together that Claudia did not search for hints of faults or flaws. At the age of fifty-two, she made the decision to just say “No” and live her life without someone else attached to her.

When she did this, the doors of opportunity opened. New job. An advance of $2,500.00 on her first fantasy fiction novel. Relocation. Two new books edited and published within six months of each other. Bestseller’s list. And on and on and on, it went. Her life was an avenue of great things and she enjoyed skipping down the unknown path.

Until . . .

Laura. Five years later, she was forced to say “No” out of fear of who Laura could actually be and what she would potentially lose. Laura was single. No kids. No drug habits. No crazy antics of horrible events to come. And to Claudia, something was wrong with this. She was too perfect. Laura could not be true.

Because of her past, Claudia passed on Laura. She wasn’t going to take another chance at being the underbelly of a broken creature. She skipped her casually — afraid of what could be behind that unopened door. She used “No” so often after her, she forgot “Yes” existed.

She forgot life existed.


Originally published in The Junction via Medium.

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Non-fiction Saturdays

Grief

It Comes When You Don’t Want It

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova via Unsplash

When you’re shopping. When you’re on an important phone call. When you’re at your youngest child’s soccer game. When you’re cleaning up the house . . . It strikes without warning and all you can do is succumb to it. All you can do is let it grab you and swallow you whole and try to breathe in breaks, counting to ten, and allow yourself the chance to be overcome by a force much stronger than you. This is what happened to a patient I was registering for a particular scan on Wednesday, March 04, 2020. A certain phrase triggered her and she shook her head quickly, held up a hand to me as if to say, “Please, just give me a moment,” and then the tears flooded her face.

I respect life. I honor death. I give grief the space it needs. I directed her to the box of Kleenex to her left and advised her to “Please, take your time, ma’am.” She wiped her face, huffed out a regretful sigh, and began to explain to me that her husband died three weeks ago. It’s still fresh, you see. She isn’t used to the frequent interruptions that her heart issues to her because life is still trying to go on, however, she is feeling stuck.

She took the tissue and dabbed at her eyes. She talked while I listened. I went over her medical information, the purpose for her scan, verified her demographics, then gave her a little more time to be in that space. That space was comforting. It was necessary for the moment. And me — this stranger she met at an imaging center preparing her for what’s to come is now apart of her growth.

She apologized profusely and I looked at her with a clear intent to demonstrate that there was no need for an apology. I asked her if she needed more time before we pressed on and she told me that she was okay — we could continue. I finished the registration process, slipped a wristband on her left wrist, and directed her to the waiting room where she would be called for her scan. I asked her before saying goodbye if I could hug her. She nodded yes, and I lifted myself up from my chair, walked around to the patient lobby, and pulled her in for a long, tight hug.

The tears came quicker then, but this time, she did not apologize. I told her that I wished her well — I wanted peace to be something she could gain and soon. She thanked me and we ended our time together. I have never been married. I cannot tell you what it feels like to lose a spouse, but I have lost a grandmother, two-great-grandmothers, a grandfather, an aunt, a few cousins, and a couple of close friends. I know that this type of pain — this death pain comes and goes. It never truly ceases.

We cannot time it. We do not have a map for it. We cannot direct it. It comes when it wants and usually when you do not want it to. It sneaks up on you when all you want to do is find sweet rest, but you cannot and eerily enough, it’s almost like grief knows this. It’s as if it knows you want to move on, you want to be lifted up from the belly of the infected beast, but no matter what you do, you are pulled back into its sweaty grip.

The next few people I registered happened to be in line waiting while I interacted with this particular patient and each of them thanked me for what I did. It must have been the look on my face because I thought and I assumed, most would think this way too, that this is how we are to react when someone needs a moment — to give them the time to step back, lose it a bit, and come back to life. There’s still humanity, people — some of us are truly humane.

Grief does not wait for you to get it together. It does not care who is watching. It does not think about the life you have to live after your loved one dies and will never come back. It moves and shakes and hits you when you least expect it. I hugged a patient today. We embraced until she stopped crying and nothing else mattered to me at that moment. Nothing else could have pulled me from what I thought mattered most.

All that mattered is that she knew I cared and I had to show her — I did.


Originally published in Other Doors via Medium.

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Non-fiction Saturdays

I Don’t Want To Lose My Mind

I watched my paternal Great-Grandmother deteriorate over time. A woman who stood at 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed over 200 pounds. She was the epitome of “a strong tower.” For years, she carried us. We descended from her bloodline, all of us; her eyes piercing through each of our faces — her voice found in mine and a few of my cousins’.

We did not think she would become the person she was before she died but she did. When you watch the woman who helped raise you in her home for the better part of three years lose her sense of self, there is a depth to that which cannot be explained.

Everything about her demanded attention. She was not only vocal, but she also commanded a room with her presence. Her voice would echo long after she left. When she spoke, people listened. I envied that. I knew that when I grew up, I wanted people to listen to me the way they so easily listened to my pistol of a Great-Grandmother.

She married once and never remarried. I did not know my Great-Grandfather. He died while my Dad and his siblings were young. I do know that like my paternal Grandfather, he was an Army man and died before he reached his sixties.

My parents were teenagers when I was born. A bout with lead poisoning landed us a temporary stay with my Great-Grandmother whom I’d learn to call “Grandma Tiggs.”

The following story has been told to me many times . . . Shortly after I ingested paint chips from our apartment’s walls, I became sick and was hospitalized. Grandma Tiggs let me know her advisement to my parents was, “I don’t care what y’all do, but bring my baby to me.” And to her, I went. We all went. And with her, I’d find the beauty of a soul with a hard shell.

She potty-trained me by placing my potty in the living room in front of the television while letting me know that I could not get up until something was in the potty. There, in front of her television, I became familiar with Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and As The World Turns. I snacked on apple and peach slices, whole milk, and homemade ice cream. I could not drink any juice or water until after I cleaned my plate. We ate our meals at the family dining table and nowhere else inside the house.

Her home. Her rules.

She taught Sunday School, was a “Mother” in our small church and swam at our local YMCA to relax and strengthen her muscles when she got older. I recall being in Grandma Tiggs’ Sunday School class and not only did I learn more to add to what I had already been taught in her home, but I also grew to respect her at an entirely different level.

We would begin our class by singing Jesus Loves The Little Children and end it with Jesus Loves Me. There was no favoritism issue toward me. If anything, I had to show and prove myself more than my peers. She expected that.


Photo by Malcolm Lightbody via Unsplash

Every Sunday after church, we’d have dinner at her place. My family, all of us, gathered at her table with growling bellies and mouths watering from the various delicious smells from her kitchen. We would wait until she plopped her buttocks down in her seat at the head of the table. She was our matriarch — she blessed our food.

When I went to college, I came home every other weekend and one of my pastimes would be sitting on Grandma Tiggs’ porch with her and talking. This, I did for three years. Right before my fourth year, my Great-Grandmother started showing signs of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.

Little things like my name, if I wore glasses or not, where I was born, if I used to live with her, what her address was, where she was born, etc. were foreign to her. There would be moments of lucidity but they did not last long. The disease became so crippling that her remaining living children made the decision to place her in the care of a small facility where a home health nurse and her team took on salvaging the last of Grandma Tiggs’ mind as best as they could. This is to say, they made her shift into this new era easier to bear.

She was leaving us. There would be no turning back.

I visited her. I had to make an appointment in advance. Our days became Friday or Saturday whenever I came home for a particular weekend. At first, she knew who I was. She would sit and hold my hand — pat my leg while I spoke. We would have what seemed like hours of memorable conversation. Soon after, we fell into the comforts of our past, she’d forget who I was or call me by one of my older cousin’s names.

There were many moments that I had to fight off tears because she would be escorted away from me if she stirred up the environment. I was often frightened by her behavior, however, I had to remind myself that within that withering body with the twin-like withering brain was my life-source, my Great-Grandmother.


Photo by Nashua Volquez via Pexels

I watched this tower of a woman turn into a rude, senseless, and ruthless flailing spirit. I still cannot put into words what it feels like. I realize upon writing this that there are many moments I repressed because they are too painful to recall.

Grandma Tiggs died when she was eighty-five years old. Her funeral was a home-going celebration in a church full of devoted and loyal family members and friends. It was a detrimental period of my life — her passing. For years, I would be reminded of just how quickly her mind faded and how she left me longing for more of her and her presence.

My Grandmother, Grandma Tiggs’ second oldest child is eighty-four and while she is still fully capable of making certain decisions and living on her own, she too began showing signs of some form of dementia two years ago. Gradually, her demeanor is shifting from peaceful and mild-mannered to impatient and outlandish.

She repeats herself. She forgets to turn the stove off. She refuses to listen to members of authority in certain situations. She is adamant about not moving away from her current living space and will let you know in a heartbeat that she is still very much in control.

But, she is not.

I have watched the women in my life lose their faculties, their primal sense of being and purpose, and personalities too. The one thing I fear about aging is losing my sense of self — losing my mind. It terrifies me because I have seen what can happen. I know what outcome lies ahead. I have no children to care for me or ensure my safety. Who will come to my aid?

I don’t want to leave this world a shell of a person. But I don’t get to plan the way I will die or what may cause my death. I can only hope that any major changes or disturbances won’t break the hearts of those I love who may outlive me.

I want to be a good memory for them. I hope I will be.


Originally published via Medium. The link shared is a friend link as this is a piece behind Medium’s paywall.

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