Monday, January 31, 2011

Alone at Night

It doesn’t happen every night, I’m not sure why it does, but sometimes late at night, when its dark, when I first turn off the distractions around me and my mind starts to move to blessed sleep a profound sense of aloneness finds me. It’s when I lay there alone in the pitch black of night, right after I turn on my side and pull the sheet up to my neck and move my legs to find the softest coolest parts of the sheets that I miss her the most.

It’s when the television goes off and the noise of the house is dulled but my brain has yet to make the transition that I miss, no, I crave that beating heart, that deep breathing, that human electrical aura that all bodies exude. It’s when the loneliness slowly creeps through in the darkest parts of the night I miss the presence of her in my bed with me every night.

Before Marty’s strokes, when the kids were still home and they were asleep in their rooms and the house was the quietest I wondered if they ever got lonely in the pitch of the night. I wasn’t; I had this woman who loved me, whom I loved, beside me. I thought then how lucky Marty and I were that we always had that place, that time to be part of each other’s lives

I don’t think Marty and I would have been one of those couples that eventually moved to separate bedrooms for better sleep hygiene. While we had our differences; she didn’t like the fans blowing on her, she just liked the white noise of a machine, I wanted it as cold and windy as it could be without blowing the covers, we both coveted the presence of the other. Even with those differences, I slept with her with comfort, secure with the basic human existence always close enough to touch, to caress, to kiss. We would sleep, I would snore (I have the bruises from her elbows to prove it); she would sleep on her right side and dream, sometimes telling me what those dreams meant.

I love that Marty’s still with me. She’s just down the hall; sound asleep with the gentle hum and hiss of an oxygen concentrator producing just a bit more oxygen for her to sleep comfortably. She sleeps on her back now because of the machines; she sleeps soundly now because of the medicine, she sleeps in another room now so I can rest and she can be cared for throughout the night, she sleeps down the hall now so I can turn my brain off enough to find sleep.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when it is the quietest, when all are asleep, when it is dark, I quietly walk down the hall and look in on her and her caregiver. Quietly, so as not to disturb, I watch her for just a minute, I watch as her chest rises and falls with each deep breath, I watch knowing her heart continues to beat, I watch wondering if she is dreaming.

In the late part of the night, when fever’s rise and hearts slow, brains still move, minds still calculate causing emotions, feelings, and angst to blossom. The darkness brings rest, it brings peace, it revives. The night reminds me of dreams told, nightmares realized and the softness of her touch. I wonder if she still dreams.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The MakeUp is Hard to Do

The parents of my entire life celebrated sixty years of wedded bliss on Christmas Eve. Right before the New Year we gathered with family and friends at a very nice club in downtown Fort Worth to help them celebrate this milestone. We had great food, drink, stories, and a plethora of misty eyes as we all took partial credit for my parent’s accomplishment.

Marty and I were thrilled to make the trip to be a part of the celebration. Over the last couple of years we have grown ever bolder in our attempts to live a more “normal” life and we love that we can participate in these kinds of events; we have missed too many and too much.

Travelling with Marty requires planning and forethought. It’s hard for Marty; it’s both physically and emotionally taxing for both of us. It takes extra work and planning for all of us including our caregivers, but the reward, the reward of seeing Marty alive and participating, the joy of seeing her tax her brain as she communicates and relates with others is worth all of the work, the planning, and the expected accompanying angst.

Marty spent the morning and early afternoon before our trip reposing in her bed. We both took our Saturday baths on Thursday that week and we donned our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Marty even pulled out some of her jewelry and then retired to her bed to conserve her energy until it was time to leave.

We were waiting between caregivers and I sat with Marty, both of us on her bed watching television. As I was sitting with her, pondering the coming drive, I looked at her and realized we had not done any makeup. Now Marty is 56 and has remarkable skin, a really remarkable complexion given what she has endured. Marty never has never worn a lot of make-up and rarely wears any now; frankly she looks great without it, but, this is one of those special occasions that required just a bit of enhancement.

Before Marty broke her strong right arm, I could provide her a mirror, the right supplies and she could do the job on her own. This time, the making up deed fell to me. Imagine if you will a ham fisted West Texas guy coming at your face with toner and blush. That was me, a big lunk with slightly trembling hands.

I said, “Marty, what do I do with this?” She would look at me, sigh and then direct me.

As I started to decorate Marty’s face I took my Momma’s cooking advice to heart,” you can always add more, but it is hard to take salt out of the meat loaf,” and I put the toner on sparingly. Marty directed me to her cheeks, her forehead and her nose; she said it was to reduce the shine.

Then came the mascara, you know, the stuff that comes in tubes with the itty-bitty brushes that make your eyelashes longer and fuller, that stuff. I shook the bottle, I’m a compulsive bottle shaker, and pulled out the brush and slowly approached Marty’s eyelashes. Marty tried her best to keep her eye lids from fluttering, I tried my best to keep my hand from shaking and I gently and tentatively touched the brush to her eye lashes. They got bigger and longer, I was overwhelmed with courage and boldness.

I put the brush back in the mascara bottle and shook it again, emboldened by my success. Marty still wasn’t vert confident of my artistic skills and her eyelids still trembled. This time I went for the right eye and as I was moving in I managed to brush the bridge of her nose with the mascara. Shaken by the misstep I forged ahead, dabbed a bit on her the eyelashes on her right eye and promptly smeared the mascara on her eye lid.

Saying “OOOPs”, is probably not the best thing one could say when applying makeup to your loved one. Marty jerked and I smeared a bit more mascara on her right eye. I stepped back from my handiwork, wet a washcloth and delicately tried to remove all of the mascara remnants from the improper places, like eyelids and noses and my left hand.

Remarkably Marty trusted me to finish the eyelashes and then move on to the lipstick. I put some on her lips, then a little more, desperately trying to color between the lines. I finally declared complete capitulation and Marty said, “I need a mirror, right now.” I said, “Yes you do, hang tight for a second.”

I ran and got the mirror thankful I had removed the misapplied mascara. Marty looked in the mirror, pursed her lips, and then puckered her lips just like she had done hundreds of times after applying her own lipstick. She tilted her chin down, then to each side inspecting the damage and declared, “Not bad.”

Frankly I thought the whole thing was a lot better than “not bad.” I thought it something of a miracle. It wasn’t so much a miracle that this fat handed West Texas boy was applying lipstick to his wife, the miracle was that she let me, that she trusted me to do it. That’s “not bad.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wedding Evolution

We have canceled the big May wedding at our lake house. Our baby girl was supposed to get married on the shores of Richland Chambers as the sun set slowly in the west. It was supposed to be a big affair with family and friends enjoying the beauty of the bonds of holy matrimony. It’s not going to happen, its okay; there are very real reasons for it not to happen.

We had started the planning stages for the wedding. Erin had found her dress, we had found a place to get the port-a-potties, we had found just the right guy to help us design a once in a lifetime wedding event. We had plenty of time to educate me on the fine art of matrimonial celebrations and then do it. Alas, it was not to be.

Somehow, and for reasons which will be clear, what had been a large outdoor celebration morphed into a winter, small affair. Then, what had been a small, family, chapel kind of wedding evolved again into a mid-size, mid-January wedding. What was going to be planned and implemented in months was done in weeks. Yes we did, wedding in a box, a wedding in six weeks.

My baby girl, my daughter, walked the aisle of First Presbyterian on my arm this weekend wearing her Mother’s wedding veil and the vintage styled wedding dress she had found a couple of months ago. My dark haired beauty stood at the front of our church of 20 years and plighted her troth to a young man who is now a part of our family, as Erin is a part of his.

In many ways planning a wedding in six weeks makes all of the decisions you have to make pretty simple. You only have one question for any of the vendors, “Are you available?” from there it’s just a matter of writing checks.

Erin and my daughter-in-law took Marty shopping and found her a couple of Mother-of-the-Bride ensembles that Marty really liked. Marty being the generous soul that she is just had to buy a couple of dresses and various other accoutrements for her shopping companions. Her strokes did not really affect her card swiping abilities. Marty looked absolutely wonderful and sophisticated. She was the perfect Mother-of- the-Bride, involved but not controlling. It was Erin’s day all of the way.

For the homily during the ceremony the good Pastor Jimmie talked about love and pain and life and choosing the pain of love. He had used the same words several years ago when he married our very close family friend’s daughter Elizabeth. The words so moved Marty, struck such a nerve with her she wrote a small piece that I posted on my blog once before Marty Keep Talking It’s worth reading.

Jimmie didn’t realize he was connecting all of us to our best family friends, he didn’t know he was connecting us to words that had moved Marty years before, but Marty did. As Jimmie was saying the words, as he was gently talking to Erin, Lyle and the congregation about the beauty of love Marty looked at me and said very simply, “the pain of love.” I didn’t recognize the circle until I went back and reread Marty’s writing.

Large crowds and the chaos surrounding large crowds are often hard for Marty to handle. She tends to get distracted easily and it’s very hard for her to focus on the moment. What used to be an enviable strength, the skill to live in the moment, to feel the moment, is gone. I can relate, I don’t remember a whole lot about the actual ceremony; I was too focused on logistics and fretting over Marty to really live the joy of the occasion. The side benefit to the distraction is neither of us cried.

Marty held up extremely well and was right in the middle of the whole shindig. She sat with friends, chatted, watched and lived the moment. She and I even made our way around the dance floor once with me pushing her backwards in her wheelchair; after all of these years I finally got to lead.

I think the whole thing was a real success. For a six week crash wedding we all did pretty well putting the whole thing together. The key I think was letting go. To quote Jimmie, “You can micro-manage all you want, or you can let the professionals do their job.” Erin, Marty and I had no choice but to let the professionals do their job, and they did a good job and the end result is my baby girl is now married, unless of course I forget to mail the wedding license.

Oh yeah, our baby girl is going to give us our second grandchild in June and he shall be called Larry Joe.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hailey Dunn is Missing

Hailey Dunn is missing. Dunn a 13 year old teenage girl went missing in my hometown right before the New Year. According to media reports she was reportedly walking to her father’s house and then to her friend’s house to spend the night. She never got there; the father and the friend reported they did not know she was supposed to be coming.

My home town, Colorado City, Texas, pronounced ColOrAdO, is a dry spot in a long straight I-20 in west Texas. In the late 19th century it was a railhead city and a boom town for a while. It’s now a small west Texas town with 4500 people surviving in the big country of Texas.

Most of the people who live there are very conservative and very Christian, though it’s a remarkably diverse group of people. They are good people, people anyone would call the salt of the earth. They are people who are proud of who they are, what they believe and where they live.

The live in Colorado City and it is their village, their community, their safety net and it hurts them in a very real way that Hailey is missing and they haven’t been able to find her or find out what has happened to her. They take it as a personal affront that this could happen in their village and it scares them that something bad like this could happen “even” in little Colorado City.

Marty and I both grew up in small towns in Texas and we have both in several small towns in Texas; thus we must be experts about small towns in Texas. All of these small communities are very different, but they all carry pride in their community, a security in their surroundings and a closeness we don’t often see in larger cities. Small towns take their communities and the closeness of their community very serious.

I haven’t lived in Colorado City for a long, long time but it is where I was sculpted, it was where my foundations began so I have some sense of understanding how the residents feel. I have been following the Hailey Dunn story through friends, Face book postings and the news and what I have heard and read feels very familiar. The town has taken loss of a child very personally and as a community have adopted Hailey and banded together to protect her. They have collectively taken umbrage at any criticism of their town, their people or their community leaders, it’s what we do in small towns, band together against those who don’t understand us.

The prayer vigil they organized attracted 750 people, praying for a child most had never met. The tiny six person police department is clearly stretched too thin and have called in and gratefully accepted help from countless outside organizations. There have been huge volunteer search parties organized on multiple days searching without success. They go out and search the town, the country, the city’s landfill, hoping they find life but ultimately grateful they are disappointed when they find nothing. The people of this small community have wrapped their collective arms around Hailey’s family praying what is ultimately discovered won’t break their hearts.

Of course there are complaints, of course there are, it’s what we do when we are scared, when we can’t control all things. Of course there are criticisms, back biting, accusations, and rumors; these are the fuel for small communities, it’s how they breathe.

As the clock has ticked since Hailey’s disappearance the police have gone from a runaway child to a missing person’s investigation. Now whispers and accusations and recriminations are starting to simmer. People are looking at the live-in boyfriend with jaundiced eyes; they are looking at the mother with disapproval for not checking up on the missing girl earlier. But really these things take a back seat to the real issue, where is Hailey, and how can they help her.

My hometown is going through the natural stages of grief right now. They are hopeful, they are denying, they are angry, but they are not giving up, they are not letting the worst of the world bend their west Texas spirit. From a long way away, from many years ago, I still see the substance, I still see the determination, and I still see the pride of that community. A little girl, Hailey Dunn, has rallied the spirit of my old community, I hope she gets to come home and see it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thirty Five and Five

On a bright, clear, cold day on the high plains of Texas, Marty and I changed our lives forever and got married. We were too young, too naïve, too self-interested to be married and stay married. We did it anyway. That was 35 years ago today.

On a similar bright cold day in the heart of Texas Marty and I had our lives changed irrevocably when she had her second stroke. We were both too young, too inexperienced and too naïve to deal with the catastrophe that befell us, but we have done it in spite of our ignorance. The second stroke was five years ago today.

Thirty-five years ago my bride was gorgeous as she walked down the aisle in her wedding gown accompanied by her Father who looked exceedingly uncomfortable in his tuxedo. I was styling in a sort of brown velour tuxedo with a ruffled shirt and a velvet brown bow tie. Hey, it looked good in the 70’s, it’s not polite to laugh. I don’t remember a lot about the ceremony. I would say it was because I was captivated by Marty’s ravishing beauty but I suspect it was because nerves had completely compromised the ability of my brain to function. We got through the ceremony and somehow made it to the reception at the Dalhart Country Club where there were activities.

Five years ago my gorgeous bride was sitting in her recliner in her white and green pajamas. I was filthy, dressed in days old jeans and a lovely sweat shirt, and had been gathering mounds of leaves from our front yard. We were eating in front of the television set, watching “Everybody Loves Raymond’. Not the most romantic way to celebrate 30 years of marriage but we were tired from Christmas and a very difficult Christmas journey to Dalhart.

Thirty five years ago we changed into our “honeymoon clothes”, I had this super cool polyester leisure suit with a paisley qiana shirt. Marty was wearing her own poly blend floral pant suit and we were really too cool for school. Resplendent in our garb we set out on our honeymoon, two fresh faced children, now married. We left Marty’s house for Colorado Springs in the evening. Marty’s Grandmother had packed a picnic basket for us, complete with red checkered cloth to cover the console of our car. As we rode through the night I was a little afraid and amazed at how I had gotten in to this whole marriage deal.

Five years ago, thirty years past the leisure suit, I sat and had the same feelings as they put Marty on a gurney in our living room and took her to the ambulance for the short trip to the hospital. I stood out in the cold right behind the ambulance watching them connecting oxygen and fluids to Marty. Thirty-five years ago I thought I would never be alone, five years ago I had never felt so alone.

Thirty-five years ago tonight Marty and I were in the Hilton’s honeymoon suite reaping the rewards of promising to love, honor till death do us part. We ended up with Marty teaching me how to snow ski and driving back to Dalhart on some back roads of Colorado (not a good idea). We had no idea the beauty and the pain life had in store for us in the coming years, we just knew we were in love and ready to live our life together, forever.

Five years ago tonight I sat in a hospital room with Marty wanting to love and honor a little longer and not wanting to worry about the till death do us part thing. We were less than a year away from her last stroke and all I could think about was in sickness and in health and avoiding the death part of the vows.

It was five years ago, just like 35 years ago, Marty and I had no idea the beauty and the pain life was in store for us, we just knew we were in love and ready to live our life together. We still are.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

An Excellent Day for an Exorcism

It’s almost a daily occurrence. I’m talking or doing or puttering and the sentence or phrase just pops into my little pea brain and the dialogue returns, a picture flashes in my mind’s eye and eventually the whole movie returns from the dark recesses of my head.

I like movies, good, bad, sad, funny, dumb, I like movies. It’s one of our activities. Marty and I go to the movies on almost a weekly basis. She enjoys being out, I enjoy the big screen. I’m not particularly sophisticated or discriminating in my film tastes so we go see everything and anything that meets our criteria, which is mostly the time of day it starts at our favorite theatre, the one where they recognize us and have our popcorn and drinks ready for us as we walk in the building. We do best with 1 pm to 2 pm start times, no one goes then so we are often alone in the theatre, very cool.

The thing about watching a lot of movies is you get some stuff stuck in your brain, some dialogue, some snippets from the different films that are triggered by different moments. I never fail to see Billy Chrystal standing and waving and saying, “Have fun storming the castle,” as I bid family or friends adieu. I just want to say it every time someone drives off from our house.

At church, when our minister Jimmie stands at the baptismal font and puts his hand in the water and lets it run through his fingers as he greets the congregation I see a river and hear a low haunting voice say, “I’m haunted by waters.” I’m haunted by the end of that movie.

Every time I see a Robert Duvall film I can’t help but think of him, mounted on his horse with his hat over his heart look down at a young Diane Lane and say, “Lori darlin’,” and then ride off into the proverbial sunset. I may tear up just a tad.

Maybe my two favorite lines come in the way of a very brief dialogue between two of my favorite actors. Robert Duvall, “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.” John Wayne replies, “Fill your hands you son-of-a-bitch,” I say that daily to someone. It’s one of the great visual scenes in the movie.

Now picture the ubiquitous baseball manager, as played by Trey Wilson, livid about the last, most recent loss. He is at his wits end when the sage veteran catcher tells him to scare the young players. He throws a pile of baseball bats into the shower with the players and delivers one of the best motivational speeches of all time, “You guys, you lollygag your way around the infield, you lollygag your way around first, you lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you.....That’s right, Lollygaggers.” I have loved the word lollygaggers since I first saw this movie and I try to use it every time it seems appropriate. It’s amazing how often I get to use it.

There are so many snippets of movies that have become part of the everyday lexicon of our society that you hear, that you think, that you say. “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “Life is like a box of chocolates,” “Badges. We ain’t got no badges, we don’t need no badges I don’t have to show you any stinkin badges,” and “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” These are just a few, I’m sure as you have read this more have tickled your neurons.

I’m not sure why some of these words stick in my brain. I don’t know if it’s the juxtaposition of the words or maybe it’s my ears and my eyes combining to make an indelible impression on my head. All I know is every time I see Linda Blair I remember her stating in rather graphic terms, “ What an excellent day for an exorcism.”