Saturday, August 29, 2009

another birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. For some elusive reason, I decided to have a party, which in retrospect seems highly egotistical. Well, my stab at self-glorification certainly backfired.

First, some background. I was never one of the popular girls. I was no cheerleader. I was the dunce of gym class, wanted for nobody's team. Other than gym class, I was a geek, but fortunately, nobody made fun of me because I was ever aware of my goal of behaving in an innocuous fashion so as to fail to draw attention.

More accurately, I was innocuous until I discovered the wonders of alcohol. Liquored up, I could be the star of any party. That went on until I realized that I had a problem with alcohol and I stopped drinking. Rewind to innocuous.

Ever since my mother died, my birthdays have fallen by the wayside, unnoticed. My father, who has immersed himself in the family of his current wife, doesn't even mail a card or spring for a long distance phone call. Doesn't it make sense for someone in my situation to plan a birthday bash? It sure beats wallowing in misery for the 24 hours marking the date of my birth.

I spent every free moment during the past week cleaning my house for the party. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing forgotten corners with a toothbrush. I even cleaned the walls and ceiling, wondering how it is that dust can collect in such places. Seriously- where does it come from?

Then, the day before the party, I started cooking. Mind you, I'm no chef. I need a detailed map to find my way around the kitchen. I attempted to produce homemade gnocchi (delicate Italian potato dumplings). Something went terribly wrong, and the dough totally stuck to my hands, and eventually to my arms, face, hair and clothing. I stood there in my kitchen in tears, not knowing how to proceed, not wanting to even think about any plan B, never wanting to cook again for the rest of my god-forsaken life.

I looked like the Pillsbury dough boy, covered with a gooey potatoey mess (which I still haven't managed to completely remove from my hair). I was afraid to shower it off, for fear of clogging the plumbing. I went outdoors and hosed myself, to the amusement of the neighbors and passersby.

Hours later, I had finally put together a concoction defying recognition. This is why I had to start cooking the day before. I know myself well enough to be able to anticipate kitchen disasters. It turned out to be a casserole-looking thing, so I shoved it into my refrigerator intending to cook it just before the party.

Over the past couple of weeks I had spent a good deal of time analyzing this upcoming party. I had no wine glasses, so I bought a set. In case some people wanted water or soft drinks, I bought one of those colorful plastic beverage tubs to be filled with a large bag of ice from the gas station the next day. My house is small- too small for comfortable partying, so I decided to hold the party outdoors, and made arrangements to borrow extra lawn furniture. I neither cook nor eat meat, so I found a gourmet grocery where I could purchase high quality pre-made meatballs to add to the concoction.

Just in case the concoction proved to be inedible, I added tortellini to the menu- a double batch to ensure that I wouldn't run out of food. Everybody except me seems to eat bread with Italian food, so I found frozen garlic bread that looked somewhat appropriate. I had to write out an hour by hour timeline for the day of the party so that I would have a fighting chance of pulling off this party. Oh, and did I mention that I baked my own birthday cake? Not wanting anyone to feel obligated to bring a birthday gift, I didn't tell any of the guests that it was my birthday, and I made sure the cake didn't look birthday-ish.

The big day arrived, with rain. The interior of my small, ill-designed house would be the setting whether I liked it or not. The phone rang, and while I tried to untangle myself from tortellini, my favorite party guest left a phone message stating that he had been called out of town and couldn't attend. I still had some tears left even after the previous day's events, and I indulged in another crying spell.

The first guest arrived 3 minutes early, and I was not amused. My kitchen is the worst feature of my ill-designed house- it lacks space for more than one person at a time. I shooed her out of the kitchen and into the ill-designed living room, explaining that cooking required more concentration than I was in possession of.

But it was too late- things had started to fall apart, as I lost track of what had to be in the oven for how long. I managed to start a fire on the stove. I asked my early arrival to take over the kitchen before I ruined the entire production, and I just stood near the door, dazed, as people showed up.

After a few minutes I regained consciousness and took over the kitchen again. While everyone was eating, I cut the cake and started the dishes. I was too overwhelmed to think about eating myself.

Not one person took a bottle of water or a can of soft drink of the huge plastic tub with the 33 pound bag of ice in it. They all drank wine. I had told people that we'd go for a walk in the park or play Pictionary after eating; we did neither, with thunderstorms raging and Pictionary forgotten. When I finally went into the living room to attempt to converse with guests after the meal, I was too exhausted to be conscious of what I was saying, and I said things I later regretted- gossipy things having to do with work.

The guests left as soon as the lightening let up enough so that they could run to their cars, arms laden with leftovers which I begged them to take. As I entered the kitchen to resume the endless task of cleaning up, I noticed that the floor was flooded. (I noticed because I slipped and fell.) The huge plastic tub which was intended to hold ice and drinks during parties apparently had a hole in it. All 33 pounds of ice, now in liquid form, seeped into the floorboards of the ill-designed kitchen.

I'm not sure what line of thinking led me to believe that throwing myself a secret birthday party would be in any way enjoyable by me. It was a lot of work and even more stress. It consumed the day completely, not to mention the preceding days. That's what I mean when I say it backfired. Ironic, eh?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

climbing mountains

I know people who do things like mountain climbing and hang gliding for adventure. I know people who have jumped out of airplanes. I know people with pilot's licenses. I know people who move overseas, having mastered 8 languages. I know people who have started businesses, thereby creating their own livelihoods. I know people who have adopted troubled children whom nobody else wanted. And when I think of these things, I feel limited. I feel as though I haven't really lived my life- I've just sat on the edge, dipping my toe in now and then, admiring all the swimmers and divers.

This morning I sat outside with my pen and notebook. I wrote about this and came to realize that I did climb mountains. One of them was named "be the first in your family to attend college." One was "make a conscious decision to become a single parent." One was "choose a career in a highly competitive field, where the financial rewards will never match the sacrifices, dedication and training required." One was named "against all odds, get yourself out of the small town and dysfunctional family you were born into." And there's one which I keep on climbing periodically: "Establish yourself as an independent, self-supporting, capable individual."

It's not important for others to know of my mountain climbing prowess. But it's critical that I know.

Friday, August 07, 2009

can't let go of blogging

I have toyed with the idea of quitting blogging. I've been at it since 2005, and lately it has seemed as though my blogging phase has run its course. For some reason, though, I am not ready to let it go.

It has been disappointing to me that some of my former readers have dropped away. Blogging has at times reminded me of high school, when I fretted over not being popular. My blog has never been popular; however, I have enjoyed a small loyal following.

One of my favorite bloggers has quit. Certainly I have been influenced by her decision- for one thing, it's depressing to have her not be a part of my "small loyal following."

Another favorite blogger of mine quit a couple of years ago. I never fully recovered from losing her virtual friendship. It's amazing how attached I have become to my blogging community. Like neighbors, you can't bank on them being there forever.

Which reminds me- my next door neighbor died last week. He was more of a father to me than my bio dad. He cared about me, he worried about me, he cut my bushes, he loaned me tools, he fixed my bike, he gave me tomatoes, he tried to be a father figure to The Child, he went to court after The Child's father pushed him in my driveway (making it easier for me to prevail in the custody battle), he took care of the fallen tree in my front yard, he rushed my dying dog to the animal hospital.

How do you sat goodbye? I remember the day 2 weeks ago when he stood in his driveway, holding onto his garbage container because the bone cancer had made him so weak, while we talked. I remember saying goodbye to him that day, not knowing it would be the last time.

Every time my doorbell rings, I think it's him. He was always checking on me.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

My sister was told a few short months ago that her tongue cancer was gone. The radiation and chemo had worked, apparently.

Then, a couple of weeks ago came the devastating news that it had returned, and the tumor on her tongue was so fast-growing that surgery was scheduled immediately.

This would be no ordinary surgery- it was scheduled to last 12 hours! It took place Tuesday.

A few days prior, my sister had noticed a suspicious lump on the other side of her tongue. At the outset of her surgery, that new lump was biopsied, and found to be cancerous.

The team of surgeons had to adjust their plan. Instead of removing one tumor, they'd be removing two. Instead of taking a skin graft from her arm, they'd have to take tissue and fat from her thigh, for the purpose of tongue re-construction.

The surgery lasted an unbelievable 14 hours. I was unable to travel across the country to be there, so I rely on reports from my brother.

He describes how shocking it is to see the incision circling her neck like a choker necklace. They did that to remove lymph nodes.

Her face is swollen and there are tubes- 24, he says, sticking out of her, connecting her to various machines. She has a tracheotomy and a food tube.

The staff warned the family members that if she got out of bed at all, she would be unable to walk. Yet the morning after surgery, she reportedly walked up and down the hallway, hauling the machinery with her.

Who knew that my sister had that sort of determination? She has never been challenged like this before, of course- nothing compares to this.

She can't speak, but apparently she is writing with amazing eloquence. Surpassing all expectations, she is the superstar of the cancer ward.

She is displaying a strength hitherto unknown, which we never would have known she had, which she would have never known she had.