I had an upsetting conversation with a friend the other day about my mother. It brought up a lot of stuff that I hadn’t talked about in a while and his reaction made me realize, as he said “That’s a lot to be carrying around with you.” I tend to forget that sometimes, and have moved through my life as if it was just the script that was written for me. I’ve even gotten it down to bullet points. (I refer you to a post from last year–“I Love You Claudine Part I.”)
Last night for work I attended a party at a home in the wealthiest suburb of Boston, which according to Forbes magazine has the 97th most expensive zip code in the United States. According to public record, the house has an estimated worth just shy of $2 million.
“It’s kind of like drinking the beach,” a friend of mine told me.
“Sounds awesome,” I said.
My boss told me it wasn’t THAT bad (Clearly, I have the kind of relationship with my colleagues where we can stand around and talk about our colons.)
For about twelve years I’ve had these random, double-me-over stomach cramps that come out of nowhere. I can feel them coming on slowly and then within about 3 hours, they hit full force and I literally can’t stand upright because of the intensity of the pain. I used to have them about 3 times a year, but they’ve become a bit more regular now. The one upside to this is that I get to walk around with prescription painkillers (one being valium because my doctor is the best doctor EVER) in a wonderful little case that a dear friend gave me that says “Happy Pills” on the front. I’m slightly in love with my “Happy Pills” case.
After 12 years of stumping my primary care physician we figured it was time to go see a specialist. He’s such a lovely man, which I suppose helps in his line of work. I remember when doctors used to say “You’re WAY too young to have such and such,” but now they say “Well, you’re getting closer to the age when…” Fuck you, lovely colon doctor.
I left his office with a scheduled colonoscopy for two months later and a packet of information about what and what not to eat 24 hours in advance with urgent and asterisked sentences about having a ride home and the usual hideous side effects that would scare the hell out of anyone. My packet soon became part of the detritus on my dining room table that when not looking, my husband would put in a box along with an entire week’s worth of mail, magazines, catalogues and bills.
A few days before the procedure my doctor’s assistant called to confirm my appointment and to make sure that I had everything under control. “Yep,” I said, willing the paperwork to be among the piles in that box. 2 days before the appointment I found it and also discovered my first mistake: “No seeds or nuts within 7 days of the procedure.” Oops.
The clear liquid diet that begins 24-hours before the procedure, includes about 7 things. No matter how hard I stared at it, the list didn’t get any longer. Jello (NOT RED!), broth, popsicles, clear grape juice, clear soda, coffee with COFFEEMATE (probably the WORST sacrifice of the entire ordeal), tea. What I couldn’t understand is why I couldn’t drink white wine since it’s basically white grape juice gone bad. Vodka is about as clear a liquid that exists, but nope. No vodka or wine on the list.
I filled my prescription for my jug of “the beach” and tried to make eye contact with the young pharmacist so he would acknowledge the pure HELL I was about to go through. He didn’t take the bait but I’m sure as I was leaving the counter I heard he and his co-workers break out into hysterical laughter, falling to the floor while clutching their stomachs.
At 9 am the morning before, you have to drink a small bottle of what tastes like flat Alka-Seltzer mixed with Sprite. I know not ONE human being who hates Alka-Seltzer more than I. According to the many testimonials I googled, something was supposed to “happen” within an hour.My sweet husband just kept on looking at me saying, “I’m so sorry honey,” as I waited, like waiting for your water to break, but without the mind numbing pain.10:00, nothing.11:00, nothing.I decided to try to take a nap, which I managed to do rather well.Many more hours of nothing while I sucked on tangerine fruit bars and choked down a mug of chicken broth.
At 5:30 I confronted the beast—the jug of HELL!The instructions say to drink an 8 oz glass every 15 minutes putting the last sip approximately 4 hours after you start.You’re provided with flavor packets to choose from which do NOTHING to disguise the fact that you have to drink an endless amount of slimy, salty water FOREVER!Again, within an hour, all hell is supposed to break loose (no pun intended).I set up camp in our bathroom—Sunday paper, crossword puzzle, candles, the jug and my 8 oz glass by my side.That jug taunted me like a character that keeps appearing in the scenes of a horror movie.It didn’t get any emptier and neither did I.Nothing.Hours and hours of NOTHING.
I’m a mutant freak. I’m broken. This is practically impossible. All the people on online message boards said that they had become limp rags, chained to their bathrooms. And me? Nothing. I settled in to watch tv miserable, a cleansing failure, and went to sleep.
At 2:30 there was a breakthrough—the skies opened up and assured me that noone noticed that I had poured about 24 oz down the drain. I was forgiven! The sign I had to look for was “clear effluence.” I was going to do it!
By 6:30 am, I thought, ok, I can hold my head up high and walk in to experience, what my aforementioned co-worker said was like “having a huge hose with a camera stuck up your ass.” Good times!
I had to sit with a nurse before hand, the id tag already affixed to my wrist, presumably in case I died and they needed to identify my body. She asked me questions about my “prep” and I told her that it took a really long time to finally work. She asked me to describe the color it had gotten to and pointed to the laminated tan top of the table.
“Is it this color?” Silence.
“Is it more beige?” I felt pressured, interrogated, guilty, so I just said “Yeah, it’s more beige.”
She then proceeded to tell me what was about to happen and what I could expect.Noone told me that I was going to need OXYGEN.Noone told me that in recovery, I’d be surrounded by people, with partitions between us, who wouldn’t be allowed to go home until they “tooted” (her word, not mine.)She told me that I might experience short-term AMNESIA but assured me that I’d remember the conversation we were having.REALLY?I thought I was just going to be in a room with my lovely doctor, “consciously sedated” watching the whole thing on high-def tv!
I signed stuff, put on my gowns and slippers and was escorted into the room.I was immediately besieged by three nurses who started clipping, cuffing, sticking and shoving shit everywhere.The oxygen thing freaked me out and there was a snarky nurse barking questions at me.My doctor appeared all sweet and lovely, told me how to position myself, and stroked my head to assuage my nerves.He pushed a sedative through my iv and from that point on, I remember very little.I DO remember that something was amiss, that I might have been told that they couldn’t do the exam because I wasn’t “empty” enough.I knew I had let everyone down and was rolled into the recovery room.
Under the heated blankets and in and out of a deliciously deep state, I felt horribly guilty. I had wasted everyone’s time. I had endured 24 hours of torture for nothing. As I was taken out of recovery and told I could leave, I was handed a piece of paper that in big, bold capital letters said”POOR PREP.” It advised me that I needed to have a repeat colonoscopy within 2 months. I hung my head in shame.
I soothed myself with an enormous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, steak and mint chocolate ice cream. The following morning I waited for the office to open to find out exactly what had happened.
“I feel like I failed kindergarten” I wailed into the phone when the secretary answered.
She laughed and said, “Well, the doctor has a new “recipe” he wants you to try for next time.”
Was he going to send me to the fancy Colonics place in the desert that I had read about in The New Yorker?
“He wants you to be on the liquid diet for 48 hours, drink two bottles of the (stuff that tasted like Alka-Seltzer) and drink TWO JUGS of (the stuff that tastes like the beach.)
“HELL NO!” (and FUCK YOU secretary I used to really like!) I said rather emphatically.
“Well, you’re getting to the age when you have to do this anyway, ” she said back.
“Yeah, in FOUR more years!”
At that point, she got a bit frustrated with me and told me she was going to have the doctor call me back. I still haven’t heard from him and most of all, I hate that he thinks I didn’t follow the rules. I won’t tell him about the (36oz) of stuff I dumped down the sink. I will promise to be a better colon cleanser next time. I will promise to note the color, even take a picture with my i-phone, of my most recent “effluence.” I will tell him that his gentle stroke of my head did not go unnoticed. I will beg him, and the colonoscopy gods, for forgiveness.
When I first started my not-profit fundraising career I worked for an agency that served homeless women and their children. These were women living in homeless shelters, often with multiple children from infancy on. The mothers were mostly teens into their early 20s with so few choices and obstacles that it’s impossible for me to fathom.
When I was there, about 14 years ago, the agency was in its infancy but with funding from some of Boston’s wealthiest supporters it has grown exponentially. The concept is amazing–provide quality daycare to pre-schoolers while their mothers can focus on getting their GED, finding work and essentially do what they can to secure permanent housing.
Whenever I needed a break from my work, to clear my head and remind myself what I was raising money for, I would go down to the infant/toddler room. It’s impossible to explain how instantly that place put things into perspective for me. They were gorgeous kids, just like kids anywhere, loved, happy, stimulated, silly, all with personalities of their own. Seeing them at naptime, on their mats or cribs, was ridiculously perfect, and even though my daughter is now 10, there is still something in watching her sleep that makes my heart melt.
For reasons that only the gods know, a little boy, still not yet walking or talking, was plunked down into my life, not by a stork or anything, but by the kind of fate for which there is no explanation. Kids have always been drawn to me because I pay attention to them, but F__ and I had a “connection,” a certain invisible line that attached us together. I’d watch him doing his thing through the glass door to his room, and when he would spot me he’d come running over with his arms reaching for me to pick him up. I’d often come down at nap time to settle him down when his teachers couldn’t. I watched him move through the stages of walking and talking.
Throughout this time, I got to know F’s mother, C__ , who would often defer to me when F__ would get unruly or cranky. She was at a loss sometimes for how to handle F__ and his older brother G__ who was about 4 at the time. She was just 18.
C__ was quiet and walked around covering her mouth because she was embarrassed by her teeth. She often wore a scarf around her head because she hadn’t had time to do her hair. The boys always looked great, hair done, sometimes in donated clothes that were a bit too big. I used to think that she was ashamed to be around me but now I know, after all these years, that she was just grateful.
After I left this particular job, I stayed in touch with C__ and the boys. My ex-husband and I would take them trick-or-treating in the fancy neighborhood where we lived, both left cradling a sleeping child in our arms before putting them to bed on our living room couch. We felt great sadness driving them home, to what is called “scattered site housing” in one of the worst neighborhoods in Boston. The kitchen ceiling was falling down, a cat with fleas went in and out and the stairs to the basement were about to fall apart. One time someone called the police when they saw my husband trying to wrangle F__ from running around a Friendly’s parking lot because they thought he was abducting him.
C__ and I became pregnant at around the same time. It was my first child and her third. She had met a seemingly wonderful man who had become the male role model the boys had never had, and he was thrilled that he was going to be a father. During her pregnancy there were some health issues that came up that she didn’t quite understand and she asked if I could be the contact for her doctors, something called a medical proxy. I followed her through her pregnancy, as I was monitoring my own, and she had a beautiful baby girl, 2 weeks before mine. I was the one and only visitor she had in the hospital.
My ex and I went to visit at the holidays, bearing gifts for everyone. As we were leaving one year C__ pulled out beautifully wrapped gifts for the three of us–a glass chess set for my husband, a bubbling rock fountain for me, and a doll for my daughter. This from a woman who barely had anything.
Within the year, we had lost touch. Phones were disconnected, the Dept of Children and Family Services wouldn’t give me any information but I was able to confirm that F__ was attending the middle school in the neighborhood where they used to live. I asked the administration to give my phone number to C__ which she never received. And then, one day, 5 or so years after losing touch, I checked to see if G__ was on facebook, and he was. I e-mailed him and that night, I got this message from C__:
“…you have been a big part of my life and i never for got about you. i talk about you to everybody cuz you were there when i need you and when i had nothin and nobody. im a much stronger women now thanks to you. from this day on i want us to never part again.
you have have been my angel from god . you have been though everything with me and the things i tell you my mother will never know cuz you care and have a better understanding. i thank you i know you have your life with your family.
now when thing get the best of me and i can’t handle it no more i know you will be there. i now i don’t have much but when ever you need us we are here for you to.”
When I visited them for the first time after so many years, I cried seeing how big and beautiful the boys had become. F__, now 15, and I just stared at each other and smiled. My daughter and R__, C__’s little girl went upstairs to play while I sat on the couch with C__, the boys right next to me, listening and grinning.
She seemed empowered and after being on a waiting list for ELEVEN years, received a Section 8 certificate so she could find a better place to live closer to Boston. My daughter is already planning on what Bratz doll she’s going to buy R__ because she remembers how much she loved them.
C__’s words are some of the most meaningful I’ve ever received in any context. I’m not motivated by the need to be recognized or praised. In this case, I was lucky enough to have been captivated by a child who brought me into a world I never would have entered in any other context. Pay attention to the things that compel you for you never know what places they may take you.
This is the entrance of the summer “cottage” of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I have walked into that room about 7 times over the years and it always leaves me completely breathless. You can’t see it, but to the right of that chandelier are massive doors that lead out to a ridiculously expansive lawn that sits on the Atlantic Ocean.
Although somewhat masculine, the library above is where I tend to linger the longest on the self-guided tour. The upper rectangular panels are made out of Spanish leather to mimic the leather bound books in the collection.
Okay, let me get to my ultimate point: My 10-yr old, like me, looked over the grand entrance and said:
“This makes me sad that I can’t live here. I mean, the kids used to slide down those banisters on plastic trays!”
“I know what you mean, honey, it makes me kind of sad too.”
Guilded Age Society people wouldn’t like me very much. I’m kind of loud, and I’d put my elbows on the table. My guestroom would be a mess and I’d leave makeup stains on the towels which would really piss off the maids in charge of laundry. I’d push the buttons to call the butler just for fun and send things down the dumbwaiter to see where they ended up (My daughter compared the dumbwaiters to the elevator in her Barbie Dreamhouse.) I’d sleep too late for croquet and they would call me lazy.
I know this assertion will create backlash and anarchy from all those Jews who love to camp, but until someone invents a portable Tempur-pedic mattress, or finds me a place like the above “guest teepee” on Ralph Lauren’s ranch, this Jew isn’t going camping. Spare me the “OMG, you would LOVE it,” or “Just try it once,” or “There’s nothing better than sleeping under the stars,” because I will ignore you. Yes, I went to sleepaway “camp” for 15 summers of my life, but the closest I ever came to camping there was sunbathing on a towel on the softball field.
“Give me 10 reasons why I should live?”