All posts by gaylessaks

Gayle Saks has written about everything from her mother’s suicide, online dating, a failed colonoscopy, to her work with male, female and juvenile inmates and those with substance abuse issues, with deep honesty, candor and humor. She has written extensively about her work as a substance abuse counselor from the unique perspective of someone who is not in recovery herself. Her blog was voted one of the Top 20 Recovery Blogs for 2016 by AfterParty Magazine. In 2013 she was invited to be on a panel on HuffPost Live to talk about being middle-aged, where her 15 minutes of poignant and intelligent conversation turned into a soundbyte about her having a hot flash at a Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z concert. Saks grew up on Long Island, New York, and lives in the Greater Boston area with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs or as her husband says, “Too many beating hearts.”

That Time I Brought a Steak Knife To Jury Duty

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I’m sitting in a room in a district court with about twenty people who have zero affect.  It’s the most stone-faced and quiet group I’ve ever been part of.  It’s my worst nightmare.

“Would any of you ladies happen to have a steak knife in your bag?”   This question is asked by an older man in a security uniform, the one who body scanned us in the small vestibule as we entered the building (For the record, I have never uttered or typed the word vestibule in my life.)   A man sitting to my left says, “Why, are you going to be serving steak?” and bingo, I had found my other human.

It took about 5 seconds for my brain to register that there was no question that I had to be the one who would inevitably become known during dinner conversation as that “old crazy lady with the knife.  I mean, she looked so NORMAL.”  I picked up my bag and worked my way through the lenswipes and pencil case, makeup bag and small Tupperware of blueberries, two paddle brushes and my paisley pill box and there it was, a steak knife that I had brought to work WEEKS ago to cut into a piece of leftover chicken (It is important to mention here that there was also a butter knife which clearly the security guard didn’t think had the same dramatic effect to announce to the group.)

I think I might have said, “Oh my God,” as I slowly pulled them out from the bowels of my bag (avoiding any sudden movements of course) and handed them over.  I did see one guy smirk as I tried to explain and make light of the whole thing but other than him, the others just looked at me undoubtedly thinking, “Please don’t put me on a jury with that crazy bitch.”  The guard came back and gave me a piece of paper with a number on it and told me I could claim my knives when we were done for the day.

We were then moved into a small basement room to watch the requisite jury duty video with the usual talking heads saying how we should consider it a privilege to be part of our judicial system and when it ended, again, total silence.  A woman was showing off by standing up and doing assorted stretches clearly looking down on the rest of us for sitting there like sloths.  When I texted my husband about the whole knife thing I got his stock response when he’s just a tad disappointed yet slightly amused:  “Oh babe.”

The last time I had jury duty it was in the eighties in the much larger Boston Superior Court with at least ten times the number of potential jurors.  I saw a woman about my age reading Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities,” and started a conversation by saying, “Isn’t that a great book?”  Within a month we ended up as roommates (to people who know me this will come as no surprise) and when she later told me that she and her boyfriend would have frequent sex in front of the mirror in our living room, well, I vowed never to go looking for a roommate at jury duty again.

In the end, we ended up being dismissed, no cases needing a jury that day. I know it’s not ideal and a bit alarming that a man who was scanning our bags as they went through the conveyor belt to have taken long enough for me to have sat down, to spot a potential weapon in my bag.  I’ve worked in a prison before and I probably would have been taken away in handcuffs if that had had happened there.  Sometimes though, things like this need to be categorized as yet another absurdity in a long list that I have been able to laugh at along the way.   And let this be a cautionary tale– leave your steak knives at home in the silverware drawer where they belong next time you get called for jury duty.

 

 

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The Next Group Photo

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“Gayle, you’ve gotta to see this.” I’m sitting at my desk when about five of the guys who live in the halfway house where I used to work come over to me in a collective fit of laughter.  One of them holds a cellphone up to my face and I watch a short video of Matt, the only one NOT laughing, as he rolls what is clearly to become a gutter ball of epic proportions. I watch as he watches from the top of the lane and hear as Rich, the guy filming lets out a giggling, “Whomp, whomp.”

I used to love moments like these, realizing that the guys actually wanted to hang out together outside of the house because they truly liked each other.  I’d listen and smile as they would tell me about who got the highest and lowest scores, and how they almost missed curfew because Keith couldn’t untie his bowling shoes.  When I’d make some sappy comment or say, “Awwwww…” the most cynical of the group would remind me that bowling was sort of a sober substitute for their past lives.  Not that he didn’t enjoy it, but that it was a reminder that life before didn’t involve a curfew or peeing in a cup. He has since died of an overdose.

They’d show me post-AA meeting pictures of them at dinner, empty plates in front of them and glasses of Coke off to the side.  I would find myself fixated on those glasses of Coke and wonder if they were resented as some sort of consolation prize in a night of sober fun.  I’ve since come to the realization that that was me projecting.  I love nothing more than a cold glass of Diet Coke.

Two of the guys had what I used to refer to as a standing “date night” every Tuesday.  They’d get cheap Celtics tickets or go to a Chinese buffet, but it was their thing.  They were very Mutt and Jeff coming from two completely different socioeconomic backgrounds but they had their addiction in common and teased each other mercilessly.  I loved coming in on Wednesdays so I could hear about the night before, one always complaining how he had to shell out the money for the other’s food.  I remember the one time that one of these guys took someone else to a Red Sox game I felt as if he were being unfaithful.

We’ve all since moved on from that halfway house and I’ve kept in touch with many of the guys through social media. I still love seeing pictures of them getting together outside of the confines of  a structured program, two of them at a golf course, a couple of them at a beach, several after an AA meeting in their old neighborhoods.  Some have stayed sober but most have not.  Some have gotten into the endless loop of relapse and new halfway houses,  and new temporary friends to have sober fun with.

I look at the posted Facebook pictures of the guys at dinner with a whole new bunch and examine the faces of the ones I knew from the house.  In some I see joy and in some I see a sense of deep resignation, an exhausted resource of “here I go again.”  For so many of them this has been their lives for so long that they are inured to this folding into another set of prior strangers.  I know from my own life that resiliency can sap the energy from the strongest of us and I hope and pray that these wonderful men’s cycle will be broken and that pictures of them with their actual families, their parents and their spouses and children will take the place of the next group photo.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Cancer

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“It’s not cancer.”

These words are spoken to me by my (very) handsome surgeon as I’m still emerging from an anesthesia haze in the recovery room after emergency surgery.

“Okay…  That’s good,” I say, never really thinking that it was going to be.  This was a bit of an anomaly for me because I always assumed that anytime I felt something unusual going on in my body that I did indeed have cancer, but for some reason this time it hadn’t crossed my mind.

Several months ago after experiencing some intense stomach pain I went to my PCP who thumped on my distended abdomen for less than 30-seconds, told me to go buy some laxative and sent me on my way.  Five hours later I found myself in an emergency room where after a Cat Scan I was descended upon by two medical staff, had a tube jammed down my nose and into my stomach and was told that essentially, something was strangling my small intestine and I needed to be admitted.

Other than having my daughter sixteen years ago I had never been hospitalized for anything and everything happened so quickly that it was hard to process the flurry of activity– the IVs, the vitals being taken every four hours, the administering of medication and the monitoring of the stuff that nobody should ever have to see that was being extracted from my stomach via the tube.  I vomited repeatedly, something I haven’t done in 27 YEARS and that was more traumatic than any other part of this frenzied scenario.

I became this pliable mass, being formed and shaped into machines, onto cold metal slabs of tables where robotic-like arms took more 360-degree images of my abdomen.  I just did what I was told– let them attach stuff to me, insert more unknown liquids into my IV and accepted the Ativan that was offered to me every once in a while.  I’ve never felt more at the mercy of anything in my life.  It was the ultimate of relinquishing control.

I was naïve enough the next morning to ask during the 6:00 am rounds if I would be able to go home that day.  The doctor and surgeon, without having to say the words, basically let me know that that wouldn’t be happening.  When I begged to have the tube removed just for a little while, and immediately vomited rather violently the surgeon dashed out of the room and came back within ten minutes to tell me that he had put me on the schedule for surgery the following morning.  So, clearly, I wasn’t going home any time soon.

The surgeon presented a few different scenarios but never once mentioned cancer, and neither did I.  The procedure went off without a hitch, taking less than 45-minutes from beginning to end.  An errant band of tissue left over from laparoscopic day surgery in my twenties was causing a blockage and apparently with just one or two snips, the problem was solved and I was released the following day.

Ten days later at my follow-up with the surgeon I reminded him of those first words he said to me in the recovery room.

“I think I said it more for myself,” he said.

“Why, did you really think you were going to find cancer?” I asked.

He hesitated before saying, “Yes.  I thought it was a good possibility.”

As part of their jobs doctors have to keep their patients from panicking.  If he had told me of his suspicions before the surgery I would have completely crumbled.   I didn’t blame him for being honest with me but for the rest of that day I was thrown off, questioning my mortality, so when about 3 weeks later, there were some unusual things going on with my entire digestive system I was certain beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this time, I indeed had cancer.

I Googled every symptom I had, endless amounts of time a day, and the top three were all signs of cancer.   I scoured copies of my x-rays and Cat Scan results from the days in the hospital, using the internet as my medical dictionary.  No matter how many times I read the words “normal” and “unremarkabIe” I was still convinced that my surgeon had missed something, that malignant cells were somehow hiding in the places that weren’t visible during surgery.  Based on the things I read I staged my own cancer and read articles on how to tell my teenager that I was going to die.  I did this for three weeks, the earliest I’d be able to see a doctor to get seen.

I didn’t and don’t have cancer.  After I saw my doctor and he confirmed it for me, my symptoms immediately disappeared, but the relentless reminder of my age and mortality has stayed with me.  I’m 53 and other than needing to lose about 15 pounds, I’m in perfect health. As I age, cancer will always be a possibility and I know myself well enough that I won’t stop Googling every strange and new symptom that comes along, and that I will always pray to hear the words, “It’s not cancer.”

“She’s” My Memory

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In the days leading up to this past weekend’s sixth biannual camp reunion, I was under the rather pretentious delusion that I would enter it with a sense of detachment, that I’d be on the sidelines, observing, in preparation for writing this recap post like I do the day after every reunion.  On Friday night, one of the guys, another stalwart at these gatherings sat down next to me at the bar and said I seemed different, “more composed” than I usually do but was harkening back to  a me from thirteen years ago when after an endless amount of tequila shots I pulled the second all-nighter of my life and actually saw the sunrise.  By Saturday night, I found myself spinning and twirling in a room, dancing to a Squeeze song, drink in hand, clearly all detachment thrown out the window.  How could I not have?  This group of 60 or so people is my comfort zone, my second family.

These weekends are a sort of pilgrimage, a flocking to a sacred place where we can all be ourselves without pretense, without judgment, the stripping down of our outside lives for a couple of days where every smell, every structure, every face is a shared experience, a shared memory.  It’s universal among us all.  It barely even needs discussing.  We know.

As in the past, the two years between these weekends, new relationships are formed through Facebook, usually kicked-off by a comment or two on another person’s post where you discover a new kindred spirit who you didn’t necessarily know that well before.  Whether it’s politics, the appreciation of the same music, movies, tv, you anticipate the carving out of time to get to know that person a little better, to turn the virtual into the actual.  Those moments have yet to disappoint.

This weekend I was able to be in the right place at the right time as a young woman who hadn’t seen camp grounds in thirty or so years first arrived. I was eager to meet her as she and I are the only two who live in New England, and plus her comments on our alumni page were pretty fucking funny.  We chatted for a little while, learning more about each other, along with another regular and rallier and the only other woman from her division.  Someone asked her what some of her memories of camp were and she pointed to her former bunkmate and said, “She’s my memory.”  My heart leapt at the poignancy of those three words.  Not only that, it provided me with the title for this post.

At the time, I took it as such a gorgeous homage to another one of those special camp bonds that we all have.  Then I realized that for me, it has a couple of meanings.  My camp friends fill in the blanks of my life.  They are the keepers of  tiny snippets of memories and they are there to remind me of things that I have no recollection of , including how my pre-adolescent thick fingers would always grab for the biggest piece of fried chicken from the family-style platter that was placed in the middle of the table where we ate.  After this reunion, my friend mentioned that she’ll never forget me playing Rizzo in a camp production of “Grease.”  I played along but I have absolutely no memory of that.  So, these friends are “my memory,” but they are also and always will be the snapshots of the visual memories that I still have embedded in my brain.

These weekends, whether or not fueled by alcohol or these new-fangled “edibles” I’ve heard so much about (apparently, if you eat more than a leg off a gummy bear, you’ve had too much) embolden us to say and do things we wouldn’t have the courage to do otherwise.  The best part about this is that we walk away, puffed up and confident, like a badge of honor to take with us into our day-to-day lives.

On my bleary-eyed drive home, sandwiched between a James Brown and Allman Brothers song, my clearly disparate Spotify playlist shuffled to “Tradition” from the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.  I’m not making this up for dramatic effect.  I smiled and belted it out, sunroof open, and marveled at the very random selection of the song.  However in life, I have learned that there ARE no coincidences, that in the end, it all makes perfect sense.

 

 

 

 

But I’m HUGE in Argentina!

Wallpapers Flag of Argentina Flag Graphics (6)

Last week, after years of pitches and no response,  my first piece was accepted and published in HuffPost.   I was beside myself with excitement.  To me it was a huge breakthrough knowing how wide their readership is (According to my research and depending on who you ask,  they have between 100 million and 368 million unique global visitors–and yes, I’m fully aware of that disparity so let’s just go with a zillion.)

The subject line in my e-mail pitch had some compelling words that I hoped would grab the attention of the editors and when one answered back within twenty minutes asking for a full draft I knew I had to make it shine.  When I got a second e-mail from who became “my” editor (and after trolling his social media I discovered that he’s a gorgeous, tattooed, Jewish, gay man) and he told me how much I would be paid and that he would be sending back some edits and suggestions I was stunned and thrilled. With a round of three drafts flying back and forth,  his brilliance and way with words and my hope not to lose my “voice” resulted in the piece below:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/psychic-mediums_us_5acf4961e4b08337adca0b62

The second it appeared on the HuffPost site I spent the rest of the day obsessively refreshing my browser and watched as the number of “shares” went up and up and up.  I was officially going viral.  The piece had a link to my personal blog and my stats skyrocketed,  strangers began following me and I started to get an endless stream of e-mails with their opinions on the piece.  In the first 48 hours I was able to tell that most of the readership was within the United States which was no surprise.    But when on the third day I got 200 readers from Argentina I got very confused.  I e-mailed my aforementioned gorgeous editor and asked him if he had a clue as to why this would be happening and he didn’t.  It wasn’t until I got an e-mail from a man in Buenos Aires with the link below that I was able to crack the case:

https://www.infobae.com/america/eeuu/2018/04/17/creia-que-los-mediums-eran-un-fraude-la-experiencia-de-una-mujer-con-el-mas-alla-que-eriza-la-piel/

In a wonderful twist of fate I had the good sense to marry a Puerto Rican whose first language is Spanish and he began the process of translating.  For some reason the writer alternated between calling me “he” and “she” and some of the details weren’t quite right, but the below words that captioned a picture of me had me laughing until I cried:

“Gayle Saks is one of the most famous bloggers about everyday life in New York.”

Suddenly I had become the Carrie Bradshaw, the lead character of “Sex and The City,” of Argentina. The thing is I’ve never written about everyday life in New York because even though I grew up on Long Island, I’ve lived in Boston for over 30 years.  What I really should have done right away while I still had a captive audience is somehow got on the talk show circuit  and played the part, have that caption in huge letters on the screen and then fled the country in preparation of being discovered as a fraud.

I don’t know how I can milk my 48 hours of being famous in Argentina.  Can I start using it in my bio and in my pitch to agents to make them jump at the chance to have the honor of publishing my memoir?  Should I come clean and admit that in the world of bloggers I’m smaller than a grain of sand and then do a rousing rendition of Evita’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina?”  Perhaps I will be found, twenty years from now, holed up in a house in a teeny, tiny town in Vermont, a la J.D. Salinger, and some long ago Argentinian fan will step timidly up to my door and knock and when I answer I will hear the words, “Weren’t you one of the most famous bloggers about everyday life in New York?”  There will be a documentary about my life with film of me ducking from the paparazzi, begging to be left alone with my cats and Argentinian pinot noir, and I will once again, fade into obscurity.

 

The Sad and Suffering

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“It says here that less than a year ago you almost jumped off a bridge?”

I’m asking this of a young woman, not yet thirty, as part of her intake assessment to the drug and alcohol rehab facility where I work.  I HAVE to ask questions like this in order to assess if someone is safe enough at that moment to be admitted or if they need to be taken to a more appropriate facility or what is known as “a higher level of care.”

This wasn’t her first attempt and during her rattling off the details with little-to-no affect she initially remembered two others, and later in the conversation remembered that there was another one that she had forgotten about while she was in sixth grade. Sixth. Grade.

It’s not lost on me or people who know me well that asking those suffering from addiction about suicide attempts comes with heightened and loaded emotions.  Both my mother and my best friend, albeit 30 years apart, committed suicide, my mother by overdosing on pills and my best friend by hanging.  My mother never turned to substances to ease her pain and trauma of surviving the Holocaust but my best friend, driven by a raging crystal meth addiction was spun into such a paranoid and psychotic alter ego that undoubtedly some imagined forces egged him on.

The men and women who have sat in front of me, men and women of all ages with different drugs of choice pretty much all admit to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.  Some don’t want to discuss their past trauma but others will, and after hearing some of their stories I truly don’t know how they are still standing.  I don’t.   There have been  many who have found their parents dead from overdose.  There are those who have lost children, been raped, have been shot-up with heroin for the first time at age ten BY THEIR PARENTS,  and have been hung by hooks from their belt loops as punishment.

It is impossibly hard to picture my very best friend going through the machinations of preparing for his death.  I can only go so far before I have to shake myself out of it.  I think of people stockpiling pills, buying a gun and bullets, figuring out the best place to sling a rope that will hold their weight.

The one patient I will never, ever forget was a beautiful woman in her forties who one day put weights in her shoes and clothes and lay down on a large rock with a bottle of wine, and waited and hoped that a powerful tide would pull her out to sea.   It didn’t happen and she was disappointed that it hadn’t.  I hope she is out there somewhere having found the hope and happiness that she was clearly missing at that point in time.  I pray that she is no longer sad and suffering.

Open Caskets

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Last night I attended the wake for a magnificent young man who died of a heroin overdose. He was the epitome of sunshine.  The line to get into the funeral home was endless for the entirety of the scheduled three hours for people to come and pay their last respects.  There were young and old brought to their knees in fits of sobs.  There was a video being looped of highlights of his life, the smiling and happy him that he will be remembered for.

I spoke to his mother on the day after he died and in her flurry of processing the pain and logistics of losing her son she mentioned that there would be an open casket.  This didn’t come as a surprise since the majority of non-Jewish funerals I’ve attended include the opportunity for mourners to “view” the body of the deceased that one last time.

I’ve learned that the casket is generally just feet away from the receiving line made up of the distraught and suffering.  Last night and in the past I have done everything I could to avert my eyes in order to avoid the reality and finality of death but to no avail.  At a funeral for another young man who also died from an overdose, his arm was outstretched with a rosary draped across his fingers.  I will never, ever be able to unsee that.

Last night I watched as people knelt in front of the casket, weeping, howling in pain, some touching the body, others whispering to him.  Some brought flowers and placed them in the coffin, some went up in groups in order to support each other.  When the priest came to speak I had to stand in the back of the packed room but the casket, and this sweet young man’s body was directly in my line of vision.  It made no sense to me that he was being put to rest in a suit.  This was a kid who had pink hair, piercings and wore black concert tee-shirts.  I keep thinking how appalled he would have been to know that people were seeing him for the last time in an ill-fitting suit.

I watched as his teenage brother slumped in a velvet chair in the receiving line, at first with a bored look on his face and a split second later burst into tears.  His 19-yr old niece who was the most visibly devastated throughout the evening came up to me and wrapped her arms around me, sobbing, repeatedly saying that she wished she had told him more how much she loved him.   I had to tell her over and over again that he knew how important he was to her.   It seems clear that she will never forgive herself for what she perceives as the worst of transgressions.

I’ve heard that wakes were traditionally held as a way for loved ones to watch over a body in the hopes that the person would “wake” up.  I’ve since read that that is a total myth and am much happier knowing that in the Irish tradition, a lot of drinking is involved.  Either way, as much as I want to understand it, I just can’t wrap my head around the desire to see a lifeless person laying among stark white ruffles particularly someone who was once so full of life.

 

 

 

The Snuffing Out of Light

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Two days ago I learned of the death of one of my first clients as a substance abuse counselor at an all-male halfway house.  As is often the case I hear about these deaths from a former resident and their biggest concern is how I will receive the news.  My husband has gotten too used to me getting a phone call or reading messages on my phone and having me crumble into a mass of sobs.   He will gently ask me, “Who?” and on this past Tuesday night, just as we were molding our bodies into our respective tv watching positions, I answered with the name of someone he knew I cared deeply about and one of a handful of guys that he and my daughter had actually met.

“T” was an exceptional young man.  When I first met him I was stunned to learn that he was almost 30.  He could easily pass for 19.  He had the words “Sick Boy” tattooed on the nape of his neck, the name of a character from the book and movie “Trainspotting,” and when I, a 50-yr old woman told him that it was one of my favorite movies, he instantly adored me.  He smiled his broad and welcoming smile, and I immediately saw the incandescent light that had to have been trademarked as his somewhere along the line.

“T” was open and out as a gay man among a house filled with brawny and toughened guys and he was adored by every single one.  Some of the guys let him color their hair pink and green, file their nails, and rub their shoulders.  He was the “pet” without EVER being condescended to.  He was the one who got up early to write famous and inspirational quotes on the white board in the kitchen, every single day for six months.  One day he picked flowers for me straight from Boston’s Public Garden which I had to tell him he could have been arrested for.  After that, every time he went home on the weekend he would snip a flower or two from his mother’s garden like he did below:

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When he met my then 14-yr old daughter for the first and only time, he had a flower ready for her too.  When I told her he had died, she hugged me longer and harder than she ever has.

I spoke at the AA meeting where he received his one-year chip.  He beamed at me, and I at him, assuming that he had reached the end of his struggle with addiction.  He was ten months into a job that he loved and where he was adored, like he was everywhere.  When I learned four months ago that he had relapsed and essentially lost everything he had worked so hard for, I was devastated for him.  I reached out to him and got a text back that said, “Hi my love, things are pretty rough these days.  I just don’t know what to do.”  I answered back that he DID know what to do, that he had done it so triumphantly before, and that was the last I heard from him.

Every single Facebook post that started to unfurl on his page as people learned of his death uses the word “light.”  It is a somewhat overused descriptor, but with “T” it’s really the one word that can sum up his beautiful soul perfectly.

It makes sense for me to cite a Smiths song here, since “T” was a huge fan of the melancholy and angst in music.    In this case Morrissey got it all wrong when he writes “There’s A Light That Never Goes Out.”  “T” took his light with him and those that remember it, and him, will try so desperately to hold on to it, to bask in it, for as long as we possibly can.


This post was originally published on gaylesaks.com.

 

My Father’s Ashes Came in a Pill Bottle

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A few weeks ago my siblings and I got an e-mail from my brother telling us that my father’s wife was offering up some of my father’s ashes to us, his children.    I didn’t want to experience what people describe about little bone fragments that you have to touch 0r do what Keith Richards ostensibly did with that whole sniffing of his father’s ashes thing.

“Uh….sure?” I answered back and we decided to do something together.  We wanted to pick a spot that meant something to our father and it came down to his beloved Syracuse University or the spot in New Hampshire where he and my mother met.  Selfishly I decided that the trip to Syracuse was WAY too long, and that New Hampshire, between my brother in Vermont and me in Boston would make more sense.

My parents met at a now non-existent resort.  In its heyday, it looked like this:

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Now, it looks like this:

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That’s where the main building stood.  Even though it is still situated on a lake, it’s devastatingly sad that now it’s on the side of a busy road that didn’t exist back then.  It’s flanked by two run-down houses in a very run down town.  It’s hard to imagine that it was once a thriving resort town.

My father who had been a chorus boy in a Broadway show that not many people have ever heard of and was sort of a C-list performer at the Copacabana was hired by the resort  for a summer to entertain its guests.  He looked like this:

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My mother was the receptionist.  She looked like this:

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So you can guess where this is going.  Magic was made and the rest is history.  Okay, so the marriage ended and my father remarried a woman who he had been with for 35 years before he died who made the choice to put a small amount of his ashes in an empty prescription bottle.  My father was a lifelong hypochondriac so when my brother and I unwrapped the yellow tissue paper that it had been folded into, we burst out laughing.  But really???  What the fuck?!  I later called my husband and begged him never to pour my ashes into a prescription bottle.  Maybe a can of Diet Pepsi or an empty K-Cup, but COME ON!  You can’t make this shit up.

My brother, daughter and I trudged through some incredibly overgrown, dense and dead grass that was covered by crusty snow to get down to the lake.  It’s the closest I’ve come to hiking in my life.  My brother’s wife stood at the top of a steep hill and cheered us on as we stood on a concrete slab at the edge of the water.

“So…what happens now?” I asked my brother.  He volunteered to go first and unscrewed the (childproof) cap of the bottle.  He somehow managed to get his share to do a lovely swirl in the air, while mine just sunk to the bottom, not moving or swirling at all.  He then shook the rest into the wind, where like every movie you’ve ever seen, they almost blew right back into our faces.  It wasn’t exactly the poignant, teary ritual I had expected.  It was actually rather funny.

We trudged back up the steep hill to our separate cars before heading off to have lunch in a rather bizzaro restaurant called Calamity Jane’s. As far as I can tell by doing a quick Google search, Calamity Jane had no connection to this little town and along with her pictures everywhere, there was a huge Teddy bear sitting on a chair.

We hugged in the parking lot and there was a flicker of sadness when my brother and I looked at each other.  A year after our father’s death, this ritual seems to be a wrap-up, the grand finale to his life.  For me, and I’m sure for my brother, it was very moving to see, for the first time, the place where our parents fell in love and take in the same views that they did.  My father would probably have found our decision for the location to be all wrong and even a bit inappropriate,  but for us, it was the only logical choice.

 

 

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Moving Day

moving

I have lived in 25 places in 51 years.  This does not include my two years in boarding school or my first dorm room in college.  Despite the fact that I spent my first 13 years in the house I grew up in, that averages out to an average stay in each place at 2.04 years.   I am not an army brat.  I haven’t been evicted from any of those places (Well, actually, I was “asked to leave” my first place out of college, a lovely converted basement apartment in the home of a single mother raising two young boys, because my friend was doing bong hits with her boyfriend while I was at work.)

My 15-yr old daughter has lived in 10 different places.  We aren’t running from the law or abandoning them under the cover of night.  Most of those places have been pretty wonderful except for one that looked like the Bates Motel from the outside.  Even though she is incredibly resilient, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt.

In the 6 years I’ve been married to my second husband we’ve lived in two houses both in 3-year chunks.  Our first place was a rental in an incredible and large Victorian home.  I would have gladly bought it when our landlords decided to sell but at the time we couldn’t afford it.  Instead, we scrambled to find something we could afford to buy and ended up in what I consider sort of C-list house with very low ceilings, a bedroom that barely fits our bed and a choppiness to the rooms that creates a lot of wasted space.  We couldn’t install our beloved ceiling fans because we would have been decapitated.  My daughter brought a friend over on the night we moved in and she reached up and said, “I’ve never been able to touch a ceiling before!” My heart sank.

I have always dreamed of walking through my front door and seeing a vast open room with soaring ceilings and windows everywhere.  My mother who came to this country with virtually nothing adored our house with its “cathedral ceiling” in the living room.  At the time I didn’t appreciate it  but I get it now.  My sister lives in Arizona and has what is called a “Great Room.”  I envy her her Great Room.

My husband and I have been mired in debt since we met.  With employment set-backs and large child support payments we have had to rely on credit cards to help get us through.  It’s quite frightening to see those numbers on paper and to watch our credit scores plunge.

Our house happens to be in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.  Houses fly off the market the second they’re listed and eager buyers submit letters accompanied by photographs of a smiling family like couples pitching themselves as potential adoptive parents.  Bidding wars and what people are willing to pay over asking price are off the charts.  It wasn’t lost on us that we were sitting on our only untapped asset.

My husband, who owned a house with his first wife for over 25-years has reached his threshold of brutal New England winters that require shoveling in sub-zero temperatures and mowing the lawn in sweltering heat.   Two winters ago we had our ceiling cave in in three different rooms from the record weight of the snow on our roof.  We had to replace our oil tank, our hot water heater and pay for miscellaneous service calls for plumbing, heating and structural issues.  When you have no reserve funds to tap into for these unexpected and large expenses panic sets in.  So, on a weekend less that two months ago, we decided that the only way for us to live debt-free, DEBT FREE!, was to put our house on the market and move into a rental.  As my friend Carla said to me, “That is EXACTLY what Suze Orman would have told you to do.”

We were lucky that we knew of a couple who desperately wanted to move to our town and fell in love with our house right away.  We didn’t need to go through the hassle of showings and Open Houses where we’d have to round up our animals and kill time for a few hours.  We sold it for almost $95,000 more than what we paid for it just three years ago, and with the equity already put into it we are walking away with enough money to start living the way we’ve always wanted to and to actually start saving.  The hope is that in a couple of years we can buy a weekend home in Vermont that I’ve always dreamed of.

The apartment is in a fantastic and fancy complex with a pool, a gym and an actual human who will whisk our garbage away while we sleep.   The ceilings are high, the living room huge and bright.  My daughter is very excited about creating her own space and I, now for the 26th time, get to design and nest in a place that I can be proud of.  I will miss having windows in the bathroom and kitchen and being able to let our dogs out throughout the day into our huge backyard.  I will miss the silence and privacy of a stand-alone house and a separate dining room with a table large enough to host dinner parties and Passover.  I will miss the hundreds of books that now sit in storage for an indefinite period of time.

We move in less than three weeks and I have started visualizing us in our new bed in our new bedroom, assuming what will become our regular spots on the couch and our animals trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  I’m not quite sure how long it will take to feel like home but I don’t doubt that it eventually will.  I’ve gotten good at this, for better or worse.  I’ve rolled with much bigger punches and continue to greet change head on.   This change will be a good one where  I can finally breathe a huge sigh of relief and fully appreciate everything that I have, and everything that I can look forward to.