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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas

Lately, when walking in the edge of the sea on East Beach, I have taken Clint and Parrish with me in my imagination. Clint is 41, strong and athletic, and he is holding my hand. We are completely in love. His head crowned with blond curls, Parrish is 5 and running in and out of the shallow waves, stopping to inspect shells and pieces of driftwood, calling us to inspect his finds. The sun is high and bright and we are brown with it. This fantasy comforts me, takes me to a time when there was no hint of how sick Clint would become or that Parrish would fall victim to severe mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction. I am content in their love. The smell of the ocean is in our noses; a gentle breeze from the southeast is soft on our shoulders and tousles my hair into ringlets. We are happy, washed in the healing sea air, kicking the water that runs up on the sand in clear sheets edged with sea foam. 

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I once more took the two most important men in my life with me to the beach we all so loved. Before leaving my house, I collected some ashes from each of their urns and mixed them together in a small bottle, symbolically reuniting them in a way that never happened in life. They were estranged for years. Clint resented the pain Parrish’s illness inflicted on me in the same way he resented any force in my life that wasn’t positive. If they had lived, the probability of them reconciling was remote, as much as I wanted it to happen.

As I was making my way from the Old Coast Guard Station north toward Gould’s Inlet, I stopped occasionally, kissed the bottle, and sprinkled some of their ashes into the warm water of the incoming tide. They both so loved the sea. As I made my way toward the inlet, looking down in my usual way, scanning the sand for an olive shell or a sand dollar, I was surprised to look up and see a pall of fog just ahead. I walked directly into it, head high, and breathed in the salt of it, the weight of it, feeling somehow freed by it.

I turned and began my way back, savoring the sand between my toes and the uncommon warmth of the water. After a few minutes, the sun was in my eyes. I deliberately parked my sunglasses on my head, hoping to catch a few of its rays on my pale cheeks. 

As I walked back toward the parking lot, I came on a snowman, or I should say, and sandman. He was perfectly proportioned, Santa hat sitting jauntily atop his round head, reflective sunglasses in place on his carrot nose, and the artist had given him teeth made from a cockle shell. His arms were driftwood, and as I stopped to admire him, a woman hung a red glass Christmas ball on one of his arms. 

Merry Christmas

© 2015 cj Schlottman

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


     It’s a sunny fall afternoon, skies blue and a sweet-tempered breeze ruffling the leaves on the oak trees in my yard. I scoop hulled sunflower seeds into a green plastic cup and pour them into the feeder that hangs from a chain outside my window. Chickadees in their black caps along with house finches and tufted titmice scatter as I approach but return before the back door closes behind me. They flit and hover around the perches designed to collapse when larger birds touch down. A chickadee clings to the chain, waits its turn as others sort out the pecking order, decide who eats first.
     A painted bunting, magnificent in its clear vivid hues of red, green, blue and yellow, the first I’ve seen this year, flies in to join the fray. I am transfixed. He restyles the image and it morphs to high definition, the other birds fading into a dull backdrop. He feeds, occasionally looking around, stays long enough for me to take a poor quality photo through the window. And he is gone.
     Out in the yard, at the feeder filled with whole sunflower seeds, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, the occasional bossy jay, even a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers feast at their own table. The small birds feed there as well, given the opportunity. Six mourning doves inch their way across the ground below, salvaging seeds dropped by the others. A single brown thrasher creeps up on them and they scatter, some lifting their round bodies up into the branches of the ligustrum that lines the fence. The bully moves on. After all, he prefers insects to seeds.
     Glowing iridescent green and red in the sunshine, a single ruby-throated humming bird perches at the water station and drinks. He returns to hover at the cobalt blue feeder I have hung, a source of the nectar he needs for energy. He disappears, no doubt foraging for insects to gorge upon as he doubles his weight in order to survive the journey across the Gulf of Mexico.
     I sit and watch the dance being played out before me, surprised to know I am content, happy in this moment of my life. Contentment has eluded me for so long, I hardly recognize it. I embrace it, cherish the cascade of ease and comfort and belonging it pours over me.

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cycles of Tides, Cycles of LIfe

For the past several days, I have been taking a short walk on the beach every afternoon. For the most part, the tourists are gone, and with children in school, well, it’s quiet and feels like home, like when my best friend, Mary Ellen and I were teenagers basking in the sun, baby oil and iodine slathered over every inch of exposed flesh to intensify our tans.

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00, the sun was shining on Meadows Drive, despite a weather forecast that predicted rain. So, I climbed into my Yukon and drove the beach, or almost to the beach. As I made the left turn onto the East Beach causeway, rain began to fall and big drops splattered my windshield. As I got closer to the Old Coast Guard Station, the rain intensified and I turned around and came back home, where no rain was falling and their was no evidence that any had fallen at all.

I’d been working on my memoir for most of the day, so I returned to making the necessary changes for me to alter its structure to include Parrish’s almost continuous difficulties along with the events and stress of the last few years of Clint’s life. It takes more work and a different focus to incorporate the two, but it’s necessary for the book to make sense, to tell the entire story. It’s the only way I can make the reader understand the tightrope I walked between the two most important people in my life. 

I’ve been mining old journals for content in order to make the chronology work. Reliving that time, reading and processing what I recorded in my notebook is exhausting and exhilarating at once. I made a timeline of the first five months of 2009, and began to see how it would work. After years of thinking my story would be told in two separate memoirs, I am finally convinced, along with some encouragement from Rosemary Daniell, my writing mentor, that both stories are so intertwined they cannot be separated.  

Having already begun the first three chapters, I am working to integrate Parrish’s many crises into the events I had already written down. It will work. I know it will work, and I am more excited than ever to be writing this book, and I just might be overcoming some of the fear I have experienced around the writing of it.

At 6:00, I drove back to the beach and parked at Massengale Park. There was sun and a cool breeze, so I kicked off my sandals and walked to the water’s edge and dug my toes into the wet sand and wiggled them around. Then I turned north for my short (with respect for my knee and back) trek from there to the Old Coast Guard Station and back. No shells to pick up, only light rafts of wrack washing ashore. 

Each time I go to the beach I am flooded with memories of Clint and Parrish and the rest of the family when life was uncomplicated and unsurprising. Long before we ever considered that Parrish might develop a severe mental disorder and Clint would have an operation from which he really never recovered, sunbathing and swimming and shelling and walking to Gould’s Inlet and back were standard weekend activities. Even when our lives in Macon were filled with work and other responsibilities, we drove to The Island as often as possible, just to be on that very beach. At summer’s end, we were all tan and healthy and happy.

There is something about the dependability of the tides. We have experienced spring tides for the last few days. That happens when the earth and moon are aligned and the waters of the oceans bulge in their direction, creating higher tides than usual. Our spring tides have been augmented by heavy rains and a northeast wind that pushes the waters farther in to shore than usual. So, the high tide water line is almost in the dunes. 

The steadfastness of the tides and their predictable cycles of lows and highs creates a sense of stability in me. Knowledge that they ebb and flow in a regular fashion combined with the sheer energy of the ocean grounds me in the fact that life is so much more than I. Perhaps the regularity and constancy of their cycles quenches my longing for a sense of permanence. The chaos of my life for the last ten years has been unpredictable and painful and at times so unbearable I contemplated suicide. In my muddled and disorderly and confused depression after Parrish’s sudden death, I lost sight of the fact that the ocean is practically at my doorstep and is always open for business. There is no limit to what depression and loss can cost. But, at last I can walk on the beach and breathe in the strength of the ocean, soak up some vitamin D and be infused the negative ions that are so soothing to the soul. I am content in the the very knowledge that it will be there tomorrow, waiting for me, be the tide high or low. 

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Would The Buddha Do?

On Saturday afternoon, I drove myself to The Village to sit on the pier and read for a while. It was my second foray out after my successful epidural last Wednesday, and I was looking forward to breathing in the fresh sea air of the high time breeze.
On my first pass down Mallory Street, a big black truck began to pull out of a parking space very near the pier, and I happily flipped on my blinker and waited for the driver to pull out. Imagine you are me, about to pull into a parking slot on my right. Standing behind the back of the car next to the truck—the one closest to me—was a man in a red shirt. He waved and I cheerfully waved back and began to thread my Yukon between the white lines. I’m always happy to take the place of big truck because I drive one myself and it’s nice to know I will fit.
As I pulled forward, The Man in the Red Shirt walked directly in front of me and planted himself in the very middle of the space. When I motioned him out of the way, he sallied forth and pressed his chest against the front of my truck. Stunned, I rolled down the window and asked him to move. 
“No! I’m saving this space.”
“Sorry, but you can’t do that.” 
“You can’t hit me with your truck either!”
What? Whaaa-ut?
I took the bait and climbed down onto the pavement to confront him, all five feet, three inches of me.
“I did not hit you! You positioned yourself right where you are, and you need to leave so I can park. There are plenty of available spaces, so go stand in one of those.”
“You can’t make me move!”
“Maybe not, but I’m pretty sure the police could make it happen,” I called over my shoulder, walking back to my truck. “And get yourself off the front my this vehicle!”
I looked around for Officer Lacey, who is frequently patrolling on foot near the pier, but I didn’t see anyone. I scanned the other side  of the street and realized his parol car wasn’t there. As I got back in my truck, a little white car pulled up behind me and stopped on my bumper. I was trapped between The Man in the Red Shirt and The Little White Car. I couldn’t go either way. There was room for traffic to pass on the left of us. I’d like to think if there weren’t, I would have had the good grace, not to mention the good sense, to give up right then.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you have a point. I could have motioned to the Man in the Red Shirt that I was pulling out, given The Little White Car the same signal, and the situation would have been diffused. No harm, not foul, just me wondering what in the name of all that is holy the world has come to. 
For a nanosecond, I asked myself, “What would The Buddha do?” It was only a fleeting thought and instead of honoring it, I found the number of the police dispatcher in my phone directory and touched “call.”
No, I didn’t call 911. I have the other number programmed into my phone because I once read on Facebook that I should have it there in case I needed the police but didn’t have a life-threatening problem. (My dear friends, especially you girls, please do that for yourselves. Put that number in your phone in case you come up on a Man in a Red Shirt standing in your way when you are attempting to, God forbid, park your car.)
The dispatcher came on the line. Since my truck is bluetooth enabled, the call was routed through the speakers, and since my window was still down, The Man in the Red Shirt could hear her voice asking me what I needed. He had moved back a few steps, but when he heard the call, he literally repositioned himself up against the front of the Yukon. 
I know, I know. “literally” is an unnecessary and overused and might even be called a cliché, but I can’t help myself. This story just needs it. Anyway, feeling very foolish all of a sudden, I relayed my situation to the dispatcher. I don’t know why she didn't laugh, I really don’t. The sound of my own voice embarrassed even me, but she proceeded in a professional tone.
“What is your location, Ma’am?”
“Down by the pier on Mallory Street.”
“And exactly what is it you want?”
“I want you to send someone down her to get this man out of this parking space so I can get in it. He and his buddy have me blocked in.”
“Are you in any danger?”
“No, I’m not. I just want this man to get out of my way.”
“You sure you’re not in any danger?”
I was beginning to feel as silly as I must have sounded.
“No, I’m not afraid.”
“I’ll send someone right away.”
The Man in the Red Shirt backed off a step or two, and a really nice woman who apparently has more sense than the rest of us combined presented herself at my window, and I buzzed it down. She was smiling and had sweet eyes and was very pretty with beautiful dark blonde hair.
“Hi.” I resisted the urge to tell her I wasn’t going anywhere.
“There are plenty of spaces on the other side. Maybe you could take one of those,” said said.
“I am aware of that,” I replied sweetly, “but I have his one. I’m just waiting for that man to step aside so I can pull in.”
“You really want to be right about this, don’t you?”
“Pretty much.”
“I understand, just wanted you to know about the other spaces.”
She walked around the front of my car and spoke to The Man as I looked around for the cops, feeling stupider and stupider. No police cruiser in sight. I began to silently pray they wouldn’t show up. What was I going to tell them? That I was somehow at a disadvantage sitting in my big truck while a man stood on the pavement directly in my path? And not a very big man at that? 
Luckily, The Lord looks after fools and old people, both of which I happen to be. The Peacemaker talked The Man down, and he backed off grudgingly. I felt no satisfaction when I eased into the space, but as I climbed down and started walking toward The pier, a couple walked up to me and did a little happy dance.
“I’m so glad you stood your ground!” said the man, as his wife made little silent clapping movements. There eyes gleamed with excitement. “I’ve never seen anything to beat that, never. I want you to know we’ve been here the whole time, and I wasn’t going to leave until things were settled. You never know about people these days.”
“It was a first for me,” I replied, enjoying the attention and validation of my nitwittery. After we exchanged a few more words, they got back on their motorcycle and left. I spent an hour reading and feeling foolish before I came home. I’m not sure salt air is any cure for needing to be right, but I’m glad I took the time.
The next day, I went to see my friend Jim, who recently had a heart attack. He’s a man with a real problem, facing a life-changing time. He’s doing very well, getting therapy and making good progress. I couldn't help telling him the story, though by that time I had embraced my shame and was dealing with the guilt. When I got to the “What would The Buddha think?” part, he said.
“Well, he might have thought that fellow needed to learn right from wrong.”
What do you think?  

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Praise of the Epidural

On Wednesday, my sweet friend Angie took me to town for my epidural injection of steroids. Two college graduates had a little trouble finding the location, but we arrived on time—or so I thought. I was an hour early. Great.
A little back story. After being “down in the back” in a spectacular way, I only had four pain pills, 5mg Lortab. My dentist gave them to me back in March when I had a dental problem. I doled them out to myself as though they were little pellets of solid gold, and when my back pain finally eased, the day before the epidural, I had only a small stash of the miracle workers. 
On Tuesday, a nurse from the anesthesiologist’s office called with instructions. It was simple enough: nothing to eat or drink after midnight except a sip of water if I needed a pain pill. When I quizzed her about what to expect, she said I should have immediate relief that would last about 24 hours. She then told me after that, I might have pain for several days even worse than I had been been experiencing before being comfortable again. It might happen, it might not.
“Is he going to send me out of there with a prescription for something for pain?”
“No. He doesn’t prescribe pain meds. You’ll have to get a prescription from your back doctor.”
A feeling a dread perfused my entire being. I endured ten days of back pain with lightening bolts shooting down my leg even with the help of Lortab, and the thought of anything worse was almost more than I could comprehend. Tears welled in my eyes. After I composed myself, I called my back doctor’s assistant to ask for a prescription. 
“Dr. XXXXX has a policy of not prescribing narcotics for his patients.”
The tears started up again.
“Are you telling me that a doctor who treats back problems doesn’t prescribe pain meds for them? I find that absurd. I’ve been warned that my pain may return for a few days and that it might be even worse than before. What does he expect me to do? I’m not at all sure I want to be associated with a doctor who won’t treat my pain when needed. I’ll have think about this. I may cancel the procedure and look for a reasonable doctor. I just don’t know. 
I was babbling. Weak and exhausted from the recent siege of pain, I couldn’t imagine things being worse, even for a couple of days. I knew my small stash would not be enough to keep me comfortable if the worst happened. I explained I had tried a milder medication but it made me itch to the point of not being able to sleep. She was unmoved.
“I want you to go ask him. Better yet, I want to talk to him.
“He won’t be back in the office until tomorrow.”
“My appointment is at ten. Will he be back by then?
“I think so.”
For a moment I was speechless, a rare occurrence for me. 
Then, “When he gets there in the morning, ask him to give me something for pain and call me. Remember my appointment is at ten.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Finally a modicum of respect.
The next morning, as I was checking in for the epidural, my cell phone chimed, and it was the nurse at Dr. XXXXX’s office, telling me he had written me a prescription for FIVE pain pills, and that I could pick it up at the front desk. Five pills? Now isn’t that just a party in a bottle? 
I finished my paperwork and told the receptionist I was going to run out for a moment to pick up a prescription. I was, after all, an hour early. She looked as though I were pointing a gun at her and blurted, 
“But I can’t send your chart back unless you’re here!”
The poor thing had completely lost her automaton-like boredom-ridden cadence she used on every patient as though we were all so many cattle being moved through a chute. 
“I’m an hour early. I need to run this errand, and you can transfer my chart when I get back. This is not a problem.”
“Let me know the minute you get back!”
Like she wouldn’t see me coming through the door of the tiny and badly decorated reception area. I was frankly happy to escape the dull green walls adorned with nothing except xeroxed notices and reminders for patients to not eat or drink anything. Interestingly, there was a coffee urn for the fortunates who were only the chauffeurs. And there were the sad faces of the other patients, their pain reflected in their eyes. There was a stack of current copies of Golden Isles Home and Garden on a table littered with pamphlets about pain management, and I picked up two copies for Angie and me.
She drove me to the other office, and I waited while two patients were checked in. I identified myself and the reason for my visit. 
“Do you have your ID?”
“It’s in the car.”
“You’ll need it to get your prescription.”
All this for FIVE pain pills. What did these people think? That I was going to take them downtown and sell them on the street? I went back to the car and got my wallet. The receptionist requested my driver’s license and made a copy of it and the prescription on the same page and offered it to me for my signature. All for FIVE pills. I scribbled my signature and we were back at the other office in ten minutes. 
I waved at the receptionist, who looked inordinately relieved that I had returned. She had forgotten to give me a paper where I was to mark where my pain is/was on a drawing of the human body. 
Well, clutch the pearls! I had thrown a monkey wrench into her routine. I filled out the page, which she directed me to keep and take when I was called to the back. I was still 20 minutes to appointment time. I opened my copy of the magazine, which was interesting. An article about the warblers who will be passing through on their voyage south caught my attention, and I made a mental note to put up a suet cake for them. 
At 11:20, I closed the magazine and looked up. A man in a wheelchair and his wife were seated directly across from me. He turned his chair to face her and put his foot in her lap. She pulled the velcro straps on his shoe, loosened it and took it off. Fortunately I was called back as she was pulling off his sock to unleash whatever aroma it might produce.
The the nurses were efficient and kind. The doctor came by and introduced himself and explained the procedure. An IV access was established on the top of my right hand and I was quickly wheeled to the procedure room. It was over in a flash, and I was unaware of anything. One of the most impressive things about the whole adventure was that my IV site looks exactly as it did before the catheter was inserted—not a bruise, not even a hint that it was ever there. A nurse notices these things, and I want her next time. The doctor came back by and said I would need a series of injections and would be coming back in two weeks.
The outcome? Almost no pain in my back, not even enough to take an aspirin, but more lightening strikes. I’ll take it. I’ve slept like a baby for two nights and feel so much better it’s hard to imagine how awful the last few weeks were. The nurse just called and said the strikes should decrease over the next few days. And oh, I didn’t fill the prescription. I’m saving it for an emergency. 
Color me happy.

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome to my Pity Party

So, here’s the thing. I am 67 years old and healthy. I have no heart disease or diabetes. My liver and kidneys work just fine, thank you. I’m not plagued with headaches like so many others. Organically, I’m in good shape, unless, of course, you count that I’m 20 pounds overweight.
The problem is that my infrastructure is crumbling. I have a “slipped disc” at the top of my lumbar spine. It has caused me to have something called spinal stenosis, which, according to Mayo Clinic’s web site is “a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs.” 
I’ve been plagued with back spasms off and on since I was in my 30s. Every now and then, I get down in the back and have to take muscle relaxers and pain killers and prednisone to reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve that causes the spasms. About three days of treatment was all that was required to get over it. It used happen once a year or so, but in the last few years things have gotten out of hand, and I’ve had many more frequent episodes. 
About three weeks ago, I started feeling lightening bolts shooting down behind my right knee. Some of them even went as far as the bottom of my foot, and that were doubtless a consequence of my spinal stenosis. I let it go for a week, thinking it was something that could be resolved by taking it easy and treating my back with respect and doing the stretching exercises I have been doing for years. I positioned a warm bed buddy at my back and an ice bag on my knee and watched old episodes of West Wing when I wasn’t showing up to write. I already had the muscle relaxers on hand, so I started taking them. It didn’t get better, so I went to see my back doctor’s PA. 
Well, he prescribed a six day course of methylprednisolone, (medrol dose pack) a steroid that blocks the substances in or bodies that cause inflammation. I took the medicine, along with the muscle relaxer and a non-opioid pain killer. (Opiods make me fuzzy and I don’t like them.) He suggested that, if this conservative approach to my discomfort didn’t work, I might consider having an epidural injection of steroids. I’m still weighing that idea in my head. 
I lay around like a slug for a few days, running hot and cold, as it were. The dose pack served mostly to kick my cardiac rhythm out of whack, and the lightening bolts continued. My back never has stopped hurting except when I am stretched out on the red leather chaise, which perfectly contours my back as to take pressure off it. The PVCs stopped almost immediately after I finished the steroids.
But about that time my other (left) knee swelled up and became painful. I’m not making this up. I didn’t fall on it or wrench it or run into a piece of furniture with it. I simply can’t point to an event that could have caused it. I spent several days on the sofa with a heated bed buddy at my back and an ice pack on my knee. The lightening bolts went away. One problem solved.
Trouble is, when I get up and do anything at all, and I mean anything, it swells and becomes painful again. And my back hurts—all the time. So yesterday, I went to see my knee doctor’s PA. He ordered some x-rays that suggested a space in the joint that shouldn't be there, that maybe I have a tendon tear. Great. I had one in that knee about eight years ago, and it was successfully treated with an arthroscopic procedure to “trim it up and clean it out.”
Are you sick of this yet? Well, I don’t blame you but stand by because there’s more. The knee doctor’s PA scheduled an MRI for next week, put a brace on my knee and told me to continue with the muscle relaxers, and since I was getting no relief from the pain—in all its various places—he suggested I take two pan tablets rather than one. 
I did as I was instructed, and about an hour after I took the medicine, I started to itch, all over. No rash, just itching. My nose looks like Bill Clinton’s, I’ve rubbed it so much. I was like a worm in hot ashes, scratching all over and looking in the mirror every now and then for signs of a rash. 
And to add insult to injury, I couldn’t sleep. There I lay, warm bed buddy to my back, trying to go to sleep. When I had no success, I got up and watched some more West Wing, then went back to bed. Still sleep wouldn’t come. I dozed briefly, and when I woke and checked the clock, only a few minutes had passed. It was like that all night. And then there was the itching.
Finally at six o’clock this morning, I abandoned trying to sleep and decided to take a Benadryl for the itch. It worked. But my knee and back were still killing me. Exactly 12 hours after I took two pain pills, I took a single one. No itching but no pain relief either. What ever became of of Tylenol #3? It’s not too strong, and at least for me, doesn't cause itching.
So here I sit on my chaise, where I can write comfortably and birdwatch, heat to my back and ice to my knee, doing #continuouspractice to tell the tale. 
That’s the conclusion of my pity party. Thank you all for showing up and listening to my tale of woe. You see, I live alone and don’t have anyone except Honey to bother with this. And she’s pretty damned tired of my whining.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's Still His Room - How Sophie Helped Me Donate Parrish's Clothes

Parrish was a clothes horse, and when he died, his closet was filled with more items than one man ever needed. I suppose I am partially to blame. His first sweater was a white cardigan with a baby blue monogram, and before he could walk, I dressed him in short overalls in soft cotton plaids with a white collared shirt or pastel turtleneck underneath. He wore white knee socks and miniature brown and white bucks. At two, he had his own style, and his blond curls topped off the look. 
As a teen, he rarely wore jeans, preferring khakis with polo shirts. Marnie used to tease him about it. He wore brown loafers, sometimes with socks, sometimes without. Later, he never got so sick he “let himself go”, and after money became a problem, he dressed himself from thrift stores and Wal Mart, and no one could guess his clothes didn't have designer labels. When he couldn’t afford regular haircuts, he kept a buzz cut rather than have scraggly hair.
    He, who literally gave the shirt off his back to a stranger more than once, would want someone to have his things. The time came to clean out his closet and donate his clothes. There are men who need clothes, who don’t have a pair of dress pants or khakis, who need a collared shirt and a pair of leather shoes and a good belt for a job interview. They need something to wear to church.
Last month, I tried to sort out his things and get them ready to go to Goodwill, and even though Sophie—the only person in the world who could help me with the sad chore—was here, I just couldn’t find a starting place. When I walked into his room, I was paralyzed with sadness and weak with grief. I clutched the full length of his body pillow and breathed deeply of his smell, then I turned around and left, shaking with sobs. Sophie, who loved and was dearly loved by Parrish, emptied his dresser and organized his things, with no help from me.
On the 15th of this month, I brought Sophie back for a two week visit. Having her near gives me strength and hope. Everyone should have a friend like her. She makes me want to be a better person, do better things, take better care of myself. She is, no doubt, an angel—my angel.     
     A few days after she arrived, boxes in tow, Sophie and I went into Parrish’s room to begin sorting and packing his things for Goodwill. After standing and staring at his bed for a moment, I put the boxes on it and began to fill them. I had to pull back from myself, almost as though I were watching from across the room. To focus on the reality was impossible. 
I stacked his white undershirts in neat columns in the first box. I realized I was holding my breath and reminded myself to exhale. Then I moved on to his tee shirts, the casual ones with logos—Salt Life, Livestrong, Patagonia. I couldn’t make myself pack his yellow SeaTow shirt and instead put it to the side to keep. Sophie helped me take his collared polo shirts off their hangers, and I carefully folded them and started a new box. I left his new sport coat on the hanger and hung it on the door knob.
Knowing the contents of the boxes would be unceremoniously tossed into a bin at the Goodwill drop-off, I nevertheless folded them deliberately and packed them as though P were leaving for a long trip. I pushed the fact he’d been for dead six months to the very back of my mind and did what I had to do.
Sophie helped me organize everything, and her peaceful presence is the reason I was able to continue. I folded P’s white linen shirt and placed it on top of the SeaTow shirt. I folded all but one of this ties and tucked them into a box. I folded the madras one and positioned it at the collar of his white shirt as though I were laying out an outfit.
Out of nowhere, the job almost complete, I froze. I gazed around the room at his golf trophies and his Alcoholics Anonymous book and the photo of me on his bedside table as though I had never seen them. I picked up the picture of him with my brother John and my nephew Wil, taken just a few months before John’s death in 2000. I kissed it and put it back. I riffled through 10% Happier, the book I gave him for Christmas.
“I have to stop,” I whispered to Sophie.
“Go on out then,” she replied. “You have done real good, so rest yourself and we’ll finish later.”
I plopped down on the red leather chaise in the sun room and silent tears morphed into choking sobs. Honey jumped up to comfort me and I sat there for a while and finished crying.
Three days passed before I could go back into Parrish’s room. I packed his trousers and belts and shoes, put some odd items into the boxes as well—two of his watches, his handkerchiefs and cycling gloves. I put his helmet on a shelf in the closet. I took the vase of dead roses and put them in the trash. Polly brought them to me the day after he died. For the first time since his passing, I noticed two boxes on his dresser. He must have found them in the hall closet, because they were mine. I saved every letter and card he sent me over the years, and many of them were in those boxes. There was the big white envelope with his baby things—his immunization record and baptismal papers, the baby bracelet they put on him in the nursery when he was born, his report cards and more. How long had those things been in there? Was he reliving the past by reading them? Was he trying to recapture the complete happiness of his childhood? He was searching for something, but I’ll never know what.
I didn’t start crying while we loaded all the boxes into the back of my SUV. I was dry-eyed as I told Honey we would be back soon and took my wallet and keys and walked out the door. It was only after I turned over the engine that tears started rolling down my face. I backed slowly out of the drive, sniffed and brushed them away. I sniveled as we traveled the short distance to the drop-off station. And when we got there, I couldn’t get out. I could not make myself hand over the boxes to the nice lady who dumped them into the canvas bin, so Sophie did it for me. 
The heat index was over 100º. I told you she’s an angel.
Yesterday, I drove her back to Macon, and the house is aching for her presence. The very walls seem sad. I know I can’t keep her forever; after all, she has a family of her own, and they need her loving kindness, too. She’ll be back, though, and I have that to be thankful for.

This morning, just like almost every morning, I went into P’s room and sat down on the bed. Sophie arranged his books on top of his chest and tucked his school annuals into his gray trunk before she left. I gazed at the paintings above his bed, portraits of our dogs, Boxers Baby and Belle, and the watercolors of quail and wild turkeys. The picture of his daddy waving from the deck of the pilot boat still sits in it’s place on the bedside chest. His childhood trophies are still on the painted yellow table where the cable box rests. I pulled his body pillow off the closet shelf and held it to me, breathed deeply of it. His scent is still there, but it’s fading.

© 2015 cj Schlottman



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Spirit Animal? Me?

     I spent last week on Tybee Island, Georgia, attending Rosemary Daniell’s annual Zona Rosa writing retreat for women. Since I met Rosemary in 1997, and became a part of her ongoing workshop for women writers that meets once a month at her house in Savannah, I have attended several Tybee retreats. I've always come away renewed in my writing spirit, and this year was no different.
     For a week, eight writers shared the nine bedroom “Happy House” Rosemary has rented for a number of years now. There were two other writers who joined us later in the week, and there were those who attended the sessions just in the daytime. Ages ranged between 33 and 70-something. Rosemary invited special guests, published authors who came to share their work and listen to ours.
     The wonder of the retreat is always in its students. Excellent writers all and ranging in experience from “just beginning” to published, we come together to share our experiences in writing and feed from the energy of our collective consciousness. The environment is conducive to creativity, with mornings devoted to writing and afternoons spent in session, reading from our works and receiving feedback and encouragement from Rosemary and the group.
     On Sunday, the day devoted to settling in and exploring, my precious granddaughter, Addie, came and spent a couple of hours with me. While others were out and about, we stayed at Happy House and were, well, happy. 
     I’ve had a memoir trapped inside me for several years, begging to be written. I wrote the first draft of the prologue before going to Tybee, and Rosemary read it to the group for me for me. Feedback was positive, and I felt empowered to start Chapter One. And, two days later, I did just that while sitting on the deck off my room. I don’t know what I expected to feel when I began the project in ernest, shedding all my excuses and rationalizations about not having done so sooner, so I was surprised at the sensation of freedom and that came over me. I felt ready. And I got excited. I haven’t been excited about much since Parrish died, and the feeling is heady and sweet. 
     That was the first time I saw the spider.
     Some of my readers may remember when, in August of 2011, I accidentally set myself on fire trying to incinerate a spider with a fireplace lighter. We know how that turned out, and it wasn’t the spider who suffered. On that muggy morning on Tybee, I looked up to see a huge spider web spun between a fan palm and the wooden fence. Right in the middle of the silky strands that glimmered in the sunlight was a creature that looked a great deal like my nemesis, all eight legs stretched to their limit. As the days passed, I watched as the web got bigger and more intricate. 
     Never having given much thought to what spiders might symbolize or that I might have a spiritual connection to them (or any other non-human being in the world), after a brief exchange with my fellow writers who knew of such things, I decided to do some research. 
     I offer this, copied and pasted unabashedly from Wikipedia:  “Totemism is a belief in which each human is thought to have a spiritual connection or a kinship with another physical being, such as an animal or plant, often called a "spirit-being" or "totem." The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol.”
     Taking something from each of the several articles I read about the symbolism of spiders, I put together as simple a synopsis as I could. So, here goes: 
     In many cultures, the spider is a symbol of creativity, a spinner of delicate and intricate webs—engineering marvels of nature. It is often seen as the powerful female spirit, the giver of life. If the spider is your spirit animal, it may try to bring your attention to your own individuality and ingenuity. You may have an affinity for acts of creation and the ability to build your own fine patterns that are delicate yet strong. 
     Did I tell you I love to knit, that I knit lace?
     The appearance of a spider may serve as a reminder that you and you alone are responsible for what you build around you. It may also appear to remind you not to abandon your creative gifts and goals. 
     Did I tell you about my recent dream in which two spiders, the size of the back of my hand, were attached to my right hand, one atop the other? There was a sensation of suction but no pain, and I gently pried up their hairy legs and they walked away?
     The following day, another, smaller spider had begun spinning her web on the chair next to where I sat writing in my journal.
     Two spiders, and I made no move to harm either of them.
     When we checked out of the house on Saturday morning, July 11, I went with two of my long-time writing compatriots to The Breakfast Club for a final meal together. When I got in my car to leave, there was a spider, about the size of a thumbtack, sitting on the steering wheel. I gently nudged it toward the window with my parking receipt and saw it safely out the window before I turned over the engine and drove home. When I stepped into my bathroom to wash my hands and face, yes, there was a small spider sitting on the rim of the sink, just looking at me.
     Since I got home, I've been writing my ass off.

© 2015 cj Schlottman

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day - A Different Way

Last month, when my first birthday after Parrish’s death came around, I was unprepared, and the day was half over before I realized why I was so unaccountably anxious and tearful. That I should be turning 67, and Parrish would never have another birthday, I suppose, was wrapped in the denial for which I am so famous. A friend was here to help me set up Apple TV, and I could’t find the remote control. I rarely use it because I have one of those from the cable company that does everything except go to the kitchen for snacks. I am also famously forgetful, but it is unlike me not to know where essential things are, especially electronic stuff. Bob, my helpful friend, managed to set up Apple TV without the remote, and after it was up and running—I had to have it because I am addicted to Netflix, and watching it on my laptop was killing my eyes—he stayed around for a drink. I remember repeating myself to him several times and feeling frustrated and a little confused. It was less than five minutes after he left that I went directly to the drawer in the table upon which the TV sits and retrieved the stupid remote. Imagine that. 
That was when my denial unraveled and I sat down hard on my spot on the blue loveseat in the den and covered my face with my hands and wept as I did on the night Parrish died. Hell, I’m crying right now, just writing about it. I walked around the house and into his room, clutching a fistful of tissues. I sat on the edge of his bed, then fell over on his pillow to finish crying. It took a while. In fact, I had spells of weeping for the rest of the evening and into the night.  
So, you can imagine I was not looking forward to Mother’s Day. Parrish, even when he was hundreds of miles away and completely out of my reach, always made a thing about Mother’s Day. There was always a card and often a phone call. Last year, he brought me an African violet—which has grown so much I had to repot it last week—and brought me breakfast in bed. 
So, about two weeks ago, I started trying to prepare myself for yesterday. My mother passed away over 15 years ago, so I couldn't do anything with or for her. The thought of being both motherless and childless brought on a deluge of tears. I thought about leaving town for the weekend, checking into a good hotel with room service and a spa, but when I started checking rates, I decided I should save my money to pay to have the dead pine tree in my back yard taken down. I considered making plans with friends but realized that most of them would already be involved with their own mothers or children.
On Saturday night, I got a call from Gregory, my yard person, also known as Crab Man because he can often be found crabbing from the Village Pier. He wanted to come over yesterday morning at 8:00 to blow off the roof and do the yard. Since I’m not an early riser, we negotiated a more civilized time, 10:00. 
I scheduled my Mother’s Day, sort of. I planned to sleep until about 9:00 and let the day unfold before me. I promised myself a trip to the gym. I filled the bird feeder and ate breakfast on the deck, then read the news and did the crossword puzzle. The weather was perfect, warm but not hot, clear and cloudless.
Crab Man arrived on time, with his puppy, Two Spot, a six-weeks old bulldog, riding in the basket of his bike. You can’t tell from the photo I took, but his name comes from the two round black spots on his back, near his tail. Every other hair on his plump little body is white. I was instantly in love. Honey, who in general despises all other dogs who come near me, gave him a sniff and a once-over before turning up her nose curling into her spot next to me on the love seat. 
When Crab Man started blowing off the roof, Two Spot began to howl, that piercingly sharp sound of despair that only a puppy can make. So, I brought him inside with us. Honey gave him a cursory sniff and resettled herself. Two Spot curled his fat little body at my feet and went to sleep. And thus it was that I puppy-sat for several hours. I was his surrogate mother for a while, waking him every now and then to go outside and “Do number one,” as Crab Man says. Then we’d come back inside, Two Spot would drink a little water and go back to sleep. 
Meanwhile, I was watching “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix and laughing my ass off. My afternoon was punctuated with calls and messages from some of my most important people: Addie, Fonda, Marnie, Kristy and Gretchen, Nancy, and my darling Sophie. And I was “mothering” a living being, a little blessing to help me through the day. 
When Two Spot was once more situated in the basket of Crab Man’s bike, they peddled off, and I dressed and went to the gym.  
When I got back home, I cleaned up, and Honey and I drove down to the Village. Finding a parking space was almost impossible. Mallory street, which circles around to the pier and back, looked like a scene from American Graffiti—all manner of vehicles looping slowly, bumper to bumper. I finally found a space near the bike shop, two blocks from the pier. Dogs aren’t allowed on the pier, and Honey hates wind anyway, so she stayed in the car while I walked down to watch Lawrence’s ship pass on its way back out to sea.
Thinking how fitting a tribute it would be to Parrish, I went to BlueWater and climbed the stairs to sit where we so often did, overlooking the pier and Saint Simons Sound. I had some wine and a sandwich, and about the time I finished, I saw the pilot boat approaching  the pier, so I paid my check and went down to walk back out and see Lawrence for a minute. I ran into him just as I left the restaurant, and he walked me to my car. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him yesterday, but I’m glad I did. He was a comfort to me, another blessing.
When I got home, I watched some more “Grace and Frankie,” laughed some more and finally fell into bed after midnight. I didn’t get up today until nearly noon. Ain’t I something?

© 2015 cj Schlottman