my superhero ashton flew away last night. he was five years old. he had battled cancer for the past several months. he had endured a stem cell transplant and lived at the dayton children’s hospital and then at cincinnati children’s hospital with his mother erin.
when i visited ashton at cincinnati, he had a favorite friend isaac. both boys are superheroes.
ashton was diagnosed in a particularly horrific fashion. he and his mother were going to his sisters confirmation. ashton and erin were going to stay overnight with me but ended up in the hospital because ashton had an ear infection. the doctors figured out he had cancer. i’m sure i would have broken down a dozen times if i were erin but she has become the strongest woman i know.
ashton’s father passed a number of years ago and so i would like to believe that he will be there to greet ashton in the city of remembrance that exists.
WARNING: GRAPHIC AND SHOCKING IMAGES INCLUDED IN THIS BLOGPOST!!!!!!
so this morning–the day after thanksgiving, the day when i should be out wilding in the shopping mall–i sat down as i always do and wrote down ten things i am grateful for. at the top of the list was that yesterday my son eastman and his girlfriend drove me downtown so that we might have thanksgiving dinner with my ex-husband and my older son.
under our divorce agreement, my ex-husband and i share thanksgiving, christmas, mother’s day and father’s day. some people think we’re weird. i think we’re just playing nice. besides, who wants to be a kid in the middle of a tug of war between two parents who each have a large, hot poultry as a potential weapon?
i concluded a three month period of not having an official residence (some might say being homeless) with moving into an apartment in kenilworth, illinois. it’s over an abandoned warehouse and is very flashdance.
the 1983 film flashdance tells the tired and somewhat hackneyed story of an eighteen year old welder and exotic dancer who aspires to be a ballerina. this young lady lived in an apartment in an abandoned warehouse. all i need is a dance and welding double and i’m living just like the movie!
because i’m living alone for the first time in so many years, i have a very girly, all white, pristine, long on white lace and throw pillows bedroom. this is what i have now (avert your eyes if necessary):
this is the sort of mess that is now all over my bedroom, bathroom and living room. even my car–empties and cigarettes and wadded up bags from steak n’shake. my son and his girlfriend have been wonderful albeit messy guests!
i used to be the sort of mom who could fly into a rage over this stuff. and now i say thank you because it isn’t all that long before i have to take him back to school. so i have chosen to enjoy this visit instead of “pick up those towels and get your clothes off the floor, damn it!” i mean, after all, i’m going to be the one cleaning this stuff up no matter what i say so why stress? and i’m having a better relationship with my son and his girlfriend because of that. it’s been a wonderful thanksgiving weekend!
and i think this joy is the unintended consequence of thank you.
albert einstein claimed he said it a hundred times a day. i try to aim for just ten, but then i am not trying to create a unified field theory of the universe. it is two wonderful words that are so powerful just saying the changes your day, your attitude, your life. and today is made for those words. well, i guess every day is.
the words are thank you.
thanksgiving is a november american holiday that commemorates the safety and security of early settlers in massachusetts. it has come to be a holiday of saying thank you for all our blessings but sometimes it is considered a holiday of eating too much turkey, of being with contentious relatives, and the opening bell on christmas shopping.
i’m not particularly good at prayer. i never know what to say to God and i’ve never particularly thought that God was talking to me. rosaries make me fall asleep. when a priest intones a prayer at church, i start to fidget. and when anybody wants to hold hands and pray with me, my hands get sweaty.
but i have stumbled upon a way that i can pray just like albert einstein did. i say thank you. i’m not quite sure who i’m thanking but i figure they know who they are. so every morning i write down ten things i am grateful for. today my list is
my sons joseph and eastman, my ex-husband stephen, bright red lipstick, diet coke, the pink highlights in my hair, the neighbor making me tacos last night, my facebook friend reggie serving in afghanistan, my garmin gps because i get lost everytime i visit facebook friends, the furnace working, my mini coup, a somewhat inappropriate text that made me blush but was utterly flattering, the gal who works the counter at caribou because i am not good at seven a.m. and the raspberry latte she recommends, the fog opening up to sunshine, my new socks, paper white lilies
weirdly, i’m grateful to facebook and to wordpress for the opportunity to meet new people, make friends, see those friends, and then express what i feel and think about those friends.
today i have dinner with my ex-husband and my sons. it is written into our divorce agreement that we share thanksgiving, christmas, mother’s day and father’s day. i am already exchanging texts and messages of thanksgiving with friends (i will work on this all day and never get to every friend) and of course, this being the modern age, i will post a facebook thanksgiving message.
this is t!he one day of the year i wish i had a twitter account because i would just say “thank you” which is quite a bit shorter than the 140 characters the medium allows
and you? i just want to say thank you for reading. okay, i might have gone over my ten things.
we’re entering a strange season of excess: thanksgiving an excess of eating, christmas an excess of gift giving and new years an excess of champagne. not that i’m complaining about any of that because they’re all good!
i woke up thinking–i cannot leave her behind. miss x was crying when i left her.
“i feel like i made and lost a friend in the past couple hours!”
“no, you haven’t,” i said. “you made a friend on facebook and you still have a friend.”
she wasn’t convinced when i pulled out of the driveway. she sat on the porch bench, crying. i felt awful. i was tired, i was scared, i was driving so many hours. i had so many more to go.
miss x is the 331st facebook friend i have visited since my 2011 new year’s resolution. at that time, i had 325 facebook friends and i resolved to meet and spend time with each one during the course of the year. i mean, who are all these people in my little solar system of mark zuckerberg’s virtual universe?
but as the year progressed and in this year 2012, i have been meeting newer friends. miss x had seen a bit of news about me, had friendshipped me, and we’d been corresponding. she thought she was inviting me to louisville, kentucky to give me an opportunity to test out my fearlessness against agoraphobia. instead, we faced an interesting problem: she drinks. a lot. much more than i do. when i showed up at her doorstep at one thirty, vodka had been two glasses ahead of me.
we all find ways to quell the pain. whether it’s prescriptions, meth, alcohol, video games, hoarding or the carbo load of a dozen doughnuts in front of the television set, we do it. we have to. times are particularly tough right now. miss x lost her job fourteen months ago and has pretty much given up on getting another for the moment.
are you better off than you were four years ago? asked ronald reagan when debating then president jimmy carter. it’s a question every voter has to ask. in miss x’s case, the answer is decidedly no. she has unemployment benefits, but she would rather have a job. and her drinking–popov vodka mostly–has ramped up. jobs often give us purpose, which gets us out of bed and away from our poisons.
the breckenridge inn of louisville, kentucky had generously booked my room next to the “can’t sleep without the television on, argue at two a.m., have makeup sex at four” couple. i so got to appreciate the room decor.
was it a good idea to go back? to meet miss x again? but i was haunted by the crying galpal. and by something she had said.
“i started drinking because i thought i was too boring when i’d be with people, you know, at parties and such.”
i was thinking “that’s me”
i have often felt like a wallflower who can only manage with a glass of white wine. and then i can talk with people. and then another glass of white wine. and i can sit still through dinner parties. and another white wine. i can be funny or witty or amusing. one more white wine. and i’m smushy in my thinking and scattered in my speech. but i don’t notice by then because i have white wine saying “it’s all good.”
i messaged miss x at six a.m. total long shot. if she was up, i would return to her house. we’d go for a walk. i wanted this facebook friend visit to end well. she had drank and fallen asleep and had awakened early. i was packing up for the next facebook friend adventure.
i checked out, went to her house. and that’s when i really met my friend. the day before, i had met alcohol smothering my friend.
the facebook friend who opened the door, the three hundred and thirty first friend i have recorded about since i made that resolution, is bright and funny and witty and engaged in the world. she looks sort of like lana turner or maybe jennifer coolidge. she has a gift for seeing beauty and translating it into home decorating. she has an empathy with cats and although one of her own is dying, she has a sense of humor.
jennifer coolidge is the actress who played stifler’s mom in american pie. this is sort of what miss x looks like. she would be chill with being identified by name but she wants to protect her husband.
we walked and we shared a morning ritual. it is how i pray these days, having figured out that rosaries and om’s sometimes seem hollow for me. we exchanged lists of ten things we are grateful for. i was grateful for coffee that morning. she was grateful for her husband and mother who are both loving. we were able to exchange gratefuls for each other.
there are many days in which coffee has made my list.
we said goodbye. well, goodbye sounds more final than what it was. we hugged and kissed and i will see her again. and i’ll even take up the offer of the manager of the breckenridge inn for a free upgrade because of the couple next door. really, i should just remember that maybe the couple was celebrating and happy and . . . well, actually, i know they were pretty happy at four a.m. roughly thirty seconds apart from each other.
no secret–i love the white wine. we’re having a break up. i am using a drug that is weaning, subtle, strange. i am not a believer in twelve steps because i think we do all need something to get us through the day.
i strike north for bloomington. i thought i would be aiming for tennessee but my friend in cookeville has distractions. i drive. i meet my facebook friends. i ask for their friendship to be in person. mark zuckerberg introduces but there’s nothing better than right there, right now.
christmas, valentine’s day, mother’s day, my birthday. the four dread horsemen of the calendar. from a distance, wonderful and appealing. the moment of impact? horrific. well, maybe not the moment of impact. it’s the night before. i always think i will be forgotten by those i love. and everyone else. and i’ve had those years.
i was put up for adoption by my parents when i was three years old. after twenty two years, i used a private detective to track down my natural/biological parents justin and aleta. today there’s open adoptions. there’s tracking your parents down on facebook. or maury povich.
when the future queen of france was sent from austria to meet her husband the future louis the xvi, at the border she was required to change her name from maria antonia to marie antoinette and to strip naked and re-dress in clothes provided by the french. she also had to give up her dog and her ladies in waiting. in 1963 when i was adopted, my name was changed from arlynn merrill leiber to lynn melody patrick, i took no clothes with me from my old home, and i gave up my stuffed kitten. i did not get jewelry and versailles. on the other hand, i didn’t get beheaded. go see farewell my quee. after all, it’s been three long years since a marie antoinette movie has been playing in theaters!
i thought i had a good (or at least okay) relationship with these new/old parents and it surprised me that both forgot my birthday the first year we were in contact. i would like to say that i didn’t mind that justin and aleta didn’t remember. but i did. i howled and whined. i was a petty, sniveling, blotchy faced wreck. but in private. a few days later, justin reminded me that my infant half sister casey’s birthday was coming up and i said it was interesting that we shared the same astrological sign. a dozen roses showed up the next morning with a belated birthday greeting. as for my mother aleta, the matter resurfaced in october. she called me in a fury. i had forgotten her birthday.
“but you never told me when your birthday was!” i wailed. “and besides, you forgot mine!”
“how was i supposed to know yours?” aleta countered.
“because you were there!”
as you can imagine, this interaction didn’t help our relationship. i think i hold aleta responsible for my adoption although since aleta and justin were married it must have been a joint decision at some level. i know if my ex-husband had ever asked me to put up joseph or eastman for adoption, i would have balked. not that he ever would have. eight years after this conversation, aleta terminated our relationship over an issue involving my payment of her health insurance. justin and i have our ups and downs–and some years he remembers my birthday and some years he doesn’t.
on july 22 every year i have a massive anxiety attack slash pity party. this year was no exception. it started at five o’clock with the shakes and chest pain. it ramped up with crying and shaking. i was utterly and completely convinced that i was forgotten, alone, without purpose, and about to die. it would be months before anybody would notice my demise.
how does santa know where you are if you’ve sold your house? this past month, a new family moved in and i haven’t got my bearings. it would be massively worse if santa were to die! but that won’t happen because as long as there are children and retail establishments who believe in him he will live!
and then something odd happened. a facebook friend posted a picture of a birthday cake on my profile page. another posted a link to a recording of mickey mouse singing happy birthday. then a link to youtube showed up, and it was my friend jose’s youtube post for my day — you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VluSLAGdwY&feature=youtu.be
i even received a birthday greeting from mark zuckerberg, the founder of facebook. he’s pictured here with tony tyner, mr. 314, meaning that tony is the 314th facebook friend i have met. hey, many thanks mark and tony! btw, married life must be treating you nicely, mark, because you look like you’ve put on a few pounds!
i needed to say thank you to each person and that took me most of my birthday but it was a wonderful way to notice, remember, reconnect with each friend. because even if facebook automatically puts a notification on your page reminding you of which friends are having birthdays, it still takes thought and care to write out a greeting or post a picture or photoshop an image just for me!
i realized that i had cried because i thought i was forgotten and i sure as heck wasn’t. in fact, all told, i wrote eleven hundred notes of thanks yesterday and today and i’m still behind. sending each thank you changed my perspective, and turned me around.
thank you facebook!
and also thank you to facebook for an interesting feature: every time a friend posts on your wall, your mutual friends are notified. so, for instance, when my son eastman’s friend will (who was the 176th facebook friend i met with) sent me a “happy birthday mrs. presser” eastman would have been informed. and in a remarkable coincidence eastman called me about twenty minutes after will’s message. he says he’s sent me a package but that it won’t get to me for a few days.
i don’t know where eastman sent this package but i figure if santa can keep track of every little child, eastman can certainly find his mom. i just hope santa or a package shows up at the daughters of the american revolution meeting where i’ve been invited to speak on thursday evening. oh, but i forget that santa won’t be available–he’s in tahiti because this is his off season!
meanwhile, my other son joseph (the sixty first facebook friend) sent me a present that will change my life. i will assemble it today!
i have had a third dental surgery in less than as many weeks. the trouble indicator on my car says “low tire”. i spent yesterday filling a storage facility with all manner of furniture, boxes, musical instruments and paintings. only to discover that there’s three overflowing closets in the house that i’m just a little unsure about. my son broke up with his girlfriend and is considering making his way back home–just as home is being packed up and given over to a new owner.
what to do? what to do? what to do?
i don’t have an automatic thank you note generator like the presidents of the united states. but i do write a lot of thank you notes. i don’t send them all because some people who are so very good to me would probably get a little creeped out.
you might think that your day is something that happens to you. the boss man tells you what to do. your body parts either work or they don’t work. people do and say things that are sometimes funny, sometimes loving, sometimes utterly irrational.
but i think life is something we can create. and i guess i think of creation as including thank you’s. even if the only thing you can say thank you to is the sun for rising in the east, that’s at least one thing that takes you outside of the controlled box and into the pilot’s seat. sometimes i can’t think of anything except sun and coffee to be thankful for. that’s all right. but today i have a lot of things to be thankful for. including my dentist. and i will write him a thank you note. i might toss that thank you note–which will encompass nancy his receptionist and laura his assistant–but i will write it and remember them. i feel better already!
in 14 days, the presser home will become someone else’s home. i am happy for the young couple who have purchased this place. i am excited and just a titch worried about what happens next. but i took a bike ride on saturday. i ended up in phillo, illinois which claims as its village motto to be the “center of the universe”. i wonder if NASA knows about this. the center of the universe encompasses slightly under a square mile and has a population of 1,400. its streets are named for presidents and i respect a town that doesn’t forget millard p. fillmore.
some of the people i have met this year have talked about “safe” places and “safe” people. particularly the people with agoraphobia, post traumatic stress disorder or just general “damn this world is a lot more chaotic and strange than i think i can handle”. . . i think phillo taught me that the center of the universe, and the safest spot in the universe are always with me. . . . unless there are particular circumstances. . . .
mapquest said it would take me four hours and forty seven minutes. a fourteen mile walk punctuated by a five mile ferry ride to see f2fb friend #317 michele piersiak. i sometimes do an eight mile walk around the perimeter of winnetka, so i figured it couldn’t be that bad.
oh how wrong i was. my theory about new yorkers is that they do fifty three terrifying things and that’s before they get to work. i didn’t expect to be scared in quite this way.
the williamsburg bridge is the seventy-fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, which makes any american immediately say “pshaw! there are seventy four others that are much tougher!” still, i got stuck along the 1600 span that towered over the water. i couldn’t move forward and couldn’t move back. this happened three times. each time, i had a vision of me being the homeless chick who lives on the williamsburg bridge, unwilling to leave or to move. accepting handouts and generally letting personal hygiene take a backseat. i’d be an object of pity, scorn, and perhaps curiosity. i’d feed pigeons. i would have several pet rats who would be attracted by my pungent body odor. i’d lash myself to the bridge during storms. i’d lose my cell phone!
i had to get unstuck. i was so scared my feet had fallen asleep and if i didn’t get moving the legs would be the next to go. i started saying thank you. thank you to the rain. thank you to the shoes i was wearing. thank you to the guy who had helped when the mapquest directions were just a bit . . . off. thank you even to mapquest. i said thank you to my facebook friends, pausing only briefly as i realized the reason i was going across the bridge was to meet f2fb friend #317 who had introduced herself on facebook. i thanked american airlines for getting me to new york. i thanked whoever built the bridge (later i learned construction on the bridge began i n1896 with henry hornsbotal as the chief architect and leffert buck as his engineer)
as i approached the end of the bridge i felt an odd exhileration. and it wasn’t just relief. it was a sense that i was buoyed up by all the people i had thanked, even by henry and leffert although at that point i didn’t know their names.
and i got off that bridge and found the staten island ferry . . . thanks to five different new yorkers who made me think that new yorkers are the friendliest people on earth! i thank them too!
staten island ferry
i didn’t expect to get choked up by the staue of liberty, so i sat on the side of the ferry that does not get the view of the statue. but as we approached, i couldn’t help myself. statue of liberty, dollface, i’m grateful to you!
and so i was wrong. it could be that bad. and yet, it also could be wonderful!