The truth about love


It’s a rainy day and I sit for a minute staring out at the trees beyond the Maplewood parking lot. I check my phone again, just in case. The reception out here is really bad I tell myself. Then I gather up the flowers, mom’s green jacket and a travel mug filled with *real* coffee for mom and head inside. She thinks they don’t give her real coffee here. Once she drinks it she always tells me to hide the cup so they won’t see. I tell her every time that it’s OK , that I can bring her coffee, but she’s never convinced.

As I walk to the entrance a man drives up in a car wearing thick heavy framed glasses and a touring cap. I wonder for a minute if he’s a resident in the assisted living side, but he parks in the guest parking and follows me into the lobby, his gait slow and uneven . He is known by the receptionist, and I realize I am too now as she takes the jacket I’ve brought that will need to be washed. I don’t have to tell her, she already knows who my mom is.

At the elevator I wait and hold the door open button as the man gets on too. I ask what floor he’s going to. 3, -the same as me- I say too brightly. His face seems open and inquisitive. We make eye contact for a moment and I feel that familiar flash of empathy that I often get with fellow visitors here. He comments on the prettiness of the Jerusalem artichoke flowers I’ve cut from the garden in a thick New England accent; the accent I associate with my grandparents, farms, wood stoves and an utter lack of bullshit. I notice he’s missing a tooth when he smiles as we part ways on the floor, going to opposite wings.

Mom likes the flowers. She is surprised they are blooming now. I remind her it’s October. She drinks her coffee quickly and tells me to hide the cup

Someone on the staff has given my mom a copy of The Lovely Bones from the library. Mom has asked me to read it to her. I am doubtful of the wisdom of this, but she insists, so I oblige. Books have always been a bond for us. She stops me to cry at almost every page. “Mom, is this too sad- should I stop reading?” She wants to keep going. At one point, Susie, the narrator, mentions Breakfast at Tiffany’s and mom starts to cry again. “I saw that movie many years ago. It was the last movie I ever saw. Who was in it? Was it color or black and white?”

“Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, color, and I don’t think that was the last movie you ever saw, was it?”

She is inconsolable.

But on we read. After an hour and a half I tell her it’s time for me to go and she grabs my hand.

“I’m afraid. You shouldn’t have come by yourself.”

“I’ll be fine, mom. It’s broad daylight. There’s plenty of people around.”

I take the coffee cup and an aide badges me out of the unit.

Sitting on a couch directly facing the elevators is the man from earlier with his wife. Their arms are entwined and he sits very close to her, their hands clasped, but she isn’t looking at him. She stares at the floor in the opposite direction, her face expressionless. He looks the other way, out the rainy window at the trees beyond the parking lot.

I know nothing about them but I think I know everything:

The trip here is the one and only focus of his day.

The physical closeness he has to her here is vital to him

They once saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a theater when they were dating.

He will do this every day until he can no longer physically do it.

Then I notice a little gap of his belly because his shirt is a bit too small. Maybe it shrank in the dryer or he has put on a little weight. He hasn’t gotten a new shirt since she came here. That was something she did. And he will never think to buy another shirt for himself.

The elevator dings as it’s doors open. His face begins to turn from the window as I frantically push the door close button so he won’t see me start to cry.


came to New Hampshire from an overcrowded kill shelter somewhere in the south. Dad said when she got to the farm she just ran around  and around in big excited circles, you know, the way dogs do. I’d always thought mom said she came up on a plane full of rescued dogs but dad says it was a van. But the image of a plane has stuck with me, and I guess that’ s why instead of seeing her crossing the rainbow bridge, my brain has put her up in a sunny sky on a plane full of dogs , bound for somewhere even better than New Hampshire, a place with no fences or leashes.

She was my parents dog but her death has left me feeling gutted. In what is turning out to be an extremely emotionally challenging year, Bella, with her warm comforting heaviness against me in the bed, her reassuring pull ever forward on our walks, the uncomplicated grounding goodness of her doggie soul, had become my personal furry four legged life preserver. She was the one family member I wasn’t worried about and obsessing over.   And then suddenly there we were three weeks ago, the kind, soft spoken vet Dr Neely handing me a box of Kleenex.

I can’t help think of the well meaning advice how worrying about things doesn’t help the situation- but maybe if I just hadn’t been so self absorbed, maybe if I’d paid more attention to her instead of just leaned on her, maybe I would have noticed something sooner and we could have saved her. Maybe if I’d just worried more….

Because she was the one mental flank I left unguarded and now I’ve lost her.

I hope she’s too busy running in big excited dog circles where she is now to care about any of this human bullshit angst.

Run free, sweet girl…


A Moment of Clarity

Just reposting this because I’m so happy for all the William & Alistairs out there.


William and Alistair were the first gay couple I ever knew. I have known them as far back as I can remember. They lived in the house next to my grandparents farm. William’s family had used the former colonial inn as a summer house for years, and now William and his partner Alistair lived there year round. On summer vacations as an only child expected to entertain myself, I would often wander next door to William and Alistair’s house. I would play in their beautiful gardens, sometimes being invited in to chat.  William was a schoolteacher and Alistair just liked to talk, so there was always something interesting to discuss- a Luna moth I’d seen, the meaning of an epitaph on a headstone in the cemetery across the road, or  stories from their own childhoods in Holland and New York. Their two golden retrievers accompanied me for many long happy walks in the woods and fields…

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My Idiotic Bucket List: An Update

Back in 2012 I posted My Idiotic Bucket List.
It was one of those spur of the moment, hastily written posts that now leaves me scratching my head and thinking “That was your list? Really?” I guess it’s OK. I might want to give it some more thought. But in the meantime, thanks to the people at Pulse, I am checking one thing off my list, which is/was #9: Get one thing published. Although my little story is not published on actual paper, it had to go through an editor and be accepted and lord knows this might never happen again!- so I’m counting it. I am very flattered that they felt it worthy of their publication because just like here on WordPress, there are some truly talented authors and fantastic writing over at Pulse. If you are at all interested in reading firsthand accounts of aspects of the healthcare experience, I urge you to check them out. Here is my first ever published piece:

And since I took one thing off my list, I’m going to add something, and that is:
Go to a They Might Be Giants concert with Erik. They were in Chapel Hill and Charlotte last year and we missed both shows. It was a most epic of failures. Next time they’re here in NC, even if we have to totally skip school and work, we’re GOING.

Valentine’s Day Message

Today at the nail salon I happen to notice I have a voicemail on my phone. I don’t recognize the area code. I Google it and see it is a Florida area code. I settle back in the chair, feet soaking in the hot water and dial voicemail…waiting to hear the message. A soft southern accented, slightly quavery voice begins to sing.
“Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Master Gunneryyy. Your sister loves you… and so does Leeza.” There is a pause and then the voice says: “I may have gotten the day wrong. Well, if somebody’s listening to this, I’m not crazy, I’m just ninety. God bless you. I love you.” End of message.
I giggle and tell Tina. She laughs “Aw, you should call her back.”

I wait until I leave the noise of the salon and am standing in my driveway at home to call. It’s been so dreary the past few days and the sun feels good on my face. The phone rings a few times and then picks up. I recognize the voice. Before I can say anything, her answering machine picks up and we both wait patiently until it finishes, just like my own grandmother and I would do when I used to call her. I explain who I am and she is understandably a little confused.
“Is this Christina?”
I explain again.
“Oh. I was trying to call my brother who lives in Jacksonville, NC”
“I live in Jacksonville, NC too. Your brother and I must have similar numbers.”
“My brother is 89 years old.” Her voice sounds wistful to me, as though she can hardly believe her little brother is that age. I see in my head a photograph of my own grandmother with her brother and sister from the 1920s; their little booted feet, their faces serious. “He’s a retired Master gunnery Sgt. He fought in three wars.”
I tell her my husband is also a retired Marine. We chat for a few minutes and then she thanks me rather formally, calling me ma’am and telling me she was glad she was close to the phone and was able to take my call. I tell her to take care and we say good-bye.

After I hang up I stand there for a while next to the car. Maybe it’s because I lost my last grandparent a year ago in December; my grandfather who was 90 and a World War II vet, but I suddenly feel transported to the kitchen of their house in Florida. The phone with the over sized numbers hangs on the wall. All our numbers in Gram’s handwriting are there on a manila folder tacked to a corkboard. I am filled with such an intense longing to hear their voices, my eyes tear up. Happy Birthday Master Guns. God bless you. Your sister loves you and she’s not crazy, just ninety. I wish I could hug you both.