How the Grinch stole Christmas (well, not exactly Xmas but most of my stuff instead)

It was the week after Christmas and all through my house, there was the usual activity, the usual grouse. I was snug as a bug when my cell rang, “Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo” but it wasn’t Cindy-Lou or any other Who… was the manager of the storage facility in Kansas City calling to tell me my unit had been robbed.

She was sorry to tell me that while on her morning rounds she discovered that my lock had been cut and when she opened the 10 by 25 foot unit I rented she could see that for such a big space there was very little in it.

I was then and I am now still in a state of disbelief-denial being a safer place to live than Missouri I’ve come to learn, too late. My initial reaction was ”Oh no!” and “Fuck!”(I think I said that a couple of times) then I reminded myself out loud not to take out whatever I was feeling on this woman who was just doing her job and concentrated on listening to what she was telling me. I asked a few questions and hung up knowing that I’d be talking to her again along with the police.

My first call after I hung up was to Chad and not the police, I wanted his comfort and I needed his help. Poor puss, I think he took the news harder than I did when I told him. Thank God for Chad, though, he was (and is) there for me, agreeing to do whatever was needed in my stead.

Funny, I used to write that I “left” my life in KC to join my mother’s here in Maryland, but at the time I thought that what I left was safe and sound on Southwest Blvd in a 10 x 25 foot space, neatly packed on “pause”, just waiting for me to return and hit the “resume” button that was my life.

Since I was in the middle of shaving when Joyce, the manager called, I saw no reason to not finish my toilet so I proceeded shave and shower so that I could be fresh for whatever hell was in store for the rest of the day.

I didn’t know what I felt, but I knew I didn’t feel like sitting around the apartment so I went to the Mall-what better place to clear your mind after you’ve heard that everything other than what you could mail to yourself or load in your PT Cruiser was probably gone.

I walked the Mall aimlessly for a while, no clear path or destination in mind. Truth be told the local Mall has seen better days-as have the shoppers that frequent it. Nothing piqued my interest until I found myself in Target, the familiar feel of a shopping cart and the noise of a catty-wompuos wheel that was rattling. I walking up and down the aisles perusing the after Christmas sales and in no time I had a cart full of crap, 1/2 priced Xmas decorations and candy (bags of marked down treats). I even managed to justify a flat screen TV (on sale!), DVDs and some accessories for home I just “had to have”-after all I “don’t have” as of today, so, shop I did.

I even managed to drum up a little “after Christmas” spirit and put a pack of Nathan’s Hot Dogs in the cart for Miss Cathy. She loves Nathan’s Hot Dogs, she considers the price exorbitant for frankfurters so to her they are a delicacy and a “special treat”-much the way others would view caviar. Well, if I could have a tin of cashews dipped in chocolate while I watched something banal on a new flat-screen then she should have a treat, too!

An hour or so into my shop-a-thon I headed for the check out, stopping an aisle or two away, coveting my orgy of purchases. I looked at all that I’d picked up, carefully scrutinized and selected (these were no random, impulse items) I comparison shopped, selected the best of what was left on the sale racks and satisfied with my selections I went to the check out.

I left with the Nathan’s Hot dogs as my sole purchase. The shopping cart, I’m ashamed to say because I believe in department store etiquette (putting things back where you found them if you’re not going to buy them) was left abandoned for some clerk to find and have to re-stock.

In the parking lot holding onto my weenies while I looked for my car, I thought about what the universe was trying to tell me-again. Unfortunately, this is not my first experience with theft. Back in the late 80’s my apartment in New York was robbed of all my jewelry. At the time I had a lot of unique, expensive antique and original jewelry-most of which were gifts that I wore religiously, pins and brooches, on my lapel, fingers, on my hat, sweaters and vests. I was “known” for my eccentric style and the jewelry was an important part of giving me an identity that I could hide behind long before I had one of my own. What that loss taught me was not to covet ‘things’ so much as to enjoy possessions for what they are and not what they represent. The theft also forced me out from behind the accoutrements, to be me-sans decorations, unadorned, flaws and all. So, the universe had an important lesson for me to learn and I think I got it.

I lived that lesson for several years, but as time accumulated so did new possessions and obsessions (antiquing and collecting) and my ego for a time was stocked as full as my wine cellar. So, the universe stepped in, once again, to give pause to my life so that I could reevaluate what was important.

In 2004, what the papers called a “100 year rain” hit the small rural town where I once lived and owned an old farmhouse. After it’s sale the town in which it was located became the location of the storage facility for all that housed my life; antiques, furniture, archives of my life’s work up until that point (about 20 years worth of original art, sketches, notes, serigraphs and sketchbooks) books, clothes and all of my childhood possessions including pictures, yearbooks, comics and all my old “diaries” and adult journals.

The “100 year rain” came so fast and so furious that the Delaware River that bordered the town became so swollen that it overflowed it’s banks and flooded the town, leaving hundreds homeless. My storage facility was in the low-lands and thus in the river’s watery path so 65% of my possessions ended up buried under seven feet of water and mud. What little was let was dried in the sun and moved to higher ground, there was much pain and a long battle with the insurance company but ultimately, another lesson learned in “letting go” and moving on.

And now the universe is speaking to me once more, but, damn, does it always have to be a punch up side the head instead of a soft tap on the shoulder to get my attention, robbed of about 80% of what I’ve accumulated since starting what I thought would be a new, quiet life in the Midwest.

And so I ask, what is the measure of a man? In years gone by property, possessions and children were what were left to judge a life lived well. Well, we all know I have no children (that is if you don’t count Miss Cathy), and although I’ve owned two homes and possessions worthy of being photographed for a life-style magazine I find that I have nothing more than the memories and a magazine.

Here I am at the close of 2010 living in Maryland with my mother, the Midwest forsaken for selflessness. For the first time since I was seventeen years old I find that I do not have a lease with my name on it, so I have no “home” to call my own and now only a few possessions that represent the life I’ve lived. What I wonder is what am I to gain from this? What is the universe is telling me, showing me?

Part of me feels that what I have to learn (again) and be reminded of (again) is that nothing is tangible, to enjoy what you have when you have it, and that our memories of what we do with what we have is truly all we can ever have to hold onto. It’s the people and experiences that are important and not the “things”, although there is nothing wrong with possessions, just the importance we attach to them can be suspect.

And maybe the universe is telling me that it’s time to let go of the (recent) past-literally, for my time in Kansas City was anything but quiet. I was tested and judged, and learned a lot about myself and grew in ways that I could only learn having been there, in that time, under those circumstances. Suffice to say it was one of the most challenging chapters of my life. So, maybe now the time has come to be free, and in loss there is much to gain.

I’d also like to believe that at the end of this decade, after all that I’ve been through in the “aughts” and now 2010, that the new decade ahead holds so much abundance for me that I had to make room for all that is to come.


Christmas day

We spent Christmas day here, just the two of us. I didn’t ask her if she wanted to go to Tony’s- I mean, what’s the point after she was so adamant about NOT wanting to be there for Thanksgiving. I’d thought to call and ask them to come here for the day but first I procrastinated, probably because knowing my brother he wouldn’t have wanted to and I was feeling guilty about putting him in the position to have to say “No”. But, in the end it didn’t matter because when I called Suemi was just getting over a cold, Tony was sick and although Nile was there, Zachary had just left for a trip to Japan to visit relatives.

Late Christmas morning Miss Cathy told me that one of her girlfriends had invited her to dinner and that I was invited, too. I didn’t want to go (and said as much) but I would gladly drive her whenever she was ready.

I was actually excited for her, thinking that she’d get dressed up and have fun hanging out with her friends but she put a kibosh on that right quick. She said that she didn’t want to go either and when I asked if it was because I wasn’t going she said “No”, that she didn’t want to go “regardless” (and her friend had even offered to come pick her up!).

I gotta say, I was pretty miffed. I told her that I don’t understand how she can just sit in this apartment all the time and not go out (sometimes for more than a week) and not do anything or see her friends. “Well,” she said, very satisfied with herself, “I talk to my friends on the phone all the time.”

My first thought upon hearing that was, “Well fuck! If all you want is talk on the phone and never go anywhere I can go back to my life and put your happy ass in an old folks home.” I’m starting to understand how people can beat the elderly-not that I condone or would ever do anything like that. Again, I would NEVER touch Miss Cathy (or anybody for that reason) it’s just that it gets sooo frustrating sometimes that you can think all sorts of crazy things.


I’m also starting to understand how old people become shut ins-and the sad part is that she’s NOT that old.

I just don’t get it and I’m trying too. First there was the panic about going to Tony’s, okay, that’s an easy one because of my brother’s house being associated with sickness and being away from home for a long period of time-I get that (kind of). But now there’s this  “it’s too cold to go outside” excuse-which pretty much means she’s justified (in her mind) of NOT leaving these four walls until sometime in March.

Speaking of the weather-actually I’m still talking about Miss Cathy (what else is new) but today as I was washing her hair she told me she was thinking about making an appointment at a beauty parlor but her concern was not about the weather but the fact that there are “20 stairs” she’d have to climb to get inside the building.

“So.” I said,” you’ll just walk a little slower. It’s not like you have to walk the stairs everyday. Besides, you could use the exercise.”

“Nah,” was her response. I told her that I don’t understand why she even bothered to have the knee replacement surgery if all she’d going to do is be afraid to walk anywhere.

“I’d like to give YOU a knee replacement surgery and see how you’d like it.” She said.

“I’d do a helluva lot better than you, I know that.” I replied. “You talk like you’re the only person this has ever happened to, there are people older than you having this surgery and they’re jumping out of planes, running in marathons, dancing and rock climbing!”

“No they aren’t either.” She said, her voice muffled by the towel she had wrapped round her head as she dried her hair and toddled away, “I’ll bet they wish they were doing as well as I am. I think I’ve come a long way.”

Yeah well, I know you do and that’s the problem.

I don’t know, it’s been nine months since her surgery and you’d think (I thought) by now she’d be much further along than she is; better balance, more speed and less afraid of a fall- maybe that’s just my “wish” for her. The truth is, before I moved in with her five months ago I had no idea what her day-to-day life was. I didn’t know how large or small her world was.

Of course I had impressions of what I “thought” her life was like but that was based on twice weekly phone calls from twelve hundred miles away. Now that I’m here, part of me is like a parent with a child, trying not to impose my vision of who/what they should be, rather I’m trying to hang back and let her “be”.

A few observations from the peanut gallery

Miss Cathy and I have played the card game 3-13 several times now and while she seems to be getting the hang of the game there are a few challenges. She’s caught on to the basic premise of the game but she’s having difficulty with the subtleties of how to win a round. As minor as these things appear I do think they are significant in that they show a break down (however slight) in her problem solving and cognitive skills. One of the reason I’m so happy she likes playing cards (aside from the camaraderie) is that the game gives her an opportunity to exercise her mind “muscle.”

After playing a few hands she confessed that she didn’t know how to shuffle the cards very well so I thought I would teach her, easy enough-or so I thought. When she didn’t “get” my verbal instructions I tried showing her what I wanted her to do and it didn’t help much, if anything I think it confused matters. This was most apparent when I asked her to “mirror” my hand movements as I demonstrated how to mix the cards together.

I watched with fascination (not frustration as you’d probably think from my usual ranting) as I would arch my hand “up” by the wrist and hold the cards with my fingers in a specific way, left hand and right. She would struggle to hold her hand “down” and to approximate holding on the cards with her fingers, never able to match either what I was doing or each of her hands.

It’s in these moments that I’m at my best; patient and kind, with an instinct as to the right thing to say and do. I went through the motions of showing her what to do several times, each time phrasing the instructions differently or altering the visuals, looking to see what would “click” with her, ultimately abandoning the lesson for another time after praising her efforts.

Because of something we’d gone through recently I told Chad that I could be counted on to “shine” in a crisis-that it was the day to day of life that I struggled with ”dully”. It’s not that I’m bragging-far from it, it’s just an observation made after bearing witness to how I’ve responded to situations in my life. I know who I am, what I’m capable of and that I can be counted on. I’m not saying I’m unique by any stretch, it’s just that I think there are three types of people: those that “show up”, those that “can’t cope” and those “that flee.”

Most of us know which we are, and if you don’t –others do.