Something About Nothing

(google image)

I haven’t posted in almost three months because I feel I have nothing to say. Well, at least nothing I think people want to hear. Maybe it’s the result of living in a social media-based world, wanting to be more positive and feeling that writing about unsettling or unpleasing topics and feelings is ever so uncool.

In that vein, I thought I’d go ahead and post Something About Nothing. Like Seinfeld, the self-described TV show “about nothing.” But there is always something to be found in nothing. A silver lining to every dark cloud.

Sometimes I long to feel nothing, and sometimes my prayers are answered. My old friend Anhedonia creeps in, putting my feelings on ice, wrapping me up in a delicious blanket of numbness and don’t-give-a-damn. Merriam Webster defines anhedonia as “a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts.” This condition also makes you impervious to emotional pain, at least that’s how it works for me.

Nothing. The absence of something. The absence of stuff, baggage, fears, sadness, happiness, inhibitions, guilt. I’m riffing here.

On another note, grief is settling into my bones, becoming more a part of who I am,
not a negative, fearful thing. Merely a thing that exists, like the scar on my palm after I cut it on a cat food can. I’m a slow healer, so it will always be there.

I am making plans for this year, not resolutions, but plans. Resolutions is too strident a word for me.

Nothing is part of my plan. To let nothing stand in my way. To let nothing tear me apart. To let nothing and no one tell me who I am or what I can and cannot do. To enjoy the entirety of life and accept the love I receive without question, without trying to control it or judge it. To embrace life in all its nothingness and something-ness. To take NOTHING for granted.

Nothing can be a good thing.

 

 

High Anxiety

You visit
without warning
unlike a gentleman
come to call

my heart races
with terror
when you wend my way
you can make
the mightiest fall

I wish I could stop the
flutter in my chest,
the fear from things
unseen

Anxiety,
I don’t like you
please pack up your bags
And leave!

Bed, Bath & Trauma

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(google)

Christmas Tree Shops is/are one of my favorite stores. I haven’t figured out if the store name is considered singular–as it would be for a collective noun like “family” or plural since “Shops” is plural. Any guesses? For now, I’m going to assume it is plural.

Christmas Tree Shops’ (“CTS”) parent company is Bed, Bath & Beyond.  Although the former has a better selection of products than CTS, I tend to prefer CTS for the prices–much cheaper. That being said, a co-worker informed me yesterday that there was a Bed, Bath Beyond / Barnes & Noble / Whole Foods store complex (not exactly a mall) near our new office space on Vesey Street, so I had to venture forth. I knew it was raining, but I wasn’t expecting the blustering winds, spray and cold. It didn’t feel like early June. I was wearing a jean jacket over my blouse and had my mini urban umbrella, which wasn’t cutting it.

I was on a mission to continue looking for small items to spruce up our home. We are in the process of doing a short sale and our realtor’s photographer is expected at our house early next week; after the photos are done, our house will be listed. Last weekend I got coasters, a throw pillow, a couple candles and a glass jar with beach glass (or at the least the package said it was) in the shape of fish at CTS. Having done more online research about pre-sale home staging, I decided I needed more throw pillows for the master bedroom, a bowl of balls like they have in corporate apartments (see Better Call Saul episode 6, season 2, “Bali Ha’i”) or fake fruit  for the dining room table, and other sundries.

The Bed, Bath & Beyond on Greenwich Street was smaller than the one I normally go to in Paramus, NJ, claustrophobic, even. No ball of balls to be found and the throw pillows I liked were all around $34.99 (too expensive for a short sale). I ended up with two plush gray-blue bath towels and a hand towel–both on sale.

Determined to find that bowl of balls or anything else, I kept repeating the circuit: around and around, from BATH section to BRIDAL section to BEDDING section with overpriced DK sheets and pillow shams to KITCHEN section to SCENT section to OUTDOOR DINING section and over and over. I couldn’t stop, as if possessed. Then I started to feel dizzy. I looked at my watch: 1:35, still 25 minutes to get back to work, and the walk was 10 minutes. Around and around I went. I was lightheaded, and my hands were shaking, and I desperately wanted to find the cashier but he/she was not in sight. Oh my God, what’s going on, I thought. Trapped in Bed, Bath and Beyond! Now I knew what the “Beyond” was for.

Finally I saw an “EXIT’ sign, which I assumed would lead to the cashier. At last, a kindly cashier beckoned me. He was smiling, which helped a great deal, as I was trapped inside the maws of a full-blown panic attack. I smiled at him, or at least I thought I was smiling. Perhaps I looked manic or even insane. I didn’t know. All I knew is that I wanted to purchase the murky blue towels and get the hell out of there.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” he asked, cheerfully.

“Well, I was looking for a bowl for the dining room or living room, and I couldn’t find it.” I was hoping this made sense.

“Oh, you mean to use as a centerpiece?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, we don’t have many of those; this store is smaller than most of them.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought. I wondered if I had missed something.”

I inserted my chip card, my eyes not focusing well.

I thanked him and left.

I found it difficult to put one foot in front of the other; my hands were still shaking. I was pulling in enormous gulps of air, audibly. It felt weird.

On the downward escalator, I scanned for seating downstairs, but there was none. I took a mild sedative, and faced the tempest.

It was colder and more blustery than before, or so it felt.

My knees felt like blocks of steel; my feet were partially numb. When I entered Brookfield Place, I plopped my soggy corpus onto one of the uncomfortable benches, vaguely watching shoppers popping in and out of J. Crew and the other chi-chi stores. It was 1:50 p.m.

After a few minutes, I dragged myself to the escalator, then took the elevator to my floor. Eating a sandwich at my desk was a gift from God. I felt like I had experienced a shock, a trauma of some kind. But it was all within myself.

No more Bed, Bath & Beyond for me. At least not for a while.

 

 

 

Skelly Comes Home

I was inspired to post this after reading Rebecca Lemke’s story in The Neighborhood.me and mom in the sun
(Mom and me, 1966)

When Skelly comes home
she’s all skin and bone
Mom screams when she hugs her,
“Are you trying to be a eunuch?”
No, I can’t say that
was my intent.

Mom let’s go, fast.

It’s not about you (for once),
Mother.
It’s all about me
needing control
finding it the only way
I can
sculpting my body—
you have no part in that

Running and starving
takes discipline—
it’s not for the faint of body
or heart

Don’t touch me
I bruise easily

“You must eat some casserole,”
Mom says.

Skelly heads to her room,
suitcase in hand
“I’m going for a run.”

“Why? You’re so thin.”

It’s has nothing to do with that.

The Real Hunger Games: Starving the Homeless

do not feed the homeless

(Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless said a supporter named Tem Feavel submitted this photo to the Coalition in 2007; there is no record of where it was taken.)

I’m a paycheck or two away from being homeless. With the next round of layoffs looming, it could be any day. The New Normal. I know I’m luckier than most: 610,042 people “experience” homelessness on any given night in the United States. About 9% percent of homeless adults—57, 849—are veterans. Last week I spoke with a homeless marine vet who sits on the subway grating at the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue and sleeps outside Strawberry at night. Veteran’s Day was the first day I noticed him with his cardboard sign. He told me he was shot up in Afghanistan, his family died in a car accident and he has been homeless for 9 weeks. I never give money to “panhandlers,” but I found him to be genuine, and I wanted to help.

strawberry

(photo: yelp)

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, one in 45 children in the U.S. is homeless. One in five children live in poverty, according to recent findings by the U.S. Census Bureau. In spite of this, it is now illegal to distribute food to the homeless in 21 cities.

In September 1987, my mother joined the ranks of the homeless. She lived at a women’s shelter on the Upper East Side for six months. I was a student at Hunter College. She visited me in the afternoon, and we’d have coffee in Styrofoam cups at the lobby café. I was afraid someone would figure out she was homeless or that she’d cause a scene. But she didn’t. She told me she went there on her own sometimes for coffee. It was the highlight of her day. It was a time I’d rather forget.

Mental illness was a stepping stone to her homeless odyssey. She always seemed to be on the brink of homelessness; she would be evicted from numerous apartments both in North Carolina, where her sister lived, and in New York. She got herself kicked out of apartments due to her irrational and sometimes hysterical behavior. Why? The Puerto Ricans were trying to kill her. They were poisoning her by spilling toxins down the pipes.  Death from above.

As time wore on, in addition to the Puerto Ricans, the air turned bad; it had different sources–the generators in the parking lot, the rose bush outside the window, toxic mold. She called the Fire Department to investigate mysterious “stains” on her ceiling, and the EPA to come and examine the toxic mold and test the air. Needless to say, this behavior made her less than an ideal tenant. She complained repeatedly to the landlord or building manager, or they’d get wind of her ravings from other tenants or the Fire Department.. Eventually, she made herself more trouble than she was worth, and the management would boot her out.

Once she even lit a newspaper on fire in front of her tormentor’s door. This did not go over well.

She lived with me and my then-boyfriend “Doug” for over 3 months, and we couldn’t take it anymore. One night I saw her shadow outside the curtained French doors leading to our bedroom. She was holding a steak knife. She didn’t enter our room, but her presence was chilling. I assumed she had plans to hurt Doug (and not me).  Doug had recently told her she had to find another place to live.

 * * *

Some events pre-dating her homelessness.
Mom in a house dress and flip flops chasing me with scissors out of my Bronx basement apartment. I run into the elevator. The elevator door slams shut, and she stands there screaming, veins popping out of her petite, muscular arms.  It gives “running with scissors” a whole new meaning.

She shrieks, “It’s my apartment. You’re my daughter. Doug has to leave!”

We call the police who have to remove her bodily from the apartment. An ambulance delivers her to Jacobi Hospital for a psych evaluation. I take out an order of protection against her. I want her to disappear and stop ruining my life.

The hospital releases her (thank you, President Reagan) onto the streets. Now she is homeless.

I don’t feel good about not being able to provide shelter for her, but I have to preserve my own sanity.

Mom finds her way to a shelter.

* * *

When Mom came to visit me at Hunter, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that a fellow student might see her with me, ashamed of the state she was in. Somehow she maintained her hygiene: she was always fastidious about her appearance. It was frightening to see how much weight she’d lost: she was thin to begin with.  I didn’t know how she was eating.

Sometimes we met for dinner at a coffee shop on 86th and Lexington. One night she had a black eye.

“I got into a row with Rosie O’Grady,” she said.

Rosie O’Grady wasn’t the woman’s real name. Mom pled innocence, but I knew she must have pushed the lady’s buttons to get that shiner–not that it made it okay.

I asked if she wanted a chocolate milkshake to go with her hamburger, and she said no.

I said, “I can pay for it, get whatever you want.”

Her face contorted with rage, “You think you can buy me off with a hamburger and a chocolate shake?!”

Her powerful voice resonated throughout the diner, and my cheeks burned. Shame.

“I’m going to find a place by Christmas. I’ve saved the money,” she said. “Remember our Christmases in Jackson Heights? Midnight Mass and your beautiful plum coat.”

“Yes.”

“They slashed my suede boots,” she said.

I looked down at my food, unable to eat.

How could this happen? How could I allow this to happen to my own mother?

When I heard that legislation has been enacted to prevent our homeless citizens from receiving food, it touched a nerve. Mom was homeless almost 30 years ago, but it could have been yesterday. Every time I see someone on the streets, I think, it could be her, or it could be me. She has not been homeless since, but I will never forget.