My Mother’s Hair
My mother’s hair always escaped
from under her red kerchief or the
lacquered on for control and the hair
dancing in a night club in Manhattan
even when she was in labor with
one of us. You can’t control wildness.
My mother lay, legs askew, baby
coming, never having to push as Dr. Leroy
removed us with forceps while her hair was
dancing at the Stork Club and her waist, so
turning sideways she could have been
an exclamation point or a bent spoon.
Her hair, curled in the heat and the moist
music, was happy as rhythm was the
clef of curl and the smoke, the smoke,
smoothed her out and persuaded her
life could be El Morocco and the possibility
of finding Mr.Rich.
Even after she found him she
worried he wouldn’t stay. He told her to
her hair softer. It was always
touch and go but he made the rules.
Older, her hair curled around nurses
who loved her sweetness while her children
longed to hear her truth.
You see, life was a silken tendril and a
TV dinners and flowered dresses with waists
cinched by men who knew how to lead.
Scissors hadn’t been invented and music
could anesthetize freedom. Hair could go
I hate Italian families.
When you see them in a group they’re always laughing and eating,
kissing and hugging and touching each other as if they really mean
it and they don’t mind being close.
Don’t they know that they’re not supposed to behave like that?
In the best of WASP families you never touch anything but a cheek
with another cheek.
You have children but they leave the house
To a WASP there can be no answer as
nothing is written down.
It turns out your family will never resemble an Italian family.
Wasps require large houses because everyone needs a greater than normal
amount of space in which to sequester themselves from their
So if they can afford it they move into mansions and most of the
rooms are left empty.
Certainly on holidays there is one long table but it’s like
Covid before Covid.
I’m trying to learn how to be Italian.
I’m a genetic aberration.
I used to have a friend in the mafia who definitely was Italian.
He used to take me to dinner at the Italian club and during the meal
the table would shimmer and shake according to who was shooting what
weapon at the gun range on the floor below.
Having dinner with Vincent made me feel weirdly protected but
apprehensive . Like having indigestion before you even thought
about eating. I asked him to adopt me but that wasn’t what he had
I found out a year ago that Vincent had died. I hate that.
People that you keep thinking of for years
and years and then suddenly you hear that you shouldn’t
have been thinking about them because
they were dead.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we bury the upper crust!”
Motto from a WASP funeral company
The Coming of the Snow
The hard, cold snow is here,
The kind that makes you wince.
The great, crackling steps one takes that sink unexpectedly,
Mother earth reminding you she’s but a heavy footfall away.
So a morning walk becomes impossible and the dog, depressed.
Your husband reminds you how he loves the winter but
You remember how warm sun feels and how each morning contains freedom.
There are those who live outside and those who live inside.
The watchers and the livers
Each needs the other to remind them what they miss
Not better or worse
Letting Go When There’s No Rope Left
I have a friend who is trying to get divorced. This has been going on for two years. The marriage was a good length, (ten years), and a good part of it was not unhappy but the divorce has turned into a nightmare of hatred, accusations, bitterness, anger, paranoia and deep despair on the part of both parties.
There were no children involved, several properties purchased together, and a long stream of expenses for their life paid for by my friend who gave his partner free rein to do what she wanted in terms of the household accounts. By the time he realized most of his money was gone it was too late for reason or recompense: his life had become unbearable as daily verbal abuse had escalated to the point of physical pain. There was no surviving the atmosphere in the house, no love left between the two marital participants, and so my friend left.
His partner filed for divorce immediately and thus began the long history of demands for money, property, shares in imagined earnings, financial reports, tax returns, and appearances in court, depositions and more depositions. Interestingly enough, at this point in time my friend’s net worth had diminished to one tenth that of his wife’s yet she continued to threaten, hire new lawyers, fire old accountants, make new lists about what she wanted, hide possessions from my friend, and make her life’s goal destroying her husband.
Now I ask myself “Why?” If I were in the same position would I behave in the same way? Of course not. I am a reasonable person who likes to work things out and find reasonable solutions to problems. I like to have situations that are emotionally complicated solved as smoothly and expediently as possible as drawing them out only serves to upset one’s health and make oneself look like a fool in the community. People that continually fight over nothing and act in irrational ways are usually ostracized by others and find them alone and unloved in their lives. Who would actively make a choice to live like this?
Why am I writing about this today? I think it’s a really good lesson to all of us about how to destroy your life and your Karma. Holding anger, retribution and bitterness inside yourself is a good mechanism to destroy your own life. I think it does more damage than smoking. Imagine inhaling all that rage each day with every breath and then imagine not being able to release it. Imagine getting into arguments with everyone that surrounds you and then not having any real friends left. Imagine acting in a way that is dangerous to you and to others. Then take a breath and wonder why.
I think people get so caught up in their battles they forget why they began them in the first place. Much like all the needless wars we have been involved with we often can’t remember why we started to hate each other. We forget our compassion towards others and towards ourselves. We exist on our own fear and we can’t even see how it is destroying our lives. We lose all reason and all awareness of our own behavior and become fearful individuals who are living solitary lives as it becomes too risky to trust anyone else.
How many stories out there are like that of my friend? How many people hold on to old stuff as its familiar: pain is familiar. It may not be pleasant but sometimes fear makes us choose the familiar rather than the new as the new cannot be predicted.
I am no angel. Believe me I know that and I am aware of my own failings just as others are. I am writing this to make sense of the situation to me as well as to you as it seems so insane. The only thing I do know to be absolutely true is that operating from a fear based self will ultimately ruin your life and leave you with no friends or family to support you. In the end as they say we die alone but I hope when I die there are people who love me all around who can send me on my way to a new plane with love and joy. After all, there is really nothing else worthwhile in life but love.
I definitely have the qualities of a hypochondriac!
I was waliking in San
Francisco and I felt a sudden jump in my chest: a kindove a flip flopping or a fist turning or maybe more like something foreign inside me that was trying to get out. I kept on walking as that’s what I do. I was the master of my heart.
Other times in my life my heart had tried to get the better of me and I had prevailed. Sometimes, cruelly I thought, it was at night just when I was going off to sleep. I had to remind it rather sternly that I was tired and had no time to play jumping games. Just a small cough or a walk to the bathroom was usually enough to discipline it back into shape. Until this time, that is.
I had a doctor’s appointment up the hill and I was right on time which I usually am so I kept on walking. The hill seemed steeper than usual and I, more breathless than usual, but onward and upward I went.
My heart kept jumping.
I found my new doctors office, checked in, filled out the forms, chatted with his receptionist, all the while noting my new internal enemy. I commented to myself how calm and controlled I was during the examination of my nose, throat and ears. I commented to myself how impressed the doctor would be if I had a heart attack right in front of his very eyes without a word of complaint! I think I was kidding here.
Finally, at the end of my visit, I asked the receptionist if my internists office was on the floor we were on now and she said yes. I found my way there, sat down in the waiting room, and told Serena my heart was out of control. She looked at me with concern, brought me in the back room and had the doc come in.
Apparently my heart was stuck in arythmia and I needed to go immediately to the Cardiac Lab for an EKG and so I did. Except I wasn’t allowed to walk on my own and was taken by a very nice medical student who was there to observe what happened in the course of a typical day in a doctors office.
The cardiac lab seemed weirdly abandoned which I quickly learned was true as it was lunch time. The tech assigned to me was from Egypt and efficiently attached wires to my chest all the while commenting on the fact that it was lunch time. Once she got the EKG machine up and running her tune changed and she exclaimed to the medical student to take a look at my heart! Of course this was unprofessional and very alarming, needless to say, but she did it anyway. The two of them stood looking at the monitor for a good five minutes all the while commenting and exclaiming. I was in deep conversation with my heart asking it to just stop this behavior.
Clearly my heart was enjoying all the attention as it kept right on with its really weird rhythm. At this point I as fluctuating between total terror and a nice and calm feeling of detachment. I’ll take detachment any day given a choice.
Later, while sitting with my brand new cardiologist, I was shown the places in the EKG where I had been able to disrupt the heart rhythm all on my own. All I felt was frustration that I wasn’t able to stop it completely.
Its disconcerting to lose control of your heart as you feel frightened about the next time .You know there will be a next time. It’s as if your heart has been working up to this for long time. Though I now have a bottle of pills in my purse that may or may not stop the arythmia I don’t feel safe. I feel anxious but also more peaceful. Its hard to explain.
I have learned that this is a very common condition and that this condition can cause a stroke which can kill you. I really don’t like that idea. I don’t like the idea of drooling, l don’t like the idea of losing control of a part of my body, and I really don’t like the idea of dying.Aparently this condition is hereditary. My father died of a stroke. I am not sure he had arythmia but I would bet on it. He had everything!
Now I need more tests to see why the upper and lower chamber of my heart are not getting along. There are things called “rogue cells” that disrupt heart rhythm and the cure is extermination of these cells through a process called “ablation”. Sounds like a skin procedure or a religious event. I wonder if I will be purified or remain in the underworld. I also wonder how long I have.
I read the obituaries every morning as many people do. I have no idea why we do this. I look for reasons why people died, how old they were when they died, who survived them, etc. The other morning I saw that my childhood friend had died in February of a long term illness. There was a lovely picture of her taken when she was about 20 I would guess. I have no way of knowing as I last saw her in ninth grade at the graduation of Greenwich Country Day School. She was no longer my best friend having abandoned me for Phyllis and Priscilla and so we barely spoke on that day. I do remember feeling sad I was no longer friends with her and wondering what I had done for her to have lost interest in our friendship.
Betsey befriended me in fifth grade and whatever she told me to do I would do. I went to her house when she still had one (her father later left her mother) and spent the night many times. Her mother had a raspy voice, chain smoked L and M’s, and seemed sharp and unfriendly but stayed out of our way. She had two older sisters who were very glamorous and kind to me. I liked going to Betsey’s house as there was little supervision and we did whatever we wanted. Once in a while we would go bowling, something I never did with my own family.
Betsey told me in fifth grade I needed a bra: not because I was very developed but just because” every fifth grader needed one”. She took one from her sister’s drawer and told me to try it on which I did in the privacy of her bathroom. It was made of a harsh type of cotton and had straps with lengths sticking out which you pinned into place with small gold safety pins. When I wore the bra I felt incredibly sophisticated and old but nervous. What if someone touched my back and felt the strap and knew I was wearing a bra! What a terrifying thought!
In order to wear the bra I had to hide it in my drawer at night and then pack it in my school briefcase, carry it to school, and change into it in the girl’s room under Betsey’s supervision. The whole process seemed so time consuming but worth the excitement and the attention I seemed to get from Betsey for my obedience to her rules.
Betsey also taught me swear words which I did not know at that time. Today this seems startling but in the 60’s it was not surprising. I learned the three swear words that Betsy said were important to learn. “Shit” “fuck” and “dick”.
I found the words very difficult to define and kept returning to Betsy’s side asking her to let me know once again what they meant. I didn’t dare say them out loud and neither did she but writing them was also out of the question. I remember running back and forth most of that school day so I could remember the words, define them, and someday use them.
Once, about five years later out of the blue, Betsy called me and asked if I wanted to sneak out of my house and meet up with her. She said there would be a boy who could drive. I was really torn by this invitation as I never did anything wrong. It simply wasn’t worth the repercussions but Betsey’s invitation seemed irresistible as the “boy” was incredibly cute. I had seen him around town, he was a bit older than we were, and was considered really cool and very bad. Having never been in a car driven by anyone under the age of 40, I couldn’t resist.
As it turned out, my parents were out of town and our house was “loosely supervised” when this was the case. We had a nanny but she put my youngest sister to bed and then went to sleep herself by 9. At 9:10 I was downstairs trying to open the door without making a sound convinced I would be caught. I had no idea what I thought would happen but it wouldn’t be good. I finally opened the door and slipped out into the warm night air. It was very dark and I had no flashlight but I could see some outlines of the drive and the road behind it. I walked slowly past the night shrouded house of the Toby’s thinking of Button tucked safely in her bed and thinking to myself I must be really a wild child.
Waiting in the dark at the end of Meadowcroft Lane for Betsy and her crew was endless and by the time their car arrived I was a wreck. For some reason which I will never understand Betsy got out of the car and wanted me to sit next to Peter, the bad boy who was driving. In this position I felt as if I had been kidnapped by a scary witch on one side and an irresistible prince on the other. Hot and cold, yin and yang, good and bad, god knows what was happening but one side felt really good! Peter’s thigh was about as exciting to me as seeing Rhet Butler carry Vivien Leigh up the stairs in ”Gone With The Wind”. I could barely speak I found it so intoxicating. At one point the bad boy took his foot off the accelerator and moved my leg closer telling me to steer and use the gas pedal which of course I did.
Looking back on that night I see how important it was to me in my life of mostly dreams and few actual adventures. Sneaking out of my house at night, being driven by a bad boy around town, feeling the arousal a teenage boy could create, in me: it was an amazing memory for me to take out from time to time and smile over. Nothing happened. No one was hurt. No one even missed me, but it was magic.
So there was an obituary for me to read about my friend who created the memory but was lost to me for the rest of her life. As it turned out, she lived for many years less than five blocks from where I lived with my young family yet I never knew it. She worked cleaning houses for years and had her own small company. She never married or had children and died with her sister and a friend. by her side. I felt sad reading Betsy’s obituary as her life didn’t seem as large as her spirit and I was sorry. I will always be grateful to her for my night of magic.