My Rainbow Story

It is the only story about a rainbow that I have. But it’s a good one.

We were swimming in a lake. It was dusk. All of the other people had left. The beach was littered with the debris of a fine day, the smell of a dozen barbecue grills floating out over the water.

“We need to go, Jan, it’s getting late,” my husband called from the shore. Our kids were wrapped in towels, the three of them sitting in a row at a picnic table. They must be tired. They weren’t complaining or concocting, the older one wasn’t dreaming up a new game or begging his father for more time in the water.

I was swimming back and forth, north and south, toward the side of the lake where there was a campground to the side of the lake where there was a massive willow tree. It was a small lake, completely still now that the teenagers wrestling and chasing each other were gone. It was a perfect pool and I was loathe to leave it. Because it was beautiful and because of what was next.

The next morning my seven-year old daughter was to have open heart surgery. We would have to get up at dawn and drive to the hospital where she would put on a little kid’s surgical gown and be wheeled into an operating room where doctors would attempt to repair heart valves damaged by rheumatic fever when she lived in Nicaragua. Now she was our daughter. We had known her five months.

Days before when I had taken her for pre-op tests, she had jumped at the sight of the lady coming to draw her blood, “Mamasita!” she yelled. I was dumbfounded. She couldn’t possibly consider me her mother after only five months. Ah, but she had to. I was all she had.

I saw them all waiting on the shore, my husband increasingly impatient, my children swinging their feet as they sat. I was swimming on borrowed time here, I thought. The day is over. There is no reason not to get out of the water, to ‘move on to the next scene’ as my husband would say. Once a thing was done, he thought, it was done. No reason to linger and try to get back the fineness everyone else had already packed away in their cars.

“There’ll be another time, Jan,” he yelled, knowing better than anyone that I can get stuck, like a toddler who first can’t leave his mother and then can’t leave day care.

If I get out of the water, I have to do what’s next, I thought. And what’s next could be a terrible thing, a terrible, fatal thing, a thing that will be painful for a little girl I barely know, a thing I won’t know how to handle. I swam my breast stroke, head out of the water toward the campground side, pretending not to notice the day’s doneness that was so evident on the shore.

I turned and swam back, deciding that this would have to be it. No more avoiding. What message was I sending to my children? My husband had it right. We had to move on to what was next, for better or for worse, and we had to show our children how that is done.

That’s when the rainbow appeared, a full arc with every color, high in the sky, framing the willow tree. At that time and that place. It changed everything.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Roy G. Biv.”


Originally posted on Red's Wrap:

Every day, twice a day, the woman walked north on my street in front of my house. From my second floor office, I could see her on the sidewalk, taking big strides and swinging two plastic bags from the grocery store. She had an intense, purposeful walk as if she saw the walking as a body-building exercise. Every muscle was involved in this walk, her whole body tensed, arms swinging as if they held weights. Though I couldn’t hear her, I always knew when she was coming toward my house. Sensed it, looked out the window and there she would be.

It would be at the point midway between the beginning and the end of our small city plot of land, a length of maybe 10 of her big steps, that she would jerk her head to the right, look over her shoulder, look at something for just a few…

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My Day in Fifths

1. My day had elements of road rage woven throughout. A guy cut me off on the freeway ramp and then gave me the finger for the next mile while I mouthed the words “Fuck yourself, asshole.” Later, I thought it would have been way better to have blown him kisses. He sped up once we got on the freeway and started passing people. I wondered for a minute what would happen if he ended up being the person I was going to meet. Does that ever happen? If it does, do you just pretend it didn’t happen or does it queer whatever deal you had going?

2. Later that same day, some student parked her car so it blocked my driveway. Disbelieving, I backed my car up, staring at the tan sedan in my rear view mirror, a huge part of me wanting to back my car to within a centimeter of hers, a wee part of me thinking I’d like to just ram her car, you know, how sometimes you think that if you veered just so, you could take your car sailing right off a bridge? It occurred to me that I was getting overly intense, especially later when I moved a lawn chair to the sidewalk to await her return. The sensation of having gone around the bend made my hair fly and gave me vertigo so I went in the house.


3. It struck me at various points today that I was having a lot of trouble with mood control. Shooting baskets helped for a while. And so did going to Target where I calmed myself by buying a metal bottle of walnut oil because it looked so sturdy, like something that would have been in my grandmother’s kitchen in Hastings. Like she would ever have walnut oil.

4. There was work today. I met with an alderwoman in a neighboring city about homelessness. She sat across the table from me, looking every inch the stereotypical suburban matron, her hair done in a beautiful french twist, so carefully done. She teased me that we should have gone to scarf arranging school together and gave me a tip that a nice pin could hold a scarf nicely at the shoulder. Then she turned her attention to homelessness in her city. She laid it all out for me. She unwrapped the problem, rearranged the parts, stacked them up in a new way, retied the ribbon and handed it back to me. While I sat with my mouth hanging open and my scarf askew.

5. It’s the night before my 67th birthday. All day I have been intermittently (between bouts of road rage) dwelling on regretting having gone out with my roommate’s boyfriend after she had spent a year and a half writing him letters on that thin airmail paper that used to fold in on itself. He was a Seabee in Vietnam and then he came home, immediately got in a motorcycle accident and broke his jaw. When I met him, stopping in to say hi for her when I was visiting from out of town, his jaw was wired shut. It set a tone of minimalism in our relationship. Thinking about him and what a crummy friend I’d been to her convinced me that the whole notion of saying you’ve lived life with no regrets is a pile of crap, although there was the immediate Karma of another friend stealing him from me. He had by then become unwired. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right. So I regret my part in that chain of events.

Yesterday’s News

The news is that I am one of several writers recognized as a Voice of the Year by BlogHer. In the blogging world, the VOTY designation is a coveted, wonderful thing. But it always seemed to me to be something that much younger writers attained, people who were funnier, edgier, on the inside of the blogging world while I was standing outside on the window sill with my Windex and ancient squeegee.

I consider being designated as a VOTY to be a combination of extraordinary luck, persistence and writing skill honed by writing 650 blog posts over the past five years, those things and a willingness to be almost totally exposed in the search for understanding of my own situation.

When I got the news yesterday – and it was an astounding, outrageous, joyous piece of news to get, believe me – I couldn’t even read the piece that was selected. I just remembered it as being very painful to write but ultimately becoming a call for my own action to overcome a hearing disability that had been beating me to shit for years. The essay is Blindsided.

It is probably the truest essay I have ever written and perhaps the one of which I am most proud. That BlogHer picked this one is gratifying on the deepest level. I just read it again and it made me cry. Thank God I don’t have to read it at the BlogHer event in New York City in July. I just have to go, get my award and pose for pictures along with a lot of younger, funnier, and edgier people.

I will be the one with the biggest smile.

High Minded

Joe on ladder

Among the many admissions I would have to make in court if this child had fallen and broken his neck was that I was the one who took the picture. However, my co-defendant can be seen watching from the porch.

This is our son balancing on a 12-foot ladder. One would think I’d have destroyed the evidence years ago, committed as I am to the total reframing of my parenting experience as mindful and protective.

He wasn’t taught to do this. We didn’t send him to a ladder camp. His father wasn’t the Philadelphia Ladder Champ of 1962. At the time, my son joked about honing an act that he could perform for the sunset celebration at Mallory Square in Key West. He saw hanging out with the trapeze artists and the Tin Man painted in silver paint as a good career option. The tips were good, it was always sunny and there was applause. A lot of applause.

He was fascinated by The Great Rondini, a slightly strange and very intense guy who worked Mallory Square, who had tourists strap him into a straitjacket, wrap him in chains, and then hoist him upside down where, swinging in the breeze, he would gradually free himself, all the while snarling off little insults to audience members, too intimidated to move on to the lady juggling the burning rings.

Alas, my son’s dream didn’t really go anywhere. It was like once he was on top of the ladder, there wasn’t much else to do. I suppose he could have done a hand stand or taken one of our dogs up there with him but it didn’t occur to him and it wasn’t my place to try to enhance his act. After all, how would it look if I had been the one to tell him that he needed to start twirling or maybe come down the rungs upside down? I thought of these embellishments but kept them to myself. Kids have to own their own fun, you know?

When my kids were young, I worried about so many things. I worried about them being happy. My husband used to say all the time, “You only care if they’re happy.” It had an accusing tone I didn’t like. When I retorted that he only cared if they had jobs with health insurance, he’d roll his eyes and go back to the paper. I did worry about them being happy, about them doing okay in school, about them having friends, about them getting into trouble, doing drugs, running with the wrong crowd, getting hassled by the police. I worried about them fighting with each other, about them being depressed, about them hating being adopted, about them not loving us, about them not knowing how much we loved them. I worried about all of that.

But I never worried about one of them falling off a ladder. Not once. Not a single time.