In My World

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The sky is blue and the sun is shining,
From the books that laden the shelves of my wooden bookcase,
The one that sits next to my seemingly perpetually open bedroom window,
I’ve created my own world,
Where even there the sky is blue and the sun is shining.
The books I’ve saved up for with my weekly $2 pocket money,
Supply my mind with dizzying new adjectives and verbs galore.
I’ve formulated a plan to create the perfect mud pie,
With a scoop of mud, a dozen drips of water, and just a dash of sand.
The audience claps and cheers in my mind, as I flip the mud pie in my little, blue plastic frying pan,
Akin to the audience of celebrities, whose eyes burn into me as I enter my room,
Their flat faces taped to the bold yellow and green paint on my walls.
My imagination provides the same audience for when I climb the apple tree,
Grappling for branch after branch, while my hands burn and blister.
In my world, there’s a box.
It’s full of recipes for better mud pies and maps for the best seat in the apple tree.
The ingredient of sand is yellow, while the apples in the tree are green,
Which is why, when I’m sent to my room,
Where the motifs of yellow and green are ever present,
I’m not stuck inside at all;
I’m still outside, inside my own world.

Rainy Days

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The bad thing about rainy days is that they suck all of the motivation right out of you. The to-do list goes straight out the window at the first sign of a cloudy sky. The last thing you want to do is get out of bed and actually be a functioning member of society. Unfortunately for most, this isn’t an option and the day goes on as normal, just maybe a little wetter and colder.

However, on the off chance, it’s nice to curl up in bed, whether it’s to sleep in later than usual, or dive back into a half-finished novel that you’ve been wanting to continue. Sometimes it’s nice to let the cats hog the bed, or sleepily watch your significant other get ready for their day. Even if there’s nothing but terrible daytime TV, it’s the noise that comforts the mind. Just in the background while you sort laundry or bake the cookies your grandparents taught you how to make.

There’s no rush on a rainy day. Even the cars slow down, backing up roads for miles, but there’s something about having the heater on full while the window wipers swish rhythmically back and forth. It’s nothing special; it can happen every day for a month, but it’s one of life’s small comforts because it’s familiar. Whether you deal with it on a regular basis, or it’s just something you see in the movies, it tells you to calm down, to enjoy the little things.

Even if you’re stuck outside in the wind and rain and you can’t feel your fingers and your eyes won’t stop watering. The thought of being back inside, where it’s warm and dry is what keeps you going. There’s nothing better than changing into soft, clean clothes, burrowing under a favourite blanket, and slowly thawing out. It’s easy to doze off to sleep and forget what it was you were meant to be doing…

The Blue Chair

When my husband, Tom, our son and I were first introduced to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, not knowing anything about the place, we entered the main lobby. We were impressed with the sumptuousness of our surroundings – the lavishness of the chandeliers, the plushy furniture, and the gilt framed portraits of the founders of the hospital. After registering we were given directions to the pediatric ward on the second floor in an older part of the building. We learned that this section was around the corner with its own less impressive lobby. A much larger, modern pediatric wing was in the process of being built.

Our son, David, 14 years old, had been diagnosed with leukemia at our localGlen CoveCommunityHospitalonLong Island. We felt very lucky to have Memorial accept him. This was the spring of 1973 and it was very difficult at that time to gain admittance to pediatric floor.

When we stepped off the elevator, what a shock to us. It was so strikingly different from our grand entrance of the main lobby. Our hearts fell as we looked around the dismal, drab, and dimly lit entry way, which was small with a cluttered nurses’ station immediately to our left and to our right, a dark wall with a public phone in the middle, Ahead and perpendicular to us was a long hall with rooms opening to the right and left.

As we were standing there, trying to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings, a nurse went by pushing a young boy in a wheelchair. The boy, about 10 years old, had only one leg. When David saw him his face fell. He asked, “Am I going to lose a leg?” At this point we really didn’t know ourselves, but I said to him, “No, Davey, don’t worry. I’m sure you won’t, but we’ll talk to the doctor about that.”

Then a nurse came to direct us to David’s room where there were two beds. David did not have a roommate for the first few days. Once we had him settled in, I took him for a ride in his wheelchair to explore the hallway and the rooms, all on the windowed side of the building. The view was simply the roof of the first floor.

At one end of the hallway was a playroom with a television set and toys and games mostly appropriate for the younger children. There were a few books for older patients, and often, we learned later, special programs designed to entertain all ages. Outside the playroom at that end of the hall was a tall window overlooking a private elementary school. At the other end was a similar window overlooking a tree-lined street with an apartment house and an Irish pub, Gleason’s.

The restaurant and bar, Gleason’s, was a popular meeting place for hospital staff and the families of patients. There is where Tom and I had dinner most evenings so we could be close to the hospital. We rarely left David alone more than an hour. Noisy and busy as it was, it was the one place we could meet and discuss the day’s prognosis from the team of doctors who saw David daily.

As we became familiar with the second floor, we noticed that every once in a while we would catch a glimpse of a blue leatherette lounge chair in a patient’s room. It was always the same chair, actually more aquamarine in color, bright and gaudy, and quite shabby. We learned later that someone had brought it to the hospital privately and then just left it.

After a week or so at Sloan-Kettering Tom and I were summoned to a small office, and David’s attending physician, Dr. Grossman, informed us that David’s illness was more serious than was first thought. After all the testing, the doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of lymphosarcoma. When I asked if that meant he was going to die, Dr. Grossman said, “We never say die here. There is always hope.”

Those were the words we clung to in the following weeks while David went through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments as bravely as any teenager could. Despite the pain he rarely complained even when he couldn’t eat even though he wanted to. He gradually lost more and more weight and became completely bed bound.

During this time we were vaguely aware of the blue chair being shifted from room to room, but Tom and I were too busy caring for David’s needs as best we could. Because conditions were so bad on the floor at that time, hospital regulations were relaxed allowing parents to spend as much time as possible with their children. The hospital was so short staffed the nurses were glad to have the parents’ help informing them when IV’s ran out and providing small comforts for the children and their roommates allowing the nurses more time to tend their medical needs.

David had one roommate among many, of whom he became particularly fond. Jonathan Most was a loveable five year old with a charming personality, quickly becoming a favorite of the nurses who teasingly called him “Mostly Jonathan.” Tom and I also fell under his spell and enjoyed his company as well as that of his parents who were with their only child almost as often as we were with David.

I spent almost all my time at David’s bedside, sitting on a straight back chair and sleeping with my head and shoulders resting on his bed. Tom relieved me when he could but he still had to work to pay doctors’ bills. We were more fortunate than many parents in that we were told that our hospital bills were covered by a grant because David’s cancer was so rare. It was also convenient for Tom to visit often since his office was in the city.

Then Jonathan was moved to a different room farther down the hall. These changes occurred frequently so roommates would not become too attached to each other. I continued to stop in for a few minutes each day to check on Jonathan whenever I could. One day when I popped in, his mother was sitting in the blue chair by his bedside.

David was going through a particularly difficult and painful stage at the time, so I had no opportunity to visit Jonathan for a day or two. When I asked the nurse checking David, how Jonathan was doing, she said looking at David with a smile, “Fine.” As she was leaving, she motioned me to follow her out into the hall. There, with tears in her eyes, she softly and gently told me that Jonathan had died that morning.

For us, things were looking up when David began to eat a little and seemed to be responding to his latest treatment. The one thing he had been longing for was to be able to go home to his golden retriever,Sandy, if only for a day. The doctors gave their permission, so we made plans to take him home, but the next day he had a relapse. When he recovered from that he contracted a staff infection which really set him back. The visit home was not to be.

Even though David had lost all his hair and was down from 110 to 58 pounds, Tom and I did not give up hope. We were sure he was going to beat the odds and make the medical books – until the day we walked into his room and saw waiting for us by his bedside, the blue chair.

By Marge Craig Petras     Submitted by Susan C. Burke (w/permission)

One of Those Darned Kids

Nothing quite prepares you for New York, except actually being in New York. As Frank Sinatra once sang, “My little town blues / they are melting away” and that is exactly what happens when you stroll through Times Square at two in the morning and realise New York actually is the city that never sleeps.

Coming from a rural town with a population of no more than 20,000, making my way through this hub of city life was like visiting a foreign country where I understood nothing the locals were saying. It was as though I was six again and the slice of cake on my plate seemed a thousand times bigger. Not even my visits to Los Angeles helped accustom me to the barrage of advertising that assaulted me as I walked down lively streets, doing my part as the out-of-state tourist.

However, I couldn’t help but admit that I loved every second of it. Seeing nightlife that stayed awake past 9pm and meeting people who actually knew theater existed. It was like being back in college, where every night was a party night. It’s not that I am, or ever was, a party-going maniac, but it’s the socialization and meeting people who live beyond the borders of the wasteland I call my hometown.

New York City was it for me. I felt as though I could disappear in the chaos and live in a tiny apartment with noisy neighbors and cars honking outside 24/7. It’s not everyone’s idea of a perfect life, but it’s an experience that everyone should try at least once, if only so it can be a story for the grandkids. Or when you’re waving your cane, yelling at the neighbors to get off your lawn. New York City is one of those darned kids that keeps coming back, just to test your patience.

It’s bold and in-your-face with lights and sounds that drown out the voice of reason in your head, the one that tells you to go back to your hotel because 2am is not a reason to have another drink. Being in New York is like coming home; you walk the walk of the locals and by the end of the weekend, you’re crossing the street based on traffic, not on the street-crossing signal. You bustle with the crowd and acquire a strange accent that makes you sound as though you’re from a sitcom from the 80s.

There’s truly nothing quite like it.

Promises of Grace

We’ve been married 35 years. But in the beginning, it was pretty dramatic. I remember a night a long time ago. The night we got together. We were at White Horse Tavern, an old watering hole in lower Manhattan.

“You ran as fast as you could as soon as things turned serious.” Jenny said to me.

“I know.”

“Fat lot of good it did you. You ended up exactly where you didn’t want to be.” After a while she added, “You just don’t get it.”

“I know that too.”

“Yeah, great. I’m glad you get it. I’m married with two kids, and you’re divorced and free. When I say you don’t get it, I mean you don’t get what life is about.”

“Oh tell me.” I was getting annoyed.

“Okay… Here’s the secret. Life is a struggle. It’s hard, and you work and fight every day. You do what you have to do to get by. When you’re young it’s all promises of grace. Nothing can stop you, and you work to achieve your dream. Then, later after you’re just about worn down, the promises become memories of what never was. And you’re still working at it, but there are no more dreams. And you survive. You survive by holding on to the good… or at least the possible. You tell yourself I will never let the bad rule me.”

“I know what you’ve been going through. But I’m not so sure you have to keep going through it.”

“I’m going to need a real commitment before I change the life I’ve been living.”

“Just because it’s a life, doesn’t make it right….I still love you”

“You’re such an ass. I have two kids to think about.”

“Don’t you think they know what’s going on? You suffer in silence, and they lose respect for you for not standing up for yourself.”

She was still angry. As her face went blank, she said, “Oh God, what if you’re right?”

“I am. I’ve had lots of time and drinks to think about this stuff. You don’t need anyone else to help you start a new life. You have to do that on your own… I just hope you want me around once you make your decision.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

It was still warm outside. Crickets were chirping, but we could still hear the music from the Pine Park.

As we walked across the street, I glanced up at the moon. Below it, shining brightly, was a single star that seemed to be attached by an invisible cord.